HC Deb 01 June 1860 vol 158 cc1889-92

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he is in possession of any information confirmatory of certain statements made in a Pamphlet recently published in Paris, and quoted in The Economist Newspaper of Saturday last, relative to the proceedings of the Police Authorities in Sicily; and, if so, whether he has any objection to lay such information upon the Table of the House? The House was, no doubt, aware of the barbarous treatment endured by Neapolitan prisoners, in utter violation of law and justice. The despatches of our own Minister at Naples described how persons of every age and condition of life were dragged from their homes, and thrust into prison, where they languished for years without inquiry, until all recollection of their cases had passed away, and no record remained of the circumstances under which they were apprehended. They were aware, too, that the director of police at Naples exercised an almost despotic sway; and that every commissary under him had his own peculiar species of torture, to which he subjected those whom he might think proper to arrest. Recently a Pamphlet had been published in Paris which threw light on some of these atrocities. He had not been able to provide himself with a copy; but an extract from it had appeared in The Economist of last Saturday, which he would read. Every commissary, every gaoler," says M. De La Varenne, "has his own method of applying torture. It is revolting to come to details, but they are unhappily exact and confirmed by official authority. The famous Pontillo owes his reputation to the species of torture which he applies in his own Commissariat. He makes the victim sit down in a railed arm-chair, set with razor blades, under which is placed a pan of burning coals. The inspector, Louis Maniscalco, the namesake of the General Director, applies to the accused little iron hands provided with a closing screw. This is called, in the language of the police, 'the angelic instrument.' The gaoler, Bruno, belonging to the Police Commissariat of the odious Carrega (there is a prison in each Commissariat), strips the victim of his clothes and binds his head between his legs. Others employ the torture of the tourniquet, drawing a cord with a stick inserted in it tight round the head of the accused till the eyes start out of the head and the skin cracks. Others have recourse to starvation, to blows, to the privation of light and of breatheable air. But the one satellite of the Director General who outstrips all the others is the notorious Captain Chinnici, a robber by profession, and now an officer of police, and rich proprietor. Sent by Maniscalco into the town of Nicosia, in order to discover the assassin of a certain Gorgone (a captain of this district, killed in consequence of incredible excesses of ferocity), from among thirty individuals, thrown into prison on the vaguest suspicion of complicity in this crime, Chinnici chose two, at hazard, to make an example of them, and to slake his thirst for torment. These two unfortunates were Rosario Chimera, and Pizzolo. They underwent the most atrocious tortures, such as the 'silence-hood,' the 'angelic instrument,' hunger, the bastinado in excess, without choosing to confess an action which they had never committed. The police agent then got hold of the wife of Chimera, a young and beautiful woman, twenty-two years old. After heaping on her the most horrible violence, he caused her to be tied naked on a bench, and gave her up to the brutality of his men. She remained there three days in this state, without food, till, half dead, the unhappy woman deposed that her husband had formerly said that he would 'kill the Captain Gorgone.' This evidence, extorted in this manner, is immediately received by a judge sent for the purpose, and Chinnici, delighted at having got his first piece of evidence, returns to the dungeon of the two wretches to tell them the confession of Chimera's wife; and as they persist in their denials, he has recourse this time to a torture of such monstrous obscenity that it is im- possible to describe it. The victims at last give in and confess all he wishes. Chinnici has them dragged with all the due preparations to the place where they committed the crime, in order to renew to the judge, and before the crowd, the confession of their guilt and their designation of the place where they had stood to fire. But when they found themselves again in the open sunlight and in the presence of their fellow-citizens, a little energy returned to the two martyrs. They lifted up their heads, and with a feeble but firm voice, they proclaimed themselves innocent, and denounced the infamous means employed to torture them. A cry of horror arose, and the police throwing themselves upon them, carried them back gagged to prison. The same torture is again applied. Chimera and Pizzolo confirm their first confession, and are conducted to Catana, the chief town of the province. There the great Criminal Court, seeing the too evident marks of all the tortures they had endured, receives their explanation, orders them to be visited by a commission of physicians, whose report courageously confirmed the sad truth, and, at the risk of involving themselves in a very disagreeable affair with the police, the Judges 'cancel the confession made by the pretended culprits, and proceeding to a new and more regular adjudication, by a sentence passed on the 20th December, 1859, declared the two accused innocent, and ordered them to be immediately set at liberty.' In spite of this solemn decree, the unfortunate men are still kept in prison, by the direction of Maniscalco. It might be asked, why he brought forward such horrible details, seeing we could do nothing to prevent them. But an expression of opinion by that House carried with it the greatest moral weight all over Europe; and but one feeling of abhorrence must be felt wherever the details of these barbarities were made known. Another advantage would arise, having an important bearing on the subject of discussion a few nights ago, he meant with reference to the subscription now raising in this country in favour of Garibaldi's operations in Sicily. An hon. and learned Gentleman denounced that subscription as an infringement of international law, and took exception to the opinion given by the Solicitor General, that persons contributing to that fund could do so without rendering themselves amenable to the penalties of the law. Now, what the law of the case might be he did not know; but of this he felt perfectly convinced, if the diabolical outrages to which he alluded, were found to rest, not on the doubtful evidence of a foreign pamphleteer, but on the recognized authority of our own Minister, such a deep feeling of sympathy would be excited towards the sufferers, and such a sentiment of indignation against their oppressors, that no dread of consequences, no fancied liability to legal proceedings would deter the people of this country from giving expression to their feelings, by contributing their means and their names also, to a cause which promised to deliver both Sicily and Naples from a state of misgovernment, which was a disgrace to the age. He knew of one instance himself, where a person of no mean weight or authority was so struck by the statement he had read that, after making inquiry in quarters where he thought he should obtain authentic information, and having ascertained that the facts were not exaggerated, he at once handed over £50 to the Garibaldi fund, and authorized the use of his name in furtherance of the collection. He trusted this example would be extensively followed, and that the feeling of this country would not be expended in useless indignation. "With this view he would put the question of which he had given notice to the noble Lord.