HC Deb 27 April 1846 vol 85 cc1071-7

On the Motion that the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Protection of Life (Ireland) Bill be read,


regretted his accidental absence the other evening, when a statement was made by the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. J. O'Connell), respecting certain evictions that were stated to have taken place on the estate of the Marquess of Waterford. Before entering into any details he would state his solemn belief that no landlord in the kingdom could face an inquiry with regard to the management of his property more confidently than that noble Lord. He protested, however, against the conduct of every individual who was a landed proprietor in Ireland being made matter of Parliamentary inquiry, on no better authority than a newspaper report, inasmuch that the individual himself was either compelled to come forward personally, if he had a seat in that House, or if he had not, constant watchfulness was imposed upon his relatives to protect his name and character. He had no complaint to make against the hon. Member for Kilkenny for bringing forward the statement in question, because it was circulated in the leading journal, in the great organ of the press. But he was astonished that the hon. Member should so readily credit a report in that paper to the prejudice of another person, when he remembered that the hon. Member had some time ago complained of certain reports emanating from the same source with regard to the hon. Member's father, and had not only declared them to be false, in a speech, but had denied them in a public letter. He wished the hon. Member had exercised the same degree of caution when other people's character was concerned. The statement in question was made the subject of a leading article in the paper to which he alluded, The Times; and he begged to call the attention of the House to the following graphic description from that journal of the occurrence alleged to have taken place:— Within these few days, on the Marquess of Waterford's estates, a whole village containing fifty families and 277 persons, has been rased to the ground. The lease expired, and forthwith the mandate of destruction and depopulation was issued. Neither age nor sex was spared. Bedridden and helpless, infants, widows, orphans—all were driven away, most of them from the soil of their birth. A miserable pittance of compensation was given them, a few shillings to help them to America; and there end the indigenous rights and resources of the multitude. There ends its connexion with the landlord, its claim on his property, its appeal to his bosom, Yet all is legal: summum jus, not a flaw in the landlord's case, except what the desperation of the multitude may have imagined or invented. The lease has expired, and with it every hold the poor creatures possessed on the soil. Ireland is all landlord and tenant. The tenant being ousted, the landlord occupies his room. Nothing remains of the one—the other is all in all. As far as regards the Marquess of Waterford and the soil of Graigshoneen, the 277 have utterly ceased to be. They have no more relation to their former landlord and locality than a tribe of Esquimaux. It is with the main fact of such an extermination that we are concerned. We might be prepared to grant everything, and even more than everything, that can be alleged to vindicate and excuse the deed. We might grant, what appears to be the case, that the population had put itself into a hostile position to the landlord, by joining the "Repeal" folly. Unhappily there exist reasons far more likely to deprive these people of their landlord's sympathy. The Marquess of Waterford, though an Irishman, was really well inclined to be a useful man, and worked very hard to improve the condition of the people about him. In return for this his hounds were poisoned, his stables burnt, and his own life threatened. All his comfort and security is destroyed, and he finds himself an alien in the land of his fathers. Such is the fearful balance of injuries—such, to take the very worst supposition, the list of retaliations—such the calamity which assassination and annoyance have possibly brought on the outcasts of Graigshoneen. With all this, however, we are not concerned. Retaliation is the characteristic of savage life. It is not the guide of a civilized age, or for the Legislature ef a Christian country to compute the score of wrong and set off the score of revenge. This one act of depopulation is matter enough for national inquiry. These 277 are not refused to be cast aside in any corner; they are not water to be drained in the ocean; they are British subjects. The nation has a right to inquire what has become of them—whether they live or die—whether they linger on the bare roadside, or crowd the neighbouring hovels, or pine and sicken in the famine-struck town, or flock to the neighbouring port. Such things are not allowed in England. Why should Ireland have another law? Now, having read this article, he should take the liberty of stating the truth of the case. About thirty or forty years ago some leases had been made by the late Lord Waterford of some small holdings, consisting of from one to two acres each, at Graigshoneen. The tenants of these had underlet these small holdings to several smaller occupiers, and permitted some miserable cabins to be erected upon them. These cabins were not occupied by people who were in "the soil of their birth," for they were strangers from Cork and Kerry, who settled down in these wretched hovels. When the lease expired in the course of last summer, no ejectment was brought, no compulsion was used, and no attempt was made to remove any of the original tenants. The agent of the Marquess of Waterford went down and offered a few of the under occupants a sum of money, a few pounds, if they would pull down their cabins. They cheerfully accepted the offer. The agent went away, and when he returned, although he had offered only a small sum, he was besieged, he might say, by others of the under occupants, offering to pull down the remaining cabins on receiving the sum paid to the first. Lord Waterford's agent consented to pay them the money, and thereupon they pulled down the cabins, and left the land to the original tenants, minus only the cottages that had been erected on it. Not one person had been dispossessed, save by his own voluntary act, and the original tenants were all continued upon their small holdings. He had a letter from the agent, and, from his own knowledge of the case, he could vouch for the truth of the statement he had made. [The hon. and gallant Member read a letter from the agent of the Marquess of Waterford, who stated that there was no angry feeling on the part of the under tenants who had accepted the allowance; that the noble Marquess employed ninety men in draining in one place, and gave employment to 300 in another; and that every improvement was promoted by him.] Such was the real state of the case, and how different was it to the statement this journal had made out! It was a strange desperation on the part of the excited tenants that impelled others to request to be put in the same position. It was not to be supposed the people considered that any injury had been done to them, when they themselves asked that their cabins should be pulled down. The kindness of the Marquess of Waterford to his tenantry and dependants was constant and unvaried; he lived among them for nine months in the year out of the twelve; he spent a large income among them; he endeavoured to do good to all around him, and set an example to all landlords in Ireland, He was assisted by a lady, whose charities were unostentatious, but most liberal and well administered. Such was the nobleman who was said to be "an alien in the land of his fathers." The Marquess of Waterford was not afraid to go out at all hours—he required no Coercion Bill to protect his life or property. He only wished for protection from anonymous assailants, who either knew nothing of his character, or entirely misunderstood it.


