HC Deb 25 March 1823 vol 8 cc695-702
Mr. Grey Bennet

said, he rose to move for Copies of the Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry on colonel Home, of the Third Regiment of Guards. The case of that officer was, in his opinion, one of great importance; and, though he might despair of succeeding in the application which he felt it his duty to make to the House, he did not despair of the success, which would arise from the impression which that officer's case could not fail to make upon the public. Having obtained information, which he believed to be correct, he felt himself called upon, in justice to the character of that injured officer, and to the institutions of the army, to bring his case under the consideration of the House. It was necessary to premise, that this officer was not undistinguished in the military history of the country. He entered the service in 1803, had served in the Peninsula, in Germany, and wherever his regiment was engaged; and in the last great conflict at Waterloo, had conspicuously distinguished himself, in that post which was technically and emphatically called the key of the position—the post of Hogoumont. This officer, when he returned home, had the misfortune to engage in an unprofitable mining concern, relying upon representations, which sub- sequently turned out to be false. After engaging in this speculation, in the spring of 1814, he was ordered to the continent, where he remained until after the peace of Paris. Upon his return to this country, he found the concern in which he had engaged in a ruinous state, and that he had been grossly and scandalously imposed upon. The hon. member proceeded to read some letters from the brother of colonel Home, who had gone down to inquire into the state of the concern, with a view of showing the shuffling and evasive conduct of the parties by whom he had been prevailed upon to embark in this trading transaction. From these letters, it appeared to be the opinion of all the other partners, that it would be better to submit to the first loss, and put an end to the concern, than to suffer it to remain under the management of Mr. Salisbury. Colonel Home would have been glad to withdraw himself from the concern, at the expense of all the capital he had embarked in it; but, as the partners declined, he consulted respectable lawyers, who advised him to get bills drawn upon him, and to accept them in the name of the firm, with a view of compelling the partners to come to an equitable settlement. Shortly after one of these bills had been presented for payment, some scandalous placards were stuck up in the town, casting the grossest and most unfounded aspersions on the character of colonel Home. As soon as colonel Home was informed of this circumstance, he took measures to repel the aspersion, and a person was employed to meet the brother of colonel Home to investigate the whole transaction. This person, who, it should be observed, was an agent of the opposite party, admitted that nothing could be more honourable than the conduct of colonel Home. That officer subsequently received a letter from lieut.-colonel Hill, in which he was informed that a court of inquiry would be held to investigate certain transactions in which he was said to be implicated, with the firm of Salisbury and Co. On requiring a specification of the charges, he received another letter from colonel Hill in which the principal points of charge were stated to be his accepting various bills from which he was restrained by the articles of partnership; his swearing by affidavit in the court of Chancery, that he was ignorant of the existence of those articles, when it could be proved, that they had been delivered to him: and his persuading quarter-master Weston to personate him, and receive in that character the injunction of the court of Chancery, restraining him from accepting bills. The court met on the 26th Jan. 1818, and on the 30th, came to certain resolutions, which he had no hesitation in declaring to be most loosely, vaguely, and illegally drawn up. They were directly contradicted by the evidence, and, if this were a civil case, would justify a motion for a new trial. The first resolution stated, that colonel Home was a partner in the firm of Salisbury and Co.; but this fact had never been proved to the court. He did not mean to deny, that colonel Home was a partner in the concern; but still it was material that he had not been proved to be a partner. Besides, the time at which the partnership commenced, which was another material point, was not stated.—The second resolution of the court stated, that colonel Home had in a letter expressed himself perfectly satisfied with any arrangements which might be made by the managing partners of the concern. There was not the slightest truth in this statement. The letter inertly stated the colonel's readiness to agree to any purchase which might be made, for the benefit of the concern. There was a great difference between the words "arrangement" and "purchase;" for though the colonel was ready to agree to any special purchase which might be made, it did not appear that he was ready to agree to any thing else. Another resolution declared, that colonel Home had drawn bills to a large amount, in violation of an agreement entered into with his copartners; and a fourth resolution charged him with taking measures to avoid the lord chancellor's injunction, by prevailing upon quarter-master Weston to receive it. Col. Home subsequently received a letter from col. Hill, in which the latter officer stated, that he was commanded by the duke of Gloucester to inform him, that after the proceedings of the late court of inquiry, he could not remain in the service, unless