HC Deb 23 July 1832 vol 14 cc638-40
Mr. Maurice O'Connell

presented a petition from Mr. John Stephen, the younger, hate of New South Wales, complaining of his dismissal from office without just cause, by General Darling, and praying for inquiry. The petition set forth at length the circumstances under which Mr. Stephen's house had been searched upon suspicion of harbouring an escaped convict the petitioner's most positive denial of the justice of the charge, and the dismissal of Mr. Stephen from the office he held in the colony—thus unjustly declaring him guilty without a legal trial, or even a legal accusation.

Lord Howick

said, that the petitioner had neither been declared guilty nor innocent of any act whatever. He had been dismissed as unfit longer to serve the Crown in that colony with advantage to the public. Every one must be aware that it was of the utmost importance, that no prisoner in the colony should be aided to escape from the punishment adjudged by the law. If hon. Members were aware how numerous and how ingenious were the arts employed to effect the escape of prisoners, or to enable them to evade the sentences that had been pronounced against them, there would be no complaint of the watchfulness of the Government on that point. It was not, however, necessary, that an offence in law should be substantiated against an officer. Any deficiency of zeal in the discharge of his duty amply justified the Government in calling an officer of the Government to account. Now, it appeared, that there were, at least, circumstances of suspicion attached to Mr. Stephen as to there being in his house a woman who had been previously convicted and sentenced to punishment; and yet, when Mr. Stephen was called on to answer the charge which was made against him, he refused to do so, and the Governor was therefore obliged to suspend him from his office. Instead of protesting against his suspension, and bringing the matter to a legal decision at New South Wales in the regular way, Mr. Stephen quitted the colony, and came to England, when Sir George Murray was obliged to tell him, that he must go back and have the case investigated by the Council in the regular manner.

Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer

observed, that the question now was not whether Mr. Stephen had or had not been guilty of favouring the escape of a prisoner, but whether he had been proceeded against in a proper and legal manner. He thought there could be no doubt, that the justice of the case demanded a further inquiry.

Mr. Hume

said, that Mr. Stephen had been the Registrar of the Port, and a Magistrate of the Colony, and part of what he had done might be shown to have been done in his public capacity, and upon full information. With a view to ascertain the character of Mr. Stephen, he had made inquiry of several gentlemen, and obtained certificates as to Mr. Stephen's public and private character, as to both of which there appeared to be the most perfect satisfaction. Under these circumstances, he put it to Lord Althorp, whether, if the Governor was to send police-officers to search the house of such a man, it was not an insult of a very unjustifiable kind? The Senior Judge, the Junior Judge, the Assistant Judge, and the Attorney General, had all signed a certificate, stating themselves to be satisfied with Mr. Stephen's conduct; and when he tendered his resignation as Registrar, they requested him to continue to hold his office. He did hope that a full inquiry would take place into this matter, and that justice would be done to the Petitioner.

Mr. Dixon

differed from the opinion which the noble Lord seemed to entertain of this case, and was surprised at some of the doctrines he had laid down. Mr. Stephen's House was broken open in the dead of the night by a police-officer; and that was alone a strong ground for complaint against the Government. His office, too, had been abolished; so that it was an insult to tell him to go back; for, if he went back, it would be to find himself without employment. He (Mr. Dixon) believed, that the office had been abolished as a punishment for Mr. Stephen.

Mr. Hunt

agreed with other hon. Members, that this was a case of great oppression, and he thought a most rigid inquiry ought to be made into the conduct of the Governor.

Sir Charles Forbes

also supported the petition, and said he must express his disapprobation of so many military governors being appointed to the Colonies.

Petition to be printed.

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