HC Deb 17 February 1818 vol 37 cc453-60
Sir Francis Burdett

presented a Petition from James Leach), flannel weaver, of Broadoth-lane, near Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster, setting forth;

"That the Petitioner was arrested on the 28th of March 1817, under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, at the Georgius-tavern, Hardwick, in the town of Manchester, along with some other men who were entire strangers to the petitioner, by the police officers, and escorted to that prison by a troop of dragoon guards, and put into a cold damp cell flagged with stone, without victuals, for that night; the only furniture it contained was an old bed of straw swarming with vermin; the petitioner remained in that situation for ten days; his victuals, which consisted of bread and cheese, were given him through the iron bars which served him for a window, and his cell door was seldom suffered to be unlocked; on the evening of the 7th of April, the petitioner was ordered out of bed about nine o'clock, and taken into the court with about ten others, and, after their names were called over, justice Heys, said a king's messenger was just arrived for the petitioner and two others, William Kent and George Plant, with warrants from lord Sidmouth to take them to London, to be examined before the secretary of state for the home department, and he wished them to prepare themselves for what they were likely to meet, for he could assure them they stood charged with high treason, and with having under their protection men and arms to wage war against his majesty and his liege subjects; the king's messenger then showed his authority, and ordered to take them off by the first coach; they were then taken back into the prison, and the petitioner was put alone into the felons day-house; in vain he begged to retire to his cell, but the cold flags served him for his bed that night, resting his head upon bars of iron; about five o'clock the next morning, the petitioner was fetched out of this cold and dismal place and heavy ironed on both legs, Kent on one side and Plant on the other; finding that one of his bazels held him too close, he begged of the deputy constable to change it for another, observing that he should not be able to bear it to London; but, damning the proud limbs of the petitioner, he said if he would not behave well with what he had already got, he would furnish him with an iron collar for his neck; they then stepped into the coach for London, and they arrived at Bow-street office about twelve o'clock on the 9th, and after having their irons taken off, and a little refreshment, they were conducted to the secretary of state's office for the home department, and underwent a short examination before lord Sidmouth and other privy counsellors, charging the petitioner with high treason, but did not say what it consisted in; he was then taken to the Brown Bear public-house, and the day following to Cold Bath-fields prison; on Tuesday the 15th, the petitioner was again brought up for examination, and likewise on Tuesday the 22nd, and likewise on Tuesday the 29th; on this his fourth examination before lord Sidmouth, his lordship said he was regularly receiving information against the petitioner, and from such a respectable source that authorized him to commit the petitioner to close confinement till liberated by due course of law, and if he had any thing to say why he should not be committed, he was then at liberty; at which the petitioner said, he had arrived at the age of a young man, and had never violated the law, and whatever his lord- ship's information was that gave him that authority, it was incorrect; his lordship then added, that the petitioner was committed, and at some future day he should be brought to trial, for which he should have timely notice, with a list of the evidence against him;, the petitioner was then taken back to Cold Bath-fields to his former situation: on Thursday the 1st of May, he was removed to Chelmsford gaol, in the county of Essex, conducted by a king's messenger and a turnkey, handcuffed to one Flitcroft, from Stockport; while the petitioner remained in that prison, he was never suffered to sleep with his clothes in the same cell, they were taken away from him every night and returned every morning; his bed was purely searched every morning, and when he attended divine worship in the prison often overturned; that, on the 14th of November, he was taken before a bench of magistrates to enter into recognizances which bound him in one hundred pounds to appear in the court of King's-bench on the first day of the next term, and day by day, and not to depart the court without leave; and the petitioner returned home to his distressed parents, who, by the fatal consequences of his imprisonment, had not reduced them to beggary only, but brought them near to the grave; on the 21st of January, he received a letter signed by John Entwisle, esq. one of his majesty's justices of peace, stating that he was desired by lord Sid mouth to acquaint him, that as nothing had appeared against him in his conduct since his discharge, his appearance in the court of King's-bench on the first day of next term, pursuant to his recognizance, would be dispensed with, and his lordship hoped that his future conduct would never render it necessary to call him into a court of justice; the petitioner can assure the House that he never was guilty of any such treason, or any breach of the law, that it was always his principal motive in promoting peace and quietness; therefore, as an object truly deserving compassion, after eight months of unjust imprisonment, with his health impaired, with an injured character, out of employment, and in a state of starvation, the petitioner most humbly implores and petitions the Mouse to take his case under their most serious consideration, and for such redress as in their wisdom they can grant him."

