HC Deb 21 June 1815 vol 31 cc918-42
Mr. Bennet

rose and said:

Mr. Speaker

;—In consequence of the notice I gave a few nights past, I rise in order to ask leave to bring in a Bill for the purpose of limiting the infliction of Corporal Punishment in the Army. From the frequent discussions which this subject has undergone, and the opinion entertained by the English people concerning it, from a sort of moral feeling having been generated even in the army itself, I had been inclined to hope that the necessity of a legislative enactment would have been superseded; but in this reasonable expectation, I am sorry to find myself disappointed, and that even at this time of the day, this cruel, unmanly, and disgraceful punishment is still inflicted on our gallant soldiery.—I hold in my hand a document which shows clearly both the extent to which this punishment has been, carried, and the severity with which it has been inflicted. It is with pain, however, that I comment upon this document, as it more or less is connected with the professional conduct of my hon. friend (col. Palmer). I can assure him, that there is no one who compassionates—(I beg his pardon)—who feels more indignant at the treatment he and his gallant companions of the 10th Hussars have met with, than myself. Of the shameless injustice, of the cruel, unmerited injuries they have sustained, there can be but one opinion; and I would not have mentioned his name but with praise, if the best interests of the army were not connected with the subject under discussion. Indeed, one of the greatest evils of this system of punishment is, that it familiarizes humane and kind-hearted men with the sight of these scenes of torture; and that they become, contrary to their own nature, cruel and inhumane. This document sets forth, that in the regiment of the 10th Hussars, from the 4th of January 1813, to the same day 1814, 63 men have been flogged, and 35 in the period of the next six months; that the 63 men received 14,000 lashes: that the number of 600, of 500, of 400 lashes, have been inflicted at one time. Gentlemen may, perhaps, not know that there has been a letter written since the discussions on military flogging took place in this House, by the order of the Commander- in-Chief, circular to the army, directing that the sentences of regimental Courts-martial should not exceed 300 lashes: but in this regiment 600 and 500 lashes were awarded, and inflicted: so that the maximum of the Commander-in-Chief was frequently the minimum in the 10th Hussars. Nor is this all: in many cases it was impossible to know for what offence the men had been punished, it frequently occurring that a certain number of lashes were inflicted for conduct unbecoming a soldier. From a charge so vague, nothing could be collected, as to the real nature of the offence committed: it might be any thing or nothing; the most heinous or the most trivial of military offences. How, I would ask, from this manner of drawing charges, is the Commander-in-Chief to become acquainted with the real state of the discipline of regiments? All that he could know would be, that this horrible punishment had been inflicted on 63 men in one regiment, in the short period of 12 months. I should like to be informed, if the punishments of this regiment furnish a standard by which we may judge of the number that takes place annually in the British army. If that be the case, more than 18,000 men were flogged last year. I ask the noble lord to say yes or no to this question: am I right in the assertion that 18,000 men were flogged last year? If, then, there were not so many who suffered under this cruel torture, let the noble lord furnish a list, that the House and the country may know the nature and extent to which we carry the severities of our military code. But let the House bear this fact in mind, that after all the flogging inflicted on the regiment alluded to, the discipline had been equally bad as before. In fact, no regiment and no individual has ever been reformed by flogging: the spirit of the man might be broke, but his conduct would not be amended. But why is it necessary to punish soldiers in this manner at all? The practice is peculiar to England. Is it, then, fit that the bravest and freest people in the world should be governed by the lash, and treated like slaves? I have understood that in Austria it is abandoned: that in Russia it forms no part of the military code. In Prussia it was once most general. I believe we owe much of our system of severity to that school: but I beseech gentlemen to remember, that in Prussia this mode of punishment is abolished—it exists no longer. The Prussian soldiers were flogged when they lost the battle of Jena: they ceased to be so when they won the battle of Laon. The system of flogging exists not in the French army; and, in fact, it forms no part of the military code of any other country. To our disgrace, then, be it spoken, that in England alone are the brave and gallant people, who form our army, exposed to this disgraceful, this disgusting punishment! It has been my good fortune this last year, to visit many parts of the Continent, and I every where heard the same language upon this subject. In all countries, and by all people, a strong sense was expressed of the kindness and good conduct shown by our countrymen: but it was always mixed with expressions of surprise at our ferocity to each other. But I wish to be informed, what right there is to conclude, either drawn from theory or from practice, that any regiment was likely to be reformed by severe punishments, or that the reformation of any individual could be expected from such inhuman severities: I would ask any officer present, if he ever heard of a regiment reformed by flogging—if he ever knew a single man so reformed? Is it not true that the fewer the punishments, the fewer the crimes? Corporal punishment will not reform—pain will not reform: they are instruments in the hands of sloth and malignity; and when men are, by the adoption of these cruel modes of punishment, disqualified for command, they have permission given them to punish, to torture, to ruin; for is it not true that this punishment ruins those who, under a milder discipline, might have proved meritorious soldiers? While the lash strips the back, despair winds round the heart of the miserable victim, who is conscious that he has lost the confidence of his officers, and the esteem of his comrades; and how could it be otherwise? Are not these severities likely to render the unhappy sufferer callous to any consideration of morality or shame?—I may apply to this punishment what Beccaria says of the punishment of death,—that it requires neither the exertion of reason, nor the subjugation of passion. But I repeal again, why is a British soldier to be exposed to these horrible punishments? They are not even inflicted on our foreign soldiery. You do not punish your foreign regiments in this manner; neither are the Portuguese in our service and pay so treated. Why are the French not to set us, an ex- ample upon this subject? In the French army it is notorious, that the punishment of flogging has long been unknown. No French officer would venture to bring out a French soldier and flog him at the head of his regiment. In former times, the Count de St. Germain attempted to introduce into the French army the former custom of punishing a soldier with the flat of the sabre; but the attempt failed: for, on bringing out one of the soldiers to receive this punishment, he exclaimed, "Je n'aime du sabre que le tranchant"—" of what belongs to the sabre, I like only the edge,"—which exclamation marking the soldier's preference of death to the disgrace of flogging, became proverbial in the French army, and universal disgust against the ignominious practice was excited; and it was abandoned. What, then, belongs to the character of the British soldier to warrant the presumption that he would brook, or that he ought to submit to be subjected to that punishment at which all the other armies of Europe revolted, and which, indeed, was abolished in every other army but his own? Will it, then, be maintained, that it is one of the privileges of Englishmen to be flogged? I call upon gentlemen to say, why it is necessary in the English army and unnecessary elsewhere; for if it be so, he must allow that, in the true feelings of honour, in the nice sense of moral susceptibility, we are inferior to the other nations of Europe. No man will venture to hold this language, here or elsewhere. Our gallant soldiers are not inferior to the soldiers of other nations; and it is not true, that those modes of correction which are found effective in other armies, can have no influence in our own. I do not believe that ever the inhuman punishments that are the disgrace to the English name, have so degraded and brutalised the feelings of our soldiery, as to stifle their feeling of honour; and I have no doubt, if the experiment were permitted to be tried throughout the army, as it has been tried in some regiments, that the same discipline might be kept up without the punishment as exists at present—not, as I contend, by them, but in despite of them.—Now, Sir, it is with pain that I mention, that I have never been in foreign society, among those who admire us the most, who are most alive to our national virtues, and the most blind to our defects, but I found among those persons but one opinion upon this subject. In those countries where our armies have lately distinguished themselves by their humanity and discipline, no less than by their courage, where one was welcome as an Englishman, merely from gratitude for the services and respect to the character of the army, the universal language was, "that our punishments filled them with horror, that their ears were stunned by the cries of our soldiery under the infliction of the lash." "You," they exclaimed, "that are so kind and gentle to us, why are you so ferocious to each other?" Nor was it possible that such should pot be the feelings of foreigners. Rather than hear the cries and groans of our soldiers under torture, men would quit their dwellings. Our residence in their cities was complained of; and while we were every where hailed as benefactors, this single, but constant calamity that we brought in our train, has stamped in the minds of those who had the misfortune to witness it, an opinion most unfavourable to the national character. But while those punishments were openly exhibited abroad, they were inflicted secretly at home. They could not, indeed, be perpetrated in open day; it is the custom to have the punishments inflicted in obscure places, in barrack-yards, or barrack-rooms; any where indeed where the public eye could not see them;—for it is notorious, that no man could venture to treat an animal at Charing-cross in such a manner as our soldiers were treated under the infliction of flogging, for the indignation of the public would overwhelm him.

