HC Deb 11 May 1826 vol 15 cc1098-110
Mr. Hume

said, he had been requested to present a petition from colonel Bradley, late in the West-India service, complaining of having undergone a series of unmerited injuries, and been visited with ruin and disgrace for the upright and honest discharge of his duty as a British officer. The petitioner had been twenty years in his majesty's service, and had attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the second West-India regiment. Two of his commissions he had purchased, and was promoted by service to the rank he ultimately attained. For eighteen years he was exposed to all the perils of the inhospitable climate of the West Indies, and in proof of the uniform propriety of his conduct, and the unwearied activity of his services, he appealed to the documents and testimonies in the offices of the commander-in-chief and earl Bathurst, and to the written and verbal declarations of his royal highness the duke of York, sir Henry Torrens, sir Herbert Taylor, sir George Cockburn, and other distinguished individuals. In the year 1819, the regiment of the senior officer in command at Honduras, colonel Arthur, was put upon half-pay. The consequence was, that he became incapable of holding a command, in virtue of his mere rank upon the half-pay list. The petitioner being at that time second in command, the whole responsibility and charge, according to the regulations of the British army, devolved upon him. Because, however, he thought fit respectfully to insist upon his right to the command, he was put under arrest, confined for a period of ten months, deprived of the benefit of a court martial, and finally, by the insidious arts and misrepresentations of his enemies, was dismissed from the service, with a right of sale of a majority only. The dependency of Honduras was governed by a superintendant, appointed by the governor of Jamaica. In July, 1814, colonel, then major Arthur, was appointed to that office, which was purely of a civil nature. At that time, the military command belonged to major Massey. It remained with him till the December following, when by his resignation, it devolved upon colonel Arthur, in his capacity of senior regimental commissioned officer on the station. In 1818, the petitioner arrived at Honduras; and found himself by the date of his commission, second in command. Early in the next year, official intelligence was received of the reduction of colonel Arthur's regiment, the York Chasseurs. Several conversations took place between the petitioner and colonel Arthur, in which the latter always stated, that he was perfectly aware that the reduction of his regiment would deprive him of his command. In June 1819, the York Chasseurs embarked at Jamaica, and in August were disbanded in Canada; but no notice was taken by colonel Arthur; though it had since been proved by his own returns, that he had received notification of his being placed on half-pay, on the 25th of October. The petitioner, feeling the deep responsibility of his situation, applied to colonel Arthur, and became urgent to know on what authority he continued to hold the command. Colonel Arthur, however, would give no further explanation of his conduct, than, by asserting, that he had received letters informing him that he was to remain on full pay. The petitioner feeling his anxiety increased every day, by the unsatisfactory and mysterious proceedings of colonel Arthur; and having tried every conciliatory means in vain, and exhausted every verbal remonstrance, deemed it his duty to address a respectful letter to him, on the 22nd of May, 1820, calling on him to state the authority by which he still continued to hold the command of the king's troops, after it was notorious that his regiment had been disbanded. To this letter colonel Arthur returned no answer, but convened an irregular and motley assemblage of civil and military persons, to take it into consideration. The petitioner declined to attend this meeting, though he stated his readiness to wait upon colonel Arthur in private. In consequence of this refusal he was arrested, and stigmatised in garrison orders as a person guilty of unmilitary, insubordinate, and mutinous conduct. He requested to be brought before a court martial without delay, and called for a copy of the charges against him. He was kept in close custody in that pestilential climate 312 days. Amidst the various subterfuges brought forward to frustrate the petitioner's applications for justice, it had been asserted, that colonel Arthur held a commission, dated as far back as 1814. Whether his conduct could be affected by a document he had never seen, and which was never made known to the troops at Honduras, the petitioner did not stop to inquire; but he affirmed, that this commission had never been heard of, until, in 1824 it was brought forward as a pretext for supporting colonel Arthur's authority in a court of law. While the petitioner was under confinement, he sent at different times three reports to sir Henry Torrens, as colonel of the regiment; but none of these communications were noticed. Finally, while expecting an opportunity of vindicating his character, he learned with grief and astonishment, that he was removed from the army with the sale of a majority only, and that was disposed of while his royal highness the commander-in-chief knew that he was a prisoner at Honduras. The petitioner, finding all redress denied, was compelled to institute an action at law against colonel Arthur for false imprisonment, which having come to trial, sir Henry Torrens and sir Herbert Taylor were examined as witnesses. Sir