HC Deb 25 March 1822 vol 6 cc1252-64
Lord J. Russell

rose to present a petition from an individual whose claims had already been before the House. The petition was from captain Francis Romeo. He was a native of Calabria, had been forced to enter the service of Murat as a private soldier, and was raised some time after to some subordinate rank; but with this circumstance the case had nothing to do. He was employed some time afterwards by the British commanders in Sicily, in a mission of a delicate nature. It was well known that the Queen of Naples was plotting the overturn of the British power in Sicily, in order to aid that of her relative Napoleon. To defeat those plans, captain Romeo was employed, and, according to the testimony of the commanders of the British force in that country, his services had been of considerable advantage to the British interests. For these he had been promoted to a commission in the British service in that country. In 1816, on the restoration of the king of Naples, this gentleman, with the British uniform on his back, and a British passport in his pocket, was seized in the streets of Naples, and thrown into prison. It was said on a former occasion, that he had escaped from prison without trial; but the fact was not so. It was true he was not tried; but, without even the form of a trial, he was transported to Alexandria, in Egypt, and there left in a state of destitution. The whole of his sufferings the petitioner attributed to the services he had rendered to the government of this country. This statement was corroborated by the certificates of lord W. Bentinck, lieut. general Maitland, and of the late lieut. general Campbell; and from these it might be inferred, that all those who were known by the Neapolitan government to have been attached to British interests were treated with a most unrelenting severity. On presenting his claim to the government here, several promises were made to him, that he should receive a pecuniary compensation, and a passport which would protect him abroad. Some trifle had been granted to him, which he had commuted for 300l. Now, was a person who had rendered such important services, to remain almost starving in the streets of London. He was satisfied it was a case which deserved the attention of the House, and a reconsideration by government. Having said thus much on the subject of the petition, he would offer a few remarks on some recent occurrences in Italy. It was well known that, up to 1813, it had been the constant policy of the government of this country, to unite all the nations of the continent against the power of Buonaparte. No pains or expense were spared to induce the powers of the several countries to throw off the yoke of Napoleon. But amongst all those to whom such offers were made, there were none to whom greater inducements were held out than the Italians. They had severely felt the iron yoke of Buonaparte; but with them, whatever were its disadvantages, it had this effect—it gave a spirit of enterprize and bravery to the inhabitants, a great portion of whom were inured to arms, and had become disciplined soldiers. They had, besides, all the advantages to be derived from the encouragement of letters, and the opening of so many schools of public instruction. But those very circumstances contributed to show more fully to many, the despotism under which they lived, and gave them a desire to overthrow it. Unfortunately, however, when the change was made, their condition was not bettered. Little or no attention was paid to their desire for liberty. Indeed, a report went abroad, that when the Milanese applied in 1814 to the noble lord opposite, to be put under the protection of Great Britain, the noble lord replied to them, that however the liberty enjoyed by this country might be fitted for it, it would be unfit for the Italian states. Be that as it might, certain it was that Italy was given up to the dominion of Austria almost without any condition. To show how likely the Italians were to benefit by the change, he would mention, that all public instruction was now prohibited in Italy, except such as was given by the jesuits and another religious order. The system of mutual instruction, or teaching in private schools, was altogether abolished. The adoption of such a system seemed as if it was the intention of the Austrian power, to throw Italy hack into the darkness and barbarous ignorance in which she was involved in the middle ages. As a proof of the liberal principles upon which the people of that part of the world were governed, he would mention a circumstance which had recently come to his knowledge. Three persons were lately condemned by the Supreme Court of Justice at Turin, two of them for practices of an alleged treasonable nature, but the crime of the third was thus described by the Court itself—"having a propensity to the constitutional system." And what did the House think was the sentence which this High Court of Justice, awarded against the person having this propensity?—that he should be sent to the gallies for life! Another case was that of a marquis, a subject of the papal territory, who was arrested at Venice by order of the Austrian government, and his papers seized, and from suspicions of his principles, created by the contents of those papers, he was sentenced to death; but this punishment was commuted to ten years imprisonment. To form some idea of the humanity of this commutation, he would only mention, that the imprisonment was to be in a solitary cell, loaded with irons, deprived of pen, ink, and paper, and of all communication with his friends, and allowed to walk in the open air for only half an hour every day. This unfortunate nobleman, at the time of passing this sentence, had a young wife and two children; the wife at the same time very near her confinement. These were some of the blessings of that liberal system by which Austria governed those whom this country had helped to put into her power! But her cruelty was not confined to her own dominions; for she had contrived, that the unfortunate persons who had taken refuge at Geneva, after the revolution of the last year, should be driven from thence; and they were wandering about without a home or a country, to which to look for protection. These were some of the results of that alliance against the liberty of man, which had been blasphemously called "holy." Was this a system to which the government of this country ought, in the slightest degree, to lend its support. Ought we, by any aid or countenance, to sanc- tion attempts which were thus daily made to put an end to civil liberty, and to extinguish the light of freedom in Europe?

