HC Deb 01 March 1822 vol 6 cc862-3
Mr. Hobhouse

said he held in his hand a petition, signed by upwards of 5,000 persons living in the town of Blackburn, in Lancashire, complaining of the hard treatment to which Mr. Hunt was subjected in Ilchester gaol, and praying that the House would address the king to commute the sentence of Mr. Hunt, or at least to rescind the resolution adopted at the last quarter sessions for the county of Somerset, in consequence of which Mr. Hunt was now so severely treated. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to express his disapprobation of the manner in which Mr. Hunt had been treated during his confinement, and particularly censured the resolution which had been adopted at the last quarter sessions for Somersetshire for the regulation of Ilchester gaol. He eulogized the conduct of the commissioners, and dwelt at length upon a variety of details, which have already appeared before the public. He called upon the House to look at the total absence of control in the prison. The gaoler was not checked by the surgeon, the surgeon by the coroner, nor the coroner by the magistrates. Let them remember the abuses and cruelties proved: Hillyer loaded with irons, and beheld, so loaded, without interference by the magistrates; and Mary Cuer, with her new-born child, exposed to cold and hunger. Let members advert to the badness of the bread, and to the impurity of the water—to the absence of air and sunshine, and to the presence of instruments of torture unparalleled but by those brought over in the Spanish armada. Mr. Hunt's imprisonment was an evil as regarded himself, but it had been the source of incalculable advantage to the commu- nity; and, whatever had been his course before he went to gaol, his conduct since had made him a public benefactor. The least that government ought to do for Mr. Hunt would be to take care that his heavy sentence was not aggravated by ill treatment.

Mr. Dickinson

assured the House that there was every disposition on the part of the magistrates of Somersetshire to carry amelioration as to gaol discipline into effect.

Mr. Bernal

said, that by the 31st Geo. 3rd, the county magistrates had power, in cases of necessity, to revise and alter rules laid down by judges of session. Such power might be beneficially exercised in the present case.

Mr. W. Smith

knew nothing at all of Mr. Hunt; but believed that, as far as Ilchester gaol was concerned, he had been the means of producing very considerable good. The House had been told that prisoners aggrieved had the power of complaining to visiting magistrates; but the report of the commissioners proved such power to be insufficient; for it declared, that the regulations of the visiting magistrates themselves had been of a contradictory and irritating tendency.

Sir R. Wilson

thought the visiting magistrates deserved blame for not having exercised a more strict vigilance over the conduct of the gaoler. The manner in which they allowed one of the prisoners to remain with iron handcuffs round his wrists, which weighed ten pounds and a half, could not be too much reprobated. Such was the terror which the oppression of his keepers inspired, that when this unfortunate prisoner was brought before the commissioners, he never ventured to complain.

Mr. P. Moore

did not know Mr. Hunt; but he knew that he was a British subject, that he had been barbarously treated, and was entitled to the protection of that House. He hoped every man would feel that Mr. Hunt's case might one day be his own, and take it up accordingly. If ministers did not interfere in behalf of those who were thus oppressed, they would not do their duty.

Ordered to lie on the table.

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