Henry Torrens swore that four general orders had been issued, which conferred the power on colonel Arthur; yet, after the case for the plaintiff had been closed, the opposite party produced a commission, said to have been given by general Fuller in 1814, and which both sir Henry Torrens and sir Herbert Taylor swore gave him the command. Upon the trial, a verdict was obtained by colonel Bradley, from which it must necessarily be inferred, that colonel Arthur was only entitled to imprison colonel Bradley so long as he continued in the service, and that the extension of the imprisonment beyond that period was a grievance calling for damages. Colonel Bradley further complained, that pending his action with colonel Arthur, the government thought proper to send that gentleman out of the country, by means whereof he was unable to recover either the damages, the costs, or his expenses. Thus after twenty years of arduous duty in the service of his country, was this gentleman dismissed from his station in the army, which he had filled, not only without reproach, but with the entire satisfaction and approbation of his fellow officers. He therefore considered the case one of extreme hardship, to be thus dismissed and thus disgraced, when the very highest degree of charge that could be made out against him was an error of judgment, arising from a difference of opinion as to the interpretation of the rules of the service. He had examined those rules, and it was his decided opinion, that according to the construction of those rules, colonel Bradley had a right to the command of the troops; for in no case ought an officer on half-pay to have the power to command an officer on full pay; and such an assumption on the part of colonel Arthur was contrary to the rules of the service. Let the House remember, that colonel Bradley was in that situation, that had he not attempted to obtain the command of the troops, he was liable to have been brought to a court martial for having obeyed those very orders which he was now accused of violating. It was a matter of the last importance, in a country like this, where there were 15,000 officers on full and half pay, that these points should be fully ascertained; for if it were to be admitted, that an officer on half-pay could assume the command of those who were on full pay, it would open the door to great disputes and the utmost inconvenience. It appeared to him, therefore, that the petitioner was well grounded in his complaints; but then it was alleged, that colonel Arthur had in his possession a commission from general Fuller, the commanding officer of the station; but the petitioner appealed to the army at large to say whether they had ever heard of such a commission; and even if it had been granted, that it could never have been valid, unless published to the army. Unless it had been published, he had no right to be censured, for having in ignorance of its existence, conformed to the rules of the service. But colonel Bradley went further, and declared, that although sir H. Torrens, and sir H. Taylor swore on the trial to the validity of the commission, he was now prepared with the most unquestionable evidence to prove that such a commission was not in existence at the time when colonel Arthur assumed the command; and he exclaimed against the manifest injustice of having been injured by an ex post facto deed, which was manufactured for the purpose of preventing him from obtaining that verdict to which he was entitled. Whether sir H. Torrens did or did not swear that at the trial which was not founded in fact, it was not for him to give an opinion; he only stated the allegations of the petitioner. Having been thus defeated in his appeal to the laws of his country for redress, and having gone through some other forms which he did not understand, he had only further to add, although he had not entered fully into the details of this transaction, that he had stated substan- tially the petitioner's case, and quite enough, in his judgment, to warrant him in approaching that House as the only place that could afford him protection against the abuse of that power which the constitution had placed in his majesty's hands. With such a standing army in the country, it was a great hardship that there should be placed the power, at the wish and pleasure of one man of hurling a meritorious officer down from the station to which he had ascended, after years of arduous service and irreproachable conduct, without court-martial, or any inquiry-whatever, which might have the effect, if; not to re-establish him in his rank, at least to defend his honour against unmerited charges. Colonel Bradley after twenty years service eighteen of which were spent in a tropical climate, had his fortunes ruined and his honour disgraced, and therefore it was, he appealed to the parliament of his country. There were some technicalities in his case into which he had not entered, and the more particularly, as an hon. and learned friend below him who had conducted the cause, was intimately acquainted with all the circumstances, and would probably explain them better than he could—He, therefore, concluded in the words of the petitioner: "he humbly but earnestly implores your honourable House, as the protectors of the rights of individuals, and the vigilant and zealous guardians over the control of all public departments, to take the premises into your most serious consideration, in order that justice, too long withheld, may be rendered to an innocent individual, whom even his oppressors admit to be a meritorious officer." He now begged leave to bring up the petition.

