HC Deb 06 March 1823 vol 8 cc490-4
Colonel Davies rose

to present a petition, which, he said, disclosed a case of great individual hardship. The petitioner was col. Allen, who, having served many years in the army, had at, untied the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1817, he was with his regiment, the 55th, in the island of Jersey, where he had some disagreement with general Bailey, who commanded the garrison there. General Bailey had accused him of making false returns, and that he should be suspended from the command of his regiment. It was impossible for col. Allen to submit to this imputation: he invited an investigation into his conduct; and this application having been disregarded by general Bailey, he wrote to head-quarters, preferring the same request. He heard nothing in reply for three months, when an order came down, not for the inquiry which he had sought, but for a court-martial, by which he was tried on three distinct charges: for making false returns; for trying men at drum-head courts-martial; and for having more men in the barracks than they ought to have contained. On the first charge, the sentence was tantamount to an acquittal; for, although the returns were technically incorrect, they had been pronounced not to be willfully false. On the second, he had been found guilty: but with the exception of the evidence not being reduced to writing, a court-martial at the drum-head was as satisfactory as a trial by any other method. The sentence was, that col. Allen should be placed 12 months lower on the list, and be reprimanded. The prince regent had been pleased to confirm this sentence, and had moreover ordered, as it appeared inconsistent with the well-being of the service that col. Allen should continue in com- mand of the 55th regiment, that he should be allowed either to retire on half-pay, or to sell out. Now, this proceeding, by which the severity of a court-martial sentence had been increased, was altogether illegal. Whoever had advised that act, had done what was illegal. Owing to the alternative of retiring on half-pay which had been presented to col. Allen, he had not obtained the difference to which he would otherwise have been entitled. This had, therefore, the effect of imposing a pecuniary fine; and the crown had no power to do so. Col. Allen had, therefore, no alternative but to pray the interference of the House; and he trusted they would not, because he was a military man, deny him that justice which they would grant to the meanest subject in the realm. He complained not so much of the crown, as of the ministers of the crown; by whose illegal advice that injury had been done for which he now sought redress.

