HC Deb 03 March 1818 vol 37 cc753-5
Lord Cochrane

presented a petition from Robert Thorn, a weaver of Glasgow, who had been taken up under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. The noble lord maintained that the statements embodied in the petition deserved the most serious inquiry, as, if they were true, acts of more flagrant injustice had not been committed under any go- vernment in Europe. A simple denial of the facts ought not to satisfy the House. The case ought to be fully investigated, that if the gaoler had been guilty of the oppression imputed to him, public indignation might fall on the right head.

The Petition was then read; setting forth,

"That the Petitioner, on the 22d of February 1817, was most unexpectedly arrested by certain sheriffs officers, and committed instantaneously to prison, without the exhibition of any warrant to that effect or any preceding examination; for a period of five days did the petitioner remain cooped up in a close cell, without being allowed any aliment, exposed to all the horrors of famine, and the most imminent danger of perishing from the extreme inclemency of the season, reduced, as he was, to solicit some relief to his sufferings by an attempt at repose on the rusty bars of the iron bedstead, without bed-clothes or covering of any description; when at length lie procured a few coals the vent was so foul that, amidst the smoke which then prevailed in the cell both night and day, the health of the petitioner was seriously affected, and at intervals his existence endangered, and even posterior to his liberation the petitioner was for upwards of two months utterly incapable of pursuing his usual occupation, and in consequence his family of a wife and four children reduced to a state of absolute mendicity; for upwards of eight days the petitioner was interdicted from any communication with his kindred, nor was the attendance of the gaol surgeon permitted; his constitution of course suffered severely, and subjected him to the disease called the bleeding piles, which apparently will adhere to him through life; the sole sources of support which were furnished the petitioner on the fifth day of his imprisonment was the insignificant sum of eight pence per day, from which after the indispensable deductions for fuel and other necessaries, there remained only one shilling and five pence weekly to support existence; that the petitioner's humble situation precluded the possibility of his being in any respect accessary to the treasonable practices erroneously laid to his charge; there was not only no species of evidence adduced against the petitioner by his wanton oppressors in vindication of their proceedings, but he was eventually released on the 15th of April last, in consequence of bail being found, but this recognizance has never been acted on, or the petitioner called to appear in court: from these circumstances, so replete with calamity and distress to the petitioner, he perceives himself involved in ruin, and from his debilitated state of body rendered incompetent to provide for the sustenance of his family, who depend solely on his exertions to preserve them from the keen sufferings of chilling penury, or the degrading resource of precarious mendacity; on that philanthropy and generosity of character which even the most inveterate foes of England have been compelled to venerate as the brightest attraction of a British senate, the petitioner reposes with confidence an appeal against the undisguised persecution to which he has been exposed; and as his case presents no tale of simulated distress, he awaits, with deference and submission, that corresponding redress and indemnity which the House may adjudge it in their wisdom expedient to award; and praying the House to undertake the consideration of the preceding statement, and afford such redress as may be deemed commensurate to the distress which the petitioner has so long undergone."

Mr. Finlay

hoped the House would not rely on the truth of the statements made in this petition. It stated that the petitioner had been taken up under the Suspension act: but the fact was, that in Scotland none were detained under the operation of that act. With respect to the alleged harsh treatment, he had made inquiry, and satisfied himself that the complaint was groundless. Two or three, who had been confined under similar charges, had expressed themselves perfectly satisfied, and had even expressed their thanks for the attention paid to their wants. For his part, he wished inquiry being made into the circumstances of the case, because he knew the result would show the exaggerated nature of some statements made in this petition, and the utter falsehoods of others.

Lord Cochrane said, he had two other petitions, from W. Irvin and J. Buchanan, who had been arrested at the same time, one of whom referred to J. P. Grant, esq. a member of the House, as the person who had saved his life, and who could bear witness to his sufferings. They were then read, and ordered to lie on the table.