§ Mr. Bennet
said, he held in his hands a petition from John Martin Hanchett, a post captain in the royal navy, a companion of the order of the Bath, and late comptroller of the naval watch, for the prevention of smuggling. The petitioner was a person who had distinguished himself on many occasions in his profession, and was a gentleman of excellent character. He complained of having been deprived of his situation, without any adequate cause, by an hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Lushington), who had so abused the powers of his official situation for the purpose of appointing a person who had the power of furthering his political influence in the city of Canterbury. He would not injure the cause of the petitioner, which would be best understood from the petition itself. He should merely state that this honourable officer, after undergoing great fatigues in this office, by which, in addition to his former professional services, he was very much worn out, had 454 signified a wish to retire on a superannuation allowance, and that he had been displaced by the hon. secretary of the treasury, who abruptly removed him and placed another officer in his stead to serve his election purposes. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving that the petition be brought up.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
wished to explain to the House the part which he had had in this transaction. Soon after the return of peace, he had received several letters from captain Hanchett, on the subject of a plan for the prevention of smuggling, which displayed great ability, and which led to an interview with the writer. At that time, he knew nothing of captain Hanchett, except that he had heard his name mentioned with approbation as a naval officer. On the grounds then of captain Hanchett's merits in the service, coupled with the admiration of his letters, he solicited the interview with him: and it was with sincere pleasure that he introduced into the public service of the country, in time of peace, an officer in high estimation, on public grounds alone. Captain Hanchett discharged the duties of the office to which he was appointed, very much to the satisfaction of government, till last autumn, when he signified a wish to resign in favour of a gentleman, to whom there was no objection, that he was not of a rank to be placed over other officers who stood higher in the service. In the mean time, information was given to the treasury, that captain Hanchett had entered into a negotiation with this gentleman to receive from him 500l. a year, or 6,000l. paid down at once. When these circumstances came to his knowledge, he determined that captain Hanchett should no longer hold the situation. There could be no doubt that a person who endeavoured to obtain money by such means, was a very unfit person to hold such a situation.—His hon. friend near him had not taken one step in the business without consulting with him. As he himself had boon the principal actor, he was willing to take his full share of the responsibility.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, he had been aware of the official storm which would be raised against this officer; and he had cautioned him to beware how he proceeded—that he would do so with a rope round his neck,—and unless he made out his case in every respect, he would certainly lose himself. Captain Hanchett had determined to pro- 455 ceed with his case; and it was now necessary that he should proceed; for had he been disposed to withdraw the petition, the conduct of the right hon. gentleman would have prevented this. The case of that officer would go out of the House with the statement of the chancellor of the exchequer, delivered with an air of candour, but hostile and offensive in the highest degree towards him. Having stated what the charge and ground for dismissing the petitioner was, it was impossible for him, if he possessed those feelings, which he believed he possessed, to hesitate one moment as to the course which he should pursue.
§ Mr. Lushington
said, if the hon. gentleman had looked into the case deliberately, he would have found that so far from the petitioner having been treated with cruelty, too much lenity had been shown him. He owed an apology to the country and to his right hon. friend near him, that this officer was not dismissed sooner; and when he stated the circumstances to the House, which were proved by evidence which he held in his hand, and the records of the Treasury, he trusted the House would be convinced that he could not suffer the petitioner to remain any longer in his situation. In August last, the petitioner proposed, in consequence of the wounds he had received in the service, to retire on a superannuation allowance. It was stated to him in answer, that he had not the least claim; that his services, as a naval officer, were quite distinct from his services in the other situation; and that as he had only been two years and a half connected with the revenue, it was impossible to allow him to superannuate. He had calculated his office worth 1,500l. a year; and on this calculation he wished a superannuation of 1,000l. a year. In the mean time it was discovered that he was endeavouring to sell his appointment; and this was the ground for his dismissal. The case had been sent to the law officers of the Crown with the evidence, to ascertain whether the negociation for resigning an office, accompanied with the corrupt purpose of receiving money from the person who succeeded him, did cot come within Mr. Perceval's act. The answer received was, that it did not come quite within that act. As the law now stood, he escaped the penalty of the law; but if he had negotiated for another person's resignation, he would have come within the act. With 456 respect to the particular statements in the: petition they were totally groundless. He did not mean to deny that he entertained a regard for his constituents; but he should be ashamed to sit in that House, if he had misapplied his patronage in the manner charged against him. He should have no-difficulty in showing, that the persons named in the petition were recommended by captain Hanchett himself. The only fault he had to accuse himself of was his lenity towards captain Hanchett: but this proceeded from a wish not to throw any discredit on an officer of character in the service to which he had belonged. And under these circumstances he would ask the House, whether he was not justified in the lenity which he had shown.
Sir Francis Burdett
was of opinion, that all that the hon. gentleman bad just said, amounted only to an additional reason for receiving this petition. Now, as to the alleged transaction of the secret agreement, there was no moral guilt, no actual crime, in selling a resignation; they might make it a crime, and had indeed done so, at law: but it was well known that, among officers, the sale and exchange of commissions were matters of every day occurrence. If the officer in question had been detected in taking money to pervert the duties of his office, then indeed he would have been guilty of a moral crime, of a crime too against the public. It did not appear that in this instance the transaction would have prejudiced the public service. The hon. gentleman opposite had said, that it was not included in the provisions of Mr. Perceval's bill-a bill which was brought in after the commission of what was, beyond doubt, a very corrupt act—an act which was proved against Mr. Perceval himself, and a noble lord who was now sitting opposite; yet upon that occasion the House did not think proper to allow the slightest expression of its disapprobation to be recorded. The hon. gentleman had been pleased to consider this before the House as a casus omissus in that bill. Now, he would beg gentlemen to remember, that supposing what that hon. member had stated to be perfectly correct, it did not follow that the petitioner was necessarily guilty. Nothing advanced by, the hon. gentleman himself necessarily implied any thing like moral guilt. But there was a charge against the hon. gentleman, that he had used the patronage and influence of government to further his own electioneering views. For his own 457 part, as he, on the one hand, did not believe that charge to be a true one, so on the other he was not prepared to say that it was entirely without foundation. As on the one side there were direct charges, and on the other mere assertion in reply, he hoped the House would permit the petition to be brought up, especially as it would afford the hon. gentleman a fair opportunity to vindicate his own conduct.
The petition was then brought up and read. In addition to a variety of details relative to former services, and the conduct pursued by captain Hanchett in the execution of his duties, it particularly stated, "That the petitioner finding in 26 days after the date of his appointment, that the sum produced by (his) one-third part of the king's share of all seizures would exceed 6,000l. or 7,000l. per ann., which he considered to be greatly beyond a fair compensation for the discharge of his duty, especially at a time when economy was necessary in the public expenditure, voluntarily resigned the same. On the motion, that it do he on the table,
§ Mr. Lushington
claimed the attention of the House, because the petition contained very strong reflections upon the character of one of its members. The hon. gentleman opposite had said nothing about the affair of the 6,000l., which was the very head and substance of the charge against him. The hon. member then proceeded to read the deposition of lieut. Dombrain. The examinant declared, that in conferring about the proposed arrangement, capt. Hanchett had said, "This is all under the rose; not a word about it to Mr. Lushington." The complainant's petition stated, that lieut. Dombrain, the officer appointed to serve under him, was young and inexperienced. It was a little remarkable, however, that he was the very person in whose favour the resignation of capt. Hanchett was to be made, and with whom the arrangement was projected. And why was not that arrangement concluded? Why, because he (Mr. Lushington) had interfered to prevent it All the statements made by lieut. Dombrain; in regard to the whole affair, were. quite satisfactory. He had always found him zealous and active in the discharge of his duty, and believed him to be incapable of becoming a party to so dishonourable a transaction. The charges which related to himself (Mr. Lushington) referred to meetings of his voters at Rochester, It 458 had been stated on the part of the petitioner, that lieut. Dombrain and his father were to go to Canterbury during the election, and charge their travelling and other expenses upon the contingent account, as if against the public service. Was it likely that he should stultify himself so completely, as to commit himself in this open and tangible manner? He appealed to those who knew his character, whether it was likely that he could for a moment entertain such disgraceful intentions? But' what was the fact? That very officer on the day charged, was employed by capt. Hanchett himself; as could be proved by his own letter. The hon. gentleman then entered into the particulars of the successive appointments and employments of lieutenants Dombrain, Warre, and Gowland, and of captain Knight, and defended the conduct observed towards capt. Hanchett, whose projects he denominated expensive, wild, and impracticable. He would only add, that his resignation was not received till after his dismissal had been determined on.
