HC Deb 02 July 1847 vol 93 cc1160-3

had a question to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary-at-War upon a subject which he approached with very great regret, because he was obliged thereby to bring the name of a gallant and highly-esteemed officer under the notice of the House. He begged to trespass upon the attention of the House and the right hon. Gentleman, whilst he read a paragraph from a Dublin newspaper, Saunders' News Letter, of the 26th of June, relating to an occurrence which had taken place at Ballinasloe, on the 22nd June. The paragraph was as follows:—

"Ballinasloe, June 22.

"A truly melancholy circumstance occurred this morning at the barracks of the infantry regiment (75th), by the deliberate suicide of a soldier named John Radcliff. It has created very considerable sensation through the town; and, as far as I can learn, his fellow-soldiers are filled with deep regret, as the poor follow was liked amongst them.

"In the Western Star of Saturday last, the circumstances are detailed of the attempt to shoot Sergeant-Major Trout, of the 7th Hussars, a troop of which regiment is stationed here. It appears that Smith, who fired at Trout, made an endeavour to prove that he merely fired powder; and as it was necessary his pouch should contain the usual quantity of ammunition, it is supposed—indeed, I believe it is well known—that Radcliff procured for Smith a ball cartridge. This, however, does not prove he was accessory to the act. On this supposition Radcliff was put under arrest, and a report made to Colonel Halifax at Athlone.

"Previous to parade this morning, and in compliance with the order, Radcliff's hair was cropped close, and after being paraded he was led back to the guard-room in company with a corporal and two privates. Immediately on his entering the room he seized a razor, and instantly drew it across his throat, which divided the principal vessels of the neck.

"Doctors Horan and Heise were immediately in attendance, but he scarcely survived half an hour.

"William Kenny, Esq., coroner, afterwards held an inquest; and after the examination of Lieutenant Goodwyn, and the soldiers in charge of the unfortunate man, the evidence being carefully taken down, the jury returned the following verdict:—

"'We find that the deceased, John Radcliff, came by his death in consequence of having inflicted an extensive wound on his throat with a razor, whilst labouring under temporary derangement, induced by the extreme severity of the order from Colonel Halifax produced in evidence.


(For self and fellows.)

"'Ballinasloe, June 22,1847.'"

The newspaper account was followed by the order and a memorandum, which seemed to be explanatory of the circumstances alluded to in it. It ran thus:—

"Athlone, June 21, 1847.

"Private Radcliff, after his hair is cut close, to be paraded in the company's room by Lieutenant Goodwyn before his men, and the following memorandum read:—


"'Private Radcliff's hair will be cut quite close to his head, and he will be kept in the strictest confinement, and every man seen speaking to him is to be immediately confined, and punished for disobedience of orders.

"'He will also be marched a prisoner on Wednesday next, at five A.M., to Athlone, handcuffed, and be prepared to take his trial by a 'general' or 'district' court-martial; and most assuredly he will receive the severest punishment that can be inflicted.

"The Lieutenant Colonel cannot too strongly express his indignation at the detestable part taken by private Radcliff in the transaction in question, thus bringing the corps in an odious light before the public, and also his mortification that so worthless a man, so vile a soldier, should belong to the ranks of the 75th regiment.

"'Arrangements must, if possible, be made for sending the wife of the prisoner to her friends, as her name will be erased from the books at the end of the month.

(Signed) "'R. D. HALIFAX,

Lieutenant Colonel, commanding 75th Regiment.

"'(True copy)

"'R. BROOKES, Adjutant.'"

It was with deep regret that he brought the name of Colonel Halifax before the House in such a manner; but he would not be doing his duty if he did not ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether the order in question and the entire case had been as yet brought before the Horse Guards, and whether the gallant Colonel was considered to be justified by law in issuing such a memorandum and order?


said, that it was an extremely painful position in which he found himself placed, in being obliged to explain to the House the circumstances of this melancholy case. His hon. and gallant Friend had done no more than justice to the gallant officer, when he stated that Colonel Halifax bore the highest military character. He was a man in every respect fit to be entrusted with a military command. The circumstances of the case were, that on the evening of the 18th of June, a private of the 7th Hussars was guilty of the gross crime of firing at the troop sergeant-major. Fortunately the attempt to murder the sergeant-major did not succeed, but the ball which had been discharged at him was picked up and found to have been flattened against the wall behind where he had been standing when fired at. This passed at 10 o'clock on the night of the 18th of June. It would be within the knowledge of every Gentleman connected with the military profession, that the detection of the man who fired the shot was inevitable, as soon as the ammunition served out to him, and in his charge, came to be examined. That was done on the following morning; but between the period when the shot had been fired, and the time of the examination, the man Smith succeeded in procuring a hall to supply the place of the one which had been fired. He (Mr. F. Maule) should say, that he believed it was a ball cartridge which he had fired at the sergeant-major, and not a blank cartridge, and he said so because the man (Smith) in his defence had stated that it was only a blank cartridge, and not a hall which he had discharged. In the morning of the 19th, it was reported to the officer of the company to which the unfortunate man (Radcliff) belonged, that he was the party who had furnished Smith with the ball, for the purpose of enabling him to make the statement, that he had fired only a blank cartridge, and thereby defeat the ends of justice, and probably cast a suspicion of the commission of the crime upon an innocent person. The fact of this unfortunate man having supplied the ball to Smith having been communicated to the commanding officer of his company, and by him to the commanding officer of the regiment, and the fact having been proved, it was undeniable that the man Radcliff was guilty of a most atrocious crime. Colonel Halifax was jealous of the honour of his regiment, and anxious that it should continue to uphold the high character which the 75th had hitherto borne both in the presence of the enemy of the country and in the time of peace. Viewing with detestation, as a man of high honour should view such an atrocious crime, he published the memorandum upon the subject which the hon. and gallant Member had just read to the House. If the gallant officer had taken time to reflect, he might have seen that he was branding the man by ordering his hair to be cut off, and he might not have issued the order; but under all the circumstances, he might have considered himself justified in branding such a man. In reference to the unfortunate event which had taken place subsequently—he meant the suicide of the unfortunate man—he must inform the House that from an investigation which he himself had instituted into the matter, he could not bring himself to agree with the verdict of the coroner's jury. He did not think that it was "the extreme severity of the order from Colonel Halifax" that had induced the unfortunate man to commit suicide. It appeared that upon a former occasion the unhappy man, having been confined for having been found drunk, had attempted to commit suicide whilst in confinement. On another occasion, fearing the result of his bad conduct, he had threatened to put an end to himself. These things being taken into consideration, showed what were the tendencies of the man's feelings and disposition. He did not, therefore, think that it was the severity of the colonel's order that had led to the commission of the act; and he trusted that the House would not ascribe to Colonel Halifax anything prejudicial to that officer's high honour and his sense of justice and good feeling.

Subject at at an end.