Sir Francis Burdett
said, that after the numerous petitions which had been presented to the House on the subject respecting which he then rose to address it, and in favour of the motion with which he intended to conclude, and after the able manner in which those petitions had been supported, and especially that presented by a noble lord from Lynn, in Norfolk, he felt somewhat embarrassed regarding the manner in which he should address them, because he thought that the noble lord, though shortly, had strongly occupied all the grounds on which he felt it 3 his duty to press this subject on the attention of parliament; the noble lord having delivered his sentiments in a style that could not fail to produce a strong impression upon the House, from the unaffected simplicity of his language and manner. [Hear.] He must repeat, that he felt more than usually anxious, anxious as he was upon all occasions, in opening a question so materially affecting the liberty of the individual concerned, and so interesting as it appeared, from the numerous petitions from all quarters of the country, to be to the public at large, and when there were strong symptoms of its being favourably considered by a large portion of the House itself. He was also apprehensive that he might not forward, but, by an over-zealous effort retard the object he had in view; namely, the liberation of an individual from an imprisonment which, in the mind, of all impartial men, was a more than adequate punishment for any crime of which he had been found guilty. He must own, that up to the latest moment, he had entertained strong hopes that the ministers of the Crown would have spared him the trouble of addressing the House upon this question. He had been in hopes, that when so plain and palpable a course of proceeding was open before them—a course at once consistent with justice and propriety—a course that would not have been less grateful than just—grateful to the public mind on many accounts, of which the omission would answer no one purpose, but the accomplishment of all those ends which ought to be avoided—namely, that of creating a sympathy with the individual suffering, from a feeling that the crime bore no proportion to the magnitude of the punishment. Under all these circumstances, he had been in hopes that ministers would have recommended the Crown to do that which he did not despair of still persuading them to do, if the House should support him in his present motion. Notwithstanding the difficulty under which the members of administration sometimes laboured, and those trammels by which they felt themselves bound to support generally what they did not on all occasions individually approve, he did not altogether despair of having the able and efficient assistance of the right hon. secretary for the home department on the present occasion. He flattered himself the more with the hope of obtaining it, be- 4 cause, on his having occasion to apply to that right hon. gentleman on behalf of two persons, who lived near his residence in the North, who had been sentenced to a punishment which appeared more than commensurate with their offence, and who bore, indeed, so good a character that their neighbours doubted whether they had been properly convicted; he repeated, that on making known their cases to the right hon. gentleman, he had, with a promptitude and humanity that were highly to his credit, taken them into consideration, and afterwards recommended a mitigation of their punishment. He would not say, that he was obliged to the right hon. gentleman for the attention that he had thus paid; be would not pay him the parliamentary compliments usually offered on such occasions, not from any want of courtesy towards him, but from a wish that the right hon. gentleman would take what had fallen from him as he intended it—as a tribute to his integrity and assiduous attention to the duties of his office, and without any regard to the quarter from which it came.
Under these circumstances, he trusted, that if he made out the following propositions—first, that the sentence on Mr. Hunt was sufficiently severe for the crime of which he had been convicted (and here he must observe, that it was not necessary for his argument to impugn that sentence); and secondly, that the mode of carrying it into execution had augmented it tenfold, and in a manner which the judges themselves never dreamt of—if he made out these propositions, he trusted he should have done that which would ensure him the support of the right hon. gentleman. Besides these two reasons for liberating Mr. Hunt, he had another, which, though he placed last, be did not value least. He thought that gentleman had a claim, and a strong claim too, upon the public, for having brought to light, circumstances, and for having conducted to a successful termination the important inquiry which had been lately instituted into the treatment of prisoners in Ilchester Gaol. In treating of the first proposition which he had laid down, he must beg leave to call the attention of the House to the nature of the charge against Mr. Hunt. In stating that charge, he could not help observing; in passing, the great hardships that sometimes arose from legal proceedings in this country. When a person had different charges preferred 5 against him in what were called the different counts of an indictment, containing every gradation of guilt, from the highest to the lowest, the hardship was, that after a defendant had been acquitted on all the heavy charges, after he had been found guilty of only one small part of one of the charges, by a jury which took five hours to deliberate on their verdict, and which acquitted him of all the rest, and even of all the heavy part of that individual charge on which they found him guilty—the hardship, he repeated it, was, that the persecuting lawyers might direct the jury to find a defendant guilty upon that count which contained the minimum of guilt, and which, if it had stood alone, would never have been thought fit to form the subject of an indictment. In legislating regarding the fisheries in some of the rivers of the country, the House had passed acts to prevent the meshes of the nets used in them from being made so small as to catch the smallest fish. Now, it was particularly hard that these legal meshes should be made so small that even offenders of the slightest nature could not escape them. There was no evidence to support the heavy charges that were imputed to Mr. Hunt; but the narrow meshes of the law were drawn so tightly around him, that it became impossible for him to escape. Even if Mr. Hunt had been found guilty of the heavy part of the charges preferred against him, he would say, that the punishment inflicted on him was a severe punishment. But, when he recollected, that the offence of which Mr. Hunt had been found guilty was a misdemeanor, and was classed by Blackstone inter minora delicta, for which an imprisonment of from one to six months was deemed sufficient, he was compelled to say, that the visiting it with the punishment of imprisonment for two years and a half, was more than sufficient for the purpose of justice. But Mr. Hunt's offence, was even minima inter minora; for of all the charges preferred against him, that on which he was convicted was the slightest; so that they had the anomaly before them, of a man suffering a heavy punishment for a crime that was as small as possible. A great deal more might be said on this part of the subject; because, at the time of Mr. Hunt's committing the offence for which he was now suffering, he was, in mind at least, as innocent a man as could be. It was an ancient maxim of English law, that "actus 6 non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea"; but, in Mr. Hunt's case, a new practice had been introduced: the intention of his mind was not considered; his knowledge of the legality or illegality of his conduct at Manchester was not inquired into; though it was clear, from his previous deportment and his peculiar character, that he would not have adopted that course of proceeding which he afterwards did adopt, had he known it to be in violation of the law. It was not unnecessary, at this stage of the argument, to repeat that the magistrates had sanctioned the meeting of the 16th of August, by not protesting against it; and with regard to what took place at that meeting, he must repeat what he had said on a former occasion, that he was at a loss to know what the crime was of which Mr. Hunt had been guilty, either individually or collectively with others. However, let his guilt have been what it might, no person could say, that an imprisonment of two years and a half was not a punishment sufficient for it. Our old lawyers, who were men who valued highly the freedom of the subject, were accustomed to hold, that the slightest corporal infliction or deprivation of freedom was a much severer punishment than the heaviest fine. If that doctrine were sound, then again must the House admit the great severity of the sentence on Mr. Hunt. Indeed, he would ask them, if an imprisonment of two years and a half was not more than sufficient for so small an offence as that on which Mr. Hunt was convicted, to what period of time they would have limited his confinement, supposing he had been found guilty of the heavier charges preferred against him? If they observed the same proportion, Mr. Hunt's whole life would not be sufficient for the punishment, unless, indeed, it were prolonged to the age of Methusalem; and not even then, unless the life of Dr. Colston were extended to the same age also. [Hear, hear, and a laugh.]
He next came to the second proposition which he had laid down, having, as he trusted, rendered it impossible for any person to doubt of the severity of the punishment which Mr. Hunt was now enduring. In entering upon this part of his subject, be did not intend to introduce any topics that were extraneous from it, or to forestall that discussion which would come more naturally before the House, when the state of Ilchester 7 gaol should be brought before it. He would, however, go as far into it as the report of the commissioners and the petition of Mr. Hunt would bear him out. It would, no doubt, be recollected that Mr. Hunt, on receiving his sentence, did, before he left the court, ask the judge, with great readiness and sagacity, whether it was intended he should suffer solitary confinement? and that the court said in reply, "By no means." Now, when Mr. Hunt was sent to Ilehester, it was said in that House, that he had been sent there because it was one of the healthiest and best conducted gaols in England. If such were really the motive for sending him there, when that gaol is was found to be one of the worst conducted gaols in the kingdom, and to be insalubrious to a degree that could hardly be credited, he had a right to say, that even those who inflicted the sentence on Mr. Hunt never intended to submit him to the inconveniences which he had since suffered; and he was glad to observe, that no gentleman in that House had ever contended that Mr. Hunt should be punished in the manner he had been. Not even the hon. members for Somerset had justified the treatment which Mr. Hunt had received. One of them had said, that he did not believe the charges which Mr. Hunt had preferred against the gaoler, but at the same time admitted, that he ought to have all possible accommodation in the prison. The other who was as incredulous as his colleague to the misconduct of the gaoler, declared, that Mr. Hunt ought not to be permitted to suffer any other inconvenience than that of imprisonment for two years and a half, which was inconvenience enough in all conscience. After such declarations, no doubt the two hon. members would, upon finding that Mr. Hunt had really been treated in the manner which he had described in his able petition, agree that the House ought to do every thing it could, to relieve that gentleman, and that the duration of his sufferings ought to be diminished as their severity had been increased. When Mr. Hunt was first sent to Ilchester, he was put into the northern ward of the prison, where no sun ever came for five months of the year—into a room which was cold and damp, and liable to all the changes of the weather and atmosphere, and into which, when the sun did shine it shone not to bless but to annoy his sight; for it shone upon a high white-washed wall, 8 with in four or five yards of the window of his apartment, and from that wall was reflected a light so strong and dazzling as to be extremely distressing to the eyes, is he (sir F. B.) had himself experienced on visiting the prison. In consequence of this, Mr. Hunt's eyes had suffered severely. When he entered the prison he was ushered into a room which had a stone floor, and no sort of accommodation. In this place he found two persons confined, who were to be his co-prisoners, his companions in this quarter of the gaol. They were intended to be iris sleeping companions, upon two truckle beds which adjoined the apartment; and one of them, in his gaol-dress, was kindly appointed to assist Mr. Hunt in the room of his own servant. The other prisoner who was to be his companion, was a half-witted fellow, but a whole rogue, who was charged with an attempt to murder his own wife and children. Mr. Hunt naturally enough objected to the social enjoyment of such company; they were, he thought, rather too good for him; and at his desire these fellows were remanded to other cells. It was at this time that sir John Acland visited Mr. Hunt in his apartment; and it was due to sir John to state, that so far as he was personally concerned, Mr. Hunt always received at his hands the most considerate attention. Sir John, at the visit to which he alluded, apologized to Mr. Hunt for swearing his hat in the room, and called on Mr. Hunt to do the same thing, as he feared the consequences of cold, from his head being exposed in so damp a place. He ordered in a board, to stand upon while he remained in the apartment, and recommended Mr. Hunt to take the same precaution against dampness in his feet on such a spot. Sir John also gave directions that the stone-floor should be immediately boarded over, the windows well closed and secured, and, in short, the apartment made as decent for Mr. Hunt, as it was capable of being rendered under the circumstances of the prison. Mr. Hunt acknowledged this attention on the part of sir John Acland, and felt grateful for it. This showed the previous state of the gaol, which they had been told was selected for the accommodation of Mr. Hunt, as a mark of favour; but which was in every respect calculated to produce an aggravation of the severe lot of his imprisonment. It was impossible to impose greater hardships upon any prisoner than those which 9 Mr. Hunt endured in this prison. What reason upon earth could there have been for denying him the assistance of his own servant?