HC Deb 06 October 1841 vol 59 cc1142-5
Mr. Ward

wished to put a question to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, relating to a circumstance which had excited great surprise in Tamworth. A memorial had been sent up from that borough to be presented to her Majesty by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. A report was current that a copy of the memorial, with signatures appended, had been sent from the Home Office to the mayor of Tamworth, and subjected to a scrutiny of the signatures. The person who had stated this to him was a man of the greatest respectability, who was incapable of circulating any assertion destitute of foundation. A hand-bill had also been published in the place, stating that the names to the petition were all genuine, and that every person had given his address, which showed that the impression of the truth of the report was genuine. He had never heard that the course of making an inquiry into the signatures of a petition had been hitherto adopted, and he hoped to receive from the right hon. Baronet a denial of the fact, or an explanation of the circumstances.

Sir J. Graham

was not aware, until about fire minutes ago, that the hon. Gentleman intended to put this question. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in what he had stated in the beginning of his remarks, and he (Sir J. Graham) had i had the honour that day to present the Tamworth petition to her Majesty, exactly as he had received it. Her Majesty was informed of the number of signatures appended to it, and of the prayer of the petition. The hon. Gentleman had also been rightly informed that, before he laid the petition before her Majesty, he had thought it his duty to verify he signatures annexed to that petition. The hon. Gentleman said that before making his statement to the House he had received information which he believed to come from a credible quarter. He acted with the same precaution, and before transmitting the petition to Tamworth, to ascertain the authenticity of the signatures, he was informed on authority entitled to credit that the petition had been most improperly got up, that false signatures had been put to it, and that many of the petitioners were not free agents when they signed it. He had felt that no petition ought to be presented to her Majesty respecting which these statements could be made with truth, and he had therefore resolved, as the most direct and open conduct he could pursue, to send the petition, without the slightest concealment to the mayor of Tamworth, stating the report made to him, and asking him to verify the facts. He now held in his hand the report of the mayor of Tamworth, which, to a very considerable extent, bore out the original statement, but, on considering it, he did not think it so impugned the character of the petition as to justify him in withholding it from her Majesty. But since the hon. Gentleman had asked the question, and stated it to be his impression that all the signatures were genuine, he would just read the document, in order that it might be seen in what manner the signatures were obtained. The following was the mayor's report:— Tamworth, Sep. 30,1841. Sir— Having had the honour to receive your letter of the 25th inst., together with the address which I now return, I proceeded with the assistance of some of my friends lo collect the following information:— The assistance to which I have alluded has been rendered by such persons as I considered, from their extensive and familiar knowledge of the inhabitants, would the most readily be able to recognise the signatures to the address, if bonâ fide. In the first place we found a very great number of the names to be those of persons totally unknown to us, which could not have been the case had they been really inhabitants of this borough. Whether, therefore, as to this portion, the names be of persons who exist or not elsewhere, neither I nor any friends can undertake to assert. There is also throughout the list of names a very frequent repetition of signatures; as, for instance, the name of George Starkey occurs three times, when in fact, they are only two of that name. The name of Thomas Starkey occurs three times, although there is only one of that name. The name of John Starkey occurs three times, there being only one of the name; there are the names of two William Starkeys, neither of whom consented to have his name put down; also two Sarah Starkeys and two Elizabeth Starkeys, although in fact there is only one of each, and Chas. Siarkey's name appears, though there is no such person. The name of William Deville occurs three times, though there is but one of that name. The name of John Clarson occurs three times, though, in fact, there are only two of that name, excepting an infant two years old; and none who consented to sign. The names of Charles Clarson occurs twice, there being only one who consented to sign the petition. The name of Ann Clarson also occurs, though there is no such person; and the name of Catherine Clarson occurs twice, though none of that name can be found. The name of Buxton occurs twenty times; though there are only seven of that name. We have not thought it requisite further to multiply instances of this kind, and, therefore, our inquiry has been limited to only a few names but we have no doubt, were we to extend our inquiry, that the same sort of repetition would be found to occur through-out. It also appears that very many inhabitants, whose names are attached to the petition, neither signed it themselves, nor consented to have their names put down by others. The following are a few of the instances:— The names of John and Ann Westbury are attached entirely without their knowledge or consent, and these names also occur twice over. The names of William Farebrother and his wife, of Joseph, Thomas, and Henry Woodcock, of Mary and William Coleman, and of John Coleman, are each attached without consent, and the latter twice over, unless it be of an infant of that name, only two years of age. The names of Samuel, of Sarah, and of Ellen Bailey, are of the same class; as are also those of William Wilcox, of his wife, and an apprentice, and many other instances of the same kind could be added, if requisite. The names of vagrants in lodging-houses have been numerously attached, and the names of Joseph Fenton, of William Taylor, and of William Seale, are also to the petition, although these three persons were at the time, and still are, confined in Stafford gaol on charges of felony. It is evident that but few of the signatures are the hand-writing of the persons whom they are intended to represent, and we find that people have gone from house to house obtaining names of whole families, without regard to age, and having entered these names in a book, have added them afterwards to the petition, though, at the time, the names were taken, no petition was produced, and the names thus taken would be given by one member only of a family, and that not unfrequently a child. This was the mode in which many of the signatures had been obtained, but as he had said before, he had not thought it formed sufficient grounds for withholding the petition.

Mr. Ward

expressed his regret that the hon. Baronet had not resorted to a public inquiry. The report could at best be considered merely as a one-sided report.

Sir James Graham

It. is the report of the mayor of the town.

Mr. Ward

The mayor of a town is not always an impartial authority.

Mr. Wakley

I hope that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government will now admit some doubt as to the surpassing purity of Tamworth.

Sir R. Peel

Quite the reverse. If strangers come to Tamworth and endeavour to contaminate the electors, that is no reason why I should doubt the purity of the latter. Surely the hon. Member would not class the prisoners in Stafford gaol amongst the electors of Tamworth.

Mr. W. Williams

wished to ask the right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department, how many signatures were attached to the Tamworth memorial?

Sir J. Graham

I do not recollect the exact number— somewhere about two thousand; but the hon. Member will, of course, make some abatement after the statement I have read.

Subject at an end.