HC Deb 25 June 1847 vol 93 cc953-62

moved for copies of a despatch from the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors of the East India Company to the Governor General of India, re- specting the ex-Rajah of Sattara, dated the 24th March, 1846, and of the answer thereto, &c. In doing so he said he would not have introduced his Motion at that late hour (past twelve o'clock) were it not that the subject he had to bring forward involved a case of great injustice towards an individual, as well as a grave charge against the Government. His statement was necessarily a long one. but he would compress it into as brief a space as possible. It was painful to him to be obliged to state that the papers which he had moved for on former occasions, and which would go to exonerate the Rajah of Sattara from the charges which were made against him, had been refused by the Secretary of State on the ground that copies of them had been surreptitiously obtained; but though the right hon. Gentleman had promised to produce all the documents which he wanted, such had not been done, and it was on that undertaking that his former Motion on the subject had not been pressed in the shape in which it originally stood. In that respect, therefore, he had to say he had been deceived. The right hon. Gentleman formerly in office had given his sanction to the dethronement of the Rajah of Sattara without any evidence of a satisfactory nature having been adduced against that individual. He had been hurled from his throne and sent away a thousand miles from his country, and was now an exile in a foreign land, without having the opportunity of a trial, such as would be afforded to any British subject, being given to him. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. C. Hob-house) and his predecessor in office, had agreed to lay various documents connected with that case on the Table of the House; but those only which tended to inculpate the Rajah had been produced, while such as would go towards his exculpation had been withheld and refused. He had presented Lord Ripon, when in office, with a letter from the Rajah, stating his case in full; but that noble Lord, though exhibiting great sympathy towards the individual in question, had said that he could not receive any papers from anybody in India, except through the Governor General. The Rajah had been accordingly advised to adopt that course, and he had accordingly directed a letter to Sir Henry (now Lord) Hardinge, stating the particulars of his case. That letter had never been received. Though twice ordered by the House, the right hon. Gentleman would not produce it. He had been told that it was not at the India House; but it had not been said that it was not in this country. He believed it was lodged in the secret department of the right hon. Gentleman's office. That right hon. Gentleman had more power in some respects even than the Crown; but he believed the right hon. Gentleman was not fully aware of the importance and injustice of his conduct in this respect. What he complained of in this case was, that the Rajah of Sattara, whether guilty or innocent, had not a fair trial. There were documents to prove his innocence, and they were suppressed by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Control. What he wanted was, that an opportunity should be afforded of fully ascertaining the truth in the matter. He believed he would be able to prove, if such an opportunity were given, that the Rajah was the victim of a gross conspiracy, to which the British agents must have been parties. As long as he lived he would endeavour to obtain justice for a much-wronged man. He made his appeal to the justice of English Gentlemen; and he would bring the case on again, when he would have the opportunity of dividing the House upon the question.