—The small ward in which Mr. Hunt was confined was, strange to say, intended by the prison directors for an infirmary, an office for which, of all other places, it was the worst calculated: it was, indeed, the very best place that could be selected to prepare a man for the benefit of an infirmary; but the worst possible one to secure for him any fair chance of achieving a cure. And on the subject of an infirmary, it was a remarkable fact, that no such place was, up to the present moment, provided in Ilchester Gaol. In this part of the prison Mr. Hunt was placed; and he was not aware that in the whole prison a better apartment could be found for him, except in the gaoler's house. When he was first confined he was only allowed the benefit of air in a small close yard, about 24 feet in length; from it a door opened into a larger yard, one, perhaps, twice the length of that House, and from which alone any adequate ventillation could be procured for the ward in which he lived; but to the larger yard he was for a long time denied access. At last, however, that indulgence was granted, to do away, perhaps, the effect of his previous solitary and dreadful confinement. And here, in justice to Mr. Hunt, he ought to say, that so reasonable and moderate were his demands, that whenever the parties to whom he applied could be got to consider his applications, they were usually successful. Sir Charles Bampfylde, the late sheriff, who on this, as on every other occasion, demeaned himself like an upright magistrate, issued an order against Mr. Hunt's solitary confinement, and directed that his visitors, both male and female, should be admitted to see him; and that, in fact, a more liberal system of treatment should be observed towards him; but even before that worthy sheriff had retired from office, the rev. Dr. Colston—a visiting magistrate, unfortunately, of this prison, interfered, in spite of sir Charles's positive orders for an amelioration of Mr. Hunt's treatment, and enforced against him the most unjustifiable restrictions. The reverend doctor acted in this case in the most unjust, imperious, cruel, and ungentlemanly manner in his treatment of Mr. Hunt; and three times, in defiance of the sheriff's orders, renewed the scandalous, degrading, and disgraceful 10 restrictions which it was the object of those orders to remove.—[Hear, hear.]—It was while suffering under these cruel orders that Mr. Hunt was struck with the gross malversation carried on in the gaol, and the necessity, if possible, of some inquiry, in the hope of exposing so much cruelty. It was under these circumstances of restriction and privation, which few men could bear up against, and with an energy rarely possessed, that Mr. Hunt surrounded by difficulties, having before him, as things then stood, an impossibility almost of obtaining a fair bearing, and little chance of getting a full or fair inquiry, it was under such circumstances, and superior to them all, that Mr. Hunt had called for, or rather demanded, an inquiry into the prison abuses. He firmly demanded it, too, against a gaoler, who had acquired a sort of character for integrity in his office; who had, in fact, obtained not only the ear of, but a degree of ascendancy over, the magistrates that should have controlled him, who used to dine at table with some of them, rather upon the footing of a companion and friend, than as a subordinate. This gaoler had succeeded, by a course of deceit, by unaccountable cunning, by a tissue of hypocrisy, in insinuating himself into the confidence of those about him, and in having so imposed upon honourable and worthy men, as to have obtained a high character for probity and humanity. It was this successful deceit which had unfortunately enabled him to continue so long a dreadful instrument of inflicting human suffering, to a degree hardly to be equalled in the annals of tyranny within the sphere of a gaoler's opportunities. Mr. Hunt first applied in the way of charge to the visiting magistrates; and at last, after stating various strong and convincing facts of harshness and oppression, he compelled them to give ear to his complaint. The gaol-committee, then, at his suggestion, or rather upon his firm demand, instituted the inquiry; and they had not proceeded more than three days in the investigation, when, struck with the confirmatory evidence of the truth of the complaints, they offered a sort of compromise to Mr. Hunt; they agreed that the gaoler ought to be dismissed; they said his resignation should be tendered, if Mr. Hunt were satisfied not to press for further proceedings. Mr. Hunt treated this proposal as it deserved. He said—"No; it is your province to determine upon the conduct of the gaoler 11 as you shall think proper, and to decide upon the facts as they shall appear in evidence. I charge your public officer with being guilty of great public abuse; and I am ready to prove that charge, and let you see the nature of his conduct. I must call for inquiry, not only with a view to his punishment, but also to secure future prisoners from the recurrence of such cruelty: it is for you to conclude the matter, I shall not consent to its suspension."—[Hear, hear.] It was a singular coincidence, that the moment Mr. Hunt rejected this proferred compromise, the gaoler's solicitor, Mr. Joddrel, who, by the way, was mixed up with all these proceedings, served Mr. Hunt with the copy of an attachment for costs, which he represented himself to have been put to, by an application to the court of King's Bench, made by Mr. Hunt, in the hope of getting relief from some of the scandalous acts of oppression and exclusion to which he found himself exposed. This attachment, he repeated, was served the moment Mr. Hunt refused to stifle inquiry. And another strange coincidence was, that on the heels of it came another legal process, demanding payment from Mr. Hunt of Excise penalties, for what was construed to be a breach of the law; but which it was on all hands admitted, was quite unintentional: it was for an act, which, he must say, did not in any sense come within the purview, not to say of the severity, but of the plain and obvious meaning of these harassing laws: It was for a discovery, that roasted wheat or rye was capable of being made into a good, cheap, and wholesome breakfast-beverage as a substitute for coffee for the poor. For this discovery, meritorious and useful as he pronounced it to have been, Mr. Hunt was convicted by the Excise, and ordered to pay a penalty of 100l. for selling the article, and another penalty of 100l. for making it. No man believed, when Mr. Hunt made this breakfast-powder, that he dreamt of infringing upon any Excise law. He could have had no private or public motive to induce him to evade that law: but, notwithstanding this evident innocence on the part of Mr. Hunt, he was, by a technical construction of the law, exposed to a severe and cruel penalty. Besides, he understood that a law officer of the Crown in that House had intimated, that it was not intended to press for those penalties. Yet so it was, the penalties were enforced. When this Crown extent was 12 issued, notice was at the same time served upon Mr. Hunt's tenants, not to pay him any rent; so that at the very moment the demand for payment was made, under all the terrors of the law, to a prisoner in close custody, the parties making it took the decisive step of cutting off from him all means of satisfying their imperative demands. [Hear, hear.] Mr. Hunt in this situation, requested that the sheriff would collect the rents in satisfaction of his extent. Oh, no! the sheriff refused to collect them; and proceeded at once to advertise his estate for public sale, on account of the Excise penalties. Every body knew what was the nature of a sheriff's sale, and the condition in which all property was placed when subject to it. In consequence, a general notion prevailed that the estate was abandoned to summary confiscation, and exposed to the dilapidations which usually precede such sacrifices. He believed some timber was wantonly cut down and removed and other spoliations committed by marauders on the occasion. The day of sale was first fixed for the 10th of February, and afterwards a nearer day, the 7th, was named for the sheriff's auction. Mr. Hunt, however, found means to raise the 200l. to pay the penalties, and thereby saved his estate from the confiscation which threatened it. How did it happen, he must again ask, that these penalties were not called for until Mr. Hunt was engaged in detecting and exposing local abuses? Was Mr. Hunt to be told, that he could not venture to do his fellow-subjects service, but at the expense of his property? Was he to be told, that what would have been meritorious in any other person, was in him an offence, for which there was a determination that he should incur a harassing responsibility? Independant of the hardship, there was great impolicy in this proceeding. At a time when general complaints were made of the pressure of agricultural distress, when one cause of the complaint was, that the glut in the market was such, that there was no suitable demand for the commodity, here was a man who, by his discovery, opened a new channel of consumption in the market, which served both the seller and the consumer, and yet he was to be punished for his sagacity! He should have rather been presented with a reward for his ingenuity, than a penalty for a violation of law which he never could have contemplated—[Hear, hear.] And yet such had been the hard fate of Mr. Hunt.
13 There were, however, other parts of Mr. Hunt's treatment of a yet more atrocious character; for instance, the refusal of admittance to his visitors; and amongst them, the denial of permission to an anxious and dying sister, to take the last opportunity she was likely to enjoy of seeing an affectionate and afflicted brother. Would it be believed, that this refusal to a dying sister, to take a last farewell of an imprisoned brother, was given by a man of station in society? Or, still more would it be believed, that that man professed to be a teacher of the lessons inculcated by the mild spirit of Christianity—that he was a minister of religion, and that religion the Protestant faith—a believer in the religion of Christ? Would it, he said, be believed, that from such a man the hard-hearted and cruel refusal came to an expiring woman to take her last leave of a brother whom she loved. But so it was: she was refused this sad consolation, and she died, without ever again seeing her brother—[Hear.] How far a refusal, under the circumstances in which she was placed, tended to accelerate that doom to which she was approaching, he could not pretend to say; but this he knew, that the refusal was the most outrageous, the most atrocious, and the most repugnant act to every feeling of humanity and justice, that he knew upon record. This act had been done by the Rev. Dr. Colston, and in doing it he had not only violated his sacred duty as a clergyman, but his legal duty as a magistrate: he had paid no attention either to law or to gospel; but had ventured to forget both by a more heartless, more wicked, a more cruel and flagrant act, than had a parallel in the transactions of the most atrocious institutions that ever cursed mankind in the most cruel of times. [Hear, hear.] It was worse, taking all its attendant circumstances into the account, than any thing he had read of in the dark proceedings of the Spanish Inquisition.
