HC Deb 22 March 1848 vol 97 cc858-63

On reading the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Agricultural Tenants' Right Bill,


said, that he was then entitled to make some observations on the question he had put, and he must be allowed to say he thought that he was fully justified in the course which he had taken. The statements he had made were from documents of a most authentic character, which had been laid upon the table of the House, and to which he felt he was fully justified in referring. The right hon. Gentleman had thrown some doubt upon the question as to whether these proceedings were so far of an illegal character as to justify the Poor Law Commissioners or the Government in taking notice of them. He made no question that the Poor Law Commissioners could not proceed in the matter; but it was in his mind a grave question whether the Government should permit such acts to go unpunished. It appeared to his judgment that this was a case which came precisely within the provisions of the "White-boy Act," which declared that any person unlawfully destroying or injuring any habitation shall be liable to death as a felon. In the 1st and 2nd William IV., which amended this Act, the punishment for such an offence was decreed to be transportation for life. He did not consider that they could distinguish between landlord or other person in viewing an offence of this description. He thought that this was a very fit subject of inquiry for the Government; for whether it was a case of agrarian outrage, or an offence committed by a member of the highest class in society, it was in his mind equally unjustifiable, and, being an illegal act, should be as much punishable by law as the hanging or transporting of men for the commission of those dreadful crimes which were unfortunately too common in Ireland. This was a time at which it was very necessary the Government should declare their intention to enforce the law, as well against landlords as against tenants. The question now was, whether the poor man was to have a remedy against a landlord for such an illegal act as he had referred to. As to the idea of a civil action, the thing was impossible. He thought it behoved a paternal Government to step in and demand justice for these poor people, for so illegal and cruel an outrage committed against them. As to whether deaths were or were not the consequence of this proceeding, he could only say that he had stated nothing but what the Government inspector himself had reported, namely, that several children had been left exposed upon a bleak western shore during a stormy wintry night—that their parents had implored shelter for them until the next day—that their prayers for mercy were refused—and that many of them had since died. Now, any person was at liberty to draw his own inference from these facts. The House should, however, recollect that this outrage was committed upon the night of the 31st of December, during a severe snow storm. He left it, then, to the House to declare whether the deaths that had followed were not the consequence of this inhuman act? This was an outrage of as bad a character as he had ever heard perpetrated by landlords, their drivers or agents; and he now asked the House whether it should be allowed to pass unnoticed?


would only say that he hoped his hon. Friend would remember that he did not defend the acts of the landlords of Ireland. He merely demurred to the proposition which implied that the parties so offending were liable to be criminally prosecuted. Neither did he deny that deaths had occurred subsequently to the events alluded to. He should not, however, be supposed to acquiesce in the statement that those deaths were consequent upon the outrages.


said, that the poor of Ireland owed a deep and lasting debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Stroud. The fact was that the poor of Ireland had no protectors. The whole of the shocking occurrences mentioned by the hon. Gentleman arose from the operation of the Quarter-Acre Clause, for the repeal of which, on the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale, they could only obtain twenty-one votes the other night. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said that no criminal prosecution would lie against the landlord for levelling the tenant's house, but that it was just possible there might be ground for a civil action. But could anything be more absurd than to imagine a poor wretch seeking such a mode of redress? When the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government could not prosecute the landlord for throwing down the unfortunate tenant's house, what he meant was, that the poor man had really no protector in Ireland. Could the Government suppose that, after such declarations, the people of Ireland could have any confidence in them? The onus of protecting the poor lay morally upon the Government; and if, under the Quarter-Acre Clause, those poor people were swindled out of their property, the onus lay upon the Government of repealing it.


said, that a large portion of the extract quoted by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud had been alluded to by himself (Sir W. Somerville) the other night, when opposing the bringing in of the Bill for the repeal of the Quarter-Acre Clause; and he should repeat what he had then said—without complaining of the not very courteous language of the hon. Gentleman—that it was not owing to the operation of the Quarter-Acre Clause that those levellings of houses had taken place. He regretted that his hon. Friend had so changed his tone; but if there were no law which would authorise the Government in attempting to prosecute criminally the parties so demolishing the houses, it was idle of his hon. Friend to get up and throw blame upon them. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for the university of Dublin (Mr. Napier) would be able to say positively whether there were or were not such laws in existence as would enable the Government to interfere; but as to those outrages being consequent upon the Quarter-Acre Clause, he should repeat what he said the other night, that they might as well have been perpetrated if the tenant had gone to market or elsewhere, as to the workhouse.


