§ Mr. Thornely
wished to put a question to the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) relative to the recent interference of the military at Wolverhampton. He held in his hand letters from individuals resident in the town and neighbourhood (one of whom was Mr. Roaf, a dissenting minister), which stated that, subsequent to the close of the poll at four o'clock on Wednesday last, the soldiery had been most improperly brought into the town, although there was no disturbance to justify their interference. One of the letter-writers stated, that few elections had ever passed off with less violence on the part of the people. At six o'clock in the evening, Mr. Hill, a magistrate, who resided at a distance of three miles from Wolverhampton, went home, apprehending no tumult or violence. Notwithstanding there appeared to have been very little confusion or disorder, the military were called in, and the Riot Act having been read, they charged the people. The result was, that one man received a shot, in consequence of which his leg had to be amputated; another person was wounded, and would probably be lamed for life; and a third received a bullet, which had been attended with serious consequences—so much so, that the individual's life was endangered. He understood the military went about the town singly and in pairs, firing through doors, so that it was extraordinary many lives had not been lost. The only confusion of any consequence, as he was informed, took place in front of the Swan, Sir F. Goodricke's hotel, but notwithstanding the street opposite to the house had been recently macadamized, only four panes of glass were broken in the windows. He could not understand on what grounds the military had been brought into Wolverhampton; and, as it appeared to him, the case required investigation. He did not know on what 227 authority the military were justified in firing at all under the circumstances of the case. As the Law Officers of the Crown were in the House, he wished them to state on what authority, or by what right, the military fired in such cases. Nothing would satisfy the country but a full, fair, and impartial inquiry into the transaction. He suggested to his Majesty's Government the propriety of sending some confidential agent to examine into the matter, and begged to ask the noble Lord whether it was his intention to do so?
§ Lord John Russell
said, that the hon. Member had stated certain facts which were represented to have recently occurred at Wolverhampton, and a statement of a similar nature had been forwarded to him (Lord John Russell) by Mr. Roaf, whereupon he immediately directed that the magistrate who had called in the assistance of the military should give a full account of the transaction. He had likewise communicated with the Commander-in-Chief, in order that he might procure every information and account with respect to what had taken place on the occasion. The hon. Member had proposed that some agent of Government should be sent down to inquire into the subject. He thought such a course would be exceedingly inconvenient, as an agent so sent by the Government could only receive the voluntary deposition of any person who might choose to come before him, and would not be authorized to make any regular inquiry into the transaction. The evidence which he would receive was not likely, therefore, to be of such a character as to warrant the Government in founding further proceedings upon it. All he could say was, that every account of the melancholy transaction that came to his office should be laid before that House. For his part, he was only anxious that the fullest inquiry should take place into the affair; and if, after statements were made by different parties, it should be deemed necessary that a further investigation should be made, his only wish was that it should be an impartial investigation. In the mean time he begged that no ex parte statement, whether proceeding from the persons who were excited because the military had been called out, or from the opposite party, might be taken as a statement of facts, because he knew that the most conflicting accounts had been given of the transaction. He would only mention, as an instance of the discrepancy between the different accounts, that in a statement transmitted to 228 him by Mr. Roaf, the soldiers were described as having furiously charged the people in the market-place, and that one of the horses fell down and was killed by the fall; while the account on the other side stated, that the horse was struck by a stone, and died in consequence of the blow. Since then, it appeared from the deposition of the veterinary surgeon who examined the horse, that the animal died in consequence of a wound inflicted by some sharp instrument, which penetrated to the heart. He only mentioned this circumstance to show how much doubt might be thrown on the first statements made with respect to a transaction of this kind, and the more especially as it occurred at the close of an election, when many persons on both sides would be more disposed to give credit to accounts which were favourable to their own view of the matter, than to investigate the transaction impartially. He would only repeat that he was ready to give every aid in his power to promote the fullest inquiry, and he did not believe that there existed on any side, either on the part of the magistrates or the military, a disposition to shrink from investigation, or to conceal any facts which ought to be made known.
