HC Deb 27 February 1837 vol 36 cc1053-8
Mr. Sergeant Jackson

rose in the discharge of an exceedingly irksome, but which he felt an incumbant duty upon him, to call the attention of the House to a publication in the Morning Chronicle of last Friday, reflecting upon him in terms equally false and calumnious, in connexion with the vote which he felt it is duty to give upon a question which recently came before that House, on the motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Cornwall (Sir W. Moles-worth). He should without further preface, read to the House the paragraph of which he complained as a matter of grievous calumny; and which, he submitted, involved a gross breach of the privileges of the House, in assailing a Member with reference to the vote which he felt it his duty to give on a subject which was regularly brought under the consideration of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman then read the following extract from the paper in question:— Some striking instances of Irish modesty are exhibited in the division on Sir William Molesworth's proposition for abolishing the property qualification. Mr. Shaw and Dr. Lefroy, who, as representatives of the University are themselves specially exempt from the operation of the existing absurd law; and Mr. Sergeant Jackson, who was a bankrupt, uncertificated until within three weeks of his return for Bandon, all voted against the hon. Baronet's motion &c. The paragraph was headed, "From our own correspondent." Then came some ribaldry, reflecting on the hon. Member for Belfast, or rather on his father, who had been in his grave for the last twenty years, and who had been always under" stood to be one of the most respectable merchants in the town of Belfast. Having read the paragraph to the House, he would say it involved a grievous imputation on his moral character as a Member of that House. As he had stated before, it was false as it was calumnious; and he implored the indulgence of the House for a few minutes, while he attempted very briefly to state a few facts and circumstances which the writer of the paragraph probably had in view at the time he wrote. A very short time after he (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) had been called to the bar his father died, leaving a very large family, chiefly of young children. One brother was apprenticed in a manufacturing house of considerable respectability in Dublin, and a sister was married to a member of the firm. Through a pressure on the manufacturing trade in Ireland that House was under the necessity of vesting its affairs in the bands of trustees. The trustees endeavoured to get the engagements fulfilled, but in vain, and they were under the necessity of selling the establishments belonging to that firm. He was placed (he might say) in loco parentis with regard to the younger branches of his family. He recommended, therefore, that a place in the establishment of Benjamin, Clarke, and Co., of Dublin, should be purchased for his younger brother, who was a minor, A gentleman came forward as a partner, bringing in both capital and skill. He (Sergeant Jackson) gave his name as a trustee for his brother, and as a guarantee that all would be right. The business proceeded, as he understood, most prosperously, but after a short period he was given to understand from a confidential person that property had been abstracted from it to a considerable extent by the gentleman who had become the partner of his brother. The books were fabricated, and false entries made. What was his conduct on the occasion? He trusted the House would be of opinion that it was the conduct of an upright and honourable man. He was a young man at the time, and had not been long a Barrister. He called on two of the most respectable merchants in the city of Dublin, and asked their advice as to the course he ought to adopt. Those gentlemen were still living, and were respectable members of the mercantile world. The circumstances being so urgent they recommended him to resort to a sum- mary proceeding, and to invite those who consulted his interests in the firm to issue a commission of bankruptcy against it. He himself had never possessed any interest in the firm, and had acted throughout merely as trustee for his brother. He stated to the gentlemen whom he consulted that he invited proceedings to be taken against the house—and that he wished only to save the property for those who had intrusted the firm on the faith of his credit. He convened a meeting of the principle creditors, stating that he desired to forego all the advantages that he might claim for himself in the matter—he recommended them to strike the docket of bankruptcy. The course so advised was followed, and they succeeded in recovering a considerable portion of the property, so that a large dividend was paid to the creditors. He had inherited a small patrimonial property, which was brought to sale, and the proceeds applied to the same purpose—and he even insisted on their taking his library, and converting it into money, and applying it as far as it could go. The property certainly had been purchased by a friend, but its full value was given, and the amount applied as he had stated. Several gentlemen, many of them Members of his own profession, offered their assistance—one came into his house the next morning, and laid upon his table the sum of l,000l., desiring that he should make what use he pleased of it. Of course he did not condescend to accept another person's money to apply it to his own purposes. He loved his profession, and he trusted that his efforts to attain eminence in it would not prove unsuccessful. He formed the resolution never to suffer a single shilling to be lost by any individual who had trusted that Firm, and he could now produce receipts in full from every human being. He was sorry to trouble the House with a matter so purely personal, but he never saw it denied to any man who was unjustly stigmatised and accused, an opportunity of defending himself. The matter did not confine itself to the character of an individual; the House had a deep interest in the character of the individuals who composed it, and the country at large had a deep interest in the moral character and conduct of its representatives. He was happy to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, for the right hon. Gentleman would be able to state that the persons whom he had consulted on the occa- sion referred to were, of the most respectable character. One of them was Mr. Samuel Bewley, a most eminent merchant, still alive; the other, too, was also yet living, and in business; as also the agent to the commission, and the clerk in the firm, whose affairs were involved in difficulty, as well as some of the assignees who had been appointed. All these persons were, therefore, capable of refuting him if he stated anything that was untrue. He hoped he had sufficiently made out a case in answer to the slander that he "was a bankrupt, uncertificated until within three weeks before he was made a Member;" when the fact was, that the whole body of creditors had signed the certificate. These transactions had taken place so far back as 1818, and yet that audacious paragraph had asserted that he was an uncertificated bankrupt until within three weeks before he was returned to that House. He was not anxious to press heavily upon those who had an arduous and important public duty to perform, well knowing that every newspaper must be at the mercy of those who communicated facts from the other side of the water; but he must say that it was the incumbent duty of an editor to have seen that he had a respectable and faithful correspondent—and to have ascertained the correctness of the facts he was about to state, reflecting so grievously on private character, before he held up to the British public an individual who, however humble, had never forfeited the character of an honourable and upright man. He was willing to make every allowance for the press, and did not bring this matter forward with any vindictive feeling. He would throw himself entirely on the feeling of the House, and take any course which it thought fit to recommend. He was quite satisfied that what had been intended to injure his character would have the effect of raising it in the estimation of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House.

