HC Deb 29 June 1827 vol 17 cc1428-38
Mr. Wilmot Horton

presented certain papers relative to the Cape of Good Hope, pursuant to the order of the House.

Lord E. Somerset

immediately proceeded to address the Chair; but the place from which he spoke, being directly under the gallery, rendered it impossible to collect his observations. The first sentence of his lordship's speech which reached our ears related to a Letter concerning certain proceedings that had taken place at the Cape which had been recently published, and which reflected on the conduct of Parliament. He did not rise to propose that the author of that letter should be called to the bar of the House for a breach of its privileges; but he adverted to it, for the purpose of showing the invariable system of misrepresentation which existed with respect to subjects connected with the Cape of Good Hope. His noble relation had, for a considerable time, been subject to the grossest abuse, which was circulated not only through the public papers, but through every channel that could be employed for that purpose. Two years had now elapsed since the petition of Mr. Bishop Burnett had been presented to the House. That petition contained charges against the conduct of his noble relation, of so serious a character, that he deemed it necessary to come to England for the purpose of meeting his accusers, and of justifying himself in the face of his country. A voluminous report had been made by the commissioners appointed to inquire into the proceedings at the Cape; and, with respect to the nature of that report, he begged leave to refer to the declaration lately made by the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham), who had presented the petition of Mr. Bishop Burnett to the House. That hon. and learned gentleman had stated, that the report of the commissioners was generally satisfactory to him. The hon. and learned gentleman had, on a former occasion, alluded particularly to one part of the petition, which he had very properly described as containing a charge of a most serious nature. He would now ask the hon. and learned gentleman, whether, since he had made that observation, he had not been induced to conclude, from the best information, that the charge was groundless? He felt the most decided conviction, that his noble relation would be able to refute, not only satisfactorily, but triumphantly, every accusation which had been brought against him. Amongst other publications, a letter, proceeding from an officer of rank (sir Rufane Donkin) had been sent forth, which contained calumnies with respect to the warrants issued for the pay of the salaries in the colonial department. He did not hesitate to say, that those statements were capable of the most complete refutation. This was not the proper time to go into the whole case; but when the particular charges were specifically brought under consideration, the most ample refutation would be given to them. His noble relation had come on purpose to this country to repel those charges, and he had always been ready and anxious to meet them. The hon. member for Arundel (Mr. Lombe) not now in his place, had given notice, before the Easter recess, of his intention of bringing this subject forward; and he thought the House must regret that the hon. member had abandoned his post, without giving any opinion on the question, or bringing it forward in any way whatever. The course which the hon. gentleman had thought proper to adopt was not that of an individual who really wished to have the question set at rest. After the anxiety which his noble relation had manifested to have the subject thoroughly discussed, and after the abandonment of the motion of which the hon. gentleman had given notice, he conceived that his noble relation had a right to consider himself as freed from all imputation. His noble relation had tendered his resignation; but, in taking that course, he was not actuated by any fear of consequences; he was not induced to do so by any dread that his character would suffer from inquiry. On the contrary, he was convinced, that the more his conduct was inquired into, the more it would be proved to deserve praise. The proceedings which had been adopted against him were the acts of individuals, who had conspired together to effect their own private objects. He begged pardon of the House for having taken up so much of their time; but he was sure gentlemen would excuse him, when they recollected the delicacy of his situation. In conclusion, the noble lord called on his right hon. friend (Mr. W. Horton) to state the opinion which his majesty's government entertained with respect to the proffered resignation of his noble relative.

Mr. Maberly

deprecated an incidental discussion of this sort. He begged, however, to state, that the gallant officer to whom allusion had been made, was ready to come forward and to prove every one of his assertions, whenever his majesty's government thought it necessary to have the statements made by him inquired into. It was unfair to assert, that the gallant officer had published a series of calumnies, when he was anxious to come forward and substantiate his statements. When such was the true state of the case, he was not ready to join in an acquittal of the noble lord whose conduct had been impugned. There was, in his opinion, much to be inquired into. It was the imperative duty of parliament to investigate closely and narrowly the charges that had been made. He denied, in the most decided manner, that they were calumnies which his gallant friend had sent forth. He had nothing to do with the motives which had induced the hon. member for Arundel to let the motion, of which he had given notice, drop. It was a question of a most serious nature; and he did not think it was just towards the noble lord for the hon. member to have abandoned the motion.