Mr. Brougham

said, he had to beg the attention of the House to a petition from another of those unfortunate men who had been the victims of proceedings directed by the secretary of state, armed with the powers given him by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; and he entreated gentlemen would do him the favour to listen to the statements which that petition contained, and they would then be aware of its importance, and be disposed perhaps to investigate it. The petition was from one Benjamin Scholes, of Wakefield, where he had resided till July last. He was a victualler and alehouse-keeper, by which business he had supported himself and his family with comfort. In July, however, he had been apprehended by a warrant from lord Sid-mouth, thrown into prison, and notwithstanding the prison of Wakefield was well secured, and well regulated, he had been conveyed to the castle of Cambridge. There he had been detained till January, in which month he had been set at liberty without any more cause for his liberation than had been stated for his detention. In consequence of his imprisonment, he had been ruined, his house and business broken up, and himself materially injured in his health. The learned gentleman said, he had in his possession a certificate from a respectable member of the college of surgeons who had attended him, which declared, that the confinement which the petitioner had endured had caused the illness under which he had laboured. His health was broken, and he was ruined in circumstances; and he had now to state to the House the sole reason of those proceedings which he had been able to discover. A charge had been laid against him by two persons of the names of Oliver and Bradley, for having been concerned in meetings held in his own house for seditious purposes. The particulars of that transaction he should relate to the House. Scholes first became acquainted with Oliver through the introduction of a person of the name of Mitchell, who was travelling about Yorkshire, as others had done in various parts of the country, pretending to come from societies in London, and making use of the names of the hon. baronet the member for Westminster, as well as that of his noble colleague. In the course of their proceedings, Oliver was very constant in instigating Scholes to go farther. Oliver said it was in vain to petition, petitioning was of no use; that they must have recourse to physical force. Scholes in consequence had some suspi- cions of the man, and his answer was, that he threatened to lay an information against him before the magistrates. Then came Oliver's plans; for he being threatened with exposure, no sooner found himself in danger of an information which could be supported by good evidence, than, with his associates, he wrote circular letters to call a meeting at the house of the petitioner. Scholes denied that such a meeting had ever been held at his house. He thought that other circum-stances might throw much light upon that fact. Indeed, he believed that an hon. friend of his had found means to obtain some information on that point; that he had discovered Oliver himself complaining to others of the slackness of Scholes, and of his refusing to allow meetings to be held in his house. The petitioner denied that he ever had been present at any such meeting in his life. Indeed, he stated, that he never had any knowledge of any, but one, for promoting the cause of constitutional reform, which had ended in a petition that had been presented and received by that House. Inquiries had been made, and the result of those inquiries had been in every way favourable to the petitioner's character. The first reason that he had for believing Scholes to be a person of good character was, that he had at different periods filled offices of considerable respectability. He had been employed as deputy-constable in the neighbourhood of Wakefield at a period of disturbance, and, principally by his exertions as deputy-constable, the peace had been so well preserved, that the provisions of the watch and ward act, then in force, were almost directly ceased to be applied. In consequence of the vigilance which he manifested, his services were received with unanimous approbation, and he believed with the thanks of the magistracy under whom he had acted. He had also received the thanks of the deputy-lieutenant. In addition to that, he might state, and to some persons in the House it might be a considerable improvement of his former character, that the petitioner had been upwards of three years a collector of assessed taxes. These things, he trusted would not be forgotten; for he had had means of communication with most respectable persons, and from them he was informed that Scholes had for many years fulfilled the duties imposed on him with the greatest propriety. He had had communications on the subject with the noble lord the member for Yorkshire, who was well acquainted with him, as well as the venerable personage to whom he was related; and he might read one or two letters which would inform them what was the character of the petitioner. [The hon. and learned gentleman then read an extract from a letter which ran nearly thus—"I have taken some pains to inquire into Scholes's case, as I was at first prepossessed with an unfavourable opinion of him. But I am now thoroughly convinced that he has been most unfairly dealt with, and that he has had no more connexion with any illegal or seditious designs than Mr. Wilberforce or the most innocent man in the kingdom; and I have no doubt that this will most evidently appear, if a full and fair investigation can be had of his case."] The suspicions of the man's character which appeared to have been entertained, were the consequences of all such cases. The moment it was heard that a man had been apprehended on a charge of high treason, or of any thing seditious, he was instantly suspected of being a very bad character. The hon. member for Bramber would see that his name had only been introduced as the most striking person of the kind that was suggested to the writer. It was singular, that after all he had endured, the petitioner asked but for the property which had belonged to himself and others to be restored to him. He called for nothing to be done to those by whom he had suffered; he invoked no vengeance upon their heads; he demanded no justice; but he trusted that would not be held as any argument for their turning a deaf ear to what was laid before them; he hoped that they would no longer have evidence so repeatedly proffered, without allowing those who were supposed to possess it to adduce their proofs.

