HC Deb 11 March 1818 vol 37 cc961-5
Sir F. Burdett

presented a Petition from James Sellers, late a state prisoner in Reading gaol; setting forth,

"That the Petitioner has followed the business of a cutler in Manchester on his own account for twelve years last past; that for nine years he occupied a place in Church-street, Manchester, where he was at work on the 28th of March, 1817, when a Mr. Withington, then high constable, entered the petitioner's shop, attended by a posse of constables; Withington seized the petitioner by the breast, dragged him about, presented a double-barrelled pistol at him, with a bayonet affixed to the end, swearing if the petitioner stirred, he would blow his brains out; at the same time the petitioner had made or offered no resistance; the petitioner asked the liberty to put on his coat, which was refused, having had it off when at work; on his wife offering him his coat, Withington ordered her to stand back, or he would run her through; in that state, without coat, the petitioner was brought out of his shop, together with three strange men who were in the shop bringing or taking away work; and the petitioner's handkerchief was stripped from his neck, and with it his hands tied to one of the three strange men; in that state, under an escort of dragoons, the petitioner, together with others, were triumphantly marched to prison; on arriving there, the petitioner was put into a cold cell or weaving shop, where he remained from five o'clock in the evening until eleven the same night, a cold season of the year, no fire, without coat, and in a bad state of health, which almost starved him to death; at eleven o'clock at night the petitioner was removed to a cell, where he remained until Sunday morning the 30th of March, when he was brought out to have irons put on, which done, he was with others the same morning sent off to London; the weight of the irons, added to the surfeit caught in prison, and a severe blow he received with a large stick from deputy Nadin of Manchester when in irons, very much injured the petitioner's health, the effects of which are at this time felt; on the 31st of March the petitioner arrived in London, and on the 1st of April underwent an examination before lord Sidmouth, when his lordship committed him to the House of Correction, Cold-Bath-fields; on the 9th of April he was a second time examined before his lordship, when his lordship committed him to Reading gaol, there to remain until delivered by due course of law; on the 10th of April he arrived at Reading, about nine in the evening, and on the following morning he, along with John Knight from Manchester, and Nathaniel Hulton from New-mills, Derbyshire, were put into a felon's ward, having nothing but a straw bed to be upon, nei- ther table, chair, or other necessary in the place; a turnkey named Tucker brought each prisoner a loaf, which should weigh one and one half pound, and informed them that was the county allowance, and which was to serve them until the next day, upon which the petitioner and the other two sufferers asked if they could have necessary subsistence for money, and were informed they might; they then ordered tea or coffee, which shortly after was brought, and also butter; on offering payment, they were informed that the governor would not charge any thing for what they had then had; on the 12th the prisoners were visited by the magistrates; on complaining of their treatment, the governor informed the magistrates, that he had received no orders respecting the treatment of the prisoners, but said, he had wrote to lord Sidmouth for instructions, and until he received an answer he would allow them something better than county allowance; in the course of a few days the petitioner and the other two sufferers were again visited by the visiting magistrates, at which time the governor stated to the prisoners that he had received orders from lord Sidmouth, stating that the petitioner and the other two sufferers were each to be allowed one guinea per week, to dispose of for their subsistence as they saw proper, or he the governor offered to provide them every necessary for the guinea per week each; the petitioner and the other two sufferers concluded to apply their own money, wishing to spare some trifle for the relief of their suffering families at home; the governor sent in a shop-keeper to take their orders; in a few days after, the governor informed the prisoners that he was going to London for farther information respecting their treatment, and would settle with them on his return, the prisoners having then received no money; before the governor's return the shopkeeper was pressing for his money, which the prisoners were obliged to pay out of their own pockets; on the governor's return, the prisoners sent several notes, pressing him for a settlement to enable them to discharge the shop-keeper's second demand, but the petitioner and the two other sufferers got no answer to such application until the 26th of April, having then been in the felons' ward sixteen days without money; on the 26th the deputy-governor informed the prisoners that they were that day to be removed to separate apartments; on the petitioner and the other two sufferers strongly objecting to such separation before having got a settlement with the governor, calculating from the shop-keeper's demand then unpaid, and the bill they had before discharged, there would be due to each about twenty-five shillings from the promised guinea per week, the deputy governor then informed the prisoners that he was instructed by the governor to say, that he the governor had orders to supply them from his own table for the government allowance of one guinea per week each; finding they could get no money, they were reluctantly obliged to send the shop-keeper's bill to the governor, to be by him discharged; and the same night the petitioner was removed into what they called a state-room, three and a half yards long by two and a quarter yards wide, 'furnished with a bed, one table, two chairs, and one coal-box, a smokey chimney, and the window fastened down, which precluded the admission of fresh air; in that state-room the petitioner remained shut up from the 26th of April to the 26th of July, excepting the liberty of walking in the yard one hour each day; from the confined state of the room, want of exercise, added to the severities before stated, the petitioner's legs were much swelled, and reduced in health to that degree that it was with difficulty that he could walk about; the petitioner and the other sufferer Hulton (Knight having been removed) were then allowed to be together two or three hours each day; and in a little time longer were permitted to be together all day until the petitioner was discharged, which was on the 4th of December 1817, on entering into recognizance to appear in London at the court of King's-bench on the 23d of January 1818, to answer to a charge of high treason that he was charged with; being conscious that he had committed no unconstitutional act, he did not shrink from meeting any charge that might be brought against him, but could not possibly appear, being without the means; on his arriving in Manchester on the 6th of December, he did not possess more than four shillings and sixpence, and found that his landlord had, without any process or colour of law, the same week the petitioner was sent to London, forcibly took possession of his shop, tools, &c, giving the petitioner's wife a very few necessary articles of furniture, which have been disposed of by the petitioner for subsistence since his return, not being able to get any employ, and having no tools to work with at his own business; his landlord on taking forcible possession placed another cutler in his shop, who continues to use the tools and possesses the business of the petitioner, who is now in a most wretched state, the little he and his wife procure to subsist upon being from the nearly exhausted bounty of a few friends; having suffered in the most severe manner in consequence of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act both in person and property, as well as the loss of his tools and business, through the most unjustifiable and unconstitutional proceedings of administration, the petitioner is most reluctantly obliged to throw himself on the protection of the House, for such redress as they in their wisdom may judge necessary, relying on the justice and liberality of the House."

Ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.