HC Deb 17 August 1846 vol 88 cc760-6

rose to ask a question, of which he had given notice the other night, with respect to the appointment of a gentleman as a magistrate on the bench within the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster, of whom it was said that some years ago he was convicted of committing a fraud on the Excise. He had forborne as yet to mention the name of the gentleman, in the hope that there might be two of the same name, and that the gentleman so appointed might not be the gentleman who was convicted in 1831, in the Court of Exchequer, in Westminster-hall, of a gross fraud on the Excise. The gentleman to whom he alluded was Mr. Thomas Gorton, of Tottington-park, in Lancashire, formerly a calico printer; and unless there was some mistake as to the identity of the person, the same individual who, after a series of years, having in his trade of calico printer practised frauds on the Excise, viz., forging the Government stamp, which was the indication that the Excise duty was paid on the article so stamped, was brought to trial in the Court of Exchequer, in Westminster-hall, and was convicted, as he believed, before Chief Baron Lyndhurst in the penalty of 800l. It would be in the recollection of the House that there was an excise duty on printed calico. When the duty was paid, the Government stamp was impressed on each article; but this gentleman was said to have forged the stamp of the Government and to have stamped his own calico, on which no duty was paid, thus entering into unfair competition with other calico printers. The defendant pleaded not guilty in the Court of Exchequer, a special jury was sworn, the whole number did not answer to their names, and a tales was prayed; but the defendant, finding himself quite unable to free himself from the guilt with which he was charged, withdrew his plea, pleaded guilty, and consented to a fine of 800l., which was paid to the Crown. This was the gentleman who had been selected by the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as a man fit to sit on the magisterial bench. He believed it was through carelessness and through influence that the noble Lord the late Chancellor of the Duchy (Lord G. Somerset) had appointed so improper a person; but the complaint he had to make against the noble Lord, and which he made in the face of the country, was, that when the error was discovered, and notice given to the noble Lord that this gentleman had in former times been convicted of disgraceful forgeries and frauds on the Excise, he was not immediately removed from the commission. He might be told that there had been some private understanding that he would not seek to qualify; but that was not enough for that House—it was not enough for the country. Those private understandings would not do. It was a great honour to a man in that situation of life to be made a magistrate; and it was an insult to honest and honourable men to place side by side with them on the roll of the commission of the peace for Lancashire a person convicted of forgery and fraud on the Excise. That person should be forthwith removed from his situation in the commission; and the questions he had to ask of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who was in no way responsible for this appointment, were, whether this was or was not the same gentleman so convicted in the Court of Exchequer at Westminster-hall, in 1831? and next, whether, if such were the case, it was his noble Friend's intention to permit him to remain on the commission of the peace for the county of Lancaster?


Mr. Speaker, I believe the noble Lord has correctly stated that a person, Mr. Gorton, was placed on the commission of the peace for the duchy of Lancaster by the noble Lord opposite when he was Chancellor of the Duchy, who had been convicted in 1831 of a fraud on the Excise. Lord Campbell found that he had been placed there; and my noble and learned Friend had a correspondence on the subject which I have not yet seen, but of which he has communicated to me the result. It appears that Mr. Gorton was placed in the commission of the peace without any solicitation of his own, and therefore Lord Campbell thought it would not be right to inflict that stigma upon him of removing him immediately from the commission of the peace, and that it would seem as if he had been placed there merely for the purpose of inflicting disgrace upon him. But my noble and learned Friend has taken sufficient precautions that he should not qualify, and that he should never act as a magistrate. As I have stated, I have not yet seen the correspondence; but when I have, I shall be able to give my noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck) any further satisfaction he may require as to the facts of the case.


hoped the House would bear with him, while he endeavoured to explain the circumstances under which this appointment had been made. He should apply himself simply to the facts of the case as they occurred, and to his own conduct in making the erroneous nomination—erroneous certainly, so far that he should have cleared up the point before he nominated Mr. Gorton, if he had not overlooked the information he had received respecting that gentleman. He was very sorry to detain the House on a matter of this nature; at the same time he thought it but right that he should state the whole of the case, when it would appear how far an error had been committed; and if there were an error, whether he had committed it from an improper motive. He could truly say, that during the several years for which he had held the seals of the duchy of Lancaster, he had taken infinite pains, as much as any of his predecessors, to prevent the nomination of improper persons on the roll of magistrates, always taking care to select the persons whom he thought most fit to administer justice, from their various dispositions and the incidents of their past life. In the present year an application had been made to him for the appointment of additional magistrates in Lancashire; he did not know the gentlemen who were recommended to him for nomination, of whom Mr. Gorton was one, but they were introduced to him by a letter from a noble Lord, lately a Member of that House, for whom he entertained great respect, and he was sure every hon. Member who heard him would agree that nobody could be more unlikely to recommend any other but respectable persons to him for a purpose of this kind than his noble Friend and relative the Earl of Ellesmere. His noble Friend stated to him that, owing to deaths and other circumstances, the magistrates of that particular district to which he referred were inadequate in point of number to the due performance of the duties which devolved upon them; his noble Friend explained to him exactly how the case stood, and presented to him a memorial signed by many respectable persons, praying for an increase in the magistracy. His noble Friend also mentioned to him the names of several individuals who might be appointed, only one of whom was known to him (Lord G. Somerset) by name. He was not contented with the general assertions or statements made to him, both verbally and in writing; but he consulted a gentleman of great respectability, whom he was very often in the habit of consulting, and who, from peculiar circumstances, had much local knowledge—whose name, if he were to mention it, no one would gainsay, but he would not mention it—begging his opinion as to the general fitness for the magistracy of the persons they named. That individual wrote to him in, the month of February in terms of strong recommendation with respect to Mr. Gorton. He had also recommendations of the same gentleman from other quarters. Owing to accidental circumstances he deferred making any nomination much longer than he intended; and before he made the nomination at the end of April, information was given him by the Chairman of the Board of Excise, warning him against this person. He made a memorandum against the name, and when, a fortnight or three weeks after, he looked over the books with a view to making the nominations, he referred to the document; but by some oversight or another he did not see Mr. Gorton's name included in it. This was the cause of the error; but so far was he from being aware that he had fallen into the mistake, that when Mr. Wood mentioned to him what he had done, he said in the strongest terms that he had not. However, on reference to his papers, he found that he had actually fallen into it. He admitted that before nominating Mr. Gorton, he should have made himself acquainted with the circumstances of the case; and if he found that gentleman to deserve the imputations cast upon him, then, however much he might regret the necessity of coming to such a determination, after the lapse of so many years, he should have considered it his duty not to nominate him as a magistrate for the county. He had received another letter which induced him immediately to take measures to ascertain from Mr. Gorton himself, what foundation there was for the charge against him. He should read to the House the answer he received from that gentleman:—