Mr. Brougham

said, he could only observe on this occasion, as he had had the satisfaction to observe on a former one, that nothing could be more proper than the spirit, the temper, and the amiable feeling, which had been manifested by the noble lord, whenever the painful charges against his noble relative had been alluded to. It was certainly true, as the noble lord had stated, that he was the person who presented the petition of Mr. Bishop Burnett two years ago; and it was equally true, that he then observed, that, while the several charges were more or less important, there was one of them so infinitely more serious than the others, that it called for the most pointed attention. It was no less than a charge of direct judicial corruption against the noble lord, in his capacity of Judge of Appeals at the Cape of Good Hope; for taking, in an indirect way, a sum of money, to give a particular decision on a question which was to come before him in his judicial character. This, he had stated, was a far more gross charge than any of the others; and he had further declared, that if he believed it to be well-founded, he should himself feel it to be his duty to impeach that noble lord, on the ground, the incontestable ground, which never had been denied to all the Commons of England, and which gave to each member of that House, without the concurrence of the House—without even the formality of a seconder to his motion—the right to impeach individuals filling important situations in the state, of high crimes and misdemeanors. He admitted that the noble lord had an equal right, after the lapse of two years—after abundant time had been afforded for inquiring into this charge—to ask him, whether or not he had made such an inquiry; and, if he had, to declare what the result had been, according to the best of his judgment. That was all the noble lord required; and he willingly conceded that which the noble lord had a right to ask. He was bound to state his I opinion—the House had a right to expect it—but above all, it was due to the near relation of the noble lord, whose character and honour, not merely as an officer in the public service, but as a man and a gentleman, were deeply affected by this charge. He felt himself bound, therefore, to answer the call of the noble lord. He believed he had stated, on a former occasion, why he abstained, at that time, from bringing forward any proposition on this subject. When he introduced the petition of Mr. Bishop Burnett, he could no more vouch for the facts which it contained, than any gentleman who presented an ordinary petition could do. He had, however, taken the precaution to ask Mr. Bishop Burnett certain questions on the subject; and he consistently and satisfactorily answered those questions. He (Mr. Brougham) soon afterwards found himself professionally retained, for or against (he did not know which) one of those parties whose case had been before lord C. Somerset at the Cape. In what he was now about to say, as to the acquittal of lord C. Somerset on this particular charge, he wished to state, that his opinion rested, not on argument or inference, but on dates. It appeared that a person at the Cape, named Sewell, having an appeal case pending, which was to be decided by lord C. Somerset, was told, in an indirect way, that he had better buy a horse from the governor. He said "I don't want one." Oh," said his adviser, "You had better buy the animal." It was alleged, that the horse was, in the end, bought for 10,000 dollars; which at the rate of 5s. the dollar, would amount to between 2,000l. and 3,000l. It was further stated, that lord C. Somerset took the money, and kept the horse in his stable. It was a blood horse—a stallion, and lord C. Somerset was accused of having kept the animal till he died, after he had received the money. The purchaser did not, it was said, get the horse; but he got what was more valuable — his cause. Such was the matter of imputation. Now, in the first place, as to the horse having been purchased for 10,000 dollars, it should be observed, that the value of the dollar at the Cape was 1s. 6d., instead of 5s., and at that rate the price would be only upwards of 700l. which, according to report, was considerably under the price at which a horse of that kind could be exported for from England. This made him look further into the circumstances stated in the petition. He then found, that lord C. Somerset had sold the horse for the season, and had given it up for that period. Afterwards, according to the bargain, he took it back; it being a condition that he should provide for it during the other eight months of the year. Lord C. Somerset gave this individual another horse, and advanced him 100l. in money, to enable him to go on with a certain speculation in which he was engaged. This bargain, whatever it might be, was made on the 1st of September, and the sentence was given by lord C. Somerset on the 30th of May preceding. But, What was of still greater importance, that sentence was given against the purchaser of the horse, and not in favour of him [hear, hear]. He had thus perfectly satisfied his mind, that