was enabled, from his connexion with the noble Marquess, to corroborate every particular mentioned by his hon. Friend. Being often a resident with his noble relative in Ireland, he was rejoiced to witness the manner in which he managed his estates. A day or two ago he received a letter from the Marquess's agent, which he would read:— I think it probable that some notice may be taken in Parliament of some miserable hovels that have lately been taken down by the occupiers themselves, in Graigshoneen, which is part of Kilmacthomas, and I have deemed it prudent to give you a statement of the facts, that you may be enabled, should circumstances require it, to state them. Lord Waterford desired me to send it to you. He is doing all in his power to give employment in every direction. He has near 300 men employed every day, and would employ more if he could get them. We are at this moment making arrangement with the Board of Works for enclosing the slob lands at Dungarvon, solely for the purpose of giving employment. Lord Waterford's chief object is to give employment and improve his estate. He was delighted at the opportunity afforded him of bearing public testimony to the manner in which his noble Friend gave employment to the poor and improved his estates.


begged to thank the hon. Member for Harwich for his courtesy in giving him an intimation of his intention to bring this subject forward to-night; and he appreciated the conduct of that hon. and gallant Member the more highly, because it might naturally be supposed that the gallant Member would be considerably excited at a charge of such a nature having been made against his noble relative. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich had expressed surprise that he should be so ready to adopt this charge against the Marquess of Waterford, after he had so promptly contradicted a charge of a somewhat similar nature which had been trumped up last November against the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. and gallant Member was mistaken on this point. It was not he who repelled the charge made against the hon. Member for Cork. With regard to the present charge against the Marquess of Waterford, the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich must do him the justice to admit that it had been for some time before the public; that it had been repeated in two or three newspapers; and that no contradiction had been put forth. To other charges recently made, as to the eviction of tenantry, a contradiction had appeared within a reasonable time. He did not express any opinion as to the value of the contradiction given in those cases; but he must be allowed to say that he did not bring forward the charges against the Marquess of Waterford until an ample opportunity of contradicting them had been afforded to the friends of that noble Lord. He was happy to hear the explanation of the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich, and was bound to bear his testimony to the general merits of the Marquess of Waterford; and he must state that on hundreds of occasions he had heard persons most strongly opposed in politics to that noble Marquess express their wish that the landlords of Ireland generally imitated his example. After the explanation which had been given by the hon. Member for Harwich there was only one course open to him, which, had it been more unpleasing, he should have felt bound to pursue, namely, to retract the charge he had made against the Marquess of Waterford, and to express regret that he had brought it before the House.