Lord Palmerston

said, that on general principles, any interference with that branch of the prerogative which related to the appointment and removal of the officers of the army, was totally inexpedient. Of all the privileges of the crown, none was more ancient, and none had been of more uninterrupted exercise, than that of dismissing officers, whether they had been tried or not, or whether any reason was or was not assigned for their dismissal. It was a power held, not for the benefit of the crown, but for the maintenance of the rights and liberties of the people. He would argue, that, upon general principles, this was not a case which called for the interference of the House. He might go farther, and state, that there were circumstances connected with it which afforded much stronger ground for refusing any parliamentary interposition. Col. Allen had been tried on three distinct charges, on all of which be was found guilty. On two of those charges, the verdict was accompanied by a particular qualification. On the third charge, he was found guilty, without any qualification. The noble lord adverted specifically to these charges, and to the frequency, and severity of punishments in the regiment which col. Allen commanded. In no very long interval, 79 soldiers had been flogged, and 4,817 lashes had been inflicted. General Bailey had issued an order, that no inflictions of punishment should be carried into execu- tion, until a previous report had been made to him. Yet, on a visit made by the general to the hospital, he found two men suffering under the effects of punishment. That discovery led to a further investigation, the result of which was, that in disobedience of general Bailey's order, 15 soldiers had suffered under the sentence of regimental courts-martial, and 1,750 lashes had been inflicted between January and April. Let those who considered col. Allen ill-treated, take which alternative they pleased. Either he understood the order of general Bailey, or he did not. If he understood the order; he was guilty of disobedience. If he did not understand the order, he was not fit to command a regiment. Seven soldiers had also been tried by what was termed a drum-head court-martial. The very term indicated the absence of all those formalities, and that due deliberation which should ever characterize judicial investigations. There might arise circumstances where the evil required such a violent corrective, either under the exigencies of actual service in the field, or in the ebullitions of a mutiny and outrage; but no such palliations existed in the present instance. The drum-head trials of col. Allen took place in a period of profound peace, within 30 yards of the regimental orderly room; and that there was no reason for such precipitancy was evident, from the fact, that though the trials took place on the 24th, the punishments were not carried into effect until the 28th. The offence of the first private tried in this summary way was for having two blank cartridges in the pocket of his jacket, and not in his cartouch box. His punishment was 25 lashes. The offence of the second private, was for disobedience of the regimental regulations of the 3rd of March. No specification was given to the soldier. When or where he haft committed the offence was not detailed. The House would naturally wish to learn what the order of the 3rd of March was, against which the soldier offended. It was this, that in the ranks, no soldier, without orders, should go from the carry to the support. In other words, that he' should not support the firelock with the angle of the arm, but with the palm of the hand. For such an offence 25 lashes were inflicted. The offence of the third person was drunkenness on parade. Now, if there was one crime more than another, in the trial of which the summary pro- ceeding at the drum-head ought to have been avoided, it was that of intoxication—when the faculties of the offender were stupified by liquor, and his reason in a state of abeyance. The punishment inflicted was 100 lashes. The offence of another person was, levelling his piece. One would suppose, from the wording of this charge, that a mutiny had taken place in the regiment, and that this man had levelled his musket, charged to the muzzle, at his commanding officer. But the fact was, that the unsoldierlike conduct complained of was, "for levelling his piece in the air, when the regiment was practising with blank ammunition." It appeared, that the offender, instead of levelling with mathematical precision, had presented his piece in an angular direction towards the horizon. Now, when an individual, who had exerted his authority' for the punishment of such trifles, came forward and complained of severity, could the House be expected to interfere? "Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione quæentes?" He would contend, that an officer who could supersede, without reason or necessity, the ordinary rules of the service, was unfit to remain in his situation. For these reasons col. Allen was dismissed; but he was allowed to sell his commission; although every step he had taken in the service, from his ensigncy emanated from the pure grace and favour of the crown.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that corporal punishment was wholly unnecessary in the army. It was liable to great abuse, and ought to be put an end to. He was sorry that the commander-in-chief did not avail himself of the opportunity which this court-martial afforded him, of stating his disapproval of the infliction of corporal punishment.

Mr. Bennet

said, that when it was proved, that corporal punishment had been unnecessarily and improperly resorted to, the commander-in-chief was, he conceived, bound to express his disapprobation of the system.

Mr. Hume

observed, that when he had Made a statement on the subject of corporal punishment, last session, he was told, that no such thing ever took place in the army. The truth, however, had now come out; and it appeared that corporal punishment was inflicted to a great extent.

Colonel Davies

said, he had no acquaintance whatever with colonel Allen. He stood there to vindicate a principle, without any reference to the individual. When the Mutiny bill should be considered, it was his intention to move an instruction to the committee on this subject. Colonel Allen had expended 2,000l. in raising 200 men. It was, therefore, hot correct to say that he got his promotion for nothing.

Mr. Wynn

contended, that, if ever there was a case in which the prerogative of the crown had been exerted with propriety, and tempered with leniency, it was the case of colonel Allen.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, that the noble lord had made very light of the charges which had been preferred against certain individuals in col. Allen's regiment. One of these was an accusation against a soldier for not levelling his piece properly. Assuredly, it was of some importance, that soldiers should know how to use their arms effectively. It was not an easy matter to teach them to do so. He recollected, when a sergeant of marines was drilling a number of men, so badly did they point their pieces, that he declared he would stand their fire for a halfpenny a shot, and was confident he should make a fortune by it. Many of those raw soldiers appeared more anxious to direct their muskets against Jupiter or Saturn than against the enemy. Was drunkenness a light crime? Was it fit, ting that a soldier who thus misconducted himself, should not be punished? When no impression could be made on a man's reason, it was necessary sometimes to make an impression on his back. Gentlemen seemed to be extremely hostile to the system of corporal punishment. If it were abolished in the army, he supposed it would also be abolished in the navy. He was not, however, prepared to say, that corporal punishment should be discontinued in the navy; and he hoped, if its entire abolition were attempted, that it would be resisted. Much blame had been imputed to colonel Allen; but why should he alone be selected for censure? Was there no other officer in the regiment who concurred in his proceedings?

Ordered to lie on the table.