HC Deb 19 April 1861 vol 162 cc846-53

said, that it was possible that Mr. Adair might have committed no crime—although 200 years ago depopulation was a crime—but that his conduct in punishing 280 persons for a crime which had not been proved, and which could have been committed by only one or two of them, showed such a want of judgment as rendered him unfit to he in the commission of the peace for any county. In the Earl of Derby's case a man had been shot in open day, but in this case Mr. Murray was found at the foot of a precipice, with no marks but what might have been caused by his falling. There was no evidence whatever that there was a crime. He would now pass on to another subject. A week or two ago he saw a paragraph in the newspapers, which stated that at the Petty Sessions at Bridgnorth, a man named Frederick Perry, a notorious poacher, was about a fortnight ago convicted by the South Staffordshire magistrates at Bridgnorth of killing a partridge without a licence, and was sentenced to be fined £20, and in default of payment to be imprisoned during the pleasure of the Commissioners of Excise. This man had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment for a murderous assault upon a gamekeeper. While in prison he was summoned, under an Act of last Session, to answer a charge of killing game without a licence, and as he did not appear—as, of course, he could not get out of Shrewsbury gaol to do so—the case was heard in his absence, and decided with the result which he had mentioned. The blame of the transaction lay between the solicitor who appeared for the Excise and the magistrates. If what had taken place was lawful, then the sooner the law was altered the better. If it was unlawful, then there could be no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, should issue a warrant for the man's release.


said, the circumstances to which the hon. Member for Wexford last alluded to having taken place in the county which he had the honour to represent he had been requested by the magistrates to lay their statement of the case before the House, and before he sat down he hoped he should be able to exculpate them from all blame. In the first place he wished to state that the prisoner had been in the county gaol twenty-one times, and had been four times imprisoned elsewhere. Of course it was no reason, because the man had a very bad character, that he should not receive justice, but it was a reason why the law should not be strained in his favour. The facts of the case were as the hon. Gentleman had stated. The summons was served on the Governor of Shrewsbury gaol, who served it on the prisoner, but the man was, of course, unable to appear. By the 7th of Geo. IV., c. 57, when a person charged with any violation of the Excise Laws happened to be in prison, it was provided that the summons should be served on the governor of the gaol, and that, if the accused could not appear, he should be treated like other defaulters, and that the case should be proceeded with in his absence. The magistrates of Bridgnorth, in the case referred to, adhered to that provision, and convicted Perry under the Game Licenses Act of last Session. Magistrates were not responsible for the law, but were bound to take it as it stood and give effect to it. He admitted that the Act was unjust and oppressive, and that it ought to be amended without delay, but he maintained that the magistrates only discharged their duty in carrying it out; and if blame was to be attached to any party it ought to fall on the Chancellor of the Exchequer who brought in the Bill of last Session, and those Members who enacted it into a law.


said, that any one who knew nothing of the question which had been brought under their consideration by the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. Scully) would imagine from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland that the evictions had been submitted to calmly and quietly, and had inflicted no great injury on any one. Now, the fact was that although the people were prevented from offering any resistance to the crowbar brigade by the strength of the military on the spot, the scene was one of most agonizing and heart-rending character. The Londonderry Standard, a Tory and landlord's paper, as other local journals, stated that the people exhibited the deepest grief and despair on being driven from their homes, and that even the police officers could not refrain from weeping. He should not enter into the merits, as he hoped the hon. and learned Member for Cork would redeem his promise and bring the whole subject before the House in so grave and formal a manner that many Members might be able to take part in the discussion. He would only mention this important fact, that in the same county of Donegal a fraudulent presentment with regard to some sheep alleged to have been maliciously killed by the people, was made for the benefit of the landlord, and thrown out by Judge Monahan, who emphatically expressed his belief of the entire innocence of the people charged. The wool of the sheep was found in the house of the man who was called the caretaker, and there was little doubt that those who had the custody of the sheep had made away with them for the purposes of the presentment.


said, he was quite sure that as long as the law allowed such atrocities to be perpetrated, so long would a vast amount of odium be cast upon landlords in Ireland, however much they might disapprove of them and however anxious they might be to improve the condition of the peasantry. The stereotyped reply of the Irish Secretary was simply to the effect that a man might do as he liked with his own; but that raised the whole question whether such unlimited rights ought to be permitted to vest in landlords. This horrible act of cruelty had plainly shown that previous legislation had failed, and the same kind of measures should be passed as were passed in England for the purpose of preventing evictions, which at one time excited great attention in this country. As long as these things were suffered to continue under the sanction of the law they could not expect the people to be well affected towards the English Government.


