HC Deb 02 August 1850 vol 113 cc718-23

presented a petition from the members of the English Homœpathic Association and others, complaining of the conduct of the deputy-coroner of Middlesex, in the case of an inquest upon the body of the late Richard David Pearce. The petitioners stated that the hon. Member for Finsbury bad appointed his deputy to inquire into the case of Richard David Pearce, and that that gentleman had shown so little knowledge of his duty upon that occasion that he had misdirected the jury, who, under his guidance, had returned a verdict of manslaughter against the brother of Pearce, who had in consequence been placed in the felons' ward of Newgate.


rose to order. The noble Lord had been kind enough to show him a copy of the petition, and he found that the noble Lord was stating what it did not contain.


said, the noble Lord must confine himself to the contents of the petition.


, in continuation, said, that the petitioners stated that the charge of manslaughter was ignored by the grand jury of the county of Middlesex, and that the case, when subsequently tried on the inquisition of the coroner's jury before Mr. Justice Maule, at the Old Bailey, on the 29th of October last, was stopped after the examination of two witnesses for the prosecution by Mr. Justice Maule, in the following words:—"This man seems to have been doctored as well as he could be; how any man can be found to say this defendant is guilty of manslaughter I cannot possibly imagine." The petitioners, therefore, prayed that, with a view to prevent for the future such prejudiced and inefficient performance of the judicial office of a coroner, that portion of the Act of Parliament known as the Coroners' Act, which enables coroners themselves to appoint their deputies, may be repealed, in order that the officer who actually performs the duties of the coroner may be of the choice and appointment of the county.

MR. WYLD moved that the petition be read by the clerk at the table, which was accordingly done, and the petition was then ordered to lie on the table.


expressed a hope that, if he was not exactly in order, he would be permitted, through the kind indulgence of the House, to address them on the subject of this petition. He would only occupy their attention for a few minutes. The petition contained allegations of a very trumpery character, and he was really surprised that the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, though he was the president of the Homœpathic Association, and ought to have informed the House of that fact, should have presented it. The affair to which it alluded took place last October; Pearce was tried at the end of October. Now, if the deputy-coroner had been guilty of any illegality at the inquest, why had not an attempt been made to quash the inquisition? Surely that House was not the place to complain of it. He contended that the deputy-coroner had been guilty of no illegality upon the occasion, and that not a single person whose name appeared in the petition would dare to state that he was at the inquest, or that he had read a syllable of the evidence. That House was considered a better place for advertising the quackery of the Homœpathic Institution than the courts of law. He hoped, however, that hon. Members would set their faces against this impudent proceeding. He called it "impudent," for he believed that a more audacious set of quacks did not exist, and could not be found, on the surface of the globe, than were to be found in the Homœpathic Institution. It consisted partly of noodles and partly of knaves. The noodles formed the majority, and the knaves used them as tools; and if they could contrive to get into their hands some amiable noble Lord, and to stick him up as president, they advertised their association over the world, and then, as it often unfortunately happened in such cases, too many dupes were found to become the victims of their abominable designs. Now, in this case, they had had the audacity to come to that House and to make a charge against a public officer, who had simply discharged his duty, and discharged it properly. It was, perhaps, quite right that they should have a dread of coroners, and they had a natural dread of them; and now their object was, not only to advertise their association by means of this petition at the cheapest possible rate, but to terrify coroners from the faithful discharge of their duties to the public. He knew not how far the House would allow them to succeed in their first object, but he knew that they would not succeed in their second. He had communicated, by means of the constable in attendance at the inquest, with the jurors who sat upon the body, and, in answer to his request that they would state their opinion of the conduct of the deputy-coroner on the occasion, he had received the following declaration:— We, the undersigned, having been twelve of the jurymen who acted at an inquest held on the 9th day of October last, in the parish of St. Pancras, Middlesex, on the body of the late Richard David Pearce, hereby willingly testify that the deputy-coroner, Henry Membury Wakley, Esq., who presided on that occasion, performed his duty in a most patient, able, and impartial manner; that he more than once stated to us in his summing-up, that he did not consider there was evi- dence to sustain a charge of manslaughter; and, afterwards, on attending at our request in the room where we were deliberating on our verdict, to explain a point of law, and to point out the technical form in which our verdict should be framed, on being told by us when he entered the room that twelve of us were for a verdict of manslaughter, he several times expressed a very strong opinion that it was much better that such a verdict should not be returned, because there was not sufficient evidence to justify and sustain such a verdict. He would not, after reading this declaration, trouble—or, he would say, insult the House, by any further observations on the case as affecting the deputy-coroner. But now the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department and the noble Lord at the head of the Government, should know what transpired at the Old Bailey after coroners and magistrates had discharged their duty and sent persons to trial, in consequence of there not being a public prosecutor in this country. He would instance the case of Pearce, and from that the cases in respect of others might be judged. He would not go into the case of Pearce, further than to say, that he thought the prisoner had been most properly acquitted at the Old Bailey; and far be it from him to fasten any guilt upon the man, But in what manner were these public prosecutions conducted? It was positively a disgrace to the Legislature that they should be conducted in the manner they were at present. He had received a statement from the constable on the subject. The coroner was obliged, when a verdict of manslaughter was returned, to bind over the constable to prosecute. The constable, in the case of Pearce, attended to the indictment at the Old Bailey; and upon being asked by the clerk whether he had employed any solicitor to prosecute, he replied in the negative. He was then told to get his witnesses together; and while he was in the passage waiting for them to be called, a very shabbily-dressed person accosted him, and said, "I know something of this case, and somebody may as well have a fee out of it as an attorney." The constable directed him to the widow, and he having applied to her, was told that she would not employ him as an attorney, but she related to him the facts of the case. The next day he entered the court with what he called a brief, and, upon reading it, the constable told him that it contained an incorrect statement of the facts; for, in fact, he had drawn it up without ever having seen the depositions, or knowing anything of the evidence given at the inquest. Subsequently, when the parties were in attendance before the clerk, the same shabbily dressed person represented that he had been employed in the case; and when the trial took place he acted as solicitor, and counsel appeared for the prosecution. After the examination of two witnesses, the Judge said there was no case, and the prisoner was very properly acquitted. Next day, when the constable went to apply for his expenses, the self-appointed attorney thrust himself into the room in company with the widow and the constable, but, having first been formally repudiated by the widow and constable, at the instance of Mr. Clark, the very respectable clerk of arraigns, who knew the man thoroughly well, he was ordered to withdraw. When the constable came out, the man came up to him and said, "You must get me something; if you will give me half-a-crown it will act as a draw; the jurymen will then put down something in consideration of my services to the widow, and then I'll give you back your half-crown." The constable was too sensible a man to do anything of the sort, and the man accordingly was obliged to give up the attempt. The attempt, however, exhibited in a very striking manner the sort of thing that was going on at the Old Bailey. Another illustration was, that when the constable went again for his expenses he had first to pay 3l. 0l. 6d. out of his own pocket for dues, the details of which were refused in a very off-hand manner, so that when he got 3l. 18s. paid to him, he received, in fact, only 17s. 6d. for his expenses. Now, this was a disgraceful state of things. He trusted the right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department would take it maturely into consideration during the recess; and then, out of this trumpery petition, the public would be the gainers by having a public prosecutor employed.