Now, Sir, I repeat again, my question, why is it necessary to retain this system of punishment? I beg to have a distinct answer—not given in generalities, and loose assertions, but a sound and substantial reason, why the English army alone, of all the armies of Europe, is to have its discipline kept up by the lash? It is known that the great majority of our own officers revolt at this infliction—that many of those gallant gentlemen who cheerfully front the utmost dangers of war, who "seek the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth," cannot endure to witness it. Such a scene, indeed, is intolerable to any humane heart. But to return to the effect of this system of punishment upon the army, it is notorious that it never operated to reform those upon whom it was inflicted, however it might serve to degrade them in their own estimation, and that of their officers and comrades. Nothing is more true, indeed, than the proverbial estimation, that flogging makes a good soldier bad, and a bad soldier worse; while a variety of instances might be quoted to show that in those regiments in which flogging is more rare, discipline is best preserved. But an anecdote related by the American historian as to the effect or major André's execution, upon the mind of the people, serves to illustrate the consequence of barbarous punishments.

"Bear witness," said that unfortunate officer to those who stood around the scaffold, "to my gallant comrades, that I die like a brave man!" He did die like a brave man, and the historian who relates his misfortunes and his death, is an evidence of their effect on the American army, and the danger of thus trifling with the best feelings of mankind. Nor could it be otherwise; heroic constancy under pain and patience, under suffering, have at all times secured the admiration of the world. There is not one of us who could witness the gallant bearing of any criminal, at the place of punishment, who would not sympathise more with the sufferings of the victim, than approve of the sentence of the law. If these are our feelings, what must be those of the more ordinary minds of our soldiery? What must be their feelings in all the doubtful questions, where the soldier and the officer are at variance,—in disputes on pay or terms of service, and where the ardent spirits that become the leaders, are dragged before your merciless tribunals, and exposed to that cruel and disgraceful punishment? I leave this question to your serious consideration; I will not press it further. Remember the punishment may either blunt the feelings and brutalise the character of your soldiery, or you are in danger of raising a storm which may be fatal to the empire.