said, he thought that with the little information which they possessed they were not in a position to form an accurate judgment. He had never advocated a system of evictions, as he believed that those who pushed that right to excess exercised it against the interest of themselves and the class to which they belonged. But if the remedy which Mr. Adair had adopted was a desperate one, the state of society in the country where the evictions had taken place was equally desperate. He had the honour to be ac- quainted with that gentleman, and he knew him not only to be a humane man, but a man of considerable abilities, who had devoted those abilities to the improvement of the land and to the improvement of the people who were committed to his charge. A more lamentable picture of the state of society in a civilized country was never drawn than was to be found in the letter published by Mr. Adair, in which he stated— All my personal interests, all my feelings, are against it. You will, however, recollect that a previous proprietor of my estate, Mr. Marshall, was murdered; that on these lands I myself was attacked by a large armed party, most of whom I recognized as inhabitants; that about the same spot my manager, Mr. Murray, was murdered; that while I was a guest in the house of one of you, investigating this murder, the offices were maliciously burned down (for which outrage you, gentlemen, offered a reward); that two or more of the coroner's jury in Mr. Murray's case, who found a verdict of 'Wilful Murder,' were attacked; that large numbers of my sheep have been from time to time made away with; that my dogs have been on two occasions poisoned; and that a system of intimidation, with threats of murder, has been carried on towards myself and my servants. In not one single instance were the perpetrators brought to justice. He would not offer any opinion as to whether such a state of society justified these evictions; but when hon. Gentlemen talked of them as being quite new things and not tolerated in any other civilized country, they seemed to forget that in Scotland such proceedings had taken place on a much wider and more systematic scale, without the authors of them ever being brought under the notice of the House. He did not defend these evictions in the least; he regretted them as much as any man, but in justice to the gentleman whose name had been brought before the House he felt bound to say that he was sure no one who had heard the unfortunate and sad story could feel more deeply the sufferings produced by the course which he had felt it his conscientious duty to take.


said, he had heard with great pain the speech just delivered by the noble Lord—the first that night which did not show a just appreciation of the Act which had been under discussion. There was no analogy between this case and those in Scotland to which the noble Lord in palliation of Mr. Adair had referred. There ample provision had been made for those who were dispossessed. Here 240 persons were in one day turned out of their houses, and thrown on the bleak hill side to starve. Among them were 37 women and 121 children, who at least must have been innocent of all connection with the agrarian outrages. In answer to that the noble Lord had set up the statement of Mr. Adair himself, notwithstanding that all force had been taken from it by the letters written by the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen of the parish; in which they stated that after full examination of the circumstances it was their sincere conviction that the guilty parties might as well have come from some other part of the country as from Mr. Adair's estate. He asked whether anybody could for a moment palliate conduct attended with such frightful results to such a large number of people? If such an act, instead of having been perpetrated in the county of Donegal, had taken place in Rome, in Naples, or in Syria, it would have been denounced as an atrocity, demonstrative of the bad state of the Government which permitted it. The hon. and learned Member for Cork had signified his intention to bring this matter forward for discussion by a distinct Motion, and it would, therefore, be unreasonable to pursue the subject further at present, but he could not allow the noble Lord's speech to pass without expressing his dissent from it, and he considered the facts already brought before the House and uncontradicted by any one, amply sufficient to prove that Mr. Adair's conduct was an outrage against the first principles of humanity.


read an extract from the Dublin Evening Express describing the scene of the eviction as being most distressing and heartrending. He quite approved of the Motion of which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork had given notice, and at the proper time he should be bettor prepared to speak upon the question. He might observe, however, that there was this difference between the recent evictions in Donegal and the Sutherland evictions referred to by the noble Lord, as in the latter, instead of the poor peasantry being left to starve in the highway, they were provided with the means of emigrating to Canada.


said, he did not think that the hon. Member for Cork had acted in accordance with the principles of fair-play on this occasion; for, having asked for papers on the subject, the hon. Member, nevertheless, came down before the papers were produced, and asked the House to concur in the complete condemnation of an individual. He (Lord Claud Hamilton) trusted that the House and the public would suspend their judgment until all the circumstances of the case were known. