HC Deb 15 April 1836 vol 32 cc1078-83
Mr. Thomas Duncombe

rose, as the Order of the Day was about to be moved, and said, that before the House went into public business, he hoped for a few minutes' indulgence whilst he made a statement important to himself, and of some consequence also to the military profession, which it was thought by some he had most unjustly attacked by casting upon it an unmerited stigma. During the debate last night on the Mutiny Bill, he had called the attention of the Secretary at War to circumstances of which he thought the noble Lord was not apprised, and which had frequently occurred in the army in the punishment of soldiers. On referring to the newspapers of this morning, he found that they all nearly concurred in the representation of what he had said, but that there might be no mistake as to the statement upon which he was ready to stand, he had selected the report in one newspaper adverse to his own politics, which had also thought fit to comment upon it in no very flattering terms, and, with the leave of the House, he would read what there appeared:— The number of lashes was fixed by a general order from the Horse Guards, but perhaps the noble Lord did not know that the quantity did not in all cases constitute the torture of the punishment, and that it was compounded not alone of the number of lashes, but of the mode and of the time in which they were inflicted. He (Mr. Duncombe) had been informed that there were commanding officers in the service who, considering on some occasions the sentence of general Courts-martial too lenient, had evaded them by ordering the fifty lashes (he would suppose that number to be the punishment awarded) to be inflicted in minute or half- minute time, [cries of "name," and "no, no."] Thus making a punishment which should last no longer than five minutes occupy at least an hour, in some cases considerably more. However hon. Members might differ with him on the subject of the Motion before the House, he (Mr. Duncombe) was sure that there would be no disagreement between him and them as to the opinion that such a disgraceful and degrading practice should be discontinued. That could not be done unless the discretion of administering punishment was taken out of the hands of commanding officers. He, therefore, begged to call the attention of the noble Lord to the circumstance, to the end that, as the butchering system of flogging was to be persevered in, the punishment awarded under its provisions should be inflicted in the shortest possible period. He believed that such was nearly the substance of what he had said, and having said it, his hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Nottingham (Sir Ronald Ferguson) rose in his place, and called upon him to name the officer. He (Mr. Thomas Duncombe) believed that his hon. and gallant Friend had observed, that if such an officer as he had described existed in the British army, he should say, "in God's name, get rid of him at once." His right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Cutlar Fergus-son) had also called upon him to name the offender, but he (Mr. Thomas Duncombe) had declined to give up his authority, because he did not feel justified in doing so. With regard to the individual who had first called his attention to the subject yesterday, he was not now prepared to give up his name; but that gentleman, whom he had not since seen, would very likely come forward of his own accord. He had last night been required to go to the Horse Guards and to mention the name of the individual to the Commander-in-chief. To that course he decidedly objected. He had made his statement in the face of the House, and in the face of the House he was prepared to substantiate it. If the House now called upon him to name the officer to whom he had alluded last night, he was prepared to do so. He had not done so last night, because he would at all times rather subject himself to every kind of taunt and reproach than be accused of anything like a breach of private confidence. He would begin by naming the man who was flogged in the way he had stated. His name was Ingram, a gunner in the Artillery service. This individual had not only been flogged in the manner he had described, but there were other circumstances of aggravation. A Court-martial was sitting at Honduras, in the year 1820, upon another soldier. The sentence upon that offender was 300 lashes, and it had been carried into effect in the usual manner; but during the time the Court was sitting Colonel George Arthur addressed a letter to the president, which was, and the hon. Member read, as follows:— Government-house, Belize, Feb. 15, 1820. SIR—A crime having been sent in against gunner Ingram, of the detachment Royal Artillery, I have also required him to be brought before the Court of which you are president, and as this most incorrigible bad soldier has several times been placed in solitary confinement without any good effect, the same observations which I made to you with respect to the other prisoner will apply to him, provided he is found guilty to the extent of the crime with which he is charged.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient, humble servant, GEORGE ARTHUR, Lieut.-Col. Commandant. To Major Bradley, President of the Court-martial, &c. The gunner Ingram was found guilty, and two hundred lashes were awarded, but with this circumstance of aggravation:—on the 15th of February, Ingram was brought before the Court-martial, but as he seemed in a very bad state of health the Court ordered the surgeon to examine him, the report was, that he was not in a fit state to be tried, and the man was sent to the hospital. In a fortnight or three weeks afterwards it was reported that Ingram was sufficiently recovered: he was brought to trial, found guilty, and sen- tenced to 200 lashes. The sentence was carried into execution, but Colonel Arthur in a most unusual manner (for it was generally left to the commanding officer) came down to the parade to see Ingram flogged, and he ordered that the punishment should be inflicted by what was called "the tap of the drum." The House might not be aware that the drum was not unfrequently used; he (Mr. Thomas Duncombe) had had the misfortune to see the sentences of Courts-martial carried into execution, and sometimes, in order that the cries of the sufferer might not be heard beyond the barracks, the drum was ordered to roll. In this instance it was used for a different purpose; the man was ordered to be flogged in quarter or half-minute time, that time being noted by the tap of the drum, the brigade-major holding his watch in his hand. He (Mr. Thomas Duncombe) had seen 500 lashes given in twenty or twenty-five minutes; but what time did the House think was occupied in executing the sentence upon Ingram?—an hour and a half. He did not want to have Colonel Arthur dismissed or cashiered for his conduct; he had mentioned his name for no such purpose; but having been called upon in his own vindication to state the case, he hoped he had justified himself in the face of the House and of the public, and he now dared any party to the trial of the facts.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

