HC Deb 11 June 1833 vol 18 cc555-66
Sir James Graham

rose to address the House.

Mr. Cobbett

objected to the hon. Member speaking on the adjourned debate.

Sir James Graham

said, he thought it was incumbent on him to state to the House, before it came to any decision on the subject, that he was in possession of certain facts, from an official source, which would entirely set aside the allegations of those who had signed the petition brought into the House by the hon. member for Oldham, upon the faith of whose assertions that hon Member had principally rested his case against the gallant accused.

Mr. Cobbett

The hon. Member had certainly seconded the adjournment of the debate, but he thought that he should first wait to see if any other hon. Member intended to speak on the question.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Oldham was not a very old Member, and therefore not very conversant with the practice of that House. If the hon. Member who wished to address the House, did so with the intention of communicating to the House information derived from official documents which would controvert any previous statement made to the House, that hon. Gentleman had an undoubted right to make such a statement before the House could be called upon to decide the question before it.

Sir James Graham

was only desirous to make a statement of facts with which he had become acquainted in his official capacity, and he hoped before the House came to a decision he might be permitted to make them. The hon. member for Oldham had rested the charge of felony against the hon. Baronet (Sir Thomas Troubridge) upon the testimony of two individuals of the names of Captain Owen and Mr. Edwards. It was rather remarkable that he had information of a singular kind relating to the characters of each of those persons from the Admiralty, which he thought it his duty to state to the House. The first name amongst those who had signed the petition was that of Captain Owen; and in laying before the House a statement of that officer's conduct and professional life he begged the House to bear in mind that he drew all his facts from official documents, at the present moment preserved as records in the Admiralty. On investigating them he found that Captain Owen received his promotion in 1794 his certificate then stating him to be twenty-two years of age. In 1822, the Admiralty issued circulars requiring every officer to send in a return of the age he was at that time. He found on looking at Captain Owen's return that he stated himself to be forty-seven years and six months; now this would make him to have received his promotion at the age of nineteen and a half, in place of twenty-two years of age, as his certificate stated, so that one or both of the statements must be incorrect. He further found, that in 1795, while acting as Lieutenant with Captain Stanhope, he brought that officer before a Court-Martial upon a variety of charges, the principal of which was for fraudulent conduct in the management of the slops and unofficer like conduct. The Court were of opinion, upon consideration of all the charges, that they were frivolous, malicious, and perfectly unsupported, and tended much to subvert the discipline of the navy. Captain Stanhope, therefore, was most honourably acquitted. Captain Owen was afterwards, at the instance of Captain Elphinstone, brought before a Court-martial for behaving to Captain Stanhope in a most insulting manner, as well as to him (Captain Elphinstone); for sleeping on his watch; and for behaving riotously and in a most unofficer-like manner. The Court found him guilty of the first and last charges, and partly guilty of the others. Captain Owen was sentenced to be dismissed from the service. Upon an investigation of the manner in which he had been restored he found that great irregularity had taken place. The law as it then stood was, that no officer who had been dismissed from the service could be restored without an Order from the King in Council. Now he found that this regulation had not been complied with, the order for his restoration being signed by a single Lord of the Admiralty. He might be allowed to ask whether he had much right to complain of any irregularity." Another person who had signed the petition was a Mr. Edward Edwards. Now he found, on looking over the official documents, that he was a Midshipman in 1814, and on the 5th of January was tried before a Court-martial for behaving in an insulting manner to his Captain, and for riotous conduct. He was found guilty, and sentenced to be dismissed, and rendered for ever incapable of promotion in his Majesty's service.

