HC Deb 13 March 1818 vol 37 cc1068-72
Sir S. Romilly

rose to present a Petition from Robert Swindells, of Macclesfield, in the county of Chester, whose case he had adverted to in the course of his observations on the Indemnity bill.* The petition did, he perceived, differ in some respects from the statement which appeared in the Chester newspaper, but that statement substantially concurred with the petitioner in all material points. This petition was forwarded to an hon. friend of his, in order to be presented, before he alluded to the case in that House; but his hon. friend (Mr. Bonnet) being prevented from attending the House, had sent it to him to have it presented. He now proposed to have the petition brought up, in order to have it laid on the table. What might become of this petition hereafter he could not pretend to say. He did not know that the sufferings of the poor petitioner, with the loss of his wife and child, might not be made a topic of merriment to enliven some future debate. Be that as it might, he would do his duty in presenting it.

The Petition was then read; setting forth,

"That on the 10th of March, 1817, at twelve o'clock at night, when himself, his wife, and small child had retired to rest, a number of people came, with threats, knocking with great violence at his door, demanding entrance; the petitioner got up, and opened the window, requesting to know who was there; the reply was, "constables;" he told them to go away, that they had no right to disturb him in that manner; they threatened him with many threats and curses, and exclaimed, "If you don't open the door we will break it open, we will break it in pieces if you don't open the door and get us a light;" the petitioner's wife, being very much alarmed, and far advanced in pregnancy, did intreat him to open the door, which he did as soon as he got a light, and in rushed a number of men, viz. Mr. Samuel Wood, alderman, Mr. Joseph Tunnacliff, silk manufacturer, James Powell, banker's clerk, and several others, acting, as the petitioner supposed, under the authority of the magistrates, with staves lifted as if they meant to fell him to the ground instantly; the petitioner asked them for their authority for coming to his * See p. 973. house in that manner; with their staves lifted over his head, they exclaimed, "This is our authority, and where are those men you have in your house?" the petitioner said, "What men?" they answered, "Why those men you have in your house?" the petitioner told them he had got no men in his house, that there was no person in his house except himself, his wife, and child; Mr. S. Wood and others took the light, and searched the house, but found no men there; Mr. S. Wood said, "There have some men slept in your house;" the petitioner told him that no man did ever sleep in his house but himself; they began to rummage his house and destroy his property; they demanded the keys of his chest and boxes; the petitioner said he did not know where they were; they threatened him, with their staves brandished over his head, that they would break the chest in splinters if he did not get them the keys; the petitioner's wife and child being down stairs, as They got out of bed, and she fearing the consequence of their threats, told them where the keys were; they got them, and opened the chest and box, one of them having the box under his arm, and said they would take it along with them; but as the keys were found, and the contents rummaged, it was left; all this was done to the great damage of the clothes and other contents, every thing being unfolded, broke open, and thrown about the house, every bonnet and hat being broke flat together; they demanded another candle, but the petitioner did not offer to comply, and they threatened him with staves as before, so that he got them one; that being lighted, a party went up stairs, pulled the bed-clothes off the bed to the floor, turned the bed up of a heap, went to the beaufet, pulled out most of the contents, and broke and threw them about the floor; they also opened his wife's work-bags, her sewing which she had been preparing for the child she then carried. was also thrown about the floor; when they had plundered his house in every direction, they took with them a bundle of printed papers and pamphlets, and went off saying it would not be long before they would visit him again, which they never have; neither have they returned his property which they took away with them; but the scene did not stop here, for on the next day, on the 11th of March, his wife declared to him and many others that the fright and starvation with cold had killed her, which she continued to express till the day of her death, for pains, coughing, and spitting ensued which rendered her for several weeks unable to lay down in bed till the 26th of April, when she was delivered without pains; being unable to rest, she expired on the 28th, the day but one afterwards, though all the assistance was got that lay in his power, leaving the petitioner, the child she was delivered of, and another one year and eight months old, to bewail her loss; the petitioner called on Mr. S. Wood, at his house, to know the reason of his being treated in such a manner, but got no satisfactory answer from him; the petitioner's troubles did not end here, for on the 17th of May he was served with a process of law from the court of King's-bench, under a penalty of 100l for his appearance to answer such charges that should then and there be exhibited against him; on the 31st of May another process of law was served upon him, to the same effect as the former; at this time his little infant died, for the want of its mother; on the petitioner's being served by the attorney s clerk, he informed him he was not furnished with means sufficient to supply himself for such a journey; the petitioner said he was willing to go if means could be procured for the journey; the clerk told him he must try his friends; and he did so, but was not able to succeed; the petitioner went to the mayor to solicit his advice; the mayor said he knew nothing of the affair, and could give him no advice; the petitioner said to him, if he had been guilty of any misdemeanors, he should deliver himself into his charge; the mayor said, I know nothing of you, I know nothing at all about you; on Sunday June the 22d, about seven o'clock in he evening, Mr. Frost, constable, came to the petitioner, and said he had a warrant against him, and he took him to his lockup room, and kept him till the 27th; during this confinement the petitioner was allowed no subsistence; from there he was conveyed to Chester castle, to subsist on bread and water, having no means left to get any thing else, such is the change of his condition in the course of a few weeks; a wife whose endearing disposition lost her life by cowards, his child lost for the want of its mother, his other left to the mercy of a parish officer, and himself confined in a prison in the castle of Chester upwards of five weeks; he was then liberated without trial, on giving his future residence, without any thing to support him for a journey of forty miles home; but happening to meet in Chester with the coachman that brought him, the petitioner told him he was liberated, and had not the means' to carry him home; he said he did not care, he brought him there, and he would take him back money or no money, but he has paid him since his return; the petitioner states these facts, which he is willing to prove if called upon; he appeals to the House if this is the reward he has merited, after having been upwards of eleven years in his majesty's service, out of which he was upwards of three years on board his majesty's ship Ville de Paris, off Brest, upwards of three years in his majesty's gun vessel Insolent, upwards of four years and six months on board his majesty's ship Hussar, and returned from the East Indies with the earl of Minto, after being debilitated through the fatigues of war and severity of the country; and the petitioner calls upon the House to grant him, or cause to be granted, such redress as in their wisdom shall seem just."

The Petition was ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.