said, communications had been made to him similar to those which had been stated by his honourable Colleague; and as he knew the mistrust that should attach to statements made under feelings of excitement, he had been anxious to learn the statements made on the other side, that might qualify the impression produced on his mind that a riot had been proclaimed where no disturbance of that character had existed—that the military had acted against a people who had not violated the law—and that the soldiers had, in the execution of their duty, acted with a violence as unnecessary as he felt thankful was unusual on their part. He must confess the counter-statements were not satisfactory to his mind. He had some guide by which he could measure the amount of disturbance that had prevailed. He had received letters from persons who viewed this matter in a different light, but who were all agreed as to the fact that the disturbance could not be named in comparison with that which occurred at the time of his own election for the borough. At that time he had not the fortune to be the popular candidate, and he had been somewhat roughly handled, and his committee had been ill-used. Windows had 229 been broken, and the person who held the inn in which he resided, was under apprehension that it might be demolished; and he had thought it proper upon that occasion, after being applied to by several of the inhabitants, to suggest to the magistrates, that in the absence of any effective police, or of any special constables being sworn in, they should take some precaution for the protection of the town during the night, and that the military should be apprised that their assistance might be required. Now, he well remembered the cold manner in which this intimation was received by the magistrates—and he remembered something said like an implication that the disturbance would not justify it. He was not sorry to see this reluctance on the part of the magistrates, and he imputed it to their understanding the people better than himself, and not to a difference in politics with himself. The military were not introduced into the town, and the people dispersed quietly. But this, however, added to his astonishment at the precipitancy of the authorities upon this occasion, when he was confidently assured that the disturbance was not to be named in comparison with that at the time of the election for the borough; that there had been no indication of violence on either day of polling; that a magistrate had retired to his country seat in consequence of the peaceable appearance of the town, and that universal surprise was expressed when the military were introduced into the town. He contended that the particular circumstances which led to the proclamation of the riot required explanation. There were also facts connected with the conduct of the military, which demanded some inquiry to be made; for instance, he did not hear it contradicted that the soldiers distributed themselves in parties of two and three over the town, and acted upon their own discretion, and that they had not only dispersed the people, but had actually fired at them when in the act of flight. He would wish to learn from any military Member of this House if this was in accordance with military discipline or military practice upon such occasions. If it was illegal, he begged to assure the House that such things were alleged against the soldiers, and if it was denied, he thought that it afforded a substantial ground for granting the inquiry suggested by his hon. Colleague; and he should strongly urge upon his Majesty's Government the propriety of forthwith giving a commission to some person 230 or persons in whom they could place confidence, and on whom the public could depend, to proceed to the town of Wolverhampton and collect the truth. There were three parties implicated in this matter—the magistracy, the military, and the people, and it was clear that a fair and full investigation would not be expected from the violent partizans of either. It became the Government, therefore, to select some fit and proper person for this business. A full and fair inquiry was demanded by the people, and he thought it reasonable, just, and expedient, that it should be granted. He thought it desirable that it should be instituted immediately, in order that the public authorities, no less than the people, might know that they had a Government prompt and willing to offer redress where injury was alleged; and he firmly believed that it would tend not only to allay the excitement and anxiety upon this unfortunate business in the place where it occurred, but in the manufacturing districts throughout the whole country.