The hon. Gentleman has asked that justice should be done to himself and to the Rajah of Sattara. [Mr. HUME: I don't want it for myself.] I must tell the House in what manner the hon. Gentleman has chosen to deal out justice to a public officer. The hon. Gentleman has altered his Motion no less than four times. [Mr. HUME: I had a right to do so.] In his first Motion he accused myself and the Board of Control of illegality. [Mr. HUME: I do so still.] He dropped that charge, and next said our conduct was impolitic and unjust. He then dropped that accusation. He next brought another charge, and said whether withholding these papers was illegal or not, still that the refusal of them was impolitic and unjust; and now, the whole foundation of his case was merely to ask for two despatches—one of the 24th of March, 1846, and the other the letter which was written in answer to that despatch. How is it possible for me to meet charges thus dropped one after the other? The hon. Gentleman told me that the papers furnished were so satisfactory as to the conduct of the Board of Control, that he could not complain of the refusal of other papers. I gave him my reasons for granting certain, papers and not others. "You can't have the latter," I said, "because they are secret papers." And my refusal was supported by the right hon. Member for Tamworth and by the whole House. I don't believe if the hon. Gentleman had divided on that occasion that four Members would have gone out with him. The hon. Gentleman has brought many charges against us in very vigorous phraseology; but I venture to say that his allegations are about the boldest fictions ever attempted to be palmed on the public. The hon. Gentleman has chosen to say that the Governor General expressed his belief in the innocence of the Rajah of Sattara. I tell him it is not true, and I produce the document itself to prove that it is not. As for myself, I should be very sorry to put myself in competition or contrast with the hon. Gentleman; but when he talks of the injustice—the illegality—the tyranny of the Board of Control—he ought to know the facts; and I beg leave to tell him that he has not stated one of them correctly. Of all the extraordinary statements in which the hon. Gentleman has indulged, the most marvellous is that relating to the despatch of the 24th of March. The hon. Gentleman's friend and patron, Mr. G. Thompson (of whom I shall have a word to say presently), gives this account of the production of this despatch, that he found it one morning on his breakfast table, and that nothing on earth should induce him to disclose how it came there. The hon. Member for Montrose knows that it could not have found its way to the breakfast table of Mr. G. Thompson without a gross betrayal of trust—a violation of the oath of the person who obtained it. Now, I ask the hon. Gentleman, does he know how it came there? I accuse him of having tampered with some public servant either in England or in Calcutta, and thus obtained papers which the party charged with their custody was sworn by his solemn oath to conceal. But the case does not concern the present Board of Control alone. Sir R. Grant, Lord Auckland, Sir James Carnac, again Lord Auckland, the Court of Directors, all investigated and decided this question. The House of Commons has twice voted on this question, and it has been nineteen times before the public; and what is the result? The hon. Gentleman talks of the interest it excites. There are 2,000 proprietors, and out of these the greatest number that ever voted was 82, of whom 56 were against re-opening the question, and the other 26 took the view of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman says that the Court of Proprietors voted for the production of those papers by a majority of two. What was the consequence? The chairman and the others reversed their own vote, and by a majority of 30 refused to re-open the question. The fact is that this case has been got up by a house of agency in Bombay, of which the hon. Gentleman is the instrument and the dupe. The hon. Gentleman has presumed to say that the Board of Control has gone beyond the powers it has a right to exercise; but had the Court of Directors complained of their doing so? On the contrary, by a majority of eight they voted against taking the question out of the hands of the Secret Committee. The hon. Gentleman had, therefore, proved himself not a fit person to make such charges against the responsible servants of the Government. [Mr. HUME: Give us the papers.] When this question was before the House on a former occasion, I stated that when a fitting time came, I should have no objection to produce the letters in question. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the letter he has produced is the real one—perhaps he knows how it was purloined. We have written to India to ascertain who it was who stole the other letter, and whether the hon. Gentleman had any connexion with the matter. [Mr. HUME: It is very impudent of you to say that, when I was in England the whole time.] But do you mean to say you could not have written to India? I insist upon it that the documents, if produced, would disprove every word which you have dared to assert this night. The hon. Gentleman is the receiver of those stolen goods; and he comes down to this House to accuse me of conduct of which I am totally incapable. But these papers, Sir, shall be produced; and I am certain that when the House shall have seen, it will free me and the Board of Control from all the charges that have been brought against us. But, Sir, I do not think it a proper thing for the hon. Gentleman to avail himself of the impropriety of other persons, and to say to us that, as he has by some means got those stolen papers, we shall produce the originals. However I must say that those papers are not in favour of the case of the Rajah of Sattara: and the assertion of the hon. Gentleman, that the letter of the Governor General exculpates the Rajah, and hears out these invectives which the hon. Gentleman has used, I utterly and solemnly deny. The hon. Gentleman, Sir, has spoken much about the injustice and unfairness with which the Rajah has been treated; what does he think of the injustice which he has himself done to a man whom he has brought charges against? What does he think of his own conduct towards Colonel Ovans? How is he borne out in his assertion against that gentleman? [Mr. HUME: By his own handwriting.] Why, Sir, who is this Colonel Ovans, against whom the hon. Gentleman has brought those accusations? He is as good an Indian servant of the Crown as could possibly be. A gentleman of honour and reputation; and this is the gentleman—an English gentleman—who is stigmatized as a suborner of perjury. [Mr. HUME: Hear!] You call "Hear!" Do you believe the charge? [Mr. HUME: I do, and will prove it if you grant me the papers.] Why, Sir, the hon. Member for Montrose is, in my opinion, as capable of forgery, or subornation of perjury, as Colonel Ovans. But when this Mr. Thompson—Thompson I think is his name—attempted to bring the case before the Court of Directors, the solicitor to the Court of Directors would not allow the charges to be advertised, because they were in his opinion libellous, and could not with safety be published. Thanks to the hon. Member for Montrose, the charge is published to-night. But, Sir, I do not think it right that such charges should be brought against public servants who, like Colonel Ovans, have done their duty to their country well and faithfully, and who have never been charged with anything base or equivocal, until a set of men who have a pecuniary interest in blasting the acts of as honourable a man or set of men as could be found, bring forward charges, and get hon. Members in this House to state and support them.


