HC Deb 30 March 1854 vol 132 cc112-38

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th March], "That the following Members be Members of the Select Committee on Conventual and Monastic Institutions."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Thomas Chambers be one of the Members of the said Committee."


said, he rose to move as an Amendment that the names of Mr. Thomas Chambers, the Marquess of Stafford, and Mr. Newdegate, be omitted, and that the names of Mr. Sotheron, Mr. Ker Seymer, and Lord Harry Vane be substituted. In thus moving the omission of the first name on the list of the Committee, it might appear that he was taking a very strong step, but he thought he could show that he had good and sufficient grounds for doing so. Before, however, going into that part of the question, he wished to say a few words of explanation with regard to the two classes of Members to whom his Amendment referred, namely, those to whom he objected and those whom he proposed to substitute. With regard to the first, he begged to disclaim any intention of personal disrespect or discourtesy in performing the unpleasant task, which he had undertaken only from a sense of duty. With regard to those whom he proposed to substitute, he owed them an apology for having used their names without consulting them, but he had dune so advisedly, believing that it would be unpleasant to them to be asked to be substituted for other Members. He was well aware that this inquiry was felt by Roman Catholics to cast a stigma upon them as fathers and brothers, inasmuch as it implied that they had not the courage to rescue their relatives from the alleged cruelties to which they were subjected in convents, and it was a duty he owed to his constituents to object to the Committee. He would state the grounds on which he objected to the placing of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford on the Committee. He had no intention of reading any of the speeches of the hon. Member, either from Hansard or the Record, but he wished the House to judge the hon. and learned Member by his acts. He thought that as regarded the Committee generally, in order to satisfy the country, and in justice to those who must appear before it, that it should consist of men of standing, station, and repute, of moderate views—neither men of intense bigotry nor those who were in the habit of using scoffing and insulting language towards millions of their countrymen, and who were trading in publications which made indecent and violent attacks on a section of their fellow-citizens; but the Committee ought to be such an one as would command the respect of Roman Catholics both in this country and in Ireland. Let them look at the first act of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, in this matter, last year. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated that his constituents were not aware that he was going to make such a Motion as he did. It would have been surprising if they had been, for his Motion was only for leave to bring in a Bill for the "recovery of personal liberty in certain cases," and no one could have imagined that there was concealed beneath that such a snake in the grass as the inspection of nunneries. The stratagem of the hon. and learned Gentleman succeeded, and he snatched a successful division on his Motion. But was that the spirit in which this question ought to be approached? Were the holiest and tenderest feelings of human nature to be trampled on, in order to afford the hon. and learned Gentleman a field whereon to display his adroitness in Parliamentary tactics? That alone ought to disqualify the hon. and learned Member to a place on the Committee. What was his next step? His proposed Bill having come to nothing last Session, this year he mended his hand, and went for a Committee of inquiry into the Number and rate of increase of Conventual and Monastic Institutions in the United Kingdom, and the relation in which they stand to existing law. That was a very specious and plausible notice. If the hon. and learned Member had confined himself to such a notice, the matter might have been arranged by the appointment of a Committee of legal gentlemen skilled in the English and canon law, and they might have settled the question of the relations in which those institutions stood to the law of England, and it would have been easy to have got a statistical account of their number and rate of increase. He (Mr. Goold) had made an arrangement with the hon. and learned Member to put a question to him as to whether it was proposed to give the Committee power to send for persons, papers, and records, which would have had the effect of bringing nuns and other monastic persons before the Committee; but when he rose to ask the question, the hon. and learned Member was not in his place, which was, he considered, a very uncandid and unfair proceeding. After the hon. and learned Member had carried his Motion for a Committee, a fortnight elapsed, and then he put a list of names of those of which it was to be composed in the notice book. There certainly never was such a list presented to the House before. It was quite a gem in its way. He would read it. The names were as follows:—Mr. Thomas Chambers, Mr. Walpole, Mr. Kinnaird, Mr. Horsfall, Mr. Shirley, the Marquess of Stafford, Mr. Fagan, Mr. Drummond, Mr. John Fitzgerald, Mr. Robert Phillimore, Mr. John Ball, Mr. Whiteside, Mr. Dunlop, Mr. Newdegate, and Mr. Napier. He put it to the fairness of the House whether it did not show a desire to strike a deadly blow against nuns and nunneries, a defiance of all decency, to put on the list eleven names out of fifteen which were those of Members of one way of thinking. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in his eagerness, did not act like a Crown prosecutor in England, but more like a Procureur du Roi in France, whose personal honour and credit are involved in his obtaining a conviction. Naturalists told us of a certain flat fish which had both its eyes on one side of its head, and, therefore, cannot see on both sides; and many worthy people were like that flat fish in looking at a Roman Catholic question, and, as regarded nunneries, could see no virtue or excellence in their inmates. They could only see that they were Roman Catholics, and, as such, that they ought to be molested. He thought he had made out a strong case for his Amendment. English Members could not tell how deeply the people of Ireland felt this Motion. They regarded the Committee as a sort of jury before which the most respectable Roman Catholic women of the country would have to stand as persons accused. He would appeal, then, to the House—they were going to empanel this jury; would they pack it? Let them remember, too, that if the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) were a member of it he would be the foreman, and he would practically be the conductor of its proceedings. He did, therefore, regard him as a most objectionable person to be placed upon it, and he moved the Amendment, also, as the most emphatic mode he could devise of protesting against the appointment of the Committee altogether.


seconded the Amendment. He considered the present time was most unseasonable for the introduction of such a measure as that of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. The only effect of such a measure, he believed, would be to excite again those religious differences which had for so long a time so unhappily distracted Ireland, but which were now, to a certain extent, stilled; and which, if not again imprudently excited, would, he believed, in the course of time, be entirely obliterated.

