§ MR. SPOONER
appealed to the learned Lord for precedence; and consent having been given, he returned thanks for the courtesy, and proceeded to say that the subject he was about to bring under the notice of the House had excited deep interest and sympathy. He should make his statement as short as was consistent with clearness, and should avoid making any charge, attack, or accusation upon any person. His only object was, to clear the character of a gentleman who for many years had represented the Northern Division of Warwickshire with great credit to himself and benefit to the public service. He had been also for many years chairman of the quarter-sessions in Warwickshire, and had enjoyed the full confidence, support, and approbation of the magistrates who had acted with him. Although that person was now beyond the roach of human applause or sympathy, there yet remained a mourning widow and an afflicted family, for whose sake he (Mr. Spooner) asked the attention of the House. He trusted 190 to be able to show, by a simple statement of facts, that a charge which had been made was unfounded. The mystery of the despatch in which that charge had been made, had given rise to many surmises which wore wholly without foundation. To his dying hour he (the late Sir Eardley Wilmot) had never known the particulars of the charge made against him, or who were the persons who, behind his back, had reported that which he (Mr. Spooner) had no hesitation in saying would prove to be a most unfounded calumny. But the charge had at length reached the ears of the family of the late lamented Sir Eardley Wilmot. His family were at last put in possession of it; and as a knowledge of it was essential to the proper understanding of this most deplorable case, he (Mr. Spooner) would read it to the House. It was that of" living in terms of scarcely concealed concubinage with some of the females who were received as guests at the Government house." A charge more unfounded—a charge baser or more destitute of the slightest colour of truth—was never alleged against any man. He would briefly state the facts of the case. Three gentlemen came to this country from Van Diemen's Land, and shortly after their arrival had communication with the Colonial Office. Two of them laid no restriction on the publication of their names. The third did impose such a restriction, and to him he was not at liberty further to allude. Indeed, he might as well state, that he (Mr. Spooner) had not permission to mention the names of the other two, any more than that of the gentleman in question. He was not prepared to say that the names were wrongly withheld; for although the Government were in possession of them, they were given, so to speak, incog.; and, for himself, had he permission, he would not mention the names, for by so doing he would justly lay himself open to the imputation of having made unfounded charges without affording opportunity for refuting them. Under these circumstances, he would entirely refrain from giving names at all. Suffice it to say, that, after their charge had been made, the late Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Gladstone) sent a public despatch to Sir Eardley Wilmot, in which no allusion whatsoever was made to the charge affecting his (Sir Eardley Wilmot's) private character. With that despatch he (Mr. Spooner) had nothing whatsoever to do. If he were to utter a single word of com- 191 plaint against the decision at which the authorities of the Colonial Office had arrived with respect to Sir Eardley Wilmot's removal from the administration of the affairs of Van Diemen's Land, he would be acting in direct opposition to the wishes of that lamented gentleman's family. It was their feeling, that with the public conduct of Sir Eardley Wilmot they were not at all concerned. They felt that they would not be at all justified in arraigning the decision of the Colonial Office, so far as that decision was grounded upon public grounds; and in this feeling he entirely concurred. The Colonial Department had high and important duties to perform. On their shoulders rested a vast responsibility; and he was quite willing to admit that nothing but an occurrence of a very singular and unparalleled description could justify any interference with the discretion they might think fit to exercise with respect to appointments and removals. The private despatch, therefore, and not the public one, was that to which he was desirous of directing the attention of the House. Most of the hon. Gentlemen present were familiar with the correspondence between the Secretary of State and Sir Eardley Wilmot, relative to the recall of the latter; but as some of them were not, it was necessary, for the clear and general comprehension of the case, that he should read some extracts from it. The first document to which he would take leave to call their attention, was the secret despatch from Mr. Secretary Gladstone to Sir E. Wilmot, which arrived concomitantly with the public despatch, and which, like it, was dated 30th April, 1846. It was to the following effect:—
§ "Downing Street, April 30, 1846.
§ "Sir—I have now to discharge a duty still more painful and delicate than that of addressing you in a public despatch, to communicate to you your recall from the administration of affairs in Van Diemen's Land. Adverting to the fact that this recall rests upon the allegation of a failure on your part with respect to special and peculiar duties only, which attach to the care of a penal colony, but not to that of colonies in general, you may feel some surprise at the circumstance that I have made no allusion to the possibility of your employment during the remainder of the ordinary term of six years. I should have felt authorized to express a willingness to consider of any favourable opportunity which might offer itself for such employment, had it not been for the circumstance that certain rumours have reached me from a variety of quarters relating to your private life, to the nature of which it is perhaps unnecessary that I should at present particularly allude. Had these rumours been slight, and without presumptions of credibility, I might warrantably and 192 gladly have passed them by. Had they, on the other hand, taken the form of charges or of information's supported by the names of the parties tendering it, it would have been my absolute duty, independently of any other reason for interference with your tenure of office, to refer the matter to you, and at once to call upon you for your exculpation. But they occupy an intermediate position. Presuming that I have been justified in refraining from bringing them under your notice up to the present time, I feel that it would be impossible to recommend your resumption of active duties under the Crown in any other colony until they are satisfactorily disposed of. To found proceedings upon them against a person holding office, appeared to me a very questionable matter; but I think it quite unquestionable that they must betaken into view when reappointment is the matter at issue. I know not what your views and wishes on that subject may be. I should not have entered wantonly and needlessly on such a topic as that to which I now refer. My reason for doing so, without waiting for any request from you for re-employment, is, that I think that some favourable intimation on that head would have been your due had no obstacle intervened; and I have therefore found myself bound to account for the omission from my despatch of this day of any such intimation.—I have, &c.
§ (Signed) "W. E. GLADSTONE."
The House would observe, that the charges alluded to in the above communication were simply alluded to. They were not specified, nor was any information given as to the sources from which they originated. They were vaguely hinted at as "certain rumours which had reached the Secretary of State from a variety of quarters." There was nothing distinct, definite, or specific—nothing tangible to guide or assist the late Governor of Van Diemen's Land in undertaking the task of vindicating his character. There was no index pointing specifically to the charge, and to the quarter from which it emanated. He was left to deal as best he might with charges of whose very import he was ignorant, as well as of the quarters from which they emanated; and he was given to understand that on his success in satisfactorily disposing of such accusations, depended his chance of being recommended for the resumption of active duties under the Crown. He (Mr. Spooner) was well aware that Mr. Gladstone was also in a painful and embarrassing position. He was well aware that the information on which that Gentleman acted came from quarters which carried such authority with them that he could not help believing it and acting on it. This he did not hesitate to admit; but Mr. Gladstone had been called to act upon that information under a shackle which ought not to have been imposed. The blame and the odium were
to be attributed to the persons who assailed the character of an absent man, without being prepared at once to give up all their authorities—to those who put the Government in a position which compelled them to act, and yet withheld that information which should serve as a justification of their conduct. However, the despatch being a secret one, and known only to Sir Eardley Wilmot himself, it was competent for that gentleman to have said nothing about it until he returned to England, and then to have made such a defence of his character to the Home Government as would have freed him from all imputations, and reinstated him in his position in society. In taking a different course—that of referring the whole question to the consideration of his Executive Council—he was warranted by the precedent of Sir George Arthur, who, when similar charges were preferred against him, adopted that very proceeding. But even if a precedent were wanting, the course was the very one of all others which an honest man convinced of his own innocence was bound to take. Sir Eardley felt that; and accordingly he assembled his Council, and laid before them the secret despatch, and left the whole matter in their hands, to be decided upon by them in the manner they might think most consonant with truth and justice. Before he adopted this step, however, and during the time the matter was under discussion by the Home Government, a paragraph appeared in the Naval and Military Gazette, in which was stated the substance of the charges against Sir E. Wilmot. That paragraph fell under the notice of Sir John L. Pedder, Chief Justice of the colony, and other distinguished functionaries, who felt so indignant at the perusal of it, that, unasked, and of their own unsolicited accord, they wrote the following letter to the late Governor:—
Newlands, 21st March, 1846.
Dear Sir—I beg to transmit to your Excellency a copy of a letter to the editor of the Naval and Military Gazette, being the contradiction which the gentlemen whose signatures it bears have thought themselves called upon to give to the cruel slander therein referred to. Having taken this step without your Excellency's knowledge, we cannot but earnestly hope that you will not see any reason to disapprove of it.—I have, &c.
(Signed)"J. L. PEDDER.
Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land,
March 19, 1846.
Sir—In your Gazette, No. 666, of the 11th October, 1845, p. 652, 3rd column, under the head 'Australia,' occurs the following passage, purporting to be written by your correspondent at
Melbourne:—' Van Diemen's Land is in a bad state. The men in the bush are almost their own masters, and crimes the most horrible are of daily occurrence. All the females have left the bush, and have taken refuge in the towns, and oven there are subject to every kind of insult. Sir Eardley sots a bad example himself. No people of any standing will now enter Government House, except on business. No ladies can.' We do not feel ourselves called upon to take any notice of so much of this statement as relates to the convicts in this colony; but we deem it to be a duty which we we to Sir Eardley Wilmot, to ourselves, and indeed to the society in this place, to declare, in the most distinct terms, that the latter part of the statement in question is totally (and here most notoriously) false. Ever since Sir Eardley Wilmot assumed the Government, down to the present day, we, and the families of such of us as are married men, the families of the other Government officers, and of the principal inhabitants of the colony, have had the honour (for so we account it) of being frequent visitors at Government House. We have only to add, that we beg your insertion of this contradiction of your correspondent's statement in the Naval and Military Gazette at the earliest opportunity.—We have,&c.
- (Signed) "JOHN LEWIS PEDDER, Chief Justice.
- J. E. BICHENO, Colonial Secretary.
- P. ERASER, Colonial Treasurer.
- E. BURGESS, Chief Police Magistrate.
- T. HORNE, Attorney General.