It was one of the singular circumstances attending the malversation in Ilchester gaol, that the very enormity of the wickedness practised within its walls, furnished, for a long time, its best protection. The flagrancy of the deeds was such as to stagger credibility. They were, however, unfortunately proved to be too true: they were, through the persevering and unappalled energy of Mr. Hunt, confirmed by irrefragable evidence: 14 and he (sir F. Burdett) would say, that for bringing forward such an inquiry, and for the ability be had displayed in conducting the investigation when it was commenced, Mr. Hunt was entitled to public thanks: he deserved that tribute for his fortitude at such a moment; but, above all, he was entitled to it for the benefit which his country could not fail to derive from the inquiry. Every man in England would have cause to rejoice in the consequences of that investigation; and that individual had a strong claim upon public gratitude, who had put an end to this atrocious system of prison oppression, and had held out to all the gaolers of the empire, both now and here-after, a memorable example of disgrace and punishment. The government, too, had a right to feel indebted to Mr. Hunt, inasmuch as he had been the means of relieving them from the odium which must necessarily attach to them for any acts of cruelty or injustice committed under their government; for in every case ministers were responsible for the guilty acts of those subordinate officers over whom it was their duty to keep a vigilant eye. This reverend doctor (Colston) among his many other acts of oppression towards Mr. Hunt, had, during Mr. Hunt's solitary confinement, by his order, and while he was, through that severity, severely afflicted with cramps and spasms in his stomach, refused his application to have the professional aid of a medical gentleman in Ilchester, who had previously attended him. The reverend doctor had treated this application with the utmost contempt, and referred Mr. Hunt to the regular gaol doctor. Now, when the House should look at the evidence respecting this gaol doctor—when they found him mixed up as a party with almost all the acts of the gaoler, and, according to his own evidence, guilty of misapplying the great means which the healing art furnishes for alleviating human affliction, for the purpose of inflicting torture upon his fellow creatures, they would cease to wonder that Mr. Hunt preferred trusting to nature and a good constitution, rather than place himself in the hands of this humane gaol doctor. It was not enough that there were to be found in that prison, chains, stocks, handcuffs. No, this would not do. There was a doctor, who did not hesitate to apply a blister to the head of a man in irons. Why? Because he was ill? be- 15 cause his health required it? No such thing. The blister was applied because the man was considered to be—"a troublesome fellow" [hear, hear!]. This application of blisters appeared to have been a favourite punishment in Ilchester gaol; for, by the evidence, it appeared, three persons, Evans, Halkins, and Gardner, had all been blistered. One was blistered in order to "mend his manners;" another, because he was "a troublesome jockey;" a third because it was thought "he shammed;" and so this last person was blistered on the side. Was it surprising that, with these facts before him, Mr. Hunt should decline availing himself of the assistaace of this kind and humane gaol doctor? Having suffered under repeated spasmodic attacks for eleven days and nights, Mr. Hunt made application to the Court of King's-bench, and an order was made for the admission of his medical attendant; and in consequence Mr. Hunt was now as far recovered as a person placed under such circumstances could be expected to be. Soon after this, a new chairman was appointed by the magistracy; and that gentleman took every step in his power to make Mr. Hunt's situation as comfort able as circumstances would admit. But it was for what Mr. Hunt had suffered—it was for the punishment that had been inflicted upon him beyond the law—that he now called upon them to adopt the measure which he was Omit to propose. That Mr. Hunt had suffered inure than was intended by the Court which sentenced him, was evident from the fact of that Court having, upon his application, afforded him relief from certain restrictions under which he laboured. Let it not, therefore, be said, that by adopting this measure, they would interfere with the jurisdiction of the courts of law. In support of the allegations which he had made, he should feel it necessary to read a few extracts from the report of the commissioners. When he saw the names of the gentlemen appointed on the commission, among whom was a relation of his own (Mr. Munday), he felt the fullest confidence in the result of their labours, and in that confidence he was fully justified. At the same time the commissioners instead of giving a colour, or endeavouring to make out a bad case, had softened down the facts stated before them as much as it was in their power as honest men to do. Yet, notwithstanding this, they came to the conclusion that the 16 government of the gaol was the very reverse of what it ought to be; that the very situation of the gaol rendered it impossible to have effective improvement; that as to regulations for the management of the prison, they were in too many instances unattended to; and that the visiting magistrates had been remiss in the due performance of their functions; that they, in fact, had trusted too much to the discretion and judgment of the rev. Dr. Colston. Indeed it was apparent, that the other visiting mngistrates rather leaned to screen this man's acts, than to investigate and correct them. With respect to the powers and conduct of the magistracy as a body, he was as ready as any man to admit their beneficial effect, but he must protest against the lumping way in which some gentlemen were prone to speak of the acts of the magistracy. It was said that they ought to be protected in the performance of their disinterested and gratuitous duty; that they ought not to be exposed to too rigid a scrutiny; and that what they did wrong, should be overlooked for its motive, and not be afterwards made the subject of inquiry. He protested against this doctrine. He objected to the opinion that because they were unpaid they should be irresponsible. If receiving no pay entitled them to freedom from inquiry, in God's name let them be paid for their services, and held answerable for their acts! But unfortunately the great body of the upright magistracy of the kingdom were thus insulted, and their real utility decried, by being mixed up with these ignorant meddling, pettifogging individuals, who had crept into the magistracy to gratify some pusillanimous desire for petty power—and consequential authority, and made a gaol the scene of their tyranny, or the instrument of their malicious or corrupt op. pression.
But, to return to the state of this prison: its locality exposed it to every kind of disadvantage. There were no means of effectually cleansing it, except by the constant application of human labour. The pumps for supplying the gaol with water were constantly contaminated with filth, and the various drains which ought to carry off noxious ingredients, never swept away the impurities. Nay, strange to say, although there was a river within a stone's throw of the gaol, it was deemed too great an indulgence to suffer debtors to be supplied with water 17 from its bed. They were not even allowed to receive a pint of beer from a friendly visitor, without permission from this humane doctor and his colleague, the equally humane gaoler. All this was contrary to the provisions of an act of parliament. Bad as was the old law for governing prisons, it was not half so severe as this wanton practice. It would be in vain to preach up the reformation of prison discipline, if torture and oppression could be inflicted with impunity. By the evidence it would be seen, that a considerable manufacture had been carried on in this gaol, and that Mr. Hunt offered to prove that the gaoler derived great profits from it. The commissioners refused to enter into that head of inquiry, and left it for the consideration of the county. Independent of the cruelty inflicted, enough appeared to show that the gaol was utterly without classification. The women were, it was true, separated from the men, for purposes of morality; but they were always locked up by male turnkeys, to whose visits they, at all hours, must have been consequently exposed. There was, in fact, an utter disregard of every thing like prison discipline in this gaol; and yet it had been held out as a model of perfection to the whole kingdom.—There was another singular thing apparent in these transactions. The turnkeys, or persons under the gaoler, instead of being selected from men who deserved reward for their good conduct, were taken from the worst characters in the gaol. So said the commissioners. One of them was a man who had been three times confined for different offences, and who was a remarkably bad character. Such were the persons intrusted with the gaoler's confidence. It was his duty to repeat, that the principal allegations o f Mr. Hunt's petition were sustained by the evidence before the commissioners. A more important subject than the present could not possibly be brought under the consideration of parliament. The commissioners reported the particulars of the gross and scandalous conduct of the late gaoler, and expressed their sentiments of indignation thereat. There could, indeed, be but one opinion among all who heard him; it was not necessary, therefore, that he should more particularly advert to this part of the report. But he would just notice the case of Mary Cuer, which the commissioners described as "one of extraordinary cruelty. With a young infant at her 18 breast, this young woman was, during a period of severe frost and snow, locked up in a solitary cell from Thursday till Sunday. She had had a quarrel with another female prisoner, who, with her infant, was also subjected to the same punishment. It appears by the evidence of Mary Cuer, that for the two first days there was no fire in her cell: that she suffered severely from cold, and that during the whole of the four days' confinement she was provided only with bread and cold water in a bucket, without the use of any lesser vessel to drink it out of, and she was not allowed the opportunity of laying out, for the benefit of her child, the money granted by the parish for its maintenance, nor even of warming a part of her own allowance of bread and water for its support; and her own milk having, under these privations, failed entirely, no mitigation to the sufferings of the infant could be derived from that source." [Cries of hear.] He did think that this was a case of iniquitous cruelty exceeding any thing he had ever heard of. He knew of no form of language, of no felicity of expression, which could be more emphatic or more affecting than this simple and unlaboured statement of a mother, with a famishing infant at her breast, shut up in a prison at Christmas—in that inclement season when the snow and frost without, increased the bodily sufferings of those who were immured within; and denied even the sustenance of water, excepting in a bucket—[Hear, hear.]—as if it were necessary that cold water should be conveyed to her in a manner which might most aggravate her other sufferings! Good God! could the torments of hell itself exceed the misery endured by this unhappy woman? Was it possible for the human mind to conceive a picture of greater agony, than a helpless mother, thus excluded from all relief, from all sympathy even, with an infant starving at her breast, and her ears for ever pierced with the unavailing cries of her offspring for its food? Could any ingenuity produce a more deplorable or afflicting case? And did facts like this lay no ground for the proposition he was about to submit to the House? Why, he was prepared to say, that if Mr. Hunt had done no more than bring to light such enormous cruelties as these, and thereby become the cause of preventing such scenes from ever occurring again in our gaols, he might reasonably claim some consideration from a body professing, to a certain degree at 19 least, some sympathy with the feeling of the public. On this ground alone Mr. Hunt would surely be entitled to some manifestation of favour from that House. If a House of Commons, at a former period of our history, had received an eulogy from a celebrated poet, for having inquired into the abuses of gaols, and detected the evils of the then existing system—if Thomson could have been moved to commemorate that band of patriots, not to be forgotten—Who, touch'd with human woe, redressive search'dInto the horrors of the gloomy gaol,Unpitied and unheard, where misery moans,Where sickness pines, where thirst and hunger burn,And poor misfortune feels the lash of vice:While in the land of Liberty, the landWhose every street and public meeting glowWith open freedom, little tyrants rag'd,Snatch'd the lean morsel from the starving mouth;Tore from cold wintry limbs the tatter'd weed;Ev'n robb'd them of the last comforts, sleep;The free-born Briton to the dungeon chain'd:Or, as the lust of cruelty prevail'd,At pleasure mark'd him with inglorious stripesif, for the exertions which a House of Commons at that period made in such a cause, it had received this memorable eulogy, what ought to be the praise bestowed on Mr. Hunt? What was his desert, who had brought to light such a monster as this execrable gaoler? [Hear.] Let gentlemen consider how Mr. Hunt was situated when he rendered his country this great service. He was under the lock and key of the same relentless torturer, and even his life was in danger; for under the same roof with such a gaoler, no man's life could be safe. It appeared, however, that the visiting magistrates had offered to compromise matters with this disgraced character, after Mr. Hunt had succeeded in making known these enormities. Was it not too much that these gentlemen should think of leaving Mr. Hunt in the power of this man, after such exposures had been made? He would con less, that to him it appeared almost providential and miraculous, that the other unfortunate beings, broken down in mind and spirit as they must have been, should have had the energy to establish charges of so atrocious a nature against a gaoler under whose control they were. It was highly important, in order to show the extent of Mr. Hunt's sufferings, to read 20 that part of the report of the commissioners, which described the state of the apartments in which he had been placed. "We had the opportunity of seeing these three wards under different circumstances of weather; and the impression left on our minds is, that they are, for the purposes to which they are intended to be applied, the most objectionable part of the gaol. It is in this part that the inconvenience of high walls is most sensibly felt: with a northern aspect and no good admission of air, all the worst effects of damp prevail in an aggravated degree; the cold evaporations of wet seasons and the heat of the summer, each generate a species of atmosphere distressing and insalubrious. When to this is added the distance from that assistance so constantly required in hospitals, we consider the ward intended for the sick peculiarly ill-suited to its purpose. When we visited Ilchester, this ward was occupied by Mr. Hunt and the adjoining refractory ward, was given up to two prisoners who attended upon him. The magistrates appeared to have made many alterations calculated to improve the apartments for the occupation of Mr. Hunt; and in the general arrangement, it did not occur to us that the gaol could have admitted (without great sacrifice) of a disposition more conducive to his comfort. So long, however, as such an exclusion of sun and air continues, the main objection to the ward cannot be considered as removed." Why, the