Amendment proposed to leave out the name of "Mr. Thomas Chambers," and insert the name of "Mr. Sotheron" instead thereof.

Question put, "That the name of 'Mr. Thomas Chambers' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 60: Majority 57.

Question, "That Mr. Thomas Chambers be one of the Members of the said Committee," put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Walpole be one other Member of the said Committee."


said, he rose to move the Amendment of which he bad given notice, namely, that the further nomination of the Committee be postponed for six months. He admitted that it was unusual to renew a discussion after the House had pronounced an opinion on the subject, but under the peculiar circumstances of the present case, he thought he was not unreasonable in pursuing the course he was following. There was a phrase applied to deliberative bodies sometimes, which, although at first it might appear offensive, yet also bad a technical meaning—the phrase tyrant majorities. He believed the English House of Commons was freer than most deliberative bodies from tyranny of that kind, but still it did occasionally appear even there. He wanted the House to consider that it had never yet had a clear statement of the objects for which the Committee was to be appointed. Many statements had been made which were inconsistent with each other, but he defied any hon. Member to state what the functions of the Committee were to be when appointed. They had been told that it was not the intention that the Committee should examine the inmates of convents, but at the same time other Gentlemen had let fall expressions which were absolutely inconsistent with the adoption of any other course; and he thought this fact alone sufficiently justified him in asking the House to reconsider the decision which it had now twice given on the subject. The House had just voted the mover of these proceedings to be one of the Committee; at present he was the only Member, and it was to keep him in that distinguished prominence that he (Mr. Lucas) moved the present Amendment. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford the other night referred to a great deal of correspondence which he stated he had had with Roman Catholic gentlemen, laymen, and ladies, and said that the result of all former inquiries had been, not to confirm the original suspicions, but, so far from throwing light upon the subject, to enshroud the whole matter in utter darkness. But the present inquiry was to lead to a different result, and how could that be, unless the Committee collected evidence from the only quarters whence it could be derived? The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated the main objects of the inquiry to be to ascertain whether there existed any practice of imprisoning or transporting nuns, and also whether there was any secret, subtle, and sinister influence which undermined the liberties and drained away the property of the people. How could the hon. Gentleman obtain that knowledge otherwise than by taking the living testimony of those who dwelt in convents? They could not obtain that object without resorting to means which they themselves described as unmanly. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), whose name was proposed for nomination on this Committee, threw out to Roman Catholics the startling and bold challenge that he would undertake to prove particular instances in which superiors of convents had fraudulently deprived nuns of their property by exercising an undue influence over them. Now, he should like to know how it was possible. Specific charges of this kind could not be inquired into by a Committee unless it actually summoned before it ladies who were inmates of these establishments, and forced them to give an account of transactions within the building, or at least give them an opportunity of defending themselves. The very nature of the discussion implied their personal appearance before the Committee; in fact, there was no other alternative, and though the two hon. Members he had alluded to disclaimed any intention of forcibly calling them as witnesses, yet, without their evidence, the inquiry would end in no rational conclusion. He, therefore, thought he was justified, and that every Roman Catholic Member, as well as every other Member of that House who was not led away by feelings of fanaticism and bigotry, were justified in calling on the House, even after its two previous decisions, to reconsider the course it had entered upon, especially when that course would not lead to anything creditable to itself. The hon. and more serious Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) also made a specific charge. He pledged himself to prove that there were convents or monasteries in the country so built as to contain cells which were places of incarceration. How did he mean to ascertain that fact before a Committee sitting upstairs, without taking the evidence of the female inmates which he had disclaimed availing himself of? In the same manner the noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Lord Lovaine), who did not wish to enter into any vexatious inquiry, but whose desire was to inquire into the circumstances and property of each convent which came before the Committee, and to learn all about the mode of life of its inmates, would find it impossible to obtain that information unless he adopted this course, which was denounced as unmanly. He was not going to object to the appointment of the Committee on many of the grounds which had been advanced, wishing to narrow the question as munch as possible; and he agreed with what fell from the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) that, if abuses were really to be inquired into, whether it were a time of war or peace, such abuses ought to be investigated, and, if possible, remedied, but he contended that, in the present instance, there was no case for investigation. He and those who thought with him treated this as a matter in which feelings of bigotry and fanaticism were to be indulged, and in which no other object was sought by inquiry than that species of entertainment which created such a lively satisfaction in certain minds; and, therefore, they asked the House not to postpone a proper and legitimate investigation, but to postpone the gratification of those morbid feelings to a period when they might be more harmlessly indulged. He would not allude to the feelings of outraged honour, and the sentiments of indignation which this unnecessary and uncalled-for proceeding was certain to excite; for, if there had been any cause for such an inquiry, it would be their duty to discard all such considerations. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford said that all other institutions of a public nature were subject to inquiry from time to time, and that there was no reason why convents should be excepted from the general rule. What was the position in this respect of other institutions? The cases adduced were factories, lunatic asylums, mines, and collieries. The Legislature, however, had never laid down any rule that an institution, merely because it answered a particular description, should become the subject of inquiry and investigation. Had the Legislature ever laid down the rule that institutions should be examined because they were of a particular description? He ventured to give a direct negative to any such proposition; for the simple and tangible reason of the inquiries that had been made was, because abuses were known to exist in them, and it was into those abuses the inquiry took place, and not upon the abstract principle that, because they were institutions of a particular kind, an inquiry should be made. The Legislature had been dealing with factories for a long course of years, the facts were patent to the whole world; and who was it, he asked, who first mooted the subject, and led to those investigations which resulted in the various Acts passed to regulate them? Those parties were the inhabitants of Manchester; and the medical men who, dealing with the facts constantly, formed a society for the purpose of correcting certain evils of which they had knowledge; they brought under the notice of the Legislature the effect of the evil management upon the children and young persons employed in factories, and the amount of pestilence and disease throughout the localities in which they resided; and one of the very first persons to take steps in the matter was Sir Robert Peel, the father of the late lamented statesman. He drew from his own knowledge of the evils which existed, and an overwhelming amount of evidence was brought before the House, before legislative interference took place. There never had been a case of suspicion laid before that House which could lead them to make this inquiry. On all other subjects there had always been some facts alleged, proved, and brought before the House, before they had been asked to make any inquiry, as, for instance, in the case of lunatic asylums, and also when the Earl of Shaftesbury brought his proposition before the House for fresh legislation upon the subject of the labour of children in mines and collieries. In these cases parties were not considered justified in asking for legislative interference until they could produce a great body of facts. In the present case