§ Mr. Hunt
said, that in rising to bring forward the important measure of which he had given notice for that evening, he fully appreciated the difficulty and delicacy of the task he had undertaken. If gentlemen possessed of talents, endow- 247 ments, and political reputation, to which he could not by possibility lay claim, had found it requisite to solicit the indulgence and kind consideration of the House, how much more necessary must it be for so humble an individual as himself. No hon. Member present could be a stranger to the situation of the country, or to the melancholy occurrences which had lately taken place in certain disturbed districts in the South of England. It would be proper, before he sat down that he should explain the causes which, according to his views, had occasioned those disturbances; but previous to doing so, he should expressly premise, that he did not stand there to defend any violation of the law, but to advocate, however inefficiently, the cause of those humble classes who had been led into the commission of crime, rather by the force of circumstances than by the bent of their inclination. He had already, as the House would probably be aware, exerted himself elsewhere on behalf of these convicts generally, and especially in favour of the two unfortunate men who were sentenced to death, and left for execution, in the city of Salisbury; and it was but an act of justice to his Majesty's Ministers to state, that he had uniformly experienced the kindest attention from Lord Melbourne, and every gentleman connected with the Home Office, who had politely furnished him with ample opportunity of collecting all the information necessary to the full exposition of the subject. He therefore took this opportunity to thank the Government for such a proof of consideration, and he thanked them in the name of the men and women of the county of Wilts, and of all the disturbed districts. As it would be expedient that he should detail all the circumstances connected with what had occurred in the counties of Wilts and Hants, it happened rather opportunely that he should be enabled to speak a good deal from actual personal knowledge, as it was his misfortune,—or, as he should call it, his good fortune,—to be present at the very first riot that had occurred in Hants. Me had no other object in view, than that of bringing under the consideration of the House such circumstances as should enable them fairly to decide upon the propriety of their interference in behalf of the best labourers in England, who were now confined in gaol, or on board the hulks. It would be right, at the outset, to take into considera- 248 tion that the first which they had heard of this incendiarism proceeded from that part of Normandy opposite the coast of Kent. They would also recollect, that last Session, great numbers of petitions had been presented from the agriculturists of Kent and other places, complaining of grievous distress, and praying for legislative relief. He had not, at the time, the honour of a seat in that House, but he well knew the misery of such petitioners, notwithstanding the contradiction which had been given to their representations by a noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Government as then constituted. Instead of experiencing that sympathy and relief which, under the circumstances, they had a natural right to expect, they were unequivocally given to understand, that they would still have to endure the state of half-starvation to which they had long been reduced, and it was to this neglect of the late Ministers that he mainly ascribed the criminal acts of the agricultural labourers, driven as they were to a state of absolute desperation. The outrages commenced with the attack upon thrashing machines, which he did not mean to excuse, by asserting that such proceedings were not a palpable violation of the laws; but this he would say, that the people were rendered desperate, and had wreaked their despair upon that machinery which had deprived them of labour and labour's hire, for where thrashing machines had been abandoned, the demand for manual labour had increased to such an extent that sufficient hands were not attainable. It was natural enough, then, that they should assume, that machinery had deprived them of employment. The labourers in Kent, at the commencement of the disturbances, had told the Magistrates and land-owners, candidly and reasonably, that they could not exist with their families on less than 12s. a week, and in those places where the farmers yielded to this very fair demand, no breaches of the peace had occurred; but wherever they had not, the result had been altogether different, and the gaols had been crowded. Of the Chairman of Quarter Sessions in the county of Kent he was disposed to speak in terms of undissembled respect. He meant no personal offence to that hon. Baronet (Sir E. Knatchbull), or to any other gentleman to whom he might find it. necessary to allude in the course of his observations, but certain he was, that had a severe example been made of some of the parties convicted 249 in the first instance, or had the system of leniency then introduced been followed up in a similar spirit, disturbances would never have increased as they subsequently did. To a course of mercy he should assuredly be the very last to object, but disproportionate punishments, as it appeared to him, had been inflicted at those Sessions, seeing that some of those convicted were merely imprisoned for a few days, and others permitted to escape on even much milder terms. They ought to have been made to understand at the time, that they had not only been guilty of a serious moral offence, but had actually incurred the penalties of felony itself. He conceived it a great mistake that Members for counties, political judges as they must be, should be permitted to preside at the trials of their constituents. For himself, he would candidly confess, that were he placed in a similar situation, called on to decide between, a supporter as plaintiff, and an opponent as defendant, he could not so far divest himself of the feelings common to all men, as to deliver an unbiassed opinion, and the case must be the same with every one about him. The acts of violence which originated in Kent had soon spread elsewhere, and it was rather singular, considering the reports which had been so confidently circulated on the subject, that not one foreigner (with the exception of an enthusiast, at Bury St. Edmund's, detected in distributing seditious papers) had been apprehended on charges of incendiarism or riot. Who, he asked, were the persons likely to be benefited by the conflagrations, unless the poor men who were absolutely famishing of hunger? Many individuals, in anticipation of a bad harvest, had, it was true, bought up grain in large quantities, and thereby occasioned a rise in the price of corn; but he, as an observant farmer, of some experience, had remarked, that there was a heavy crop last year, and had, therefore all along predicted the contrary. As he had already hinted, it so happened that he was himself present at the very first open demonstration of violence which had occurred in the county of Hants. Hon. Members might not be aware that the nature of his business was such as to require his presence from time to time in various parts of the country. The House would perhaps conclude that his connexions must be tolerably extensive, when he informed them that he had agents in 250 not less than seventy-three towns, with whom it was necessary that he should be in continual communication. He chanced to be on one of his periodical excursions, and was in the act of entering a village in Hampshire, when several women laid hold of him, and entreated, for the love of God, that he would not proceed any further. He naturally inquired the reason, and was informed, that a mob of 600 were up in arms a short distance before him. On asking how they were likely to treat him, he was informed that they would seize his horse and chaise, and plunder, or probably kill himself. As, however, he had nearly as much experience of mobs as most people, he did not think the number sufficiently formidable to deter him from driving his gig into the town. He accordingly proceeded, and found a crowd of from 600 to 700 armed, as represented, and in a high state of excitement. Great as was his experience in mobs, he confessed that the one which he had, at the period he was speaking of, before him, was not like to those he had been accustomed to, and he felt anxious to escape from it as soon as he possibly could drive his gig through. But he was followed to his inn by a great multitude, and had not alighted more than two or three minutes before a message was sent in to him, expressive of a desire, on the part of the farmers, for him to use his influence in allaying the turbulence of the mob of labourers. He told the farmers that their request was a matter of danger and difficulty to any man, but particularly to him, a stranger travelling on his own private business, and that he shrunk from the danger the rather, that if he failed in his endeavours, and that mischief or violence ensued on the part of the complaining multitude, all the evil would be attributed to him, and to the political opinions which he had so long advocated. Shortly after he had given this answer to the farmers, a message was sent in to him from the men—the labouring multitude— entreating him to endeavour to adjust matters between them and the farmers. The men said, they grounded their request on the recollection of the excellent treatment of his own workmen, when he was a resident in that neighbourhood—a statement, he need not say, most gratifying to his feelings, after a ten years' absence. He asked the men, what was the ground of their complaint of the farmers? telling them, that the latter represented it as most 251 unjustifiable, inasmuch as they had, when the labourers complained, and struck for higher wages, agreed to raise the wages from 10s. to 12s. per week, and that that rate seemed to give general satisfaction. The men replied, that it was very true that such an agreement had been entered into, but added, that it was not adhered to by the farmers, and that one or two of that body not only broke faith with their workmen, but threatened to bring them before a Magistrate for punishment, if they persisted in asking for the higher rate of wages; and that it was on account of that breach of faith that they again struck, and that they were thus assembled in large bodies. If that be the state of things, said he (Mr. Hunt), why arc not matters adjusted between you before the local Magistrates! Where are those gentlemen so interested in preserving the peace of the county? The answer was—they were all at home, and had refused that very day, and the day before, to cross their thresholds to perform their magisterial duties, and even to give the men who waited on them a hearing from their windows. Was this the line of conduct that the Justices of the Peace should pursue under such circumstances? But more of this anon. The hon. Member proceeded to say, that he then remarked, if there be no other differences between you and the farmers, there could be no great difficulty in reconciling them, and that he would apply himself to that end But before he began, he asked the men whether there were any strangers among them, and that if there were, for them to beware lest they should be instigating them on to their ruin as it might be. The answer was, that there was no stranger among them—that they were all native residents of the parish. Three of the workmen, as representatives of the body, had then a conference with him. "I asked them," continued the hon. Member, "what was it they sought? what did they complain of? what specific grievances did they wish to have redressed? were they aware of the illegal consequences of their conduct? and I told them, if they had any object in view other than to obtain legal redress, by legal, that is, by peaceable means, I would not have any thing to say to them." The men replied, "By no means, Sir; we entertain no purposes of violence; we mean no mischief to any man; all we seek is a sufficiency to keep life and soul to- 252 gether—that our wives and children may not in vain cry out to us for food; that, in fact, they and ourselves may have a sufficiency of victuals to satisfy nature." But I asked, "how can this be? Are not the fanners willing to give you all you now require?" The reply was, "No; the farmers never keep faith with us, and we cannot starve." The hon. Member proceeded to say, that he then addressed the labourers out of the inn window, urging them, as much as he could, to avoid violence, and to adjust their differences, as far as in them lay, with their employers. "I succeeded," said the hon. Member, "beyond almost my hopes; the multitude became calm, and in a very short time good humour was restored. Seeing them thus peaceably disposed, I said to them, 'My good friends, you must not separate without giving me some guarantee that you will continue in this proper mood,— that you will commit no breach of the law, —that neither money, nor liquor, nor the temptation of the force of numbers, will seduce you into the committal of acts which must in the end be seriously detrimental to your best interests, and which, as such, must mortify me and every other man who wishes you well at heart.' And here I think it but due to myself to declare, that at no period of my life was I a mere mob flatterer—that I never, like others whom I could name, either flattered their vices or pandered to their passions or their ignorance for the sake of a shout extra, or to maintain a spurious influence over an excitable multitude. In this spirit I addressed the labourers in Wiltshire, demanded of them, as a guarantee for their peaceable conduct, that they should immediately disperse each to his own home. They did so, after two cheers, and thus all violence was avoided." The hon. Member went on to say, that he had not proceeded in his gig more than twenty yards from the place where he had addressed the labouring multitude, when he met their worships, the Magistrates, who had been, as he had stated, so closely immured for the two previous days, during which their services were so much required, with Mr. Portalls at their head. "We," said they, "thank you, Mr. Hunt, for your most meritorious exertions. You have, indeed, in half an hour effected what we apprehended was impossible without bloodshed." Even the clergyman thanked me—on account, I suppose, of 253 the excellent advice I gave his poor parishioners, to avoid idleness and drunkenness. I then said to the Magistrates—addressing myself, with my hat in my hand, more especially to Mr. Portalls, a most respectable gentleman, whom I had frequently met years ago at county meetings —"Gentlemen, I have given your labourers advice; permit me now to offer you some. You must recollect, that I often warned you that things would come to this pass if you persisted in the vicious course you and the Government have been following for years past. I told you that all was owing to the mischievous war which Ministers had engaged this country in, against its own permanent interests, and contrary to the best interests of the human race. I said to you, to enable them to carry on this iniquitous war, Ministers screw you down with taxes; you then screw the farmer, who in a doublefold, aye, treblefold degree, screws down the unprotected labourer; and ultimately, you have all given a screw too much, and as a just and inevitable consequence, what you have been all screwing down has at length been screwed up, just as a patent screw, when screwed in, brings up the cork." The hon. Member proceeded to say, that since he had returned from the excursion he was then describing, he had visited Overton. As he pulled up at the principal inn, the two ladies who kept it ran out to him, to return him their best thanks for his former exertions, and to tell him all that had taken place in his absence [Laughter]. The House might laugh if they pleased—indeed, they were too ready with their laughs—but it was most gratifying to him to be thus thanked by two ladies. "We are all delighted to see you, Mr. Hunt—the poor bless you, and the farmers thank you for you exertions to restore peace when last among us." Since that, thank God, there has been no breach of the peace no violence, and not a single committal for crime in the parish. [Hear.] This might be a laughing matter to hon. Members, ["No, no," from both sides of the House], but to him it presented a much more serious aspect. This occurred at Overton, whence he proceeded to Andover. A mob was here assembled, which he was solicited by the Vicar, among others, to use his influence in dispersing. He replied, that the Magistrates were the fitting persons to discharge so difficult and dangerous a duty, and that to them they should 254 apply for protection, and not to him, a stranger, and a man at no period of his life willing to come in contact with a drunken mob. This occurred in the day time, but nothing was done by the local magistracy. About twelve o'clock at night a posse of constables rushed out, and without the slightest warning, attacked a group of labourers who happened to be standing together, and with their bludgeons beat them till their blood almost streamed to their heels. What was the result? Why, the first fire which occurred in that part of the country, that of the premises belonging to Sir Henry Wilson, took place within two miles from the town that very night. It was courageous to resist a tumultuous mob, but to attack defenceless unresisting men was cowardly. From Andover he proceeded to Salisbury. On his arrival he was informed by from thirty to forty shopkeepers of the town, customers of his, that they had heard of his journey, and expected that his entry would be in the midst of attending thousands. His answer was, that there was no such thing as a travelling mob, and that a mob could only be talked into violence. The Salisbury authorities unfortunately did talk the labouring classes into violence, and the result was, that on the subsequent Tuesday, (he left the place on Sunday) commenced the mischievous system of destroying thrashing machines. At the risk of being tedious he had thus somewhat minutely traced his route and doings through Wiltshire—for reasons, the force of which would be obvious to the House when he had referred to the transactions in which the hon. member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett) had a share. With respect to the destruction of thrashing machines, of which the public had lately heard so much, it was important to bear in mind —what he was prepared to prove at the bar of that House—that in nineteen out of twenty cases the misguided labourers were encouraged by the farmers whose machines they were destroying. In some instances the fanners gave money for this purpose; and in one case the farmer, his own machine having been broken, cried out, "Smash away, let us