mere exclusion of sun and air from the prison chamber of a man who was sentenced to be confined there two years and a half, was a pretty considerable grievance in itself. But if, in addition to being confined in this way, he was to be subjected to the cruelty of his inhuman gaoler, it was no great mercy not to have taken away his life at once. Of the visiting magistrates he should not say much, excepting only of the rev. Dr. Colston. However extraordinary it might seem that an individual of his profession should be so disposed, it was not less true, that Dr. Colston appeared to have been the man, who, on every possible occasion, was foremost in his endeavours to deprive a prisoner of the means by which his health might be preserved or his comforts extended. Nay, the disposition of this rev. gentleman towards Mr. Hunt was manifested even after the new gaoler had gone down to the prison. That individual, for the sake of ventilation, had left a little 21 door open, which led into a sort of yard near Mr. Hunt's room. But, then down came Dr. Colston, and notwithstanding that the commissioners had reported this indulgence in terms of commendation, and that every principle of common humanity and common sense required its continuance, he ordered the door to be shut up. At present, however, not only this door was again left open as before, but even the high walls which had been complained of had been lowered so as considerably to improve the ventilation of the gaol. He (sir F. B.) did mean to say, that, after Mr. Hunt had been thus subjected to the vexatious caprices of an arbitrary magistrate, and of a brutal gaoler—after he had passed twelve months of solitary confinement (and it was important to remark, that solitary confinement formed no part of his original sentence), an aggravation which was never intended to be inflicted—he had a fair claim upon the consideration of parliament. His cause was still further aggravated, by the insult contained in the observation of an hon. member, who had said, that Mr. Hunt's was a voluntary solitary confinement; because, forsooth, Mr. Hunt did not condescend to avail himself of a permission to walk in a very small room or 'yard, with felons and other prisoners, who had obtained "a rule" as it was termed. Mr. Hunt did not care to mingle with these unhappy men, covered as many of them were with filth and rags. The offer itself was only adding cruelty to insult. And on the subject of the cruelty exercised towards Mr. Hunt, it was proper to state, that at first he was allowed to see some persons among his friends; then he was forbidden to see certain others of them; and at length Dr. Colston positively prohibited all visitors whatever. These severities had aggravated the original sentence of Mr. Hunt beyond all measure. Another thing not to be forgotten was, that Mr. Hunt was only one out of a number of persons who were included in the same verdict. There were Johnson, Healy, Knight, and another individual, who were all of them included; and if there was any guilt in the transaction in regard to which they were tried (though he was at a loss to conceive how any guilty intention could have existed on that occasion, and certainly none was proved against them), each of those persons was more guilty than Mr. Hunt. Mr. Hunt was an invited person only; but the 22 others had framed the resolutions, and originated the meeting. Yet, strange to say, they had been sentenced to one year's imprisonment only in Lincoln gaol; and none of these four individuals had had any reason to complain of unnecessary severity. Was it possible for the public to form any other judgment on the subject than this—that Mr. Hunt was, in truth, the victim of vindictive feeling? The people did think that his majesty's government had done themselves no good by their treatment of this individual. They had, in fact, by their own act and deed, elevated Mr. Hunt into the character of a martyr. They had taught the people to look up to him as their victim; and alter the exposures which he had caused to be made, the people could not but feel that he had done a most important service to his country. The inquiries which Mr. Hunt's representations had led to, must, ere long, tend to produce an entirely new modification of our gaol system, and of the severities of solitary confinement. However well intentioned the late Mr. Howard might have been, his system in this respect had been productive of more mischief than any other system of imprisonment. In this day it was common to hear declamations against theories as Utopian; but he knew of none that more deserved that name than the scheme for making a prison a house of reform. It was only justice, however, to admit, that Mr. Howard only intended, that the solitude of imprisonment should relieve the guilty from the contagion and example of crime. It was his wish, that the imprisoned should be treated with the utmost humanity—that they should be visited by chaplains and magistrates—that they should be expostulated with, made sensible of their crimes, and reclaimed from the paths of wickedness to those of virtue. He never wished that, under his system, men should become imbecile, or driven to madness and despair. That humane individual never desired that human beings should be shut up in places where one would not keep a dog. But the men, who, to a sentence of more than two years solitary confinement, had superadded numberless cruelties, who on the victims of such a sentence had in many instances aggravated punishment by insult, had introduced into the country a system of imprisonment totally repugnant to every feeling of humanity, every principle of justice, and every dictate of common sense. On the 23 grounds he had stated, he did trust that Mr. Hunt would be considered to have some claim to the favourable treatment of that House. If ministers wished that these deeds of darkness should be brought to light, and checked in their origin, they must feel that inquiry and detection were the only means of effecting their wishes; but if, on the other hand, they thought that such detection was mischievous, they would perhaps consider, not that Mr. Hunt had any claim upon them, but that he was a fit object of further punishment. Be that as it might, the public would not come to this last conclusion. Whether, however, they would remit the smaller and by far the lighter part, of Mr. Hunt's sentence, it was now for them to judge. For his own part, it became his duty to submit to the House three propositions: 1st, that Mr. Hunt's sentence was originally more than sufficiently severe; 2nd, that that sentence had been aggravated by the abuse of the powers vested in the local authorities of his prison; and thirdly, that he possessed some claim on the public gratitude by reason of the successful exposure which he bad made of the abuses existing in the prison at Ilchester. If hon. gentlemen should agree with him in all, or in any of these points, he trusted that they would not think the course which he was now about to propose, at all objectionable; namely, an address to his majesty, which would give him the opportunity of exercising that prerogative which he felt assured was most congenial to his majesty's beneficent disposition, by remitting the remaining portion of a punishment, the complete infliction of which could be attended with no public benefit. He therefore moved, "That an bumble address be presented to his majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to remit the remainder of Mr. Hunt's imprisonment."
§ Mr. G. Dawson
declared, that in the observations he was about to offer, he did not mean to defend the departure which had taken place from all principles of humanity, in the conduct of the late gaoler of the prison in question. At the same time he thought that the feelings of men might seduce their judgments. No man ever went to a dungeon where he witnessed the situation of an unhappy convict, without having his compassion highly excited. He proposed to examine into the charges of cruelty preferred on the part of Mr. Hunt. The hon. baronet had 24 assumed, that the sentence passed upon Mr. Hunt was too severe. He (Mr. D.) did not conceive that he should be justified in opening this question, and on such a subject he could not but bow to the decision of the learned judges who passed that sentence. It did happen, however, that Mr. Hunt's own complaints included not half the grievances stated by the hon. baronet. Mr. Hunt had made no complaints about the blister on the head—the irons—the water-bucket; but had represented, that he was confined in a dark room, with a high brick wall, which shut out the sun, and that he was debarred from communication with his family. In regard to the matter of cruelty, the hon. baronet, so far as Mr. Hunt was concerned, had totally failed to establish his charge; and if he (Mr. D.) should be able to show that Mr. Hunt had himself praised the salubrity and convenience of his apartment, he did trust that that part of the question would be entirely disposed of. On the 15th of May, 1820, Mr. Hunt was sentenced to two years and a half imprisonment. When that sentence was passed he applied to Mr. Justice Bayley, to know whether his confinement was intended to be solitary? Mr. Justice Bayley replied, "Certainly not;" and added, that if Mr. Hunt should find reason to complain of improper hardship, he might appeal to the Court. On his arrival at Ilchester, Mr. Hunt was placed in a room of the prison which the hon. baronet had been pleased to call a dungeon. It was, however, situated in the female ward of the prison, and, therefore, not very likely to be placed in the most uncomfortable situation. When Mr. Hunt first arrived, two or three beds were in this room, and did remain there for one night, in consequence of the absence of the gaoler; but on his return they were removed, and a comfortable feather bed was provided for him at the expense of the county. The persons with whom Mr. Hunt had been described as not condescending to mix were not felons, but imprisoned for misdemeanors only. For the convenience of Mr. Hunt, bells were hung; and the floor of his apartment, which before was of stone, was replaced with one of wood. This was at Mr. Hunt's own suggestion. To show that those attentions were felt and acknowledged by Mr. Hunt, he would now read a letter from that gentleman, in which he stated—"I believe no man that ever lived was more happy than I am 25 here. In fact, I have every possible care taken of me." [Hear.] It was dated July, 1820. It was true this was only a few weeks after his committal; but he (Mr. D.) begged the House would bear in mind the contents of this letter. Shortly after the appearance of this letter, an order was made by the visiting magistrates for the admission of Mr. Hunt's family. Among the visitors who came, however, was a Mrs. Vince, a woman who was notoriously living (her husband being still in existence) with Mr. Hunt, whose wife was also alive. This was considered to be too grossly immoral. [Cries of "hear."] Such a scandalous connexion the magistrates were bound to discountenance; and they forbad these visits accordingly. From the time that Mrs. Vince was refused admission every thing became jaundiced in the eyes of Mr. Hunt. He applied to the Court of King's Bench, and in his petition prayed, "that no other punishment might be inflicted upon him than that which had been awarded by the Court." He asserted in his affidavit, that, on being conveyed to Ilchester, he was placed in a cold, dark, miserable dungeon—that he was not allowed fire irons or fender (no very important deprivations,) and that his health was materially injured "by being confined within the pestilential walls of a small yard." How did this statement correspond with the letter Mr. Hunt had published in the "Sherborne Mercury?" He had there been guilty of a voluntary falsehood, or in his affidavit had committed a wilful perjury. He complained also to the Court, that "the females of his family" were driven away in a brutal and ferocious manner. The Court of King's Bench called upon the gaoler and the magistrates for their reply, and they put in an answer so satisfactory, that the complaint was dismissed with costs. Besides, whom had Mr. Hunt called "the females of his family?" One of them was a woman with whom he was living in open adultery. The females of his family, properly so called, had never been excluded—his mistress only was refused admission. The refusal of the Court to interpose, was, he thought, a sufficient warrant for the House to reject this motion. He admitted that some slight hardship might have arisen out of the want of accordance between the magistrates and the sheriff; they did not act together: and what at one time was refused; at another was granted. It would 26 have been far better if this vacillating system had not been pursued; but even by that Mr. Hunt had been a gainer, for he had been allowed to continue his adulterous intercourse in the most unblushing manner. The House, however, had nothing to do with this want of concert between the local authorities. The simple question for it was, whether the punishment, as it had been inflicted, was disproportionate to the offence of Mr. Hunt, and whether any thing had been done contrary to the sentence of the Court? He did not think that his imprisonment had been attended with any unnecessary restrictions. His medical, legal, and personal, nay even "the females of his family," had been admitted, although, for some time, an objection, on the score of decorum and morality was made to Mrs. Vince. The restrictions complained of had continued till the 16th Dec., 1820. When sir C. Bampfylde took the management of the gaol into his own hands, free access to all Mr. Hunt's friends was allowed; but no sooner had sir C. retired, than the magistrates thought themselves bound to put the rules of the prison in force, and they supposed that Mr. Hanning, the new sheriff; would continue the opinions he had held as a magistrate. Matters thus remained until the investigation, when Mr. Hanning relinquished his previous notions, and admission was again given to Mr. Hunt's mistress. The magistrates again succeeded in procuring her exclusion; but, subsequently, the admission of Mr. Hunt's friends, male and female, was granted at all times of the day; and at the present moment the only hardship he suffered was the deprivation of personal liberty. That the magistrates had the right to impose and enforce these restrictions there could be no doubt; as the 32 Geo. 3rd, c. 60, was passed for the special purpose of giving visiting magistrates authority. There was no reason why Mr. Hunt should not be treated like all other prisoners; yet he had been even more favoured than the debtors; for the debtors in Ilchester gaol were not allowed to be visited by their wives. He was of opinion, that the magistrates would have forfeited their characters and neglected their duty if they had permitted the adulterous intercourse between Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Vince. Of all men in the world, Mr. Hunt had the least right to expect favour. He had run a long and dangerous career; and, with a considerable 27 share of talent, he had applied it to the worst purposes. He had thrust himself forward every where: he had even gone out of his way to attract popularity: he had put himself at the head of mobs, rebels whom he had instigated to rapine and violence; he had put himself at the head of a new school of rebels, infidels, and blasphemers. He had kept the country in a constant state of alarm, until his course was happily at length arrested by the strong arm of the law. Since he, with those incendiaries Wooler and Carlile, had been safely imprisoned, order and tranquility had been re-established. He trusted that the result of that night's discussion would not afford a hope to the friends of confusion and anarchy that the public mind would again be poisoned by the seditious artifices of a Wooler, or by the odious blasphemies of a Carlile.