§ Mr. Bennet
begged to remind the House, that he had disclaimed any personal acquaintance with the petitioner, or with the facts of his case, upon presenting his petition. He had particularly warned him to advance nothing but the pure truth; and the captain had assured him, in reply, that the statement contained nothing but the truth. As to the story of the 6,000l., he had explicitly authorized him now to declare, upon his word of honour, as an officer and a gentleman that there was not one word of truth in it. It was true, that in a conversation which took place shortly before the event in question, a proportion was made by old Dombrain, that the captain on his resignation should have two-thirds of the salary of his appointment reserved to him out of it Some explanation ensued in consequence, in the course of which Dombrain, the father, said, that if the Treasury did not make that allowance, he himself would make it up; that at any rate he should have one-third reserved out of the profits of a place which was worth about 5,000l.or 6,000l. a year, in consequence of the resignation being so much to his son's advantage. The hon. member hoped the House would feel that consideration at any rate, was due to the case of a man who fad relinquished those pro fits, in the very first act of his appointment, with an honesty which ought to be 459 duly appreciated. He did not know what the artful old Mr. Dombrain might have said, not one word of whose depositions, by the bye, had been communicated to the House; but he knew that captain Hanchett solemnly protested, that, so far from expressing a wish that any arrangement between them should be under the rose, he would not be a party to any one without every particular having been previously communicated to the hon. gentleman opposite. What he complained of in the appointment of lieut. Dombrain was as regarded that appointment three years ago, when he had never seen either duty or service as a lieutenant on board any of his majesty's ships. There was no doubt that so intelligent and active a young man as captain Hanchett described him to be, would have taken good care since that time to render himself efficient. The hon. gentleman reminding the House that at the first outset of this matter he had deprecated the discussion which had ensued, concluded by moving that the petition be printed.
said, that the extreme length of the petition was a strong objection to the printing of it. The great length of petitions presented to the House struck at the right of petitioning itself, as it would compel the House to make some regulation to save its time. He thought it the duty of every member to impress on petitioners the necessity of compressing their statements. The facts of the petition before the House might have been stated much more briefly and intelligibly.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
could not subscribe to the doctrine of his hon. friend. Every petitioner was bound to make out his case as fully and satisfactorily as possible. In the present instance, however, he was inclined to believe that the petition was incorrect, and that the hon. gentleman (Mr. Lushington) had correctly stated the case.
Mr. N. Culvert
said, there was an objection to the printing of the petition independently of its length. It contained a severe charge against a member, which should not be circulated until its truth was inquired into.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the denial of captain Hanchett of his proposal to receive 6,000l. was wholly inconsistent with a letter of his of the 19th March, to the secretary of the treasury in which he acknowledged that he had, though unintentionally violated the act of parliament.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, that capt. Hanchett had acknowledged the fact of a consultation, for the purpose of obtaining an allowance on the resignation of his office, but he denied the fact of any thing of the 6,000l. being spoken of.
§ Mr. Lushington
argued, that the letter of captain H. of the 19th of March, could only refer to this accusation of his having bargained to receive 6,000l. As to the petition, he was willing to make this proposal:—He would lay before the House all the documents which he thought necessary to illustrate the case, and any others which the hon. gentleman chose to call for; and he would leave it to the hon. gentleman, when he had read them, if any shadow of doubt remained on his mind, to make what proposition he thought proper.