Under all the circumstances of the case, I have no doubt that this system of punishment, is adverse to the character of England, and that it has gone to such an excess as imperiously to demand the interference of the Legislature, by whom it would be found very easy to devise other modes of punishment more effectual for the preservation of military discipline, and more appropriate to our national character. It is, amongst other arrangements, the object of the Bill which I propose to the House, to limit the lashes to be inflicted on foreign service to 100, and to abolish the practice altogether at home. In settling the quantum of punish- ment to be inflicted abroad, I am governed by the practice which prevails in our navy, in which not more than six or eight dozen lashes at most are ever inflicted. I do not think it necessary to refer to any other instances of severity than those I have cited, to show the necessity of legislative interposition on this subject. But I apprehend if I could see the black roll of other regiments, I should be able to adduce many more instances to enforce that necessity. I have indeed heard of other regiments in which the frequency and severity of corporal punishments are most excessive, but those regiments I will not name on this occasion. For, after quoting from the document I have before alluded to with respect to the 10th Hussars, it cannot sorely be said that I have not made out a case amply sufficient to justify the proposition which I have the honour to submit to the House.—The hon. member concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to limit the number of lashes to be inflicted by Court-martial in the army."

Sir Francis Burdett

, sir M. W. Ridley, and Mr. Peter Moore, rose at the same time to second the motion.

Colonel Palmer

rose and said:

Mr. Speaker

; I regret extremely to be compelled in any manner to advert to a subject, which although I had pledged myself some time since again to bring forward, I was induced, from particular circumstances, and with the general concurrence of my friends, to relinquish—I mean the Court-martial upon colonel Quentin; but as the worst of the punishments in the 10th Dragoons, which were produced by colonel Quentin upon his trial as matter of accusation against me, have been stated by my hon. friend as the ground of his motion, I trust the House will feel that I am bound in justice to my own character and conduct to enter into an explanation of the facts. The same motive, however, which led me to drop the renewal of the subject, will still prevent me from alluding to any other part of those proceedings which does not immediately relate to the question before the House; and that I way not be misunderstood, I beg to say, that it arises solely from the consideration of colonel Quentin being again in service with his regiment, and the repugnance I feel to any act that may be injurious to him under such circumstances.

With respect to the general system of corporal punishment, every one must feel that nothing but absolute necessity can justify the practice; on the other hand, the necessity of discipline must be admitted, and the only point at issue is, whether other means might not be found to attain the end than those at present objected to. I do not presume to understand this question better than other officers, but must contend, that it is one upon which military men alone can be competent to decide; and although I sincerely believe in the humane motives of my hon. friend and others, who, from time to time, have brought it forward, I must say that it has been productive of serious injury to the service, by tending to excite insubordination in the soldiers, and to discourage the officers in their endeavours to suppress it. I own at the same time, that I think the way in which these motions have always been met, has tended rather to encourage than deter the movers from renewing them:—they have been assured of the Commander-in-chief's anxiety to accede to their wishes; that the number of punishments had decreased, that their severity had been diminished; and but a few days since, the noble lord (the Secretary at War) introduced a clause in the Mutiny Bill to obviate the necessity of the practice. Now, Sir, I think it might fairly be asked, why these regulations were not adopted before; and as nothing of the kind was thought of previous to the discussion of the question in and out of this House, it does appear to me that the amendments (if they are to be so called) in this part of the Mutiny Bill which have been made of late years, have been rather the effect of popular clamour, than the conviction of those by whom they have been introduced. This is not a question of improvement in military service or economy, but simply one of humanity and feeling, which must have been as well understood twenty years ago, when the present Commander-in-chief was in office, as now;—and I should be glad to know, what has since occurred to make the same power of corporal punishment, which was then thought necessary for the discipline of the army, to be less so at this moment? The fact is the reverse; for at the former period the army was upon so small a scale, that, generally speaking, none but men of good character were admitted, and those who disgraced the service were turned out of it; but as the establishment has increased, it has been found necessary to dispense with this custom; and of late years not only all descriptions of persons have been admitted, but the worst and most notorious offenders have been retained in the service, to the great injury of the regiments to which they have belonged; and although such persons at home may be delivered over to the Civil Power, yet upon foreign service, when it is impracticable, I am sure that no officer will assert that it is possible to maintain discipline without the power of inflicting corporal punishment.

