HC Deb 16 April 1849 vol 104 cc378-82

On the Order of the Day for going into Committee of Supply,


moved— An humble address to Her Majesty on the subject of certain illegal ordinances or acts of Council for the taxation of the people of Van Die-men's Land—the attempts of Lieutenant Governor Sir W. Denison to intimidate the judges of the supreme courts of that island into declaring such ordinances or acts to he legal, and the grievances complained of by the colonists of that island in their petition presented last year to Her Majesty, and printed by order of this House; and that Her Majesty may be pleased to direct the local authorities in future to respect the independence of the judicial functions of that court, and also to signify Her disallowance of any ordinance or act subsequently passed by the said Lieutenant Governor in Council, for giving to such illegal ordinances or acts the force of law. The hon. Member also presented a petition which was signed by 1,570 most respectable colonists of Van Diemen's Land, and said, the allegations contained in it might be verified by reference to the statements put forward by Sir W. Denison himself, in his own defence. In a letter dated Feb. 18, 1848, Sir W. Denison informed Earl Grey that the judges of the supreme court had decided that the Act 9 Geo. IV., c. 83, under which alone the legislative council could proceed, had been violated by the council with respect to a large amount of taxation; that in consequence of this violation the act of the council was a dead letter; and that actions had been brought successfully against the officers of the Government to recover money which had been illegally levied. To secure the colonists against arbitrary taxation, it bad been provided that no taxing ordinance should be legal until the money levied under it were appropriated to local purposes, to be specified in the act of council; and the House would recollect that the colonists had always resented the withdrawal of local funds by the Colonial Office to be appropriated to imperial purposes of police; for example, to maintain the costly and pernicious system of trans-portation. As regarded the matter under consideration, an application was first made to the Governor to authorise the appropriation of a portion of the taxes to local purposes. The law officers of the Crown were of opinion that the whole of the money must be paid into the Imperial Exchequer; and, in consequence of that decision, the colonists appealed to the supreme court, which decided that the legislative council had acted illegally. In this state of things, Sir W. Denison, having, in fact, no legislative council to assist him—since the judges had decided that the members of it were not properly nominated—proceeded, according to his own statement, to consider how he could remove from office those who administered the law. With this view he called upon the judges to furnish him with copies of their judgments—a demand with which one of them, Sir John Lewis Pedder, at first refused to comply; but finding that his non-compliance was misconstrued, he did at length furnish a copy of his judgment under protest. He would, however, exclude Mr. Montagu's case entirely from his present Motion, and confine what he had to say entirely to that of Chief Justice Pedder. The Lieutenant Governor, speaking of this learned judge, admitted his character to be above reproach, and also his learning and attainments to be sound. That judge deserved, in every respect, the high character given of him. There was only one opinion throughout the whole island as to his uprightness and qualifications; and yet this was the judge that Sir W. Denison thought fit to suspend from his office. The course suggested to Sir John Lewis Pedder by the Governor was to ask for leave of absence for eighteen months, on a sham plea of illness; and during that interval the question raised by his decision could be submitted to the Colonial Office, and decided. But Sir John Lewis Pedder refused to lend his sanction to such a fraudulent proceeding, notwithstanding it was proposed to him that he should draw his full pay during his absence, and that the Attorney General (who had already argued the disputed points and had been defeated on them) should fill his scat in the interim. The Governor averred in his despatches to the Colonial Office that he had no other course left him, because the Privy Council had refused to take notice of any appeal in which the sum at stake was less than 1,000l. But this was not true, for Lord Brougham had declared that when a point of law or a principle was involved, the Privy Council could not refuse to hear an appeal, so that the person who advised the Lieut.-Governor was guilty of bad faith, or else the Governor himself acted on his own discretion, and in so doing violated the principles of justice. However, proceedings were taken to remove Sir John Lewis Pedder from his office, and he was summoned to plead to the charges brought against him before the bar of the Executive Council. He applied for leave to appear by counsel, but that was refused him, and he consequently pleaded in person before the Council, which was composed of the police magistrate, the colonial treasurer, and a person styled the superintendent of convicts, or some such name. After having been heard by the Executive Council, these persons were constrained to say, that they were of opinion he had acted in the matter through misinformation, and not wilfully or with evil intent, and therefore they pronounced him not guilty. The Governor, then, availing himself of colourable circumstances, called together a Legislative Council, and passed what he called a short Bill, whereby he legalised his own proceedings, which the chief justice and the puisne judge had declared to be illegal, and to this enactment was appended a minute, whereby the Governor informed the Council that if the Imperial Parliament took a different view of the case to that which he had adopted, the present enactment might in that case be repealed. So far from the present Government having done anything for the pet colony of Van Diemen's Land, which was legislated for, not by Parliament, but by the Colonial Office, he found by a despatch which he had received six weeks ago—although the Colonial Secretary had not yet received it—that the illegal ordinances to which he had referred, and which were passed in contravention of every principle of law and justice, were still in operation, and the harvest which they yielded was still being gathered in. When they considered that Van Diemen's Land had no representative institutions, and no free government, but was legislated for by the Colonial Office solely, he did say that it behoved Parliament to institute a searching investigation; and he called upon hon. Gentlemen to read the papers which had been wrung from the Colonial Office backwards, like a witch's prayer, for by such means alone would it be possible to get at anything like a true statement of the facts. He had now briefly stated the proceedings in the case which he had brought under the notice of the House, and he called upon the hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Under Secretary for the Colonics, to corroborate or contradict his statements. The present case afforded an illustration—and a very grave illustration—of the charges of maladministration which had been brought against the Colonial Office, in the management of colonies under the immediate ken and control of that Office; and under these circumstances he felt bound, in the discharge of his public duty, to press his Motion to a division.

The Motion did not meet with a seconder, and it accordingly fell to the ground.

The House then went into a Committee of Supply pro formâ, and obtained leave to sit again.


said, that the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Youghall had come to a most unexpected conclusion, and one which he certainly had not anticipated. He could assure the House that he was prepared with a most complete answer to the allegations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and if it would not be infringing the rules of the House, he should really like to give a short explanation. [Cries of "No, no!"] Of course he must bow to the decision of the House, but he must repeat that he was prepared with a full vindication of the Colonial Office.


said, if the hon. Under Secretary were really anxious to give an explanation, it was quite open to him to have seconded the resolution. Why did not the hon. Gentleman adopt that course, which would have enabled him to make a reply to the charges brought against the Governor of Van Diemen's Land? As the matter stood, it certainly appeared to him a most extraordinary circumstance.

The House adjourned at Twelve o'clock.