- T. W. BOYES, Colonial Auditor.
- JOSEPH HONK, Chairman of Sessions.
- ROBERT POWER, Surveyor General.
- ALBAN C. STONER, Crown Solicitor.
- V. FLEMING, Solicitor General.
- W. PROCTOR, Comptroller Customs."
After that letter, what became of the statement that the rumours affecting the late Governor's private character were matters of notoriety in the colony? That document exposed the utter fallacy of the assertion, and proved that it was in all respects egregiously untrue. But that was not the strongest of the links which went to form the chain of Sir E. Wilnot's justification. The next paper he would trouble the House with was the late Governor's reply to Mr. Gladstone's letter, dated 5th October, 1846:—
Hobart Town, Oct. 5, 1846.
Sir—I have this day received, by the ship Java, the original despatch of my recall, dated April 30th, No. 104, accompanied by your letter of the same date marked 'Secret.' If anything could lessen or remove the pain with which I received, on the 24th September last, the duplicate despatch of the 30th April, it is your letter marked 'Secret;' because, being wholly guiltless of any impropriety or irregularity in my 'private life,' and believing that the 'rumours' to which you allude, invented by my opponents, and treated with contempt by me and the whole of this colony, are what have lowered me in your opinion, and induced you to pause in offering me re-employment under the Crown, I am confident you will do me justice, and rescue me from the double loss of character and of office, thus occasioned by
the grossest falsehoods that ever oppressed an English gentleman. It is impossible for mo to grapple with charges, of the nature and extent of which I am ignorant. I can do no more at present, in answer to your letter, than give a general denial to general imputations. Were the accusations specific, I could meet them at once, and show their utter falsehood. But, placed in the un-English position of a man charged with unknown acts of impropriety, injurious to his character and destructive of his interests, without any knowledge as to who are his accusers, or as to what are the accusations, I most earnestly and solemnly adjure you to specify immediately the dates, places, persons, and circumstances to which the 'rumours' against my private character apply, that I may be placed in the same position before the public as is the meanest criminal when standing before a jury of his country. From my first landing in this country, the system of detraction and calumny which assailed the characters of my predecessors has been pursued against me. With them, it was confined to this colony; with mo it is unknown in this colony, but has been worked incessantly at Melbourne, Sydney, and London. I can say with pride and with truth, that the breath of slander against me here has not prevailed, but when attempted, has been received with universal denial and disgust. A paragraph appeared in the Naval and Military Gazette, London, in August, 1845, purporting to be a letter written from Melbourne, asserting that my conduct was so bad that no ladies could visit Government House. I treated this letter with scorn; but, unknown to me, the most intelligent and highest in this colony addressed a letter to the editor of the Naval and Military Gazette, designating the accusation as a 'notorious falsehood,' and vindicating themselves as well as myself from the find calumny. This letter I transmitted to Lord Stanley in April last. You will not have received it till long after your letter to me of the 30th April last; but I trust that the reading of it will dispel the effect of the 'rumours' to which you allude; and as it is your duty, so I believe it will be your wish, to do me justice. I herewith transmit a copy of the letter to the editor of the Gazette. But in order that my whole conduct may undergo a thorough and rigid inquiry, I felt it incumbent on mo, for my own sake, as well as for the honour of Her Majesty's Government, to lay your letter of the 30th April before the Executive Council, calling upon them to investigate my conduct. I herewith transmit the resolution of the Executive Council, to inquire and to report, and when the report is made, I will immediately transmit it also. Thus far I have addressed you, Sir, on what affects my honour and character; I trust you will now allow me to say a word on what deeply affects my interests. I resigned my seat in Parliament for one of the most important counties in England, for which, in support of constitutional principles, I stood three contested elections, and greatly impaired my fortune. I resigned the chair of the quarter-sessions of my county, to which I had been unanimously elected by the magistracy, and which I held for twenty years with unblemished character, and, I may say, with some distinction. I separated myself from my wife and family to undertake a difficult and irksome office in another hemisphere. I calculated that six years of a sufficient income would remove all my difficulties; and thus, having endured three years of toil, I am,
at twenty days' notice, relieved of the administration of the affairs of the colony, and deprived of income; and not only deprived of income, but proscribed from restoration to office under the Crown, until 'rumours,' of the nature of which I am ignorant, and to which I have not yet been called upon to answer, have been satisfactorily explained. To embark immediately for England, with your letter before me, would be risking the defence of my character, and of my restoration to office, on the same unfounded basis on which I have been deprived of both; for it is clear that in England I could only meet the unauthenticated and anonymous 'rumours' against my private life by my own personal and unauthenticated contradiction; whereas it is in this colony alone that evidence must be found either to prove or disprove their falsehood. It is my intention, therefore, to wait with patience and in privacy, until I hear from you again; believing that when you receive the public demonstrations in my favour, which I transmit to you, and the report of the Executive Council, you will at once restore me to Her Majesty's favour, and that I shall receive from you an immediate appointment in some other colony, where my services may be useful, and to which I can proceed from this island, without encountering the long voyage to England. But, Sir, I ask something more from Her Majesty's Government than restitution to office; something of a more decisive character than a prolonged banishment from my family and home, in order to wipe off the injury that as an English gentleman I have sustained, in having my character injured by a Minister of the Crown from anonymous 'rumours' to which I had no opportunity of replying. I ask for a personal mark of dictinction, such as the Civil Order of the Bath, or of St. Michael, that the world may see that Her Gracious Majesty will not suffer the lowest of Her subjects to be treated with injustice. —I am, &c. (Signed) "E. EARDLEY WILMOT.
That letter was worthy of the late Sir Eardley Wilmot. It was the letter of an honest man, who in the proud consciousness of his perfect innocence felt that his position was impregnable. It was the letter of an honest and injured man, and he was sure that it had already produced on the House the conviction that the charge against the late Governor was slanderous and in all respects untrue. Having laid the charge before the Executive Council, their first proceeding was to appoint a Committee to investigate it and report thereon. The report of that Committee was before the House. The Committee was most anxious to investigate the matter to the utmost; hut in the absence of all specific information—nay more, in complete darkness as to the very nature and character of the matter that was to be investigated—how could they set an inquiry on foot at all, or how was it to he expected that their labours should terminate in any satisfactory result? In the Minute of the Council by whom the Committee were appointed there occurred the following passage:—
A calumnious paragraph too, appeared in the Naval and Military Gazette of October, 1845; but without his Excellency's previous knowledge or participation was immediately refuted by gentlemen, including the Members of the Council of the highest character and consideration in the community. His Excellency forwarded a copy of that document to the Secretary of State. The Bishop of Tasmania, who will shortly be in England, and who, however opposed to his Excellency's Government on public grounds, can bear testimony as to the conduct of his Excellency in the colony; so also will Bishop Wilson. But still, it is quite possible, that neither of these prelates may have ever even heard of the rumours referred to by Mr. Gladstone, and therefore it is that his Excellency is so anxious that here, on the very spot, the Council should institute every inquiry which the terms of Mr. Gladstone's letter. may by possibility appear to them to suggest or justify, so that the truth may be thoroughly sifted, and the rumours themselves—or at the least so many of them as can be traced to exist—be disposed of to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State.
The Council concluded their Minute by stating, that having deliberated on the nature of his Excellency's communication, they were unanimously of opinion that the most expedient course would be to refer the whole question to a Committee. The Committee was accordingly appointed, as previously stated, and their report was before the House. He would trouble the House with a few extracts from it:—
His Excellency Sir Eardley Wilmot having, in accordance with the opinion of the Members of the Executive Council, requested the undersigned to sit as a Committee, to inquire into the truth of certain rumours mentioned in a letter marked 'secret,' and bearing date 30th of April, 1846, from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as affecting his (Sir Eardley Wilmot's) private life, to the nature of which the Secretary of State deemed it unnecessary more particularly to allude, but the effect of which has been to render it impossible for the Secretary of State to recommend his resumption of active duties under the Crown in any other colony until they are satisfactorily disposed of: The Committee, agreeably to this request, met, and having before them the authority to assemble of the administrator of the Government, and also the above-mentioned letter of the right hon. the Secretary of State, and also a letter of Sir Eardley Wilmot's to the clerk of the councils, of the 15th of October; and having maturely deliberated on these documents, they are unanimously of opinion, that the satisfactory investigation of the rumours in question is altogether impracticable; because—I. It is not stated in what these rumours consist; and the Committee are thus met, in limine, with the difficulty of having no definite object on which to direct their inquiries. 2. Because, in this state of things, the only means by which definite objects could be raised for inquiry would be by opening the doors of the committee room, and calling publicly on all those who have charges to prefer against Sir Eardley Wilmot to come forward with them—a course which the committee believe to be wholly unprecedented, and which, if taken, would not
only fail to attain the end proposed by the inquiry (namely, to satisfy the Secretary of State with respect to the rumours which have reached him), but world be fraught with great public mischief, and great injustice to Sir Eardley Wilmot and private persons.
Having enumerated the other considerations which rendered a satisfactory investigation impossible, the report concluded with the following statement:—
While the committee are thus of opinion that the investigation proposed is for these reasons impracticable, they deem it due to Sir Eardley Wilmot to certify in the most explicit terms that, as far as their own observation has gone during the private and official intercourse which they have personally had with him since his arrival in this colony, nothing has ever transpired which would justify the allegation that he has been guilty of the violation of the decencies of private life.
- (Signed) "C. R. CUMBERLAND, Lieut.-Colonel commanding Troops, sworn in Member of Executive Council, Oct. 19, 1846.
- J. L. PEDDER, Chief Justice.
- J. E. BICUENO, Colonial Secretary.
- P. ERASER, Colonial Treasurer.
- F. BURGESS,ChiefPolice Magistrate.
- J LILLIE, Minister of St. Andrew's Church, Hobart Town."
