HC Deb 08 June 1860 vol 159 cc193-6

said, he would take the opportunity of making a statement in reference to a charge brought a few nights ago by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. H. D. Seymour) against a gentleman who had been twenty years in the service of the Crown, that he had conducted himself in Persia as "a bully," that his policy had been "a bullying policy," that he was without influence at the Persian Court to which he was accredited, and that he secluded himself from Persian society. Anything spoken by a Member of that House was read all over the country; and he would ask the House, after they had hear! his explanation, whether the hon. Member was justifiable in applying such terms to Colonel Sir Justin Shiel. As he (Mr. Whiteside) had the good fortune to know Colonel Shiel, he might be allowed to state that he was trained for the service of the East India Company. In 1834 he went to Persia to discipline certain regiments, and in this way he became personally known to the present Shah of Persia, whom he assisted in placing on the throne. After a long residence in Persia and Turkey, Colonel Sheil was appointed by Lord Aberdeen in 1844 British Minister in Persia. It was said he was without influence, but the Treaty of Erzeroum was effected by him. In 1845 he succeeded in abolishing torture, in conjunction with a Russian ally, and he induced the Shah to lay aside the pastime in which he had formerly indulged, of having the heads cut off and the eyes of his subjects put out in his presence. Colonel Sheil also induced the Persian Government to empower British vessels to seize every ship belonging to a Persian subject which had slaves on board. When Persia annexed Herat, although Colonel Sheil was without an army, made no presents and offered no bribes, yet he succeeded in obtaining a renunciation of all claim to Herat on the part of Persia, The hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. D. Seymour) said that in his time he found it more convenient to travel as a Russian subject than as an Englishman, or rather that he had travelled as a Circassian chief. However that might be, he believed that the character of an Englishman, which was always respected abroad, had been more respected in the Persian dominions during the time Colonel Sheil was there than in any state in Europe. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, he thought the observations made by the hon. Gentleman could scarcely be justified. He (Mr. Whiteside) wished, however, to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland for an explanation respecting recent Arrests for Conspiracy in Dundalk, and in relation to the discharge of certain other parties charged with or convicted of the like offence in Ireland. He had lately read an account of an arrest in Dundalk of persons charged with belonging to a secret society and being engaged in a conspiracy. It was said that the parties arrested belonged to the same order as some who had been previously convicted; that eleven men were in custody, and that it was believed the authorities were on the track of others. He wished to know whether that statement was true, and whether the conspiracy alluded to was one with which he was himself acquainted—namely, the Ribbon conspiracy, having, when in office under the late Government, found it necessary to prosecute some members of that confederacy. There was a trial in Belfast; but one juryman held out, and there was no verdict, and when he left office these men were in custody; but he understood that the present Government had released them. The police had ascertained that their ringleader was a sergeant in a militia regiment in the pay of the Crown, and he thought him, therefore, having been guilty of perfidy as well as conspiracy, a very proper subject for prosecution. He, however, understood that this man had slipped through the fingers of the police, or had been pardoned. He trusted that he had not been restored to his regiment; for he could assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) opposite, that although a regiment of Sepoys might not be regarded as a very loyal support to a Government, a regiment of Ribbonmen would be far loss reliable as a force in the service of the Crown But there was another case, namely, of a schoolmaster in the south of Ireland, who had also been prosecuted. This man had also been receiving the pay of the Crown, and was convicted of treason. From the manner, however, in which he had been since treated, it would seem that treason was but lightly thought of as an offence. Sheep-stealing was punished severely as a crime, but the person who attempted to dethrone the Queen was not looked upon as so great a criminal as the sheep-stealer. At least, this was the only inference that could be drawn from what he understood to be the fact—namely, that the schoolmaster in question had been pardoned. He wished, therefore, to know whether this was the case, and, if so, whether the pardon had proceeded upon the recommendation of the Judge who had tried him. He felt it only right to mention that the learned Judge, Baron Green, one of the kindest-hearted men that ever lived, said upon the trial of the schoolmaster, that such was the sense he entertained of the enormity of the crime that he felt it to be his duty to sentence the man to fifteen years' penal servitude. He (Mr. Whiteside) acquiesced in the propriety of pardoning misguided men who were evidently repentant, but he could not agree that treason should be treated so lightly. At the same time that these men were prosecuted a man at Mullingar was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude fur Ribbonism. He wished to know whether that man had also been pardoned, and if so, whether his pardon had been recommended by the Judge who tried him. In order to show the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) the delicate ground on which he was treading, in thus dealing with Ribbonism, he would state a simple fact. A few years ago the Ribbonmen of Dundalk had determined to put to death several gentlemen residents in the county of Louth. One of them, Mr. Eastwood, was nearly murdered. The two men who were appointed to kill him did not know his person, and they applied to a railway labourer to point him out to them. It was through this circumstance they were taken. They were prosecuted, and were executed. One of the grand jurymen of the same county called upon him (Mr. Whiteside) and informed him that he actually knew the public-house in Dundalk at which Ribbonmen had met and come to the deadly resolution of taking away his life, which they had fortunately not succeeded in carrying into effect. Now, a few years after that occurrence, he read the account which had induced him to ask this question. Eleven men were said to have been arrested for the same offence of Ribbonism. He wished to know if this were the case, and if they were in truth members of the same confederacy as those who, it was said, had been pardoned by the same Administration. He was perfectly willing to agree in the propriety of extending the mercy of the Crown to those who deserved it, but he was sceptical about the policy of pardoning men belonging to such a confederacy—men who could revolutionise a kingdom as well as disturb a province. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) that he would find the Ribbon conspiracy much more dangerous in its character than he had yet discovered it to be.