Sir Edward Codrington

would support the Motion for the rejection of the petition, conceiving the service to be rather injured than benefited by the conduct of the petitioners. Had there been twice the number of such officers in the list as the one now complained of, it would have been a great advantage to the country. He gave his testimony with great pleasure to the benefit the country had derived by the infraction of the Order in Council of 1806. He admired the address of the right hon. Baronet, and expressed his warm concurrence in that part of it which stated what was due to the son of such an officer as the late Sir Thomas Troubridge, feeling assured that if ever a reward was due to the posterity of any man, it was due to his. The present Sir Thomas Troubridge had been under his command, and he could say with great pleasure that in point of able and honourable conduct no man was his superior. But when the House considered who the persons were that endeavoured to throw dirt on the characters of these honourable Persons, it could come to but one conclusion. The gallant Admiral also defended the conduct of Captain Dacre and Sir James Yeo, and said, that even the Americans would do justice to the bravery of those officers. All officers were liable to accident, and to this the capture of Captain Dacre's vessel must be attributed. His mizen mast having been shot away, his ship was placed in such a position as to be exposed to the raking fire of the enemy, and this occasioned his defeat. The regulation was, no doubt, made to prevent early promotions, but periods had frequently occurred where there was a great dearth of officers, and then it was policy to break through them. He recollected an instance when the dearth of officers was so great that a purser had been called upon to keep watch, and was sent to cutout vessels. The country did not forget the services such men had rendered to them nor did they regret their promotion. He repeated the admiration he felt at the conduct of such officers as Sir Thomas Troubridge, and many others, who had been promoted over the heads of others. The service had no cause to regret the irregularity, nor could any officer feel the least jealousy on the subject when he contemplated the good that had resulted to his country from such a course. Under the regulations of the navy, no person could be a Lieutenant under the age of twenty, having first served six years as a Midshipman, which at sea was no trifling servitude; and when the House considered, that he must then serve two years before he could be a Commander, und another year before he could be posted, which would make him twenty-three years of age, he did not think they would come to a conclusion that the individual could be very inexperienced. He had no doubt, however, that if a war broke out, they would be compelled to get rid of the regulations altogether if they went on to dismiss officers as they had been doing for some time past.

Captain Yorke

supported the Motion for the rejection of the petition on two grounds; the technical allegations of the petition were undoubtedly true, and the petition was respectfully worded; but at the end of it a gallant officer, and a Member of that House, was charged virtually with felony, although there was nothing in the body of the petition to support such a charge; secondly, the grievance complained of in the petition had been long ago remedied, and therefore there was nothing in the petition to grant. He thought the hon. member for Oldham (Mr. Cobbett) if he had refrained from bringing forward such sweeping charges would have shown better taste than he had ever yet shown in that House. The charges he had made against Captain Dacre were most unfounded, as every person at all acquainted with that gallant officer was aware.

