HC Deb 09 August 1836 vol 35 cc1034-7

On the Motion that the Order of the Day for the consideration of the Lords' Amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act Amendment Bill be read.

Captain Boldero

rose to call the attention of the House to the case of Lieutenant Hill of the navy, who was superseded from his command of the Alban steamer without any inquiry as to the charge on which his removal was grounded. The hon. and gallant Officer here detailed the circumstances of the case, which were substantially to this effect:—Lieutenant Hill, who was in command of the Alban at Malta, was ordered to proceed to England in that vessel with dispatches. While getting his steam up, the flag-lieutenant on the station came alongside, and told lieutenant Hill to make all haste in getting his vessel out, as he was already an hour behind his time. Soon after this, the private secretary to the Admiral on the station (Sir Josias Rowley) came alongside and told Lieutenant Hill that he must wait to take on board a passenger from the Lazaretto. The passenger came alongside, but a further delay was required in order to wait for his baggage from the Lazaretto; but Lieutenant Hill refused to wait, considering, that having previously received an order from the flag-lieutenant to get out of harbour with all speed, he was not bound to obey the order of a civilian. He then made a signal to the flag-ship to know whether he should part company, to which an answer was returned, that he should proceed forthwith. He sailed; but soon after he got out of the harbour he saw a signal at the Port-head ordering his return. That signal he instantly obeyed, and on his return one of the senior captains came on board; stating that he (Lieutenant Hill) was superseded by order of the Admiral. A report was afterwards made to the Admiral, to the effect that Lieutenant Hill was labouring under some delusion. He was then sent to the Lazaretto, but after some days the Admiral sent a letter recalling the order for superseding him, and requesting that that order might be transmitted back to him. Lieutenant Hill was afterwards allowed to proceed to England, and placed upon half-pay. He demanded a court-martial, but was told he might go back to Malta and have a court-martial, but that he declined, as he could not possibly have there the witnesses which were necessary for his defence. A Court of Inquiry was held in February last at Sheerness, and that Court reported to the Admiralty, but Lieutenant Hill had not been allowed to know the charges against him, or the evidence on which they were grounded. Now, he contended, that Lieutenant Hill was perfectly justified in refusing to obey the order of a civilian, after he had received that of the flag-lieutenant, and that he was most unjustly superseded from his command. No man could produce higher certificates of good conduct than he had been able to show. He had produced those certificates from six Admirals, fourteen Post-captains, and several others under whom he had served, who all bore the highest testimony to his conduct as an officer. Notwithstanding these, the Admiralty placed him on half-pay, declaring that they thought his conduct reprehensible. That, however, he (Captain Boldero) contended, was no just ground for dismissing an officer from his command. He ought to have been brought to a court-martial on the spot. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a copy of the charge (if any) and minutes of evidence of a Court of Inquiry held at Sheerness in February last touching the conduct of Lieutenant Hill, R.N. late in the command of his Majesty's steam-vessel Alban, in the Mediterranean, superseded without inquiry.

Mr. Hutt

seconded the motion, and said, that Lieutenant Hill was one of his constituents, and he believed that a more honourable man, or a more excellent officer, did not exist. He considered that he had been treated most unjustly, and the charge of disobedience had been aggravated by the imputation that he was labouring under a derangement of intellect.

Mr. Charles Wood

said, it was not his intention to go into the whole of the details. Lieutenant Hill had been superseded for disobedience of orders. He had received an order from the Admiral to wait for a passenger, who was in the Lazaretto, and he disobeyed that order. Two Captains, who had been directed to inquire into the circumstances of the case, reported that it was so extraordinary, that they could account for it only by supposing that he was labouring under temporary derangement. On this report the Admiral on the station superseded him. It was admitted afterwards by some of his own friends who saw him at the Admiralty, that he was labouring under a delusion. The Admiralty, after hearing what had been stated by the Admiral on the station, and the evidence taken before the Court of inquiry, were of opinion that Sir Josias Rowley was perfectly justified in the course he adopted.

Captain Gordon

contended, that Lieutenant Hill had been very hardly used, and that there was no good ground for superseding him.

Mr. Hume

had been acquainted with Lieutenant Hill for nine years, and adverted to the admission which he considered had been made, that the treatment of Lieutenant Hill was contrary to the usual rules of the service. If he had disregarded any order it was one which he was not bound to obey; and if the Admiral had had any reason to complain of Lieutenant Hill, he ought to have brought him to a Court-martial. It was absurd to contend that he was mad, when he was allowed to take his sword and pistols with him when he was sent to the Lazaretto. Although it was true that he had been allowed his half-pay, like the other officers of the Navy, it could not be disputed for a moment that he stood unjustly disgraced in the eyes of the whole service, by the determination of the Board of Admiralty.

Lord J. Russell

would not enter into the merits of this case, but he must say, that it was not one into which the House of Commons could well enter. Cases like the present belonged more to the jurisdiction of the commanding officer on the station, or to the Admiralty; but it appeared to him that the House of Commons was a very incompetent tribunal to decide upon it, and it was only a waste of the time of the House to bring on such questions on an order of the day.

Admiral Adam

said, that Lieutenant Hill had been treated with great kindness in the whole of this affair. He had disobeyed an order of the Admiral, for which disobedience he might have been dismissed the service, but he was allowed to go on half-pay.

Sir R. H. Inglis

contended, that the time of the House ought not to be occupied with matters like the present, which came more properly within the jurisdiction of other tribunals.

Captain Boldero

said, that the worst construction which could be put upon the conduct of Lieutenant Hill was, that he had disobeyed an unlawful order. He was not bound to take an order from a civilia in contravention of the order given to him by the flag-lieutenant, his superior officer. He would not divide the House on the motion. He was willing to leave the matter to the consideration of the proper department.

The amendment negatived.