, from the temperate opening of the hon. under secretary, had not at al anticipated the heat and violence of his conclusion. If such men as Wooler and Carlile endeavoured to inflame the country, such men as the hon. gentlemen and his friends did their utmost to inflame the House, to excite its passions against an unfortunate individual, by mixing up his name with those with whom he was not in any way connected. In this attempt the hon. gentleman had shown far more skill than fairness, though the portion of skill, judging at least by its effect, was indeed scanty enough. He begged the hon. gentleman to show him, if he could, what Wooler or his "seditious artifices" had to do with this debate, or how Carlile and his "odious blasphemies" affected the question before the House? He had heard of no blasphemy of Mr. Hunt's, no impiety, no infidelity. He was not so well acquainted with the writings of Mr. Hunt as the gentlemen opposite seemed to be; but there certainly was nothing of these imputations against him there; there was no such crime on the record, and he protested against the associating Mr. Hunt's name with invidious topics, merely for the purpose of diverting them from the consideration of his claims on their justice. The hon. gentleman had failed to show that the statement of his hon. colleague was in any respect exaggerated. In endeavouring to discredit the testimony of Mr. Hunt, the hon. gentleman had discredited the commissioners. Every thing which the hon. gentleman alleged in defence of 28 the magistrates and gaoler, had been set aside by the commissioners. Every charge against the gaoler and magistrates, made by Mr. Hunt, had been substantially admitted to have been proved. The hon. gentleman had gone out of his way to give them a lecture on adultery. He trusted he had as much love for morality as the hon. gentleman. Certain it was, that the friends of liberty in that House had much more need to be pure in their morals than gentlemen on the other side, as their conduct was more closely watched, and was commented upon with malignity, with (as an hon. gentleman had suggested to him) paid malignity. But he recommended to the hon. gentleman to be cautious on that topic, as, when he uttered censures on immorality in general, he knew not how high his shafts might reach. His condemnation might affect persons very different from the defenceless individual whom he had dragged forward on the floor of the House. The intercourse of Mr. Hunt with Mrs. Vince was no doubt to be considered scandalous; but who were the persons who complained of it? The magistrates who had permitted an improper intercourse to exist between the male and female prisoners, and Mr. Bridle, who, there was good reason to suspect, had carried on an improper intercourse with a female prisoner. How, then, did the hon. gentleman pour all the thunders of his morality on Mr. Hunt alone? The magistrates, however, were not so confident in their morality as the hon. gentleman, for they had withdrawn their prohibition, and Mrs. Vince was now allowed to visit Mr. Hunt. The hon. gentleman had relied on the fact, that Mr. Hunt had thought differently of the gaol at the beginning of his imprisonment. But, the hon. gentleman had not told them the date of the letter on which he relied. The letter was written in July. Mr. Hunt had only been committed at the end of May, and it was to be observed that in the summer months the inconveniences of which Mr. Hunt complained were not perceptible. If Mr. Hunt, after that short residence in the gaol, thought it a place in which a man could be happy, he was as much deceived as to it, as the hon. gentleman who had not been there, or the members who had formerly conic forward to vouch for its good management, after what they had thought an examination, and the county members, who had seen it hundreds of times, and who were 29 astonished at the enormities which this investigation had brought to light. Let the House forget the lectures of the under secretary, and look only at the report of the commissioners. The commissioners said, that Mr. Hunt's cell must suffer for want of sun and air; and when it was considered how trifling these ingredients of human existence were, they would know what to think of his situation. But the magistrates, though they would not allow him sun or air, gave him something to lie on when he was sick—a feather bed. Now this munificent gift, purchased at the expense of the county, and dwelt on by the hon. gentleman, was not thought worthy of notice by the commissioners who perhaps thought it better to provide for continued health than for inevitable sickness. But not only had a feather-bed been given to Mr. Hunt, but a bell to ring up a gentleman in livery—one of the prisoners, with his coat turned inside out to attend him. But this indulgence was thought too much for a person of so determined a character of wickedness as Mr. Hunt, and the bell was taken away. But even this great, though transitory happiness, was not mentioned by the commissioners, who did not seem to imagine that the evil of a want of sun and air could be effectually mitigated, either by the feather-bed or the bell. It was not to be contended, that because Mr. Hunt had been sentenced to imprisonment he was to be treated as a common felon. There were certain cases of imprisonment in which allowances were to be made to the prisoners. The under secretary of state might be safely appealed to on such a point. The three successive sheriffs of Somerset had taken the same view as he had. The court of King's-bench also declared, that no addition should be made to the suffering of confinement. The hon. gentleman had allowed that. Mr. Hunt had been made the subject of irritating contradictory orders, but he had said, that Mr. Hunt had derived an advantage from them. How this could be he could not conceive. If Mr. Hunt had at once known what he had to suffer, he might have braced himself up to the endurance of it; but he had at at one time been treated with some mildness—at others plunged in the extremest severities. The hon. gentleman had conceded much of the case. He had allowed the enormities—he had allowed the cruelties perpetrated in the gaol. But, after stigmatizing in their 30 proper terms the enormities of the gaol management, had he no gratitude to him who had brought these enormities to light? He (Mr. H.) could consider Mr. Hunt in no other light, in this instance, than as a public benefactor. He had no reason to regard Mr. Hunt with personal favour: he considered him merely in his public conduct in the investigation of abuses. The hon. gentleman had misrepresented his hon. colleague, in his remarks on Mr. Hunt's sentence. All he had said was, the two years and a half imprisonment was punishment enough for an anomalous crime—not known to be a crime even by the prosecutors—scarcely contemplated as a crime by the jury—an offence which had made it necessary to send the jury back. The hon. gentleman had said, that so much respect should be paid to the tribunals, that their sentences once delivered should be exempted from reflection or censure. He (Mr. H.) had not read the constitutional law of the country. It was one of the most useful duties of representatives of the people, to show judges that they were not to be exempt from censure even on their high seats, when the language of revenge spoke in their sentences; and if there was to be liberty in England, not liberty which was merely to round a sentence, but to form the happiness of a nation, this scrutiny must still be exercised over the whole conduct of judges, but especially over the sentences of judges on criminals of state. To those who thought the character and talents of Mr. Hunt full of danger, he would say, that the danger would be augmented by continuing what the mass of people now considered an unjust punishment. On those who did not consider Mr. Hunt as dangerous, as well as those who did—on all who knew what he had done, and what he had suffered, he called as men and gentlemen, and (by a name which involved still higher duties), as Christians, to agree to the motion.