his conduct were cleared by a general court-martial. The letter further gave him the option of abiding by the decision of a court-martial, or of selling his commission. Col. Home immediately demanded a court-martial. Every thing was going on in the train, by which alone an accused officer could clear himself from any charge that might be brought against his character and honour. The whole of the evidence was submitted to the advocate-general, whose duty it is on such occasions to draw up the charges. On the 10th Feb. 1818, the judge-advocate came to this conclusion: "that colonel Home had been induced to enter into a commercial speculation by persons whose honesty and fair dealing there was strong reason to suspect; that he had been recommended to accept bills drawn upon the firm in order to bring the, partners to a general settlement, and that it was by no means clear that the partnership concern was not liable for these bills." This was a question, therefore, involving civil rights, which ought by no means to be made the subject of a military investigation. With respect to the allegation, however, that colonel Home had denied having received a copy of the agreement upon which the partnership was founded, that charge, undoubtedly, affected his character as an officer and a gentleman; but, upon this point, the evidence was by no means clear. On the contrary, he had sworn, in answer to a bill filed against him in chancery, that he had never received a copy of such an agreement; and that allegation must be taken to be true, since, if it were false, the colonel was liable to be indicted for perjury. With respect to the charge of his having prevailed upon quarter-master Weston to receive the injunction of the court of chancery, there was no evidence that col. Home had received any notice that such a process would be issued against him; and the allegation itself was contradicted by the quarter-master. Upon the whole, it appeared to the advocate-general, that justice could not be done to col. Home by a court-martial, but that a court of inquiry, where the proceedings were less precise and formal, and where more weight was given to opinion, than to rules of evidence, was in this case a much more satisfactory tribunal. Hear this, ye lawyers, exclaimed the hon. gentleman, if there be any lawyers in the House, and wonder while ye hear! A court-martial was bound to administer justice on oath, to examine witnesses on oath, and was not governed by opinion, but by evidence; whereas a court of inquiry was not sworn to administer justice, had no power to summon witnesses, or to call for documents, and yet this very distinction, that its proceedings were grounded upon opinion, and not evidence, was that on which the advocate-general founded his opinion, that it was a more satisfactory tribunal! There was no term of reprobation which it did not merit—no epithet which was severe enough for it. He would entreat the House to bear in mind the consequence, if such courts were allowed to decide on such matters. This officer complained, that he had been placed in a situation which was unpleasant in the extreme. He had been tried by a tribunal that could not do him justice. It was monstrous to state, that if he could not get justice from a court-martial, he would get it from a court of inquiry. The case was this: did colonel Home, when he drew the bills, or when they were drawn, do it as a consenting party to the terms which had been agreed to in 1813? He would say, that he did not; that he had never received intimation of these terms, and did not, in fact, know of their existence.—Here the hon. gentle man detailed, and commented upon the evidence which had been laid before the court-martial in 1818, and from that he contended, that col. Home was not aware, that in accepting the bills he was acting contrary to any terms of agreement subsisting between the partners; that in procuring quarter-master Weston to receive the injunction he did not wish that gentleman to personate him; that in the whole case he had acted by the advice of his legal agents; and that consequently he must have concluded, that the whole of his conduct was legal. This had been proved by the testimony of the evidence against col. Home, and he challenged the noble lord opposite to point out a tittle of evidence upon which the case rested. Was it to be indured that a gallant officer, who had served his country so well for 18 years, should have, upon such a charge and at the suggestion of such a court, been stript of his rank? It should be borne in mind, that the court had been instituted for one purpose and used for another. He did not mean to enter into the question of courts of inquiry. When considered in the same light and used for the same purpose as grand juries, they might have their advantages; but, as courts of decision, they were illegal; and he would appeal to any man, whether he would wish to have his fortune at the mercy, he would say the caprice, of a court, where the judges and the witnesses had no responsibility He had no acquaintance with col. Home, beyond an introduction for the purpose of this mo- tion. He hoped he had contributed to set up the character of a man who had been oppressed, and that for the future he would continue to bear the same manly front, as he had been wont to do to the enemies of his country. He would only add, that it was his opinion, that this was the most illegal, unjust, and harsh decision, ever come to. The hon. member concluded by moving, "That there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Minutes of the Court of Inquiry, and all the Documents laid before it, in the matter of Colonel Home, late of the third regiment of Guards, in the year 1818."