all be on an equality." Some actually offered their machines to be destroyed on condition that they should be all put on a level. And this infamous encouragement brought him to the proximate cause of the battle of Salisbury. About 150 persons in the 255 neighbourhood of that city, having procured 9l. among the farmers, went and got drunk with the money, when, flushed with liquor, they became riotous, and to quell the riots the valiant constabulary of the town showed their martial fronts in vain. To aid them the yeomanry were summoned to arms; but even these doughty heroes failed to conquer, their feats being confined to one of them shooting a comrade through the body by accident, and to another of the combatants jumping, with most unusual agility, over the garden wall of the hon. member for Salisbury, and there changing his clothes, that he might creep home in safety. The rioters were, as the House was aware, after that captured in detail by the military, tried, and many transported; and thus ended the battle of Salisbury. The hon. Member proceeded next to say, that notwithstanding his zealous and successful exertions to prevent violence and restore tranquility, he was represented invidiously in certain quarters as having pursued an opposite course. On this point he wished to be understood. He appealed to the hon. Under Secretary, for the Home Department opposite, whether statements had not been made to him, that he (Mr. Hunt) was the soul of all the riots and incendiaries in Wilts and the neighbourhood, and that too while he was travelling on his professional matters. He trusted that Ministers would prosecute an inquiry into the causes and abettors of the riots, and that the guilty incendiaries would be held up to punishment and public scorn. He was confident that it would appear on inquiry, that the farmers themselves were the guilty parties, and not their unfortunate victims, whom, in an evil hour, they encouraged to commit crimes, and afterwards prosecuted to conviction and punishment. The hon. Member proceeded to say, that he visited a village in Somersetshire. On his entry, he found the yeomanry busy, parading and inarching up and down in battle array. He asked the first intelligent woman he met, what was the cause of all these martial proceedings? "Why, to be sure," said the honest woman, "to prevent the men from asking for proper wages;" and in a few days he saw the truth of the poor woman's answer, for wherever the yeomanry was called out wages were kept down. ["No, no," from the Treasury bench.] Well, there might be one or two exceptions; but, generally 256 speaking, he was right; as the 9s. rate in Hampshire, and the 7s. per week rate in Wiltshire, in themselves testified—a rate of wages which was incompatible with a wholesome condition of society. In another parish which he visited, an attempt was made to induce the farmers to be sworn in Special Constables, which failed on account of the—he did not know how to call it—extraordinary conduct of the Rector. This Gentleman levied for some years not less than 1,600l. a-year, though the average rate was but 1,000l. When the disturbed state of the parish pointed out the necessity of swearing in some of the farmers as Special Constables, to protect property, the rev. Gentleman was requested to accommodate himself to the exigences of circumstances, by reducing his tithes to the original sum of 1,000l.; but he, in a spirit not exactly similar to that usually eulogized in the most Christian followers of the Gospel, peremptorily refused to abate one shilling, and in consequence of his refusal, the farmers as peremptorily refused to become Special Constables, thus leaving lives and property to take care of themselves. Precisely the same events occurred in other parishes, and with the same unfortunate results. In one place, the vapid commonplace which had been so successfully put forward in that House as an argument, forsooth, against the ballot, was repeated with the same tone of self-complacency to those who refused to be sworn in Special Constables. They were told, their refusal was un-English, as if that vapid clap-trap phrase was pregnant with argument and meaning. i The answer of one of the refusers, a tall muscular but half-starved young man, of thirty, was worth repeating for the benefit of those hon. Members with whom sonorous phrases had in general more weight than fact or argument. "You tell me," said he, "that our refusing to be sworn in special constables is un-English. I admit it is, but I ask you if it is the only un-English grievance in existence? I have a wife and five children, I am able and willing to work, and yet all I can procure to support them and myself is 7s. per week. Is that English? Is it English, that on a Monday I am frequently obliged to lie in bed in order that my share of our scanty victuals may go to support my poor infants and their mother? Is it English, that while I, in common with many others like me, am 257 thus stinted in the very necessaries of life, the parson, who abounds in its luxuries, should refuse with anger to abate one penny of his tithes? This is what I call very un-English. And when you remove these un-English grievances, I'll admit that my conduct, in refusing to protect the property of those who have hitherto evinced very little regard to my interest, is equally so." He (Mr. Hunt) fully agreed with the individual whose sentiments he had just quoted, and had only to add to it, that when that House had redressed all the un-English grievances which it had been instrumental in inflicting and perpetuating, he should be prepared to join in the cry, that vote by ballot was un English. The next point to which he would call the attention of the House was, the attack on the property of the hon. member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett). The labourers having been, as he had stated, and was ready to prove, instigated by the farmers to destroy the thrashing machines, and stimulated by liquor and money served out to them for the purpose, proceeded to that course which led to the recent Special Commission with all its consequences, destroying all the thrashing machines in their neighbourhood, and ultimately those of the hon. member for Wiltshire. To that hon. Member, whom he saw in his place, he wished to say one word of a personal bearing. He (Mr. Hunt) was credibly informed,—and indeed was ready to prove it at the bar of the House,—that when the hon. Member met the rioters proceeding towards his house, he said, among other things, "I see how it is. Cobbett and Hunt are at the bottom of all this." "Now," continued the hon. Member, "I told the hon. Member yesterday, that I had heard this declaration of his from what I should conceive credible authority; but that if he declared upon his honour as a gentleman that he did not utter it, I would make no allusion to it this evening. The hon. Member's reply was, that he most probably had expressed such a sentiment, but could not recollect when, but thought it was not on the occasion I have just spoken of. I am bound to believe it was on that occasion; because I have been told that it was the hon. Member's violent and unjust language with respect to me, that occasioned the rioters to immediately destroy his machinery. And if this be the case, I appeal to the hon. Member's feelings and honour, 258 as a man and a gentleman, to stand up in his place this night, and make allowance for the acts of a multitude so unjustly taunted. There was a circumstance connected with the destruction of one of the hon. Member's machines worth mentioning, as reflecting a strong light on the motives and purposes of the misguided agents. The machine, a thrashing one, was attached to a water-wheel, which, at the same time, turned a corn-mill; but though the thrashing machine was completely destroyed, the water-wheel and the mill were most carefully left untouched; thus showing, that their destruction was by no means indiscriminate, and that all they aimed at was, the removal of that which they believed to lessen the demand for, and thence the remuneration of, their labour." The next point to which he requested the attention of the House was, the conduct of the Hindon cavalry yeomanry towards a—at the time, and that was all he wanted to impress—peaceable multitude. He was one of those who never designated a multitude a mob till they had assumed an air of violence, and who would suppress with the arm of the law all mob illegality. But it should be clearly seen that their conduct was actually at the time—and not might have been before—illegal: not so with the Hindon yeomanry. They actually attacked, sword in hand, a multitude at the time proceeding peaceably along a narrow lane, and without any warning or provocation cut them to pieces in the most horrible manner—chasing those who fled from their violence across the adjoining fields, discharging their pistols at the fugitives when beyond the reach of their swords; they actually shot one man dead for no other crime, as it should seem, than not standing to be sabred. Now, he respected the laws as much as any man in that House, and would as readily enforce them, but, he would ask, was such violence towards a peaceable unarmed multitude necessary? was it justifiable. But this was not all, Not less than sixteen or seventeen of those thus wounded were bound together in one waggon, and transported that night not less than seventeen miles to Salisbury gaol, without any regard to their wounds or their sufferings. Nay, more, though on the way the yeomanry who escorted them stopped when and where they pleased for refreshment, and though the wounded prisoners were parched by thirst and pain, not a drop 259 of water was allowed them—not one particle of dressing to their wounds. Even this did not complete the chapter of suffering and cruelty. On arriving at Salisbury, after their seventeen miles journey, they had to wait two hours before the gaoler could procure them accommodation, and upwards of three hours more before a surgeon attended to dress their wounds. Was not this a case that called for inquiry? But, perhaps, he might be told, that a Coroner's Inquest had inquired into the circumstances attendant upon the death of the man who had been shot in this slaughtering affray, and that that jury had found a verdict acquitting the Hindon yeomanry. There was such an inquest, and, as might be expected from the construction of the jury, the foreman being the father of one of the yeomanry, the defendants or criminals in the case, there was such a verdict. The verdict was justifiable homicide. Well, the men thus wounded and captured were put upon their trial. There had been several executions in the county of Kent,— there had also been some in the county of Sussex,—there had likewise been others in Hampshire, and there had been one in Berkshire. It was true that they had been spared in Wiltshire, but in the trials there, one circumstance had come to his know ledge, which he would explain to the House, if it would have the kindness to bear with him a little longer. It would be in the recoiled ion of many Gentlemen, that about the middle of November there were several riots in the neighbourhood of Marlborough. A respectable tenant of the hon. member for Westminster had the misfortune to have two of his nephews engaged in those riots. A son of that tenant was induced by a person who ought to have known better, to write a letter of a threatening nature to the prosecutor of his two cousins. He repeated it, a person who ought to have known better had induced this lad to write a threatening letter to the prosecutor of his two cousins. The lad did as he was advised, and in so doing committed an act which he would not for one moment attempt to palliate. That man who could deliberately sit down to write a threatening letter, or even an anonymous letter, he called a coward. The writing of such letters was an act of cowardice, and nothing else. He felt it to be such, and he could not help expressing his feelings. Since he had had the honour of a seat in Parliament, he had 260 received a great number of anonymous letters, threatening him with destruction on his road home over Westminster-bridge, if he continued to speak as he had clone respecting the suppression of the Pension-list. He could assure the House, he could assure the writers, that he treated such letters with the most profound contempt. If they were post-paid, they were read, and went, as soon as they were read, to the back of the fire. If they were not post-paid, they were not taken in, but! sent back to the Post-office, for the amusement of Sir F. Freeling and his clerks. He wished that the Government had treated these threatening letters with the same contempt. But what was the fact? It appeared that the letter sent by this lad was written on a very curious piece of paper; it was evidently torn off another piece of paper, as it was ragged and jagged at the edges. It was thought by the prosecutor, that owing to this circumstance it might, by the assistance of a Bow-street officer, be traced to its author. Another tenant of the hon. member for Westminster (Sir F. Burdett) went with the Bow-street officer on this labour of discovery. They supposed that this letter was in the hand-writing of the tenant whom he had mentioned before, and whose name was Looker. They went, in consequence, to Looker's house, and seized his papers. They found in his writing-desk a piece of paper similar to that on which the threatening letter was written. The edges of it matched the ragged edges of the paper on which that letter was written. This old man—or he should rather say, this old gentleman—was, on this discovery, taken up. Yes, he was taken up and sent to a common prison, notwithstanding the respectability of his character. At that time he rented a large farm under the hon. member for Westminster, and only nine months before, he had taken a large farm of another large landholder, General Popham. Although it was proved that the old man had three sons—that his desk was always open—and that there was free access to it, the old man was taken up and sent to prison: "and, therefore, it is that I call the attention of you, Gentlemen, who are Members of Parliament, and as his Majesty's Attorney General is also present, I call his attention also, to the proceedings on this old man's trial." Those proceedings merited investigation, and he was sure that when the House was 261 made acquainted with them, it would be of opinion that no man could consider himself safe, if they were allowed to pass without investigation. Old Looker was, as he had told the House before, taken to gaol, though he was as respectable and well-dressed a man as any in that House. He was handcuffed before he was sent to gaol. He was sent first to the gaol at Devizes, and afterwards to the gaol at Salisbury; and at the latter place he and seventeen or eighteen others were lodged in a damp cold room, where they had only a hand-full of coals given to warm them, and where they remained for nine days, in the most inclement part of this winter, without any additional covering,—a fact which did not tell much to the honour of the Magistrates of Wiltshire. At last Looker was tried, and the Crown was his prosecutor. The witnesses against him were three of the farmers to whom the threatening letters had been addressed; and they swore that those letters were in his hand-writing. But on their cross-examination, they all admitted that they were on bad terms with the defendant; that they had not seen him write for the last six or seven years; but that still they believed the writing to be his. The counsel for the defendant thought the case against his client so weak, as to put it to the learned Judge who tried it, whether he thought there was evidence to go to the jury. The Judge said, "Yes, there is; and I believe the jury will have little doubt as to its effect." On his defence, the counsel for Looker called eleven witnesses, some of them schoolmasters, others excisemen, who had repeatedly seen him write upon matters of business, and that, too, up to the very time of his trial. They swore distinctly that the letter was not in his hand-writing. —that it was not at all like its character, — that the one was of an angular description, and that the other was a round hand. Yet, notwithstanding all this, the Judge allowed the case to go to the jury; the jury found the old man guilty, and the Judge condemned him to transportation for the term of his natural life. The old man, conscious of his own innocence, said, that he should not have implored the Judge to spare him had he been guilty; but that he was innocent, and knew nothing at all of the letter. The Judge told him that he could not believe his asseverations of innocence, for the jury had found him guilty; and in proceeding to pass 262 sentence upon him, said, "You will go out of this country into another. You will be sent to a country where you will find few worse than yourself. You will be lamented by no human being whom you may leave behind you." Nay, more than this, the learned Judge lamented that the law relative to this crime had been recently altered. He said, that the crime of which the prisoner had been convicted, was formerly punishable with death—that it was not so punishable at present; but that if it had been, he should have felt it to be his duty to let the law take its course, and to leave him for execution. The counsel for the defendant then went up to the bench, and told the Judge, that he was perfectly astonished at the verdict, for the son was in Court, ready to make oath that it was not his father, but himself who had written the letter. He wished to call the particular attention of the House to what occurred next. The son was called up into the box, confessed that he had written the letter, wrote a copy of it in the same hand, was thrown into prison upon his confession, was afterwards tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven, years transportation. Yes, a mere boy of seventeen years of age was sentenced for this letter to seven years transportation! "I saw that lad,"' continued Mr. Hunt, "since his condemnation. He felt proud, and naturally so, of having saved his father by his confession from undeserved punishment. He hoped that he himself should not meet with severe punishment, but he said, that he would rather be transported for seven years, than remain for one year in the gaol at Salisbury. Now, I would ask the House to consider what would have been the case, had this young lad stood unite? Undoubtedly, in that case, the old man, his father, must have been sacrificed. But what if he had ran away? In that case too, the old man would have been transported for life, or would have been executed had the law remained unaltered. What, too, would have been the conse-quence—and I think I have a right to call upon the House to consider this point— what would have been the consequence, had he withheld from his father his knowledge of who was the author of that letter, from a wish to inherit his share of his