"Tottington Hall, June 27, 1846.

"Sir—I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 26th instant.

"In answer to the allegation against me, that ahout the year 1831 I was guilty of having forged the Excise stamp on printed calicoes, I shall state the circumstances, and his Lordship the Chancellor of the Duchy will then be able to judge how far the charge can with justice be made against me.

"Previous and up to 1831, the printworks of myself and partner had been surveyed by two excise officers named Wallplate and Ball. Wallplate was a man of exceedingly drunken habits, and committed a great many errors in affixing what was called the frame mark to calico pieces before they were printed, and in numbering such mark; many of his errors were discovered and rectified, and some, in all probability, never were noticed.

"In the early part of 1831 the general examining officers attended, as was their custom, at our works, and detected some of those errors. A short time afterwards, without any previous communication, we were served with a writ, at the suit of the Crown, for the recovery of penalties to which, if we were liable at all, we were liable by reason of the negligence of the officers of the Crown.

"Both my partner and myself were, and are at this moment, entirely ignorant that we had subjected ourselves to any penalties, and we defended the action which stood for trial in the Court of Exchequer, in Easter Term, 1831; when in an unfortunate moment, after the jury were sworn, our attorney suffered himself to be overruled by the persuasion of his counsel, and submitted to a verdict against us.

"In order that his Lordship may have the whole charge and our defence before him, without any concealment or evasion, I take the liberty to foward herewith one of the briefs which was used by counsel on what should have been the trial, and I beg particularly to ask his Lordship's attention to the evidence of Samuel Scowcroft—a man who had then the exclusive management of that portion of our business for several years. He is still living, and will depose to the facts, but has left our service many years ago.

"I beg to apologize for troubling his Lordship with so long a case; but as the conduct through life of my partner and myself have been such as will bear the most searching scrutiny, I feel assured that, after a lapse of fifteen years, his Lordship will not, without mature consideration, degrade me and my family by depriving me of the honour, unsolicited on my part, which has just been conferred upon me, for that of which I am perfectly innocent. Although I have taken the oaths of a magistrate, I have not yet qualified, and my future proceedings in that respect will of course be regulated by his Lordship's determination.—I have, &c.


"Frederick Dawes Danvers, Esq.,

Duchy of Lancaster."

At the time of receiving this letter, he (Lord G. Somerset) was holding office only during pleasure, and it seemed to him quite impossible that during the forty-eight hours for which the term of his official existence might be protracted, he could institute any inquiry into the facts referred to. He thought it would be an act of great injustice towards Mr. Gorton if he were to do so, and he did not therefore look at the brief which had been sent to him, nor communicate it to the Excise or the Solicitor of the Crown. He had thought that the noble and learned Lord who had succeeded him, having been Attorney General for many years, and having the advantage of much greater experience, could decide as to the character of this gentleman with much greater propriety than himself. He had now placed the whole facts before the House; he knew nothing of Mr. Gorton except from the information which he had received; but he had been informed from other quarters that Mr. Gorton was a person holding a most respectable station in society, and well fitted to discharge the duties of the magistracy. As to the advice which he had received in the first instance, he could say no more than that the names of several gentlemen having been mentioned to him, he had submitted them to the individual to whom he alluded. Some of these gentlemen, according to the opinion he received, would be unfit for the magistracy; and though he (Lord G. Somerset) knew them personally, and would have been glad to put them on the bench, he abstained from nominating them, because circumstances were stated to him which he thought rendered them unfit. He was extremely sorry that he had overlooked the information subsequently received; but he could not say that he took any blame whatever to himself for having left the matter undecided when in office, no time remaining for him to consider the case. Having explained to the House how the whole matter stood, he should leave it to them to judge whether any improper motive could be attributed to him; he did not consider himself guilty of having done more than commit an error which any one might have made. He could not approve the soundness of the noble Lord's (Lord G. Bentinck's) judgment in speaking as he had done; but at this moment he would not express any opinion on the propriety or impropriety of Mr. Gorton being a magistrate, because he had not looked fully into the case.

House in Committee on Public Works (Ireland) Bill No. 4.

Order of the Day read.