Sir Hussey Vivian

said, that, as a member of the service, he felt called upon to say a few words. He felt sorry to see a petition like the present brought under the notice of the House by an hon. Member who set himself up as a pattern of every thing that was pure and correct. He would undertake to say, that no Gentleman besides the hon. Member, out of the 658 Gentlemen sitting in that House, would have any other opinion with respect to this petition, than that it should be kicked out of the House. It was a most gross libel not only on the living but the dead. The hon. Member had said yesterday that the defeats during the American war had been the result of improper management. He had had the curiosity of looking into the works of that hon. Member, and by those he found that the hon. Member had but lately imbibed those sentiments. In 1814 the hon. Member attributed those defeats to the superiority of the American seamen. The petition should be rejected as frivolous and vexatious.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that, after the severe shots which had been fired against him, he felt called upon not only to say something in his own defence, but of that also of the petition. Nobody denied the existence of these malpractices—nobody denied the technical correctness of the statements of the petition; indeed, the right hon. Baronet had admitted it, and had brought forward instances of the promotion of naval officers to prove that it was a general practice—showing promotions in violation of the law to be quite common ["No, no"] Well, then, it was a neglect of duty on the part of the Lords of the Admiralty, and that was set up as a defence of the course pursued towards the gallant Member against whom the petition had been presented. Why, if the present Lord Chancellor were charged with bribery—a thing, that in his opinion, was not at all likely to take place—would he be allowed to say, in extenuation of that offence, that such a line of conduct had been practised by the great and learned philosopher Lord Bacon? Such a defence at the present day would be ridiculed and laughed at. When he presented the petition yesterday, he had stated that he would not take upon himself to vouch for the accuracy of all its statements but that the believed them to be true. He did not moan to say it was proper on the part of any petitioner to apply such harsh terms, but when an hon. Member had such a petition put into his hands, what was he to do with it—must he either refuse to present it, or be answerable for every word it contained." Since Parliament had met the House had been told by a member of the Petition Committee, that a petitioner had no right to leave his petition to the House, and no right to have it printed. If, in addition to this, no petition was to be presented containing any words which the Member who presented it would not be answerable for, there would soon be an end to the presentation of petitions altogether. The Orders in Council had all been flagrantly violated by the practice to which the present petitioners referred. It had been said by the hon. Baronet opposite, that there was a scarcity of Lieutenants and officers at that period, but he (Mr. Cobbett) would refer to the papers then laid before the House to see in what that scarcity consisted. A Return was made in 1825 which purported to be a Return of the Midshipmen and Mates (the persons out of whom Lieutenants were made) who had passed their examinations, and had not been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in each year from 1804 to that time. This return, then, of course, went back to 1806, the period at which the hon. Baronet, the member for Sandwich, was made a Lieutenant. What had the country then to pay? Why, it had to pay for 2,608 lieutenants, 1,488 of whom only were in service, leaving, therefore, 1,120 more than the service required, but which the country, notwithstanding, had to pay for. It was imperative to take this return to be true, because it came out of the Admiralty—the hon. Baronet's own office. The hon. Baronet (Sir Thomas Troubridge) was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant—no doubt on account of the scarcity of Lieutenants—at a time when many midshipmen and mates who had served their time, and passed their examinations, were left without promotion. He would now like to put a question to the hon. Baronet. He (Mr. Cobbett) gave a list of names to the hon. Baronet, and asked him if he would have any objection to have those names printed and laid on the table of the House, among which were the names of the Lords of the Admiralty. The hon. Baronet replied, that at that time the frauds were notorious; and as those things were not practised now, it would be for him (Mr. C.) to consider whether it would be fit that he should now move for that which would show up those officers in the way that such a proceeding would do? He (Mr. Cobbett) had considered this, and had determined merely to present this petition, and there let it rest, but he could not do so now. The hon. Baronet added, that at that time there was a man at Somerset House whose business it was to forge, to fabricate, and—[Sir James Graham: Not to forge; I did not say forge.] It might be that the word "forge" had not been used, but certainly to make up and to fabricate certificates, for the purpose of getting naval officers and men promoted, &c. But did the hon. Baronet not know that that very man had been tried for that conduct, had been found guilty, put into the pillory, whipped and punished severely for it? Had not also every pensioner who had got into Greenwich Hospital through his instrumentality been turned out of that hospital? Did he not know, also, that every man who had received a pension through his means had had that pension withdrawn? But could the hon. Member say, that a single officer (and many there had been) who had been promoted through that man's interference. fabricated certificates and workings, had been broken or reduced to the rank he had held before? Not one; and this was what animated him (Mr. C.) on the present occasion. It was the difference of conduct that was shown to men to that which was shown to officers. Many a man and many a woman had been punished severely for forging certificates even of their births; the men to whom he had alluded had been punished in the way he had stated, but the officers who had risen by these malpractices had been suffered to benefit by them, and thereby rendering justice a mockery. The motion for rejecting the petition, was not founded upon the assumption that the allegations it contained were false; and it would be, therefore, like flinging it back in the faces of the people. If the House laid it down as a law that hon. Members should be held responsible for the contents of every petition that was presented, it would go eventually to the exclusion of the privilege of petitioning altogether.