father's wealth a few years before the natural time? I admit the crime of which this lad was guilty—I seek not to palliate it; but I say that had this lad lived 263 in the times of ancient story—had he been a native of Rome, or Athens, or Sparta, and made this sacrifice of himself to save his father, a monument would have been erected to his memory—he would have been crowned. I repeat it; a son who had thus manfully come forward at his known peril to save his father from punishment, would have had a monument erected to his memory. He would have been crowned with a crown of evergreens. [laughter] I trust that I must attribute this laughter to my want of talent to describe the merit which I estimate so highly. I hope that I have no reason to attribute it to a want of feeling in those who style themselves the Representatives of the people." The hon. Member then proceeded to say, that the exemplary conduct of young Looker was a fit subject for celebration by the historian, the poet, and the dramatist. Yes, by the dramatist, for if his story were dramatized, and he believed that it shortly would be, where was the heart so hard as not to feel for the pangs which he must have suffered on account of his father? The hon. Member next proceeded to call the attention of the House to the cases of Lush and Withers, who were condemned to death at Salisbury. Withers he said, was a man of exemplary character up to the time of his committing this offence. At the time when the prosecutor and his companions rode up to him, he was committing no act of violence. The prosecutor and his companions rode into the mob, who were then quite peaceable, and cut at them to the right and left with a hunting whip, with a heavy iron hammer at the end of it. Withers received repeated blows with this formidable hunting whip; and then, having in his hand an iron hammer, which had been used in breaking machinery, actuated by the impulse of the moment, he threw it at the prosecutor, but missed him. Withers was then driven into a corner by the prosecutor, and was crushed against a wall by the prosecutor's horse. As he attempted to escape, he fell forward, and was struck as he fell by the prosecutor with his hunting whip. He then flung his hammer a second time at the prosecutor. That time it took effect, and knocked the prosecutor off his horse. He would appeal, however, to any Englishman, and would ask, whether it was in human nature to remain quiet under such provocation? He would ask any man whether the conduct of the prose- 264 cutor did not afford some palliation at least for the conduct of this convict? Such was the feeling of the prosecutors themselves upon this point, that they did not get him committed for an assault, but for a riot. The Attorney General, however, when the facts were submitted to him, thought that they formed a serious case, and deemed it right, in the exercise of his discretion, to have the man prosecuted, not only criminally, but capitally. He was so prosecuted; on the prosecution he was found guilty, and at the close of the commission for Wiltshire, was sentenced to death, and left for execution. The hon. Member then proceeded to investigate the proceedings which terminated in the capital condemnation of Lush. "When I first, he said, went to visit Lush, at Salisbury, after his condemnation, I was informed by that unhappy man, that when he was first committed to gaol, and before his trial came on, he sent for an attorney, into whose hands he placed, confidentially, a full and clear statement of his case. The gaoler's clerk was present when this statement was made to the attorney; and on the attorney's leaving the prison, the statement was taken out of his hands, and was, by a rule of the prison, submitted to the inspection of the gaoler. The gaoler on looking at it, said, This document is too long for me to read to-night; I must take it to my private room to peruse it. He was as good as his word, for he took it and kept it for three whole days before he returned it to the attorney. Now, I would ask the Attorney General, whom I am happy to see present on this occasion,—I would ask him, I say, whether this either is or ought to be the law or the practice in this country? I appeal to his common sense, and ask him, what use the gaoler could make of this man's confession, if it were not to betray him? I stated this man's case to the proper quarter, — I stated it to my Lord Melbourne; and that excellent officer, who fills his situation with so much efficacy and propriety, has taken effective measures to put a stop to this abominable practice. According to the rule established in the gaol at Salisbury, no prisoner, if he be confined for either murder or high treason, or any other offence, can communicate confidentially with his attorney, unless a servant of the gaoler be present at the time of the communication. Could any man of 265 common humanity sanction such a practice? Could it exist for a moment after it was once exposed to the knowledge of the public? I believe that what. I had the good fortune to communicate to his Majesty's Government upon this shameful practice had great weight in inducing them to spare this man's life. In the Spanish Inquisition, when a man was put upon the rack to extract from him a confession of his guilt, he had full knowledge that, when his confession was made he would suffer death for it. But here, in a country which boasted of the lenity of its laws, and the mildness of its institutions, the case is infinitely more cruel. Here a man is compelled to communicate the whole of his case to his attorney,—and the first advice of his attorney always is, to let him know the worst features of it,—in the presence of his gaoler, who thus gains a clue to all the evidence which may be necessary to convict him. I do not mean to say that the Attorney General made any use in these cases of the power which the gaoler at Salisbury exercised over his unhappy prisoners,—far from it. What I ask is, why should this power be exercised at all? Why should this thing be done? I believe that this practice is now abolished. Having ascertained its existence, I felt that it was my duty, as an honest man, to exert all my abilities to put a stop to it. Let me do full justice to the Government on the point. The Secretary of State, upon hearing of it, deemed it unworthy of the country, and disgraceful to the Government. From what I have been able to learn, it was never sanctioned by Government, but was the act of the county Magistracy, and of the county Magistracy-alone." The hon. Member then proceeded to say, that in asking for a general pardon and amnesty for these unfortunate labourers, he proposed to have it extended to every case, and not merely to those cases which he had particularly mentioned. He did not wish to hint or to insinuate that the King's Ministers had not done justice in making inquiry into the different degrees of guilt contracted by the different convicts, but he wished to guard them against giving implicit credence to the information which they received, and to call upon them to consider, that the knowledge which they acquired of these men came from the county Magistracy, and from them alone. He had obtained some information on this subject, which he 266 wished to lay before the House. Among these rioters was a poor youth, with one leg, who had formerly worked upon his farm. He had interfered on be-half of this youth, and in consequence of his interference had discovered, that in these riots many persons had been apprehended, but not on the spot where the riots were committed. For instance, seven men were apprehended at Hindon, some time after the occurrence of the riots in that neighbourhood. Their wives and families were anxious that he should interfere on their behalf. The first question which he asked respecting them was, "Are they men of notoriously bad characters?" The answer which he received was, that their characters were, for the most part, good, but that, unfortunately, they were all poachers. Now, there were great preserves of game in the neighbourhood of Hindon; and the existence of such places in the vicinity of men whose wives and families were all but starving, was enough to make them all poachers. He was told, that there were many individuals who had been much more active than these men in the riots, but that these men were selected by the magistracy as fit objects for prosecution, simply because they were poachers. He then told their wives, that if such was the case, nothing could be clone for their husbands—they must be sacrificed; and that was not only his opinion, but the opinion of almost every man with whom he conversed in the country, it being well known there that the Magistrates were determined to make these riots useful in getting rid of all individuals who were personally obnoxious to themselves and other landholders. He had also discovered in the course of his inquiries, that he had himself been accused to the Government of being one of the most active incendiaries in the country; though he believed that in the opinion of the Government itself he stood fully exonerated from that accusation. He had likewise discovered who the incendiaries were, and the greatest incendiary that he had found was a ruined and broken-up farmer. Unfortunately he had found many such men in his travels through the country. He was going along the road, when he met a person, whom he had known some years ago as a respectable farmer, going to a neighbouring town, where the Magistracy were assembled. The man addressed him, and said, "I am going into Ilchester, where 267 the Magistrates are assembled, to be sworn in as a Special Constable: and I shall take the opportunity of letting them know a bit of my mind. It is but four years ago that I rented a farm of 400l. a-year. The pressure of the times made all things go wrong with me; two flocks of sheep died in my pastures; and in the course of two years I was so reduced that I thought of giving up my farm. My landlord came to me—told me that he was aware of the calamity which had befallen my sheep, and promised me, that if I would stay on my farm, and re-stock it, I should not be pressed for my rent. In consequence, I was induced to go on. I borrowed money of my friends to re-stock my farm; I bought a third flock of sheep; my landlord saw all this with pleasure: he waited till the produce of my farm was safely housed after the harvest, and then he came and swept away the whole of it with a distress for rent; and now, after all this, I am called upon to be sworn in as a Special Constable! I tell you what, Mr. Hunt, I have but one hogshead of cider now in my possession; but the mob are welcome to take the whole of it if they like." The farmer then proceeded to use language of the most violent description, which he would not weary the House with repeating: suffice it to say, that he was sure that the man was capable of committing any outrage from the very desperation of his circumstances. He was driven to incendiarism by his desperate poverty. He found among the farmers many men in a similar condition of desperate recklessness. He learned also, that the general opinion in the country was that nine-tenths of the farmers were in a state of insolvency, and that the whole, or nearly the whole, of their property, was pawned to their landlords. He believed, that it would be found quite impracticable for Ministers to carry on the Government without granting them some relief. If no relief were granted to the country, a convulsion must inevitably ensue. "I, for my part," continued the hon. Member, "have endeavoured all that I could to prevent convulsion. I am not fool enough not to know that I shall not live over the first day of convulsion. I repeat my assertion—I shall not live over the first day, and, therefore, I am personally interested as well as morally, in preventing a general convulsion or any general act of violence." He implored Ministers not to 268 object to the present Motion. Hetold them, that he knew full well, that if they granted this boon to the country, it would be of more service than any other measure in tranquillizing its present discontents. He had been told, that in many villages these prosecutions had fallen most heavily upon the best labourers, and that in some there would even be a scarcity of labourers from the numbers which the convictions would send out of the country. Let them think on that fact before they determined to execute the strictest severity of justice. Let them reflect, that if they mitigated the severity of the law, they would make themselves memorable to the most distant times, and would be venerated in after-ages as the benefactors of their country. He knew that they had much to contend with, but let them show mercy in their determinations, and fear not. He knew they had to contend with rapacious and avaricious landlords, who had never consented to sink their rents, or to allow their tenants any remission of their strict due, to raise the wages of their labourers. They had likewise to contend with another species of influence, which he trusted would not exercise much weight over their minds. He was sorry to learn,—not, indeed, from any authentic source,—but it had been mentioned in the newspapers of the day, and the information was believed to be correct,—he was sorry to learn, that some of the learned Judges of the land had complained of the mercy which Ministers had extended to the unfortunate men convicted before them. He hoped that this was not the fact: he hoped that the newspapers were incorrect in making-such a statement: he hoped that in this country, where mercy was left in the hands of the Sovereign, there was no Judge who would dare hold out a threat against the Government, or who would venture to insinuate to it one word of his disappointment, because it had advised his Majesty to give his sanction to an act which redounded equally to the honour of the Ministers who gave, and of the King who acted on, such advice. He hoped that this report about the Judges was as false as he had ascertained the assertion to be, that the majority of these unfortunate convicts had never suffered under the pressure of want. He had got from the overseer of the parish of Tisbury, an account of the rate of wages paid to the agricultural labourers of that parish. It 269 showed distinctly the desperate state of poverty to which those labourers were reduced, who committed the greatest acts of violence in the county of Wilts. The paper which he held in his hand contained an account of the allowances agreed to be paid to the poor of that parish on the 1st of November, 1830, on which day was held the last parish meeting, previous to the breaking out of the disturbances. John Barrett, for himself, his wife and child, was to receive 5s. per week. William Sanger acquired for himself and wife, 1s. 8d. each per week. Now, the greatest misfortune attending the rate of allowances in this parish was, the way in which the wages of the labourer had been paid in it. He had heard the hon. member for Somersetshire say on a former evening, that it was a hardship on the landed interest that it should be burthened with the payment of all the poor-rates of the county. He denied the existence of this hardship, for proof of it he could find none. Where was it to be found? Was it in the parish of Tisbury? Let the House look to what was the practice there. He did not mean to say, that the hon. member for Wiltshire, who resided in that parish, paid the rate of wages which he had mentioned. Perhaps, as that hon. Gentleman was a man of opulence, he paid his labourers a higher rate: but the rate which he had mentioned, was the rate at which the labourers were to be paid, according to a settlement signed by the hon. member for Wiltshire, as chairman for the county. The labourer received 6s. or 7s. a week as a remuneration for his labour, and how did the parish make up the rest of his subsistence? By allowing him 2½d. per week for each head in his family. The overseer of the parish, from whom he had received this statement, was ready, if necessary, to swear to the truth of it. In some parishes, only 2½d. a head was paid; and in others, only 2d. and the half of a farthing a head. He appealed to the House—nay, he appealed to the gentlemen of the landed interest themselves—to remedy this dreadful evil of paying industrious and hard-working men out of the poor-rates. It was a most horrid and degrading thing, that a man who worked hard from an early hour on Monday morning to a late hour on Saturday night, should only receive 7s. a week, and should then be compelled to look to the parish for the scanty aid which was necessary to enable him to eke out a wretch- 270 ed and miserable existence. This was placing him in a worse situation than that of any slaves in the West Indies. When he was a farmer, he never would keep in his employment any man who could not earn in a week enough to support his wife and family without application to the poor-rates. In the year 1816, when farming produce fetched even a lower price than it did at present, he occupied a farm in the next parish to that in which the member for Wiltshire now lived. At that time he gave his labourers half-a-crown a day each. Were such wages paid at present? No; and therefore it was, that he said that the poor-rates were not paid out of the produce of the land, but out of the wages of the labourer. Let the hon. member for Somersetshire, who said that the poor-rates were paid out of the land entirely, look at the parish of Christchurch, where he (Mr. Hunt) lived,—a parish in which there was no more land than that upon which the houses stood. The poor-rates of that parish were not of inconsiderable amount. In many towns he knew that at present they were assessing or taxing to the poor-rates, not only the houses, but also the stock which they contained. Why did he call upon the House to look at the administration of the poor-rates upon this question? That maladministration of the poor-rates was one of the reasons which induced him to call upon Ministers to aid him upon this occasion. He called upon Ministers to interfere in behalf of numbers who were not bad characters, but who, from the insufficiency of their wages to support existence without application to the poor-rates, had been compelled to turn poachers. He would insist, too, that it was the accursed system of the Game-laws, united to the extreme poverty and distress of the people, which had been the cause of many of the late crimes. He had to thank the House for the patient attention with which it bad listened to the statement which he had felt it to be his duty to make. He believed that the consent of Ministers to his motion would redound to the peace, honour, and happiness of the country, no less than it would to their own individual character and honour. He believed that it would redound to the credit of the House, if it would concur in the consent of Ministers, for without the consent of Ministers he well knew that he should carry nothing in that House. He implored Ministers to 271 