thought that if the statements of those occurrences were true, nothing could be more unjustifiable. But the House ought to be very cautious in giving credence to such statements, for the landlords of Ireland were very much maligned. He would give one instance in point. The medical board of health in Dublin instituted certain inquiries into the condition of the fever hospital, and the progress of fever in his (Sir A. Brooke's) neighbourhood. The medical superintendent reported that there were a great many cases of fever in the district, but that there was only one in the hospital. But being of course unwilling to lose his situation, he gave a reason, which was, that the poor people were so afraid of having their houses pulled down by their landlords whilst they were in the hospital, and having no place to go to upon coming out, that they would not enter the hospital, but preferred lying at home. Further inquiries were instituted, and the medical superintendent was unable to state one single instance in which such an event as the throwing down of the house of a fever patient had occurred; and he had recourse to the explanation, that whether such a thing had happened or not did not signify—it was the fear of it that prevented the poor people from coming into the hospital. He thought that the Barnes of those persons who had acted as described ought to be published. It would be better that they should be exposed, than that the whole body of landlords should be maligned on their account.


coincided in the opinions stated by the last hon. Gentleman, that the offending parties ought to be named, and that the entire body of the landlords should not be included in the charge. The hon. Member for Stroud did not include them. But that hon. Gentleman was entitled to the thanks of the Irish people for having brought under the consideration of the House a state of things which was unparalleled in the whole civilised world. He should at the same time say that the Government of Ireland had in the present instance performed their duty. They had sent a Commissioner to inquire into the circumstances of the case, and he had reported upon them. Major M'Kie remarked himself, in his report to the Commissioners, that— The witness, John Costello, states, that Mr. Arthur Blake, son of Mr. James Blake, J. P., and agent to Mr. Patrick Blake, of Gorumna; Patrick M'Nalty, steward to James Blake; Edmund Walsh, and one Faherty, drivers to Mr. Blake, with several others, tenants to Mr. Blake, were the actors in these illegal proceedings; and their identity is confirmed, together with that of Mr. Richard Blake (also son to Mr. James Blake), by the witnesses Bridget Faherty, Mary Faherty, John Toole, John Magan, Mary Feeny, and others, all of whose cases were attended with circumstances of great cruelty. I have visited the ruins of these huts (not any great distance from Mr. Blake's residence): I found that many of these unfortunate people were still living within the ruins of these huts, endeavouring to shelter themselves under a few sticks and sods, all in the most wretched state of destitution; many were so weak that they could scarcely stand when giving their evidence. The site of these ruins is a rocky wild spot, fit for nothing but a sheep-walk. It appears from the information I have been able to obtain, that these people had many of them been living in those huts for years; renting patches of land on the rocky shore, and earning a precarious and scanty subsistence by the culture of the potato, paying even for the sea-weed to manure the land. The total failure of the potato crop left them without any means of subsistence, and, being unable to cultivate the land, they had given up their holdings, but continued to occupy the huts, paying no rent. It has been stated, and I believe with truth, that Mr. Blake and many of his tenants had lost sheep, and suffered from depredations on their turnip crops. These people, having no means of subsistence, suspicion fell on them, and it was re-solved to root them out. Mr. Blake, senior, was present on the 15th, and had the perusal of the whole of the depositions, of which he took notes. He denied any knowledge of the proceedings, he being absent at the time they occurred. I asked if, as a magistrate, he had not on his return from Dublin made any inquiry as to the acts of violence committed during his absence. Mr. Blake said, he inquired of the police; who had made no report of the matter, although fully aware of it. I have made inquiry, and find this to be true; they were well aware that the people's houses were thrown down, but made no report to the inspector. I pointed out to Mr. Blake that the depositions implicated himself, as it had been asserted to be by his orders, and that his sons and servants were the leaders; that the depositions were on oath. Mr. Blake assured me he had not in any way sanctioned those proceedings, which he admitted to be illegal; and promised to send me an affidavit to that effect on the following day. I have not heard from him since. He had again to thank the hon. Member for Stroud for having brought such a shocking affair under the consideration of the House; and he could only regret that they had not had the benefit of his vote in the minority on the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington's Motion the other night. But he supposed they would have had it had the blue book now before them been then upon the table of the House.


entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland, that there was no law under which the landlord could be reached by a criminal prosecution for pulling down the houses of the tenant; and that being the case, he thought it should not go forth to the people of Ireland that the poor were not protected. Much mischief might be done by such assertions.


thought that Mr. Blake ought not to be allowed to retain the commission of the peace after the report which had been made by Major M'Kie.

Subject at an end.