Lord Palmerston

said, he would leave the military character of colonel Home out of view, as it had really as little to do with the present question, as that question, in his opinion, had with parliamentary inquiry. The case was as plain as it was brief. Colonel Home had entered into a certain mercantile speculation; and, when he found that speculation was not likely to be profitable, he had attempted to withdraw his capital, by means which had been thought unjustifiable. He had become a partner by purchasing shares; and that he was ignorant of the terms of the co-partnery, would have been no excuse for his conduct, seeing that he ought to have informed himself of the grounds upon which he had invested his capital. Finding that the speculation was not likely to turn out well, he had attempted, in the manner which had been stated, to withdraw his capital. The whole capital was 27,000l., and of this the sum which had been advanced by the colonel was 3,100l. Now, from this, it was evident, that not the colonel, but his partners, would have had to bear the greater share of the loss. Still he had authorized his brother to draw bills upon him, and these bills he had accepted in the name of the company, and had thus made his partners liable. This liability had been stated on the opinion of a court of law; and, the bills being drawn by colonel Home's brother, was much the same as if they had been drawn by himself. The bills had been accepted for no value; and peculiar channels had been chosen to put them into circulation. They were in the hands of makers of combs and umbrellas, and sellers of cloth. Now, upon what ground could the colonel think himself justified in doing this? Had he entered into the business voluntarily; or had he entered in to it blindfolded? Though the speculation which he had entered into voluntarily had not turned out profitably, that was no reason why he, the smallest partner, should be the first to withdraw all his capital; and not all his capital merely, but even more; and that in a manner which could not be reconciled with honourable proceedings. When the parties who were the holders of these bills found that other bills to an extent greater than the sum which the colonel had in the concern might be drawn, they applied for an injunction to the court of Chancery. This injunction the gallant colonel requested a captain Drummond to receive for him; and when the captain refused, he had applied to the quarter-master. This could not be a casual receiving, and was no evidence that the nature of the paper was not known to the colonel. The commander-in-chief's attention had been first attracted to the subject, in consequence of placards having been posted up in various parts of the metropolis, charging col. Home with gross misconduct. How were these charges answered? One might judge a little of the character of an individual from the manner in which he set about defending himself. A person wholly free from reproach would hardly plead so directly to a charge as to post bills on dead walls and in bye-corners. He held in his hand one of the counter placards, in which colonel Home had replied to the charges posted in other bills.—[Here the noble lord produced one of the placards.]—He contended, that the course which the colonel had originally pursued was incorrect, and the manlier in which he had avoided a process of law was discreditable to him as an officer. At first the commander-in-chief had intended to bring colonel Home to a court-martial; but such a proceeding it was thought would so interfere with other interests, that it could not be adopted with justice to the parties. This opinion had been given by the judge advocate, and it had been borne out by the result. Twice colonel Home had applied to courts of justice, with a view of commencing proceedings, founded on the minutes of the court of inquiry; but chief justices Abbott and Dallas had decided, that they could not order the production of the minutes of a military court of inquiry. The noble lord proceeded to show, that courts of inquiry were of no recent date. It had been common to have recourse to them from the middle of the lest century; and even at an earlier period. Chief justice Abbott had described a court of inquiry to be different from a court of justice; but he conceived it to be that which his majesty was competent to appoint; and he held it to be a very gracious mode of dealing with an officer, whose conduct had been called in question, to submit the case to the consideration of his brother-officers, before he was brought to a public trial. He thought, upon the whole, that there were ample grounds for removing colonel Home from his command, as he had been removed. He had not been dismissed the service, but was allowed to sell the whole of his commissions. It was said, that he had acted on legal advice, If so, he was sorry that he should have been misled; but a man must be responsible for his conduct, although acting under such advice. After the facts which had been proved, colonel Home could not, with propriety, be suffered to remain in the command of his regiment; and he, therefore, saw no grounds for interfering on the present occasion with the exercise of the undoubted prerogative of the crown. On the same principle upon which the courts of justice had refused to interfere, he thought the House bound to negative the motion

The motion was negatived.