they had no facts; they did not pretend to possess any evidence; they had nothing but their unworthy suspicions and their intolerable fanaticism, the disease of their own minds, to offer to the House in support of their demand. They had the most monstrous stories, but year by year they had decreased; and, from the period the discussion on this subject first began to the present time, each year had become more barren of facts. On what ground that had ever been recognised before in the history of legislative interference in this country, could the hon. and learned Member for Hertford call on the House to name this most portentous Committee to inquire into the laws and rules of monasteries and convents? He said it was for an inquiry into the state of the law. But what law, what rule, regulation, or arrangement, did he wish to inquire into? With regard to the rules which had been adopted by convents, there was no investigation to make. There had been no rule made by them which was not in strict accordance with the law of the land, and no hon. Member had attempted to show the least presumption or suspicion that it was otherwise. He would assert that there was no power known to monasteries or convents which allowed them to enforce incarceration; and there was no rule, law, or regulation, with which he was acquainted, which allowed the will of any inmate to be forced to act against her will in the disposal of her property. With all their intense hatred for those institutions, hon. Members had never shown any rule to the contrary. The law of convents and the law of the land were identical; and if there were any need for inquiry at all, it might as well issue from the Ecclesiastical Courts as from that House. Hon. Mem- bers had referred to supposed abuses, but where was the evidence in support of them, for none had been produced? If they had a case at all, it must lie in the possibility that the law of the land and of convents had been outraged together; but then, he would again ask, where were the facts? Where do they exist? Where were the influences over the will in the disposal of property for which the law, as it at present existed, was not sufficient? There were none stated. With regard to that part of the inquiry which concerned monasteries, it deserved much more consideration than it had received. By a clause in the Catholic Emancipation Act, monasteries inhabited by men had been made illegal. But still they existed, and they would continue to exist. What did hon. Members propose to do with them? Those illegalities existed because they were found to be necessary. If hon. Members were possessed with a spirit of justice, he would welcome the Committee of inquiry into monasteries, for he (Mr. Lucas) would state frankly that the present state of things connected with them was not satisfactory to his mind. But hon. Members were entering into the inquiry with a hostile spirit, because they wished to destroy those establishments, and because they wished to enter into a crusade against millions of their Catholic fellow-countrymen. But in those objects they would be defeated. The Catholic millions of this country were prepared to stand upon their rights of religious freedom, whatever the law might say, or whatever the Legislature might do to prevent them. If they attempted to make the laws more stringent—if they put them in force against the religious convictions and against the religious feelings of the Catholics, they would accept the challenge, and abide by the conflict. But it was said, "If so pure in your acts, why not let the inquiry take place?" If any case had been made against any particular establishment or house, he would say, let it take place; but, he would repeat, they had only cases of suspicion, and no evidence whatever to support them. The only cause for inquiry arose from the intense hatred they nourished in their hearts, and from the possession of a fanatical spirit of hostility against the Catholic establishments and institutions; and if the voice of an angel spoke to them, or if one arose from the dead, and endeavoured to convert hon. Members, still it would be insufficient to convince them of their error. If this were the single subject which they would inquire into, it might, perhaps, be granted; but it was not. It was only one of many points on which it was the intention of hon. Members to assail die Catholics, and deny their right to be equal in the eye of the law. If they conceded that point to hon. Members, then next year another point would be demanded. On that ground, therefore, he would oppose to the utmost the present inquiry. Until their minds had undergone a total change, there would be hostility in some form. What use, then, of concession, since concession would only lead to fresh demands? If the Catholic Members believed the proposal was made upon any grounds, or even upon reasonable suspicion—if they believed that the minds of those who promoted the inquiry were open to evidence, and would be influenced by evidence, then they might listen to the proposal; but knowing that their object was nothing less than the total destruction of all Catholic institutions by the power of law, if such power should unfortunately come into their hands, he was determined to move the Amendment on the paper.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the further nomination of the said Committee be proceeded with upon this day six months,' instead thereof. Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he felt that he should not be doing his duty to his constituents if he did not take the opportunity, on the first occasion of his addressing the House, to state the reasons which induced him to vote in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Lucas). He felt opposed to the appointment of the Committee, because he believed it to be a step uncalled for, unnecessary, and insulting, and one which, if carried into execution, would be likely to lead to results of a painful and disastrous nature. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford had not brought forward any cases showing that the proposed inquiry was necessary, although the hon. and learned Gentleman had certainly said that he would be enabled to bring some cases before the Committee. He (Mr. O'Connell) thought, however, that if the hon. and learned Gentleman had been acquainted with such cases, he would have mentioned them when he introduced his Motion to the House. He (Mr. O'Connell) could say for himself, that he hail never heard of any cases of the kind, nor did he think they were known to any Catholic Members, and he could not admit that the hon. and learned Member for Hertford understood the wants of Catholics better than they did themselves. He would put it to the House whether they thought it likely that Catholics would allow their relatives to enter convents, if they were subjected in such establishments to the tyrannical treatment which some hon. Gentlemen had described? He believed that the appointment of this Committee would be regarded as a great insult to their religion by the Catholics who had recently gone forth to fight the battles of their country. He did not mean to say that the loyalty of the Irish could be affected, for their loyalty was proof against anything; but, when they were doing their utmost to show their loyalty, he thought it was, to say the least, injudicious to offer them an unnecessary insult. Supposing this Committee should be appointed, who were to be examined as witnesses? If they examined Catholics, they would hear nothing more than they already knew. Was it intended to call as witnesses the ladies who were inmates of convents? If that were done, he believed they would have nothing to prove; but, even if they could prove anything, how was it possible to make them do so? Assuming that there was to be some legislation on this subject, he supposed he might conclude, after the Bill which the hon. and learned Member for Hertford brought forward last year, that it would be proposed to appoint inspectors to make periodical visits to convents and nunneries. Now he could conceive of no measure which would be more disastrous in its consequences. If local inspectors were to be appointed, the duty might in some instances be entrusted to persons of strong political and religious opinions, who would delight in the opportunity of visiting Roman Catholic institutions; while, on the other hand, supposing it was to be a Government inspection, although the business might be done in a delicate and judicious manner, still it must be recollected that the cells of convents were the private rooms of ladies, whose privacy their friends were bound to protect. He asked any Gentleman in that House if he would allow a Government inspector to go into his house and put impertinent questions to the ladies of his family. He believed, moreover, that the inspection of convents would be resisted by the Roman Catholic population of Ireland. He did not make that statement as a threat—far from it; he only mentioned a fact, and he appealed to the common sense and justice of that House if it would be wise to employ the military and police force in carrying out a law which would be most obnoxious to a vast majority of the people of Ireland. For the reasons he had given he should give his vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Meath.


said, that inasmuch as the House had decided upon two separate occasions to prosecute this inquiry, he should not be a party to any Motion which would have for its object the obstruction of such an investigation; and therefore on that ground he could not assent to the proposition of the hon. Member for Meath. But he apprehended the House would be cautious in the mode in which the inquiry was to be conducted. This was a question of great delicacy, and one which called for the utmost circumspection on the part of the House in every step which might be taken. It was viewed with extreme hostility and irritation by the Roman Catholics, and therefore care should be taken, in the appointment of the Committee, to nominate Gentlemen who were not committed to extreme, or, if possible, to any, opinions upon the subject. Now, he would just ask the House whether the Committee, as proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, complied with those conditions? He had gone through the names upon the list very carefully, and he found that at least seven or eight of them had committed themselves to very strong opinions with reference to Roman Catholic institutions, not merely opinions to the effect that an inquiry should be instituted into the nature and constitution of those establishments, but opinions absolutely antagonistic to the institutions themselves. He thought it would not be proper to send any of those Gentlemen upstairs to prosecute this inquiry; indeed, he would say that the very circumstance of those Gentlemen having expressed strong opinions upon the subject was in itself a disqualification to serve upon the Committee. The first name upon the list was that of the hon. and learned Mover of the Committee, who had been objected to by some of the Irish Members. Now, he felt that he could not vote against the nomination of that Gentleman, because it was the invariable rule of the House that the Mover of a Committee should himself be a Member of that Committee. He was supposed to possess information upon the subject to be inquired into; however strong his feelings might be, he was expected to keep them under control; and therefore no objection could fairly be taken to the name of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. The case was different, however, with regard to some of the other names. Second upon the list was the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole). Now, they all knew that that Gentleman was a most eminent and distinguished advocate of what he might be allowed to call strong Protestant opinions, and that he had expressed himself strongly upon the subject of nunneries and monastic institutions. It would have been as well, therefore, he thought, if he had not been nominated on the Committee. The next name he found was that of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), who certainly had expressed many strong and singular sentiments, both within and without the walls of that House, with regard to Roman Catholic institutions. He consequently should think that that Gentleman was one of the least eligible to be placed upon the proposed Committee. The third name was that of the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird), a Gentleman who had honourably distinguished himself, though some of his opinions might be erroneous, in the cause of religious liberty, but who had also expressed very strong sentiments upon tins particular subject, and who was therefore, he considered, not a fit person to be chosen as a Member of the Committee. He next found the name of the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Dunlop), who, upon the very last occasion when this subject was discussed in that House, certainly expressed himself in very strong terms in favour of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. Next came the younger of the two hon. Members for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) of whom he need say no more than that he was, upon every occasion and in all respects, a conscientious opponent of Gentlemen of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Then they had the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier), who had likewise expressed strong opinions upon this subject. It would be impossible to speak of that Gentleman without the utmost respect and regard, but he had certainly expressed and was known to entertain very strong and conscientious feelings upon sectarian subjects, and, therefore, he certainly was not a person who was qualified to exercise an impartial judgment upon this matter. He now came to the names of Gentlemen upon the other side of the question. He found upon the list the names of four hon. Gentlemen, Members of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who under no circumstances whatever would listen to the prosecution of the proposed inquiry. The first was the name of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer) who had himself actually moved that the inquiry should be put an end to, and who, therefore, could not be expected to serve upon the Committee.


