HC Deb 28 June 1836 vol 34 cc1001-4
Mr. Morgan J. O'Connell

said, that he rose to present three petitions affecting the conduct of the Executive Government in Van Dieman's Land, and he hoped therefore that the House would permit him to make a short statement on the subject. The first petition was from Mr. W. Bryan. The petitioner stated, that in the year 1830 he was appointed a magistrate in that colony; that in 1833 a servant of his was sentenced to death for cattle-stealing, and that while the said servant was in prison, awaiting the execution of his sentence, a magistrate of the colony of the name of Littleton was heard to make remarks on the conduct of Mr. Bryan, and to say that Mr. Bryan ought to be hanged instead of his servant. On hearing of this the petitioner sent a message to Mr. Littleton, demanding an explanation, which the latter refused. The petitioner then wrote to the Executive Government, demanding; an investigation and an inquiry into the charges against him, which if true ought to be established. That inquiry was refused him. The petitioner then gave in his resignation of the office of magistrate. It was not accepted; but in the most contumelious manner his name was erased from the list of magistrates. The petitioner went on to state, that in November, 1833, all the assigned servants (as the convict servants were called) in his employment were withdrawn from him, by order of the Government, and that as this occurred in the middle of the sheep-shearing season, their loss was a great hardship to him. He then brought an action in the civil courts against the Governor and Executive Council for the loss he had sustained, but that, as the court decided on sending his action to an interested tribunal, he refused to go before it, and directed his solicitor to stop proceedings. He then, previous to his leaving the colony for England, put an advertisement in the papers, announcing his intended departure, and challenging inquiry into his conduct. The petitioner complained of the irresponsible power lodged in the hands of the Governor of Van Dieman's Land, particularly that of taking away, without any specified cause, the assigned servants in the employment of any particular individual. He, in conclusion, prayed the House to introduce British laws and British institutions, especially trial by jury, into that colony, and to make various improvements in the judicial department there.

Sir George Grey

said, that it was perfectly true that Colonel Arthur did erase the name of Mr. Bryan from the commission of the peace, and removed the assigned servants that were in his employment. The latter power was one that was necessarily vested in the hands of the Governor of a penal colony, for the purpose of maintaining discipline amongst the convicts, and though the propriety of its exercise in a particular instance might become a fair question for consideration, he (Sir George Grey) was sure that no one would call in question the necessity for its existence. He would not on this occasion go into a statement on the part of Colonel Arthur, in answer to the allegations of the petitioner. The vindication which Colonel Arthur had made of his conduct to the Colonial-office was perfectly satisfactory to the Government, and for the present he would leave the House to form its opinion of that conduct from the statement of the petitioner himself. He would merely add, that he would move that the despatches of Colonel Arthur relating to the erasure of the petitioner's name from the commission of the peace, and to the dismissal of his servants, be laid before the House.

Petition to lie on the table.

Mr. Morgan J. O'Connell

said, he had now to present the petition of Mr. Henry Melville, of Hobart-town, Van Dieman's Land, proprietor of the Colonial Times newspaper, complaining of the sentence passed on him for an alleged contempt of court. In presenting this petition, he begged to say that the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) had last year expressed his disapprobation of a similar exercise of power on the part of a court in Newfoundland. The petitioner stated that a person of the name of Bryan had been prosecuted by the Government for the alleged offence of cow-stealing, and that a suspicion prevailed in the colony that he was persecuted because he was a relative of Mr. Bryan, the former petitioner. Some strong remarks on the subject having appeared in the petitioner's paper, he was brought before the court in Hobart-town, and subjected to interrogatories, one of which was whether he was not the author of a certain article in his paper. The petitioner having first protested against the principle of compelling him to answer such a question, stated that he was. He was then sentenced to be imprisoned twelve months, to be fined 100l., and to give sureties for his good behaviour. It was certainly true that there had been since a remission of the petitioner's sentence, but it was necessary that there should be an expression of the public feeling in this country on the point, in order to curtail such an exercise of the prerogative as was here complained of in our distant colonies. The petitioner prayed for a remedy for such an evil in future. He had also to present a petition from the free inhabitants of Hobart-town, praying the attention of the House to Mr. Melville's petition. He must acknowledge that there was a technical objection to the reception of the latter petition, as all the names to it appeared to be written in the same hand. There was no doubt, at the same time, of the petition being a genuine document, and he was equally certain that the persons whose signatures were to it, and who were all individuals that took part in public affairs in Hobarttown, had authorised their being affixed to it. He thought it right, however, to say how the matter stood.

Sir George Grey

said, that Mr. Melville having written what was considered a libel on the Court of Justice in Hobart-town, the court took it up as a contempt of court, and without the intervention of a jury sentenced Mr. Melville to fine and imprisonment. His Majesty's Government last year, after consulting the law-officers of the Crown, had expressed their decided disapprobation of the practice in reference to a case that occurred in Newfoundland. The statement which he (Sir G. Grey) made on that occasion in the House having reached Van Dieman's Land, the governor immediately remitted the sentence on Mr. Melville, and before a memorial from Mr. Melville reached the Colonial-office, they had received the governor's despatches announcing the remission of his sentence. With regard to the interrogatories put to Mr. Melville, the practice was an unusual one in this country, and the Government here was not prepared to countenance it. They had also given directions that such a practice should not be continued in the colonies. With regard to the other petition, it was clear that the signatures were not original; at the same time, he had no doubt that such a petition had been prepared and signed in the colony, and that the present was a copy of it.

Mr. O'Connell, in supporting the petitions, said that nothing could be more satisfactory than the part which Government had taken in this matter, and on a former occasion in reference to a similar case in Newfoundland. Nothing could be worse than that judge, jury, and accuser, should be united in the person of the same party, and the interrogatory proceeding was a necessary part of such a system. There was only one part of the empire, Ireland, where such a system was continued, and he trusted it would he put an end to in all our colonies.

Mr. Melville's

petition to lie on the table.

The Speaker, referring to the petition from the inhabitants of Hobart-town, said, that the House having' been once made cognizant of the irregularity in the document, it could not be received.

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