§ Mr. Forster
said, that in consequence of the absence of his hon. Friend, the Member for North Staffordshire (who was suffering from indisposition), he had been requested to make known a short statement on the part of the Magistrates of Staffordshire, whose conduct had been most unjustly impugned by ex parte accounts. The statement was signed by the Rev. Mr. Clare and Mr. Hill, and was to the following effect (the hon. Member here read the following document):—To the Right Hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department.My Lord,—In compliance with the request contained in your Lordship's letter of yesterday's date, that the fullest information may be supplied relative to the proceedings subsequent to the close of the poll in this town, we beg to state, that during the whole of the last day of the poll the conduct of the multitudes of people assembled in the streets was very violent; many respectable persons were rolled in the mud, and assailed with mud and stones, and some seriously injured, and we received repeated applications to send for a military force, as of about forty or fifty special constables who had been sworn in, and were all that could be procured at the time, some did not act, and the rest were completely overpowered. The undersigned, therefore, sent for a troop of the 1st Dragoon Guards from Dudley, six miles off, requesting them to come within a mile of the town, and to halt there till they heard from us again. At the close of the poll the number of people increased so rapidly, and their behaviour was so violent, 231 that the soldiers were desired to advance immediately. Their appearance, at about five p.m., seemed to check the mob, and at six the undersigned, Mr. Hill, informed Captain Manning, the officer in command, that he thought they might be sent to their quarters, which was done, though the mob did not disperse; yet as they did not proceed to acts of violence, it was thought they would be tranquillized, and Mr. Hill went home, about three miles off. At about seven o'clock p.m. the mob began to assail the Swan Inn, where some of the successful candidate's friends still were. Several windows were broken, and some persons attacked, and the undersigned Mr. Clare went among them with some special constables, and entreated them to desist; he was spit upon, and compelled with the high and special constables to retreat to the inn, and when he appeared at the window he was assailed with stones, and struck while reading the Riot Act. The soldiers were then called out, and the mob commenced a furious attack upon them; a street near the market-place was barricadoed with two carts and an iron chain; many of the soldiers were struck with stones, and one horse was stabbed in the side and fell down dead, while standing still, which is necessary to be stated, because it has been asserted, that the horse fell while charging; the undersigned Mr. Clare saw him fall. The fact of the violence of the mob during the election and subsequent to its close can be substantiated by affidavits, if necessary; and a declaration of approbation of the conduct of the Magistrates and soldiers is, we believe, being signed. It was not until after the death of the horse that the soldiers were directed to fire, and the mob still persisted in their attacks, at times retreating to a church-yard close to the market-place, to which the soldiers could not for some time get access, and advancing again. Mr. Hill, who was sent for, and arrived at about eleven, states, that many discharges of fire-arms were heard by himself and others in different parts of the town, when all the soldiers were assembled in the marketplace, but whether ball was fired by the mob he does not know; neither is he aware of any of the soldiers having been fired at that night. At midnight another troop of horse arrived from Stourbridge, ten miles off, and Mr. Hill took six or seven special constables and these mounted soldiers, and visited all the outskirts of the town, clearing such public-houses and beer-shops as were open, but the soldiers took no part in this proceeding, only remaining in the street to protect the Magistrates and constables, in the case of any sudden attack.At about two o'clock on Thursday morning the town was quiet, and all the troops were sent to their quarters, except sixteen who remained on duty all night.Four persons have been ascertained to have received gunshot wounds, one of them in the knee, which rendered amputation necessary; and we believe one man is also wounded, not severely by a sword: none are yet dead.232We should be doing injustice to the officers and soldiers employed if we did not express our admiration of their steadiness and forbearance under circumstances of no ordinary provocation: only one example occurred to the contrary, in a soldier who was found to be drunk, and placed in confinement early in the evening. Several swords were broken, from the soldiers striking with the flat side of them.We have not been able to ascertain how many shots were fired, but as the soldiers have a regular number of cartridges given out to them, the report of the officers to the Commander-in-Chief will doubtless furnish that particular.A statement has appeared in the London papers purporting to be a declaration of certain persons before Mr. Roaf, a Dissenting minister here, which is very much at variance with the truth. Two of the parties—one of them a special constable—have been heard to say before the mob, that they (the mob) must be taught to fire and mark their men. It is, we believe, ascertained that a bullet, stated to have been fired into a house in Queen-street has been found on examination to be too large for the soldiers' fire-arms. This requires no comment.A report of the conduct of the mob, which rendered it necessary for Mr. Briscoe, another Magistrate, to read the Riot Act on Thursday and Friday nights, happily without the soldiers being afterwards called upon to act, has doubtless been submitted to your Lordship, and we are happy to add that this night has passed off without disturbance. (11 p.m.)We have the honour to remainYour Lordship's obedient servants,
§ "J. CLARE,
Wolverhampton, May 30.
