HC Deb 29 June 1827 vol 17 cc1439-44
Mr. Hume

said, he had to present a petition from an individual from whom he had frequently presented petitions before; he meant Mr. Robert Gourlay, now a prisoner in ColdBath-fields prison. The hon. gentleman then re-stated the case of this individual, and said, he considered it a very hard one. Mr. Gourlay had been in prison three years on the charge of an accuser whom he did not know. He had been accused of madness, and he only wanted an opportunity of having that question put to the test, by means of a commission.

Mr. Brougham

said, that what had fallen from his hon. friend made it necessary that he should trouble the House with a few words respecting an individual whom he always thought to be mad, and whom he believed now more than ever, after hearing this petition, to labour under insanity. There never could be a doubt as to who was Mr. Gourlay's accuser. His accuser was the Home Department—the department of the Police.

Mr. Hume.

—Mr. Peel has denied this.

Mr. Brougham .

—Well, then, the police themselves must have been his accusers. At all events, the assertion that he was the person who had charged Mr. Gourlay at the Police-office was utterly groundless, absolutely and altogether false. So little ground was there for such a representation, that when he was sent for, to go and appear against this poor man, he had refused to have any thing to do with him. But, whether interference could fairly be charged upon him was quite of another description. He had applied to Mr. Maule, the solicitor to the Treasury, who informed him that this poor man could procure his own enlargement upon offering the slightest amount of surety. This was all that was necessary—this was what the magistrates must require—this was what would be exacted from any one of the fourteen million of subjects of these realms, if he committed, or—as was the case in this instance—if he attempted to commit, a breach of the peace; for the poor man really did no more than shake his cane or whip, or whatever it was he held in his hand, over his (Mr. B's.) head in the lobby. A person so trespassing could not, in fact, be let off by a magistrate without surety. The law was peremptory, and the magistrate would violate his duty, who let a man off so circumstanced, without the necessary amount of security. But it was a mistake to suppose that Mr. Gourlay was charged publicly with madness. That he laboured under mental derangement he firmly believed, not only from what he knew of Mr. Gourlay himself, but from the opinion of two physicians, the most experienced in cases of lunacy of any in London, one of whom was sir George Tuthill. He had even asked Mr. Gourlay's counsel what he thought of him, and that gentleman had decidedly told him that it would not be safe to leave him at liberty for five minutes. The poor man had uttered terrible threats against the judge; and it was proved that a pistol was purchased. Indeed, there could not be the slightest doubt in the mind of any one of the derangement of this person—at least that was his impression ever since the day when the poor man attacked him in the lobby, shaking his cane or whip, or whatever it was, over his hat, and exclaiming, "Let the dead bury their dead! Is not a living man better than a dead missionary? " And this had evident reference to the case of Mr. Smith, the missionary, which excited a memorable debate in that House. This was the sane man—the rational being of his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen. He knew perfectly well that his hon. friend did not believe poor Gourlay to be insane; and he likewise knew, that the more any person endeavoured to convince his hon. friend of the error of any opinion which once entered into his head, the more certain that person was of having that opinion more obstinately confirmed. This, right or wrong, would surely be the case. His hon. friend was, therefore, quite consistent in asserting that this unfortunate man was sane. Now, he had seen, perhaps, five hundred madmen, who could talk as rationally as his hon. friend upon some points; and the physicians said the same, but then their experience suggested the mode of striking the key of the disorder. That was the way in which madness was detected, but of which his hon. friend did not seem to be aware; and he sincerely hoped his hon. friend would never know more of the matter than he did at that moment. He must again declare, that he was no party to this man's detention. Indeed, the moment after he was taken in the lobby of that House, a gallant friend of his (general Fergusson) had been told by the man himself, that he had no complaint to make against Mr. Brougham, who had always behaved to him like a gentleman, and shaken hands with him upon parting after he had delivered his last petition. Now, he had had the curiosity to look into the votes to see what was the nature of the petition about which Mr. Gourlay had complained; and he found that, so far from its having had any reference to the petitioner's own grievances, it solely related to the education of the poor—a subject in which he (Mr. B.) had been very much engaged, and upon that account had he been selected for the presentation of this very petition. As to the poor man's own case of suffering, he had heard it distinctly from him: he had been badly used in