HC Deb 02 March 1837 vol 36 cc1198-201
Mr. William Roche

said, that his motive in calling for the document alluded to in the notice of motion on the Order Book, was to solicit the attention, and endeavour to persuade and prevail on the justice, or at least to excite the sympathy and compassion of Parliament, of Government, and the country on behalf of the unfortunate and innocent sufferers by the disastrous consequences of the gunpowder explosion which occurred in the City of Limerick about two months ago, an event which was deeply interesting to every portion of the empire; for even while he was speaking a similar fatality might be happening in some other locality, and he therefore trusted the House would kindly attend to him while he gave as brief as possible a detail of this unfortunate occurrence. His attention was directed to this subject at the commencement of the Session, aware that, however lively the impulse of feeling and pity might be on the first announcement of such a calamity, yet that sympathy was a plant of very fleeting nature, and as a French writer aptly said, "Mankind can bear the afflictions of others with great Christian, patience;" but the various interruptions to which motions were liable, prevented an earlier notice of the subject. He was himself an eye-witness of that awful and destructive calamity and he could unfeigned idly assure the House no picture, however vivid—nocolouring, however heightened—no description, however heart-rending, could exceed the sad and shocking reality. In a moment several houses disappeared as if swallowed up by an earthquake, or prostrated by some supernatural agency. The gas lights were at once and simultaneously extinguished in that vicinity, and the street presented a terrific gloom, while the gathering crowd were left in darkness and in doubt as to the cause and the extent of the calamity. The unfortunate inmates were of course buried under the ruins, and the piteous moans, the agonizing appeals made by the surviving relatives to disentomb and save their unfortunate friends, still rang in his ears and harrowed up his feelings. Although the persons present were deeply anxious to meet such an appeal, circumstances painfully but imperatively forbad it. The lateness of the hour, nearly midnight, and the apprehension that more powder might exist in the ruins, and by collision, in the dark, might explode, and the dangerous state of the surrounding houses, the walls of which were, in fact, tottering to their fall, all prevented them from assisting. All these considerations compelled the magistracy, the army, who promptly gave their valuable aid, and the people, to forbear till morning. About thirty persons in all suffered either loss of life or limb, or experienced some grievous injury; but if the calamity had happened a couple of hours earlier, one hundred persons at least would have become victims. Life or limb were, of course, beyond the power of Parliament to restore, but some pecuniary relief to the innocent sufferers in property was within the power, and, he trusted, within the inclinations and province of a paternal Legislature and a compassionate people. Some few persons lost their all, and were at once, and without any fault, reduced from comfort and independence, to poverty and destitution, while others had lost more or less, for every window in the neighbouring houses was shattered to atoms. Nevertheless, a few thousand pounds; perhaps eight, or any thing Parliament might be disposed to grant, would afford relief, and surely that was no great sum to ask on such an occasion from the sympathy of a great and humane nation. Relief for such purposes was not, he believed, unusual, and had been, he understood, conferred on sufferers in the West Indies, when hurricanes devastated those regions. Limerick, however, had a claim on the justice of Parliament—because this calamity arose out of an injudicious state of the law in permitting a universal and promiscuous sale for so dangerous an article. Moreover, the magistracy there had memorialized the Irish Government previously and timely on the subject; and their application was, as usual, promptly noticed by the excellent Viceroy, but before any satisfactory arrangement could be adopted, the unhappy reality arrived. This misfortune to Limerick ought, he thought, at once lead to a more safe mode of vending gunpowder; and, in his opinion, and in that of his constituents, it would be wisest to confine its sale to a public depot, superintended by a public responsible officer; or that, if sale were at all permitted to private persons, it should be in canisters only. If this disaster to Limerick produced as it ought so necessary a protection to every other part of the country, could that country or its representatives refuse or begrudge a few pounds to remunerate Limerick, whose misfortune had caused this improvement and protection? Under these circumstances and considerations, he thought he had made out a case which called upon the justice of the Legislature, or, at all events, on its sympathy, for relief to the sufferers in Limerick. In Cork, too, and elsewhere, the greatest alarm existed, and public meetings were convened for the purpose. But perhaps it will be replied, let the gentry subscribe; to which he would answer, that any one acquainted with an Irish provincial town (and no one knew Limerick better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer,) would admit that the residents were utterly unable to raise anything like such a sum, and moreover, that they had raised all that was in their power, a month or two before, to relieve the then appalling wants of their poorer fellow-citizens. It might also be said, that it would be opening a door to similar applications from other places. It might further be said, why did they not insure? But besides that this calamity arose out of so unforeseen a cause, the very dearness of insuring, from the excessive duty upon it, was a serious bar to industrious people, and moreover it was even doubtful whether insurance companies would be liable from such a cause. He could not sit down without noticing the great zeal and beneficence manifested on the occasion by the medical gentlemen in Limerick, by the army, and by the amiable Mayor of that city, and indeed by all classes of the community. He left the case in the hands of a considerate and compassionate legislature and Government, and trusted that his representations, his appeal, and anxiety, would be met by corresponding feelings and results.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had no objection to grant a copy of the memorial, but he could not hold out any hope of compensation to the sufferers on whose behalf the hon. Member had brought forward his motion. He sincerely sympathised with those individuals in the misfortune which had befallen them, but the hon. mover and Seconder must, upon reflection, perceive that, if Parliament were to grant compensation this instance, they would be establishing a precedent of a most frightful magnitude. Not only would persons losing property by any calamitous accident apply to Parliament for compensation, but, under the impression that they would be sure to obtain it, they would be careless about securing their property, and taking precautionary measures for its safety.

Mr. W. Roche

observed, that as the object of his motion was to obtain relief for those to whom it related, and as no hope of such relief had been held out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would be quite nugatory to merely obtain a copy of the memorial. He would, therefore, withdraw his motion.

Motion withdrawn.