With respect to the cases of the 10th Hussars, which have been brought forward, I trust, with the permission of the House, fully to justify the system I acted upon, and to prove that it not only effected the discipline of the corps, but was in fact the most humane that could have been pursued. Previous to the regiment being ordered on service at the period mentioned, it had been quartered in London under the command of col. Quentin; and I am compelled, in justice to myself, to declare, that the discipline was then in that relaxed state to which the punishments which afterwards took place were chiefly to be attributed. The men were constantly in the habit of getting drunk, and absenting themselves from their duty, being encouraged by the impunity with which these offences were suffered. Col. Quentin was certainly at this time in bad health; but being in the command of the regiment, he was the only person who could be responsible for its discipline. On the order for embarkation, the command devolved upon me; and upon the arrival of the regiment at Lisbon, the conduct of the men was what might naturally be expected from soldiers landing in a wine country, who had not been, restrained in habits of drinking at home. For the first few days, the whole regiment, non-commissioned officers as well as men, were in a state of intoxication; and I would ask my hon. friend if, under such circumstances, it was not my duty, looking to the good of the service and the responsibility of my own situation, to adopt the most effectual means of checking the evil, and restoring that discipline by which alone the health and effective strength of the regiment could be preserved? The first step I took was to assemble the whole of the men, and after pointing out the consequences of their drunkenness, and the necessity of putting a stop to it, I pledged myself to make no distinctions, but to bring every individual whatever to trial and punishment whose conduct should call for it. Having given them warning, I acted up to my professions; and the consequence was that, after three or four punishments, and the men found I was in earnest, they immediately returned to their duty, and in less than a month, from the state I have described, the regiment became in as high order as any in the service. I am sorry to be thus compelled to speak it myself; but trust the House will feel that, upon a question of such importance, it would be false delicacy in me to withhold any thing I can say in support of a system which I consider it to be my duty to defend against the prejudice that has been raised against it. I deny most positively the assertions contained in colonel Quentin's defence, (and which seem to be credited by my hon. friend), of the frequency, but inefficacy of the punishment under colonel Robarts and myself. If he will examine the document he has produced, he will find, by a reference to the dates, that by much the greater part of those punishments were inflicted by colonel Quentin. During two months that I held the command at Lisbon, notwithstanding the task I had to perform, only eight men were punished for neglect of duty from drunkenness; and I am sure every officer who was present with the regiment, would say that they never knew it in such good order before. When I speak of discipline, I do not mean the appearance which a regiment may make at home at a review; if it is to consist in having the best men, horses, and appointments, nothing certainly could exceed the Tenth; but what I mean by discipline, is that state which may enable a commanding officer to depend upon the good conduct of his regiment in the discharge of any duty it may be called upon to perform. But this never was, nor could be the case, under the system which had been pursued in the 10th, and, I believe, other regiments. It is a maxim in the service, and may be found in the Standing Orders of all regiments, that drunkenness is the source of every crime that a soldier commits; is it not, therefore, the first duty of those in command to do their utmost to check this habit? But the plan pursued in the 10th was the very worst that could have been devised; it was that of allowing the men to get drunk when they could, but to give them the opportunity as seldom as possible—for instance, they only received their pay once in two months, and upon, these occasions two op three days, were allowed them to get rid of it in the public-houses; and when their money was gone, their sobriety was calculated upon till the next pay-day. But whatever may be the policy of this measure with regiments in England, yet looking to their services abroad, nothing can be more injurious to discipline; and under such a system, the excesses of the men upon arriving in a foreign country where they can break loose are inevitable. I cant safely say, that the regiment in England never marched from one quarter to another that each troop did not afford instances of drunkenness; and I think I cannot give a stronger proof of its good order and regularity under my command, than by stating the fact, that on Us marching away from Lisbon, there was but one man drunk out of the whole. About this time, in consequence of colonel Quentin coming out to resume the command, I was under the necessity of returning home for a short time; but, owing to the sudden and rapid march of the regiment to join the army, it was for two months longer under the command of colonel Robarts before col. Quentin was enabled to overtake it: during this period the same high state of discipline was kept up; and it appears-by the evidence on the trial, that nothing could exceed the good order of the regiment under colonel Robarts up to the time of colonel Quentin's arrival; and having had no share in it, I may take this opportunity of adverting to the honourable mention made of its conduct in action under the former officer, whose consequent promotion to the rank he now holds, best speaks his merit. During these two months that colonel Robarts commanded, only seven men were punished for drunkenness, with the exception of one occasion, when several men were flogged upon the same day, but which number ought not to be taken into the general calculation from the particular circumstance, which I will explain—it happened immediately after the battle of Vittoria, when some allowance was to be made for soldiers flushed with victory. The regiment had marched into a large town, where the inhabitants had never seen the English before, and so overwhelmed them with kindness and hospitality, that the men could not resist it. Unfortunately lord Welling- ton arriving with his staff, the regiment was obliged to turn out and seek fresh quarters, and being thus taken by surprise, at so unlucky a moment, exhibited a scene of drunkenness which the commanding officer could not overlook without, departing from that consistency to which the good order of the regiment was entirely owing.

I now come to colonel Quentin's system, and in detailing it, I hope that the House will acquit me of being actuated by the slightest personal feeling against the individual. The first thing he does upon his arrival, as appears in the evidence, is to complain of the punishments that had taken place; and he begins with an indiscriminate pardon of those offences which the previous commanding officers had considered their duty to punish—and what was the consequence? From the day of his joining, till that of the censure upon the regiment by lord Wellington, nothing could exceed its irregularity and disgraceful conduct in every respect; and from the most effective state in men and horses, in a short time there was a lamentable deficiency in both. At Lisbon, although regiments are always more liable to sickness on first landing, not a single man went to the hospital with fever; within a few weeks, under colonel Quentin's command, more than half the regiment were sent to the hospital with fevers entirely arising from drunkenness. In stating the effect of this pernicious system, I attribute the want of firmness in colonel Quentin, which occasioned it, in a very great measure, to the unfortunate interference which has been thought necessary with respect to the discipline of the army, and which may naturally be supposed to have influenced his conduct. I imputed it also to certain instructions issued by the Commander-in-chief upon the subject, and which, with due deference to such high authority, I must consider to have been detrimental to the real interests of the service. These instructions were contained in a circular letter to all commanding officers, and, though stated to be private, were of course meant to be communicated to the senior officers of a regiment who might succeed to the command; and I state this because colonel Quentin complained of colonel Robarts and myself in not attending to these orders, which we were actually unacquainted with, owing to his misconception or neglect. These regulations went to diminish the power of Regimental Courtsmartial, and which, upon foreign service at least, were found to be extremely inconvenient and injurious to discipline. But the part of this letter I particularly refer to, is where it is stated, "That the Commander-in-chief will estimate the discipline of a regiment, and the competency of the commanding officer, by the little recourse he has to corporal punishment;" and looking to colonel Quentin's conduct, I am persuaded that he took this observation in its literal meaning, and determined to flog only a certain number, whatever might be the proportion of offenders, considering that he should best prove his own superiority of discipline by reducing the average of punishments under colonel Robarts and me. But unfortunately the misconduct of the regiment, and the interference of lord Wellington, put an end to his plan; being at last obliged, in spite of himself, to flog the men by wholesale, in order to restore that discipline which he had allowed to fall to pieces. And this was the cruelty of the case, for the only object of punishment is the prevention of crime; but here all the mischief was done before the remedy was applied, and the greater part of the men were punished for offences which they would never have committed but for the encouragement given them. I remember a particular instance of this in three men who were sent to reconnoitre a town occupied by the enemy; as this party did not return, a fresh one was sent out with an officer, who found these men dead drunk in a public house, although the enemy had hardly left the place. No officer I am sure can hear this fact, without considering it as most disgraceful to the regiment, and indicative of its want of discipline; and yet I can state from the authority of the captain of the troop to which these men belonged, and whose merits both in the field and in the management of his troop are universally known, that he considered two out of these three men as the very best in it, and who had conducted themselves in the most exemplary manner previous to the arrival of colonel Quentin; and yet, if strict justice had been done, they ought to have been shot for their crime, as the safety of a whole army is hazarded by such an act.