All the Roman Catholic Members have agreed to sit upon the Committee.


said, that was no reason why the House should consent to allow them to serve. It was for the House to consider to whom they should entrust so important and delicate an inquiry, and he hoped they would appoint none but Gentlemen of moderate opinions, and such as would be able to pursue the investigation in that cautious and temperate manner in which it ought to be conducted. He objected to the name of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk altogether, as also that of the noble Lord the Member for Arundel (Lord E. Howard), who had also expressed very strong opinions upon this subject. Then came the name of the noble Lord the Member for the county of Sutherland (the Marquess of Stafford). He did not know what the feelings of that noble Lord might be, but as the Gentlemen who represented the northern part of the kingdom were generally hostile to the Roman Catholic Church, it was probable the noble Lord shared in the same opinions; and at all events, considering that this was a subject of extreme difficulty and of the utmost delicacy, and that it would require to be dealt with by the most experienced and the most judicious men in that House, he did not think it would be proper or becoming to place one of the youngest Members of the House upon the Committee. He also objected to the name of the hon. Member for the city of Cork (Mr. Fagan). But really he had found fault with so many, that he had scarcely left one name upon the list. He had no objection, however, to the name of the hon. Member for Carlow County (Mr. J. Ball), a Gentleman on whose judgment and discretion the House could rely with safety, or to that of the hon. and learned Member for Tavistock (Mr. R. J. Phillimore), a Gentleman of that moderation and good sense that he would be an acquisition to any Committee. If the names of the other Gentlemen to whom he had referred were put to the vote, he would be obliged, notwithstanding his desire to throw no obstacle in the way, to move their omission, because he was convinced the House would not or should not be satisfied with the Report of a Committee composed of Gentlemen committed to one side or other of this most important and painful question. He thought it would be difficult, but he hoped it would not be impossible, to select Gentlemen who had not so committed themselves, and who would be prepared to conduct the inquiry calmly and dispassionately, and to make such a Report as would enable the House to deal effectively with the matter. He distinctly disclaimed any desire to contravene the expressed wishes of the House, but he could not agree to the Committee as proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, because he did not think it would be calculated to enter upon the contemplated inquiry with a spirit of moderation and impartiality, or to pursue it in such a manner as would enable the House, either with propriety or with safety, to proceed to legislate upon the subject.


said, he would not follow the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down (Mr. Massey) through all his observations, but there was one expression he had made use of which was rather singular. He said he did not wish to contravene the wishes of the House, and yet he had made his objections so large and general that he (Mr. Spooner) could not conceive how he could form a Committee that would not fall under some of the hon. and learned Member's animadversions. The hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Lucas) spoke of the tyrant majority, but he (Mr. Spooner) might speak of the tyrant minority, which was a term applicable to those who, in spite of the divisions that had taken place, were determined to do what they could to prevent the House carrying out its resolutions. The hon. Member for Meath had also alluded to the absence of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), and taunted him with not having laid any ground for this inquiry. That hon. Member had documents in his possession which would convince any Committee that there was a system rife of enticing young people into convents, and using moral influence over them for the purpose of obtaining possession of their property. The supporters of the Motion had not the slightest intention of dragging the inmates of convents before a Committee. There was evidence quite enough without that. There were the records of the courts of justice, facts to be brought before the Committee that would convince any honourable-minded man that there was a system of moral influence used to get the property of others for the purpose of increasing the secular power of the Roman Catholic Church. The hon. Member said they would defy the Legislature, and that they were determined to resist, and he warned the House of the dangerous consequences that would ensue if they proceeded with this inquiry. Did the hon. Member think the House was to be so intimidated? He would find that he was very much mistaken. And if he thought the country was to be so intimidated he was greatly mistaken. If the hon. Gentleman's observations went forth to the public through the usual channels, they would arouse a spirit which he apprehended the Roman Catholics would have great reason to fear. The supporters of this question would not desist from the object they had in view by any threats the hon. Member might utter. However the tyrant minority on this question might succeed in obstructing for a time, they would assuredly be ultimately defeated.


said, he thought it would be difficult to carry out this inquiry unless there were on the Committee a fair representation of what might be deemed the strong views of both sides of the House. But the House was bound by every feeling of justice to see that this inquiry, if entered upon at all, was conducted with some decent regard to impartiality and justice. When the hon. and learned Member for Hertford first proposed his Committee, out of fifteen Members eleven were strongly opposed to the existence of these establishments. At present the hon. and learned Member was satisfied to have eight hon. Members pledged to the same views as himself. Notwithstanding the votes which the House had come to, he did not believe that the House would seriously undertake such an inquiry as this with what he could describe as nothing less than a packed Committee. He had recommended, when the hon. and learned Member did him the honour to consult him on the subject, as the fairest tribunal for considering this question, a Committee composed of five Members who were hostile to conventual establishments, five who were favourable to them, and five fair and honourable men who had not committed themselves upon either side, and who would go into the inquiry with unprejudiced minds. He hoped that hon. Members opposite, even upon the question of convents, were prepared to act with fairness and justice.


said, he thought the principle enunciated by the hon. and learned Member for Newport (Mr. Massey) as to the composition of Committees was a most extraordinary one. He denied having expressed any strong opinions on this subject, in the House or out of it. He was quite in the hands of the House. He had his opinions, but he approached the subject with the utmost impartiality.


said, he had thought the name of the hon. Member objectionable, because he had seen his name among the managing members of the Protestant Alliance—a body who were engaged in distributing tracts against the Roman Catholic religion. He had seen publications issued by this body which contained pictures of persons kissing the Pope's toe, and were otherwise calculated to throw ridicule upon, and were likely to irritate Members professing the Roman Catholic religion. To be one of the managing committee of such a body argued a certain amount of prejudice, and rendered the hon. Member, in his opinion, unfit to take his place as a juror to inquire into the guilt or innocence of the nuns and convents of the Church of Rome.


