HC Deb 14 June 1852 vol 122 cc597-602

On the Order for going into Committee of Supply being read,


said, he would beg to ask the right hon. the Secretary at War whether any inquiry had been made, or would be instituted, regarding the alleged proceedings of General Thomas at Enniskillen, on the 19th of May last, for the purpose of exercising an undue influence over Sergeant M'Kinley, a pensioner residing in the said town, with reference to the disposal of his vote at the next general election? On a former occasion, when he mentioned this case, the Government informed him they would institute an inquiry—he hoped they had done so. Since then he had been furnished with a document containing the statement of Sergeant M'Kinley himself, which, with the permission of the House, he would read:— STATEMENT OF SERGEANT M'KINLEY,LATE OF THE 27TH FOOT, AT PRESENT ON A PENSION OF 2S. 0½d PER DAY. That on the 19th of May, 1852, having received directions from Major Beaufoy, staff officer of pensioners at Enniskillen, to collect the pensioners of the 27th Regiment of Foot in the barrack-square of Enniskillen, as General Thomas was to be in Enniskillen on his round of inspection and would be glad to see them, Sergeant M'Kinley accordingly collected twelve pensioners of that regiment, and accompanied them to the barrack-square, when he received directions in the square to bring them into Major Beaufoy's office, which is situate in the barracks. He did so; he saw the General in the office, who was accompanied by Colonel Cole, Captain Corry, Adjutant to the Fermanagh Militia, several officers of the 91st Regiment, and Major Beaufoy, Staff Officer. General Thomas said he was glad to see them, and inquired where they had served. After they had informed him, he (the General) handed two sovereigns to Sergeant M'Kinley, and desired the pensioners to drink his health, and then said that if any of them had votes he would like them to give them to his friend Mr. Whiteside at the ensuing election, in preference to a common attorney. Major Beaufoy then replied that none of the pensioners present had a vote except Sergeant M'Kinley. General Thomas then asked Sergeant M'Kinley to give his vote to Mr. Whiteside, when he (M'Kinley) stated he had voted for Mr. M'Cullum at the last election, and, from the treatment he had received for doing so, having had his family ill-treated by a party who broke into his house, he did not intend to change his mind. The General then said, would he not give it to Mr. Whiteside at the ensuing election, and let bygones be bygones? To this he (M'Kinley) made no reply, when Major Beaufoy directed him to give the General an answer. M'Kinley then said he was sorry he could not give a satisfactory one, immediately after which the General, accompanied by others, left the office. Some time after M'Kinley and the other pensioners left the office, and went into the barrack-square, where General Thomas was with some other officers. The General, on seeing the pensioners, turned round and came in the direction of M'Kinley, and shook his clinched fist in a most violent manner at M'Kinley, and said he (M'Kinley) was a disgrace to the name of Enniskillen, and unworthy to be classed with the name of an Enniskillener. The foregoing is a correct statement. T. M'KINLEY. May 26, 1852. Present at the foregoing statement, JAMES HAMILTON. He (Mr. S. Crawford) had no hostility against General Thomas, but, having had that document forwarded to him, he felt it his duty to lay it before the House, and he hoped the Government would now inquire into the facts of the case.


begged leave to inform the hon. Member and the House that immediately after the first conversation upon this subject, which took place preceding the Whitsuntide holydays, he felt it his duty to make the inquiry which the hon. Gentleman now called upon the Government to institute. The hon. Gentleman had now renewed the accusation against Major-General Thomas, and had brought forward a memorial signed by a pensioner named M'Kinley, which memorial reiterated certain accusations against Major-General Thomas, but which accusations he (Mr. Beresford) had long known to be unfounded, and which, by documents he should now proceed to show, were so. Not only had he himself made inquiry into the matter, but Sir Edward Blakeney, the commander of the troops in Ireland, had also made inquiry, and he had now before him the whole of the correspondence. And when he (Mr. Beresford) should have read that correspondence (which he was about to do) he trusted, if it should appear from it that the Lieutenant General commanding the forces in Ireland was satisfied of the falsehood of the accusations brought against Major-General Thomas, that that gallant officer would be considered to have come out of the inquiry in a perfectly honourable manner. The correspondence commenced by a letter from the assistant military secretary to the lieutenant-general command- ing-in-chief in Ireland, and was in these terms:— Free Hospital, Dublin, May 24. The enclosed copy of the Freeman's Journal newspaper of this day's date is transmitted to Major-General Thomas, commanding the Belfast district, with reference to the paragraph marked with red ink, and headed 'Military Intimidation,' and with a request that the lieutenant-general commanding may be informed if there is any truth in the statement. By order, CHARLES FORESTER, Assistant-Military Secretary. To this letter Major-General Thomas returned the following answer:—