Really a declaration of that description, and emanating from men of such exalted position, and of such unsullied character, might in itself be deemed sufficient vindication of Sir Eardley Wilmot's reputation. But his vindication did not end there, for he had the pleasure to transmit to Mr. Gladstone an address which was presented to him on the part of some of the most distinguished inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land, in the following terms:—
TO SIR JOHN EARDLEY WILMOT, BARONET.
We, the undersigned inhabitants of Van Die-men's Land, having heard that your recall has been influenced by reports injurious to your moral character during your administration of the government of this colony, deem it to be a duty which we owe to truth and justice to express our unqualified contradiction of those reports; and we feel the more imperatively called upon to do so from the fact of many of us having differed in opinion upon various measures of your government. Upon the occasion of your retirement into private life, we have to assure you that you carry with you our best wishes for your future welfare.
That Address was signed by the Members of the Legislative Council, the clergy of all persuasions, the Solicitor General, the Surveyor General, the Comptroller General, the Crown Solicitor, the magistrates of the colony, all the most respectable traders of Hobart Town, and all the officials, with but one or two exceptions—which exceptions could be satisfactorily accounted for. It bore in all about 350 signatures.
When the Secretary of State received the first communication informing him of the fact of that resolution being then agreed to, and apprising him that he might expect to receive, through an official channel, a copy of the address with the signatures affixed, he wrote to the late Governor the following letter:—
Hagley, Stourbridge, March, 9, 1847.
Sir—I have received from Lord Grey a copy of your letter of the 5th of October, addressed to me as Secretary of State, in which you adjure me to specify immediately the dates, places, persons, and circumstances to which the rumours against your private life, forming the occasion of my letter marked 'secret,' and dated 30th of April, 1846, apply. The persons who made known to me the existence of such rumours, did not profess to support their credit by any statements of particulars of the kind to which you refer, but to found them upon general notoriety. It is not, therefore, in my power to convey to you what I have not received. Those, however, who appeal to no toriety afford by that appeal the means of putting their allegations to the test.
That would no doubt he true in a case where the alleged notoriety had actual existence; but that was not the fact in the present case. The charges themselves were false, and equally so was the allegation that they had obtained notoriety.
In your letter, of the 30th October, to Earl Grey, of which his Lordship has likewise been so good as to send me a copy, you transmit a resolution, expressing, in terms necessarily vague, but sufficient for their purpose, the most unqualified contradiction of those reports, injurious to your moral character, which had been the subject of my communication to you. The framers of the document evidently understood their general nature; and you acquaint Lord Grey that it is signed by all the leading and influential inhabitants of the capital of the colony and its neighbourhood, with a few exceptions, which exceptions may be explained on political grounds, and including 'members of council, magistrates, merchants, and clergy of all denominations;' and further, that the resolution would be transmitted by the next ship for England. I lament, so far as the case before me is concerned, that I am no longer in a condition to try the issue, which, in the execution of a public duty, I was the instrument of raising. It will not rest with me, as you are aware, to say whether the resolution described by you, when it appears, will be sufficient to neutralise charges purporting to convey matter of public notoriety. I must say, however, that had I continued to hold the seals of the Colonial Office, I should have thought a public attestation of this kind, if so signed as to correspond with your description, an appropriate and sufficient answer to accusations which, as they did not specify particulars, could not be open to the ordinary methods of confutation. From such accusations you would be entitled, under such circumstances, to full acquittal; and it can scarcely be necessary for me to say with how much avidity I should have been prepared to recognise a just occasion of withdrawing the reference I had made; a reference which
caused me the deepest pain, and which nothing but the most imperative considerations would have extorted from me. The effect which a confutation by public and general testimony of the accusations against you would have had upon my estimate of your claim to continuance of public employment is, I think, sufficiently described in my secret letter. I observe it is stated in the resolution, that the parties signing it had heard that your recall had been influenced by reports bearing upon your private character. It is right that I should entirely disavow having been moved by any such considerations in the advice which I thought it my duty to give. Your recall arose exclusively out of the causes detailed in my public despatch. If I discharged a repulsive duty in referring to matters of private life and obligation, when I addressed you in April last, as Secretary of State, it does far more violence to my feelings to recur to the subject now, when I also am in a station altogether private, and yet find myself addressing, on matters of the utmost delicacy, and entirely beyond my cognizance, one whose years and station I am bound unfeignedly to respect, and over whom in no particular can I claim any superiority. Permit me to express the hope that the office I have had to discharge, repugnant alike to your feelings and my own, has not been rendered additionally and needlessly offensive to you by any wanton obtrusiveness or inconsiderate language on my part.
(Signed) "W. E. GLADSTONE.
Sir E. Eardley Wilmot, Bart., &c.
That letter contained a full and explicit declaration, on the part of Mr. Gladstone, that if the document whose arrival he was awaiting should turn out to be worded and signed as described, he should consider that such a public attestation ought to be regarded as amounting to a complete and entire acquittal of Sir E. Wilmot. The document referred to did arrive. Mr. Gladstone found that it faithfully corresponded with the description given of it; and he thereupon wrote a letter, which was expressed in the handsomest terms—a letter which was highly creditable to himself and exceedingly satisfactory to the family of the deceased gentleman. It was dated the 31st of May, 1847, and addressed to the present Sir Eardley Wilmot, the son of the late Baronet. In this communication Mr. Gladstone observed—
I find no difficulty in stating my conviction, that in my opinion the refutation which the address from the inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land supplies to the charges against the late Sir E. Wilmot is more than sufficient to remove whatever prejudice they were calculated to raise against him.
A charge had been made, as he had before stated to the House, and that charge had been met by the authorities to whose names he had referred in the manner he had described; and Sir E. Wilmot had, at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr.
Gladstone), and at the hands of the public, and he (Mr. Spooner) trusted he would have at the hands of the House, a full and fair acquittal from those disgraceful charges —charges unfounded and unjustified. He had another letter on his behalf, from one whoso name he was perfectly sure would be well received in that House—he alluded to the present Bishop of Tasmania. It was addressed by him to Mr. H. Chester, who had written a letter to his Lordship, which called forth this reply. The following was the letter of Mr. Chester. He says, after referring to the removal of Sir E. Wilmot, and the expression of opinion in the colony in his favour—
There is one signature which, in the estimation of English churchmen, would afford most valuable testimony to the character of Sir E. Wilmot, namely, the signature of the Bishop of Tasmania, which does not appear in Sir E. Wilmot's favour. I am aware that your Lordship was not in the colony when the letter of recall was received; but as the whole of the correspondence has been published in England, and has given great pain to his wife and family, I am sure you will allow me, as Lady Wilmot's brother, but without her knowledge, to ask you to testify whether the rumours which readied the Secretary of State were publicly notorious and were well-founded. If your Lordship's testimony shall be unhappily unfavourable to Sir E. Wilmot, I shall be totally silent respecting it; but if, happily, your verdict shall be favourable, I should hope that I might make it public without any loss of time.
To that letter Mr. Chester received the following answer:—
As I am ignorant of the extent and nature of the reports, I cannot give them an unquestionable contradiction; but, as an act of justice, I convey to you the testimony I have borne, in Sidney, at the Colonial Office, and in every society where the subject was brought forward, namely, restricted as was my intercourse with Sir Eardley Wilmot, I can yet positively declare of my own knowledge that injurious statements respecting his morals and habits have been made with an air of confidence which have been proved to be utterly groundless. Charges of immorality may have been whispered; but not one, according to my knowledge, has been proved. Mine is not the statement of an intimate friend or acquaintance, but of one who wishes to act on the principles of Christian duty.
That was the statement of the Bishop of Tasmania; and he (Mr. Spooner) had similar testimony in a letter put into his hand that morning. That letter was from Bishop Wilson, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hobart Town:—
6, Manchester Street, Manchester Square,
Dear Sir—I have heard with heartfelt sorrow of the death of our late lamented Lieutenant Governor, Sir Eardley Wilmot. I have also heard with much pain of the wicked efforts of some per-
sons, whose names are not known, to blight the character of your deceased parent. Permit me to say, that if any testimony I can bear to the moral character of the late Sir Eardley Wilmot will afford comfort to his afflicted family on this melancholy occasion, it will be most gratifying to me. I had the honour of knowing the late Sir Eardley Wilmot most intimately for about two years and a half. During that time I was in the habit of joining his social parties, and also of calling upon him on business at all hours—I may truly say, 'in season and out of season;' for he never refused to admit me — and I can affirm, without hesitation, that I never saw the slightest reason to suspect any immorality; and that I never heard a word from him, or from any one in his presence, that could offend the most delicate ear. With deep condolence, I have the honour to be, dear Sir, your faithful and humble servant,
X R. W. WILSON,
Catholic Bishop of Hobart Town.
To J. Eardley Wilmot, Esq.
There was also a letter from a gentleman who holds the office in Van Diemen's Land of Colonial Treasurer, addressed to the present Sir Eardley Wilmot, and to which he (Mr. Spooner) also called the attention of the House:—
Imperial Hotel, Covent Garden,
June 7, 1847.
Dear Sir Eardley—In reply to the request conveyed to me from you, I believe I need only refer you to the correspondence relating to the recall of the late Sir E. Wilmot, recently published for Parliament. You will find there my name appended to two separate documents, both exonerating Sir E. Wilmot from imputations against this moral character. I have pleasure in adding, that I know of nothing which would induce me to give a less favourable opinion now. Indeed, I may say, that I scarcely met a respectable person in Van Diemen's Land, who admitted their belief in such idle rumours as were afloat in the colony while I was there. The gross calumnies which I find have reached this country would not have been listened to for a moment in Van Diemen's Land.—Yours very truly," P. FRASER.
Sir J. Eardley Wilmot, Bart.