He begged leave to say, that he knew the Gentlemen who had signed the foregoing statement to be persons of high and unimpeachable honour, and incapable of deviating from veracity even in a case affecting their own character. They had both been Magistrates for a long period (Mr. Clare had been in the commission of the peace for more than forty years), and they had performed their magisterial duties with so much credit to themselves, and made themselves so popular, that it was a matter of surprise that a charge like that which had been mentioned in the House should be made against them. He had that very day seen persons from Wolverhampton, who declared that the precautions of the Magistrates and the forbearance of the military were beyond all praise. He was not aware of the circumstances which attended the last election,
but he was acquainted with that particular part of the country. It contained an immense population, which might easily be collected together, and in consequence of the peculiar character of that population, when once it was roused to acts of insubordination, scenes which would make the stoutest nerves shudder would ensue, unless that insubordination was met by promptitude and vigour on the part of the Magistrates. The ferocity of the population was so great at a former election for the borough, that it became impossible for one of the candidates (who was a Reformer) to proceed to the place of nomination; for if he had gone, his life would have been in danger. He mentioned this circumstance to show that it was possible for even the liberal and reforming candidates to be the objects of popular hostility. It was persons of a similar description to those at Wolverhampton who set fire to the city of Bristol; and had not the military been called into Wolverhampton, the scenes of Bristol would have been re-acted there. In his opinion, the Government ought not, on light grounds, to allow persons who devoted their care to the preservation of the peace of the country to be held up to censure, especially if by their vigour and promptitude they had prevented the repetition of scenes of bloodshed, which a more supine conduct might have produced.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
said, that he had never risen in that House with more painful feelings than he did at present. He had received a statement respecting the transaction which was the subject of the debate—of course an ex parte statement, but he believed an impartial one. He felt peculiar difficulty in discussing the matter, because, though it was satisfactory to know that no lives had been lost, yet hon. Members were aware that, should the cases of any of the persons wounded terminate fatally, the laws had provided severe punishment for those who had been guilty of any act from which loss of life had resulted. He had come down to the House with the impression that his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) would have signified his intention of instituting an inquiry into the transaction which had been alluded to. If his noble Friend had done what he ought to have done, and sent done to Wolverhampton to investigate the transaction impartially, nothing on earth should have induced him (Sir John Wrottesley) to say a word on the subject at the present moment. But, to his great regret, his 234 noble Friend had determined not to take this step, though he had promised to lay all the statements he might receive on the Table, and adopt ulterior measures if necessary. Knowing the state of feeling in the county of Stafford, he would he bold enough to tell the noble Lord that such a course would give no satisfaction. It was of the utmost importance that some person invested with authority should be sent by the Government to inquire into the affair; and if this, which was no more than just, was not done, he would not answer for the people not doing justice for themselves, so great would be the excitement produced. He held in his hand a statement nearly similar to that read by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. After speaking of the circumstances which passed whilst the soldiers were under the superintendence of the Magistrates, his statement went on to say, that for an hour or two after the soldiers rode two or three together up and down the streets, and occasionally fired at random or up entries, by which a few persons were wounded; and it was astonishing that so few were wounded. He really believed that a great deal turned on what was done after the mob left the market-place. He had been a Magistrate of the county of Stafford for forty years, and had been concerned in the greater part of the riots which had taken place in that district. [Laughter.] He should have said that he was engaged in suppressing those riots; and it was a matter of great satisfaction to him that, during the whole time he had so acted, no property had been destroyed, nor had any person's life been in the smallest degree endangered. He, therefore, thought that he was in some measure qualified to give an opinion as to the duty of a soldier in case of a riot. If the statement were true (and he wanted an investigation for the purpose of ascertaining whether the statement might be relied on) that after the soldiers had fired, they were allowed to separate and go with ammunition into the various streets in a state of irritation; and, removed from the immediate superintendence of their officers, he had no hesitation in saying, and he spoke in the presence of several military officers, that such a proceeding was disorderly and improper. He recollected that, on a particular occasion, when it was thought necessary to call out the military, he, thinking a particular spot not sufficiently guarded, asked the officer on duty to allow a mere patrol to accompany him 235 for the purpose of inspecting it; but the officer most properly replied, that his orders were not to separate the troops. "As long as they continue under my superintendence," he added, "I can be responsible for their conduct; but I cannot if they are separated." It was the duty of an officer, he repeated, to keep the troops under his superintendence. All that he (Sir J. Wrottesley) wanted was, investigation, and immediate investigation. He would not be satisfied with the investigation of a military officer. He had seen in the newspapers an account of an investigation conducted by a general officer, which, if true, was by no means satisfactory. With respect to the army, he must be permitted to say, that no man regarded it with more esteem than himself; and he would be the last person to find fault with the conduct of individuals belonging to it; but when statements such as he had read were circulated and believed by most respectable persons, he thought it only due to the military, to the Government, and to every person concerned, that an investigation should take place, and be conducted by individuals whose high character placed impartiality beyond the possibility of suspicion.