Dr. Lefroy

claimed the indulgence of the House for a few moments. He should not have felt it necessary to do so, if the character of his hon. and learned Friend was as well known in this country, as it was in that from whence the calumny had emanated, and as fully appreciated by the Members of the House as by the profession to which he belonged. He rose merely for the purpose of making this statement, as a member of that profession to which they both belonged, to every member of whom the circumstances detailed by his learned Friend were known at the time. The whole of these circumstances came under their cognizance, and he would venture to say, that his hon. and learned Friend did not lose in the estimation of the profession, any more than he did in the estimation of his friends, an atom of the high character he had always held. Although the circumstances had been dragged forward now, with the malicious view of hurting his feelings, and injuring his character in a strange country, he would venture to say, that they were remembered in Ireland, and spoken of only to his honour and credit. It was perfectly true, that the members of the profession to which he belonged were anxious to give him every assistance to extricate him from difficulty, but his hon. and learned Friend, from a sense of what was due to his character, which had been always disinterested, noble—he would almost say, chivalrous—had declined the proposed assistance, and had resolved to rely on his own talents to extricate himself, and, he was happy to say, he had done so by the exercise of his profession, to which there did not exist a greater ornament. He was satisfied that the circumstances that attended the transaction, had been such as to raise his character in his own profession, and would have the same effect on the House, now that they were fully informed, of the true circumstances of the case. He would not speak more on the subject. He was anxious to give his testimony to the House, as his Hon. and learned Friend's character might not be so well known in this country as amongst the members of his profession in his own.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he was not at all aware, until the circumstance had been brought forward, that any paragraph of the kind alluded to, had been inserted in any paper. He concurred entirely in the condemnation that had been given to such proceedings. He thought that personal attacks upon private character, for the purpose of influencing politics, were unmanly and ungenerous—because the party attacked must either labour under the charges made against him, or do that which might be extremely hurtful to his feelings, and come forward for the purpose of vindicating his character. The attack that had been made on the learned Gentleman opposite, throwing entirely out of question the speech that he made, was most unjustifiable. If, then, it could be considered unjustifiable, previous to the statement of the hon. Member, how much more so must it appear, after the explanations which had been given on the subject? When the hon. and learned Member had so entirely grappled with the case, the charge, which", even if true, would have been an improper one, became doubly unjustifiable, when it was shown to be entirely unfounded. If the hon. and learned Member had been longer in the House, he would perhaps have felt less warmly on the subject, because these charges were brought every day against individuals on both sides of the House. He was sure that there were very few persons on his side, and not many on the other, who had remained unattacked. The frequency bf the practice was, he allowed, no excuse for the present attack; but still he thought that, under the whole of the circumstances, the hon. and learned Gentleman would find, that in the eyes of the House, after the explanation which he had given, and after stating facts and circumstances which could not be controverted, and after having completely refuted the statement which bad been made, the case did not call for any further step. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman, that if he thought that anything further than his own statement was needed for his justification, he, for one, would not call upon the hon. and learned Member to stay where he was. But the hon. and learned Gentleman having fully satisfied the House, as he trusted he had—[Loud cheers attested the correctness of the remark]—that no imputation whatever rested on his character, he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would feel, that he had discharged his duty adequately, and that it was not necessary to proceed further in the matter. If this opinion was correct, he would move the Order of the Day for renewing the adjourned debate.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

had put himself entirely in the hands of the House, as he did not think himself justified in passing over so false and calumnious a charge. He must be allowed to say still, that he felt it to be his duty to give the newspaper, or rather its informant, an opportunity of justifying the statement by commencing legal proceedings against it.

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