I am afraid it may appear invidious in me to dwell any longer upon the subject, and particularly as I am sure I have said enough to convince any professional or unprejudiced person upon the subject; but considering the publicity that has been given to this trial, and the strong general feeling which I know exists against the practice of corporal punishment, I feel that in justice to my own conduct, and the system I have pursued, I must not content myself with mere assertions, but state facts, which I flatter myself will entitle me to more credit than any arguments I can use. With respect to my own conduct in the command, although, generally speaking, I never pardoned those who were convicted of offences, yet wherever I could possibly do it without injury to the discipline, I avoided bringing them to trial, or mitigated their punishment in cases where their general good character, or any justifiable reason would admit of it; and it is in this discreet exercise of their power, and not in indiscriminate and ill-timed lenity, that the humanity and feeling of commanding officers are to be found. For instance—Inever inflicted corporal punishment upon a non-commissioned officer, considering the degradation from his rank as sufficient; but it appears by the statement produced by my honourable friend, that colonel Quentin made no distinction of this kind, but flogged the noncommissioned officers indiscriminately with the privates. There is another strong instance of the impropriety and inconsistency of his conduct in the punishment of a man who was tried for killing a fowl, although at the same time colonel Quentin allowed others to kill sheep with impunity; upon the trial of this man, I can assure the House, that there was no more legal evidence to convict him of the fact, than to have convicted any honourable member present, insomuch that the Court itself, who thought proper to find him guilty, absolutely recommended the prisoner to the mercy of the commanding officer, upon the ground of the scarcity of evidence against him; and I am afraid I shall hardly be credited in stating, that colonel Quentin after reading this evidence (or rather no evidence) to the whole regiment, his own approval of the sentence, and the recommendation of the prisoner to his mercy by the Court, upon the ground of there being no proof against him, absolutely ties the man up and flogs him.

[The hon. member was here called to order by colonel Wood, who thought the hon. member could hardly justify himself in entering into details which he con- ceived did not relate to the question before the House, but were injurious to the character and feelings of the officer to whom they applied.]

Colonel Palmer

continued:—I am very sorry to differ with the hon. member, but must submit to the justice of the House, how far I can be accused of any want of candour to the officer in question. I repeat, and I think I have shown, that nothing could have been further from my wishes than to have troubled the House again upon the subject of this Court-martial, and I have carefully abstained from alluding to any part of the proceedings unconnected with the question; but thus dragged forward as I have been before the House and the public, to answer for my own conduct against a charge brought against me by himself; can it be expected that, out of delicacy to him, I am not to defend myself by every means I can make use of, and which I cannot do more effectually than by exposing the folly and absurdity of his conduct; having good reason to know the effect of all the misrepresentations and ingenuity of his defence upon the trial, and which I own I held too cheap at the time. Nor do I now attack his character in any way but as relating to his want of judgment, as I am far from accusing him of intentional injustice or cruelty in his command; however, I shall only mention one more fact in support of my argument.

In order to check more effectually the disorders in the regiment, lord Wellington issued a warrant for holding general regimental courts-martial for the trial of those offences which the common regimental court-martial was not sufficiently empowered to punish. Some men who were brought to trial before this general Court, were found guilty, and sentenced; but it so happened, that on that very day the account arrived of the restoration of the Bourbons, and upon this joyful occasion the inhabitants of the town interfered, and solicited the pardon of these culprits, which accordingly was promised to be acceded to;—but before the parade could be conveniently assembled for the purpose, some other soldiers were tried by the regimental Court, for minor offences, and these were also found guilty. What does colonel Quentin do in this case? He brings both sets of offenders to the same parade, and after pardoning the greater culprits for the sake of the Bourbons, he flogs the others.