grant this great boon to the country. Perhaps some of these unfortunate men had not yet been sent out of the country. It would be a great thing if the Ministry would inquire more minutely into their cases, even supposing that it could not consent to pardon them. He was very well aware that the Government had found it very difficult to satisfy the Magistrates and the country gentlemen. He knew that some landlords, in order that they might be able to keep up their rents, had always set their faces against wages being raised,—nay, that they had even endeavoured to lower wages for the same reason. He knew also that some country gentlemen—he hoped they were very few—had advised the Government not to listen to the voice of mercy. He would just describe one of those persons, that the House might understand what sort of people they were. [Cries of "Question."] They need not be afraid that he should offend any one. He would mention no names, nor allude to any one personally. He went to the house of the person to whom he referred, and told him, in the course of conversation, that he (Mr. Hunt) had been to Salisbury for try to get the unfortunate men off. "To get them off?" was the reply. "Pooh! I would have them all hanged, and more too;" and in saying this, he appeared ready to turn him (Mr. Hunt) out of his house. Yet this man, who was a large farmer, and a man of property, was visited by all the first families in Wiltshire. He would give another instance of the character of the same person. He called upon him one day,—it was just after the Catholic Relief Bill passed,—and found him with his shooting-jacket on, and his gun in his hand, just going out for a day's sport. However, they sat down to breakfast together, and, in the course of the breakfast, he (Mr. Hunt) happened to say to him, "Well, so you see the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel have passed that bill about the Catholics." Now, what did they suppose was the reply of this gentleman,—who, by the way, was always preaching up to him (Mr. Hunt) the necessity of not losing one's temper? His reply was this—" I'll tell you what: if I could meet the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel this morning, and none but Ourselves were by, nothing should induce me to refrain from blowing out the brains of one with my right barrel, and of the other with my left barrel." Such was a 272 specimen of the class of men who would hear no mention of mercy, and who were desirous of hanging all they could. While he was upon this subject, allow him to state, for the information of the Government, of the House, and of the public, that, although it had been said that there was a deficiency of corn in the country, he had never in his life seen such a quantity of corn in the stack-yards as he saw when he was lately travelling through the various districts of England. He proclaimed this publicly. The thrashing-machines had been put down, and for that reason very little of the corn was thrashed out: but the consequence of this would be, that it would come to market more regularly, and that in June and July, when corn was usually dear, it would be cheaper than it had been for some time past. He was convinced, from his own observations, and from the reports of others, that there was more corn in the country now than there had been for the last ten years. He would not detain hon. Members any longer, if they were tired of his statement, and he thanked them very kindly for the attention with which they had heard him. He would conclude by moving—" That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty from this House, praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to grant a general pardon and amnesty to those unfortunate agricultural and other labourers who had been tried and convicted at the late Special Commissions." The country at large would be delighted if this was done. He knew that there would be no peace in the country unless the poor were convinced that the laws were administered with mercy as well as justice. The poor did not think that they had committed even any great moral offence, and yet they were told, that they had committed capital offences, and had been punished accordingly. There would be great heart-rendings and misery in the country if his motion were not agreed to: but if it should be granted, it would be hailed with joy by every man of humanity.
Mr. G. Lamb
said, that in rising to make some comments—they should be very few—upon the speech of the hon. member for Preston, he felt bound to say, that the hon. Member had hitherto strictly conformed to the declaration which he had made at the outset,—namely, that he 273 would not lose sight of the respect and deference that were due to the House. The House, however, need not he was sure, be reminded, that statements might be made that were not less exaggerations, and that charges and imputations might be brought forward that were not less violent and unjustifiable, though delivered in the most quiet and guarded tone. The hon. Member, too, had said, that he would avoid all personality. For his own part, he was most anxious to do the same, especially as the hon. Member's speech, notwithstanding the pruriency of his eloquence—had been rather an account of his own personal adventures in the country, than an argument or a statement of facts in support of the Motion with which the hon. Member had concluded. Now, first, with regard to the hon. Member's travels in the country, he had a word or two to say. The hon. Member had applied to him, to know if information had not been directly conveyed to the Home-office, that he had been taking part in the outrages that disturbed the various districts through which he had journeyed. He had not the slightest hesitation in replying to the hon. Member, that he did not recollect that any such distinct information was conveyed to the Home-office, either by letters or otherwise. Nor was it necessary there should be, for this charge against the hon. Member was in every body's mouth, and published as widely as any charge could be published. The hon. Member had told them, that he had made those journies into the country for the purpose of his trade; but allow him to observe, that the hon. Member appeared to have acquired very extensive information about rioters and incendiaries,— not meaning, probably, by "incendiaries," those persons who actually set fire to the stacks. Although the hon. Member had that night made a very full display of the information he had acquired respecting these persons, their motives, and their actions, yet he must say, that, in his opinion, the hon. Member would have done much better if he had communicated that information to the Magistrates, instead of reserving it until now as a secret for the House of Commons. However, as the hon. Member had declared that he made those journies for the purposes of his trade, and for no other purposes, he was, of course, bound to believe the hon. Member, and he would say no more upon the subject, except that the hon. Member ap- 274 peared to have been the most unlucky peaceful traveller that ever blundered into the tumults of three counties. He would now call the attention of the House to the Motion before them, though the hon. Member himself had almost forgotten to say anything about it. The object of the Motion was, to obtain an amnesty for men who had plunged the country into tumult, riot, and confusion; and that object was to be attained by calling upon the House to interfere with the dearest and the most cherished prerogative of the Crown,—a prerogative which had ever accompanied and belonged exclusively to the Monarch, and which had in all times been productive of the happiest effects. Let it not be supposed that he denied, or that he doubted, the right of the House of Commons to address the Crown for any purpose, or upon any subject; but he was quite sure that the House would never interfere with the dearest and the most precious rights of the Monarch, unless the strongest possible case were made out as a justification for such interference. What, he entreated them to consider, would be the situation of the King, if the House of Commons were to approach the Throne with an Address like that proposed? What would, in effect, be the language that they held, no matter in what particular words their Address might be couched? Their language would be this:—"Your Majesty has allowed the law to take its course with regard to a certain number of convicts; some have been consigned to death, others to transportation; but we now come forward to wrest from your Majesty the merit of the mercy that your Majesty has shown, and to fix upon your Majesty all the odium of the supposed cruelty that has been inflicted, and is in the course of being inflicted." They had been told by the hon. Member, in allusion to the conduct of a hon. Baronet in Kent, that the lenity shewn at the commencement was bad; that either that lenity ought to have been continued, or that it ought never to have been shown at all. This was reasoning which, he was ready to admit, he did not understand. In his recollection this was the first time that there had been a general spirit of discontent and insubordination among the agricultural labourers; and was that House now, after the most fair and impartial trials, after the Government had made selections for punishment with the greatest care,—was that House, he said, 275 after this, to come forward with an amnesty, which would be equivalent to saying, "we began with lenity, and yet you continued your unlawful courses; we then intended to proceed with punishment, but we have now altered our minds, and this amnesty is an encouragement to recommence those outrages, for it promises impunity?" He wished to deal with this subject in the best temper he could command, but he could not help expressing the astonishment with which he had heard the hon. Member's tone of justification of the offences that had been committed, especially of the offence of machine-breaking, which, even if it were admitted that the machines threw labourers out of employment, could not admit even of palliation, far less of justification, either morally or legally. Nay, the hon. Member had even intimated, that the offenders ought to be treated with lenity, because, notwithstanding the other mischief they had committed, they had refrained from demolishing some mills and water-wheels. It was true, that riotous assemblages had proceeded to farmers' houses, and said to them, "Comply with our demands, perform all that we require, and then we will spare your life;" and because persons who had held this language had kept their promise, and refrained from shedding blood, the hon. Member appeared inclined to make a merit of it, and had represented them as objects at least deserving of mercy, and almost of praise. He would not follow the hon. Member through all his peregrinations in the country, and much less through all the wanderings of the oration he had made. Allow him, however, to say, that the hon. Member had that night told them quite enough of his proceedings in the country to justify, in part at least, what had been Said of him. Let them take, for instance, the hon. Member's own account of the part he took in the tumult at Overton. The hon. Member had told them, that the farmers came to him, and said "Go "to the people and do what you like, for we are afraid of our lives." The hon. Member said, that upon this he did go to the people, and then, upon his own showing, he became the guarantee of what every body ought to have known was an illegal agreement. The hon. Member having seen that the men were sure of having their wages raised, did then, but not till then, exhort them to abstain 276 from the commission of violence. Surely the hon. Member did not mean to say that such a state of things could or ought to be tolerated; or that it was consistent with the welfare of society, with the security of property, or with the preservation of liberty, order, and government, to allow such proceedings to go unpunished. He now came to another point, on which the hon. Member had touched, and which was one of a more serious nature. In the course of his very miscellaneous oration, the hon. Member had thought proper to attack some of the Judges of the land. Now, in approaching this topic, he begged to protest, at the very outset against that House being turned either into a court of appeal from the decision of the Judges of the land, or into a place of interference with the free exercise of the prerogatives of the Crown; and, contenting himself with this protest, he might and would refuse to say one word upon this part of the hon. Member's speech, confident that the refusal would meet with the concurrence and approbation of the House; but he knew that it would be displeasing to the learned Judge who tried the case in question if all the circumstances connected with it were not thrown open to the fullest investigation, and therefore only would he condescend to reply to this part of the hon. Member's statement. The case alluded to was that of "the King against Isaac Looker," and it was tried by Mr. Justice Alderson. In point of fact, the actual charges against the prisoner were three in number. He was charged with having sent three threatening letters to the prosecutors of three of his nephews who had been prosecuted for machine-breaking. The case of the prisoner, so far as it depended upon the handwriting, stood thus: —four persons swore that the letter was in the handwriting of the prisoner, but nine witnesses gave evidence that the handwriting was not his. The learned Judge, in summing up the evidence, particularized the means which each witness had of judging of this matter, and in doing so, pointed out that one of the witnesses for the defence had not seen the prisoner write for four years; that two of them were themselves unable to write; that two of them had had no other means of seeing him write but by peeping over his shoulder; that two others had not seen him write for several years; and that others had contradicted themselves. This, 277 however, was not all; the case did not entirely depend upon the proof of the prisoner's handwriting. As he had before observed, there were three of these threatening letters. Now, in the prisoner's desk, to which it was sworn that no person but the prisoner had access, there was a quarter of a sheet of paper, which, when joined with the pieces of paper on which the letters were written, formed one complete sheet of paper. The attention of the jury was directed to all these circumstances: the learned Judge told them to consider them carefully, and then left them to come to their own decision. Such was the nature of the case, and, for his own part, he had no hesitation in saying, that upon the evidence before the jury the verdict was right. Circumstances, it was true, afterwards transpired which materially altered the case; but these, although they were deemed of sufficient weight to justify the pardon of the prisoner, were wholly unknown to the Judge and the Jury at the trial. The mention of these circumstances brought him to the conduct of the younger Looker, —the much-injured, the cruelly-treated youth, whom the hon. member for Preston thought deserving of a statue and a crown of evergreens. Now, what ha:! been the conduct of this paragon of filial piety? Why, he actually stood by during the trial of his father for an offence which was punishable with transportation for life: and, when a verdict of guilty was pronounced, but not till then, he came forward and confessed that he himself was the criminal. Virtuous youth! pious son! whom the hon. member for Preston thought that the ancients would have crowned with evergreens, and for whose filial piety, too, according to the same hon. Member, the worthies of Greece and Rome would have raised to him a statue. But the younger Looker was not only a pattern for all sons to come,—he was accomplished, too, as the House would see by the following letter, which he admitted that he wrote to a fanner named Woodman:—" Mr. Woodman, if you goes to swear against any man in prison, you shall have your farm burnt down to ground, and your bloody head and guts cut out." Now, he must put it to the House whether this person, not with standing the eulogium which the hon. member for Preston had pronounced upon him, was a fit object for mercy?. or whether, rather, in the event 278 of a general amnesty being granted, he ought not to be made a special exception? But he would not pursue this subject any farther, being convinced that the House took a very different view of the merits of this young man from that which the hon. member for Preston had taken; who had told them, that he had every reason to believe that a representation which he forwarded to the Home-office had the effect of saving the life of the prisoner Lush. Now he was sorry to inform the hon. Member, that in this he was wrong, and that his representation had had no such effect. Lush was spared, because it was satisfactorily made out to the Government, that he had, on several occasions, interfered to prevent personal violence. He thought it quite unnecessary, in order to defeat a motion which he felt assured the House would almost unanimously reject, to notice any of the other topics upon which the hon. Member had dwelt. The simple question was this,—were they to call back those who were now on their way to another country, and restore them once more to the scenes upon which they had committed the outrages that had drawn upon them the punishments assigned by the law? Were they to replace them in situations in which, the broken machines and their other works of devastation once more meeting their view, would be so many incitements to the renewal of their old offences and to the commission of new ones? Were they to bring them again among the Magistrates who had committed them, among the persons who had prosecuted them, and among the witnesses who had given evidence against them? Were they to deal thus with men whose unruly and turbulent spirits, exasperated, as they would doubtless have been, by the proceedings that had been taken against them, would see only in the vote of this House for an amnesty a condemnation of the sentence that had been pronounced upon them, and who, thus encouraged and thus justified, would carry tumult, and riot, and destruction, into every village they approached? But he felt that he had already trespassed at unnecessary length upon the time of the House, and he would detain them no farther. Allow him, however, in conclusion, and with reference to what had fallen from the hon. member for Preston, who had said that he was not afraid to meet mobs, to express a hope, now that the hon. Member had found 279 his way into Parliament, that he would not accustom himself to meet mobs any longer, but would confine his oratory to that House, in which he would always find a better audience, and where he would always be more silently heard than by any mob to which he ever had yet addressed or ever could address himself.