So far as regarded the imputations against the character of Sir Eardley Wilmot, he (Mr. Spooner) had discharged the painful task he had undertaken; and he hoped that his statement would have the effect of producing on the minds of hon. Members of the House the impression that Sir Eardley Wilmot had been most seriously injured and scandalously traduced. He looked with full confidence that the House would receive from the Colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) an expression of their acquiescence and concurrence in the views which the late Secretary of State for the Colonies had expressed in the letter to which he had called their attention; but while he was completely content with what he had said, so far as the charges against, and the vindication of, the
the late Sir E. Wilmot went, he wished to address a few words to his hon. Friend opposite, the present Under Secretary of State for the Colonies. He must say he thought that the late Governor of Van Diemen's Land had a clear right to complain, and that the present Baronet had likewise a right to complain of the way in which their letters had been received. He next called attention to two letters from the present Sir Eardley Wilmot to the right hon. Earl Grey, which produced an answer from his hon. Friend opposite, in which he stated—
I am directed by Lord Grey to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 24th of April, in which you call attention to the terms of the despatch from Van Diemen's Land, and "which was addressed to Mr. Gladstone. In reply, I am directed to inform you, that, being ignorant of the grounds on which the despatch was written, it is impossible for his Lordship to express any opinion about it.
Now, the noble Lord was not appealed to for any opinion as to whether Sir Eardley Wilmot was rightly or wrongly dismissed. He was called upon to say whether he would feel justified in joining in the declaration which he (Mr. Spooner) had read from Mr. Gladstone, and thus afford a full and complete vindication of the character of Sir E. Wilmot. He (Mr. Spooner) thought it was due to the memory of one who had suffered so much as Sir E. Wilmot had done to do this. He thought it was due to his afflicted family and to the public that justice should be done. He thought the noble Lord would have shown a more English feeling if he had condescended to express his conviction that the charge was unfounded. A petition from Sir Eardley Wilmot had been presented to the Queen, through Earl Grey, setting forth the facts which he (Mr. Spooner) had already stated, and humbly praying that Her Majesty would give such order and direction as would enable the petitioner at once to meet the charges contained in the Secretary of State's letters, and to prove the falsehood thereof. That was the prayer which had been refused—the prayer that those means which he sought for should be granted, had not been acceded to. He also prayed that Her Most Gracious Majesty would confer such mark of favour upon him as would show that Her Majesty would not allow such an act of injustice to he done without making reparation; but that prayer was not granted. He had cleared his character; but he asked the aid of the Colonial Office to be able completely
to carry out that object; and he thought the answer of Earl Grey was cold and severe, in reply to a heartrending application, and a most constitutional request. He stated in that answer, that he had received his letter and memorial, and had laid them before the Queen, who was pleased to receive them very graciously; but he was not able to advise Her Majesty to accede to the request contained in them. That was the answer of one who had stood forward in his public character as the zealous defender of the constitutional rights and interests of the subject. When an injured individual applied to him for the means of vindicating his character, he was met with that, which he (Mr. Spooner) must call, most repulsive answer. The House had now the faces before them; and he (Mr. Spooner) relied upon them as affording a complete vindication of the memory of Sir Eardley Wilmot. He relied also upon them as a means of consolation to his afflicted family, for whose sorrow, under the heavy visitation with which Providence had been pleased to visit them, he felt the most lively interest, and the deepest sympathy.
said, after the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham—and he could have trusted the vindication of Sir Eardley Wilmot to that speech, without adding a word—he was anxious, as one of the Members of the county which Sir Eardley had so long represented, that his (Lord Brooke's) name should at least appear as confirming the statements of his hon. Friend. He agreed that the recall of a Colonial Governor upon public grounds rested with the Colonial Office, and he should be unwilling to interfere with its discretion; but where private accusations were brought upon anonymous grounds, and unfounded charges were made upon such grounds, affecting the future prosperity and well-being of those against whom they were leveled, it was most natural that the individuals should desire that their character should he cleared from the charges. He understood that the late Secretary of State did not deny that Sir Eardley Wilmot had a right to defend himself from the charges, and that he would have been most willing to acquit him; and he, therefore, most strongly and anxiously requested the representative of the Colonial Secretary in this House, that he would, at least if he went so far as to adopt the accusations of the late Secretary —["No, no; he does not."] From the 205 answer which his hon. Friend had read from the Colonial Secretary, it would appear that he did, to a certain extent, adopt them, as he had declined to recommend Her Majesty to reinstate Sir E. Wilmot. He was anxious to hear from the noble Earl at least that acquittal which his predecessor in office was ready to give.
§ MR. DUGDALE
perfectly agreed with the sentiments of his noble Friend and the hon. Member for Birmingham; and as he had had the honour of being for many years the colleague of Sir E. Wilmot, he could not help saying a few words. Sir E. Wilmot had filled the high office of chairman of the quarter-sessions in the district which he represented; and he (Mr. Dugdale) had much pleasure in stating that he discharged that office with the greatest satisfaction to all parties. With his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, he had no hesitation in saying that all the charges which had been brought against Sir E. Wilmot were entirely false, and that the documents which had been brought that evening under the notice of the House contradicted in the most ample manner the calumnious reports as to his private character. He thanked the House for the kindness which they had shown towards his hon. Friend in allowing him to bring forward the subject that evening. That kindness would be duly appreciated by, and be most consolatory to, the family and friends of the late Sir E. Wilmot.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I stand in the same relation towards the late Sir E. Wilmot as the noble Lord and my hon. Friend. I was perfectly acquainted with him for several years, and I was one of his constituents; I had, therefore, an opportunity of knowing the manner in which he discharged his duty as representative of the county of Warwick, and of ascertaining that he acquired the good opinion of those he represented. I well recollect the occasion when my noble Friend (Lord Stanley), who then filled the office of Secretary of State for the Colonial Department, in selecting a person properly qualified to fill the post of Governor of Van Diemen's Land, which was a matter of no small difficulty, considering the peculiar circumstances of that colony, was urged to appoint a military officer instead of a civil Governor; but my noble Friend's solo motive for selecting Sir Eardley Wilmot for the post of Governor was my noble Friend's opinion, that, from Sir Eardley Wilmot's experience in the administration of the 206 law as chairman of the quarter-sessions for the county of Warwick, and as county Member, he had had peculiar means of acquiring almost daily experience in all that relates to the administration of criminal justice; and he was recommended to the office by the unanimous voices of the magistrates — the general concurrence of the whole bench. No Member of this House will undervalue the importance in such an office of experience in the administration of the criminal law; and that was the solo motive which influenced my noble Friend in making the selection for this office. With regard to the grounds—the public grounds — for the removal of Sir E. Wilmot from the administration of affairs in the colony, my hon. Friend has most properly abstained from entering into a discussion of them. It is not for this House to control the discretion of the Crown in this respect. But it was distinctly admitted by my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for the Colonies, in writing to Sir E. Wilmot, that he did not intend to withdraw him from the colony on account of any public misconduct or public neglect that would justify his withdrawal from a colony in ordinary circumstances; but in the peculiar circumstances of that colony, in consequence of the communications he had received thence, he thought himself justified in recalling Sir Eardley, and appointing another person to that office. But there was a distinct admission on the part of my right hon. Friend, that there was nothing which, on public grounds, would prevent the re-appointment of Sir Eardley to some other colony; and, looking to the public conduct of Sir E. Wilmot, in the discharge of his ordinary functions of Governor, I think my right hon. Friend would have been fully justified in recommending his re-employment in a similar capacity in another place. But I think my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was placed in a peculiar and painful position with relation to this matter. Three persons connected with the colony communicated certain information, confirming the rumours which had reached this country as to the private conduct of Sir E. Wilmot. These three persons, who were of unexceptionable character, informed my right hon. Friend that the private life of Sir E. Wilmot was such as, in their opinion, was not compatible with a proper discharge of his duty as a public officer. Public rumour being thus confirmed, my right hon. Friend was justified in giving his advice to the 207 Crown to remove Sir E. Wilmot from the government of that colony. But though he thought Sir E. Wilmot disqualified to fill the post of Governor in that particular colony, there was nothing in his public conduct which justified his removal. At the same time my right hon. Friend felt that it was not inconsistent with his duty, after receiving this information from these three persons, to desire some refutation of the charges affecting the private character of Sir Eardley which had reached the Colonial Office. Would my right hon. Friend have been justified in withholding these charges from Sir Eardley Wilmot? Was it not right that he should know that there were those impressions with respect to his private character? My right hon. Friend, therefore, in a secret despatch, communicated to Sir Eardley Wilmot the reasons which had influenced him, and the information from these respectable persons, which had given confirmation to the rumours respecting his private conduct. One of these persons was living within the limits of the United Kingdom; and application was made to this gentleman to sanction the use of his name; hut this he declined. With respect to the two other persons, they were not in England. Now, I agree generally in the statement made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Spooner). It is my duty to state that my right hon. Friend feels the strongest conviction that the information he received was totally and entirely erroneous. I am enabled to give the most complete and explicit admission on his part, that the charges he received affecting the private character of Sir Eardley Wilmot are without foundation, and totally and entirely erroneous. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham has ably vindicated the character of Sir Eardley Wilmot against these charges. He has commented upon the nature of the charges, and the conduct of those who made them. On my own part, I also do not hesitate to express my own opinion that the charges preferred against Sir E. Wilmot must be considered as being totally and entirely without foundation. I should have felt it to be my duty, as connected with the Government of which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was a Member, to have said thus much; but I am further induced to do so by my own feelings of personal regard towards Sir E. Wilmot, and my anxiety to show that I share in the sympathy expressed by my hon. Friend towards the widow and family who have sus- 208 tained so severe a loss. I concur with him in thinking that the immediate representative of the title of Sir E. Wilmot—I mean his son—has shown qualities which entitle him to our strongest sympathy in the painful position in which he has been placed by Providence. I have felt it to be my duty, though I consider that my hon. Friend has stated the facts of the case most correctly, to do this act of justice to the memory of Sir E. Wilmot, and both on my own part and on that of my right hon. Friend to make him all the reparation in our power.