The petition was then read. It purported to be the Petition of Benjamin Scholes, of Wakefield, and late a prisoner under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; and sat forth,

"That on the 2d of July 1817, the Petitioner was taken from Wakefield by a king's messenger, and carried before the secretary of state for the home department, and others, by whom he was committed to Cambridge castle, where he remained in close confinement until the 1st of January 1818; that in consequence of the arrest and detention of the petitioner, his home has been broken up, his business totally lost, and himself at the age of forty is thrown into the world to seek for a livelihood as if he had now to begin life anew; that on the 3d of January, after his liberation, the petitioner was taken ill, so that he has never since been able to do any thing towards the procuring of a livelihood, and that his disorder has entirely been the consequence of his confinement, as a certificate of the surgeon will, testify; that thus injured in health and ruined in business, the petitioner is destitute of the means of supporting himself in the same comfortable and honourable manner which he did previous to the time when he was taken from his home, and he trusts most undeservedly immured in prison; that the petitioner has been informed that his arrest and confinement have had their origin in the information of a person of the name of Oliver, and another of the name of Bradley, who had falsely informed the honourable the privy council, that the petitioner had taken part in several meetings of persons calling themselves delegates who harboured treasonable designs against the existing government; but the petitioner can prove that a person of the name of Mitchell, who had been travelling through the country on a pretence of encouraging constitutional parliamentary reform, first introduced Oliver to the petitioner under the appellation of a delegate from the friends of parliamentary reform in London, and as the particular friend of sir Francis Burdett and lord Gochrane; that the said Oliver strongly solicited the petitioner to become an agent for the sale of the Black Dwarf and other similar publications, which the petitioner positively refused; that the said Oliver first talked to the petitioner of resorting to physical force to obtain reform, as petitioning had proved of no avail; but on hearing such language from him the petitioner threatened to lay an information against him before the magistrates, renounced his acquaintance, and desired that he might never see his face again; that the said Oliver and Mitchell, without any knowledge of the petitioner, did write circular letters to call a meeting of persons from different parts of the kingdom, to be held at the house of the petitioner; but as soon as he heard that a meeting was about to be held at his house for political purposes, the petitioner interfered and discharged them from assembling there; nor, notwithstanding the numerous statements professedly official to the con- trary, has any meeting of delegates for secret political purposes, been held there at that or at any other time since the petitioner has kept the said House; and that the petitioner never had any political connexion with any man living in any unlawful purposes, nor ever attended any political meeting but one, regularly called to consider of a petition for parliamentary reform, which petition was afterwards presented and accepted by the House; that the petitioner can refer with confidence to his past conduct as a full and satisfactory proof of the loyalty and uprightness of his principles; that the petitioner for three years, during which period the mischievous Ludding system was at its utmost height, held the situation of deputy constable of the populous townships of Stanley cum Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, in which situation his exertions were such, that that district was altogether exempted from the provisions of the watch and ward act, though that act was put in force in all the neighbouring villages by the deputy lieutenants, whose thanks the petitioner received for his active and useful exertions; that during the time the petitioner held the above office all depredations were by him prevented through the precincts of those extensive and populous townships; that the petitioner also held for three years the situation of collector of assessed taxes throughout the same townships, during which period he was honoured with the warm commendation of the receiver-general for his diligence and punctuality in that office; the petitioner therefore humbly prays the House to take the above statements and the present situation of the petitioner into their kind consideration, and that the House will grant him such redress as in their mercy and clemency they may deem expedient and proper; and that the House will interpose their good offices with the right hon. secretary of state, that he may have the goodness to return to the petitioner the papers and old memorandum-book taken from him, which are the property of a poor widow, and furnish the only evidence she has of a debt of 17l., and her only security for its recovery."

The petitions were ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.