Mr. Wilmot

thought the noble lord had overlaid his case, by indulging in a variety of observations which had nothing to do with the petitioner. This question had been already fully debated, and the noble lord would remember, that it was never pretended that captain Romeo had rendered no services. It had, however, been maintained that his services had been duly remunerated. It was to be remembered also, that though captain Romeo might describe himself as a principal, he was, in fact, but a subordinate agent. For what he had done he had been rewarded by a captain's appointment in a Calabrese corps, to consist of 700 men, which had never been embodied. When the war ended, he had been dismissed with a gratuity and two months pay. It was denied by the Neapolitan government, that the transportation of which captain Romeo complained, was the consequence of his connexion with England; and not only was this denied, but the specific causes of that step being taken were distinctly stated, and a series of acts detailed which it had been thought right thus to visit. The noble lord stated that which was calculated to mislead the House when he spoke of captain Romeo having been arrested while wearing the British uniform. If such were the fact, captain Romeo was wearing that uniform when he had no right to wear it. It was said, that the 300l. which captain Romeo had received was a very inadequate sum to be given in lieu of 50l. per annum. But it was to be borne in mind, that the 50l. per annum was not granted for life, but only for a certain period. Though he had been refused an English passport for Naples, he had been offered one that would have taken him to Spain or any country in Europe; but the government had refused to give him one which might make it appear that he had any authority from this country. He had the fullest authority for stating that captain Romeo had not suffered on account of his attachment to England. He did not know that it was now stated, but if not, it had beer in a former petition, that the captain property had been confiscated. This was not true. No such confiscation had take place. His property, when sold, had been sold for his own benefit. He should not object to the petition being laid on the table; but certainly he conceived any further proceeding upon it unnecessary.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that whatever doubts the hon. gentleman might entertain upon the subject, the object of his noble friend was quite clear—to make an appeal to the honour and generosity of the British government. Captain Romeo had rendered eminent services to the British army in a most dangerous situation; and for those services he had been most inadequately rewarded. It was admitted that the individual had rendered valuable services, the main point contended for being that he had acted, not in a principal, but in a subordinate capacity. Supposing this to have been the case, recollecting the nature of the plot which he had discovered, the remuneration had been wholly disproportionate. On this question, however, the hon. gentleman had differed essentially from the officers at that time in command of the British troops in Sicily. Lord W. Bentinck had borne testimony to the "important services intrusted to captain Romeo;" and general Maitland declared, that "it was chiefly by means of captain Romeo that such evidence was obtained as counteracted the mischief which the open enemies and treacherous friends of the British army were plotting against it." General Campbell's certificate was equally clear and decisive. The conspiracy discovered by captain Romeo was of a most formidable kind. The very ringleaders of it were, nevertheless, at this moment enjoying the favour of the court of Naples; nay, the hon. gentleman was too well acquainted with facts to deny that it had reached even the councils and the family of the king of Naples. After the detection of such a system of the blackest treachery, was it worthy of a great and generous nation to talk of an annuity of 50l. as an adequate compensation for such a disclosure? The hon. gentleman had, however, denied that captain Romeo was exiled and his property confiscated on account of this discovery; and his assertion was founded upon information obtained from Naples. This was nothing less than calling upon the country to discredit the assertions of four gallant British officers on the authority of the present Neapolitan ministers, who were themselves conspirators against the British army. It was strange, indeed, to L institute such a comparison any where, t but it was unnatural and monstrous to attempt it in a British House of Commons. He was anxious, for the character of the country, that this stigma should he wiped away; and he took this mode of pressing upon the king's government, that it well became the rank and reputation which Great Britain held among the nations of the world, to give this gentleman a reward more adequate to the sufferings he had endured, and the services he had rendered. Surely his exile and his poverty, both occasioned by his attachment to this country, were no reasons for taking advantage of his wants and his powerlessness. It was of course to be expected that the Neapolitan government would insist that the charge on which the property of captain Romeo had been seized, was unconnected with the discoveries he had made in Sicily: but the four British generals were satisfied that he had been persecuted solely for the services he rendered to this country. It was unquestionably better, in a case like the, present, to err on the side of liberality, than to allow it to be supposed throughout Europe, that the British nation had been guilty of a piece of such miserable penuriousness.