Mr. Butterworth

defended the character of colonel Arthur, than whom no man in the service bore a higher character. As to the dispute between him and the petitioner, he was enabled to assure the House that colonel Arthur had been regularly continued in his command, and that it was in his own defence that he arrested colonel Bradley, whose conduct in assuming the command had well nigh led to an insurrection in the colony. Colonel Bradley had had a verdict of 100l. but the ground of that was, that he had been kept in arrest after he had lost his commission.

The Attorney-General

said, he was desirous to make a few remarks upon the petition which had been just presented, containing charges the most insupportable —namely, that a certain commission had been produced on his trial, which commission was forged, and stating that certain high persons were guilty of perjury. The hon. member opposite had afforded him an opportunity of seeing the petition; and, although he had not detailed the circumstances, he was enabled to see the character of the petition; and he would put it to the House whether a petition, containing such unfounded charges, ought to be received. Now what were the circumstances of the case? In 1814, colonel Arthur was appointed civil superintendent of Honduras, and general Fuller was governor of the Jamaica station. In 1817 an order was issued, stating that the civil superintendent should command the troops. Under these circumstances it was that colonel Bradley took upon himself to say that he had the right to command; although it was obvious that colonel Arthur had never commanded in consequence of his regimental rank; for, in fact, his regiment never was in that colony. His authority to command was founded upon a commission from gen. Fuller, and the orders issued in this country; how then did colonel Bradley conduct himself? That gentleman insisted, that he ought to be commander of the troops, and actually issued garrison orders. Colonel Arthur expostulated with him, and sent captain Noel to him, telling him it was better that nothing should be done until they had received instructions from the authorities at home. What was colonel Bradley's reply? "I have submitted to this too long. I shall have nothing to do with colonel Arthur. I will be trifled with no longer." Why, then, under these circumstances, colonel Arthur had no other course to pursue. Now, to shew the accuracy of the statement of colonel Bradley: he stated that he had been imprisoned for ten months, whereas his learned friend opposite who had conducted the cause of the Petitioner, stated on the trial, that he had a document to prove, that colonel Bradley had been in close arrest for two months. It was therefore most material that this case should not be misrepresented, as it was in the petition. Now for another instance. Colonel Bradley says, he had been dismissed from the army in consequence of the misstatements of colonel Arthur; but he held in his hand the document by which colonel Bradley was dismissed by his royal highness the commander-in-chief, and that document stated, that the resolution of dismissing him had been founded on the inconsistency and impropriety of his conduct, as demonstrated by his own representations. Again: the petitioner states, that sir H. Torrens swore on the trial to the validity of a particular commission, whereas sir H. Torrens said nothing at all about the matter. And yet the petitioner states, not only that this commission was forged, but forged for the base purpose of defeating the administration of justice. There was another charge against sir H. Torrens and sir H. Taylor; namely, that they had deposed to the existence of certain general orders which never were in being. Now, the fact was this:—In answer to a question from the chief-justice, sir H. Torrens said, that certain garrison orders had been issued, conferring this authority on colonel Arthur. Now this order was merely applicable to the civil superintendent, although in the course of the evidence, it was called a general order, not in a military sense, but general only as applicable to the colony. He therefore submitted to the House, that it was not competent to an individual, after having appealed to a court of justice, and finding the decision on the main point of the case against him, to come to that House and scatter those unfounded imputations. The only question at the trial was whether the authority to command the troops at Honduras was suspended by the reduction of the regiment to which the commander belonged? And, at the trial, neither in the evidence or depositions was such a principle admitted. In fact, the depositions of general Conran put the question beyond all doubt, that colonel Arthur had the just and proper command of the garrison. His hon. and learned friend opposite had applied for a new trial, and had argued the case with great ability, learning, and perseverance, and the court decided, and thereby confirmed the judgment at Nisi Prius, that the reduction of colonel Arthur's regiment had nothing to do with his military command. If the petitioner had confined himself to complaints, he should have felt it unnecessary to have spoken on the subject; but when he states that a verdict was obtained by fraud and perjury, and charges those who conducted that suit with a desire to pervert the ends of justice, he thought the House ought to pause before they received a petition containing such gross charges, or allow themselves to be made a medium of circulating throughout the country the most unwar- rantable reflections on individuals of the highest character in the country. Upon these grounds it was, that, although he should hot oppose the bringing up the petition, he should object to any further step with regard to it.