LORD J. RUSSELL
I do not wonder that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth should be anxious to render a reparation to the memory of Sir Eardley Wilmot; and I think that the House must be satisfied, both by the letter of Mr. Gladstone and the declaration of the right hon. Baronet, that there is enough to show the force which the charges had upon the mind of Mr. Gladstone at the time they were brought under his notice; and the right hon. Baronet has said, that, notwithstanding the impression which the charges made, he as well as Mr. Gladstone are now convinced that the charges are entirely erroneous; that although those charges affected only the private character of Sir Eardley Wilmot, they were unfounded. Such being the case, I should not have felt it necessary to say a single word upon the subject, had it not been that the hon. Member for Birmingham has thought fit to animadvert upon the conduct of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. In order to form a judgment as to the accusations against Sir Eardley Wilmot, one thing was necessary, and that was to have the evidence in support of them. Now, with respect to all these matters, my noble Friend was entirely ignorant. He was informed that accusations had been preferred affecting the private character of Sir E. Wilmot. What they were he was not informed, and as to who had brought them he was not informed. How, then, could my noble Friend have pretended to give any opinion upon the subject, or add any weight to what had been done either in the colony or in this country to vindicate the character of Sir Eardley Wilmot, if my noble Friend believed the charges to be without foundation? He was without any means of judging; the only thing he knew was, that certain charges against Sir Eardley had been brought under the notice of Mr. Gladstone. It does not appear that 209 Mr. Gladstone, though he sent a despatch to Sir Eardley respecting these charges, deemed it necessary to record that despatch in the Colonial Office—so that this despatch, described as "confidential and secret," is really no more than a private letter from Mr. Gladstone. But, the noble Lord (Lord Brooke) has stated that my noble Friend must have adopted the charges, because he did not deem it his duty to advise the Crown to re-appoint Sir Eardley Wilmot to some other colony. I must say, that in my opinion, it was not the duty of my noble Friend to give this testimony to the public conduct of Sir Eardley Wilmot before he had refuted the charges made against his private character. It was his duty and his privilege to select persons whom he thought the fittest in every respect for the government of colonies. Lord Stanley thought Sir Eardley Wilmot peculiarly qualified for the government of Van Diemen's Land, and recommended him to Her Majesty for the appointment. My noble Friend was not to he told, because charges had been brought against the private character of that Governor, which had been acted upon by his predecessor, this amounted to a recommendation that another colonial government should be provided for Sir Eardley Wilmot. My noble Friend was not bound by any such recommendation. As to the proceeding of Mr. Gladstone, and the course taken by him, it is not for me to pass any judgment or express any opinion upon them. These are most painful duties for a Secretary of State to perform. If he entertains charges against a governor, he is assailed with imputations, and often causes animosities and quarrels in the colony. At the same time, there are cases in which a Secretary of State is bound to listen to such charges. Whether Mr. Gladstone did right or wrong in receiving these statements as matter of accusation it is not for me to say; he knew the persons who brought the charges, and whether the charges were entitled to general belief, and he ought at least to have been aware of the credit to be given to the authority of the persons who brought them. It turns out that one of them is not willing that even his name should be mentioned; his testimony, therefore, is not entitled to much respect, and I think we may presume that the charges are wholly false and unfounded. However, Sir, to act on such information is a question which depends upon the discretion of the Secre- 210 tary of State for the time being; and I only hope that the hon. Gentleman who has brought forward this question, and those who are the Friends of the late Sir E. Wilmot, will consider that whatever opinions may be entertained by those who hold office, or have held office, or by the country in general, with respect to certain political measures of the late Sir E. Wilmot, as Governor of Van Diemen's Land, that all those charges respecting his private conduct have been swept to the winds, and that his son will rest satisfied, so far as regards the present discussion, that the moral reputation of his father has been entirely vindicated.
§ MR. SPOONER
, in explanation, stated that when Sir E. Wilmot applied to the Colonial Office in order to obtain those facilities for rebutting the charges that had been made against him, and which that Office could afford, Earl Grey declined to render him the assistance which would have enabled him to clear his character.
MR. V. SMITH
was of opinion that from what had transpired in the course of the present discussion every hon. Member must feel that the character of the late Sir E. Wilmot had been perfectly vindicated; and under the painful circumstances which had occurred, it must be very consolatory to the feelings of his widow and family that testimony had been borne by all parties to the character of their lamented relative. He regretted, however, that the noble Lord the Member for South Warwickshire (Lord Brooke) should have said anything that savoured of a party attack on the noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Office, while he entirely omitted alluding to the late Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Gladstone), with whom all the fault rested. Great caution ought to be observed by a Secretary of State for the Colonies when dealing with the characters of official men who were four months' voyage from the spot where an accusation against them might have been made. It was the duty of the Secretary of State to protect such persons to the very last moment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir E. Peel) had informed the House for the first time that three persons laid information before Mr. Gladstone, or at least before the Colonial Office, on the subject of the conduct of Sir E. Wilmot; but it did not appear that Mr. Gladstone had any personal communication with those parties; on the contrary, it would seem that he derived his information from some subordi- 211 nates in his department. On this information Mr. Gladstone acted. He would venture to read three sentences from Mr. Gladstone's letter to Sir E. Wilmot. Mr. Gladstone said—Had these rumours been slight, and without presumptions of credibility, I might warrantably and gladly have passed them by.Now, he must say, that he should hope, for the sake of human nature, that the presumptions of incredibility were very considerable when the character of a man of high station was attacked by mere rumours. But Mr. Gladstone proceeded to say, that—Had these rumours taken the form of charges, or of information supported by the names of the parties tendering it;"—(Here Mr. Gladstone stated in so many words that the names of his informants were not known; but the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had told the House that he knew the names of two of the three parties who were the informants, but that the third party had refused to give up his name)——"it would have been my absolute duty, independently of any other reason for interference with your tenure of office, to refer the matter to you, and at once call upon you for your exculpation. But they occupy an intermediate position.He must say that, in common parlance, the phrase of "rumours, holding an intermediate position," was to him somewhat unintelligible. He did not moan to cavil with Mr. Gladstone's conduct; but this was frittering a man's character away in a most intolerable manner. He had heard of a good, a bad, or an indifferent character; but he had never head of an intermediate character, and he really did not know what it was. The letter proceeded—Presuming that I have been justified in refraining from bringing them under your notice up to the present time, I feel that it would be impossible to recommend your resumption of active duties under the Crown in any other colony until they are satisfactorily disposed of.Under what circumstances was this letter despatched? A public letter had previously gone out to recall Sir Eardley Wilmot; therefore there was no necessity to do anything until that gentleman came home, when he would have been able to meet the accusation. He felt that this letter was not such as became the person filling the high station occupied by Mr. Gladstone. If such proceedings as this letter were to be continued, he did not know anything that would tend more to prevent public 212 men accepting colonial appointments. He perfectly agreed with Sir Eardley Wilmot as to his being placed in the un-English position of a man charged with unknown acts of impropriety, injurious to his char-actor and destructive of his interests— without any knowledge as to who were his accusers, or as to what were the accusations. He was perfectly willing to admit that since that time Mr. Gladstone had done all in his power to allay the irritation which had been excited. Every one who knew anything personally of Mr. Gladstone was well aware of the kindness of his disposition, and of the pain which these proceedings must have given him. The hon. Member for Birmingham, in the course of his speech, had chosen to bring a charge against Earl Grey, and said that Sir Eardley Wilmot's family had a serious matter to bring against that noble Lord. If this was the case, it was their duty to bring it forward at once. It was quite unnecessary for him to say anything in defence of Earl Grey after what had fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Government. With Earl Grey he had no political connexion; but he entertained the highest regard for his character, and felt bound to protest against such a charge as had been made against him.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed, that he had no personal acquaintance with Sir E. Wilmot, but, being connected with the county of Warwick, he felt bound to say that he considered the character of that gentleman to have been most amply vindicated. One further act of redress, however, remained still to be rendered, and he trusted it would not be withheld. In the Colonial Office it might be supposed rested the taint of these charges. Now, he did trust that the representative of that Office in the House of Commons would give an assurance to the House that if any such false documents remained there, they should either be given up or destroyed. He would only make one further remark—he thought it most unfortunate that Earl Grey should not have pursued a nobler course than he considered it fit to do; but the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had made amends, by avowing—on good reasons—his total disbelief of the scandalous charges alleged against an hon. Gentleman who was now deceased.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