said, that the speech of the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) was characteristic of the whole of this proceeding. That hon. Member had represented himself to that House as quite unbiassed on the subject of nunneries, and well qualified to sit as an impartial judge of conventual institutions. But from the hon. Gentleman's silence when charged by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Goold) with being one of the managing committee of the notorious Protestant Alliance, it now appeared that he was an active member of that bigoted body. It was clear, therefore, that he was now coming forward like a wolf in sheep's clothing, by endeavouring to pass himself off for a liberal Member, and to persuade them that he was a proper person to be selected as an unprejudiced juryman. He would call the attention of the House to a pamphlet which had issued from the shop of that hon. Gentleman. It was one of those infamous tracts, filled with deliberate calumnies, which had been disseminated by the Protestant Alliance for the sole purpose of prejudicing the public mind against Catholics and their religion. This pamphlet professed to be on the nunnery question, and had been thrust into his hands as an Irish Catholic Member, in pursuance, as he presumed, of an offensive practice recently sanctioned by high authority in Ireland. It was compiled by the Secretary of the Protestant Alliance, a London barrister, named John Macgregor, notorious for a letter published some years since, containing infamous reflections upon the Catholic clergy of Maynooth, which he had visited upon a private introduction to one of its most accomplished professors, Dr. Russell. In that pamphlet were reiterated those vile untruths, which the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) had truly designated "cock-and-bull stories," but upon which alone the proposed inquiry was attempted to be based. It repeated the scandalous anecdote narrated in another place by the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, but which that dignitary had shrunk from substantiating when challenged to do so by the Rev. Mr. Marshall, of Dublin. It reiterated also the old woman's story told by the Bishop of Norwich, as to a Roman Catholic mother, whom that right rev. Prelate had encountered in a morning's stroll across Phœnix Park, but of whose name he had professed an entire ignorance. The hon. Member for Perth had placed himself in convenient juxtaposition, and was an apt bottle-holder to the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), whom a majority of the House had just selected as an impartial judge; but who, as it appeared from the pamphlet, had already committed himself to the opinions that— Conventual buildings are uniformly bolted, barred, and grated like prisons. Internally, he believed, there were not only cells, but dungeons. Nothing, therefore, would make the public believe that those buildings were erected for contented and happy inmates, but rather for keeping them there when entrapped. The same pamphlet attributed statements even more shocking to another hon. Member (Mr. Drummond), whose name likewise appeared among those proposed, as an unbiassed judge upon the contemplated inquiry. One of the opinions thus attributed to that hon. Member, was conveyed in these most revolting terms:— As to the nuns, they are in a state of continual strife among each other, and the crimes committed among the ladies who are boarders are too shocking to mention. The pamphlet contained a variety of other scandalous matter, with which he would not trouble the House. It attributed to other proposed Members of the Committee, such as the junior Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), preconceived views, which should absolutely disqualify them from acting as impartial judges, and among other atrocious calumnies asserted, on the authority of a Protestant clergyman, the Rev. W. G. Cookesley, that— One of the most remarkable, if not the most formidable, agents made use of in subduing the understanding and whole beings of the sisters is mesmerism. What right had hon. Members to put forward, either in or out of that House, such infamous statements or stories which were quite incapable of any semblance of proof, and which every Catholic Member declared to be utterly false? He had himself often heard a most extraordinary anecdote or report respecting a religious practice currently attributed to the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), but should refrain from mentioning it, because he did not at present see that hon. Gentleman in the House. He had also frequently heard a queer statement regarding the prime mover of this inquiry (Mr. T. Chambers), which, if true, would not merely disqualify him from acting on the proposed Committee, but even from having a seat in the House. The statement was that the hon. and learned Member belonged to some peculiar sect, of which he was a sort of clergyman, and that on every Sunday evening he preached a sermon to his congregation at Hertford, in a chapel there. Were he to follow the example of the Protestant Alliance, and of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kinnaird), he ought to believe the truth of this curious rumour, and argue upon it as a proved fact, although he knew nothing respecting the truth or untruth of the story, except that it could not possibly be more false than those which the hon. Member had propagated respecting Catholic convents. Should the hon. and learned Mem- ber (Mr. T. Chambers) now deny that story condemning him, he would at once believe the denial; and he expected, as a Catholic Member, to obtain equal credence when he positively denied that any of those idle tales about the nunneries of these countries had one atom of foundation in solid truth. But if English Members of the House would not accept as conclusive proof his individual assertion as an Irish gentleman, perhaps they would not disbelieve the emphatic declaration made last year by all the Catholic Peers and Baronets of England, and many other members of the first Catholic families in this country. Among other matters that document stated that— The undersigned, having sisters, daughters, or near relatives, in convents in this country, and maintaining with them a constant intercourse, by themselves and the female members of their families, most of whom received their education, and still frequently reside therein, are perfectly acquainted with the habits, discipline, and mode of life pursued in convents, and are enabled to deny, as they do hereby deny, that any person is imprisoned in them, or that any physical impediment exists to prevent any inmate from quitting them who may be minded so to do. The undersigned declare, that it is morally impossible that cases of unlawful imprisonment or physical restraints on liberty should exist in convents, without the fact being known to them and to their families. Therefore, that any assumption of the existence of such cases directly inculpates them as neglectful of their first duties as men and Christians, and as participators in the wrongful detention of those whom, by every tie of kindred and honour, they are called on to protect. And, therefore, that the present proceeding, by countenancing the false and injurious suppositions of ignorant and prejudiced persons that inmates of convents are subjected to unlawful imprisonment, is a libellous insult to the ladies in question, to their families, and to the undersigned. When the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Chambers) had spoken to him upon the subject, he informed him in private, what he now repeated in public, that he regarded the mere proposal of such an inquiry by any Protestant Member as a piece of impertinent intermeddling, and a personal insult to himself and the other Catholic Gentlemen in that House. It was tantamount to asserting that he and they would continue passive and quiescent under wrongs done to their female relatives. He had near relations—aunts, sisters, and daughters—at present in convents in Ireland, in England, and abroad. Why should any Protestant gentleman constitute himself a protector of his female relations? That was his own duty, and no one had a right to take it out of his hands. He repeated that it was entirely impossible that inmates could be confined against their will in the Catholic convents of these countries, without his becoming aware of the circumstance within a very short time; and it was equally impossible that lie could be deterred from doing his duty by any such fear or influence as had been so insultingly imputed to Catholic Members in that House. For his own part he had felt almost indifferent to the proposed inquiry, which must prove entirely abortive, and could lead to no practical result. As a Catholic he despised it, and viewed it in the light of a personal insult. It was proposed for the purposes of persecution, and was dictated by the same spirit which, in a coarser and more cruel form, had animated the executions at Tyburn in the time of Elizabeth, and the plunder of Catholics in that and subsequent reigns. It was the same persecuting spirit which within the last eighty years had prevented his grandfather from becoming an owner of land, and had excluded his father from all civil offices in the State. Perhaps those disabilities were not in those former times more sensitively felt than he and the other Catholics of Ireland now felt the more refined system of persecution which in various forms was daily directed against them and their religion, but especially against their pious female friends. Were he an English Protestant, he should feel even more strongly opposed to this course of legislation, as fraught with disgrace to that Church and danger to the empire. He had an utter contempt for this peddling inquiry, which it was proposed to conduct by a packed Committee. ["Oh, oh!"] He stated it advisedly, but in no offensive sense, that it would be a packed Committee; for on it would be placed Gentlemen whose judgments must necessarily be partial and one-sided, unless they belied their previous acts and professions. The whole proceeding was dictated by that feeling of Protestant bigotry which was now so prevalent, both in and out of the House. In using these expressions he desired to be clearly understood as not casting any reflection upon the Liberal Protestants of these countries, and at the same time to disclaim altogether religious intolerance towards persons who differed from the religion to which he belonged. He had no feeling of bigotry towards his Protestant countrymen, and no feeling in common with those who might entertain such feelings. He thought the House ought to affirm the present Motion to postpone, for six months, the further nomination of this most offensive Committee; and though he concurred entirely with the able arguments advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Newport (Mr. Massey), he could not concur in his conclusion, that because the House had come to two wrong decisions, it ought, therefore, to decide erroneously a third time; on the contrary, he thought that it should retrace its stops on the present Motion. [Cries of "Divide, divide!"] As some hon. Members opposite seemed indisposed to listen further to his arguments, and appeared anxious to divide, he should at once gratify their wish by moving an adjournment of the present debate.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 74; Noes 150: Majority, 76.

