HC Deb 16 July 1840 vol 55 cc771-4
Mr. Aglionby

rose to make the motion of which he had given notice relative to the treatment of Mr. Feargus O'Connor in York Castle. That treatment had been so atrocious that he would venture to say no Member of that House would stand up in defence of it if the truth was only known. Mr. O'Connor was a man who was undergoing a most severe sentence, and was entitled to have the truth sifted. He begged the House to remember that the visiting justices had not dared to deny the treatment which Mr. O'Connor said that he had endured. All that they said was, that he was not now subject to the same treatment. If it turned out to be true that Mr. O'Connor was subject to the most menial services, besides being treated as a common felon, he hoped that this would form some foundation for the House agreeing to an address to her Majesty for some remission of those sufferings which the law never before recognised. Mr. Crawford had been sent down to inquire into this subject in consequence of the motion which he (Mr. Aglionby) had formerly made, but why was that Gentleman's report not produced? The House ought to have the whole of the information which he had received. It was not to be tolerated, that a gentleman moving in, Mr. O'Connor's sphere in life should be treated as a common felon, and his petition withheld from that House; it was not to be tolerated that he should continue branded, on the authority of an inspector, as a person of no credibility when the documents which would prove his credibility were in the Home Office. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a Copy of any examinations, reports, or other papers received from any inspector of prisons or other person with regard to the treatment of Mr. Feargus O'Connor in York Castle; also, of any correspondence that has passed between Mr. Feargus O'Connor and any inspector of prisons, or any visiting justice, on the same subject; and also for any medical certificates, affidavits, or correspondence sent to the Home Office by Dr. Thompson, and by Messrs. Jago and Cooper, surgeons, with the dates thereof.

Mr. Wakley

seconded the motion. He could not conceive upon what principle it could be opposed. Conciliatory attempts to settle the question had been made, and he was sorry to say had failed. The House had resolved not by any act of its own to interfere. If the hon. Under Secretary refused to allow Mr. Crawford's report to be produced he must bear the odium. Nearly three hundred persons were now confined in prison for political offences—that was for merely expressing their feelings in strong language. He had received a letter from Mr. O'Connor, describing his treatment, which, with the permission of the House, he would read. [The hon. Member read the letter.] He had not read this letter on a former occasion, because he had hoped that the Government would relent, and see the propriety of altering the treatment to which Mr. O'Connor had been subjected. He had hoped that the Government would have reprobated such conduct, and that they would have laid before the House every document that could have thrown any light upon the subject, that hon. Members might form a fair judgment as to who was to blame. He cordially seconded the motion.

Mr. F. Maule

could not assent to the motion. Mr. O'Connor had been condemned for the publication of a political libel, not of a common description, but one of such a nature that the Attorney, general had told the jury—a fair and impartial jury of Englishmen—that if they did not consider it was calculated to stir up and inflame the minds of the people, they were bound to acquit the prisoner of the charge. The jury found Mr. O'Connor guilty of publishing an inflammatory libel, and for that offence he was brought before the Court of Queen's Bench to receive judgment. During the interval he was confined in the Queen's Bench Prison. The sentence was, that he was to be confined in York Castle. However, upon receiving accounts that the removal would be injurious to the health of Mr. O'Connor, the Secretary of State did not insist upon his removal on the Saturday morning, but deferred it until the Monday. During that time other applications were made, but not of a nature to induce the Secretary of State to interfere. Had Mr. O'Connor not been in a fitting state for removal on Monday morning, the Marshal of the Queen's Bench would have been responsible if he removed him. The Marshal took that responsibility upon himself, and Mr. O'Connor arrived at the end of his journey at two o'clock on Tuesday, not the worse for his removal—so little indeed, that he spent the afternoon in viewing the town of York, the Minster, &c. &c, and it was not until ten at night that he arrived at the prison, and Mr. O'Connor was not on his first reception placed in confinement which was not fitting for him. As soon as the circumstances that were afterwards complained of came to the knowledge of the Home Secretary, he sent down to the magistrates, recommending a mitigation of Mr. O'Connor's treatment. After that he was allowed every indulgence, except, indeed, that, he was not allowed to carry on and conduct the publication of that paper for the publication of a libel in which he had been already condemned. But as doubts still existed in the minds of some as to whether those instructions for mitigation had been carried into effect, the Secretary of State in order to remove those doubts, and to ascertain whether the indulgences had been granted, sent down a person to make the necessary inquiries. The only report made to the Secretary of State by that person was that the indulgences set forth in his instructions had been granted to Mr. O'Connor; and that he was then, as far as the visiting justices could carry out the wishes of the Secretary of State, enjoying the benefit of them. As to the examinations moved for by the hon. Member, the only examinations that had taken place were not conducted by Mr. Crawford at all, but by the visiting justices. All the report from Mr. Crawford would be a simple negative or affirmative to the question he was sent to resolve. With respect to the correspondence between Mr. O'Connor and the inspectors, Mr. O'Connor might certainly have written to Mr. Crawford as well as to any other gentleman, but he knew of no such letters, and the Secretary of State had no power to call for them. As far as regarded medical certificates, he did not see what they had to do with Mr. O'Connor's confinement in York Castle. Those medical gentlemen had not, as far as he was aware, visited Mr. O'Connor there. The certificates were confined to the point whether it was right or wrong that he should be removed from the Queen's Bench prison to York Castle. The marshal of the Queen's Bench had supplied him (Mr. Fox Maule) with an account of Mr. O'Connor's dietary and exercise while confined there; and with regard to the latter he could inform the House that rackets formed a part of Mr. O'Connor's amusements. The marshal had stated also that he had not observed any symptoms of Mr. O'Connor being in the sickly state that had been described, and there was no doubt that, if called upon, the marshal would give a certificate to that effect.

Mr. Hume

said, this was the first time that any public officer who had been sent by the Government to institute an inquiry into a case of a public nature, had made merely a verbal answer; but as that was the case, of course the House could not obtain any return.

Mr. Aglionby

replied, and the House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 19: Majority 7; but there not being a sufficient number of Members present to constitute a House, the Speaker left the Chair, and the division went for nothing.

List of the AYES.
Bridgeman, H. Pryme, G.
Euston, Earl of Scholefield, J.
Fielden, J. Vigors, N. A.
Finch, F. Williams, W.
Hume, J.
Jackson, Sergt. TELLERS.
Johnson, General Aglionby, H. A.
Perceval, Colonel Wakley, T.
List of the NOES.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Hutton, R.
Blake, W. J. Miles, W.
Brotherton, J. Pigot, D. R.
Campbell, Sir J. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A
Douglas, Sir C. E. Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Strutt, E.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Tufnell, H.
Gordon, R. Wood, G. W.
Hawes, B. TELLERS.
Hoskins, K. Maule, hon. F.
Hughes, W. B. Stanley, E. J.

The House adjourned.