§ Lord John Russell
would make a few observations, in consequence of what had just fallen from his hon. Friend. He stated before that he had no objection to an inquiry being made into the transaction; on the contrary, he was anxious for the fullest and most impartial inquiry. He had only objected to the proposed mode of investigation, which was to be carried on by a person sent down by the Government, without having authority to compel persons to give evidence. However, if his hon. Friend said that an inquiry of that nature was more likely to give satisfaction than any other, he had no hesitation in saying that he was ready to take the necessary measures for setting it on foot.
observed, that the person appointed to conduct the investigation might be armed with a commission of the peace for the county.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
said, that the soldiers had never a more painful duty to perform than that of repressing violence on the part of the people. The House had heard different hon. Members, some criminating and others defending the conduct of the military during the late disturbances at Wolverhampton. It appeared from the statement read by the hon. Member for 236 Walsall, that, in the estimation of the Magistrates and other persons, the conduct of the military on that occasion was deserving of approbation. Now, as some time must elapse before the conduct of the military could form the subject of inquiry in the investigation which the noble Lord had consented to institute, he (Sir Henry Hardinge) thought it only fair to Captain Manning, and the officers of his troop (who by doing their duty probably prevented a recurrence of those atrocious scenes which, by the supineness of the military officer at Bristol, unfortunately occurred there), to ask the noble Lord whether, in any report which he had received, the conduct of the military was called in question by the Magistrates?
§ Lord John Russell
had to state, in reply, that, both in the statement of the Magistrates and the High Constable the conduct of the military was spoken of as being marked by the utmost forbearance. Undoubtedly, he had not wished to state any particular facts in opposition to what had been stated on the other side, because his doing so might have led to a debate. He, therefore, did not wish to state anything more than the opinion expressed by the Magistrates and High Constable on that point. Still he might be allowed to say generally that the Members of that House, knowing, by experience, what the conduct of the British army was, ought not lightly to believe that the military had, on the occasion in question, violated the rules of discipline, and made a wanton attack on individuals.
§ Mr. Scholefield
said, that, in compliance with the noble Lord's recommendation, he should not have been disposed to trouble the House with any ex parte statement of the late transactions at Wolverhampton; but he considered it right, in consequence of what had fallen from the gallant Officer (Sir Henry Hardinge), to read an extract from a letter which he had received, from an individual on whose veracity he could place the greatest reliance. The hon. Member here read the extract, as follows:—We have the strongest evidence to prove that the town was tranquil up to the arrival of the military, which was just before the poll closed. About seven o'clock a stone was thrown at the Swan window; this was considered a breach of the peace; the Riot Act was read, and the military were immediately let loose upon the people. They first charged in a body; they then separated and galloped up and down the streets in parties of three, two, and even singly, firing at and brutally 237 striking all they came near with the flat part of their sabres, and even using the point. Decrepit old men, and even women, did not escape their fury, but were savagely beaten and cut down by the ferocious soldiery. Respectable persons, at their own windows, were wantonly fired at; and the town was, in fact, given up to an infuriated soldiery. No lives were, I believe, lost; but a great number received sabre and shot wounds. Three boys were severely wounded in the leg; and it was found necessary to amputate one of the boy's legs: the others lie in a precarious state. I dare not trust myself to say all that I saw and heard; there was, however, one circumstance which I witnessed that I cannot forbear mentioning, and which is sufficient to show the brutal spirit that animated the soldiers on this occasion. I was at an upper window in Queen-street; a soldier was savagely beating a person beneath; the proprietor humanely opened his door, and pulled the man in; the soldier aimed a furious blow at him, which fortunately struck the shutter. The soldier then called some others, and about five or six drew up on the opposite side of the street. He said, "There is a nest of damned scoundrels in that house—we will fire through the door:" they then coolly put up their swords, and took out their fire-arms. I called to them, and told them that no breach of the peace had been committed, and to fire at their peril; they desisted, and went away. The same soldier came afterwards, and I heard him say to another, "There's something suspicious in that house—I had a d——d good mind to fire through the door." I again warned him of the consequences, and he rode off. As a strong instance of the peaceable disposition of the populace, I beg to state one fact: the street fronting the Swan, where Goodricke's committee sat, had been newly Macadamised, and a great quantity of loose stones lie about; yet, on the morning after the alleged riot, I counted but four panes of glass broken, some say five; if, therefore, the people were so riotously disposed, it is surprising that so few windows were broken.It is worthy of remark