Mr. Goulburn

was fully convinced, that captain Romeo had received a reward adequate to the nature of the services he had performed. Comparing his claims with those of other individuals, and the remuneration he had obtained with what had been granted to them, there was no disproportion calling for the interposition of the House. The reward assigned to him was that of a subordinate agent, and to those of higher rank little more had been given, although they were more importantly concerned, and had stronger testimonials in their favour. It was to be observed, that while captain Romeo was with the army, employed in collecting and giving information, be received his regular pay; but, long subsequent to the termination of these transactions, he made a demand for losses sustained to the extent of 2,500l. Was it to be supposed that the general officers commanding the British army would not have regularly allowed and paid these demands as they occurred, had they really arisen? They had not done so; and the inference, therefore, was strongly against the justice of the claims. With regard to the annuity of 50l. a-year, it was to be recollected, that it was in no respect certain or permanent, and when he (Mr. G.) fixed upon 300l. as the price of it, when captain Romeo wished to leave this country, he had deemed it an ample commutation. Having received the money, a difficulty arose about the passport, captain Romeo insisting that he ought to receive such a passport as was only given to British subjects. If he had intended to break off the negotiation upon this ground, it would have been proper that he should first have returned the money. Every possible facility, as far as respected a passport, was offered, had captain Romeo wished either to go to France or Spain; and a passage to Malta was offered to him. He believed that captain Romeo had not been banished on account of the transactions in Sicily; and that his property had not been confiscated. He believed this, not on the testimony of the Neapolitan ministers, but upon information obtained from the British ambassador. Under all the circumstances, he was of opinion, that this government had dealt honourably, justly, and generously by the petitioner.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that several individuals had been arrested and put to death for treason in Sicily, in consequence of the discovery by captain Romeo of a conspiracy, the object of which was the destruction of the British army. He would ask, whether the frustrating of a conspiracy, which had justified the execution of the head of the police, did not call for a larger recompense than 300l.?