Colonel Davies

said, that the reply of the Attorney-general consisted rather of an attack on colonel Bradley, than of an exculpation of those who were affected by the charges contained in the petition. Although colonel Bradley might have mixed up with his case circumstances which had been as well omitted, yet that was not the main point of the case. He had no doubt colonel Bradley was in error, in supposing that sir H. Torrens, and sir H. Taylor would decend to the acts imputed to them; but if colonel Arthur was actually in possession of the commission, as he stated, for what possible object could he conceal it? Why allow colonel Bradley to resort to measures which might have led to insurrection in the colony, when he had a commission in his pocket, which, if colonel Bradley had common sense, must have immediately satisfied him? Colonel Bradley applied personally, and wrote officially, to colonel Arthur, calling upon him to state his right to retain the command, but no authority was produced, and he therefore thought colonel Bradley had reason to complain of extreme hardship. With respect to the power of dismal from the army without court martial, that was a question on which his opinions were already known, and he should not, therefore go into it: but if it were a power to be exercised at all, it was one so fearful and extensive, that it ought to be under the control of the utmost caution. Here was an individual who had long and faithfully served his country, and was dismissed without an opportunity of having the charges investigated. It was one of the complaints of colonel Bradley, that up to this hour he had never seen the charges which had been preferred against him. Another of his difficulties was, that government had undertaken the defence of colonel Arthur; and by appointing him to a foreign station, had relieved him from the payment of costs and damages. He therefore hoped, that the Attorney-general would not object to the allowing the petition to be printed, lest, thereby, the injustice and oppression which it imputed might go unredressed.

Lord Palmerston

said, that if the pe- tition had been confined to the mere complaints of the petitioner, he should not rise to oppose its reception; nor should he oppose its being read and printed, did it not contain charges the most unfounded against two men of as high honour as any in the country; namely, sir H. Torrens and sir H. Taylor—which were libels so gross as to compel him to oppose any motion for the printing of the petition. Now, what does colonel Bradley expect the House to do? That gentleman appealed to a court of justice, for the purpose of shewing that his conduct was justified by law, and in that appeal he failed—he appealed again, and was again unsuccessful; and he was. therefore warranted in saying, that colonel Bradley had no legal ground of complaint. With respect to his military conduct, the case was quite clear. Colonel Bradley had been guilty of gross insubordination, amounting almost to mutiny; and in consequence of his conduct he was dismissed from the army—not on the representation of colonel Arthur, but on the consideration and investigation of his own statements, as compared with those of colonel Arthur. Colonel Bradley was quite mistaken in supposing that the disbandment of colonel Arthur's regiment produced any alteration in his military authority. As his regiment had never been in that colony, it was impossible he should ever have command by virtue of his regimental rank; but it did so happen, that even if there had been any doubt about it, the question was decided by actual circumstances. Colonel Arthur had first belonged to the 7th West-India regiment, which was reduced in 1816, and that officer was put on half-pay. Now, did the reduction of his regiment affect his military command? No such thing. He continued to command the garrison just the same as when he was on full pay. He therefore stated, that previous circumstances had decided the question, as to whether the being on half-pay affected the command of the colony. But it was said, that colonel Massey had exercised the military command after colonel Arthur had been placed on half-pay. Now, this was disproved by the returns in the Commander-in-chief's office; so that colonel Bradley was mistaken in all his facts. How was an officer to act in a distant colony? Colonel Arthur offered to transmit to the Horse-guards any communications which colonel Bradley might think necessary. But colonel Bradley was guilty of the grossest insubordination; and if colonel Arthur had not acted in the manner he had done he would have proved himself unfit for the situation in which he was placed, and have subjected himself to the serious displeasure of the commander-in-chief. It was therefore clear, that colonel Bradley having been guilty of this kind of insubordination, deserved to be dismissed from the service. But he would also state, that he had been treated with great indulgence; for, although he had been removed from the army, he was permitted to sell his majority, having only purchased his ensigncy and company; and, when colonel Bradley preferred those charges against sir H. Torrens, it was only fit to state, that it was on the personal recommendation of sir H. Torrens that colonel Bradley was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel; so that he was guilty of the greatest ingratitude in placing on the table charges against sir H. Torrens so utterly ungrounded. With respect to his own conduct in the transaction, he had felt it his duty to recommend that the case of colonel Arthur should be conducted at the public expense, and he should have been guilty of a dereliction of duty if he had not done so. It would be hard indeed, if, when an officer had discharged the duty he owed his country, and was dragged into a court of justice, he should be subjected to all the expense and inconvenience; but, at the same time, he must add, that it was no part of his instructions to pay the expenses attendant on the extension of the imprisonment of colonel Bradley beyond its proper period. The ground upon which the court had directed a verdict in favour of colonel Bradley was, that he should have been released on the first intimation of his being placed on half-pay. However, it was fair to state, that the intimation received by colonel Arthur was not that colonel Bradley had been put on half-pay, but that it was intended to do so. According to the usual course, the communication of the fact must have been made by Jamaica, so that necessarily an interval must have elapsed between communicating the intention and carrying it into execution. Upon these grounds, then, first, that colonel Bradley asks that which the House could not grant; and that it was improper that the House of Commons should be made instrumental in circulating unfounded calumnies he must give his opposition to the bringing up this petition.