Belfast, May 25. Sir—I have but this moment returned from my inspection of the troops at Londonderry and previous stations, and hasten to acquaint you, for the information of the lieutenant-general commanding, with the circumstances that really did occur upon the occasion referred to in the paragraph of the Freeman's Journal, herewith returned. The morning after my arrival at Ennis-killen I was welcomed by several men, pensioners from the 27th, or Enniskillen Regiment, in which I had served some six-and-twenty years, principally in Gibraltar, Malta, Naples, Sicily, Portugal, Spain, France, and America. I told them I had not time then to speak with them, but should be happy to do so after the inspection. After it had terminated I was informed they still were waiting to see me, and that, as it was raining, they were in the Pensioners' Office, where I immediately joined them. After conversing with each man individually upon many a heartstirring occurrence of past service, several having been in my own (the light) company, and receiving from them many assurances of respectful attachment (which, I do believe, were sincere), I said 'If any of you are voters for this town, you may soon have on opportunity of proving the sincerity of your professions by supporting the Queen's Solicitor General, Mr. Whiteside, who is my particular friend.' A pensioner named Sergeant M'Kinley expressed his great regret that he had not been able to support the friend of the Cole family at the last election, a family he had always looked up to with respectful regard, but that he had got bad treatment at the election, and suffered much from intimidation. I said I should not have expected to hear an old Enniskillener admit that any mob could intimidate him. He explained that it was his own family he meant, from whom he experienced ill-treatment and much trouble. I subsequently learned that the allusion was to his own wife (a Roman Catholic, and who had brought up their son one), and that they had coerced him, in consideration, also, of the opposing candidate having established the latter in a shop. Colonel Cole and Major Beaufoy, who had been my subaltern for some years, were present, and never said a word while I was in the office. It is also wholly untrue that I attempted to intimidate any man, nor had I the power, as must be well known; neither did the man make any promise to vote for the Cole nominee at the next election. In conclusion, I may feel confident the lieutenant-general must have too many similar calls upon himself not to understand that the small gratuity to these men, under the circumstances stated, was fully expected, and certainly most freely given by me, and not in this instance alone, since I came among the pensioners of the Enniskillen Regiment in all parts of the north. I have, &c. HENRY THOMAS, Major-General. In reply to that letter Sir Edward Blakeney directed the following answer to be sent:— Royal Hospital, Dublin, May 26. My dear Sir—I am directed by Sir Edward Blakeney to write and say that he regrets very much any allusion whatever to the forthcoming elections should have been made by you on your meeting with your old comrades at Enniskillen, as it gives a foundation for any exaggerated statements to be published by those who are continually watching for such opportunities. Sir Edward desires me to add, that you cannot be too cautious on this point, and he is quite satisfied you will be so for the future. Believe me, yours very faithfully, CHARLES FORESTER. Major-General Thomas, C.B., &c., Belfast. Perhaps it might not he improper for him (Mr. Beresford) here to state that, although Major-General Thomas might not have been guilty of that of which he was accused, yet in his opinion there was an imprudence on the part of a general officer himself coming fresh off duty and in his military garb, at such a tittle to have said to those men, though not as soldiers, for they were not on duty, but had assembled there to congratulate their old commander; yet it was an imprudent opportunity for him to take to speak to them on an election subject. But that Major-General Thomas on that occasion used any intimidation or exercised any power over those men on the subject of their votes, he (Mr, Beresford) most distinctly and decidedly believed every circumstance clearly negatived. With regard to the man M'Kinley, he was not even an enrolled pensioner. He was an old man of sixty-eight years of age, and was admitted on the pension-list on the 13th of May, 1835. He was not called out, and therefore he was, neither on that day nor on any other day, under the command of Major-General Thomas, and could not, consequently, he liable to any intimidation from him. He wished, however, distinctly to state that, on the occasion in question, there were only thirteen men present, every one of them old soldiers, who had served in Major-General Thomas's own regiment, and who had assembled together to show their respect to their old commander, under whom they had served for twenty years. At the present moment there were in the district of Enniskillen 607 pensioners, and in the town itself three companies of pensioners, amounting to 214. Now, if Major-General Thomas had desired to call together all the pensioners for the purpose of asking them to vote for the Government candidate, how was it that he mustered only thirteen men; and those men only who had served in his own regiment for twenty years? Besides, it was a fact that that regiment was an Enniskillen regiment, and therefore there were more men belonging to it in Enniskillen and in the immediate neighbourhood than to the other regiments stationed there. He (Mr. Beresford) now came to the statement of this Sergeant M'Kinley, a copy of which, by the courtesy of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. S. Crawford), he had before him, and respecting which he had made some inquiries. That memorial had not been written by M'Kinley, who signed it; and the signature did not seem written by a person who was sober. What was more suspicious about the memorial was, that it was in the same handwriting with that of the witness Hamilton. Going, then, to the truth of the memorial, the House would find, first, that what Sergeant M'Kinley wanted to draw attention to was, that Major-General Thomas, in his round of inspection, had something to say to him. He also stated that Major-General Thomas told him to go into the Pensioners' office. The fact was that it rained hard at the time, and the pensioners went into that office for shelter. He also stated that there were officers of the 91st Regiment in that office. Letters from two of those officers (who were on the ground) showed that there was not a single officer of the 91st Regiment present. M'Kinley said, Major-General Thomas requested him to vote for Mr. Whiteside, and not for a common attorney. Major-General Thomas denied that he ever used the words "common attorney." The whole gist of the accusation, however, was, that Major-General Thomas, coming into the yard, shook his fist in a most violent manner, and said M'Kinley was a disgrace to the regiment. [The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to read several letters from officers who were present on the occasion, who all denied M'Kinley's assertions.] He (Mr. Beresford) thought these documents would convince every man who gave credence to the word of an officer and a gentleman, that the accusations were not proved to be well founded, and that Major-General Thomas never did or thought of doing such an action as had been imputed to him.

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