Question again proposed. "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, as a Protestant Member, he felt called upon to protest against the insult which, by the Last division, had been offered to the Roman Catholics of the United Kingdom by the Protestant representatives of Great Britain; and in order to postpone the decision of the House for even twenty-four hours, he should move the adjournment of the House.


said, he would second the Motion; and as it had been said that the Irish Members were afraid of inquiry, he admitted that of an inquiry by a Committee such as that which was proposed to be nominated, he was afraid.


said, that the "tyrant minority," to which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) had referred, were but discharging their duty as the Members for Roman Catholic Ireland. He felt called on to assert that the real ground of the hostility of the Members of the Protestant Alliance and of the Church Missions to Roman Catholics to these conventual establishments was, that the members of them were, in the way of their unworthy and cowardly attempt, to do in the nineteenth century what was attempted by Primate Boulter long ago—to get hold of the little children and so pervert the people of Catholic Ireland to any variety—it appeared to him that it mattered not which—of the Protestant religion. He had referred to the "tyrant minority" in order that he might appeal to the honour and justice of the Protestant gentlemen of England, who had the power to do with the Catholics almost as they pleased, but who he confidently trusted would, when they came to consider the course in which they were embarking, think that it was consistent neither with their honour, their justice. nor their generosity. For many years he had lived on terms of friendly intercourse with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers). His hon. and learned Friend had proposed his name as a Member of this Committee, but he had thought it due to himself as an English gentleman to send word to his hon. and learned Friend that he would sit on no Committee with him upon his nomination. He was in hopes that his hon. and learned Friend had made this Motion in obedience to the wishes of his constituency; but when he heard him say that he did it entirely of his own accord, he could not help thinking that the hon. and learned Gentleman had offered a most wanton and gratuitous insult to the Catholic Members of that House; and he must say, that a Committee of which his hon. and learned Friend was a Member, and appointed on grounds such as he had urged in support of his Motion, was one on which no Catholic Gentleman could serve with comfort, and scarcely with credit and honour to himself. He could not have conceived it possible that any Gentleman acquainted with the Catholic Members of that House could, without intending a deliberate insult to them, have uttered what the hon. and learned Gentleman did in the speech which he had delivered on a former occasion. Nearly every Catholic Member of that House had relations in these convents. He himself had had sisters in them, and now had a child in one of them, and he knew that what the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated was not true. He had no doubt that his hon. and learned Friend did not know it was false, but he did not know it was true. The conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman in this matter reminded him of what Burke said in one of his letters to his son, "There are some persons, who, in order to draw some slight respect to their persons, pretend to be bigots." He never knew his hon. and learned Friend to be a bigot until the time arrived when, if bigotry was not the only way to get a seat in that House, it was the best way to keep there. Let them hear what his hon. and learned Friend said—[Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Divide!"] Were they afraid to hear what he said? It was what they approved and encouraged. The hon. and learned Gentleman was their trump card—the very "Pam" of their party. [Laughter.] He (Mr. Serjeant Shee) was so accustomed to silent audiences, that this was rather agreeable than otherwise. It gave him time to breathe; but he feared he should detain them longer than he wished, if they did not allow him to say what he had to say in comparatively few words. His hon. and learned Friend said:— Roman Catholics ought not to deny that convents were places of restraint and infliction. Who had not heard of the girdle, inside of which were sharp points, or bonnet rouge, which caused the most excuciating pain and insensibility when put upon the head? As a man of honour, could the hon. and learned Gentleman affirm there was any pretence for saying anything of that kind was ever carried on in England, Scotland, or Ireland? [Mr. T. CHAMBERS indicated assent.] The hon. and learned Gentleman nodded his head in assent; then why did he not state the fact broadly? He challenged him to the inquiry. He had not dared to mention the convent, when it took place, or where. He did not attempt to descend to particulars, but threw out a charge to inflame the feelings of the House against conventual establishments, and to defame and to calumniate the Catholics of this country. How did he go on?— It would not do to conceal the facts out of complaisance; and when it was said to be an insult to the Roman Catholic body to say that fathers would allow their children to be put into these institutions against their will, he could not help it—it was true. What pretence had he for saying it was true? None whatever. Even his faithful allies, the Members for the University of Dublin, the bitterest of all the Irish enemies of the Irish Catholic people—["Oh, oh!"]