I am very sorry to have detained the House so long, and shall not dwell upon any other arguments which have been urged in support of the motion. I have only one word to say with respect to the objection that is made to the loose wording, and want of proper defining of the charges against men brought to trial; as my hon. friend does not seem to be aware, that although the crime may not be particularly specified in the charge, from the difficulty that often occurs, no injury can thereby arise to the prisoner, as the fact is always explained by the evidence, upon which alone the Court is guided in its opinion, and which evidence, with the whole of the proceedings, are invariably entered upon the regimental books, and at all times liable to be referred to. Lastly, with regard to the further limitation of punishment proposed by the motion, for my own part I think it would be much better to abolish the practice altogether, than prevent Courts-martial from punishing according to the nature and degree of the offence. I conceive that every necessary precaution has been taken on the subject; for whatever may be the extent of punishment awarded to a crime, it is never inflicted but in the presence of the surgeon, to prevent all danger to the life or health of the man. I repeat, that all these amendments, if they are to be called so, in the Munity Bill, and which tend to fetter the means of the commanding officer in maintaining discipline in his regiment, are bad; and, after all, the real comfort and protection of the soldier must rest with him; and if upon every occasion where, from incapacity or whatever cause, a commanding officer is unfit for the charge entrusted to him, such commanding officer were removed, much more real good would be done than by all the regulations that can possibly be adopted.

I will trouble the House no further; but before I sit down, I beg to say a very few words in explanation of a case brought forward by my hon. friend the other evening. I mean that of lieutenant Cowell of the Guards, as it relates to the question of the propriety of admitting the evidence of non-commissioned officers and privates of a regiment to the character of their officers. I perfectly agree with the right hon. the Judge Advocate in the general principle of not admitting such evidence; but under the particular circumstances of lieut. Cowell's case, I think the rule might have been dispensed with,—inasmuch as it was not the fact itself for which he was tried, but the motives attributed to his conduct, that influenced the Court in their sentence; but if the testimony of the noncommissioned officers and privates of the regiment had been admitted as to the conduct of their young officer upon the first and only occasion of his being in action, and when unfortunately he was the only officer present with his company (although it adds to his merit), I can lake upon myself to state positively from my own knowledge that the evidence of the whole of these men would have been so highly honourable to Mr. Cowell's character and conduct in that instance, that I am convinced it must have removed all unfavourable impression as to the motives of his conduct upon the occasion for which he was tried.

Colonel Wood

, in adverting to the system of the 10th Hussars, said, from what he had heard, not only as to the recent condition of that regiment, but as to its past, there was not one in the service more conspicuous for discipline and order. It might be considered invidious to make comparisons between different regiments; but he was informed that the earl of Uxbridge, when he reviewed the cavalry lately, said, that he had long been attempting to make his own regiment, the seventh, the most perfect, but they were surpassed by the tenth. With respect to the motion before the House, he had no doubt the hon. gentleman who brought it forward, was actuated by the most just and humane motives; but he hoped he would also allow that commanding officers might feel as much humanity and compassion for their soldiers. He was ready to admit that corporal punishment might be abolished with the greatest ease in England; but if it were abolished, the consequence would be, that many serious, offences, which were now punished by flogging, such as mutiny, for example, would then be punished with death; and it was certainly a matter worthy of consideration to reflect whether it would be desirable to make such a change in our existing military system. With respect to limiting the number of lashes that should be inflicted, on general service, to one hundred, he did not feel himself qualified to speak upon that point, not having seen foreign service; but he believed that such punishment was inflicted as lightly as possible, consistently with the maintenance of that discipline which was necessary in actual service.

Colonel Pakenham

thought it should be taken into consideration, that the British army was not constituted like any foreign army. In the former there was always the strongest feeling of civil equality, while on the Continent the lower ranks were universally acknowledged as inferior to their officers, of whatever rank. The chief cause of corporal punishment was undoubtedly the sad propensity for drinking. But there was no doubt that the punishment had decreased, not from any orders from head-quarters, but from the high example set by the officers themselves. Nothing could be more just than the system of Courts-martial; all the officers on which swore to administer justice according to their sense of the law and their conscience; and how could it be supposed, if this were not the case, that the men would be so ardent to follow them into danger? This was one of the surest pledges that could be given of attachment between the men and their commanders. He trusted the House would not be influenced in coming to their decision by any thing they had heard respecting the 10th regiment, whose former misconduct no longer existed in it. Respecting the conduct of our army in general, it was exemplary; and on the late invasion of France, it afforded the only instance of an invading army being hailed as a blessing to the nation invaded. The punishment in the navy was four times as heavy as that in the army. He need not advert to this day being the anniversary of the glorious battle of Vittoria, for a practical illustration of the benefit of the system which now governed the army. He should oppose the motion. If the system was bad, let it be overturned; if not, let the officers pursue the mode of discipline which they had been accustomed to administer with so much advantage.

Mr. W. Smith

thought the House was bound to argue this question on general grounds only. To say that the discipline of the army, as it now stood, was in no need of alteration, was like arguing against any reform in the English law, because the British constitution had brought the nation to what it was. The punishment of flogging was a system derogatory and disgraceful even to boys, and ought not to be permitted in the army, except in cases of the utmost necessity. It had a tendency to make men, already enlisted, degenerate into every thing that was dis- graceful, while it prevented others of good character from entering into the army from the fear of being subjected to it. While the officers of the army partook of the enjoyments of the bottle, so much as was common with that class of young gentlemen from which they were taken, he feared they would not be found very proper persons to reform the vice of drunkenness among the soldiery. If corporal punishment were done away, he was of opinion a higher spirit of honour would be kept up in the army than was to be found in it at present, and this would give better security for the good conduct of the soldiery than could be obtained by any other means. The motion of his t hon. friend had his most cordial concurrence.