there was no necessity for him to exercise his individual prerogative, as a member of that House, by proceeding to an impeachment; nor was there any reason for him to call on the House to go up with an impeachment against the noble lord, when the circumstances of the case were of the nature he had described. When he found the charge so utterly groundless, he, as a matter of course, abandoned the proceeding which he had at first contemplated. He should have stated this before, but it was not until lately that he had an opportunity of verifying the dates; for he saw something so gross in the difference between the dates and the statement contained in the petition, that he thought some error was lurking below, and therefore he was anxious to investigate the charge thoroughly. He had, however, seen documents, which convinced him, that for this charge at least there was not a shadow of foundation. The noble lord, however, could hardly expect him to go so far as this—that because one charge against lord C. Somerset had been found to be manifestly, he might almost say, ludicrously; groundless, he was therefore to assume, that all other charges, and amongst others those preferred by a gallant officer, were equally destitute of foundation. All that he meant to say was this—that so often as a very gross and heinous charge was brought against any one, be he in public or in private life—be he of high or of low character in the country—he was ready to do that person what he considered but bare justice; namely, when such charge so preferred had signally failed, to incline to view his case quoad cœtera—as to any other charges not yet inquired into—with more favour, than on general principles he would be disposed to shew. He must join with those who thought it hard that charges should be allowed to hang suspended over a public officer; and he sincerely wished, for the sake of public justice, that some one who had time to devote to the object would at once bring them forward. Though he could not agree with the noble lord (E. Somerset) that sir R. Donkin was a calumniator; and, though he could not acquit lord C. Somerset from every charge because one had proved to be groundless, yet he was of opinion, that nothing could be more unjust than to wait till the end of two years; and then to say, that sir R. Donkin was ready to bring forward his charges. The only way to settle the question was by a motion in that House. Sir R. Donkin had no opportunity of bringing the case forward. He could do nothing more than state his charges in the form of a pamphlet, which might lead to proceedings in a court of law; but that would only lead to a clumsy and unsatisfactory decision of the question. Until the subject should be fairly brought before parliament, they were bound in common justice to the noble lord accused, to suspend any rash construction as to what might be stated against him. Nothing at present was proved against the noble lord. The inquiries of the commissioners were satisfactory as to the minor charges, and the grave charge was disproved by dates. If sir R. Donkin was ready to accuse lord C. Somerset, he was ready to listen to his accusation. That was all he could, consistently with his duties as a member of parliament, concede. He had not read the pamphlet published by sir R. Donkin, because, having no opportunity of inquiring into the truth of the charges which it must be supposed to contain, he thought it his duty to abstain from reading it. Before he sat down he wished to allude to a circumstance connected with the administration of justice at the Cape of Good Hope and other colonies. Some little doubt and alarm had lately prevailed amongst English barristers, owing to the circumstance of the government sending out to some of the colonies, and the Cape amongst others, persons as judges who were not English lawyers. He must protest against such a practice, except under very extraordinay circumstances indeed. It was not safe to send out as judges, even to places where the civil law was administered, any persons not practised in the English law, or not habituated to trial by jury and the English law of evidence. It was impossible that any person educated at the Scotch bar could obtain a competent knowledge of the civil law. He knew well that a knowledge of the civil law did not exist at the Scottish bar. It was proved, at the late trial at Lancaster, that the examinations in the civil law at the Scotch bar were a mere farce. The way in which the thing was done was this: a young man went on the night before the day appointed for examination, and asked in what page he was to be questioned. If government would send out persons embued with English law principles, and with a knowledge of trial by jury, and the English law of evidence, they would have better judges than they could hope to obtain by sending out individuals conversant with civil law only. But then if they would have civil lawyers, let them take them from Doctors Commons, and not go to Scotland for them. To look for any knowledge of civil law there, was quite absurd.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