—or if not the bitterest, only not so because the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) was the bitterest—even they, with all their acquaintance with party disputes in Ireland, had not been able to advance one single instance of the kind. He (Serjeant Shee) declared on his honour he had never heard of any instance, and he could not conceive it possible such a case should have occurred without its having come to his knowledge. His hon. and learned Friend went on—["Oh, oh!"] That groan was such a weak one, it was so self-condemnatory in its very tone, that the hon. Gentleman was evidently ashamed to hear stated that which it was his duty to state to the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, "It was true, and always had been true. A parent could not afford to give his daughter a suitable dower, and she was put into a convent." An inmate of a convent must have something to enable her to live in a convent, so that calumny could attach only to persons in the higher ranks of life—to the noble Lords who had signed the address—to some dozen baronets, and a few gentlemen of the highest rank as gentlemen in England—to some five or six of the same class in Scotland—and to a more considerable number, which would have been still more considerable but for Protestant confiscations in other times, in Ireland. Was it endurable that a person in the position of his hon. and learned Friend should make charges against a comparatively small number of persons, without any proof at all? Did he know that had he written that statement he would have been guilty of a scandalous libel? Then he went on, "A young girl falls in love, and to escape a bad match she is put into a convent." The man who said that could not have known what a young girl in love was. He should have said, if it had not been said by his hon. and learned Friend, that it had fallen from lips which beauty had seldom blessed. Did he not know that a young girl in love would scale almost any wall in England? It was the most preposterous and absurd suggestion that could possibly have been made. These were not the only charges made by the leader of the proud Protestants of England, not off-hand either. Lawyers were not entitled to excuse for want of consideration in anything they did. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in his chambers, prepared a measure which the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. Goold), who was not particularly favourable to conventual establishments, said was disgraceful to him as an English lawyer. The hon. and learned Gentleman brought in a Bill, he would not say under false pretences, but under pretences which he must now know not to be true. It was a Bill to facilitate the recovery of personal liberty in certain cases. It recited—[interruption]—that females were supposed—[increased interruption]. Perhaps the House would like to hear the recital of the Bill. [Cries of "Oh! oh!"] They would not let him go on; but if they would do so, they would spare themselves another speech from him, which should be some inducement. The Bill recited that females—[Cries of "Divide, divide!"] The hon. and learned Gentleman's Friends were evidently ashamed of the Bill, and he would not say another word about it that night. He would yield to the wish of the House, but he had just one or two words to add. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) that night had said that he wished to go into Committee in order to adduce evidence to establish the fact that persons of property were placed in convents in order that the convents might become possessed of their property. This was one of those stories which the noble Lord the Leader of the House had aptly called "histoires du coq et de l'âne," and carried absurdity on the face of it. Now, the case must either be that of a young lady with a settled property, or that of a young lady with nothing but what she derived from the bounty of her parents. In the former case, nobody could divert the property from her. How absurd it was to suppose that the relatives or guardians of a young lady with a settled property would let her go into any such convent, the result of which would be to take the property from the family and hand it over to the convent! Then, take the case of a young lady without anything but what she might hereafter derive from the bounty of her parents. Her parents knew perfectly well when she went into the convent that they could make an arrangement to prevent the convent from getting any benefit from her. What was there to prevent her father, when she made up her mind to enter the convent, from giving her the portion of 1,000l., which the convent required, and then making his will and leaving her 1s.? He knew that he could prevent the convent from receiving a farthing beyond the small allowance he gave it for the maintenance of his child. Curiously enough, when the M'Carthy case was contested, the brother claimed that it should be decided that the doctrine of civil death still existed—the effect of which would have been that the young lady would have been in the same position as if she had died intestate, and the family would have had the property. In that case, it was perfectly clear that the father knew what he was about—that when his daughters entered the convent he gave them the portion of 1,000l. each, and prepared a will, which for fifteen years was never executed, leaving them one shilling; thus demonstrating that in the case of a lady with no settled estate, the parents had the power of preventing the convent from getting a farthing, and that power parents were not unwilling to exercise. He was about to proceed to examine the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), but he would leave that to another time, merely protesting that it appeared to him to be about the most absurd proposal for the purpose it professed to have in view that could have emanated from the head of a lawyer so distinguished as the hon. and learned Gentleman. He would now conclude, but he did not think it would be candid in him to thank the whole of the House for the patience with which it had listened to him; but he thanked Mr. Speaker and the great majority of hon. Members for the attention they had given to him, and he would merely add that he should vote for the Adjournment.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 68; Noes 121: Majority 53.

Question again proposed; Debate arising; Debate further adjourned till Thursday next.

The House adjourned at Two o'clock.