HC Deb 01 September 1848 vol 101 cc757-60

wished to put a question to the Home Secretary, of which he had given notice, with respect to the treatment of the convicted felon Mitchel. His object in putting this question was to obtain a contradiction of certain reports, in which he (Lord G. Bentinck) certainly did not place any credit. Those reports, which related to the treatment of Mitchel at Bermuda, had been so widely circulated, that he (Lord G. Bentinck) thought it absolutely necessary, in order to show the determination of the Government to visit persons of all stations who might be convicted of offences with equal punishment, that some contradiction should be given to them. He had received a letter on this subject from a person who was connected with the legal profession, and who did not wish his name to he publicly mentioned, although he (Lord G. Bentick) had stated it in confidence to the right hon. Home Secretary. The writer requested him to ask whether Mitchel had messed every day with the Lieutenant commanding Her Majesty's ship Scourge, on the voyage from Cork to Bermuda? His informant said— It is well known here that he did. It is also reported that, on taking leave of him, the officer of that steamer shook hands with him. And the writer added, that the lieutenant commanding justified this conduct under a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, ambiguously worded, in which the officer was told to remember Mr. Mitchel's former position. The writer further stated that since Mr. Mitchel's arrival at Bermuda he had a private room on board the hulk—that he had a servant, another convict, to wait on him—that he were his ordinary clothes instead of the convict dress—and that he had not been put upon the public works. A similar report had found its way into the American newspapers. The New York Herald of the 4th instant stated, with respect to Mitchel, that he still were his own clothes; that he was not asked to work; that he was treated in every respect, consistently with his safe keeping, like a gentleman; and that he was allowed books, but neither pen nor paper. In putting this question, he wished it to be understood that he did not believe that any officer in the Queen's service would shake hands with a convicted felon; and he felt perfectly satisfied that the Secretary of State for the Home Department would he able to tell the House that no distinction would be made between convicts of station and education, and the meanest convicts who might be subjected to the penalties of the law. He begged to add that, far from crediting the statement that Lord Clarendon had written a letter directing that Mitchel should be treated in a different manner from other convicts, he believed that that noble Lord was actuated by a determination to carry out the law rigidly and justly.


said, that a question similar in purport to that asked by the noble Lord, had been put to him some time since by another hon. Member; and the answer he had now to give to the noble Lord's question, would be substantially the same as he had before given. On that occasion, the hon. Member placed in his hands copies of the information which had reached him on the subject. He communicated with the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty, who stated that he had not received any corroboration of that information. He stated at that time that Mitchel was removed from Cork to Bermuda almost immediately after his conviction, not in an ordinary convict ship—because there would have been considerable delay before such a ship was ready—but that, in order to show the determination of the Government to carry the law into effect, he was placed on board a war steamer, the Scourge, which was about to proceed to Bermuda. He might here state, that the Scourge was not commanded by a lieutenant, but by a commander—Commander Wingrove, who was an officer of considerable standing in the service. Commander Wingrove received his instructions as to the treatment of Mitchel, not from the Lord Lieutenant, who had no power to give such orders, but under an Admiralty letter, an extract from which he had before read. It was indeed necessary that such instructions should be addressed to the commander, because the conveyance of convicts was not any part of the service of men-of-war. Commander Wingrove was instructed that while any possibility of the prisoner's escape existed, every precaution should be taken for his safe custody, but that while at sea he should be allowed such indulgence in the way of exercise and food as the state of his health, which was represented to be delicate, might render necessary. The officer was also directed to provide a cabin for the prisoner's reception, in which he was to take his meals, and at the door of which a sentry was to be placed. He (Sir G. Grey) had received no information to lead him to suppose that the accounts which had been given to the noble Lord opposite could be correct; and, in the absence of any information on the subject, and remembering also the misstatements which had been circulated with regard to the prisoner's treatment on board the Shearwater, on his passage from Dublin to Cork, he must express his belief that the statements referred to by the noble Lord were unfounded. With respect to the representations which had been made as to Mitchel's treatment at Bermuda, the best answer he could give would be to read some extracts from the despatches of Governor Elliot. In a letter addressed to Earl Grey, and dated the 22nd of June, Governor Elliot stated— In reply to your Lordship's separate despatch of the 29th of May," [which transmitted the warrant authorising the Governor to receive and detain John Mitchel, and which warrant was made out in precisely the same form as in the case of other convicts,] "I have the honour to report, that Her Majesty's sloop Scourge arrived hero on the 20th inst. After ascertaining from Lord Dundonald when it would be convenient to hand over the prisoner John Mitchel, I ordered him to be received by Mr. J. K. Kirkham, overseer of the Dromedary, and he was accordingly removed to that hulk last evening at four o'clock. Dr. Hall, the medical superintendent of the convict establishment, waited upon me this morning, and recommended that this prisoner should not be sent out to the works till it could be judged how far occupation of that nature might be compatible with his health and strength, reported to be constitutionally weak. On the 4th of July, Governor Elliot addressed another letter to Earl Grey, in which he said— The medical superintendent has stated it to be his opinion that the prisoner, John Mitchel, has a chronic affection of the lungs, and, acting under his advice, I have caused Mitchel to be removed to the Tenedos hospital ship. This letter enclosed the following communication from Dr. Hall to the Governor, and upon which Governor Elliot acted:— I have the honour to submit to your Excellency some observations that have presented themselves to my notice in the medical inspection which I have made to-day on board the hulks in the Chamber. According to the regulations of the service, my attention was directed to the state of health of a recently arrived prisoner, named John Mitchel, now on board the Dromedary hulk; and, from his bodily appearance, and the information afforded by a medical certificate, I have been led to bring under your Excellency's notice my opinion that the said John Mitchel has a chronic affection of his lungs and a physical condition of body, which renders him very inefficient for hard labour on the public works. Although he is not now on the sick list, yet it is very probable he soon will be. I beg leave, therefore, to submit to your consideration whether he might not be usefully employed among the convalescents in the ward for sick officers in this hospital. He apprehended the meaning of this was that Mitchel would be employed in the same way as the other convict servants in the hospital-ship, and that such work would be assigned to him as was performed by convalescents. He might state that, since this correspondence was received, he had heard that Mitchel had been removed to another hulk. The only statement the noble Lord had made for which there appeared to be any foundation was that Mitchel had not been employed on public works; and this was in consequence of the recommendation of Dr. Hall. He had no information with regard to the prisoner's dress. Indeed, he had read to the house all the information he possessed on the subject.