that no person of the Tory party has been hurt, and, as I before mentioned, only four or five panes of glass were broken, on the first night at the Swan. Respecting the dragoon's horse that was killed, it appears that the soldiers were riding furiously up the market-place, and two of the horses fell; on getting up the horses, it was found that one had been wounded with a sharp instrument, between the fourth and fifth rib, which penetrated about five inches; and it is supposed that the horse fell upon one of the soldier's swords. No one was within twenty yards of the soldiers at the time; no bullet was found in the horse; it is not true, therefore, that the horse was shot.It had given him great pain, the hon. Member continued, to hear the hon. Mem- 238 ber for Walsall (Mr. Forster) speak in disparaging terms of the population of Wolverhampton. He had been long connected with that part of the country, and knew the people well. He had stood a contested election for the populous town of Birmingham; and, although party feeling ran very high at the time, no one instance came under his observation of a stone or the slightest missile being discharged. The hon. Member for Walsall aspersed his neighbours, and he could only say, that his opinion was totally at variance from that of the hon. Gentleman. The electors of the borough were a most estimable body of men, peaceable, intelligent, and well-conducted. [Mr. Forster begged to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He had said nothing about the electors.] He was quite aware that Gentlemen entertaining the hon. Member's political opinions, endeavoured to create a distinction between the electors and the people. In his judgment, the non-electors were as good as the electors. He was sure the non-electors of Birmingham were as excellent a set of men as any in that House. The case of Bristol had been referred to, in which the military had done too little. Let them remember the case at Manchester, where the yeomanry had done too much—even where there was no resistance on the part of the populace. At all events, he felt quite certain that it would be a most dangerous course to allow the military to be lightly called out at contested elections, by men whose opinions were not on the popular side. Let the House and the people remember, that very few men of liberal opinions were in the commission of the peace in this country. If clergymen would voluntarily come forward to read the Riot Act, they must expect to find strong feelings excited even against their cloth. Why need they voluntarily enter into situations which few men would be forced into without shuddering? Why need they come forward to display their Christian charity by ordering the soldiers to fire upon an unarmed multitude? He regretted to say, that clergymen were found ever ready to take a leading part in such proceedings as had lately occurred at Wolverhampton; but while they so acted they ought not to be surprised to find that a strong feeling should be imbibed by the country against them. He trusted that the inquiry which was about to be set on foot would be conducted with impartiality, for all he wanted was a free stage, fair play, and no favour,
§ Mr. Forster
, in explanation, stated, that the Magistrate by whom the Riot Act was read at Wolverhampton happened to be a liberal politician, and a supporter of the popular candidate—Colonel Anson. With respect to the population of the district where the disturbances in question arose, all that he had said was, that its character was peculiar. He alluded to the colliers and iron-workers, who could not be called a refined class.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the military might be free from blame for their conduct at Wolverhampton; but what was wanted was an inquiry which would prove satisfactory to the people; and it was, certainly, a matter of regret and astonishment that the noble Lord had not at once instituted an inquiry into the matter. The noble Lord would do well to convince the people of this country that, when they were attacked, the Government would be found ready to protect them. It was the noble Lord's duty, as Secretary for the Home Department, to take care that the peace of the country was preserved; and he trusted that he would inquire what measures were adopted by the civil power at Wolverhampton to maintain order. There was, in this country, a mode of preserving the peace by civil agents, and it was the duty of the Government to ascertain whether that mode was resorted to in the present instance before recourse was had to military aid. It was essential that the inquiry should be conducted in such a manner as would be entirely free from local and political influences. Again he would impress upon the noble Lord the necessity of directing his attention to the manner in which the civil authorities had prepared to suppress any breach of the peace that might have been expected to occur. He agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham, that it was to be deplored that, whenever any mischief was done, a clergyman was sure to be a principal actor in it. He hoped that the present Ministry would take care that no more clergymen should be appointed Magistrates. If they wished to support the character of the Church, and prevent the conduct of the clergy from being called in question, they would remove every clergyman from the commission of the peace. Ministers might depend upon it, that there was nothing so likely to raise the clergy in the opinion of the people as the course which he recommended. 240 Upon every occasion, when clergymen acted as Magistrates, even meritoriously and beneficially, a bad effect was produced upon the minds of the people, and he hoped, therefore, that Ministers would attend to the public feeling on this point.