I had hoped, after the speech of my right hon. Friend late at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and after the speech of the noble Lord at 213 the head of the present Administration, that this discussion would have been permitted to have closed in a manner which I believe would have been perfectly satisfactory to all parties. ["Hear!"] Some hon. Gentlemen opposite who cheer, perhaps do not stand on this occasion precisely in the same relation with the late Sir Eardley Wilmot as I do. For a long time I had the pleasure, I will not say of being on terms of friendship, hut of intimate acquaintance, such as exists between Members of this House, with Sir E. Wilmot. I knew him for many years, and always entertained great respect for his character and general conduct as a Member of this House; and if there be any responsibility to be shared by any Member of the same Government by whom Sir E. Wilmot was appointed Governor of Van Diemen's Land, then, certainly, I am prepared to share that responsibility with my noble Friend, Lord Stanley. I consulted with my noble Friend before the appointment was made, and I entirely concurred in the propriety of the appointment. My relation, therefore, with Sir E. Wilmot is somewhat different from that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. First, with respect to the moral conduct of Sir E. Wilmot, I am satisfied that on all sides of this House it will be admitted that, by the explanation which has been given by the hon. Member for Birmingham — derived from the most authentic sources, and from Van Diemen's Land itself—every vestige of a taint of a suspicion affecting the moral character of Sir E. Wilmot has been entirely removed. Then, with respect to another topic which has been introduced into this debate, namely, the conduct of Earl Grey in this matter, I must say that I entirely differ from the hon. Member for Birmingham; I think the explanation given by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) as to Earl Grey's conduct is full and entirely satisfactory, and especially upon this ground —being the ground mentioned by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate)—that in the Colonial Office there was no trace whatever of any proof or statement of an official nature upon which the private letter of Mr. Gladstone was founded. And if I am not very much mistaken, after I shall sit down, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hawes) will give the House an assurance that there is no record of any statement whatever upon the subject of those charges in the Colonial Office. Therefore, neither with respect to the conduct of Sir Eardley Wilmot himself, nor with respect to the conduct of the 214 present Colonial Secretary, is there any question remaining. Then comes the question as to the conduct of my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone. That certainly is a subject for explanation. In the course of the present discussion it has been said, negatively indeed, but in a manner almost amounting to an affirmation, that the secret letter addressed to Sir Eardley Wilmot was needlessly and wantonly written by Mr. Gladstone. It has been also said that the accusations were insinuated, and were anonymous. They were neither insinuated nor anonymous. ["Name!"] Allow me: the accusations were positive—the parties who communicated them did not give them anonymously, but presented themselves at the Colonial Office; and, as it has been stated by my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel), two of those individuals are now in Van Diemen's Land; one occupying a high official situation, and the other, though not holding an official situation, yet holding a position of the highest respectability, is a person of unblemished character. With respect to the third person, he also did hold an official situation; he made the accusation, and when called upon to allow his name to he used, he shrunk from the avowal. My right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone has admitted that, with respect to that individual, the whole of the allegations against Sir Eardley Wilmot as preferred by him must be discharged; but with respect to the other two individuals, the accusations were so direct and positive, and were made in a manner all but official—certainly, if not official, yet were made so authoritatively—that no Secretary of State would be warranted in overlooking them; and although he did not rest the removal of Sir Eardley Wihmot from the public service upon those charges, yet he would not have been acting with candour and good faith towards that gentleman if he had not stated to him that such information had reached him. Now, what is the accusation against Mr. Gladstone? It is not contended that upon public official grounds he might not have removed Sir Eardley Wilmot from the government of Van Diemen's Land under the circumstances in which that colony was placed. If that is conceded, then the defence of Mr. Gladstone is this, that not thinking it expedient to retain Sir Eardley Wilmot as the Governor of Van Diemen's Land— while sending out a public despatch for his recall, he was most anxious to break the heaviness of that recall, by having it in his power to recommend Sir Eardley 215 Wilmot to another appointment, if Sir Eardley could find it possible to remove the imputations cast on his private character, a statement of which had reached Mr. Gladstone, and to which, therefore, he felt it his duty to call Sir Eardley Wilmot's attention, in order that he might give to these allegations a direct negative. Mr. Gladstone, with a view to enable himself, if he considered Sir Eardley Wilmot qualified for a future appointment, to nominate him to one, gave Sir Eardley Wilmot an opportunity to contradict the accusations which had been made against him. I am of opinion that my right hon. Friend was misinformed, and that the accusations were unfounded; but I am decidedly of opinion that if the transaction were to happen again—viewing the matter as it stood when Mr. Gladstone wrote the official despatch to Sir Eardley Wilmot— and looking at the position of Sir Eardley —that the kindest course Mr. Gladstone could take would be the course which he did take, that of writing a private letter, and of affording Sir Eardley Wilmot an opportunity of refuting charges affecting his private character, which, if unremoved, would have disqualified him from holding service under the Crown, but which, if removed, as happily they have been removed, would have entitled him to a reappointment. I have thus stated my view of the case. If my right hon. Friend erred, it was not from any unkind motive towards the party charged. With respect to the duty of the Government at home towards persons holding official situations in distant colonies, I admit that the utmost tenderness and consideration should be shown on the part of the Executive towards them. They are peculiarly open to groundless accusations, owing to the distance to which they are removed from the mother country depriving them of the opportunity of defending themselves. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone cannot be charged generally with having omitted that duty. An instance occurred during his tenure of office, as Colonial Secretary, when it became his duty to contend very strenuously with a powerful party, who preferred an accusation against a Colonial Governor. In that case my right hon. Friend evinced every readiness to maintain the servant of the Crown, who was not present to vindicate himself. Generally, I do say, that it is the duty of the Executive Government to be very slow in believing accusations against parties who cannot be present to 216 defend themselves. But in the present case I do not consider these charges to have been founded upon mere public rumour. They rested upon grounds quite distinct, and specifically stated by credible parties. The official despatch to Sir Eardley Wilmot most certainly rests upon public grounds —not now to be entered into. I am sure the House will not expect those public grounds to be now argued. The utmost fault which can be imputed to my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone is, that he wrote a private letter which afforded Sir Eardley Wilmot an opportunity of explaining circumstances, which, if left unexplained, would have disqualified him from holding any future public appointment. I am sure it would have been considered inconsistent with the candour of a generous mind to have withheld from Sir Eardley Wilmot the opportunity of giving that explanation. The general character of my right hon. Friend must be admitted to be unblemished in every respect, and his kindness of heart cannot be doubted; and I trust that those who may feel they have reason to complain of the course he pursued, will be persuaded that his conduct was not dictated by any ungenerous feeling towards Sir Eardley Wilmot; and that the House will admit that he has acted neither unfaithfully nor uncandidly towards him in his discharge of a painful but imperative public duty.
§ MR. HAWES
did not consider it necessary, after the speech of his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), to detain the House with any lengthened observations. He must, however, state, in answer to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that there was no trace whatever among the records of the Colonial Office of there having been, on any occasion, any communication made either by words written directly, or by implication, tending to cast any imputation upon the character of Sir Eardley Wilmot. There was no official record whatever of any of these charges. The hon. Member for Birmingham had rather inaccurately stated what passed between Earl Grey and the present Sir E. Wilmot. What the latter wished was, that Earl Grey, in consequence of documents forwarded from Van Diemen's Land, should state that he was convinced that all the accusations against his father were unfounded; but the noble Lord stated that he knew nothing of the grounds on which Mr. Gladstone's letter was written, and, therefore, was unable to make any statement on the subject. The 217 noble Lord had no cognizance of any accusations; and the secret letter of Mr. Gladstone was only known to the Colonial Office on its being received from Van Die-men's Land in a despatch from Sir E. Wilmot himself. Earl Grey also informed the present Sir E. Wilmot that one reason which prevented him from making any statement to him on the subject was, that he should be obliged to make some statement on the subject in public. For his own part, he considered that the documents transmitted from the colony, accompanied by the personal declarations of those who had been there, entirely removed from his mind every trace of these accusations. He did not wish to cast any reproach or censure on Mr. Gladstone; but he could not say that he thought that Mr. Gladstone was quite justified in the course he had taken. This was all he wished to say on the subject.
§ SIR C. DOUGLAS
said, he had reason to believe that what had passed in the present debate would be perfectly satisfactory to the family of Sir E. Wilmot.
