HC Deb 06 February 1852 vol 119 cc197-9

said, he rose to put a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, of which he had given notice. There had appeared in all the public papers a statement with respect to an outrage committed on an English gentleman travelling in Italy, at Florence, by the Austrian soldiery stationed there. It appeared that a gentleman named Mather, happening to be in the street at Florence when a regiment was passing, inadvertently got into the way of the soldiers, and suddenly found himself struck with the flat of a sword by one of the officers. Turning round to ask what was the occasion of this assault, he received from some person a blow of the fist; and while he was reeling under the effects of that blow, and in the act of falling, the officer who first struck him, and who was in command of the troops, cut him down, inflicting a very severe wound upon his head. It did not actually fracture his skull, but it appeared that it was not far from so doing, and the unfortunate man was left weltering in his blood in the street. He was taken up by some passers-by, and carried to the hospital, where he remained for a considerable time; and it was proved that the wound he received was of a very serious, if not of a dangerous, nature. It was also stated that the gentleman representing this Government at the Court of Tuscany, the Secretary of Legation, made representations to the Austrian commanding officer, and also to the Government of Tuscany respecting the assault of Mr. Mather; but his representations were met by evasive answers, and in fact redress was refused, it being stated by the Austrian military authorities that the officer who struck him would have done quite right if he had even put the man to death, such being their rule with respect to any person who got in the way of the soldiers. He wished, therefore, to ask the noble Lord if he had taken any steps to procure redress for this gross outrage on a British subject, and whether he had obtained what he considered proper satisfaction, or if he intended to take any other steps for this object?


Sir, in reply to the question of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, I beg to state that the account which has appeared in the papers of this transaction, is, I believe, very nearly a correct one. There is no difference between the English account and the Austrian, except as to one or two points. It appears that the gentleman was walking behind the band of the regiment, listening to the music, and that there was some obstruction in the street which brought him near the officer who was in command of the troop. The officer struck him with the flat of his sword, and he turned round and was about to complain, when he was struck on the face by another officer. Then, according to his own account, he put up his hand to his face to cover it, and immediately the officer who had first struck him, and who was in command of his troops, cut him down with a stroke of his sword. He bled very much, and was taken to the hospital. This is the English account. The Austrian account, so far as I understand it, is that, in the first place, it is the usage of the Austrian army not to allow any officer to be insulted when on duty in command of troops, and that some officers have been obliged to leave the army in consequence of having submitted to what was considered an outrage. That in this case the officer in command of a regiment, finding that he was prevented from proceeding at the head of it, owing to a person who was before him, and who, as he conceived, from the shape of his hat, was an Italian Liberal, thought that this person meant to insult him, and touched him with the flat of his sword, desiring him to get out of his way; that the person did not do so; that another officer then interfered and struck him on the face; that then the party (and this is the chief difference between the English and Austrian accounts) put himself into an attitude of aggression, and, as the officer conceived, meant to insult him; and that then the officer struck him down with the sword, being, as he alleges, obliged by the rules of his service so to resent any insult offered to him at the head of his troops. However, the result was, that this gentleman, who was quietly walking between the band and the regiment, and did not intend any insult, was seriously injured, and was for some days in the hospital under medical treatment. It appears that the Austrian officers now say that they were mistaken, on their part, in presuming that an insult was intended by Mr. Mather. I should have thought, Sir, that when once aware that there was no intention of insulting the officer they would have been ready to offer any reparation in their power. However, it was not so, and the gentleman was told he must say he did not intend any insult before any apology could be offered. This he, of course refused, and demanded a judicial inquiry, which has been granted by the Tuscan Government, and is now proceeding. My noble Friend now at the head of the Foreign Office (Earl Granville), as soon as he heard of the affair, and before receiving any report from Florence, wrote to desire that the circumstances should be inquired into and redress required; but the British resident had already taken steps to comply with the request of the injured gentleman to procure a judicial investigation of inquiry. I have not yet heard the determination arrived at; but undoubtedly this gentleman is entitled to reparation for the injury he has sustained.