Lord Palmerston

opposed the motion, as he thought it was not one at all likely to improve the situation of the army. It was necessary, in the military system of this, as in that of every other country, that the power of inflicting certain severe and exemplary punishments in particular cases should exist. The power at present possessed by Courts-martial aught to be continued, not for the purpose of frequently inflicting severe punishment, but to check offences by the terrors of it. That there was no wish to exercise this power unnecessarily, might be satisfactorily ascertained from the orders issued by the Commander-in-chief, and from the established practice of the army. If it were admitted, as he thought it must be, that there was a disposition on the part of the Commander-in-chief, and in the officers of regiments, to limit the infliction of corporal punishment, so far as it could be done consistently with the public service, it would, he conceived, be seen, that it was better to leave it to be exercised at the discretion of Courts-martial, than to abrogate it altogether. The question could not now, as formerly, be argued on the ground of humanity, since it was no longer contended, that it was proper to bring out a man a second time for punishment, but in very grave and serious cases, where a severe example was necessary. The power of inflicting severe punishments ought to remain. The disposition to indulge in spirituous liquors, which prevailed in the English, as in all the northern armies, caused them to be more liable to commit offences than the soldiers of other nations. The Portuguese, and other foreign soldiers in our pay, might, from this circumstance, have been less frequently punished than the English; but it was quite a mistake that they were not subject to the same discipline. The case of the 10th, which had been brought forward on this occasion, was, in his opinion, that of all others which proved the efficacy and beneficial consequences which resulted from the present system, as, by the infliction of corporal punishment, from a state of disorganization it had been restored to the most perfect discipline. He objected to the motion, that in point of fact, it was not one of mercy to the army, as be thought it would lead to the more frequent infliction of the severest punishment—death.

Sir S. Romilly

represented to the House, that the question before them was not the actual limit of the punishment, but whether it should have any limit at all. When in the last session he had proposed a clause in the Mutiny Bill, limiting the number of lashes to 100, he had been induced to withdraw his proposition by the manifestation of a disposition on the other side, which it now appeared did not exist. At present they might order any number of lashes to be inflicted which they might think proper. Men had been sentenced to receive 5 or 600, and he had heard of an instance in which 1500 had been awarded. It was unjust, and it ought not to be, that they should have authority to doom an individual to greater punishment than God has given him capacity to endure. The reserve on that portion of his sentence which could not be inflicted on an individual without destroying life, it had been customary to deal out (if he might be allowed the expression) by instalments. It was true that the present Commander-in-chief evinced a meritorious disposition to repress the punishment as much as possible, but he might be succeeded by another of different inclination. The milder practice which at present prevailed, was to be ascribed solely to that discussion of the subject, which in the first instance a right hon. gentleman, now no more, had declared would be productive of infinite mischief; but which, on the contrary, had been productive of the greatest benefits. The presence of a surgeon at these punishments, instead of proving their humanity, proved their cruelty, as it showed the danger of the punishment becoming the punishment of death, by the most exquisite torments. He ridiculed the argument of the noble lord, that because the British had a spirit of independence, they should, therefore, be punished in a manner too severe and degrading for the most brutal and ignorant of the species. He cordially-supported the motion.

Mr. Manners Sutton

denied that the object of his hon. friend's measure was to procure some limitation of the punishment. The object of it was to abolish the punishment altogether at home, and to limit it when resorted to abroad. He was sure that his hon. friend and the hon. and learned gentleman would admit, whatever they might think of the proposition, that at least it would occasion a very great alteration in the military jurisdiction of the country. It became necessary, therefore, to inquire, whether existing circumstances demanded so radical a change. It was well known that corporal punishments had within the last years been greatly on the decline. Courts-martial were themselves most anxious to award a different punishment; and the majority of corporal punishments during the period in question had been on the service abroad. With respect to imprisonment, some difficulties had occurred from a want of private cells in prisons; and complaints had been sent to the Horse Guards, of soldiers having been mixed with other prisoners of all descriptions. Sufficient time had not yet elapsed for carrying into execution the measures which had been suggested on this subject. He should be sorry to see this matter interfered with; he believed the reform was at present making its own way better than would be effected by any legislative interference. He could not help thinking that the limiting the number of lashes to 100 would be retaining every thing odious in the punishment, and depriving it of every thing efficacious. It was his firm opinion, that if any limit were assigned to the punishment, the result would be an increased severity, or if not an increased severity, an increased frequency of punishment. The hon. and learned gentleman had alluded to instances of 1500 lashes having been inflicted on one individual. He did not mean to contradict the hon. and learned gentleman; but he had never known of any such punishment having been received, and he thought it had never occurred since he was in office. The court that had awarded such a sentence would have been reprimanded. He was clearly of opinion that it was illegal to inflict part of a sentence at one time, and delay inflicting a part of it till another time. It would be said, perhaps, what remedy was there if such an abuse took place? In answer to this he could state, that he knew an instance of an officer of high rank having been brought to trial for inflicting an arbitrary punishment on a man during a march, when there was not time to wait for a Court-martial; the result was, that the officer was sentenced to be cashiered; and, notwithstanding all the representations which were made in his behalf, and notwithstanding the propriety of his motives was never called in question, the Crown was advised to let the sentence take its course. It had been said that there were instances of part of a punishment having been inflicted, and of the remainder having been used as a means of extorting a promise of entering into other regiments. He knew that it was customary to give an option of undergoing the punishment, or of commuting it for service in other regiments, and there could be no objection to this; but he was ignorant of any cases of extorting a promise of service after the half, or any part of the punishment, had been once inflicted. He conceived that the making a distinction between the punishment abroad and at home, would lead to an invidious comparison extremely injurious to the service.

