HC Deb 08 June 1841 vol 58 cc1343-7
Sir C. Grey

rose, pursuant to notice, to move the appointment of a select Committee, to take into consideration the fitness of her Majesty's territory of Labrador for the purposes of a penal settlement. He would not, in the then state of the House, trespass upon their attention by any lengthened observations. He considered, however, that the coast in question, possessed great geographical and other recommendations in favour of the proposition he had to make. In the first place, then, from its proximity to this country, the expense of transporting felons would be lessened in proportion to the distance; for Labrador was only about 3,000 miles from England, while our present penal colonies were about 14,000. Then the exports which were made from Labrador were about half a million yearly; and these might be increased by the direction of convict labour. With regard to the health of the colony, notwithstanding its cold, that might be guarded against by the fuel which was provided by the great quantity of dwarf timber which the place supplied. The place, too, might be made a useful colony by encouraging its fisheries, which were abundant both on the coasts and the inland lakes and rivers, and this peculiarity, together with its productions in the various minerals, might be rendered subservient to the constant employment of such convicts as might be sent there. Employment might also be furnished in the manufacture of barilla and potash. Neither could the population of the place, which was scattered all over the country and the coast, suffer demoralisation by contact with the convicts; and the latter, while secured by the climate and the situation of the country from the likelihood of escape, had the advantage of being rendered eligible for being again suffered to mingle with society after having gradually expiated minor offences in their transportation. Under all the circumstances of the case, he thought his proposition was recommended both by humanity and sound policy; and, although he did not mean to press the House to a division on it at the present period of the Session, he hoped that some hon. Member possessing more weight and influence than he did, would draw their attention practically and usefully to the important subject early in the next.

Mr. Hindley

thought the labours of the missionaries in this region would not be by any means subverted, if the present motion was carried.

Mr. F. Maule

said, it must appear to all that it would be inexpedient to go on with a discussion upon that important subject at the present period of the Session; but, at the same time, he was not sorry that the question had been brought before the House. However, he differed from his right hon. Friend as to the principle laid down, that it was a recommendation to the place alluded to, for a penal settlement, to have it so near this country as it had been described. He held it that the proximity of Labrador to England was one thing that would render it an improper place for the object in question. With regard to the quantity of labour capable of being furnished, too, he considered that the place alluded to, presented difficulties for supplying labour greater than what had been stated. He hoped, in conclusion, that the motion would not be pressed forward on that occasion.

Viscount Mahon

said, there could be no doubt of the uselessness of having a Committee to inquire into the condition of Labrador in the present state of the House. He would not then go into the consideration of the many topics connected with the immediate question before the House, or describe what he thought to be its unfit-ness for the proposed plan. He would, however, take that opportunity of again appealing to her Majesty's Government on the behalf of the poor convicts at Woolwich, among whom the mortality was daily and hourly increasing to a most alarming degree. In the last week, there were no less than six deaths, all young, and previously hale men. This arose from the crowding together which had taken place on board the hulks in consequence of the recent regulations of Government respecting transportation. The system, in short, now acted on was one of the most frightful that could be conceived, and one of the most destructive possible to human life. In the estimates of last year, provision was made for 3,400 convicts in health, with 200 sick; and although it was resolved by the House on his motion that further increase was inexpedient, the estimates of this year showed no less than 3,750 to be provided for in health, and about 250 in sickness▀× equal in all to 4,000. It was, therefore, easy to foresee as well as to account for the fatal consequences that have ensued.

Mr. F. Maule

said, the mortality which existed amongst the convicts, and even the soldiery in the hulks, was owing to an epidemic which prevailed amongst them; and that alone was the cause of the late fatality.

Sir T. Cochrane

was understood to express his disapprobation of the coast of Labrador as a penal settlement; and one reason was, because he considered that the safe custody of the convicts could not be secured within any four walls that might be there erected.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had inferred from what had fallen from the Under-Secretary of State, that there was some inclination in his mind, as representing the Government that from their experience of the evils attending confinement at home, it would be desirable to turn their attention to the construction of some new penal settlement, avoiding the evils of penal settlements as they exist. He wished to ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Government had in view any such new settlement from an experience of its advantages.

Mr. F. Maule

said, that all he had meant to state was, that as the noble Lord had brought this question before the House, he was not sorry his hon. Friend behind him had suggested some point, in order that the public might see the difficulty of 6xing upon a special point for a penal settlement. He begged to say, that the Government were satisfied with the present penal settlements, and the system of the hulks.

Sir R. Peel

had understood the hon. Gentleman to state, that transportation to some of the settlements had been suspended. Could the hon. Gentleman state the number of convicts now sent out?

Mr. F. Maule

said, that, off hand, he could not. Transportation of convicts sentenced for seven years had been discontinued.

Lord Mahon

believed he could answer the question for the hon. Gentleman. The exact number of persons sentenced to confinement in the hulks previously to 1829 was 1,800. Subsequently, under the administration of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, the number had been regularly increasing. This year it was 3,650, and under the estimate, a further increase was proposed. Having answered one question for the hon. Gentleman, he hoped he would allow him to ask him one in return▀×namely, when the returns for which he had moved in March last, relative to coroners' inquests at Woolwich, which had been promised immediately, and to which the recent mortality gave additional importance, would be produced.

Mr. F. Maule

said, he had done all he could to procure them. A coroner's notes were as much his property as those of a judge of the superior courts, and he had not been able to obtain them. He could do no more than ask for them.

Sir C. Grey

did not mean to press his motion, which was negatived.