observed, in reference to what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend, that government had not lost sight of the principle of sending out persons to administer the law in the colonies, who were thoroughly imbued with the principles of English law. On a recent occasion, two of the judges sent out came precisely within the description of those persons whom his hon. and learned friend was desirous of seeing placed in such situations; but it was at the time thought necessary, and, indeed, it was recommended by the highest authorities in this country, to send out a gentleman acquainted with the practice of the civil law; it being likely that questions might arise, in which his knowledge of that branch of jurisprudence would be of the greatest utility. Now, with respect to the question immediately before them, the House must be aware, that the case of the noble lord had now been before it for two years; that paper after paper had been laid upon the table; and that extreme expense had been incurred by retaining commissioners at the Cape, to sift into the charges preferred against the noble lord. It must also be in the recollection of the House, that the hon. member for Arundel, after pledging himself to bring forward a specific accusation, had, for reasons with which he was utterly unacquainted, abandoned that intention. The House, likewise, would not forget, that on two separate occasions he had appealed to the hon. member for Arundel on the principles of justice and courtesy, to inform him what were the charges which he intended to prefer against lord C. Somerset, in order that the noble lord might be prepared to defend himself, and that he (Mr. W. Horton) might be enabled to collect the information which might be necessary for that purpose. The session had now approached its termination, and the hon. member for Arundel had neither brought his charges forward, nor communicated the nature of them. Without implying that the free will of any member of that House should be fettered, or that he should not be at liberty to make or refuse to make a motion as he pleased, he must contend, that it was unjust that a charge should longer be allowed to hang over the noble lord. In all the charges which had been brought against lord C. Somerset, he had been accused of corruption, of tyranny, and of every thing which was disgraceful to a man in his situation. If any person took the pains to read the petitions which had been presented, they would be found to contain accusations of that description. The parties making those accusations had not ventured to follow them up by proof; and therefore it was but fair to consider the noble lord acquitted with respect to them. Having been called upon by the noble lord to state what was the opinion entertained by government with respect to the case of his noble relative, he could declare that the noble secretary for the colonies saw no reason to consider any one of the charges preferred against him as in the slightest degree substantiated, which affected his character as a man of honour and a gentleman. He did not think it necessary to go into further detail at that moment, and would therefore conclude with declaring, that in his opinion the House must, when they considered the many opportunities which had been presented of making out a case against lord C. Somerset, and the manner in which those opportunities had been neglected, be convinced of the impropriety of suffering charges to hang any longer over the noble lord.

Mr. Hume

said, that having been one of those who had presented to the House petitions impugning the government and conduct of the noble lord (Somerset), he felt called upon to defend the petitioners against the imputations cast upon them. So far from these petitions having been the work of combination or conspiracy, no set of persons in the colony were more detached from or independent of each other, than the different bodies from whom these petitions had emanated. Each had separate and serious complaints. For his part, he regretted as much as any man that no inquiry had taken place. It ought to be recollected, that the report of the commissioners had only been laid before the House during the present session. His opinion was, that it was the bounden duty of government to institute an inquiry on the subject the first thing in the next session.

