HC Deb 02 May 1851 vol 116 cc427-9

said, he rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the subject of a Return recently presented to the House respecting the treatment of passengers on board the emigrant ship Washington; and also to ask the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there would be any objection to lay upon the table a copy of the letter lately addressed by him to the Mayor of Liverpool, with reference to the death of the late Edward Rushton, Esq., stipendiary magistrate of that town? He thought that the House would agree with him in an expression of opinion against the treatment which had been experienced on board the ship Washington, which had sailed from Liverpool with emigrants—a class of persons to whom above all others he thought that House was particularly bound to extend its protection. He thought that any person who read the return which he held in his hand, the effect of which he would not weaken by translating it in his own feeble language, would agree with him that things were now commonly and ordinarily practised towards a class of persons whoso interests they were particularly bound to look after, which were a disgrace to the country. It was most lamentable to think that the most helpless class of the community, those who, from the pressure of circumstances at homo, were driven to seek new abodes in a distant land, were the victims of a system of plunder and exaction to which no other class of the community would submit for a moment. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. Sidney Herbert) who had so honourably distinguished himself in promoting the emigration of one suffering portion of the community, would agree with him in the opinion that no time ought to be lost in applying a remedy to so disgraceful a system of exaction; and he hoped Her Majesty's Government would provide some check to put an end to so deplorable a state of things. A great number of emigrants, especially Irish emigrants, sought a homo across the Atlantic; and he wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) whether he could not devise some system of surveillance, coupled, it might be, with the duties of the local magistracy of Liverpool, for their protection. The opportunity which the Government now had of appointing a resident stipendiary magistrate for Liverpool might be taken advantage of for suggesting and devising some efficient mode of accomplishing that end. He wished to take that opportunity of tendering the expression of his regret at the loss of the late Mr. Rushton, than whom a more impartial magistrate could not he found. He was a devoted friend to justice and humanity, and a more useful public officer or a better friend had not appeared in their time. There was universal regret at his loss, and he hoped the Government would be able to find a man who could worthily follow in the steps of the late Mr. Rushton. He was acquainted with that gentleman, and he knew that one of his greatest regrets, as a magistrate, was, that he was unable to afford that protection to the property and persons of the emigrants who left Liverpool, which he saw to be so indispensable for them, and so necessary for the honour and credit of the country. He wished to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman had any objection to lay the letter he (Mr. M'Cullagh) had alluded to on the table of the House, for though it was brief it expressed regret for the loss of Mr. Rushton, and he thought it would be a credit to the House to preserve a record of the services of that Gentleman.


said, he could have no objection whatever to lay on the table the letter which the hon. Gentleman wished to be produced. He knew and participated in the sincere regret felt at the loss of so excellent a man as Mr. Rushton, holding a responsible office, with arduous duties, and discharging them with great ability and discretion, to the entire satisfaction of the community. With regard to the appointment of a successor, it was for the Liverpool magistrates to give their opinion on the duties of the office, as well as the amount of salary which would be fixed. Hitherto he had received no communication on the subject from the town council of Liverpool, and therefore had taken no stops for filling up the office. With respect to the treatment to which Mr. Foster and other emigrants had been subjected, which he had read with great regret and some feelings of shame, it must be remembered that these offences were committed on the high seas, out of the jurisdiction of the British law. No doubt the emigration agent at Liverpool had a jurisdiction over both British and foreign ships; but he was not in this case alleged to have neglected to perform his duty, which was to see that the ship was properly furnished with all the necessaries requisite for the safety and comfort of the passengers. Cognisance of the acts which were stated to have taken place, could only be taken in the first instance by the American law; no doubt on the return of the ship to this country, if the facts were stated before a magistrate, the parties might be subjected to our laws. But all the emigrants had landed in America; there were none in this country to give the evidence requisite to render the officers of the ship liable to the law which they had broken; and it would be contrary to the first principles of justice to allow the Government to punish parties without having proper evidence on which to proceed against them. Had Mr. Foster returned to this country, they might have been made amenable to the law; but in the absence of evidence it would be impossible to render them amenable to any penalties which the law might provide. If the hon. Member (Mr. M'Cullagh) could suggest any alteration in the law which would give greater protection to emigrants, there was every disposition on the part of the Government to give it their best consideration.