Mr. Hutchinson

asked, whether any case at all parallel could be mentioned, where the remuneration was so insignificant? Captain Romeo had endured an imprisonment of five months, and was then banished to Egypt; and, after his property in Calabria had been confiscated, he was rewarded for all he had done and undergone by a wretched pittance of 50l. a year! This, too, after the unequivocal testimony in his favour, contradicted only by what our ambassador had been able to collect from the ministry at Naples. When captain Romeo complained to ministers, what had they done? They had referred him back to that government from which he had previously received the most cruel treatment. How did he prove his case? By the best of all evidence—the evidence of British officers. After remaining here for some time, he demanded a passport, to enable him to return to Naples; because, at that period, the friends of liberty were at the helm of the Neapolitan government. Ministers refused to give him the passport he sought for. The noble marquis gave him a passport to Malta, and left him to make his way from that island in the best manner he could. The conduct which had been exercised towards him was, throughout, one continued tissue of deceit.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that his view of the facts of the case, which he had detailed on former occasions, had not been in the slightest degree altered by any thing that had occurred that evening. One thing at least he was glad to observe on this occasion; namely, that the character of a police officer was more agreeable in the eyes of gentlemen opposite, when he performed his functions abroad, than when he was called on to execute them at home. There appeared to be quite a rush of gentlemen anxious to speak in favour of that character. Captain Romeo was an officer of that description, and, it was alleged, had performed services, under the observation of those military officers, whose names lied that night been quoted. He complained that his services had not been requited; but he would satisfy the house that captain Romeo had not been treated harshly by this government. Now, much as he respected lord W. Bentinck, and disinterested as he believed the declaration of general Campbell to have been, still it was evident that their statement was not founded on inquiry, but was rather matter of opinion. Opposed to their representation, was the statement of sir W. A'Court, the English ambassador at Naples, who had thoroughly investigated all the circumstances of the case; and, from all the information he could obtain, he had come to the conclusion, that the statements laid before the British government by captain Romeo were not well founded. He learned that captain Romeo had sustained no persecution, and that he had been removed from Calabria on account of acts which he had done subsequently to the British troops being in possession of Sicily. Now, it could not be expected that this government was to demand protection for captain Romeo, against the consequences of any acts to which he was a party after the British troops had evacuated Sicily. Sir. W. A'Court had examined all the facts minutely, and was decidedly opposed to general Campbell. The latter gave a loose opinion, that he believed this indivi- dual had been treated harshly on account of services which he had rendered to the British troops. This was strenuously denied by sir W. A'Court. With respect to the reward being inadequate to the services of captain Romeo, he would observe, that such a charge applied solely to the officers in question, lord W. Bentinck, and general Campbell. And he must be allowed to say, that, of all the errors they could possibly commit, want of liberality to those who had rendered service to the British army was the least probable. Now, if they had conceived that captain Romeo was not properly paid, they had the military chest at their command, and lord W. Bentinck had only to draw for any sum which appeared to be proper to meet those claims of service. Captain Romeo left the police of the army, and resided in the Neapolitan dominions after the British troops left Sicily; and it was not till two or three years subsequently that he removed from those dominions. It was said, that he could not have made his claim on this government sooner, because he had been sent to Egypt; but the fact was, that he remained for a considerable time in his own country, and did not apparently think of coming here. At length, he came forward with a claim for 2,500l., which sum, he said, he had laid out in the service of the British government. He was asked for particulars: and then it appeared, on his showing, that the greater part of this money was given to the mistress of a French general, for extricating him from prison; but, was it not extraordinary that he did not carry his claim to the officers under whose observation be was said to have performed certain services? Besides, he should be glad to know how an officer of police, attached to the army, arid on a very small scale of pay, could procure so large a sum of money and keep its expenditure a secret from lord W. Bentinck and general Campbell, although that expenditure was on account of the British government. Surely, if these officers were convinced that such a sum had actually been expended on account of the British government, they would have taken proper cognizance of it. But, when captain Romeo came here and made his statement, he could not avoid looking at his case as a very weak one. If he said any thing unpleasant to captain Romeo's feelings, he was sorry for it; but his own conduct had forced it from him. He could not think of going beyond the usual scale of reward on an occasion like this; and to give a reward to captain Romeo—which it was impossible to generalize, would be exceedingly unfair. If he had a just claim, which was not paid in Italy, he could only attribute the circumstance to some extraordinary oversight on the part of captain Romeo. Either he had forgotten to bring this charge of 2,500l. forward, or else the officers who had been so often mentioned neglected to investigate it; and the latter proposition he could not credit. As to the reward which had been conferred here, his right hon. friend had made out an unanswerable case in proof of its sufficiency.