Mr. Forbes

said, that during a residence of twenty years in India, he had always observed that in those regiments where there was the most flogging, there was always the least real discipline. Drunkenness was certainly a dreadful vice, and led to almost all others. But what would they say to a system which first encouraged drunkenness, and afterwards punished it? He was sorry to say that a practice had long been prevalent in India, though it was less so now than formerly, of the commander of regiments admitting grog shops to be kept for his benefit, a certain proportion of the profits having been paid to him by the persons who kept the shops. The consequence was the most dreadful intoxication; and half a dozen of punishments had sometimes been inflicted in one morning for the very vice which was so encouraged. In one regiment, which he would not name, this abuse was carried to such a length that the officers of corps were determined to take it up. On the matter being represented to the commander of the forces, he declined interfering, as, although he did not approve of the practice, it had been usual throughout India. The consequence was, that most of the officers were obliged to leave the regiment, and those who remained were tried for combination, and one after another cashiered. He could vouch that in India the same man was brought out repeatedly to receive the punishment inflicted by one sentence. He approved of the limitation proposed.

General Hart

had inspected several regiments, and never observed any insubordination to have arisen from the present practice; on the contrary, he was sure it was often repressed through the terror of this species of punishment.

Mr. Abercrombie Robinson

said, that from 1786 downwards, he would venture to say that in the Bengal establishment the practice of commanders of regiments benefitting by the sale of liquors was altogether discouraged.

Sir F. Burdett

hoped his hon. friend would bring the subject forward early next session, when there should be a more full attendance of the House than at present. With respect to the melancholy and black catalogue which formed the groundwork of the speech of his hon. friend, it was a document which was deserving of the utmost attention. He had at different times himself moved for the black books of regiments, but they had always been withheld. The account of the gallant colonel Palmer was not one which gave him the highest idea of his judgment. The system which he pursued in opposition to that of colonel Quentin, appeared to him as cruel as it was inefficient. For what had been the effects of these dreadful punishments? The system had been going on for eighteen months, and the punishments were as many in the last as in the first month. His hon. friend objected to this punishment—first, because it was brutal, inhuman, and disgraceful; and next, because it was altogether inefficient. Nothing could justify such a punishment but necessity, and the opponents of his hon. friend could show no necessity. In all other armies but our own, or at least in most of them, no such necessity existed. No man would deny that punishment, and even severe punishment, was necessary; but was there no other fit punishment but that of stripping a man naked, tying him up to the halberts, and treating him like a beast? He opposed flogging because it was disgraceful to human nature. In the case of the surgeon, science was applied to see whether the last pulsation had yet beat—whether an addition could yet be made to the punishment—whether another pang might be given to the victim. This punishment was a national disgrace. In the Russian army, which was the next in severity to our own, this mode of punishment was not resorted to, and was considered disgraceful to humanity. Why should the British soldier be alone liable to this ignominious torture? A noble lord (Palmerston) had accounted for it by observing, that there was something in the constitution of the country that made its natives so sturdy and high-minded, that it was absolutely necessary that these noble qualities should be flogged out of them by the cat-o-nine-tails before they made good soldiers; but surely the noble lord would not persist in an argument, the tendency of which was to show that the nearer a man approached to divinity, the more fit it was to treat him like a beast—[Hear, hear!] It could not be denied that our ancestors possessed as strongly the love of independence as their successors, yet military flogging was unknown among those who had achieved the greatest triumphs the nation had to boast. Military flogging was of modern Introduction, and its justification depended upon arguments that would never have been heard at any other time. The capriciousness with which this punishment was inflicted, was another reason for its abolition: it depended entirely upon the will of the officers, and that was guided by no rule, and governed by no scale; it was necessary that some restriction should be placed upon it—so thought the Commander-in-chief, who had sent round a regimental letter to effect the purpose, which, however, had not received the attention it deserved. It was now, for the first time, acknowledged by the Judge Advocate, that the infliction of a sentence at two or three different times was illegal; yet it was an abuse that had long prevailed, and had been the instrument of unheard-of cruelties. It was a singular fact, corroborated by the speech of the hon. colonel (Palmer), that in those regiments where these corporal inflictions were most frequent, the discipline was the most lax; and no small praise was due to colonel Quentin, that, considering what had been the state of the 10th regiment, he had now placed it upon a footing so admirable. To show the excess to which military flogging had been in some cases carried, the hon. baronet referred to certain proceedings at Gibraltar many years ago, when a new instrument was introduced, which would kill a man in 80 lashes, and for not employing which several officers were dismissed the service, though afterwards they were reinstated. He contended, that punishment was frequently rendered necessary by the inadequacy of pay and rewards in the army, which occasioned the men to be discontented with the service, often to disobey, and sometimes to mutiny. With regard to the argument of the Judge Advocate, that the flogging of soldiers was necessary for the sake of humanity, lest something worse should be introduced, he could only apply what a Frenchman, under the old régime, had said against the abolition of breaking on the wheel,—that his nation was accustomed to that mode of punishment, and would not be satisfied or quiet without it, lest some greater cruelty should be invented and employed.

Mr. Babington

thought, that as the punishment was now administered in a milder manner, there was no occasion for the present motion. It was far better to leave the army to those who had the government of it, than to proceed by a legislative provision, which he did not conceive would prove effectual.

Sir Edward Buller

denied, that any officer of the navy would take upon himself to discharge a man, without the authority of his commander-in-chief.

Sir F. Burdett

explained, that he had made no such assertion, but had merely said, that when a man had been flogged in the navy, he was able immediately to return to the execution of his duties.

Mr. Bennet

replied. After which the question was put, and negatived without a division.