Mr. F. Palmer

said, he understood that sir R. Donkin had stated to the head of the colonial department, that he had a charge to make against lord C. Somerset, and that lord Bathurst declined to entertain it. He had himself seen a letter, signed by the right hon. secretary, telling sir R. Donkin that lord Bathurst did not wish him to bring forward his charge. That fact ought to be set at rest. He spoke in the presence of the right hon. secretary, who could contradict him if he stated that which was incorrect. As the character of sir R. Donkin was, in some degree, affected by what had passed, it might not be immaterial to put the House in possession of the fact, that he had filled the office of governor of the Cape for two years all but five days, in such a manner as to obtain for him the thanks of his majesty, of every public department at the Cape, and of the inhabitants of the Cape generally. These marks of approbation were bestowed upon sir R. Donkin not at a time when he was in power, but when he was out of office, and had left the colony. Whilst sir R. Donkin acted as governor he effected some extensive improvements. Amongst other things, he reduced the expenditure to the extent of half a million. When he left office, the expenditure was 300,000 rixdollars; and in 1823 it was augmented to 1,300,000. He could not consent to give a general verdict of acquittal in behalf of lord C. Somerset, because one charge had proved to be without foundation. He had hitherto seen only one report from the commissioners; but he understood there were nine. Was he to suppose that because the first report contained heavy matter against the noble lord, the remaining eight would acquit him of all blame? It was indispensably necessary that the whole case should be fully inquired into. One thing was clear; namely, that the inhabitants of the Cape and the people of England would not acquit his lordship, until an investigation had taken place. He would say one word in the way of apology for the hon. member who had not brought forward a motion, in reference to this subject, of which he had given notice. It had been stated from good authority, that so long as there was a prospect of lord C. Somerset's return to the Cape, the inhabitants of the colony would be afraid to come forward to substantiate any charge against him, but would rather submit to the evils they endured, than provoke his lordship's further severity, by appearing as witnesses against him. That appeared to him a sufficient reason why the hon. member alluded to had not proceeded with his motion. He would conclude by asking the right hon. secretary whether he intended to lay the further reports of the commissioners on the table?

Mr. W. Horton

felt it necessary, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. member, to repeat what he had said on a former evening. Sir R. Donkin stated in the first instance, that he could make disclosures which would cover lord C. Somerset with ruin. That declaration was very naturally construed into a charge by lord Bathurst; and he thought the House would be of opinion, that when one public man spoke in such terms of another, it was not forcing the meaning of the English language to put that construction upon them. Sir R. Donkin, however, disclaimed the intention of bringing forward a charge against the noble lord. He said, he meant nothing of the kind, That being the case, lord Bathurst told him finally, that as he did not mean to bring forward any charge, the colonial department would not call upon him for any further information, because they had other means of arriving at a knowledge of the facts of the case. He left it to the House to decide whether sir R. Donkin had not retracted his charge. With respect to putting the House in possession or all the reports of the commissioners, he must say that he could undertake to do no such thing. Many of the reports would refer to local points wholly unconnected with the subject under discussion. If it should appear proper to lay any of the future reports upon the table of the House, he would do so; but he would not pledge himself to any precise course. It was sufficient that government acted on their responsibility, and would be prepared to defend themselves when called upon.

Mr. Baring

said, he could not conceive a graver responsibility than that incurred by any hon. gentleman who put his name upon the order book of the House to bring forward a serious charge against an individual, and who afterwards left it uncompleted, as had been done by the hon. member for Arundel in the present case. No doubt that hon. member might have weighty reasons for the course he had pursued; but he thought that the hon. member was bound, as well from courtesy to the House, as in justice to the noble lord who was most materially concerned, to state the grounds of his proceeding. For his own part, he gave the noble lord an entire and unqualified acquittal, so far as related to those charges which affected his private character as a gentleman and a man of honour. He felt bound to acquit the noble lord of the gross charges of personal corruption which had been brought against him; but he could not help considering his government a misfortune to the Cape.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, that after so long a time, and such ample opportunities had been suffered to pass by, the noble lord had a right to be absolved from all personal charges which had been made against him and abandoned. His intimate conviction was, that all such charges were utterly groundless. He would be the last man to stand in the way of what might be conceived to be improvements in the government of the colony, but there were questions upon which every gentleman and man of honour had a right to constitute himself a judge; and on these points he was satisfied that there was no ground for imputation against lord C. Somerset.

Ordered to lie on the table.