§ Mr. Benett
said, although he had every disposition to treat the hon. member for Preston, as a Member of that House, with respect, yet he could not help saying, that he had just grounds of complaint against that hon. Member. His complaint was, that the hon. Member had not stated in that House all the circumstances which he thought proper to state elsewhere. The hon. Member was reported to have told the people who met him on his arrival in London, that the member for Wiltshire, meaning him, (Mr. Benett) had acted as the Magistrate who committed prisoners, as foreman of the jury, as prosecutor, and as witness; that he had done all he could to get men hanged, and that he had been guilty of a great many other acts which, if truly charged against him, would indeed have justified all the hon. member for Preston had said against him. Why had not the hon. Member, if he believed these charges, made them in that House, where they might have been met? and if the hon. Member did not believe them, why had he made them at all? The hon. Member, too, had not rightly stated a conversation which took place between them last night. The hon. Member had asked him if, at a particular time, and in a particular place, he had said, "This is the walk of Cobbett and Hunt;" and he replied, that he had not. "But," continued the hon. Member, "at the same time I told the hon. member for Preston, that I had repeatedly said, and would say again, that I thought that the people of the district in which I live had been excited by the writings of Mr. Cobbett, and by the speeches of Mr. Hunt, to the commission of those offences for which they are now suffering." He would now state the case as it regarded him. He would not have obtruded it upon the House, but that he was compelled to do so by the speech of the hon. member for Preston. He had information communicated to him that great excitement prevailed in the part of the county in which he resided; that there had been nightly meetings in various places; that the people assembled with flags flying, and horns 280 blowing, and, for these reasons, he was asked to come home. Immediately, he got a friend to apply to the House for leave of absence, which he obtained, and went home. On the first morning of his arrival, at half past seven o'clock, when he had not been in bed two hours, his bailiff awoke him, and informed him, that the people of several parishes were assembled together in the village; their avowed object was, first, to destroy a manufactory at Font hill, and afterwards to come and destroy his machines. Immediately he got up, and having written to a brother Magistrate to come to his assistance, who, however, being engaged elsewhere, did not come, he mounted his horse and rode out. He called upon the neighbouring farmers, and asked them to get upon their horses and accompany him; but they refused, saying that they and he would be murdered if they did. He went on, and about ten o'clock came up with the mob, which consisted of about 500, headed by two men who were armed with large sticks, and wore sashes. One of these men told him that they intended to break all the thrashing-machines, and to have 2s. a day for wages. He remonstrated with them; told them to what their conduct would lead; and explained to them the King's proclamation, which he had in his pocket, but which they would not allow him to read. He told them that he would make them no promises while they were armed, except only this,—that if they would go home quietly, and it should turn out that any thing was ultimately gained in any part of the country by rioting, he would do his best to procure for them the same. They replied, "Ah, you have come from London to put us down, but you see we are beforehand with you." In a letter to his bailiff, which the bailiff had confidentially shown to another person, who betrayed the contents of it, he had said, that he was coming from London, and that he had no doubt he should find the means of putting down the rioters. Some of the mob said, (he was very sorry to be obliged to repeat it, but he could assure the House it was said,) "We are Hunt's men, not yours." They told him, that they would not hurt a hair of his head, but that they would break his machines. He replied, that if they attempted to do so, he would make all the resistance in his power. He followed the mob, and was among them at various places; but his only object in doing so was 281 to prevail upon them to separate and return to their homes, and to abstain from the destruction of property. He had been accused, however, of having followed the mob for no other purpose than to he able to give evidence against them. He was quite sure that it was net necessary for him, in that House, to deny that he was actuated by any such unworthy motive. He then followed the mob to his own house, to which they proceeded. He told them there to go about their business. He told them that no opposition would be made to them by force—that he would himself oppose them singly. He further promised them that no trick would be played upon them; that there would be no firing of pistols or guns upon them; but he distinctly told them at the same time, that they would be punished for what they were doing. They then went into his farm-yard to break his machinery. He in the meanwhile sat quietly upon his horse, and continued so for about ten minutes, when he was suddenly hit with a stone on his head, and knocked perfectly senseless. When he recovered, he found himself at a short distance from his farm-yard, entangled amongst a team of his own carts. He then drew a pistol from his pocket, which he had not before used, and imagining that his skull was fractured, which he submitted to the House was but natural for a man under such circumstances, he said to the mob— "If you throw another stone, I will fire." He then went to his own house which was barricadoed as well as it could be, and four or five men were inside prepared with fire-arms. The mob then tossed up a halfpenny to decide whether they should proceed to attack his house, or go to break a large water-machine belonging to him, and which was distant about half a mile. It was by the tossing up of a halfpenny that the mob decided to go and break the machine he had mentioned, instead of proceeding to make an attack upon his house. It should be recollected that he had no military force near him to afford him assistance — he had sent to Salisbury for a troop of cavalry, but as he could not possibly get it in time, he was obliged to depend on his own resources. On returning to his house after the injury he received, he retired to bed. Shortly afterwards Colonel Wyndham, the member for Salisbury, rode up to his door and asked him, if he was alive? He replied—"Yes," 282 —Colonel Wyndham then asked him, whether he was able to get up; and on his replying in the affirmative, Colonel Wyndham informed him that the mob were engaged in breaking his machine. He accordingly got on horseback, and proceeded with Colonel Wyndham and the troop, to the place where the mob was assembled; and here he had to correct a misstatement with regard to this trans- action, which had been made by the hon. member for Preston. That hon. Member had said, that they had met the mob in a narrow lane, and that they at- tacked them with violence, injuring and wounding many of them, &c. Now, the real facts were these: the mob, at the time, had quietly finished the breaking of the machine, and they had then stationed themselves in an adjoining wood, from which this lane proceeded. They gave three cheers of defiance on seeing the troops advance. At his (Mr. Benett's) suggestion, the Colonel commanding the troop divided it into two parties. One division was stationed at the narrow lane he had mentioned, in order that the mob might not escape that way, and the other troop was sent to act at another side of the plantation. He (Mr. Benett) headed a division of twenty men only, while the mob to which he was opposed amounted to 500 or 600, and was armed with hatchets, pickaxes, sticks, and an immense multitude of stones. The mob defied them,—came out upon them,—charged them, and threw stones at them, by which many of the men and the horses were hurt. He (Mr. Benett,) endeavoured to read the Riot Act, which he had brought in his pocket, but no time was allowed him to do so, for he was struck with a stone while he was attempting to read it. His troop then charged the mob, and dispersed them effectually, without wounding any of them. He then withdrew the troop about 400 yards from the wood; but what did the mob do? Though they might have all escaped through a large wood, of more than forty acres in extent, they formed regularly in the wood, after having been thus dispersed, and advancing with front and rear ranks, they proceeded to attack the troop with a multitude of stones. He advanced as closely to them as he could, and he told them that if they continued to throw stones, the troop would be ordered to fire upon them. The throwing of the stones being however continued, the Captain who 283 being on the panel, as he should have to appear as prosecutor in some of the cases which were to come before them. The reply of the Court was—" You must act as foreman in the Grand Jury, Mr. Benett; but you will know what course it will be proper for you to take when your own cases come before the Grand Jury." He accordingly sat as foreman upon that Grand Jury, but he did not sit upon it while his own cases were before it. During the first days, while his own cases were before the Grand Jury, he never entered the Grand Jury-room as the foreman; he only attended there as a witness for the prosecution. There was another untrue charge which had been preferred against him, and which had gone the round of the newspapers as yet uncontradicted, for he had not till then been afforded an opportunity of contradicting that charge, false as it was, and easily as he could refute all that had been stated that night by the hon. member for Preston. The charge was, that he had given evidence to hang those men. Now the fact was, that he gave evidence only as to the riot generally; he gave no evidence against any particular prisoner as to the crimes which he had committed, and he gave no evidence to hang any man. He objected as much as the hon. member for Preston could, to hanging men at all, except in extraordinary cases, and for extraordinary crimes. So much did he object to it, that in one case where he was told that if he prosecuted two men, so strong was the evidence against them as to their taking up the stones and flinging them, that when it was brought forward it would certainly hang them, he refused, contrary to the opinion of his friends, to prosecute them. He obtained leave from the Attorney General not to prosecute in that case against his own will. He therefore did not prosecute those two men, because they would most probably have been hanged; and he also declined to prosecute another man, lest he should be hanged. On such grounds he gave no evidence against those men that would endanger their lives. They were prosecuted by other persons, who gave evidence against them as to machine-breaking, and he merely identified the two men, as having been with the rioters, and as having taken an active part in their proceedings. The hon. member for Preston had stated, that he was Chairman of the Wiltshire Quarter Sessions, and that he 284 had established in his own parish a rate, or regulation, for the relief of the poor. Now, in the first place, he (Mr. Benett) was not Chairman of the Quarter Sessions of Wiltshire, and he was not the person who had established the regulation alluded to for the relief of the poor. The fact was, that it had been established by the Magistrates in that district twenty-five years ago; and during the thirty-two years that he had been acting as Magistrate in that county, he had not, since the establishment of that regulation, had twenty complaints against it laid before him, up to the time when the riots took place. He was always desirous of dealing candidly and openly with all persons, and he was not the man to say that behind any person's back, which he would not be ready to say before his face. He meant to say nothing of the parish overseer, to whom he was about to allude, but whose name he should not state as it was not necessary, that he had not already said to that overseer himself. He told that overseer, that he and an uncle of his, who was the tenant of a large farm, had been the principal instigators of the whole of those proceedings; and had been the principal causes of the whole riot. He told him that in his own private room; and though he had nothing to bring forward to affect that overseer seriously, yet he was convinced that he had been the instigator of the riots; and that he and two or three individuals connected with him were to blame for all the mischief. The overseer replied, that he had had nothing to do with them. He (Mr. Benett) then asked him whether the peasantry were not better off now than they had been fifteen years ago? The overseer said, that he was not old enough to speak as to their condition for the last fifteen years; but he could assert, that for the last six years, the peasantry had not been so well off as they were at the present moment. What was it that the overseer did in the parish in which he resided, which was a very large parish, and which had been the nucleus of the riots? In church he gave the following notice, without consulting the parishioners on the subject, a copy of which he had in his pocket:—"On Thursday next a vestry meeting will be held in this church, for the purpose of raising the parochial relief of the poor, and the wages of the labourers." That was the notice which he sent all over the 285 commanded the troop rode up to him (Mr. Benett) and asked him whether they should fire or not. His reply was— "For God's sake do not, if you can help it; but we must, at all events, beat them." He was now stating the real facts as they occurred; and he was satisfied that the House would believe what he had just stated to it. The mob still continued throwing stones at the troop, and flinging hatchets, sticks, and other offensive weapons, at them. The commanding Officer then said, that he must charge the mob. He accordingly did charge them, beat them, and dispersed them. The fight altogether lasted for half-an-hour; and with forty-four men, which was the total amount of the Yeomanry force, they beat and dispersed this mob of 500 or 600 individuals, armed in the manner he had already described. He lamented, as much as the hon. member for Preston possibly could, that any men were injured on that occasion. One man he was sorry to say, was killed. He did not see him killed; but he understood that he was killed in a field in which there was a general fight. It was stated at the Coroner's inquest, that one of the Yeomanry having got entangled with three or four men, who were all attacking him at once, he drew his pistol and shot one of them on the spot. This he could state, that the Coroner having afterwards come to him, and asked leave to see the cartouche-boxes of the Yeomanry, in order that he might ascertain the size of the balls which were used, he took him into the room in which they were deposited. The Coroner examined them, and found them of various sizes, for at Salisbury the men had been obliged to make their own cartouche boxes, in consequence of not having been supplied with them by Government. He (Mr. Benelt) carefully abstained from having any conversation with the Coroner in reference to the transaction. The Coroner asked him if he might be allowed to go and see the place where the affair had occurred, and he told him he might go if he pleased. The Coroner afterwards told him, that after the verdict, three persons came to him and offered to perjure themselves, and that they pretended to show the field in which the man was killed, which was a totally different one from that in which the occurrence took place. The Coroner added, that he never witnessed before so much perjury. The hon. member 286 for Preston stated, that the men who were taken prisoners were carried off to Salisbury. There were twenty-nine men taken prisoners; they were put into waggons before dusk, and the troop went with them to Salisbury, which was seventeen miles distant, that night. It was well that they were brought off with such promptitude, for it had been determined to attempt a rescue, at a particular spot, in a wood which lay in the road to Salisbury; but by the measures which were taken, that object was defeated. The hon. Member said, that they were not comfortably conveyed in the waggons, and that they were refused all kinds of refreshment on the road. He did not know whether or not any of them called for refreshments on the journey, nor was he aware whether or not they got any refreshments; but this he knew, that the officer who commanded the troop which conveyed them to Salisbury, did not himself take any refreshment the whole of that day, nor until one o'clock the next morning, when he returned with his troop to his (Mr. Benett's) house; and furthermore, he (Mr. Benett) was sure, that if that officer permitted any one of his troop