§ Mr. Dickinson
thought, that he could not better begin the observations he intended to make, than by referring to an observation that had been made on this subject, by his worthy friend, the member for Norwich, who had said, that at the commencement of the Coldbath-fields examination, the magistrates had persisted with pertinacity in defending their gaoler. He wished the conduct of the magistrates of Somerset to be contrasted with this. 31 On the first symptom of accusation, they, together with the sheriff, appointed a committee of their own, to investigate the abuses, the conclusion of which was the dismissal of the gaoler and the surgeon. Of the surgeon's general character, from long acquaintance, he could bear testimony, though he could say nothing with effect to mitigate the sending the blister as a punishment. The hon. baronet had spoken with considerable severity of a misdemeanant, who he said had been appointed as the companion of Mr. Hunt on his going into prison. Any gentleman who would read the evidence would see that there was some reason for this asperity. He would refer to the examination of Wyatt, who was a witness in the true sense of the word, for he was only convicted of an assault, whereas most of the other witnesses, especially the one Against Dr. Colston, was a convicted felon; and unless he was pardoned his testimony could not be received in a court of justice. But it appeared in p. 335, that Wyatt had been his servant, and not his companion, for nine months; and in the way in which his services were rejected, and the way in which the relation of master and servant was concluded was, by Mr. Hunt contriving with Hobbs, a turnkey, to have him placed in solitary confinement for twenty-four hours; and for what?—because he came one day suddenly into his room, and found his ward, Miss Gray, sitting upon his knee. This produced great anger on the part of Mr. Hunt at the moment, and ended in the punishment he had stated: the history of this transaction was in the evidence of Wyatt, p. 335. Much had been said of the cruelty practised on Mary Cuer, and which he did not intend to palliate; but this he knew, that the attention of the visiting magistrates was not drawn to it, and that the attention of nobody was drawn to it, till two years after the transaction; and there seemed to be a good deal of variation in the testimony of this witness. The hon. baronet had mentioned two facts, that had that night for the first time met his ears: one was a compromise between the gaoler and the magistrate for his retirement, and on which he thought there must be some mistake; for he had been a party to his dismissal, and had never heard of any compromise. The other was, that Dr. Colston had denied admittance to Mr. Hunt's sister when she was in a state of health in which she 32 could not last long. As he had never heard of this, he with difficulty believed it to be a fact; and he would now repeat what he had said on a former occasion, that from a long acquaintance with Dr. Colston, he believed, although he might, like others, sometimes mistake the nature of his duties, yet he believed him incapable of a deliberate act of cruelty. The nature of the solitary confinement of Mr. Hunt was this; he had, above the other prisoners, the power of walking three hours and a half in the day in the timeyard—a space longer than the length of the House of Commons from its outward walls; he had two times-men to attend him as servants; and in other respects he was like the other prisoners. This could not be termed solitary, nor any thing like it; and vet he was ready to say, that he believed it a more rigid imprisonment than was intended for him by the court of King's-bench! We had heard, that a feather-bed had been afforded him only on his first entrance. In fact, the magistrates had studiously endeavoured to make his apartments comfortable; and, if it was a question at this moment in a court of justice, he would not hesitate to call the hon. baronet to prove, that his upper apartment was as airy an apartment as a man need have; that his lower apartment must of necessity partake of this good air; and that, upon the whole, barring the gloom of a prison, his apartments were such as a man sending his son for the first time to the University would be delighted to find in a college. But, in order that the lower apartment might be made more airy, he had lately, with the other visiting magistrates, visited the gaol, and had ordered that the cross walls might be lowered as far as was consistent. with safety; and, as Mr. Hunt had unfortunately contracted a complaint in his eyes, that green blinds might be furnished, to give a more commodious shade to the room. Nobody could lament more than he did the vacillations that had taken place in the councils of the magistrates of Somerset; but the magistrates, nevertheless, had been consistent in their orders, and the sheriff being of a different opinion gave more the appearance of inconsistency than was, in fact, the case. There were no signed rules; and therefore the magistrates thought that they could not follow a better direction than the rules as they were, and these they applied to Mr. Hunt; and whether they 33 ought to have been applied to him or not, there still existed two opinions. But the magistrates knew that they, as a body, were the "custos morum" of the county, and they felt the impropriety of permitting the bad example to be introduced into the gaol, of a cohabitation with a person not his wife, who, notoriously for many years, had been in the habit of living with him. He was the first political offender that had been placed in Ilchester gaol, and it was well thought that no leniency ought to have been shown him on this account; for it was known that political offences were often more mischievous in their results than others, and that they were so contemplated in the law; for the highest offence of that kind, that of high treason, was visited by peculiar punishments. For himself, and a minority of the magistrates, he was of a different opinion, and perhaps he was guided by a law maxim that he had read in the former part of his life, which was, that prisons were "ad conservandos homines, non ad puniendos;" and besides this, he was more inclined to look generally on the subject, and to be governed by the practices of other gaols with regard to this description of offenders. But the authority of Mr. Justice Best silenced his opinion; and after that he owned that he thought it in vain, and he had made no further effort for the unrestricted imprisonment of Mr. Hunt. If the magistrates had acted with impropriety, there was an appeal to the highest tribunal in this country. If it was a new offence, the court of king's-bench had the power, if it chose to exercise it, of speedy and summary proceeding to bring it before them. Nobody questioned its impartial distribution of justice: it was peculiarly watchful over all inferior tribunals. The magistracy of the counties were one of its principal cares: they there knew what countenance to receive for the performance of their duties, and what punishment for their neglect. With regard to his vote that night, it would be against the motion of the hon. baronet. He felt actuated by no feeling of hostility to Mr. Hunt. He lamented the necessity of inflicting on any man two years and a half's imprisonment. But Mr. Hunt had been guilty of a most dangerous offence—that of assembling, with a bad design, an immense number of people. The principle of his punishment was, to deter others from committing a similar offence 34 —"pœna ad paucos, ut metus ad omnes perveniat." He believed it had had its good effect in checking such meetings; and as he hoped the dread of a similar punishment would remain on the minds of the disaffected, he should oppose the motion [Hear!].
§ Mr. Peel
said, that the strong impression he felt, that this particular subject was not fit for the consideration of that House, was a sufficient guarantee, that he would not trouble them with many observations. He felt that he might almost put it to the House, whether, in the course of the hon. baronet's speech, he had laid down any thing like sufficient grounds to induce parliament to interfere with the exclusive prerogative of the Crown, and to depart from that which had been the unvaried practice of the House ever since the Revolution? That practice was, not to express any opinion as to the continuation of a punishment awarded to an individual by a court of justice. On the propriety of adhering to that wise and rational practice, unless compelled to depart from it by some overwhelming necessity, there could be but one opinion. But, if there were one man who, more than another, ought to entertain the opinion that this practice should not be departed from, the hon. baronet was that individual. With his avowed opinions of that House—with his recorded complaints of its encroachments on the peculiar province of the Crown—he conceived that the hon. baronet ought to be the last man to propose a precedent, which, if once established would arrogate to that House a power, than which none could be conceived more fatal to the constitution; since it would have the effect of enlarging the functions of the democratic part of that constitution far beyond its useful and natural boundary. The question was simply this—was there, in this case, circumstances of that overwhelming nature, which should tempt the House to interfere with this most important prerogative—that should induce them to meddle with that peculiar attribute of the Crown, which was wholly alienated from the powers of that House, and was unconnected with the ends for which it was instituted? Before he applied himself to the particular case now before the House, he would offer a remark or two on the observation with which the hon. baronet had prefaced his speech. The hon. baronet alluded to a communication which he had had some time ago, 35 with him relative to the punishment which had been awarded to certain individuals who were apprehended on suspicion of a highway robbery. The hon. baronet had said, that he (Mr. P.) must not consider it as arising from want of courtesy, if he did not pay him a compliment for the course he had pursued on that occasion. Good God! could any one suppose that he expected a compliment on such an occasion? He should consider it as the most severe satire, if it could be imagined that he looked forward to a compliment because he had discharged a duty. The hon. baronet had stated to him the case of two individuals who were suffering punishment on account of a highway robbery. But on examining the facts of the cast, their conduct assumed the character rather of a culpable frolic than of a felonious design. When acquainted with all the circumstances, he had taken the necessary steps for remitting the remainder of the sentence, and the individuals were liberated. He claimed no merit for this act, which, as he before said, was an act of duty. The exercise of mercy ought to be as prompt and as pure as the visitation of justice. Where good reasons were advanced for the extension of mercy, he would immediately attend to them; but he never would consent to recommend any one on the ground of personal favour. But the inference which the hon. baronet attempted to draw from this transaction was, that the system which he (Mr. P.) was anxious to adopt would lead him to call for the remission of Mr. Hunt's sentence. In the transaction to which the hon. baronet alluded, he had been influenced by a sense of public duty alone; and if he opposed the present motion, his opposition sprang from the same source. After having fully considered the subject, the strongest conviction was impressed on his mind, that nothing could be more inexpedient, nothing could be more fatal, than that the House should agree to this address. They would, if they allowed this motion to be carried, establish a most dangerous precedent. Who was Mr. Hunt, and for what crime had he been committed to this gaol? The hon. baronet had quoted several writers to show that his offence was inter minora crimina; but he must look to the intentions of Mr. Hunt, if he wished to discover the particular crime for which that individual was punished. The duty of inquiring into the motives of 36 Mr. Hunt was not assumed voluntarily by him. That duty was imposed on him, by the hon. baronet's motion. The hon. baronet had put him on his trial—he had called on him to state to the House on what grounds he refused to recommend a mitigation of Mr. Hunt's sentence. His reason was recorded in the criminal jurisprudence of the country, where it was entered, that Henry Hunt and others were found guilty of assembling with unlawful banners, and in an unlawful manner." [Cheering from the Opposition benches.] Was it possible that such a statement could be treated with contempt? Was it possible that a meeting which assembled with unlawful banners, For the purpose of inciting the liege subjects of the king to hatred and contempt of his government, could be treated with levity? If it were so, let that circumstance operate as a warning to the House not to agree to this motion. Let the House well consider the consequences before they acquiesced in an address which told the country that the charge brought against Mr. Hunt was so slight, and his conduct so admirable, that the Commons of England were induced to interfere, and to call on the Crown for a mitigation of punishment. Was there any man who had read what had occurred in Lancaster within the last fortnight, without being convinced of the magnitude of the offence? Did any man see, in the full consideration which the subject then received—in the perfect establishment of all that had been stated on the ministerial side of the House—in the complete refutation of what had been called the Manchester massacre—did any man see, in these circumstances, the least reason for supposing, that the meeting was an innocent one? Had gentlemen read those proceedings? Had they, professing as they did a respect for the decision of a jury, considered the verdict which was returned by the jury at Lancaster? Were not the most decisive proofs given of the previous drilling—of the manner in which the parties marched—of their inflammatory banners—and of expressions which left no doubt as to the almost avowed object of the meeting? Were they, after such evidence, to be cajoled into a belief, that the object of the meeting was peaceable—that it was only assembled to petition parliament for a redress of grievances? Would they suffer themselves to believe this, and allow the constitution to be 37 sapped and undermined and invaded, by those who took advantage of the liberty which that constitution provided, in order to destroy it with the greater security? He could never view the sentence pronounced on Mr. Hunt as too severe for the crime he bad committed. Believing, as he did, that his punishment was fully merited—conceiving that the evidence adduced at his trial fully supported the charge that was preferred against him—he never would, as a servant of the Crown, advise the Crown to remit any part of his sentence. Nay, he would declare, with all respect for the decision of that House, that even its unanimous assent to the motion of the hon. baronet would not induce him to depart from the line of conduct he had adopted, after the most mature consideration that he could possibly give to the subject. He saw nothing in the case that called for commiseration. He saw nothing but accumulated proofs of Mr. Hunt's enormous guilt, in availing himself of that distress by which the country had been visited, for the purpose of inflaming the minds of those with whom he had no other connexion except a community of bad feelings.—And, if he saw nothing in the case of Mr. Hunt that called for parliamentary interference, still less could he see any thing that ought to influence the House in those other circumstances which the hon. baronet bad thought proper to introduce. The hon. baronet said, that the sentence of Mr. Hunt was aggravated by the conduct of the magistrates; and he also stated, that he would confine himself to Mr. Hunt's case, and leave all discussion relative to the general discipline which had prevailed in Ilchester gaol for the motion of the hon. alderman (Mr. Wood). Here he wished to observe, that when that motion was brought forward, he would be ready to discuss it, and most certainly he would not defend those acts of arbitrary power which were alleged to have been committed. He would fully state his opinion then; but until then, as he saw no necessary connexion between the question now before the House, and the system which had prevailed in the prison, he would abstain from noticing it. He would not follow the example of the hon. baronet, who, perceiving that there was nothing in the case of Mr. Hunt, had, with the skill of an artist, referred to other facts in order to inflame the passions of the House. No motion was introduced, it should be remembered, for the release 38 of those prisoners who were thus incidentally mentioned; but Mr. Hunt, who, of all the prisoners in Ilchester gaol, had suffered the least, was selected as an object of special favour. He would put out of the case, the woman who was placed in solitary confinement—he would put out of the case, the blister which was applied to a prisoner's head. No man could defend such acts; no man condemned them more than he did; but he now rejected them, because they were not connected with this motion. The House, if they meant to decide dispassionately, would leave out of their consideration subjects that were not before them. He found that the magistrates and the gaoler had issued contradictory orders with respect to Mr. Hunt; but he must impute the necessity in which that conduct originated to Mr. Hunt himself. Now, admitting every thing that had been stated to be true, supposing that nothing more horrible could be found in the annals of the inquisition than was experienced in that gaol, why, be asked, was Mr. Hunt selected from amongst the sufferers, as the only object of mercy? Was the insalubrity of the air the great cause of complaint? That was an evil, if it existed, which all must feel as well as Mr. Hunt. In the course of twenty years, about 25,000l. had been expended on this gaol, to make it as convenient as possible; and, at the present moment, many persons were confined there who bad not been convicted of any crime, but who had the misfortune of being in debt. Now, was it consistent with justice to call on the Crown to mitigate the sentence of a convicted offender on account of the, insalubrity of the gaol, while persons who were confined as debtors, were exposed to the same evil? Could they possibly request the Crown to relieve the one, without relieving the other? Or, if they did, would not the omission be fatal, and justly fatal, to the application?—With respect to the other ground advanced by the hon. baronet, that it was through Mr. Hunt's means that an inquiry was set on foot as to the conduct of the gaoler, and that very important disclosures were made in consequence, he must say, that if the hon. baronet compelled him to look at the conduct of Mr. Hunt, he must also take a view of his motives. He did not think that the motives of Mr. Hunt were of the most disinterested character. He believed, also, that had he been placed in any other 39 prison in some ground would have been discovered on which, in the opinions of some, a secretary of state ought to recommend the remission of his sentence. On the three grounds which formed the main branches of the hon. baronet's argument, he must oppose the motion. The hon. baronet had, he thought, utterly failed in making out a case. He had not shown that the conduct of Hunt was such as demanded the interference of government: he had not shown that the severity of his sentence had been aggravated by the conduct of the magistrates: and he never could be induced to think that the punishment of the offender was uncommensurate with the offence he had committed. On these grounds he would oppose the introduction of a principle which had not been acted on since the revolution. But above all, he implored the House not to let it go forth to the country, that they relieved this man, because he was guilty of sedition, while innocent persons, who were suffering through unavoidable misfortune, were left, unpitied, to their fate.