§ MR. CURTEIS
had every reason to believe that Mr. Gladstone, in what he had done, had committed an error in judgment, and that he did not mean any unkindness; but there were three other persons who had not been handled as they deserved, and he would not be restrained from expressing his opinion on their conduct. He did not envy the feelings of the three gentlemen who had originated this calumny against Sir E. Wilmot. They had the satisfaction — if it was a satisfaction to them—of having hunted an innocent man to the grave; for if they had not directly caused the death of Sir Eardley Wilmot, at any rate it must be a satisfaction to them to know that they had caused him sorrow and misery in his dying moments. He said those three persons—gentlemen he would not rate them, whatever might be the rank in society which they had filled— had been proved to have circulated a base, foul, and cowardly calumny; and he thought Mr. Gladstone had erred in judgment in not giving up their names. He thought the hon. Member for Birmingham would have acted more discreetly if he had not at the close of his speech attacked the present head of the Colonial Office, as it was a strong provocation to his side of the House to make a party attack upon Mr. Gladstone, who was, to say the least, as much open to attack as the noble Earl who at present filled that high office.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
would not allow the subject to pass without making one remark. However satisfactorily this discussion might and must be to the feelings of the surviving relatives of Sir Eardley Wilmot, to his mind it was in every part unsatisfactory, and he believed it would be found unsatisfactory to the House and to the country, except for this, that it was now proved that Sir Eardley Wilmot had been ungenerously treated and unjustly accused. He thought the noble Lord at the head of the Administration had satisfactorily answered the complaints of the hon. Member for Birmingham, when he stated that the records on which these accusations were founded did not remain in the Colonial Office—that the present Minister for the Colonies was ignorant of the names of those who had brought the accusation against the Governor—that he did not know what the accusation was—that he had no knowledge whatever of this most melancholy and disgraceful case, except of that part which was contained in the papers in the shape of public despatches. If this were true, then the request made to Earl Grey that he should examine or refute the calumnies alluded to, was a request with which he could not comply, because he had not the means of complying, whatever might be his inclination. The true state of the case was this: a functionary administering the law in a distant colony in the name of Her Majesty was recalled by the Government that appointed him to the office; and his recall was accompanied with certain complaints made against his conduct. These complaints were stated by the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies to be sufficient to induce him to decline recommending the Governor, as was usually done on such occasions, to a new office; and then his successor was called upon to rebut charges of which he had no knowledge whatever. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth said—and he was followed in this by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester-—that the grounds on which Sir Eardley Wilmot was recalled had nothing to do with the statements contained in the secret letter. But it was stated in the documents that though the grounds stated in the public despatch were sufficient for his recall, they would not have prevented his being appointed to some other colonial government. The statements contained in the secret despatch did prevent his appointment to some other 219 situation; and, therefore, was it not certain that they were bound à fortiori to recall him on the grounds stated in the secret despatch? The right hon. Baronet said that the charges were not anonymous. What was the description given of these charges by the right hon. Gentleman himself in his secret letter? He said, "Had these rumours been slight, and without a preemption of credibility, I might have warrantably passed them by—had they, on the other hand, been put in the form of charges, or information supported by the names of the parties tendering it, it would have become my absolute duty to refer the matter to you, and to call upon you for exculpation; but they occupy an intermediate position." Now, could any man, whether in or out of the House, comprehend the meaning of this statement? He was not surprised that the right hon. Baronet said the charges were not anonymous. He might with equal justice have said that they were neither anonymous nor not anonymous. It now appeared that all parties were sorry this charge had ever been made; but he wished to bring this fact prominently before the House, that if the statement contained in the letter of the son of Sir Eardley Wilmot were true, then a public servant had been allowed to sink into the grave under the weight and pressure of a cruel and false calumny which had been made to the Colonial Minister of the country—which had been listened to by him—which was made by persons who, it appeared, were present in propria persona, and yet that their names were refused to be given up to Sir Eardley Wilmot. On that point he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Members for Dorchester and Tamworth to look at the comparative evil which had happened. The Governor's character was in the attitude of being blackened and destroyed for ever; three persons had come to the Colonial Office and made certain statements to the Minister destructive of the character of the Governor; and yet, because they were fearful of the public sanction of their names being-given to a statement which they knew would be destructive to the man's character, their names were withheld from the public. The Governor was sacrificed, and the calumniators were protected. He thought the hon. Member for Birmingham had done well in not referring to the public despatch of Mr. Gladstone, not only for the reasons he had himself given, and the reasons which the right hon. Member for 220 Tamworth had given, but also because it was impossible to extract, even from that document, a clear statement which the mind of any Member in the House could grasp, of the cause why Sir Eardley Wilmot was removed. He had only to add, that he had no acquaintance with Sir Eardley Wilmot; but he felt he should not be doing his duty if he did not say that the Government had protected the calumniators and sacrificed the Governor.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, that the hon. Member for Birmingham had brought forward this case, not only with great ability, but with complete success. It certainly was a most painful case to be discussed in that House; but as regarded the feelings of those most deeply interested in the discussion, nothing could be more completely satisfactory than the manner in which Sir E. Wilmot's honour had been vindicated, and the charges against him withdrawn. But the House had been told by the hon. Member for Birmingham that the whole of these charges had originated in three gentleman going to the Colonial Office, and making the statements on their authority. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester had since told the House that one of those gentlemen held a high official appointment in the colonies. Bearing this in mind, and recollecting the words of Sir E. Wilmot himself, who stated that he was the victim of the most extraordinary conspiracy that ever succeeded in defaming the character of a public servant, he wished to know whether the hon. Member for Birmingham had furnished the Government with the name of this informant; and, also, whether the Colonial Office had taken any steps, or were about to take any steps, to communicate with one who was said to hold a high official appointment in the colonies, with the view of affording him an opportunity of explaining how he became a party to accusations now so universally condemned? As regarded the conduct of Mr. Gladstone, the discussion assumed a personal character, and this he was particularly anxious to avoid. Believing Mr. Gladstone to be actuated by the kindest and most conscientious motives, yet he could not but feel that in accompanying the public despatch with the secret letter which had been alluded to, Mr. Gladstone's conduct was rash, indefensible, and unjust. He should liked to have heard, at the close of Mr. Gladstone's letter to the present Sir E. Wilmot, a frank acknowledgment that he had been guilty of 221 one of those indiscretions which no man was exempt from. Whatever might be the respect of hon. Members for Mr. Gladstone, and whatever his desire to avoid everything of a mere personal nature, yet he thought that public duty called on them, whenever they felt that a public man had been unjustly and grievously treated, not to allow any private consideration to prevent them from declaring that such person had been the victim of great injustice.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, that the hon. Gentleman had asked him whether he had communicated to the Colonial Office the individual's name, which was at present unknown. All he could say was, that he did not now, and never did, know the name.
§ CAPTAIN GLADSTONE
felt it only necessary, after the complete explanation which had been given of the whole affair, to say a very few words on this, in many respects, painful subject. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had expressed his regret that the late Secretary for the Colonies did not, at the end of his letter to the present Sir R. Wilmot, avow that he had committed a great indiscretion in writing the private letter to the late Sir E. Wilmot. Now, he was sure that the same sense of justice which induced the late Secretary for the Colonies to state to the present Sir E. Wilmot that his father's private character was perfectly cleared, and that if he had retained the seals of office, he would have felt it his duty to recommend Sir E. Wilmot for re-employment, would have made him confess that he had committed an error or indiscretion, if he had felt that he had committed one. The House perhaps hardly sufficiently saw that the course pursued by the late Secretary for the Colonies was one of kindness, and nothing but kindness, to Sir E. Wilmot. The easiest course for the Colonial Secretary to adopt would have been to take no notice of the reports that had been alluded to, but to allow Sir E. Wilmot to return, and he would then, if spared, have been disqualified for re-employment. But the Colonial Secretary knew the sacrifices which, in a pecuniary sense, Sir E. Wilmot made in going out, and did not wish to place him in that position. The right hon. Gentleman the member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith) said that the Secretary for the Colonies ought not to have made any intimation to Sir E. Wilmot of the reasons which prevented him from recom- 222 mending that gentleman for re-employment under the Crown; but what would have been his feelings if his life had been spared, and he had returned home without hearing those reasons? He would have said, "You have placed me in a false position; you wait till my return before you make this charge, and it is not in my power here to clear myself of it." He (Captain Gladstone) might say, he believed, on the part of his right hon. relative, that he deeply regretted—he must regret—that those charges ever were made; at the same time, his justification in his (Captain Gladstone's) mind, rested entirely on the evidence, and the nature of the charges, and the parties by whom they were made. If his right hon. relative wrote his letter on insufficient ground, then, certainly, he was guilty of worse than indiscretion; but, if not, he took the only course he could take. He was under the disadvantage, and so were those who defended him, of not being able to give the names. [An Hon. MEMBER: Why not?] The circumstances had been most accurately described by the right hon. Baronet (Sir. J. Graham); and in the position in which the Secretary for the Colonies was placed, he could have pursued no other course than that which he took. That right hon. Gentleman rejoiced greatly that the character of Sir E. Wilmot was cleared, and would rejoice to find that it was cleared in a manner satisfactory to the members of that House and to the feelings of his family.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
was anxious for the character of England, and wanted to know whether this was the sort of treatment to which the governors of her colonies were to be subject. The hon. and gallant Captain said, "If you knew the parties who made the accusation, you would understand the position of my right hon. relative;" why had not his right hon. relative stated those names long ago? He had no notion of official reserve when an honest man was to be sacrificed. Were the charges made by these persons true? No; the hon. and gallant Member's "right hon. relative." had declared that they were not true. These respectable names, then, had been vouchers for a falsehood. A gentleman had gone out to represent the Sovereign of England—to govern a distant colony in very difficult circumstances—and had performed his duty to the best of his ability. Behind his back some respectable gentlemen addressed the hon. and gallant Mem- 223 ber's "right hon. relative," and that "right hon. relative" dismissed the Governor, without inquiry, and without once saying what the charge was; for "my right hon. relative" had the faculty of mystifying everything he touched, and covering his meaning with a multitude of sentences, and wrapping it in a mass of involuted, and convoluted, and involved phraseology. What was the charge? No one knew. Nothing was so easy, in public or in private, as to put forward dark and mysterious statements against a man, not venturing to avow what you accuse him of. He (Mr. Roebuck) had to charge "my right hon. relative" with doing a dishonourable act in doing that. He had not the courage to make the accusation, though he did dismiss an honest man from the public employment. If he were a relation of Sir E. Wilmot, he would pursue "my right hon. relative" for the rest of his life. He deserved it. England required that those who represented her in all parts of the globe, should not thus he treated. He knew nothing of Sir E. Wilmot, except as a Member of that House, and spoke of him simply as a Governor sent out to manage a distant colony; and he wanted to press for something like responsibility in the colonial administration. What said the hon. and gallant Captain? "If you only knew what the accusations were, and the gentlemen who made them, you would feel and own the difficulty of the position of my right hon. relative." [Captain GLADSTONE: I said nothing about the accusations; I said merely, "If you were aware who were the parties that made the accusations."] Why, it must be assumed that the accusation was a grave one, or else the right hon. Secretary had no business to dismiss Sir E. Wilmot. But why did not the House know who these parties were? Was there anything in the character of the Gentleman who lately held the seals of the Colonial Office to shield him at all? What business had he to dismiss a person on such an accusation? [An Hon. MEMBER on one of the Opposition benches: He did not.] Then he dismissed him on no accusation. All that the hon. and gallant Member said was, "If you knew the names of the parties making the accusation, you would understand the feelings and the position of my right hon. relative." But what would be the feelings of the people of England? A Governor was performing his duty in his distant colony, when certain parties went to the 224 Colonial Office, and made a calumnious and false accusation against him; and without further ado, or any open charge, or any chance given to him of defence, that gentleman was dismissed. So far the facts were agreed on. [An Hon. MEMBER: NO, no.] No! Why, he was dismissed upon that accusation. ["No, no!"] Then what was he dismissed for? The Secretary for the Colonies said, that he believed him incapable of governing the colony he was sent to, and that, having removed him in consequence of that inability, he could not recommend him to further official employment, because certain charges of immoral conduct were brought against him. But he (Mr. Roebuck) did not believe that version of the case; he believed it was wished to dismiss Sir E. Wilmot, and that those accusations were in the Colonial Office at the time of his dismissal. He charged that upon the late Secretary for the Colonies, and asserted that Sir E. Wilmot was not dismissed from inability to govern the colony, but was dismissed in consequence of those insinuations and calumnies which were uttered against him in the Colonial Office. Did the late Colonial Secretary-want to get out of that? Let him give the House the accusations, with the dates thereof, and prove that they were subsequent to the dismissal. But he could not do that; and, not doing that, he (Mr. Roebuck) charged the late Colonial Secretary with dismissing Sir E. Wilmot on a pretence that he was unequal to the performance of his office; whereas it was his own prudish feelings, his own notion of what was acceptable to what he called the moral feeling of the people of England, that led to the dismissal, under the plea that he was unfit for his office; and then, having been pushed out, he was told, "Oh! there are reasons; I could, if I would, suggest reasons for your dismissal." He charged that upon the late Colonial Secretary, and all persons connected with him; and they could only get out of it by giving the accusation, with the dates; never mind the names. But, if the dates were honestly given, the date of the accusation, which had been proved to be a calumny, would he found to precede the dismissal. Why did he (Mr. Roebuck) dwell upon this? He had no particular feeling for Sir E. Wilmot, except as a gentleman who went out to administer a colonial government; and anybody who saw anything of the mode in which our colonial administration was mismanaged by Lord Stanley and Mr. Glad- 225 stone must be heartily anxious that neither of them should ever meddle with it again. No sooner did they stretch forth their hand to anything connected with it, than mischief immediately followed, and every direful consequence of mischievous interference resulting from ignorance or presumption. Our colonial empire extended all over the globe; and in every part of the globe we could see ignorance leading the way, audacity following—audacity only equalled by ignorance—and mischief the consequence of both. He sympathized with the family of the gentleman who had unfortunately fallen a victim—but not a solitary victim; there were hundreds now pining away, the victims of our colonial misrule. Sir E. Wilmot was noticed because he happened to occupy a high station. He pointed his finger at the case, as illustrating the mischief of an irresponsible Colonial Administration.
