HC Deb 26 January 1819 vol 39 cc115-9
Sir T. B. Martin

expressed his regret that be was not present last night, when an hon. member opposite had presented a petition from a certain convict, styled doctor O'Halloran. The statements in that petition, and in the speech of the hon. member who presented it, had, he understood made a great impression upon the House, and he hoped that, as being at the head of the department of the transport board that regulated the vessels in which convicts were embarked, he would be allowed that opportunity of removing the wrong impression which he understood was made on the House last night. The hon. gentleman had animadverted with great force upon the mortality which he described as characterising the mode in which convicts were conveyed to Botany Bay. Now, so far from this being the fact, he held in his hand a document, which altogether refuted this statement, and he remembered, long before the last convicts were shipped, to have mentioned the fact to lord Melville, with much satisfaction, as it redounded to the credit of the whole arrangements under the superintendence of his own board. Since the 1st of January, 1816, 6,409 convicts had been shipped, and of this number only 53 had died on the passage; the mortality was, therefore, only at the rate of one in 112. If, as the hon. gentleman had stated, the convicts were stowed and crowded together in the most noxious and unwholesome manner, was it likely that such a state of health would have been preserved as the statement he had made verified? The hon. member had also said, that six convicts were crammed into a space of six feet in breadth for their sleeping birth. This was not the fact; for the space allotted for the convicts sleeping birth was equal in breadth, for each man to that assigned to the sailor, or soldier on board the same vessel. It was, in fact, larger than that allowed to men in his majesty's service. He had himself, when at sea, been very well satisfied with the same breadth, and he had two sons now who made no complaint of having no greater sleeping room allowed them. There were men who had been forty-five years at sea, who never had a greater space to lie in, and who yet enjoyed excellent health. He would now read the recent returns of the arrivals in Botany Bay, which would set the hon. gentleman's statement of mortality in the convict ships at rest:—In the Fame transport, with 200 convicts, only two had died; in the Bensley, 200 convicts, none died, and all arrived in excellent health; in the lord Melville, 102 convicts, three had died, and the convicts on their arrival gave a public acknowledgment of the humane and excellent treatment they had received on the voyage; the Shipley, 125 convicts, none died: the Armourer, 180 convicts, none died; the Larking, 250 convicts, two died; the Lady Castlereagh, 300 convicts, none died; the Batavia, 219 convicts, one died; the Neptune, 286 convicts, none died; the Baring, 300 convicts, one died. He called on the House to recollect that it was of this last ship, when preparing for her present voyage, that the hon. member had spoken. She was now commanded by the same officers and surgeon, as on her former voyage, and he believed there never were men of more humane dispositions. The surgeon, Dr. Reid, had been continued in the ship, at the recommendation of sir R. Keats, in consequence of his acknowledged skill and humanity. These were facts, and he trusted they furnished a satisfactory answer to the hon. gentleman's statements, who seemed to have taken his information from the convicts without refering to any of the officers for a corroboration of what he had heard.

Mr. Bennet

said, that after what had fallen from the hon. gentleman, he hoped he would receive the indulgence of the house, while he clearly and distinctly stated the authority on which he had given his statement last night. He lately went down to visit the two transports then about to sail with convicts. In one of them he understood there were 300 men; in the other 440. He went on board one of them in consequence of a communication from Dr. O'Halloran. The place in which he saw the doctor was 12 feel square, and 21 persons, he was told, were stowed in it. He saw three persons lying in one of the cribs which he had described, and they told him that three others were also crammed into the same sleeping place. Three men, who stood by, avowed that they were the persons who slept in this contracted space. He was glad, indeed, to find that this information was not correct: but he was told he should have gone to the captain for information; he meant to have had the statement of the captain, in the presence of the convicts, but the bustle of getting water on deck and preparing for sea, prevented his having the means of procuring infor- mation from that source. He had complained to the captain of the offensive and noxious state of the lower part of the vessel in which such a number of poor wretches were confined, and the captain informed him, that as soon as he pot to sea, he would have the means of cleansing that part of the ship from the filth which covered it. The captain implored him not to leave the ship under the impression that the convicts alone were crowded to excess, "Go," said he, "into my cabin, and see how we are crowded—go to where the passengers are placed, and see how they fare—go among the sailors and soldiers, and see if they are not as bad off as the rest." This showed the crowded state of the vessel, and the consequent sufferings which poor wretches must endure, who were unused to a sea life. What he had said last night, respecting the mortality on board the Surrey, remained uncontradicted. She had lost 50 (one fourth of her number) in crossing the line. It was said, that these unfortunate men had the same space allotted to them as the soldiers and the sailors, but was there not this difference in the situation of these patties that the soldiers and sailors could go up at night on deck, to avoid the inconvenience below, in warm latitudes? The wretched convict could claim no such indulgence, but must remain in the crowd below, exposed to all the sufferings of such a situation. He was not surprised to hear that men in such a situation, rushed in despair upon death, in the attempt to extricate themselves from so cruel a bondage. He had been himself, when in the army, on board a transport in a warm latitude, and he could feel what must be the situation of beings, who had no alternative but to remain locked up below, inhaling the effluvia of such a situation. For his own part he had only to say, that in this, or any other transaction of a similar kind, in which he took a part, heaven knew he had no other object upon earth, in publicly mentioning the circumstance, than an earnest desire to expose and prevent the infliction of unnecessary cruelty. He never had or could have, but one object, and that was to attempt, so far as in the short life of man could be attempted, to diminish the sum of human misery. [Loud cries of "Hear, hear!"]

Sir T. B. Martin

observed, that half a ton more than was usually allowed to soldiers and sailors, was allowed to convicts, in the arrangements as to their conveyance, in order that their accommodation might be attended to. There were means of ventilation also adopted; and he begged leave to read an extract from one of the last letters which had been received from Botany Bay. The extract went in fact to state, the grateful acknowledgments of some of the convicts to their captain for his unwearied assiduity to their comforts, and the peculiar concern which had been manifested towards their health.

Sir Isaac Coffin

said, that he last night, from the statement of the hon. member, pronounced the treatment of these convicts as being most scandalous. He had gone to the navy board this morning to make inquiries into the truth of the statement, and the result of his inquiries, was, that the hon. member had been imposed upon. In candour, therefore, he felt himself bound to withdraw the expressions he had used last night, and to express his belief, from the information he had Since received, that the convicts were as well treated as was consistent with the situation of such persons.