HC Deb 15 May 1821 vol 5 cc713-9

Sundry petitions were this day presented, complaining of the proceedings at Manchester. On presenting a Petition from William Butterworth,

Mr. Harbord

said, he believed the petitioner to be a very honest man. He was a weaver, and had received a cut of a sabre, on his right arm, which incapacitated him from following his occupation; so that, having a wife and three small children, he had been reduced to great distress. He prayed for justice, and that the perpetrators of the outrages of the 16th of August might be brought to justice. Perhaps, in courtesy to the hon. baronet, who was about to bring the subject before the House, he ought to abstain from any thing like an anticipation pf the debate. Yet, knowing as he did, the store of information which the hon. baronet possessed, the ardency of his feelings, and the extent of his abilities, he confessed that he did not feel any great reluctance or delicacy on that score. The distresses which arose in the year 1819 produced meetings in different parts of the country, and among others notice was given of a meeting to be held in Manchester. The object of that meeting having been declared by the magistrates to be illegal, it was abandoned, and a meeting of a different nature was called for the 16th of August. No efficient steps were taken to prevent this; the civil force were not called into action; the military were placed in ambush; and the magistrates overlooked the whole proceedings from an adjacent house. The magistrates issued warrants for the apprehension of certain persons, and why those warrants were not executed by the civil power, he could never ascertain. It was said, that the civil power could not execute them; but he contended that the effort to do so, had never been fairly made. What was next done? The troops were ordered to advance. Now, he would ask any man what was likely to be the effect of an advance of regular cavalry upon a closely-wedged multitude? But, was it the regular cavalry that was thus employed? No; but a political soldiery. The havoc which ensued beggared description. Doubts having arisen as to the legality of the conduct pursued by the magistrates, one of that body posted to London, to inform the secretary of state what had occurred; and upon this information from one side, and without giving time for the slightest inquiry, their conduct was approved of, and they received the thanks of their sovereign. The chief actor in this scene was a minister of that religion which preaches good-will and charity to all mankind; that gentleman, on this occasion, discharged that duty which at any period was the most severe that could devolve upon a magistrate. How far those duties were consistent with the service of the church of Christ, it was for the reverend gentleman himself to consider. It was a little remarkable, however, that shortly after the 16th of August, for some reason or other, perhaps as a reward for that meekness, humility, and temperance for which he was so remarkable—that reverend gentleman had been advanced to a living of from 1,500l. to 2,000l. a-year. The magistrates had stated, that training had been going on for some time before the 16th of August. If so, why was it not put a stop to? They next said, that much alarm was created in the town by the tremendous multitude assembled. Very true; but why were they suffered to enter the town? Why was not the civil power employed to block up the principal avenues to the town before those persons entered it? This would have prevented the fatal events which took place. Next it was said, that the Riot act had been read. He was fully convinced that it was read, as he had it from a gentleman of the highest respectability who was present; but then it was read in such a manner as not to be heard by the crowd. His opinions then were, first, that if such a meeting was illegal it ought to have been prevented; secondly, that proper means had not been taken to disperse it, but that the means used Were most unjustifiable; and, finally, that the avenues of justice had been obstructed in such a manner, that only one means of redress was left, namely, an application to that House. But, when that application was made, the reply was, that the courts of justice were open; though it was known that indictment after indictment had been thrown out by the grand juries before whom bills were preferred. Though he was not in the habit of saying any thing offensive to any quarter, he could not help stating, in conclusion, that, co-existent with the recollection of those transactions, there would remain on his mind an apprehension of personal danger from that government who could, without giving time for inquiry, pass a vote of approbation upon the men who had been the perpetrators of such deeds.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

said, he could not hear the hon. member call the yeomanry a political soldiery without entering his protest against it. The yeomanry were a most useful and efficient body, and no country on earth could create or support such a body except Great Britain and Ireland. As to the observations of the hon. member respecting Mr. Hay, the rev. gentleman was bound as a magistrate to act to the best of his judgment; and if he had refused to act he would have rendered himself liable to be struck out of the magistracy. Another assertion of the hon. member was respecting the living which had been given to this rev. gentleman. It was true he had not said it was given for any particular conduct on the occasion alluded to; but, from the manner in which he had expressed himself, he had more than insinuated as much. Now, he could state that the living had not been given to Mr. Hay by government, or by any person connected with government. It had been bestowed by a right rev. prelate, in consequence of a promise which had been made two years before the transactions at Manchester took place. It was, therefore, unfair to insinuate that the living had been given from political motives.

Lord Milton

said, that his hon. friend did not speak of the yeomanry of England, but of the yeomanry of Manchester. He would ask any man connected with Manchester, to say whether the yeomanry cavalry of that town were like the yeomanry of Surrey or Sussex, farmers residing on their own lands, or whether they were not persons entertaining strong personal and party feeling. With respect to the living given to Mr. Hay, he had heard, and he should like to hear it contradicted, that an arrangement had taken place by which the rev. prelate who gave that living, was to have in return the disposal of one of those livings which were more immediately in the patronage of government.

Mr. Bathurst

said, he had no hesitation in contradicting that assertion.