to take refreshments on the road, he would not allow any of the prisoners who might ask for refreshments to go without them. The hon. member for Preston had asserted that he (Mr. Benett) was the Magistrate who committed these prisoners for trial. They were not committed at all for trial in the first instance. They were sent to Salisbury gaol. As soon as his own wounds permitted, which was in four or five days, he attended at Salisbury, where the Magistrates proceeded to the investigation of the cases. He there pleaded in behalf of many of the men, whose characters he had in the interval ascertained. Lord Radnor was on that occasion on the bench, and he could assure the House that he had entreated the Magistrates to let off, upon their own bail, those amongst the prisoners who could get no other bail. In consequence of his application, and of their previous good characters, twenty-one of the prisoners were let out on their own bail. The next charge preferred against him by the hon. member for Preston was, that he (Mr. Benett) sat afterwards as the foreman of that Grand Jury which found the bills of indictment against those men. He was, certainly, foreman of the Grand Jury, but he applied to the Court, in the first instance, to allow him to decline 287 parish. He told the labourers not to go to work on that day, but to go to the vestry. He first went to his Mr. Benett's) bailiff, and gave him such a notification, and afterwards he went amongst his labourers, and said to them, that all the men who wished to stand up for their rights should go to the vestry, and that they should go there in the morning, he (the overseer) knowing that the riot was to take place at ten o'clock in the morning. He knew that such was to be the case, for he was connected with the meeting which took place the night before, at which it was settled. It was determined that they should come as it were to a vestry, and that, when assembled, the riot should take place. What did the overseer do? When the labourers came to the vestry, the chapel was locked up but he told them that there was no vestry there, but that it was to be held in his own room. The going to the vestry in the morning, instead of the afternoon, meant the riot, and nothing else. It was well known in the district, on the Tuesday before, that a riot was to take place; that was known to every one but to himself. He was in London, and hearing of it, he went down to put a stop to it. But that it was intended, was known for several days previously in the neighbourhood. So much was that the case, that his friends wanted him to stop in Salisbury. It was expected for two days previous to the riot, that his house would be tumbled down, and intimation was given to his family to leave it. It was a curious fact, that most of the riots in Wiltshire took place upon the same day. Nine-tenths of the riots in that county occurred upon the 25th of November, and the whole of them took place from the 23rd to the 26th of that month. The hon. member for Preston stated, that when he went to Hindon, the wives of the unfortunate men who were sentenced to transportation crowded around him in tears. It unfortunately happened that from Hindon only one man was sentenced to transportation. [Mr. Hunt. — I spoke in that instance of what took place at Aylesbury.] He knew nothing of what had taken place there. With respect to the general character of the rioters, the hon. member for Preston had said, that severe distress had driven the peasantry to riot. Now the fact was, that he (Mr. Benett) refrained from prosecuting several men who could have been convicted of rioting, on account 288 of their previous good characters. There were several men whom he had not taken up on that account, though the evidence was strong against them. They of course selected the worst characters for prosecution. The hon. Member had selected the names of John Barrett and William Sangers, out of the seventeen whom he (Mr. Benett) had prosecuted. The whole seventeen were convicted; and out of that number the hon. Member was only able to select two who were at the time working for the parish. What was the character of those two men? Did the hon. Member inquire of the overseer, to whom he had alluded, as to their character? That overseer stated, on his oath in Court, that the said John Barrett was a man of good character, and that he had always been an honest man. On his cross-examination he said, that he had known him all his life, and that he had never heard of any dishonesty of his. Now the fact was, that at this very time this overseer knew that this man had been formerly tried at Salisbury for housebreaking, and that his brother had been transported; and that only a week before this occurrence this same John Barrett had been convicted at Hindon of cutting trees. He was then fined 2s. for the offence, and 2s. expenses, which were paid by this very overseer out of his own pocket. If he (Mr. Benett) had been aware of that fact at the time he gave such evidence, he should have had a bill of indictment preferred against this overseer for perjury. Sanger, the other prisoner, was a man who had been convicted several years before, when in his (Mr. Benett's) service, of an act of dishonesty against him. When he discharged him, he procured him a situation as gardener. While in that situation, this man committed an act of felony, but he subsequently got him another place as gardener with his son-in-law. He there committed another offence, for which he was dismissed, and he was then sent to the roads. One of the prisoners who was convicted, a man of the name of Moldhatch, was a rather rich cattle-dealer; for he had paid 100l. a few days before the riot, for cattle. There was another rather rich man amongst the prisoners; he was a stone-mason. He had 170l. in the Salisbury Savings bank, and he produced 20l. at the trial to pay his counsel. There was not a single pauper upon the list which he 289 selected for prosecution. There was amongst them a blacksmith, who worked for his father. The hon. member for Preston said, that the men who broke the thrashing machines did not break the mills. The rioters broke on his (Mr. Benett's) premises, every thing they met which had a semblance to machinery. He must say, that he was sorry to see amongst the rioters a number of good and loyal men, who had previously borne good characters, and to whose good characters he had himself given his testimony in that House but a few days before, on the occasion of presenting petitions from some of them. He had given the best characters to some of those men only a few days before they attacked him, and he did not think it possible for any agitators to instigate them to make such an attack. The very week that he gave a good character in that House to those men in the county of Wilts, Mr. Cobbett expressed himself to this effect—" Ah! Mr. Benett, you know little of the county of Wilts, you will not see the peasantry peaceable there many days." He had certainly spoken of their peaceable disposition ten days previous to those riots, and they were peaceable when he described them as such. He told the hon. member for Preston that he attributed much of the agitation which occurred, to the writings of Mr. Cobbett. He should deal candidly with the hon. Member. He was glad to see the hon. Member in that House; he might do much good there, and he could do but little mischief. He trusted, that the hon. Member would apply his talents—and he had great talents—to effect some good for the country in that' House. He had told the hon. Member candidly to his face last night, that much of the mischief that occurred was attributable to the writings of Cobbett and the speeches of Hunt. Such was the statement that was to be heard in every quarter in the country. In every place you heard such statements as these:—" Hunt was at Salisbury, and made a speech, and therefore there has been a riot there." "Hunt was at Hindon yesterday, and there has been consequently a riot." "Hunt went down to such another place last night in the mail, and you may be certain we shall have a riot." He (Mr. Benett) never had told the mob, in his address to them, that Mr. Hunt had encouraged them to the riot. 290 From the information he (Mr. Benett) had received at Salisbury, he could state, that the yeomanry did not act there in the manner described by the hon. Member. They dispersed the mob most effectually. With regard to what the hon. Member had said as to the treatment of the prisoners in the gaol of Salisbury, he (Mr. Benett) could state, that that gaol was under the superintendance of a committee of management, at the head of which was Lord Radnor, and a more humane man did not exist, than his Lordship. He knew, that Lord Radnor and his brother Magistrates bestowed the greatest attention on the proper management of that gaol. He (Mr. Benett) knew, that during the imprisonment of those men, his Lordship and Mr. Estcourt, the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for Devizes, visited that gaol on a Sunday, to see that the prisoners there were taken proper care of. If they had experienced any ill-treatment, and he was not aware that such had been the case, it was not owing to the want of vigilance on the part of the Magistrates, but must have been occasioned by necessity. Of the men who had been engaged in the unfortunate affray in his (Mr. Benett's) neighbourhood, though many had been wounded, only one, as he had stated, had been killed. That was owing to the good sense and humanity of the brave officer who commanded the troops. They were directed to strike principally side-blows, so as to wound the mob in the arms, but not to aim at the head, where the blows might be mortal. The result was, that one man was shot dead, while some were cut on the head, several wore wounded severely in their right arms, had their fingers cut off, &c.; but all of those recovered. The surgeon of the gaol told him, that he never saw men recover so rapidly in his life. The charge against the farmers, that they were guilty of exciting the mob, was not well founded. The fanners were often acted upon by fear, and their thrashing machines were taken down, because, leaving them standing, exposed the owners to outrage and their property to conflagration. He had acted as a Magistrate, and much evidence had been heard before him, and he had always refused to allow any prosecution for attacking a machine which had been previously taken down by the farmer, because this had been construed by the poor into a tacit consent that the machine might be broken. The farmers in his 291 neighbourhood, he supposed, might be taken as a specimen of the farmers all over the kingdom, and they had certainly acted under the influence of terror. The yeomanry of his neighbourhood, who had acted so gallantly, might likewise be taken as a specimen of the yeomanry all over the kingdom; and it was in vain to suppose that all good feelings had left these people, although some improper feelings might have existed in a few places for a short time. He believed, that if nothing were done to excite the people, there; would be no further burnings. In the districts where he had acted as a Magistrate, the people had come forward to say to him they were not the burners, and he had felt satisfied that the fires had been kindled by persons coming from a distance. Strangers were seen, of a suspicious character, mounted upon good horses; and if attempts were made to stop them, they produced pistols in their defence, and contrived to escape. He was convinced that the burnings were not the act of the labourers, for since the conviction of certain culprits, labourers had in revenge, or from motives of malice, set fire to property, and they had all been taken; and so un skilful were they in the crime, that they well knew that they would be taken again and again if they went on in the same course. There were no longer any riots in the west, and men had returned to their peaceable occupations. They had got nothing there by their conduct, except the experience which would make them cautious how they trusted to bad advisers in future. He had no revengeful feelings, and he would have got every man off if he could have done so consistently with the peace of the county; and several of those who had been implicated in the disturbances he had since taken into his service, because they had come to him seeking steady employment, and expressing their determination to defend him and his property. He repeated, that if there were no further excitement, there would be no future riots; and there could be no excitement, unless it were most artfully managed. He hoped that the hon. member for Preston would not think that in the course of his reply he had been at all personal to him. In vindicating himself he had only done his duty, and it remained for the House to judge between them. It must be recollected, however, that the hon. member for Preston had called for 292 no evidence, and that his attack was merely verbal, and that he therefore placed the House in the awkward position of coming to a decision without any adequate grounds of determination.
Mr. J. Smith
thought it material that some of the allegations of the hon. member for Preston ought not to pass without contradiction. As respected Sussex—he was sorry to say, that in the part of that county in which he lived, the sentiment which for a time prevailed was of no other than a revolutionary nature. Although charity was there extended to the distressed part of the labourers in the most plentiful manner, and the humanity of the gentry-was no where more extended, yet those labourers went about in large bodies, demanding money in a hostile manner from every person from whom they could expect to extort it. A mob of 180 persons collected at his house, demanding "bread or blood." The greater part of them were intoxicated, but they said, that they and their children were starving. The larger part of that mob consisted, not of agricultural labourers, but of smugglers from the small villages upon the coast of Sussex, whom the vigilance of the Government prevented from carrying-on their trade. Now, of all those persons, one alone had been selected for punishment. He was a man in good circumstances, but of a very bad character. He was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, and there was not one person in the neighbourhood that was not rejoiced at his removal from it. A noble Duke, residing near Chichester, had rendered great assistance in the suppression of these riots, and had taken pains that persons only who were of the worst description should be selected for punishment. The one he had mentioned sent his mother to solicit his (Mr. Smith's) interference to obtain a commutation of his sentence to seven years' transportation, instead of fourteen; but as the man had been long the terror of the neighbourhood, he could not interfere He could assure his hon. friend (the member for Wiltshire), that the conduct of the labourers was as bad in some other parts of the country. He was sure that the clemency of some Magistrates had been at least ill-timed, and that severity was necessary. He quite agreed, however, with the hon. member for Preston, I that the poor in the western parts of the kingdom were in a deplorably bad condition. That he knew from his own observation, and he trusted that the Govern- 293 ment would take that condition into consideration, for the purpose of devising means to improve it. Although he did not agree with all the plans of his right hon. friend (Mr. W. Morton), now not in the House, he was sorry that the country was not to have his assistance upon that subject, as he was recently appointed to a distant government. Although he objected to many important points in his right hon. friend's plan, yet he believed that in part it was calculated to relieve the country, and he regretted that that gentleman was not to have an opportunity of again bringing it forward. There were many parts of Kent and Sussex in which no employment was to be found for the population. He feared, that until some means were devised for relieving those parishes of the unemployed portion of the population, there would always be some danger of tumultuous proceedings being renewed from time to time. He did not think it desirable that the House should interfere with the punishment of those individuals. Not one had suffered who did not deserve his punishment. He eulogised the conduct of the right hon. Baronet who was lately at the head of the Administration of Justice in this country, and he trusted that the noble Lord, now presiding over the same department, would merit the same eulogy. He considered that that House was the last body of individuals in the country who ought to interfere with the Administration of Justice. He was glad that the tumultuous spirit had been put down by the strong arm of the law, by which alone it could have been suppressed. He was sure the Commissions had intimidated the riotous portion of the peasantry. He wished to state one fact before he should sit down; the part of the county of Sussex in which the labouring population was in the most deplorable condition, had been free from outrage during the late disturbances.