Mr. Hume

said, the ground which the noble lord took last year, when this subject was introduced to the House, was diametrically opposite to that on which he depended this night. He (Mr. Hume) had contended last year, and would still contend, that captain Romeo performed certain services of a most important nature, at the time the British troops were in possession of Sicily. That fact was not denied; but the noble marquis and the right hon. gentleman both contended, that there was no claim for remuneration. How stood the case? This individual had performed services which the authorities which had been quoted declared to have been useful; and he demanded a recompense for those services. Every person who at that time entered the British service in Sicily had the pledge of the British government, that they would be protected from the government of Naples. Under this pledge, captain Romeo proceeded to Naples, where he was arrested and lost his property; and on account of that loss, he applied to this government for relief. Last year, when he stated these facts, the noble marquis read a letter from sir W. A'Court, in which he stated, "that captain Romeo, after being arrested under the charge of committing some offence against the Neapolitan government, had escaped from prison." At that time, he (Mr. H.) happened to have in his possession, a letter from the Swedish consul, in which it was stated, that he had given captain Romeo a passport to go to Egypt, by direction of the Neapolitan government. This was the escape which captain Romeo had effected; and, when one of the noble lord's facts was so grossly erroneous, it might be inferred, that others were equally incorrect. Captain Romeo was tried and condemned to death, on account of his fidelity to the British government. In this emergency, he had recourse to bribery to save his life, and the sum of 2,500l. was given to the mistress of a French general, in order to effect that object. Captain Romeo was afterwards carried away from Italy by force, and he was left entirely destitute in a foreign country. With much difficulty he got to Malta, and he came as soon as possible from Malta to this country. His case was represented to the British government, and 50l. a year were granted to him, as a temporary allowance, pending the decision of his claims. At length, tired out by the delays of office, he wished, when a favourable opportunity presented itself, to be landed in Italy, under the protection of a British passport. The government was pledged to grant him such a passport as he demanded; but the Foreign office refused to comply with his request. His case was altogether one of great hardship. In his opinions captain Romeo ought to have an allowance for life. Of this he was sure, that ministers frequently gave the public money away to much less deserving objects.

Mr. Forbes

thought this was a case which deserved the attention of the British government. There was one circumstance connected with the situation of captain Romeo, which he begged leave to mention, that if it were not true, ministers might contradict it, and set the poor man's mind at ease. He was at present under the greatest apprehension that he would be arrested under the Alien act, and sent out of the country. On Friday last, some persons, who stated themselves to be police officers, had called at the house in which he rented a miserable garret at the rate of 4s. a week, and declared that they were sent to arrest him. He (Mr. F.) had assured him it was impossible that those persons could have been employed for that purpose; but he was most anxious to have the fact officially stated. This, he thought, was one of those cases in which ministers were penny-wise, as compared with others in which they were pound foolish. He had been assured that a large pension had recently been conferred on the lady of a meritorious general officer. He would not, however, state the circumstances at present, which he certainly would, if captain Romeo's case were neglected. He had given up his pension of 50l. for the trifling sum of 300l. when an opportunity to go abroad had offered itself to him. That pension of 50l. should, at least, be restored, to prevent him from starving in the streets. Was it consistent with British liberality to refuse him an adequate provision, when three British generals bore witness to his services? He had not six-pence in his pocket at present. A subscription for his relief had been set on foot some time ago, to which several respectable gentlemen affixed their names; but he had not experienced the same liberality which had distinguished other subscriptions

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, he feared the credulity of the hon. gentleman had been imposed upon. With respect to an order for sending this person out of the country under the Alien act, the alarm was totally groundless. He hoped the hon. gentleman would mention the case to which he alluded, and which he seemed to hold out as a threat for extorting a favourable reception of the petition.

Mr. Forbes

said, he would then ask, whether a pension of 800l. per annum had not been lately settled upon lady Torrens, the wife of sir H. Torrens. It had been stated to him, that that gallant general had some time ago resigned the situation which he held, and taken one with less duties and an inferior salary, and that, in consequence, a pension to the amount he had stated, had been granted to lady Torrens.

Mr. Arbuthnot

said, it was certainly true that a pension had been granted to lady Torrens. It was in the knowledge of the House that the disposal of pensions to a certain amount formed a part of the constitutional power of the Crown. Sir H. Torrens was well known to the country; and he thought that a pension granted to his lady, as an acknowledgment of his services, would never be considered an improper exercise of the royal prerogative.

Lord J. Russell

thought that the testimony of the British generals ought to outweigh that of the Neapolitan government. He was quite sure that the government could have no intention of enforcing the provisions of the Alien act against the petitioner; and he did hope that they would reconsider his case.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, it was extraordinary, if there had been so large an outlay, as 2,500l. that captain Romeo should not have brought forward his claims in 1818 and 1819. It was the last thing that would have entered his mind to apply the Alien act to the present case.

The petition was ordered to be printed.