HC Deb 10 June 1833 vol 18 cc510-5
Mr. Cobbett

rose to present a Petition, which he considered of high importance, containing, as it did, charges of a very grave and serious nature against an hon. Member of that House. The petition was from certain electors of Sandwich, complaining that Sir Thomas Troubridge had, by means of a forged copy of the registry of his baptism, and a false certificate of his age, fraudulently obtained his commission as Lieutenant, Commander, and Captain, before he was even qualified, according to the King's Orders in Council, to be a Lieutenant, thereby feloniously obtaining the pay of the said commission, and the half-pay of Captain, the amount of which was between 5,000l. and 6,000l. Another charge was, that, from those undue promotins, he had, unlawfully, filled the office of Judge on Courts-martial without a legal commission. The petitioners, therefore, prayed that an investigation should be instantly ordered by the House; and, if the charges were found to be true, that the accused should be expelled the House, as an unfit and improper person to take part in the legislative business of his country. He (Mr. Cobbett) did not say that the allegations were true; no—he bound himself to no such thing—he only did his duty in presenting the petition. At the head of the signatures to the petition was the name of Captain Owen, whom he (Mr. Cobbett) bad made a point of seeing on the subject, and who stated his earnest wish that the petition should be presented, and had given him (Mr. Cobbett) his reasons for signing the petition in writing. They were as follows:—'I am just informed by Mr. Edwards, that you have at length given notice of your intention to present the petition from Sandwich, which I have signed, on Wednesday next. It is due to you in the task you have undertaken against, I fear, a decided feeling to resist the immediate reform of corrupt favouritism, too long cherished in practice, that I should acquaint you with my motives for signing that petition, if these should be called in question, as perhaps they will be. Naval officers being so decidedly subjected to the will or caprice of the Admiralty, the affixing their names to any document which may not be pleasing to the Admiralty is, it must be acknowledged, a bold measure and can only arise from a conviction of the propriety of the act on just principles, since it risks the favour of those to whom they are subjected. That the petition you are about to present will not be agreeable to the Government, or, at least to the Admiralty, may be supposed from Sir Thomas Troubridge having been nominated by them as their candidate for the borough from which the petition emanates; and as mine is the only signature of a naval officer to it, my worldly interest is not likely to be benefited by it, nor my professional hopes encouraged. I must, therefore, have supported the prayer of the petition on principle. The practice complained of has indeed too long disgraced and degraded our naval service; and it is solely in the hope of putting a final stop to such atrocious wrong, that I have lent my name to the petition; this is my professional reason. My political motives are, that Sir Thomas Troubridge came forward as a Reformer; that is, as pledged to the reformation of public abuse. If, as we contend, his own history furnishes an instance of the grossest abuse of authority, or imposition on it, must he not have been imposing on his constituents? I conceive, that benefited as he has been, and still enjoying the fruits as he is, of the most flagitious and corrupt abuse of power and patronage, he must at least have been insincere. There fore, I was but fulfilling a public duty in signing the petition as a freeman of the borough. The great wrong done to the naval service, and to the public, by the species of wrong complained of is, that children attaining high rank by corruption, intrigue, or particular favour, in preference to men who have run the career of regular service, they not only become pensioners on the State, at the highest rate for many more years than could be calculated on by the nature of the profession, and laws for its administration, but the very wrong done enables them to obtain the most confidential situations, and to obtain even the government and management of the service they have abused. How can such people be expected to administer righteously, who obtain their power and rule by manifest wrong? The whole history of our service, past and present, would furnish an ample commentary of the mischief done to the profession and the country by such mal practices as those complained of in the petition The hon. Member continued, it was not so much to the charge of favouritism that he called the attention of the House, as to that of fraud, for fraud was directly alleged. It was a fraud that the hon. Baronet should, if it were true, have received his pay, and exercised his power for so many years. Many of our naval losses might be traced to the improper promotions which had taken place. Captain Dacre, for example, whose ship was taken by an American frigate, after an action of twenty or twenty-five minute had been made a Captain at the age of seventeen or eighteen; and most of our losses in the last American war could be traced to such practices. A man had recently been deprived of his franchise for antedating his certificate; and he knew not why the same justice should not be meted to officers who had committed the same fraud. He would leave the Reformed House of Parliament to deal with the petition as it thought fit.