hoped that, after the terms in which the association of which he was president had been spoken of, he would be indulged for a few minutes while he vindicated that body and himself. I He quite admitted that it was very inconvenient, generally speaking, that the House should be made the arena for attacks upon men in the performance of their public duties; but sometimes it be-I came necessary to bring forward complaints of the kind. He thought the circumstances of the present case were sufficiently grave to warrant his interference. The grand jury had ignored the bill, and the trial took place on the coroner's inquisition. The consequence of that was, that a man who had been suffering from a recent severe attack of cholera, and who was labouring under all the anxiety of mind incident to his position, was committed to a felon's cell in Newgate, where he had no opportunity of seeing his wife and family, and where he was compelled to sleep on a mat and a horse cloth. He was kept there for seven days, until a Judge in chambers could be seen, in order that a change in his condition could be effected. He was eventually removed, with the view of making room for the Mannings in his cell. With regard to the association which the hon. Member for Finsbury had stigmatised as being composed of knaves and dupes, he (Lord R. Grosvenor) could only say that that association was composed of gentlemen of high attainments, excellent medical education, and extensive practice, and, therefore, they could afford to pass by such attacks as had now been made upon them. He trusted the House would consider him justified in bringing so serious a case forward.


objected to the practice of bringing before that House judicial matters which had been fairly tried at the Old Bailey. He thought that instead of one man calling another a humbug and a quack, the House would be far better employed if they refused to countenance these personal squabbles. He hoped that the House would be protected in future against the presentation of such wholly irregular and improper petitions as these, which, got up to promote personal objects under public pretences, were so managed as to evade the rules of the House by a side-wind. The House of Commons was not a court of appeal from the Old Bailey.


was glad of the occurrence of anything which directed the attention of the Government and of the House to the expediency of instituting a public prosecutor, an officer, as every day's experience manifested, eminently needed to protect the innocent, and to enforce the prosecution of the guilty. The appointment of Mr. Wakley, Jun. to the deputy-coronership of Middlesex had been confirmed by the Lord Chancellor.

Petition laid on the table.