HC Deb 14 June 1850 vol 111 cc1231-4

hoped that the House would hear with him if he brought before them the case of his brother, Mr. Smith O'Brien. His reason for doing so was the statements which had appeared in the public prints, He ought to apologise to the House for taking upon himself this task. But the House must be aware that the subject had been pressed upon Members from the sister country, and it was thought better that he should not bring it before the House. But others thought that it was his duty to do it, and for this reason, that it was naturally supposed he must be better informed than any other person upon the subject, inasmuch as every person who had received a letter from Van Diemen's Land had kindly favoured him with a perusal of it. The last communication he had received from Van Diemen's Land was dated the 31st of January, and it appeared that three weeks before that letter was dated, his brother had fallen into so bad a state of health that his life was despaired of. Now, if by any treatment that was designedly harsh, or if by not taking what might appear to be only the ordinary precautions, his brother's life should be lost, or his reason become impaired, the Government would incur a severe responsibility. It would be used as a handle against them, and in Ireland a fatal use might be made of it, which the Government, as public men, might well wish to avert. it appeared that on his brother's arrival in Van Diemen's Land he refused to accept a ticket of leave, and he was accordingly placed in Maria Island, a small island, the property of two or three individuals, and situated, he believed, about ten miles from the shore. The inhabitants of the island appeared inclined to treat him with much civility, and sent messages and called upon him; for two or three weeks accordingly his brother felt as comfortable as he could be under such circumstances. But in that space of time orders came that no one was to have any intercourse with him. For eight weeks afterwards his brother was not allowed to hold intercourse with any person whatever. The person who brought him his food was the only person he saw, with one exception, and he was not allowed to hold any conversation with him. A religious instructor was allowed to visit him, but he was also not allowed to converse with him, except upon religious subjects. A Roman Catholic clergyman lived in the island, but he was not allowed to visit or to speak to him. He was allowed to live in a cottage, surrounded by what was called a garden, but which was nothing more than a plot of potato ground. He was allowed to walk upon a rough and exposed piece of ground 70 yards long and 20 yards across, without shade or shelter, and exposed to the sun in hot weather and the winds in boisterous weather, so that he could only walk out for an hour in the evening as the sun was setting. The natural consequence was, that he began to fall into a state of health such as he had described; and this change in his health having been reported to the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, he was happy to inform the House that, in consequence of the report of the medical inspector, the keeper who had charge of his brother was allowed to walk about the island with him. His health improved, his spirits began to recover, but it was feared that as soon as it was known that this improvement had taken place, these relaxations would be withdrawn, and he would be again plunged in a state of despair. His brother was wrong in not accepting the ticket of leave. It was easy to persuade him (Sir L. O'Brien) of that; but what could he do? He went to Dublin to persuade him to accept it if it should be offered him, but to no purpose; and if he went to Van Diemen's Land it would be of as little use. The question for the Government was, whether, under these circumstances, they would pursue a person to the death—and whether, if he remained obstinate, they would persevere in a course of treatment which would bring him to the grave? This was not in accordance with the mild spirit of the British constitution. His brother thought he was engaged in a good cause. He (Sir L. O'Brien) thought him very wrong and injudicious, and never by word, sign, or otherwise, had his brother received any encouragement from him. But if a man thought himself right, and remained in this frame of mind, was it right to pursue him to such an extremity as to cause the loss of his life? It took four months to receive a letter from Van Diemen's Land, and another four months must elapse before any instructions which the Government might send out would reach the island, or before he could know what had passed in that House to-night. If, therefore, he remained consistent or obstinate, whichever they might term it, he would have been eleven months in the same state of mind. He therefore put it to the Government whether they would continue this treatment or not?


said, that every Member of the House must sympathise with the position, of the hon. Gentleman who spoke, naturally, with strong feelings on this subject. He only regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not informed him of his intention to make this statement on the present occasion; because if he had been aware of it he would have refreshed his memory by referring to the despatches received by the Government, and with the purport of which the hon. Gentleman himself was acquainted. The hon. Gentleman had truly stated that the Government, wishing to act with as much indulgence in this ease as was consistent with their public duty, had departed from the usual practice pursued towards ordinary convicts, and issued instructions to the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, on the arrival of the hon. Gentleman's relative and his fellow-prisoners, to offer them tickets of leave immediately, provided they would give an engagement that they would not avail themselves of the indulgence in attempting to escape. But this privilege, which was certainly a very great indulgence, was positively refused by the relative of the hon. Gentleman; and the Governor, acting then in the discharge of a responsible duty, and in conformity with the instructions which he had received, took the only course open to him under the circumstances—he placed the hon. Gentleman's relative on Maria Island, a place for the reception of convicts. He was not placed with the other convicts, but had consigned to him the separate apartment to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, and was put under the charge of a responsible officer. He had not the opportunity possessed by the ordinary convicts with tickets of leave of having intercourse with the inhabitants of the island; but he had held communication both with the bishop and the chaplain, and also with other persons, and had received every indulgence AS to rations, and in every other respect that was Consistent with the duty—the painful duty—which the Governor had to perform. And he (Sir G. Grey) therefore felt that if any charge could fairly be brought against the Government in the matter, it would be for having shown in this more indulgence than perhaps public opinion would have justified them in doing. With regard to the relaxation in the treatment of Mr. Smith O'Brien, which was said to have taken place, the hon. Gentleman knew more on that subject than he (Sir G. Grey) did, as he had received no information whatever as to anything of the kind. But he had no doubt, if Mr. Smith O'Brien's health was seriously affected by his confinement, that the regulations would be relaxed in his behalf in the same manner as they were relaxed for any other prisoner whoso health suffered from carrying out the sentence of the law.


said, that this was the case of a countryman of his, and he knew of no law of this country that imposed torture. This was a question of humanity; and the right hon. Baronet forgot about the 50l. that was sent to this gentleman to buy tea and clothes with. It was known that he was a teetotaller, and yet he wasn't allowed to buy tea or clothes. The right hon. Baronet said, this was the law of the land. He (Mr. Grattan) begged his pardon: it was not the law of the land; and the Earl of Clarendon agreed with him; because, when a deputation waited upon him at Dublin Castle, the Earl of Clarendon told them what was humanity; for he said that the parties should not be pursued further than the claims of justice and the necessity of the country required. But he (Mr. Grattan) would remind the right hon. Baronet of another great prisoner who had been cruelly treated by the British Government. Bonaparte, at St. Helena, was denied the enjoyment of a pianoforte by a decision of the Privy Council of England. And that was what they called justice and humanity.

Subject dropped.

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