HC Deb 22 March 1815 vol 30 cc317-9
Sir Samuel Romilly

rose to lay upon the table the Petition from Mr. Lathrop Murray, of which he had given notice yesterday. Of the individual he knew nothing, and in general he was averse to the interference of the House with the proceedings of courts of justice; but in some cases of peculiar circumstances, such an interference might be necessary and useful. The individual who this day came before the House, had been recently convicted of bigamy before the Recorder of the city of London. Sir S. Romilly said he had had an opportunity of seeing the whole of the case and the evidence, and it appeared that the allegations in the petition upon that authority, were well founded. The fact was, that at the age of eighteen, the petitioner, being with his regiment in Ireland, was married to a woman much older than himself, in a private room, by a dissenting minister (he not being himself a dissenter), without banns, licence, or any of the usual formalities. Some years ago he married a woman in England by licence, and his second wife was fully apprised of the facts attending his first marriage, which was properly held to be invalid. For this offence he was indicted by a total stranger, and the only evidence was, that of the dissenting minister who had officiated at the first marriage; and to prove the second, the register and the declarations of the petitioner. At the trial his counsel had taken several objections, which they urged should be reserved for the decision of the Judges, but by some mistake the points were not reserved and sentence of transportation was passed upon the prisoner. Until 1795, sir S. Romilly observed the punishment for bigamy had been only twelve months imprisonment, and burning in the hand; but at that date a statute was passed, empowering the Judges to transport for seven years: but this severity was only exercised in cases of great flagrancy; and in the present it seemed natural to expect that an imprisonment for six, nine, or twelve months, would have been ordered. The Attorney General refusing to give his fiat for a writ of error, as the objections had been omitted on the record, the petitioner applied, but in vain, to the Secretary of State's office, and from thence to the Prince Regent for a pardon, or for liberty to transport himself, accompanying his prayer with an affidavit of his second wife, that she was acquainted with all the circumstances of his first marriage, and with the opinion of several civilians that the first marriage was illegal. The only answer returned was, that he must be sent with the other felons to Botany Bay, and in consequence he was compelled to make the present application to the House for relief.

Sir H. Montgomery

said, that he had, heard something of this case; and if the petitioner did not deserve transportation for bigamy, he did for swindling; for he had, on a former occasion, been married in Ireland, by a respectable dissenting minister, Mr. Black, to a young girl who had a fortune of 500l.; after he got this money, he deserted the girl, and never afforded her the smallest support.

Mr. Addington

hoped the learned gentleman would withdraw the petition, as the case of the petitioner was at present under consideration.

Dr. Duigenan

said, that the marriage of a minor in Ireland could not be set aside, according to the laws of that country (which he presumed was proved by Dr. Black upon the petitioner's trial), unless a suit for that purpose was commenced within twelve months after such marriage had been celebrated. But this was not stated to have been the case with respect to the petitioner.

Mr. Lockhart

recommended the consideration of the petitioner's case.

Mr. Bathurst

seconded the suggestion of his right hon. relative (Mr. Addington), adding, that should the learned gentleman withdraw the petition, he might of course present it again, if the decision of the executive government should not be agreeable to his judgment.

Sir Samuel Romilly

, after animadverting upon the extraordinary doctrine of the hon. baronet, that because a man had been guilty of a certain offence, he ought to be punished for that of which he had not been guilty; and also upon the opinion of the learned judge (Dr. Duigenan), that the House should decide upon what he "presumed" a certain witness to have deposed upon the trial of the petitioner; consented to withdraw the petition, upon the understanding that the right hon. gentleman would let him know when the proper department should have decided upon the appeal of the petitioner, who was induced to request the presentation of this petition to the House, apprehending that from the delay of any answer to his application to the Secretary of State, he might be sent out of the country with other convicts, who, it was understood, were about, to sail.