Canada—that is, he had been tried and punished, when he ought not to have been tried at all; for he was clearly under a calenture at the moment, and a fitter subject for a lunatic hospital than a court of Justice; and this calenture had been sorely aggravated by the trial and subsequent imprisonment. The petitioner had been bred a gentleman, but during his aberrations he had permitted himself to fall so low, as to be a parish pauper in Wiltshire, and to break stones on the road for his sustenance. Why allow his supposed resentment to have slumbered for more than three years, and then have endeavoured to commit an assault in the presence of a hundred people, in so public a place as the lobby of the House of Commons, where he knew he must be interrupted; and then, not upon any personal ground, but because of what he called a debate upon "a dead missionary?" The whole act was that of a lunatic, and rendered, if possible, more evident, by the letters which he had written to the Speaker; for in there he said, that he was a loyal man, but there was no disloyalty in pulling the king by the nose; which he illustrated by adding, that if the king fell into a well, would not any loyal subject be justified in pulling him out by the nose, to save him from drowning? And again, if our Saviour was right in chasing the money-lenders from the Temple, was he not right in endeavouring to drive the knaves from the senate? In fact, if ever there was a clear case of aberration of reason, it was in this instance. The poor man was not an object of reasonable denunciation. What was his own statement? He said, "I have selected you, Mr. Brougham, as the object of my attack, because you are a well-known, or (as he said) a distinguished person, and I cannot have a surer way of bringing myself into conspicuous notoriety." In charity he must suppose such a person insane, for if otherwise could the human mind conceive a more atrocious crime, than that of one man seeking another's life, and putting his own in jeopardy for the mere purpose of personal notoriety? But his conduct, then and since, clearly showed his mental delusion: he did not quarrel with Mr. Maule of the Treasury; he did not bring his case before any of the proper public tribunals; but it was used as a stalking horse for a certain class of people to deal in slander and calumny. By these he was charged with a want of personal courage, because he did not fight this lunatic. Yes; he was so charged in a filthy publication of the day, in which he had recently seen a poem, which set forth this accusation. It was the production, he believed, of a set of persons who wrote very pretty poems, but whose lines were very immoral; who devoted themselves to slander and destroying reputations? Amongst them, he was sorry to say, were clergymen of the Established Church—men who thought that, by running down characters, they would recommend themselves to patronage; but not one of whom, he sincerely hoped, the present government would ever make the object of promotion. They kept themselves in darkness. From the hiding places in which they lurked, they issued their poison; and endeavoured by their malignant interposition, to set one set of men to cut the throats of another. His hon. friend had asked, why his accuser had not come forward. Why! the law was his accuser, and required sureties for his good behaviour. Why did not his hon. friend, if he believed him to be sane, come forward, he being a rich man, and become his surety? No; he prudently refrained from such a step, because he doubtless apprehended, that when Gourlay was released, he might be exposed to personal attack in his next paroxism, and told as the people in the lobby were, "let the dead bury their dead." If the sureties were once given, the man must be enlarged, and the public must take their chance with him. But he must again, once for all, protest against being considered either his accuser or detainer.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

professed himself not satisfied with the statement of the hon. and learned gentleman, as to the mode in which this man had been detained in custody; and, as he understood, by the order of that House.

Mr. Brougham

repeated, that there had been no detention of this man by the authority of that House.

Mr. Perceval

said, he understood that the hon. member for Aberdeen and other persons were willing to give the necessary security for this individual, but that he refused to accept it, until a commission had been appointed and made their report. He thought that the lesson which should be drawn from the petitions of this individual was, that when a man obstinately refused to conform to the practices, and to obey the regulations of the law, he ought to suffer for his indiscretion. He thought that the hon. member for Aberdeen would behave in a much kinder manner to this individual, if he refused to present any more of his petitions. The petitioner seemed to think that it was practicable to get out of confinement by other means than those which the law prescribed; and, as long as members continued to present his petitions, so long would this delusion continue.

Lord Palmerston

could not help thinking that the refusal of the offer of the hon. member for Aberdeen indicated something very like mental aberration in the petitioner.

Ordered to lie on the table.