§ Sir Joseph Yorke
said, that the House might rest thoroughly satisfied that he had no intention of taking up more than a very few moments of its time. After the two hours' speech of the hon. member for Preston, and the two hours' speech of the hon. member for the county of Wilts, who said, he was determined, to have word for word, argument for argument, and defence for every attack, he was not going to trouble the House at any length. The fact was, that there were three parties con- 294 cerned in this most important debate. First, there was the hon. member for Preston; next, the hon. member for Wiltshire; and lastly, the Government; and it was for the Government itself that he now stood up and called upon the members for Preston and Wilts to defend their parts of the case. The question was, whether the House of Commons ought to take upon itself to advise Government, when criminals were convicted of offences, whether they should or should not be punished, by way of a salutary and necessary example to others. If on one side persons addressed the Crown to exercise this excess of mercy, the consequences would be, a necessity of addresses upon the other side, and thus the whole scale and order of society would be altered. He did not see why the destruction of machinery should be considered so venial an offence, and if the hon. Member's blacking-manufactory were destroyed, he doubted much if the hon. Member would be so zealous to white-wash the culprits. He presumed that it was the intention of Government to meet the question by a decided negative or affirmative, and not to get rid of it by the previous question, or by any mincing matter, for it now came to the point whether the Constitution of the country was or was not to be defended from the different attacks which were made against it. Whether there was to be are form or no reform, he trusted that that House would ever be found ready to do its duty to the Government and to the country, and particularly upon cases of emergency like the present. If there was any sense in the Members of that House, if there was any sense in resisting the destruction of this beautiful land, (and an endeavour to palliate the violent destruction of the machinery of science and of manufactures, to palliate acts that were equivalent to a revolution and a rebellion, could be held up in no other light), the House would unanimously resist the present Motion as most ill-timed and inexpedient. Whether the destroyers of machinery were acted upon by other men, he would not take upon himself to say, or at least he would not mention names, but the hon. member for Preston's name certainly came on all these occasions most inconveniently uppermost; for in Hampshire, the rioter Cooper took upon himself the name and title of Captain Hunt, and on his white horse rode forth like another Wellington. The hon. member for Preston first set himself up as the Represent- 295 ative of the unrepresented, and which, according to him, consisted of no small number. He always addressed the multitude (he must not say mob) so as to make them believe he was a great labourer in redressing wrongs; he was a radical reformer from clue to earing, as sailors would say, or from the monarch to the peasant; and further, that he had all holiness in the holy seat to which it had pleased God to call him, and that he had been suffering for righteousness' sake, in some places which he (Sir Joseph Yorke) should have thought inconvenient, even had he been sent there for the good of the country. The hon. Member was a person of grace, a well-looking man, one of excellent capacity and great parts, and consequently entitled to the respect of that House; but one of the pieces of advice which he would give him was, not to make long speeches, nor to speak upon all subjects. His speeches should be concentrated, without verbosity, seldom delivered, and only at those times and in those places where people could understand them. He hoped that the hon. Member would take the advice in good part. Other hon. Members had complimented him, but he did not mean to compliment when he said (and he had no interest on the point except a bet of 5s.) that very shortly he expected to see the hon. member for Preston shaking hands cordially with the aristocracy, and becoming one of the forty-five high Tory party, led by the gallant General, the member for Liverpool.
§ Lord Morpeth
said, that he could not accuse himself of having in his inclinations anything which disposed him to cruelty, or to severity, but at the same time he could not help saying, that humanity itself, carried to the extent which the hon. member for Preston contemplated, became, if not a spurious, at least a mistaken humanity. He should leave the details of the trials to those who, like the Under Secretary of State, or the hon. member for Wiltshire, had a local knowledge of the cases, but it was admitted by all who had paid any attention to the proceedings, that there had been by no means a uniform and indiscriminate system of punishment adopted by Government. All pains had been taken by the Judges to sift accurately the nature and circumstances of each separate offence, and to apportion the penalties. One case had been cited by the hon. member for Preston, but it 296 had been sufficiently answered already, and he (Lord Morpeth) could not, like the member for Preston, consider a man worthy to be crowned with evergreen chaplets, and as above all Greek and Roman heroes, for doing that which, if he had not done, men must have shrunk from him as a monster and parricide. The Motion was, to apply a general and unconditional amnesty to all offences which had been tried under the late Commission, and this without the House having any evidence before it of the cases, without the sanction of the Judges, or any knowledge of what further indulgence circumstances might induce the Government to grant. He was not unwilling that the voice of Parliament should be raised to enforce the loveliness of mercy, but the effect of the present Motion would be to make a mockery of justice, and to sweep away all distinctions between right and wrong. The House was not, in the warmth of an amiable but misjudging tenderness, to forget what was due to the innocent and industrious, and peaceable, and unprotected, who looked up to the law for security and protection. He was afraid that in a few districts conflagrations had not entirely ceased, and men could not lie down on their pillows without the fear of waking to witness the fruits of their labours, and the means of subsistence, destroyed. If the conflagrations proceeded, they must evidently affect the price of corn, and all obstructions to a supply of grain in the market must press heavily on the consumer. He was not prepared to maintain that there might not occur a time to inquire into distresses, and get at the root of the disturbances, but certainly the present was not the time to proclaim a general and unconditional amnesty for evils so contagious and mischievous.Quin age, et ipse manu felices erue sylvas,Fer stabulis inimicum ignem, atque interface messes:Ure sata, et validam in vites molire bipennem.Humanity might temper, but must not supersede the course of justice; she might make allowance for error, but she must not ask impunity for outrage; and when she degraded herself by feeding a courtly sentimentality, or by courting a popular clamour, she ceased to be what within her own just limits she always must be, the brightest prerogative of earthly rulers, and the closest link which unites man with his Maker. He 297 thought the interference of the House would be improper, and he should certainly vote against the Motion.
§ Mr. Long Wellesley
thought, that if there were any one point more clear than another, it was, that the present question ought not to come before the House in the shape in which it had been brought forward by the hon. member for Preston; for it had been clearly laid down by all constitutional writers, that the House of Commons ought not to be made a Court for the administration of justice. The House was not in possession of the details of the cases, and it could not determine between the different statements of the members for Preston and Wiltshire, though, as far as he could form his judgment upon what had passed, he decidedly thought that the member for Preston had been labouring under a delusion. Under the circumstances in which the House was placed with reference to the great question of Reform, he thought the House ought to take the most special care not to have the appearance of trenching upon one of the greatest prerogatives of the Crown—the brightest gem in the diadem of this country was the attribute of mercy, with which the House ought not to interfere, but upon the most urgent necessity. Of one thing he felt perfectly satisfied, that in cases such as had recently occurred, we ought to place upon the Ministers the whole responsibility of making and keeping the country tranquil, by means which the law and Constitution had already provided, without encouraging them to come to Parliament for extraordinary powers. And he was of opinion, that if there was one part of the conduct of Ministers more worthy of being extolled than any other, it was this—that when insurrections and disorders occurred, they did not pursue the course for which precedent existed, and ask the House to strengthen their hands; but taking the laws of the country as they stood, administered them with clemency and firmness, so as to check the further progress of mischief. Government had adopted a mild and constitutional course, at the same time that it proceeded with the necessary decision and promptitude. He was sure that there did not exist a man in that House, of whatever political opinions, or whatsoever his losses through these disturbances—he was sure, that there was not a man in the country, having any 298 claim to reputable character—who did not feel deep affliction at the necessity that unfortunately existed for making examples and inflicting extreme punishments; but if there was one course calculated more than another to carry with it desolation, ruin, and destruction, it was that of omitting in circumstances of difficulty to temper mercy with justice. He was satisfied, however, that in all cases in which representations had been made in favour of individual convicts, every proper consideration had been afforded to their claims for mercy. He objected to the motion of the hon. member for Preston, if for no other reason, because it involved an attempt unduly to interfere with the prerogative of the Crown; and though the House generally betrayed an indisposition to hear moral essays, he hoped it would indulge him while he read to it a passage from a popular moral writer, in favour of that influence a great many politicians were in the habit of depreciating. The hon. Member accordingly concluded by reading the following extract from the works of Dr. Paley:Whilst the zeal of some men beholds this influence (of the Crown) with a jealousy which nothing but its entire abolition can appease, many wise and virtuous politicians deem a considerable portion of it to be as necessary a part of the British Constitution as any other ingredient in the composition; to be that, indeed, which gives cohesion and solidity to the whole. It is in the nature of power always to press upon the boundaries which confine it. Licentiousness, faction, envy, impatience of control or inferiority; the secret pleasure of mortifying the great, or the hope of dispossessing them; a constant willingness to thwart whatever is dictated or even proposed by another; a disposition common to all bodies of men to extend the claims and authority of their orders; above all, that love of power, and of showing it, which resides more or less in every human breast, and which, in popular assemblies, is inflamed, like every other passion, by communication and encouragement. These motives, added to private designs and resentments, cherished also by popular acclamation, and operating upon the great share of power already possessed by the House of Commons, might induce a majority, or at least a large party of men in that assembly, to unite in endeavouring to draw to themselves the whole government of the State.
The Attorney General
wished to apply himself to the particular questions involved in the cases of three individuals convicted at the late Commissions, and which had been referred to by the hon. member for Preston. The first of these cases regarded 299 a man of the name of Withers, who had been committed to prison for participating in a serious riot that took place in the northern part of one of the disturbed counties (Wiltshire). In the course of this riot a violent attack was made upon the Magistrates and Special Constables who interfered to keep the peace, and the party was sent to prison for his share in the outrage. It appeared to the Counsel for the prosecution, in investigating the case of this individual, that, connected with the riot, there had been acts of direct and serious violence against the Magistrates and constables, who came forward in a very laudable manner, and were acting with great spirit on the occasion, with a view to repress the disturbance. Such being the case, and one of the leading principles of the prosecution being the protection of the local authorities, who required to be backed by all the power of the law, to encourage them in the performance of a difficult and dangerous duty, it was absolutely necessary, in order to give proper confidence, and to induce persons to act with spirit and decision for the maintenance of the public peace, it was necessary to show, that the authorities would be protected. Therefore, when those who conducted the late prosecutions discovered that in this instance an act of most ferocious and brutal violence had been committed, which endangered the life of an individual, who came forward, at considerable risk, to protect the public from outrage—when this was ascertained, it was thought necessary to proceed with severity against the party implicated in the transaction. Thus it was, that, although committed only for a riot, Withers was tried for a capital felony, in maliciously wounding a Magistrate, or rather a person who was attempting to take the rioters into custody. This was the plain state of the case, which appeared somewhat different from that represented by the hon. member for Preston, who, be it observed, was not likely to have derived his information on the subject from the most disinterested sources; and, as far as he (the Attorney General) knew of the case, he could say, he believed that all the circumstances stated by the hon. Gentleman, and doubtless so represented to him, were not well founded in point of fact. It was said, that the prosecutor had a whip, and used it against the mob without provocation. But how did the case stand? Mr. Basker- 300 ville, a Magistrate, was present, and Mr. Codrington, the party assaulted, was acting as a special constable—these individuals were surrounded by a multitude of riotous persons, having dangerous weapons, and acting with considerable violence, and if, under such circumstances, Mr. Codrington exercised his whip in keeping off the mob, he only did what was perfectly justifiable and necessary for self-defence. A sledge-hammer was thrown at the prosecutor by Withers, with great violence, and that not once, but twice; the first time it missed Mr. Codrington, but the second time it struck him from his horse, and forced him, bleeding and insensible, against a wall. These were the circumstances of the case of Withers, and surely they fully justified the conductors of the prosecution in bringing against him a charge more serious than that of riot. It was perfectly true, that the learned Counsel who acted for Withers told him (the Attorney General) that he was not prepared to defend his client against a charge of capital felony, but only on a charge of riot. To this the natural answer which was returned was, that it was upon exactly the same facts Withers was to be tried capitally as would have appeared upon the minor charge, had it been decided to press that in preference to the more weighty offence; and in order that there might be no difficulty in the case, and to remove every ground of complaint, he (the Attorney General) handed the learned Counsel his brief in the case of Withers, and desired him to read it, and make the best use he could of the information which it contained in defending his client. What could be fairer or more candid than this? He thought it must be admitted, that there was not much ground for the hon. Gentleman's remarks upon the case of Withers. Not fewer than 1,500 individuals had been tried before those Commissions, and yet the hon. member for Preston had only been able to bring forward three cases, of which, with all his inquiries, among sources not the most favourably disposed towards the prosecutors, he could complain, as admitting of doubt with respect to the decision come to, and the course adopted; and be it remembered, that this occurred after the creation of much violent and unjust prejudice on the subject. Another case to which the hon. Gentleman alluded was, that of a person named Lush. He (the Attorney 301 General) was not present at the trial of that man, but he understood the hon. Gentleman's supposition to be, that the prisoner made a statement to his Attorney, which was made use of in bringing forward the charge against him. That any thing like this could be the case he very much doubted indeed. He had no recollection of any such circumstance himself, and felt certain that every legal person connected with those prosecutions would at once have rejected any information obtained in the way represented by the hon. member for Preston. Indeed, there could be no reason for using any such document as stated. No doubt the prisoner was tried upon the charge, and convicted on the evidence contained in the depositions, and he had as little doubt that the brief for the prosecution was made up from the same source. With respect to the other case referred to by the hon. Member (that of Looker), his only anxiety arose from the fact of the character of a dignified and learned Judge having been improperly, most grossly, and unfairly, trampled on. The hon. Member said, he intended no offence to any hon. Member of that House by his observations; but while the House was willing to put that favourable construction on his remarks which he demanded, if, in another place, and before an assembly very different from the present, and composed of persons likely to be greatly influenced by the declaration, if, under such circumstances, the hon. Gentleman had said, that he would impeach the learned Judge in question, and if he