Mr. Brougham

said, that the circumstances which had been adverted to by his hon. and learned friend opposite, namely, that he had been professionally engaged in the cause, induced him to come forward to avoid any unjust inferences being drawn from his silence. He had always considered it expedient that professional men should abstain from interfering in that House on questions in which they had been professionally engaged; and the reasons for such a course were too obvious to require explanation. These remarks would not apply to his hon. and learned friend opposite, who stood in the capacity of a public officer, and as such was bound to conduct proceedings of this nature. As the court had decided in a particular manner, and as that decision was final, he was not at liberty to comment upon it; but he had always understood, from the very beginning of this cause, that the highest imputation against colonel Bradley was an error of judgment. With respect to the charges preferred by the petitioner against certain honourable persons, he would fain hope the House would pause before they adopted, as a principle, that no charge was to be printed amongst their votes which happened to reflect upon high individuals. He must say here, that with respect to the charges preferred against these honourable persons, he knew nothing at all about them; but having read the petition, he must differ with his hon. and learned friend in supposing that there was any thing in it personally offensive to the gentleman alluded to. All the petition did was to accuse some person of having forged a certain commission; colonel Arthur not having produced that commission when he was repeatedly called upon to do so. He could not recognize the principle, that the House had a right to refuse a petition, because it contained charges against individuals, how high so ever their rank or station. If the petition, then, ought to be received, the question of printing followed the same rule. It was a matter of course, that the votes should be printed for the use of the members; and, as to publicity, the rule was well known, that a person who published any statement contained in a petition was liable to punishment, as in the case of libel.

Mr. Secretary Peel

contended, that the House ought to look with a great deal of hesitation at the complaint of any petitioner whose case had been already decided, after a long and impartial inquiry in a court of law; and with still greater scruple, when that person came forward and accused persons of such high honour and distinguished character as sir H. Torrens and sir H. Taylor, of what could only be called gross perjury. For he said, in precise terms, that no such general order ever existed, as that to which sir H. Torrens actually swore in a court of law to have been issued. Was it probable, that such a man as sir H. Torrens would perjure himself in the manner which the petitioner alleged? Or ought they, with any regard to justice, or to the character of the individual so charged, to permit such an accusation to be publicly dispersed by their authority It was, undoubtedly, the right of every subject to present what he considered his grievances to the consideration and compassion of that House; and on that ground he would not object to the petition being laid on the table. But he felt it due to the character of the general officers accused by the petitioner, that they should leave him to seek his remedy, if he could prove his assertions, in a court of law, and he would therefore oppose any motion for the petition being printed.

The petition was then brought up.

Mr. Hume

entered into a detail of the occurrences mentioned in the petition, and contended, that there was one plain and obvious course for colonel Arthur to have pursued, namely, to produce the commission, if he really possessed it: that would have prevented all the evils which followed, and which were the more dangerous, and the more to have been avoided, when they knew that the colony was almost in a state of insurrection. All complaints were charges of one kind or other, and involved more or less the character of those who were the subject of them. He knew not, indeed, how justice could be done without them; but, as the right hon. gentleman seemed to have so great an objection to those passages which affected the conduct of sir H. Torrens, he would, although he wished to move that it be printed, in the hope that some member might feel it right to take measures for having it referred to a committee, now consent to withdraw it altogether.

The petition was accordingly withdrawn.