Sir, I do not accuse Colonel Ovans of forgery; but I do accuse him of having brought documents to the Government purporting to be original documents of the Rajah of Sattara, when he had the seal of the Rajah in his possession, and must have known that the seals attached to them could not therefore have been the real seals belonging to the Rajah of Sattara.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control had not met and had not refuted one of the serious charges which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose. The hon. Gentleman had proved in a most convincing statement that the Rajah of Sattara had been deposed and punished on evidence so utterly untrustworthy that it would not have been received in a court of justice in England. The right hon. Gentleman, instead of replying, had confined himself to a very strong and personal attack upon the hon. Member for Montrose; and he had asked the House to wait for the receipt of a letter from India before coming to any opinion upon the charges. He (Lord J. Manners) understood from the hon. Member for Montrose, that he could not go to a division upon his Motion. He only hoped, then, that the hon. Gentleman would bring the question before the House, and press it as soon as possible to a division, and the right hon. Gentleman should have his cordial support.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control had seemed very anxious to defend himself from the attack which had been made upon him by the hon. Member for Montrose. But did not the right hon. Gentleman think that the Rajah of Sattara had a similar right to defend himself from what he considered unjust accusations? The right hon. Gentleman had not been deprived of his possessions. He had not been robbed, or plundered, or exiled; but a few hard words had been applied to him, and his anger had swelled into violent declamation against the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward the charges. Did the right hon. Gentleman believe that those hon. Members of that House who had paid attention to the statement of the proceedings against that persecuted and injured man, the Rajah of Sattara, would be contented until he had been afforded an opportunity of defending himself from the atrocious attacks which had been made upon him? Did the right hon. Gentleman think that those hon. Members who supported the claims of the Rajah for a fair hearing, would consider that they had discharged their duty till they had succeeded? He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that they would not have discharged their duty in that House until they should have obtained the inquiry; and he would agree with any twelve Members of the House to bring the matter forward by successive Motions on going into Committee of Supply, so as to prevent the Government from obtaining any sum of money for the public service until an inquiry was granted. A more atrocious case of persecution was not to be found in the annals of India, or of any other country. For upwards of twenty years the Rajah had filled his post with honour and probity, rewards for which had been sent to him from the British Government of India: he had received testimonials of his fidelity. [Mr. HUME: A sword had been presented to him.] And after all, by a series of atrocious and most wicked acts of conspirators against him, he had been subjected to treatment worse than the worst of criminals. He had been robbed, plundered, deposed, and transported. He had been asked to sign a document in which his own guilt was set forth; and it was because he would not sign that document, that he had been plundered and robbed, and transported. It was not denied that that paper had been presented to him, and that he had been at the same time told how great would be the extent of his possessions, and how honourable his future position, if he would but sign the document in which his own guilt was confessed. That had been admitted by former Governments in that House. Now, what did they do with the worst criminal in this country? Did they not give him a trial? Did they not give him an opportunity of making a defence, and of proving his innocence if he could? But would the right hon. Gentlemen contend that the Rajah of Sattara had ever had a trial or an opportunity of ever proving his innocence? If not, why then did the right hon. Gentleman seek to overwhelm the Government of which he was Member with the foul stain of disgrace, which belonged not to him, but to his predecessors in office, who were the first to concur in the vile conspiracy? He could not conceive why the right hon. Baronet should take so much dirt upon himself, except because it seemed to be the universal rule for one Government to adopt and sustain the decisions of another Government. They might disagree on all other subjects; but still the existing Administration invariably adopted and defended the acts of its predecessors. He would not enter into the matter further at present, but trusted that his hon. Friend would bring the question formally before the House without delay, if he was sincere in his statement, that he could prove his entire case in one week. His hon. Friend ought, he thought, to give notice of a Motion on the subject that night, and he would join his hon. Friend with all his heart and strength in resisting the voting of one farthing to any Government until an inquiry was instituted.


said, though he happened to sit on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, he should say that he did not think the Motion had been properly met. What did it signify whether Mr. George Thompson—a gentleman whom he had the honour of knowing—had found a certain document on his table in the morning or not? That could not affect the justice of the claim of the Rajah of Sattara, or the question whether or not successive Governments had gone on deciding unjustly against him. He felt bound as a Member of that House to express his extreme dissatisfaction at the inefficient manner in which the charge of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had been met; and he hoped his hon. Friend would lose no time in bringing the subject before the House.


said, the charge made by the hon. Member for Montrose was, that the Rajah had been deposed by a most vile conspiracy, in which certain British officers were concerned. The right hon. Baronet repudiated the charge; and he expected that the right hon. Gentleman would, therefore, be ready to second any Motion of inquiry that the hon. Member might make; and no doubt those public officers in India would be on their part equally anxious to have the foul and unjust stain removed from their characters.


The House may or may not go into this question of the proceedings with regard to the Rajah of Sattara; but I think everybody must admit that the notice given by the hon. Member for Montrose was not a notice that seemed to indicate any intention on his part of going into the merits of the question when bringing it before the House. The notice was for the production of papers; and my right hon. Friend came down prepared to state whether he would or would not accede to that Motion. At the late hour of the night when my hon. Friend had an opportunity of addressing the House on his Motion, nothing, I am sure, could be more inconvenient than that my right hon. Friend should be expected to go into the details of a most extensive case, which had been investigated under various Governments in India, and various Courts of Directors, and various Boards of Control, and which could not be discussed at this hour of the night with any possible advantage, or any chance of a decision being come to upon it. My right hon. Friend is quite prepared, if the matter be brought forward at an early hour of the evening to enter into those details; but I think the House will agree with me that this is no hour for him to do so.

The Motion was not pressed.

House in Committee pro formâ, and resumed.

House adjourned at a quarter to Two o'clock.