Mr. Harvey

did not sec the same objections to the presentation of such a petition as had been made, because it not unfrequently happened that individuals suffered under a secret and undefined imputation of much greater amount than they could possibly endure, by the bringing forward of a charge in such a way as not to give full opportunity to have it rebutted. Looking at the circumstances in this point of view, he could not but congratulate the hon. and gallant Officer on the opportunity which had been afforded to him to negative the charges which had been brought against him. Had he (Mr. Harvey) been asked out of that House if he knew a gallant Officer, who was a Member of the House, and (the gallant Officer having been mentioned by name) that he was charged with having committed a forgery, he could not have avoided feeling a prejudice against the gallant Officer, which such a discussion as the present could not fail to have removed. But he thought it harsh and most unjust that any sentiment should be entertained towards the hon. Member who had presented the petition, after the discussion was concluded, other than that which was entertained towards the hon. and gallant Officer. And it should be borne in mind, that such Members of that House who were supposed, like the hon. member for Oldham, to represent particularly, but not exclusively, those classes whose employment was of a subordinate description— that such hon. Members should have some allowances made to them for being called upon to present petitions from such parties. The discussion would also have the effect of showing that, although such practices as those alluded to had formerly existed to a considerable extent, yet that the Admiralty was found to have discountenanced the practice for many years, and that it was now discontinued. Whilst he differed from the opinion that no attention should be paid to the statements of those whose characters did not stand clear of taint, he could not subscribe to the doctrine, that the evidence of any man should be received without some degree of suspicion, who had himself been guilty of that which he charged against another, and yet came forward as a specimen of individual purity in his own character. And, without mixing up the hon. and gallant Member in the assumption, which he (Mr. Harvey) intended to be only general in its application, if it happened that any individual had, at an early period of his lifetime, committed himself in such a manner as had been described, he thought it was too much to say, that no reference should be made to the subsequent conduct of that individual, to his feats of bravery, and noble bearing against the enemies of his country, and especially when that individual had received the highest honour that could be attained, by being returned the Representative of a free Constituency.

Captain Elliott

was sorry to trouble the House at that late hour, but he had a duty to perform, both on his own account and on that of his brother officers. He would at once state, that the plan complained of was at the time a necessary one, for there were no other means of obtaining a proper supply of officers. He had looked a little into the subject since it had been brought before the House, and he found that in the six years previous to 1800 there had been 900 appointments to the rank of Lieutenant; and he further found that so great was the drain upon that rank, that at the end of six years it had only added 200 to the number of such officers; he further found, that during the first four of those six years, 900 had been appointed, out of which there were only nine names connected with the Aristocracy. So much for the statements of the hon. member for Oldham, that the system was for the exclusive benefit of the higher classes. So very great was the dearth of officers, that in many instances Commanders were obliged to take common seamen from before the mast. In a ship in which he was serving, five seamen were promoted to the rank of officers, only one of whom did well; the rest behaved so badly that the Captain frequently said, "Give me boys, rather than drive me to the necessity of taking men from before the mast, however well behaved in that situation. He would defy the hon. member for Oldham, or any other Member, to produce one single instance of a ship being lost, or any other casually that had happened in consequence of the officer in command not being eligible on account of age; therefore that hon. Member ought not, either in justice or candour, to make use of such unfounded statements. As for the cruel and uncalled for, as well as untrue statement, in reference to his gallant friend Captain Dacre, he would only say, that he had served six years as Post-captain before he had the misfortune to be captured by the Americans. In 1806 the new regulations were promulgated, and they were most strictly carried into effect, as was proved by the results. The gallant Officer read from the regulations a clause, which stated that if any officer was promoted by a false certificate, he should, whatever rank he might have attained to, instantly on its being found out, be dismissed, and rendered incapable of ever again serving his Majesty. Therefore he considered that it was unfair in the hon. Member to take cases that occurred before these regulations came into effect. He had no hesitation in stating, that he was one of those who had been promoted in such a manner, and he was not ashamed to own it, as he was aware that by no other plan was it possible to recruit the service, except by taking common seamen. As a Member of that House, and as an officer, he complained of the conduct of the hon. member for Oldham. He was justified in calling these statements most unjust and foul charges. That was not the first time the hon. Member had indulged in such a course.—[Mr. Cobbett: Name!].—When the civil retirements were before the House, the hon. Member stated that an officer of high rank in one of the dock-yards was displaced in the vigour of life, in order to make way for the brother of a Cabinet Minister. Of course the House naturally concluded that the case was a recent one, and he and some other hon. Members called out for the name. Then, what was the surprise of the House, when they found that the hon. Member had to go back twenty-seven years for his instance, which was, that Sir Charles Saxton had been dis placed to make way for the late Sir George Grey! Now, the facts of that case were these:—Sir George Grey, the brother of a Cabinet Minister now, was appointed to the situation in May, 1804, and Sir Charles Saxton applied to the Admiralty, in July, 1806, to be superannuated, on account of incompetency, age, and infirmities—having served his Majesty sixty-one years, and being at the time seventy-six years of age. This was the man who, according to the candid statements of the hon. Member, was in the full vigour of life. He trusted, that when the hon. Member arrived at that age, he would live longer to enjoy his vigour than did that hon. Baronet, for he died of old age in less than twelve months after. The successor to Sir Charles Saxton was a gentleman who possessed no family influence and no interest, excepting that to which, by his merits as an officer, he was entitled—he meant Captain Lobb. The hon. member for Oldham must have gone greatly out of his way for an instance, in order to throw a slur on the characters of two gallant officers, and make an attack on a nobleman now at the head of the Government, who, it was very well known, was far above his censure. He hoped the House would endeavour to put a stop to such a practice, for it was making the freedom of debate a means of calumniating individuals.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that the hon. member for Oldham appeared to think that any petition which was respectfully worded ought to be laid on the Table of the House. He, however, contended, that although the language might be respectful to the House, an hon. Member should use his discretion in not giving his sanction to any unfounded charge against an individual, Here the hon. Member had come forward and made a charge, if not of felony, at least of fraud, against an hon. and gallant Officer, although he admitted that he knew nothing of the facts of the case. The hon. Member had asked what would become of the right of petition, if the present petition were rejected? The right of petition certainly had not been much interfered with this Session at least, for more petitions had been presented this Session than during any previous one. Nearly 10,000 had been presented, and as for their quality, at no former period had greater licence been allowed. The House had, however, exercised a sound discretion in deputing to a Committee the examination of those petitions, so that nothing should be published that contained matter offensive to any party. As to the attack on Captain Dacre, he would just remind the House of the condition to which that gallant Officer's vessel was reduced. In a few hours after she surrendered, there was four feet water in her hold; she was not surrendered, therefore, till she was in a most crippled condition. He would ask, after this, whether Captain Dacre could be accused of having sacrificed his ship? He should support the proposition to reject the Petition.