held that individual up to public odium and indignation, at a time when he had made no inquiry on the subject, he put it to the hon. Member whether he had not departed from the candour which he professed to exercise in that House, by attacking an honourable, learned, and dignified individual upon grounds so slight and inadequate. Never was there a charge more utterly unfounded and unjustifiable than this. Never had a Judge acted in a manner more completely free from all blame than the learned individual referred to. He repeated, a Judge could not be more perfectly free from blame in what he did, unless, indeed, Judges were infallible, and convictions invariably correct. Here was a person against whom, to say the least, there appeared a strong case of suspicion on a serious charge. Witnesses deposed to the threatening letter, 302 which the prisoner was accused of sending' being in his hand-writing, and no son was then brought forward to take the letter upon himself. It was true that a difference did exist among the witnesses on the subject of the hand-writing, but was it such a difference as ought to have had weight in a case of this description, particularly when it was considered that the hand-writing was usually disguised in threatening letters, and therefore that the evidence might well vary upon the point? Under all the circumstances of the case, he could not help thinking, that had a man been convicted before the hon. member for Preston as Looker was convicted, the hon. Gentleman would have acted in the same manner as the learned Judge who tried the case in question; and further, would have felt disposed to pass immediate sentence upon the prisoner. Why was all this odium attempted to be heaped upon the learned Judge, who never even knew, till after the trial, that Looker had a son? When, upon conviction, it was said, that the prisoner had a son who wrote the letter, and was willing to state himself to be the author of it, still that was a suspicious circumstance, and might well give rise to doubt in the minds of persons not fully acquainted with the circumstances. He did not mean to say that he himself entertained any doubt on the subject, because he knew at first that there was to be such a defence; but a Judge was differently circumstanced. The handwriting was again examined, and it was found that it did bear a resemblance to that of Looker's son; but be it observed that the guilt of the son was not necessarily the innocence of the father, for father and son were living together, and the offence charged was the sending, not the mere writing, of a threatening letter. The son might have written it with the concurrence of his father, who might have sent the letter. He did not say this was the case, but many thought it possible. The learned Judge afterwards refused to allow that another case of sending a threatening letter, which stood against Looker, should be taken, but left it to another Judge to try it. A bill was sent before the Grand Jury, and so satisfied were they on the evidence, that they found the bill against the father, and ignored that against the son. But on that second trial the son came forward and swore that be was the author of the letter, 303 and having given a consistent account of the transaction, and not varying in his evidence, Mr. Justice Park said, he was satisfied with the testimony, and the man who was convicted the day before was acquitted. What was to secure Courts of Justice against occasional errors of this description? What better conduct could there have been than that of the learned Judge? With regard to the case of the young man, he could not view it in so favourable a light as the hon. member for Preston. The younger Looker was guilty of the offence—he wrote and sent the letters, to the great peril of his father, in whose house he lived; and when at last he found his parent likely to be transported for life, he took the offence upon himself. But this was by no means so heroic as if he had come forward at the commencement. Besides, he was guilty of the charge, and avowed himself guilty. This, said the hon. Member, was highly praiseworthy. Perhaps so; but his conduct was not so heroic as the hon. Gentleman appeared to imagine. If the young man were not guilty of the offence, and if he had come forward to screen his father by a noble falsehood (avowing himself the author of another's act), there might have been some reason for placing him on a level with those heroes of antiquity, whose doubtful virtue excited our mingled admiration and censure. The hon. Gentleman had only complained of three oases as involving hardship, although, on the Commission in question 1,000 individuals had been tried. In the counties of Hants and Wilts alone nearly 700 persons were tried, and these were drafted from a much greater number, the law advisers of the Crown endeavouring to select the most guilty, and allow the less culpable to escape; besides, as far as possible, prosecutors were willing to abstain from proceeding, and Magistrates from committing; the Grand Juries threw out many bills; Counsel for the Crown abstained from pressing many cases; and the Judges adopted a course of lenity that almost subjected them to animadversion; but considering that the law had been laid down, and a sufficient lesson read to the offending, perhaps those learned persons thought, and rightly, that they might proceed with less rigour. Would the House take the trouble to recollect what a state the country was in three months ago? Not a Member but daily received such accounts from his friends and agents in the 304 country as left it doubtful whether life and property would be safe for twenty-four hours in particular districts. But the moment the authority of the law was appealed to—the moment it was spoken of as about to be applied—in those quarters, the outrages, with one exception, ceased, and were speedily put an end to. What had been the progress of crime? from breaking thrashing machines, the deluded people proceeded, under a sense that they had the law in their own hands, to still greater outrages; from one crime to another, they went on day by day, and it was astonishing to see how soon, from decent and well-conducted men they became disorderly and ferocious. Not fewer than 100 persons were capitally convicted at Winchester, of offences for every one of which their lives might have been justly taken, and ought to have been taken, if examples to such an extent had been necessary. It was the idlest folly to talk sentimentally on such occasions. Government was not to seize those opportunities to go back to first principles, and discuss the fitness of particular laws, its duty being to put the law in force, to repel aggression upon life and property. Never had the law been more properly enforced than upon this occasion. Two cases of execution had occurred at Winchester, which were not spoken of by the hon. member for Preston. The ground that had usually been taken in condemning the proceedings under the Commissions was, that these were poor, deluded and distressed agricultural labourers, who were driven into the commission of excesses by ignorance and want. Was Cooper, who suffered at Winchester, one of these poor deluded agriculturists? Not so; he came from a neighbouring county, mounted on his master's horse, being at the time in question an ostler, and having been a decayed publican, but never having acted as an agricultural labourer. This man, from some mysterious motive, placed himself at the head of a mob, hallooed them on to works of mischief and destruction; was present for half an hour at Fordingbridge, where he assisted in destroying machinery that gave employment to 100 persons; then proceeded to a neighbouring village and broke more machinery; then, wielding that tremendous weapon, a mob, in his hand, demanded and obtained money from various farmers. What could be more alarming than when such assemblages 305 went, as frequently they did, by night, to lone houses, striking women and children with a terror from which they had not even now recovered? Suppose they found the guardian of the house at home to defend his property—why then there was not one of their lives that might not be justly taken. Thus they proceeded from bad to worse in their outrages. It was absurd to say, that these offences had been invariably committed by agricultural labourers. The other person who had been executed at Winchester was a carpenter, and was earning 30s. a week at the time he joined in those outrages. Yet this, forsooth, was one of the necessitous and misguided agricultural labourers. He struck down with a sledge-hammer one of the family of his benefactor, repeated the blow, and unless he had been prevented by one more faithful than himself, an individual whose arm was broken in the attempt to save his intended victim, a valuable life might have been lost to the community. Perhaps no two individuals, unacquainted with all the circumstances of the case, would agree as to those who ought to be spared, and those who should be executed. This was not so surprising; but when it was found that the newspapers were teeming with recommendations to stop the effusion of blood, as barbarous and cruel, and pressing upon the Government, in the strongest terms, the necessity of sparing the guilty, he confessed he was struck somewhat strongly by the observation of some of his friends in private life, who exclaimed, and not unnaturally, "What, is there no mercy but for the criminal? The proper answer to the foolish outcry raised in the name of humanity was—"So give an example in the first instance, by the wholesome execution of the law, as to put an end to outrage." This was true, not spurious humanity. With regard to incendiaries, they also, it appeared, came under the protection of the humane folk, who pitied poor agricultural labourers, that only broke machines, plundered property, and put people in fear of their lives. The incendiaries were spoken of as poor misguided incendiaries; there actually was a paper (he knew not whether the hon. Gentleman had seen it) which contained Resolutions, signed by a respectable name, expressive of a hope that Government would not proceed against poor men who only set fire to people's property in the dead of night, and who had been misled by their suffer- 306 ings, and through the errors of a former Government. Surely this was the silliest and most dangerous "cant" that it was possible to utter. The hon. Gentleman had not disgraced himself by taking any part in this miserable and most extraordinary species of affectation, the effect of which would be, to endanger life and property to an incalculable extent. He would not prolong the Debate by entering at large into the general question. He hoped that the wholesome and necessary examples which had been made would correct errors, deter from future outrage, and should it unhappily arise, encourage a manful resistance. He congratulated himself, the House, and the country on this, that much of the evil had been already put down. As to the incendiaries, it was not so easy to detect them, and in the absence of detection we could only leave them to the indignation and contempt of all honest men, trusting that some time or other they might be discovered, and knowing that it could not be alleged in their behalf that they committed offences with a view to benefit themselves, for no man was the richer in con-| sequence of the destruction of the property of another. He congratulated the House that a great public evil had been boldly faced—that it had been put down without military conflicts—without the shedding of blood, as might have been apprehended— without the aid of any extraordinary enactments, but simply by a firm and temperate enforcement of legal and constitutional authority. This was a subject on which, to the last hour of his life, he should continue to congratulate himself, whenever he considered the humble part he had taken in producing the result.
observed, that in one part of his speech the hon. member for Preston blamed the Magistrates for not being prepared to act, and in another he found fault with the yeomanry because they were preferred. This was very inconsistent in the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the question before the House, he should meet it with a decided negative, on this ground, that the source of mercy was in the Crown, and Parliament could not constitutionally interfere in the exercise of that prerogative.
said, his object in rising was, to save trouble to the House, by endeavouring to induce the hon. member for Preston to withdraw his Motion. [Loud 307 and very general cries of "No, no!" "Divide!" and "Question!"] However, if the House wished it, he could have no object in preventing a division. ["Divide, divide!"] As there was a disposition not to allow the hon. Member to withdraw the Motion, he could only say, he did not think the hon. Gentleman had been fairly dealt with, particularly by the hon. Under Secretary for the Home Department, who was not borne out in saying that the hon. Member had attempted a justification of the late excesses. The hon. Gentleman regretted those excesses as much as any man could, and only lamented that misguided individuals had been led away by distress to commit acts of outrage. Was it to be wondered at if thousands and tens of thousands of the labouring classes were misled on the subject of machinery, when they saw Peers, Members of Parliament, and Lord-lieutenant of Counties denouncing machinery. He again expressed a hope that the hon. Gentleman might be allowed to withdraw his Motion. [Renewed cries of "No, divide, divide!"] If a division took place, however, he would support the Motion.
§ Mr. Portman
rejoiced exceedingly that the hon. member for Preston had brought forward this Motion, inasmuch as it afforded him an opportunity of disabusing the country as to his being a promoter and exciter of the late disturbances. In Dorsetshire it was believed by many of the peasantry, that the contrary was the fact, and almost every ringleader of mobs had denominated himself either "Corporal Hunt" or "Serjeant Hunt." However, the hon. Member had now disclaimed all connexion with the late lawless proceedings, and of course his assertion was entitled to belief. He entreated the House not to consent to the Motion, as by so doing they would only lend their sanction to errors already too prevalent. One of the gross mistakes that existed throughout the country was, that his Majesty himself had ordered the destruction of machinery, and had not the people been enlightened by the Special Commission, as it would not have been if the offences had been tried at Quarter Sessions, the delusion might still have prevailed. He entreated the House not to believe that the farmers of England would countenance incendiaries stalking through the land.
§ Mr. Hunt
replied. The statements which he had made, he contended, had 308 not been shaken. The hon. Undersecretary of State had said, it was strange that wherever he (Mr. Hunt) happened to go, there mobs happened to be. He denied this. No one had attempted to deny, that men were entrapped in gaol to make statements to attornies in the presence of the gaoler; and he would pledge his reputation to prove, that this was the practice at the gaol. He was surprised at the personal allusions that had been made to him and his trade. He did not think it had been quite orderly in any assembly to make such allusions. An hon. Admiral (Sir J. S. Yorke) had referred to his blacking. He would not amaze the House by a battle between his blacking and the hon. Admiral's bilge-water. The hon. Admiral had given him credit for being a good-looking man; he was sorry he could not return the compliment. He had all along said, that breaking machines was an illegal act; but no one had pretended that any gun had been used by the mob; they had used only hammers and bars. The hon. member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett) had said, that he had excited the mob by his speeches. He asked, when and where? He might more justly charge the hon. Member with exciting them by the low wages he gave. He had a list of the persons receiving wages from the hon. Member, and he found they amounted to 2½d. a-head per week. This was enough to drive men to desperation. He challenged any person to bring forward an instance in which he had excited a mob. [The hon. Member was then proceeding to complain of having been misrepresented by some hon. Members, when he was interrupted by coughing.] He said, he had heard of this; he had been prepared to meet these coughings; but if he was to be put down by coughing, let the people of England know, that when he wished to protect them from oppression, he was to be coughed down. He stood there as an advocate of those unfortunate men, though many of them might have been criminal. He accused no one, not even the hon. member for Kent. He had only stated facts, and he was astonished that he had been so misrepresented. He disclaimed having given countenance to one of the acts of the mob; he had always denounced them as illegal. But these poor people had suffered much. The hon. and learned Attorney General had said, there were 1,600 or 1,700 who had been tried for acts 309 of violence, which arose from the distresses of the people. Where had there been any act of resistance to his Majesty's Government? It was preposterous to call it disaffection; there had been dissatisfaction throughout the country, owing to want of food and want of fair reward for labour. His friends about him wished him to withdraw the Motion; he was not well acquainted with the forms of the House; he had no objection to divide. He never meant to bring forward a motion which he did not think entitled to the attention of the House. He was ready to divide, and if he should divide alone, when he went down to the silent tomb, he should have the satisfaction of thinking he had done his duty. He had brought the Motion forward out of a motive of humanity, and in order to induce Government to do that which would redound to its honour. ["Divide, divide!"] The Gentlemen around him wished him to withdraw the Motion. ["No, no.!"] He had no wish to withdraw it, except that it appeared, from the sense of the House, that he should divide in a small minority, which might do an injury to the cause he advocated. In compliance with the wishes of the House, he would leave the Motion with it.
§ Mr. Benett
explained. We could only hear him say, that with respect to the wages of his men, he had not raised them immediately after the occurrences; he had refrained for about three weeks; but he had since raised them.
§ A division then took place, when there appeared—For the Motion 2; Against it 269 — Majority against the Motion 267.