§ Mr. Lechmere Charlton
said, that, after the ex-parte statements which had been made to the House, he felt himself bound to bear his humble testimony in favour of the Magistrates and the military. He held in his hand a letter, which stated that every means in their power had been resorted to by the civil authorities at Wolverhampton before they called in the military. He must protest against the doctrine of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who asked by what authority the military were ever called in upon such occasions as that which now occupied the attention of the House.
§ Mr. Thornely
The hon. Member hat misunderstood me. I expressed a doubt as to the right of the military to fire on such occasions.
§ Mr. Lechmere Charlton
If the soldiers were not to fire, of what use would it be to call them in at all? It was necessary upon such unfortunate occasions to commit a small evil in order to prevent a greater. He trusted that he was as humane a man as the hon. Member for Middlesex, and he really thought it was practising humanity in such cases to disperse a riotous mob by means of the military, in order to prevent the terrible scenes which would result from allowing it to obtain the ascendancy, and this could always be effected with the smallest amount of injury to persons, when the magistrates and soldiers exhibited a determination to perform their duty. A letter which he had received stated, that in order to ascertain what description of weapon it was, by which the horse of the dragoon was killed, a wound corresponding with that by which it met its death, was made on the opposite side of the animal, and it was found that the weapon must have been four inches and a half in length. He put it to the House, and even to the hon. Member for Middlesex, to consider what might have been the consequence if a mob, having amongst them weapons of this description, and doing every thing in their power by gestures and language to excite to violence, had not been dispersed by the military? As far as the soldiers were concerned, he was pleased that there was to be an investigation, because he was convinced that on this, as 241 they had on other occasions, they would come triumphantly out of the investigation. He could not, however, help feeling some dissatisfaction at the manner in which the investigation had been granted. The noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, at first almost positively refused to inquire into the transaction; he gave way in order to please the hon. Baronet, the Member for South-Staffordshire, who had made an ex parte statement, which he must be permitted to say he did not believe to be altogether correct. The hon. Baronet expressed surprise at the circumstance of the soldiers having separated into parties of two or three persons; but he had no doubt that this was done for the purpose of keeping the streets quiet. If the noble Lord intended to send a commission to Wolverhampton, he hoped that the practice would be resorted to on all occasions in which persons excited the people to acts of tumult and violence. He wished the noble Lord to state what there was particular in the present case, which should induce him to depart from the usual course. He was quite willing to trust the whole matter to the noble Lord, and he was quite sure that justice would be done under his superintendence, without the issuing of any commission. As the noble Lord had altered his mind once, he hoped that he would be induced to alter it again, and adhere to the resolution which he originally formed. The issuing of a commission would have the appearance of casting a reflection upon the military, who, he would be bold to say, had not resorted to measures of violence until they had tried and found pacific measures unavailing.
§ Major Beauclerk
could not concur with the hon. Member in censuring the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, for the course which he had resolved to take with reference to the subject under consideration. He believed that the decision to which the noble Lord had come would give universal satisfaction to the people, who were anxious to know whether the riot at Wolverhampton had been created by the higher or the lower classes. He was sure that if the matter were to be brought under the notice of any public meeting, the conduct of the noble Lord, in consenting to an investigation into this unfortunate transaction would be unanimously approved of.
§ The matter was dropped.