Lord Milton

expressed his satisfaction at hearing the report contradicted.

Sir R. Wilson

presented thirteen petitions from persons who had been cut down and wounded at Manchester. Among them was one from W. Cheetham, who stated, that he was addressed by Meagher, the trumpeter, who said, "Damn you, I will cut your head off," and who immediately gave him a wound in the neck, and cut nine inches off the rim of his hat. The petitioner went to Lancaster, in the expectation of bringing the cowardly trumpeter to justice; but, lo! the grand jury, of which lord Stanley was foreman, the petitioner's late colonel, threw out the bill; his lordship said laughingly, he was sorry one of his regiment should have brought himself into such a hobble; the petitioner then attempted to show to his lordship his hat that was cut, and the blood that run from his wound out to his clothing, but he would not look at them, or allow the petitioner to show them.

Lord Stanley

said, he remembered, that having some recollection of the person in question, he had asked him to what regiment he belonged? and finding that he belonged to his own regiment, he expressed his regret that he should have placed himself in such a situation. He might also have felt regret that the individual had engaged in such proceedings; but if it was intended to be conveyed that he had laughed or sneered at the sufferings of this or any other individual, he begged most distinctly to contradict the assertion. The petitioner had offered to show his wounds, but he, as foreman of the grand jury, told him it was unnecessary, as his statement was sufficient; and here the matter ended.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that the next petition was from a person who had been considered as the leader of the Manchester meeting; it was from Mr. Henry Hunt, whose conviction at York was, in his opinion, produced by a violent straining of the law, and whose punishment was most oppressive, vindictive and unjust, in a country where justice was administered in mercy.

Lord Milton

said, that the case of Mr. Hunt was totally different from that of the other petitioners.

Mr. Scarlett

felt that it was but an act of justice, on his part, to state that the subject of the petition had been before the court of King's-bench, and that the charges had been answered upon affidavit; that the counsel of Mr. Hunt, after having heard the affidavit read, consented to have the conditional rule obtained by Mr. Hunt, discharged with costs.

Ordered to lie on the table.

Sir R. Wilson

presented another petition from Mr. Hunt complaining of the conduct of the gaoler at Ilchester. The petitioner stated, that the cold and noxious vapours of the gaol were aggravated by the inhuman, cold-blooded, and remorseless keeper's conduct: that the judges had deliberately and intentionally selected the most unwholesome, the worst regulated, and the most immoral gaol in the kingdom; and that one of the judges, who had been born in the neighbourhood of this bastile, had not been able to conceal his joy, when he saw the petitioner sentenced to imprisonment in it for two years and six months.

On the question, That the petition do lie on the table,

Mr. Bright

said, he felt himself called upon indignantly to notice the vile, base, and atrocious imputations which the petitioner had thrown upon the judges. How was it possible that those learned persons could have known whether the gaol of Ilchester was well or ill regulated; or whether the gaoler was base or cruel? The very magistrates of the county were astonished (himself amongst the number) at the statements that had been lately made with respect to the state of Ilchester gaol: if it should turn out to be true, that the gaol was badly regulated—that prisoners were harshly and cruelly treated, most certainly the magistrates were ignorant of those things. Was it to be believed, then, that the judges could be better acquainted with the internal regulations of that gaol than the magistrates of the county? The imputations which the petitioner had cast upon those learned persons, he was convinced, were false, unprincipled, and atrocious.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, he would leave it to every impartial man to say whether the petition was intended to inflame the public mind, or to seek for justice and redress of injuries. In his opinion, it was impossible that the House could suffer to lie upon the table a petition full of such monstrous aspersions upon the venerable judges of the land.

The Attorney General

said, he had been present when the sentence of the court of King's-bench was pronounced upon the petitioner; and he could assert, that upon that occasion no expression in words or by gesture was made by any of the learned judges such as described by the petitioner. He believed in his conscience that the gaol of Ilchester had been selected because it was supposed to have been the best regulated.

Mr. Scarlett

said, that the petition, as it related to the judges of the King's-bench, he looked upon as base, false, and slanderous. The terms of the petition were scandalous and base in the extreme; if such language as the petition contained was to be tolerated in that House, then it would be better to give up all respect for the administration of justice. The learned judges, throughout the whole case of the petitioner, had conducted themselves with a cautious and fearful anxiety. They were anxious throughout to do what was equitable and just. They gave to the defendant advantages and opportunities which few parties had ever possessed before; they gave him their assistance when he had no counsel, and bore with the utmost patience language and conduct from the petitioner which courts of justice were not accustomed to hear. He agreed with the noble lord that the petition ought not to be permitted to lie upon the table.

Dr. Lushington

said, that he would vote that the petition be rejected, because, instead of facts, it stated the mere opinion of the petitioner. It was now five weeks since a motion had been made for a commission to inquire into the state of Ilchester gaol, yet no inquiries had been made under it. If it were true that the keeper conducted himself in a cruel and barbarous manner, the sooner he was removed the better: it was not fit that 150 of his majesty's subjects should be under the care of a person, against whom such heavy charges had been brought, without the government proceeding to an immediate inquiry as to the truth of those charges.

The motion, That the petition do lie on the table, was then put and negatived.