I wish to add one word on this subject. I am anxious to bear my willing testimony to the merits of the Marquess of Waterford as a resident landlord. It would not be in my power to use language sufficiently strong to express my sense of the merits of that most estimable lady (the Marchioness of Waterford), who has been alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member opposite. Her charities are most considerate, well managed, and abundant; and the Marquess of Waterford is certainly one of the best landlords in Ireland. The noble Marquess is as safe in his own country—in every part of it—as he could possibly be in this House; and his tenantry are very happy in having such a landlord. The only point on which I differ from the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Major Beresford) is, as to his complaint that these charges have obtained publicity in the newspapers. Let him recollect that the poor have, in many cases, no other defender than the press. The plan I adopted when charges were made against me in the press was to meet them at once through the same medium; and the result was that, though I may have been calumniated on many of those charges, the entire press of Ireland took part with me against my assailants. I think we should not discourage the press from taking up the cause of the poor; but, when a charge is brought falsely, as has been the case here, we ought to adopt the channel through which it is made as a means of rebutting it.


I hope, Sir, that the House will draw the true moral from these charges against landlords and defences of landlords with respect to their use or abuse of their territorial rights in Ireland. Why, Sir, ought we to have any of these questions brought before us? How is it that we are called on from time to time to hold these sort of inquisitions into the exercise of the rights of property? For this reason only, Sir, that the public know, when a crowd of "wretches" in Ireland have their houses pulled down over their heads, they have no resource but the road or the ditches by its side—that such an ejectment is tantamonnt to a sentence of death upon them, of death by slow torture. This is why the public feel an interest in these questions as to clearances, and why they are brought before us. If a resource were open by law to wretches driven in this way from their homes, as is the case in England, no one would think of interfering with the conduct of landlords to their tenantry. But in Ireland it is otherwise; and, therefore, when the public hear of fifty or sixty families having their houses at once pulled down over their heads, the public is interested in asking the question, "What has become of the houseless wretches? Have they found, or can they find any other shelter?" And we all know the answer. They crowd into the suburbs of the nearest town, and before long sicken and die of want and fever, as Dr. Doyle describes so graphically of similar "wretches." I have no wish to canvass the Marquess of Waterford's humanity, with which we ought to have nothing to do; but as it has been brought before the House, I will own I am not quite satisfied of the humanity of his proceedings, even as stated by his friends. It is said the expelled cottiers pulled down their own houses and went willingly away. Oh, Sir, they knew very well, no doubt, that if they had not done so, the next day an ejectment would have turned them out, and without that poor compensation of a pound or two which it seems they got for removing themselves. Unless, therefore, I am told that the Marquess of Waterford took ample precautions for securing to the cottiers he ejected some other shelter, some other means of existence, than the little holdings they occupied on his estate, I cannot think that he fulfilled that duty to those who were, after all, his tenantry, since he found them occupying lands and houses on his estate—that duty of which we have heard as imposed by common humanity, if not by law, on a landlord. Be this as it may, Sir, I do trust, as I said at first, that Parliament will draw the right moral from these tales, and by giving some other resource to the poor of Ireland than casual dependence on a landowner's mercy, will render it unnecessary for us to sit in judgment on the more or less of humanity exercised by them towards their tenants.