§ Sir J. Mackintosh
said, that, before he proceeded to state the grounds on which he would give his vote, he was anxious, on account of the tone which had been adopted by the right hon. gentleman, to declare the grounds on which his vote would not rest. It did not follow, as the right hon. gentleman seemed to suppose, that those who supported the present motion approved of the conduct of Mr. Hunt. He, for one, did not approve of his conduct; but he would support the motion on general principles, and not with reference to the course which Mr. Hunt had pursued. When the right hon. gentleman asked, "Who is Mr. Hunt?" he would answer "He is an Englishman!" He knew Mr. Hunt only in that capacity. On his behalf he made no claim of favour; but he demanded whether he had, or had not, a claim of justice on that House? He should despise himself if, on account of any displeasure he might feel at Mr. Hunt's conduct, he could be induced to abstain from defending those rights of justice which were as sacred in the person of Mr. Hen; as in that of any other Englishman. He did not underrate the charge brought against Mr. Hunt: he did not arraign the verdict, nor dispute the justice of the judgment. He did not take these points into consideration, because they were foreign to the question before the House. 40 He was not ignorant of that painful part of the duty of a judge—the exercise of a discretionary power, and the infliction of a discretionary punishment. No doubt, the grave and learned persons who apportioned the punishment in this instance were satisfied in their minds it was just. But, when he made this remark, he felt himself bound to add, that if he saw any thing which appeared to him to be wrong, he would not shrink from discussing and examining the conduct of any judge. One of the most important duties of a member of that House, was that of arraigning the proceedings of a judge, if they appeared to be improper; and he could not help thinking that it was unwise and undignified on the part of judges, or of their advocates in that House, or elsewhere, to deprecate a fair discussion of their conduct. What had been the conduct of judges before that House investigated their proceedings—before the press noticed their actions—before the public scanned their decisions? They were, like judges in all despotic governments, venal, corrupt, and arbitrary. Such were the judges of the infamous star-chamber. Before the period when a free and fair examination of the conduct of the judges became common, they were wicked or contemptible: since that period, they had acquired a reputation, which rendered them the pride of their own country, and the admiration of the world. Nothing was so calculated to exalt their character, as the bold and manly examination of their conduct. He was not called on now to contest their judgment; but, though he had a reverence for judges, it was not a blind one; and if he thought it necessary to arraign their conduct, he would do so without hesitation. Neither was it his intention to make any attack on the magistrates of Somersetshire, farther than to say, that their negligence allowed an alteration to be made in this prison, by which the punishment awarded by the sentence of the court was aggravated. As to his hon. friend below him, though he attempted to defend his brother magistrates, he had pronounced on them a very severe censure, when he stated his own liberal opinions, from which it appeared they had dissented. Now, the ground on which he supported this motion was, that Mr. Hunt had already suffered more than the court sentenced him to, or could have wished him to suffer. He did not found 41 this opinion on any statements contained in the petitions which had been laid on the table—petitions distinguished by foolish language and questionable facts: neither did he adopt it in consequence of the declarations of Mr. Hunt; but he was induced to form his opinion on the report of the commissioners, which had been very cautiously kept out of view during the discussion. The right hon. gentleman had observed, that no precedent could be found, since the Revolution, for addressing the Crown as to the exercise of this prerogative. The contrary was the fact. There was an abundance of precedents both before and since the Revolution; but there was not an instance in which the precedent was so strongly called for, or where it was so likely to furnish an useful example to future times, as in this case. Surely the right hon. gentleman must recollect the case of sir Harry Vane, in the time of Charles 2nd. It was a very remarkable case. On an address from parliament, the king promised not to prosecute that individual; but he afterwards broke his promise, and sir H. Vane was convicted. In 1697, a most remarkable precedent occurred—a precedent much stronger than any address to the Crown for the pardon of an offender. In January, 1697, an address was presented to the king, requesting him to stop the pardon of Thomas White. He would ask the House whether this was not a much greater intrusion on the feelings of the sovereign, than any address for mercy could possibly be? The House sent on that occasion a commission to Newgate to examine evidence and to report their opinion. This, be it observed, was nine years after the Revolution. This commission made a report on the subject of the inquiry intrusted to it, and upon that report the House resolved, that it would interfere no further, but leave the case to the pleasure of the Crown. Here was an interference of the House, not calling for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy residing in the Crown, but against it—not requiring a secretary of state to represent to his master, that as sufficient punishment had been endured, the royal clemency might be extended to the offender; but to check in the sovereign the exercise of those feelings which he might esteem it his greatest privilege to indulge. Yet, notwithstanding the nature of the case, the House decided, that it would interfere, and king 42 William and the secretary of state of that day deferred to its judgment. The minister of king William did not, on that occasion, use language like that which had been heard that night. He did not declare, that he would resign sooner than convey to his majesty the wishes and views of his faithful Commons. He did not assure parliament that whatever resolution it might pass, it would never induce him to second it by a favourable representation. There was no such secretary of state in that day. On the contrary, the greatest deference was shown to the opinion of the House, and no threats of resignation were uttered. Threats of resignation had been more frequently made than faithfully observed. Had the right hon. gentleman ever heard of another case in which the House had interfered in favour of the exercise of the royal clemency? Had he never heard of the proceeding with respect to the rebel lords in 1716? Sir Richard Steele presented a petition to the House in that year, and made a motion in favour of those lords, which was opposed by sir Robert Walpole, the then minister. Be it remembered, that the case was of infinitely greater importance than the present; it concerned men of high rank and station—men who had committed high treason—who had been found in arms against the government of the country, and immediately after a rebellion which threatened the overthrow of the throne. Sir R. Walpole, therefore, would have been justified in using strong language on the occasion; and if he had pursued the course followed by the right hon. gentleman, he ought to have risen and declared, "Whatever vote the House may come to, I shall never advise his majesty to remit the punishment of these lords: if the motion is carried, I shall resign my office under the Crown, than advise his majesty to comply with it; or I will incur the penalties of an impeachment, by openly advising the Crown to hold it in contempt." Such was the language of the right hon. gentleman; but sir R. Walpole did not take so high a ground, nor threaten the nation with a loss like that which the House had heard threatened that night. The question before the House was extremely simple and limited: it was merely whether the punishment which Mr. Hunt had endured was not greater than that which was intended to be inflicted; and whether, in consideration of 43 that excess of unintended severity, it was not incumbent on the House to address the Crown to remit the remainder. He would omit altogether any reference to the character of the offender. On considering the circumstances on which the present application was founded, it would appear that there never was a case in which the interference of the House would be less liable to be regarded as an encroachment on the prerogative of the Crown. It involved no question as to the degree of punishment proper for his offence, or as to the justice of the judgment pronounced upon him. It was simply whether more had not been suffered than was intended; and this could not be a question of frequent occurrence, or one that could excite any alarm as to its being drawn into a precedent. In consequence of certain statements made in that House, and certain proceedings consequent upon them, an inquiry was instituted into the state of Ilchester gaol; and on the recommendation of the House, a royal commission was sent down to conduct it. These commissioners had made a report, which contained discoveries of abuses existing in the management of that gaol. This investigation was set on foot by the House; these discoveries were made by a Crown commission, appointed on the recommendation of the House, and the House was now called upon to follow up a proceeding which originated with itself. Such was the history of the measure which now remained to be matured. The right hon. gentleman had said, that although abuses existed, Mr. Hunt, who complained, did not suffer by them. Take the evidence as stated in the report of the commissioners. If a person suffered from the cruelty of the gaoler, like that unfortunate woman, Mary Cuer, (than whose case nothing more horrible could be imagined), could such treatment be indifferent, or rather was it not most material to the situation of Mr. Hunt? Who, placed as Mr. Hunt was, could feel security, or be free from alarm, in such a prison? Was it nothing to be under a cruel gaoler, who inflicted torture on his prisoners, and who might extend a similar treatment to himself? What apprehension, what fear, must not the cruelties, the dark malignity, and ungoverned passions of this man, not have excited in the breast of all the persons who felt themselves under his power! It had been stated, that the prisoners at one time 44 were not liable to such treatment; but what said the commissioners? That the whole system was one of cruelty and irritation. The right hon. gentleman had here ventured upon the only argument which he had employed against the motion, in saying that if the House interfered to mitigate the sentence of Mr. Hunt, it ought likewise to interfere in favour of the other prisoners who had been the victims of the gaoler's tyranny, and even in favour of the debtors. How he supposed that the Crown could be called upon to remit their imprisonment to the latter, he did not understand; but with regard to the former, he would show the difference between their case and that of Mr. Hunt. The judges chose Ilchester gaol as the place of his imprisonment; but the other prisoners were in it as belonging to the county. And, why did the judges make such a selection? Because the place was considered a model of good management, and one of the best regulated prisons in England. They had made the choice with these views and under these impressions, which they derived from popular report, and had seen confirmed in a publication of the hon. member for Weymouth (Mr. Buxton), who had laudably devoted a great deal of mention to the state of prisons. This supposed well-regulated prison had turned out to be a scene of disorder and mismanagement: the gaoler, who was previously thought humane and merciful, was found to be a monster of cruelty. Instead of a medical attendant who was imagined skilful and attentive, they met with a man ignorant, obstinate, and capricious, who employed those remedial applications that belonged to his art, as the means of torture and punishment. The situation of the gaol, instead of being dry and salubrious, was humid and unhealthy. In. short, this prison, instead of bearing any resemblance to the representations made of it, exhibited an absolute contrast thereto. The court was deceived. The judges could not correct their mistake and therefore it was incumbent on the House, who had made the inquiries which terminated in this discovery, to address the Crown to do an act of bare justice, in remitting a punishment not originally contemplated. The House ought to complete its own work: it ought not to have addressed the Crown for a commission, which had gone through the farce of reporting, unless it was prepared to act 45 upon that report. No apprehension need be entertained that the present case would often occur, or that the interference of the House would encourage many similar applications. The hon. under-secretary had denied the severity of Mr. Hunt's punishment, and had quoted a letter from Ilehester gaol written in the first months of his confinement, in which be praised the gaoler, and expressed his comfort in his new situation. This letter was written in July: it was probably a flourish, intended to show his friends how much he despised the efforts of his enemies, and with what stoicism he could bear his misfortunes. But, even though true and sincere, what did it prove? Why, that from May to July he had not begun to suffer what he afterwards endured. He (sir J. M.) was not called on to support the veracity of Mr. Hunt, and he would only beg the right hon. gentleman to believe him when he was confirmed by other evidence. The court of King's-bench refused to receive the affidavit of Bridle, when his character came to be known. The magistrates, as well as Mr. Hunt, had been at first deceived and gulled by this man. From the evidence before the commissioners, it was clear that Mr. Hunt had suffered more than was contemplated by the judges. He would warn the House against allowing the obnoxious name of an individual (and he was sensible how obnoxious was the name of Mr. Hunt) to be a palliative of any injustice. He was sure the House was too just and generous to adopt the maxim, that any illegal severity could be practised upon any individual because he was odious, which they would not countenance towards another of more estimable qualities. The injustice established in one case was soon imitated. Tyrants were too quick-sighted to begin with the mild, the gentle, and the amiable. It was among the obnoxious few that the rights of all were first attacked. He, therefore, called upon the House, on all these considerations to support the motion.