Sir Thomas Troubridge

spoke as follows: I trust, on so serious and grave a charge being brought against me, the House will allow me to occupy a few moments of their time in explanation, and I hope I shall be able to show to their satisfaction, that this petition arises solely from private disappointment in an election contest, and not from any public motive whatever. To explain this, I beg to state a few facts that occurred at the last election for the borough which I have the honour to represent. On the dissolution of the last Parliament, a person by the name of Edwards, totally unconnected with Sandwich, went down to that town, and, assisted by Captain Owen, applied to the Mayor and Jurats for a warrant to arrest me on a charge of having fraudulently obtained money on the high seas, his charge being, that my being promoted at an earlier age than specified by an Order in Council, all the pay I had received was fraudulently obtained, and that Sandwich being a cinque port, had jurisdiction over the high seas, and therefore the warrant ought to be granted. The Mayor refused to attend to this till the election was over, and, the day after I was elected, the Mayor and Jurats were summoned to hear Mr. Edwards's charge. He, however, withdrew it altogether. I should also state, that he applied to the neighbouring Magistrates, who, though politically opposed to me, would not listen to such a measure. I think this will convince the House that the subject was brought forward for electioneering purposes only. It could not be on public grounds, for in 1806, an Order in Council was issued, regulating the age and servitude to obtain promotion. In obedience to this order, I was myself obliged to wait till I had served the specified time as Commander, before I could be promoted to a Post Captain, and in no instance has this Order been deviated from. I served my full six years as Midshipman, and passed my examination for Lieutenant; and though I was promoted at an early age, such was the known practice of the service at that time, and I here state, without fear of contradiction or controvertion, that a very large portion of the most distinguished Admirals and Captains the naval service can boast of, were promoted under exactly the same circumstances as myself. Twenty-eight years have now elapsed without my hearing one word of this charge, which I think will itself show the House the real motive for its now being brought forward. With respect to having sat on Courts-martial, I never did sit on any Court-martial till long after I was of age. There is one point which I deeply regret, and that is, that any brother officer (well knowing the practice of the service to be as I have stated it) should have signed this petition. The individual who has done so is Captain Owen, brother to the gallant Admiral Sir Edward Owen, my unsuccessful opponent: though I must here do justice to that gallant Admiral to say, he has in the most unqualified manner, disclaimed any participation in this affair. I feel so satisfied that both my brother officers and this House will well know how to appreciate such conduct, that I will not say more on the subject, nor will I trust myself to make any remark on the other signatures to this petition, or on the hon. Member who has presented it. shall now, Sir, leave this case in the hands of the House, with the perfect confidence, of an honourable man, that they will neither believe me to be a felon, as stated in the petition, nor unworthy, from any conduct of mine, either public or private, to hold the commission of my excellent King or to be a Member of this House. [The hon. and gallant Member, amidst loud and continued cheers, immediately retired.]

Sir James Graham

said, that after the very satisfactory explanation which bad been given by the hon. and gallant Baronet, it might be perhaps considered almost unnecessary for him to say a word. But standing in the relation which he did to the gallant service to which the hon. Baronet belonged, he should consider himself wanting in duty to the public, if be did not address a few words to the House. It was true that the hon. Member who had presented the petition had apprized him of his intention of doing so. But he could not help expressing his great astonishment that he should have thought fit to make himself the channel of an imputation, calculated not only to deeply wound the feelings of the living, but to cast a slur on some of the greatest naval heroes that England had produced. He held in his hand a list of not less than thirty-nine naval officers who had gained their promotion under circumstances identically the same as those which had been complained of. The Order in Council of 1746 had been considered at the Admiralty as a dead letter—no notice having been latterly taken of the age of a young man previous to promoting him to a Lieutenancy. In time of war it was considered improvident to act upon the order, and young men were promoted from a midshipman to a Lieutenancy. Of the thirty-nine officers he had referred to, he would read the names of some. First was Nelson, who had obtained a Lieutenancy at eighteen; then followed Lord Exmouth, Sir Henry Hotham, Sir William Hoste, and Captain Edward Pellew, all of whom had attained promotion at very early ages. Was the hon. Member aware of the character of the individual he had attacked, or of his distinguished father? The gallant Baronet's father was the distinguished bosom friend of Lord Nelson. He was his right arm, and had never failed him in the hour of need. He had fallen in the service of his country, and was it too much to say that his son had claims on that country? The hon. Member bad stated, that he had great attachment to the naval service of the country. If he had, he had certainly taken strange means of showing it. This petition, there could be no doubt, had arisen out of an election squabble. It was an attempt, on the part of an unsuccessful party, to vilify and blacken the character, and wound the feelings of his more successful opponent. As to the statement of Captain Owen who had signed the petition, that in doing so he should injure his worldly prospects, he might take it from him that, so far as he was concerned, he should not attempt to injure them; but what the House and the country might think of the morality of the line of conduct he had adopted was another thing. If a Member of that House presented a petition charging another hon. Member with fraud, he ought beforehand to have satisfied himself that his allegations were correct. No such petition should be presented, unless the hon. Member was satisfied that the charge could be made good. It was a charge tending to revile the dead, and injure the feelings of the living, and he should move that the petition be rejected.

Sir Edward Codrington

seconded the Motion, which being put as an Amendment, with the original Motion that the petition do lie upon the Table,

Mr. Marryatt

designated the petition as one arising entirely from electioneering disappointment. It ought to have been sent forward as a petition against the return of his Colleague, for its allegations went to affect his seat in that House—but then the petitioners well knew it would revert with all its expenses upon them as frivolous and vexatious.

Mr. Cobbett

rose to reply, but it being past three o'clock, the debate was adjourned.

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