Colonel Evans

suggested to the hon. member for Oldham to withdraw the Petition. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) had unnecessarily evinced a degree of soreness at the attack on an officer in the service, for he (Colonel Evans) thought that, so far from an officer's reputation being injured by such a discussion, it would be benefited. That was his opinion, as a general principle. As to the hon. and gallant Officer (Sir Thomas Troubridge), he admired his conduct, having had the honour of serving with him during the war. And he also thought that gallant Officer entitled to some regard from the great merits of his father. The cause, however, of his addressing the House was, in consequence of having been requested by some of his constituents to do so. The right hon. Baronet had alluded to the promotion of boys in the navy; he did not mean to complain of that; but he could assure him that in the army, promotions highly culpable had taken place. He did not make this observation with regard to himself, but as it related to brother officers, who had had young men placed over them after most arduous duty on their part.

Mr. Roebuck

did not wish to enter into the question of the character of naval officers, but he must say, that he thought the conduct of the hon. member for Oldham, in presenting the petition, was quite correct. He denied the responsibility of hon. Members for the statements in the petitions they presented. He trusted the House would pause before it rejected the petition.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, that the hon. member for Bath, after he had been a little longer a Member of that House, would find that hon. Members were answerable for the statements in the petitions which they presented, more especially when they cast such calumnies as the present did upon the character of individuals. He admitted, that the representatives of the people were, in duty, bound to present the petitions of the people to that House, but they were also bound to take care that no petition, were the means of conveying abroad calumny and slander. For the present petition such were the calumnies and slanders that it contained, that be should have no hesitation in throwing it upon the floor, and trampling upon it. With respect to the present petition, and with respect to the statement in a little work, called the "Ten Cardinal Virtues," he would recommend the hon. Member to exercise a little more public consistency, and pay a little more attention to such subjects, before he brought charges against men in that House, who stood far above him in all the relations as well as the distinctions of life.

Mr. Ruthven

was as much indisposed as any man to receive petitions that could not be duly presented to the House, and he objected to the reception of the present petition, because it contained unbecoming language toward the gallant Officer opposite. He did not believe the statements made in the petition.

Admiral Fleming

said, with reference to the statement made by the hon. member for Oldham, of the number of Lieutenants out of employment, when his hon. friend (Sir Thomas Troubridge) was appointed a Lieutenant, that his hon. friend was then on the East-India station it was during the war; and he could assure the House, that he had often even in the time of peace, on the east and western coast, been in great want of officers.

Petition rejected.

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