said, that in the case of White the House reversed its own decision, and therefore the precedent did not apply. In the case of the rebel lords, the House of Peers, who had tried them, interfered as a jury to recommend them to mercy, and the House of Commons, who carried up the impeachment, interfered as prosecutors in the same application. This, therefore, was not a similar case.
46 It had been said, that the offence of which Mr. Hunt had been convicted was not a very grave one; but, in his opinion, it was an offence bordering, as nearly as possible, upon high treason. It had not been shown that Mr. Hunt, during his confinement, had suffered any hardships which were not also shared by the other prisoners: in fact, he believed Mr. Hunt had less cause of complaint than any other person in the gaol. The circumstance which Mr. Hunt appeared to consider the greatest hardship to which he had been subjected was his seclusion from the society of a person who did not form part of his family. This person was a female with whom he was connected. There was no reason why Mr. Hunt should, in this respect, be allowed greater indulgence than the other prisoners. Was he to be permitted exclusively to practise immoral conduct? If Mr. Hunt had been allowed the society of that female, the magistrates could not, in common fairness, have refused to any other prisoner the privilege of receiving any prostitute with whom he might be acquainted. He concluded by reading a passage from one of the numbers of Mr. Hunt's Memoirs, in which that individual stated that he had heard sir F. Burdett intended to move for the remission of the remainder of his sentence, on the ground that he had already suffered more than the judges intended. This last idea Mr. Hunt thought was all a hoax. "Would any man" (said Mr. Hunt), "lay his hand on his heart, and say that he had suffered more than judge Best and two other judges of the King's-bench had intended? Had he suffered more than Best intended he should? He believed that Best would have had him tortured if he could."
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
said, that having on a former occasion fully stated his opinion with respect to Mr. Hunt's sentence and treatment whilst in confinement, he would not that night have said one word, had it not been for the pointed allusion which his hon. and learned friend had made to him. His hon. and learned friend had referred to him as a kind of witness to the good conduct of Bridle. He begged the House to understand that at the time he (Mr. Buxton) visited the prison, and made a favourable report of its management, none of the evils which had since been proved to exist prevailed. He would say a few words with respect to the question before the House. He dis- 47 missed from his mind all consideration of the former conduct of Mr. Hunt; he looked upon him only as a man under sentence. Both the term and nature of his sentence were defined; and it was known that the judges who delivered the sentence believed the prison to be wholesome and well disciplined. Now, it had been proved by the report of the commissioners, and by the result of the coroner's inquest on a prisoner named Bryant, that the gaol was in a damp and unwholesome state. If, therefore, Mr. Hunt remained in that prison, the whole period which the law had awarded for his confinement, he would suffer more than the judges intended—he would suffer injustice.
§ Mr. Estcourt
adverted to some arrangements which had been made in the prison, all of which tended to afford additional convenience to the prisoners. Mr. Hunt had appealed to him, as one of the commissioners, to bear testimony to his conduct, and he must, in justice to that individual, now say that he had seen nothing improper in it; but, on the contrary, that there was direct evidence of its being perfectly correct.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that never, on any occasion, did he feel less strongly the necessity of replying; for nothing in the shape of argument had been offered in opposition to his motion. The vague and general declamation in which the right hon. secretary had indulged, he could look upon only as a kind of vapour which not unfrequently arose from that side of the House. The right hon. secretary had not condescended to support his declamation against the general conduct of Mr. Hunt by any proofs. Every person must feel how vague and indefinite a charge it was to say, that a man had an intention to subvert the principles of the constitution. Ministers would think every man liable to this charge who might attend a public meeting to endeavour to obtain redress for public grievances. The right hon. secretary had entirely overlooked all the hardships which Mr. Hunt had suffered. Another hon. gentleman had said, however, that some of those grievances had been redressed. But, what inference should be drawn from this circumstance? That Mr. Hunt ought to remain in prison? No; but that he had suffered inconveniences which he ought not to have suffered, during a great part of the term of his confinement, and should therefore receive atonement for the injury. If any, mea- 48 sures of relief had been adopted with respect to Mr. Hunt, that was a proof that he had formerly been improperly treated. If that which was now done was right, that which before existed was wrong. He was sorry that some observations had been made on the subject of the intercourse which was said to have been carried on between Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Vince. He could see no necessity for alluding to that lady. When it was considered that two convicts employed in the governor's house had proved with child, and that the moral magistrates who superintended the gaol, were in the habit of putting boys to sleep in cells with men who had been guilty of unnatural crimes, it did appear a little extraordinary, that the purity of the gaol could not endure the contamination of Mrs. Vince. Mr. Hunt's private affairs were a subject with which he was disinclined to interfere. Misfortunes might happen to all men. Mr. Hunt, it appeared, had been separated from his wife at an early period of his life; perhaps this might be considered a misfortune; and he had lived with Mrs. Vince for 18 years. He would wish to know, then, since Mr. Hunt had not been sent to prison to reform his morals, or to be interdicted from intercourse with any person, why he should be deprived of the society of that lady? He contended, that there was more immorality and scandal in unnecessarily dragging the circumstance before the public, than in allowing it to pass unnoticed. It had been said, that the motion before the House interfered with the prerogatives of the Crown. No man was more desirous of upholding the just prerogatives of the Crown than he was; he would do nothing tending to infringe them, and no such effect would result from his motion. But those who now opposed his motion on the ground that it was inimical to the kingly prerogatives, upon other occasions surmounted their scruples on that point. In the case of sir M. Lopez, who was convicted of an offence deeply affecting the honour and dignity of parliament, the House had made a representation in the proper quarter in favour of that individual, the result of which was the remission of the half of his sentence. Could it be improper for the House to interfere in behalf of Mr. Hunt, when it had exerted itself in favour of sir M. Lopez, notwithstanding the atrocious attack on the purity of election made by that unfortunate old gentleman? 49 He would not detain the House by any further observations from coming to a decision on the question, but would conclude with stating, that he remained of opinion, that the three grounds upon which he rested his motion, had not in the least degree been shaken.
§ The House then divided: Ayes 84. Noes 223. Majority against the motion, 139.
|List of the Minority.|
|Barrett, S. M.||Macdonald, J.|
|Benyon, B.||Mackintosh, sir J.|
|Bernal, R.||Martin, J.|
|Birch, Jos.||Maule, hon. W.|
|Brougham, H.||Milbank, M.|
|Bright, H.||Monck, J. B.|
|Bury, visc.||Moore, Peter|
|Buxton, T. F.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Calvert, C.||Normanby, visct.|
|Chaloner, R.||Newman, R. W.|
|Concannon, Lucius||Newport, rt. hon. sir J.|
|Crompton, S.||Nugent, lord|
|Crespigny, sir W. De||O'Callaghan, J.|
|Davies, T. H.||Ossulston, lord|
|Denman, T.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Power, R.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Pryse, P.|
|Ebrington, viscount||Rickford, W.|
|Ellice, E.||Ramsay, sir A.|
|Farquharson, A.||Ricardo, D.|
|Fergusson, sir R.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Folkestone, visct.||Robarts, D. G.|
|Farrand, R.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Grattan, J.||Rice, T. S.|
|Graham, S.||Smith, W.|
|Grant, J. P.||Sefton, earl of|
|Griffith, J. W.||Scott, J.|
|Guise, sir W.||Stanley, lord|
|Gurney, R.||Stewart, W.|
|Grosset, J. R.||Stuart, lord J.|
|Gaskell, B.||Sykes, D.|
|Heron, sir R.||Tavistock, marquis of|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Titchfield, marquis of|
|Hornby, E.||Webb, Ed.|
|Hume, J.||Western, C. C.|
|James, W.||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Johnson, col.||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Jervoise, G. P.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Wood, alderman|
|Lambton, J. G.||Wyvill, M.|
|Lennard, W.||Williams, sir R.|
|Lloyd, sir, E.||TELLERS.|
|Lushington, Dr.||Burdett, sir F.|
|Leycester, R.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|