had thought that this was a case totally different from that now stated to the House, for he had expected that the serious complaint of the hon. Member would have referred to a fact committed subsequently to the period at which the order restricting the number of lashes to be inflicted had been issued. He considered, that this case ought to have been made the subject of investigation immediately after the time when it occurred. He, for one, would never advise that any officer should be dismissed without having been heard in his defence. It was most extraordinary that, amidst all the complaints made against Colonel Arthur for so many years—and there was hardly one of these which had not been raked up to be brought before the House—this was the first occasion on which the present case had ever been mentioned. It was singular that this accusation should never have become the subject of a practical inquiry. He had expected that the charge brought by the hon. Member would have been directed against some officer in command of a regiment, who had been restricted by the order he had mentioned to a particular number of lashes, and who had prolonged the punishment to lengthen the suffering of the criminal, because he had no power to inflict a number sufficient to satisfy what he thought the case deserved. Now, in 1820, a Court-martial had a right to inflict any number of lashes it pleased, and therefore there could be no reason for protracting the punishment in order to augment the physical sufferings of the person who underwent it. He had thought that the charge of the hon. Member would have referred to a case of recent date, to an individual against whom proceedings by Court-martial might have been instituted. He thought, that though the hon. Member had relieved himself from the obligation under which he lay, and carried out the assertion he had made, this was not a case for immediate inquiry.

Sir Henry Hardinge

said, that if the hon. Member had made out a case such as he had stated on the evening before—a case where a commanding officer had, for the purpose of evading the leniency of the recent amelioration in military punishments, measured out the time to such an extent as to prolong the suffering of the individual punished, he (Sir Henry Hardinge) should certainly think it was a case calling for investigation before the military authorities; and he had expressed his opinion of such a case as strongly as any other hon. Member. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the hon. Member was fully justified for the assertions he had made, and at the same time he begged leave to say, that if this were a case where any friend of his was concerned, notwithstanding fifteen years had elapsed since the period, not another hour should pass over without his demanding an investigation. He ought to say, though he did not himself personally know Colonel Arthur, nor had any occasion to know him, that that officer bore a very high reputation, and he was satisfied, that as soon as he heard of the charge now made against him, he would be anxious to meet it by a court of inquiry, or some other means, if the law prevented him from doing so by a Court-martial. These were his sentiments, and as the matter could not rest here, he should not make any further observations.

Sir Ronald Ferguson

perfectly agreed with the right hon. Baronet. He considered that the hon. Member for Finsbury had been fully borne out in what he had advanced in the debate of the preceding night.

Sir George Grey

was sure, from what he knew of Colonel Arthur, that as soon as he heard of the charge brought against him, he would anxiously desire that it should be thoroughly investigated.

Mr. Hume

said, that the right hon. Baronet opposite had said, that if any friend of his were concerned in it, he should be most anxious that the charge should be inquired into. Now, he (Mr. Hume) did not consider that the matter should be left to the friends of any individual. He thought that it was the duty of the public officers of Government not to pass it over.

Mr. Goulburn

wished only to add one word to this discussion. He would implore the House, therefore, as the officer concerned was at so great a distance, to refrain from any further allusion to his conduct. He was sure, that that officer would be the first to demand an investigation into the charges brought against him.

Subject dropped.

Back to