HC Deb 07 May 1845 vol 80 cc232-4
Captain Polhill

rose to put the question of which he had given notice—namely, to ask the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if any communication had taken place between him and the Sheriffs of London, respecting the admission of persons to hear the condemned sermon? And also, whether it is not his opinion that upon a recent occasion the Sheriffs only acted in conformity with their undoubted rights and privileges?

Sir James Graham

said: Mr. Speaker, in answer to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question, I have to state that not only on my part, but on the part of my predecessor in the office I have the honour to hold in the Government (the Marquess of Normanby) representations have passed between the Home Office and the Corporation of London on the subject; and in consequence of these representations I had understood, and confidently believed, that the Corporation of London had made regulations which absolutely prohibited the admission of the public generally on those melancholy occasions to which the question of the hon. and gallant Member refers, namely, the preaching of the condemned sermon at Newgate previous to an execution. And certainly, as to the correctness of that understanding 1 am not prepared to give an opinion; but if I am justified in pronouncing any opinion positively, I would not do it on what occurred on a late occasion by the Sheriff of London, under a misapprehension probably of the circumstances that had taken place. But on a former occasion, my attention having been painfully drawn to what, to use the mildest term, was a great irregularity, not only in the preaching of the last condemned sermon, but in certain transactions that took place on the morning of the execution; I have, in the exercise of the power vested in me as Secretary of State under the Prisons Act, directed one of the prison inspectors to proceed to the gaol of Newgate, and institute a strict and rigid inquiry into all the transactions that occurred on the Sunday before and on the Monday of the execution. That Report, and the evidence collected by the inspector, has not yet been received; but when I receive it I will lay it on the Table of the House, and my present belief is that that Report will show that some legislative interference will be necessary.

Mr. Alderman Copeland

expressed a hope that the right hon. Baronet would extend the inquiry to the last two or three of those melancholy occasions. Unfortunately there was a morbid appetite prevailing to witness such exhibitions, and the importunity of persons for admission when cases of this kind occurred exceeded anything that could be imagined. On the late occasion of the trial of Hocker, and subsequently, the importunities by which the magistrates of the city of London were beset by persons of every class, not only for admission to witness the trial, but to be present at the execution, were beyond anything that could be conceived. And while this morbid appetite continued, and public executions took place, it was impossible to prevent it. It was a question, however, how far these melancholy exhibitions were useful in checking crime; and upon that point he might state that being himself the sitting magistrate at Guildhall, for the week commencing Easter Monday, from what he there saw, he had come to the conclusion that the time had at length arrived when it would be proper for the Government to consider whether these public executions should for the future be allowed to take place. He had his own opinion upon that subject; but it was not for him then to put forward his views; but having on the day he had mentioned, Easter Monday—when it would be remembered, a public execution took place—had occasion to send for trial some persons, and convict summarily others, who were brought before him (three in one gang, and two in another) for picking pockets at the very foot, of the gallows, he had come to the conclusion, that some interference should take place for the purpose of putting an end to these public and painful exhibitions altogether.

Mr. Brotherton

agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman. ["Order!"]

Captain Polhill

thanked the right hon. Baronet for the explanation he had given. He was anxious to say a few words—[cries of "Order!"]

The Speaker

decided that as the question had been answered, the hon. and gallant Member could not further address the House upon it.

Subject at an end.