HC Deb 01 April 1833 vol 16 cc1343-8
Mr. Cobbett,

having presented several petitions, said he must take that opportunity of reverting to a petition which he had previously presented, and which he was prevented from then explaining. It was of Richard Newsham which stated, the the was a soldier in the fifty-third regiment, in March, 1831, at Gibraltar. On the 10th of that month he was discharged from the hospital, where he had been confined by illness; and on the 13th he was desired by the serjeant to show his kit and ammunition. He was asked why his ammunition was not wrapped up? He answered, because he had not got the proper paper; that he went to the canteen for the paper, but could not get the proper kind there: that the case was reported to Captain Shakspear Phillips, who ordered him three days' drill. The petitioner stated, that he had been unable to get the proper kind of paper, when the Captain used some very blasphemous language, and ordered the Serjeant to send him to drill. The petitioner said that such language ought not to be used to any man; upon which the Captain ordered him into confinement, from which he was taken to be tried before a Garrison Court-martial, which sentenced him to receive 500 lashes; but General Don, who was the Governor of Gibraltar, thought the offence comparatively slight, and he mitigated the sentence to 300 lashes, which Newsham received, and from which he suffered most severely; that while he was lying in the hospital, he reported the case to Lieutenant-Colonel Constantine, who promised that a Court-martial should be held upon Captain Phillips, but of that he never heard more; that afterwards he applied for leave of absence to Captain Carnaby, which was granted; but as a non-commissioned officer was not present at the time. Captain Carnaby afterwards denied that he had given such leave, and he was reported as being absent without leave, for which he was called before a regimental Court-martial, and ordered to receive 300 lashes. At the trial he was asked, whether he had any objection to the Court; and he, being under feelings of great irritation, said, "No, nor to that," showing a razor which he had in his hand, having been carried away from the guard-house while in the act of shaving; that he was confined for thirty-nine days in the hospital, from which he was again sent to the guard-house, and again brought to trial, and sentenced to be transported for life; that he arrived at Chatham as a convict, from whence he petitioned the King, and was released; that he then was ordered to join another regiment in the North; shortly after which, he applied to Major Butler, the commander, for the minutes of the Court-martial; that the Major answered him with oaths, and in order to frighten him, stated, that if he mentioned the subject of the Court-martial again, he should be brought before another one, and most severely punished; that he made a report of the case to General Bouverie, the General of the district, who promised that a Court-martial should be held upon Major Butler, but of that he had never heard more. Finding that he could get no redress from superior officers, being at Stockport, he applied to an attorney there to see what redress he could procure for him. The attorney wrote to Major Butler, demanding satisfaction on the part of the petitioner; upon which the Major sent for him, and demanded to know what satisfaction it was he wanted? The petitioner was afraid of committing himself by any answer, referred the Major to his attorney, till at last, goaded on by the orders of the Major, he said, "Sir, you must find it out;" for which expression he was confined fourteen days on bread and water; from that confinement he was released by General Bouverie himself; but, as yet, he had received no redress. The petitioner prayed the House to take his sufferings into consideration, and to investigate into the conduct of Captain Phillips and Major Butler. Affixed to the petition was the certificate of a Magistrate of the town of Kingston-on-Hull, from which it appeared that the petition had been read over to the petitioner, who had sworn to the truth of the facts contained in it. He should, on another occasion, give notice for the production of a copy of the petition, and when that was produced, he should move for copies of the proceedings of the several Courts-martial. He had another petition from a man who resided in Old- ham, named James Rothwell, whose case, every man, he thought, must admit to be peculiarly hard. He would not pretend that Newsham did not behave ill, because he thought that a ma" would not be punished unless he had committed some offence or other; but 500 lashes on his naked back for not having his ammunition wrapped up in proper paper, and 300 for giving a rude answer to an officer, were severe and cruel sentences, disproportionate to the offences. The petitioner, James Rothwell, however, had committed no offence. He stated that he had been bred a weaver, but in April, 1812, he enlisted in the Royal Dragoons, and joined the regiment in Spain. He was present at the Battle of Waterloo, where he received three wounds, one of which he felt the effects of up to the present period. He was discharged in 1816, with a pension of 9d. a-day for his wounds, and he continued to receive it until November, 1819, when he was called upon to join a garrison bat-tallion. Thinking, however, that he could earn his livelihood at weaving, and having then a wife and family, he neglected the call and was struck off the list. At that period the price of weaving was 11½d. a yard, but it was now reduced to 4½d., and he was unable to obtain a livelihood, and he therefore wished to obtain a renewal of his pension. His colleague and himself had applied to the War Office on behalf of the petitioner, and were referred to the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital, who, it seemed, had some rule laid down that prevented them doing anything in the matter. He had, therefore, been obliged to come to that House, praying for a restitution of the pension of this wounded soldier. The House might, he thought, interfere with great propriety, when it took such pains to see justice done to pensioned officers, with whose cases that of Rothwell might, in his opinion, be advantageously compared.