§ MR. G. W. HOPE
had no intention to go into the general discussion; but the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) had made statements relative to the grounds of the recall of Sir E. Wilmot, which that hon. and learned Gentleman could not have made if he had been in the House during the whole of this discussion. He honestly believed that the public grounds specified were sufficient to justify that recall, and they were wholly irrespective of the charge with regard to his moral character. The hon. and learned Member really could not have read the papers without seeing that the recall was wholly irrespective of any charges against Sir E. Wilmot's private character, and that it proceeded only upon public grounds—grounds which were reviewed by Earl Grey, and held to be sufficient. [Mr. ROEBUCK: What are the dates?] He was ignorant of the dates. Sir E, Wilmot was recalled upon sufficient public grounds; and those grounds had been reviewed by a separate independent authority. [Mr. ROEBUCK: That is not sufficient.] Why, Earl Grey had no prejudice in favour of Mr. Gladstone; Earl Grey reviewed the grounds, and his statement was—" I consider the public grounds sufficient; I do not know what are the private grounds upon which you are accused. He was not at the Colonial Office at the time in question, but must say that he believed Mr. Gladstone wrote his letter in a spirit of fairness. Statements had been made to Mr. Gladstone; and that right hon. Gentleman considered it due to Sir E. Wilmot, that though his recall had not turned upon 226 them, they should be made known to him, that he might have an opportunity of refuting those calumnies, as they had turned out to be. He honestly believed it was done in a spirit of perfect fairness and perfect justice.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
considered the really important question to be that which had been introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, and which the hon. Member who had just sat down had declined to notice, contenting himself with a denial of the imputed cause of dismissal. He must distinctly charge Mr. Gladstone with having dismissed Sir E. Wilmot on the ground referred to in that secret despatch. The papers themselves showed it. The hon. Member (Mr. Hope) said he could not give dates, and, so far as he was concerned, had left the House ignorant as to when the intelligence first reached Mr. Gladstone; but the despatch itself dismissing Sir E. Wilmot gave a date. It was dated April 30, 1846; and the private despatch referring to the anonymous calumny bore the same date. Did the hon. Member mean to say that those accusations were not received before the 30th, when Mr. Gladstone sat down to write his despatch? Of course he had seen them, and thought of them before that. His own letter proved it. There was one part of the case which he wished the Under Secretary of the Colonies had not passed over so cavalierly. The question which arose was, whether the colonies were in future to be governed on the principles laid down in this secret despatch? A department of the Government was found to listen to anonymous accusations. If the defence of Mr. Gladstone was an honest one, why were not the names of his informants given? Had not the House of Commons a right to know what was the authority which had led Mr. Gladstone to entertain charges against an honest man who had been hunted to death? The men who misled Mr. Gladstone could have done no harm unless Mr. Gladstone had adopted their statements. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury, when Colonial Secretary, had stated that the colonies were to be governed by the recognised principles of justice in the mother country. Were the principles, then, stated in Mr. Gladstone's secret despatch to be the principles on which colonial government was in future to be conducted?
SIR W. JAMES
would not allow such language to be used in reference to his 227 right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), as had been employed by the hon. and learned Members for Bath and Winchester. They had spoken of his right hon. Friend's conduct as dishonest and calumnious; but he would assort that his right hon. Friend had given ample reasons for Sir E. Wilmot's recall, in the fact that he was not sufficiently acquainted with the convict system, and that his management had not in consequence been successful. But in saying this, did he (Sir W. James) rely upon his own opinion alone? No; there was the opinion of the present Secretary of State for the Colonies—an opinion which stood high with many Members of the House; and it was, that Mr. Gladstone had ample grounds for the recall of Sir E. Wilmot. The hon. Member for Birmingham, in stating the case, had very properly and discreetly mentioned that the recall had taken place on public grounds, and that the charges preferred against Sir E. Wilmot's private character had nothing to do with it; and yet the two hon. and learned Gentlemen the Members for Bath and Winchester came forward at the eleventh hour, and asserted that Sir E. Wilmot had been dismissed for private reasons alone, and founded upon that assertion grave charges against Mr. Gladstone, who was not present to answer for himself. Such assertions, however, were altogether untenable, and were contradicted by the statements of the late Premier, and his Colleague the Secretary for the Home Department.
§ MR. M. MILNES
hoped he should not allow his friendship for Mr. Gladstone to qualify his opinion; and, looking impartially at his conduct, he did think that his hon. and learned Friends the Members for Bath and Winchester had attributed to his right hon. Friend motives which he believed had never actuated him, and sentiments which his right hon. Friend had never entertained. He believed that the motive in which the private and confidential letter—for it was private and confidential—originated, was simply to inform Sir E. Wilmot that there were rumours abroad regarding his character—that these rumours had come to England—and the probability was they would reach the Colonial Secretary and other Ministers in a still stronger shape; but if he succeeded in dispelling those rumours, there was no reason why he should not receive another appointment. The recall was solely on public grounds. That 228 Sir E. Wilmot, excellent man as he may have been, should not be competent to deal with one of the most difficult propositions ever submitted to a Colonial Governor, namely, that of governing a penal colony in a time of transition from one system to another, was no great slur on his character, either as a man or as a governor. He believed that Mr. Gladstone thought Sir E. Wilmot was not competent to discharge the difficult duties which devolved upon him; and it was solely for that reason that the right hon. Gentleman resolved to recall him. Then came the rumours; and he begged to inform the House that these rumours were not confined to the ear of the Colonial Secretary, but prevailed in private society in this country; and certainly it was most important for Sir E. Wilmot that they should be negatived, and it was an act of kindness in Mr. Gladstone to that gentleman to give him an opportunity of accomplishing that object. Had Mr. Gladstone confined himself to the public question alone, what would have been the condition of Sir E. Wilmot? He would have been deemed incompetent to remain in the governorship of the colony, and, in addition, the rumours which had reached this country against him would have continued; and had he reached this country in ignorance of their existence, he would have been deprived of the means of negativing them. It was to Mr. Gladstone, then, that Sir E. Wilmot was indebted for the opportunity of making his defence, and of setting his character right with the public. Those persons knew little of Mr. Gladstone who imagined that in discharging an unpleasant public duty he was capable of doing anything calculated unnecessasily to wound the feelings of the individual. He believed he had Mr. Gladstone's authority for saying that it was his intention, had he remained a Colonial Minister, and if Sir E. Wilmot had cleared himself, to have appointed him to some other situation. There was no doubt that had Sir E. Wilmot lived, and had Mr. Gladstone continued in office, he would have been placed in a position better fitted to his peculiar talents, and that he would have had reason to look with satisfaction, rather than with regret, upon what had occurred. He felt, with the hon. and learned Member for Winchester, that the public offices should not be made the depositories of calumnies of the kind in question. He did feel how necessary it was for Ministers of State to check at the outset such ca- 229 lumnies, and such injurious reflections upon the private character of individuals as might result in depriving this country of the services of some of its best officers. It was very possible, nay, very probable, that many very competent men might not be precisely the most guarded and careful in their habits of life, and that it might be very possible to trump up cases of calumny against men who in distant parts were performing the most difficult duties in the most creditable manner. He thought that what had occurred in the case now under consideration should teach the Colonial Office caution as to how they ventured to deprive the country of the services of really active and useful men, because of objections stated to their private character by some individual, actuated perhaps by a desire to see those places filled by persons more congenial to their dispositions. He trusted the Colonial Office would take a lesson from what had occurred, and that the friends of Sir E. Wilmot would really believe that Mr. Gladstone had acted from the most noble and the most generous motives.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
regretted the turn which the debate had taken during the past hour. The discussion commenced more in sorrow than in anger. His hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham deprecated in the opening speech all reference to the public grounds upon which Sir E. Wilmot was recalled, nor did he raise that question at all. His object was to defend the private character of Sir E. Wilmot from the attack made upon it in a secret despatch of the same date as the public one. The defence made by his hon. Friend was complete; and certainly the more so when followed, as it had been, by the late Prime Minister and the late Secretary for the Home Department, and by others who had borne equally strong testimony to the validity of the defence which the accused party had made, and who had expressed such deep sympathy with the family of the deceased. He could not but hope that the discussion would now come to a close, and that the House would enter upon the other important business which awaited consideration.
§ Subject at an end.