Lord John Russell

felt it necessary to say a few words with respect to these two petitions. As to the first of them, having pledged himself to inquire into the circumstances connected with it, he begged to say, that he had made inquiries at the Horse Guards, the result of which was sufficient to satisfy him that the petitioner had no ground for the allegations contained in his petition. The petition had been first sent to the hon. member for Middlesex, who sent it to Sir John Hob- house, and so satisfied was the hon. member for Middlesex, from the representation of the then Secretary at War, that the petitioner was totally unworthy of the consideration of the House, that he refused to present his petition. The statement of the petitioner, that he had received 300 lashes for not having wrapped up his ammunition in proper paper was untrue, he had been punished for repeated instances of gross insubordination, and for refusing to obey the orders of his superior officer. For threatening with a razor to take away the life of a superior officer, he was sentenced to be transported, but that sentence being found informal, he was released. He had been guilty of other acts of gross insubordination: and, in short, was a man of such a character, that it was difficult to get him to perform the duties of a soldier. He was sure, that under these circumstances the Mouse would consider that the case of the petitioner did not call for the slightest indulgence. With regard to the other petition, the one from the pensioner of Chelsea Hospital, the question with regard to him had been brought forward at the Board at which he presided. As the hon. member for Oldham had stated, the pensioners were liable to be called on duty in garrison battalions, and to be struck off the pension list if they did not appear and could not make out a good case, either of not having been apprized of the call, or having been prevented from attending to the call by some lawful and insurmountable impediment. This was no more than a proper and necessary regulation, particularly when the House remembered that this pension-list at one time cost the country 1,500,000l. per annum, and now amounted to 1,200,000l. The man in question had neglected to attend a call to join a garrison battalion because he was engaged in a more profitable employment, and as there were no grounds for his being restored to his pension, the Board had very properly refused the prayer of his petition. The hon. member for Oldham had insinuated that such would not have been the fate of an officer; but he would inform that hon. Member that the proceeding in the case of an officer would be precisely the same. If an officer refused or neglected to join any regiment to which he was appointed, he would be immediately liable to forfeit his half pay. In the past year a case in point had occurred, not in the army, but in the navy, where the principle was the same. That was the case of Captain Sartorius, who, having been ordered home to join a ship, neglected or refused to do so, and had been struck off the list in consequence. Unless the superior Boards had a power of this description over officers and soldiers there would be no means of commanding their services even in case of foreign invasion. The statement he made would be hoped satisfy the House that in neither case did there exist any reasons for interfering.

Mr. Cobbett

reminded the House that he had not said anything as to the deserts of the first petitioner; he had spoken only first, of the severity of the punishment; and next, of the case, supposing the allegations in the petition to be true. But, after all, he only asked for a copy of the proceedings of the Court-martial. Was that unreasonable? No. And he should certainly move for them. As to the other petitioner, the noble Lord had directed the attention of the House from nine-pence a-day to the enormous amount of 1,200,000l. That was not the thing. Then the noble Lord had said, if au officer were called upon to serve, and refused, he would certainly lose his pension. Oh! was that so? This was a more difficult matter than the noble Lord supposed. What! would they call upon parsons who had sold their half-pay, would they call these Gentlemen to come out of their churches and pulpits to defend the country?—that would be curious indeed. When he had got a certain return he had moved for, and which had been promised, he would show what was the amount which these parsons had received in their capacity of half-pay officers, though not liable to be called out upon duty.

Mr. Robert Grant

said, that with reference to the first petition, he should feel it his duty to oppose the motion for granting copies of the proceedings of the Court-martial. He would maintain that a strong prima facie case ought to be made out before the House exercised so extraordinary a power; but the present case, so far from being prima facie a case of strength, was full of the most gross misstatements, and the House could not degrade itself more than to exercise its powers without an adequate ground. He could state upon his own responsibility that the petition was full of the grossest misstatements. The first statement related to a Court- martial which was held at Gibraltar in March 1832. The man was then tried, not for being without his proper cartridge paper, but for his outrageous behaviour, and he had only to regret that he could not justify the language which the officer had used on that occasion. The sentence had been mitigated on the ground that some provocation had been given to the man. The next was the regimental Court-martial, at which the man had flourished a razor at the officer, and had declared that he would have his life, or the officer should take his. The sentence which ordered him to be transported was deemed illegal or doubtful, and as it was deemed right that the man should have the benefit of any doubt in the case, he received a pardon. More flagrant violations of discipline than this man committed could not be conceived, and he appealed to the House whether this was a case proper to be brought under its consideration. Major Butler had no power to give the man a copy of the proceedings of the Court-martial; and he very properly sent to the general officer, the Commander-in-chief of the district, to know what he ought to do. The general sent to the Judge-Advocate to learn what was the law on the case, and the final result was a determination on the part of General Bouverie to give the man every indulgence that could be granted to him. The man had enlisted in 1824, he had served only eight years, out of which he had been a deserter during two, and he had been tried six times by Courts-martial. Under these circumstances he trusted that the House would not think of interfering.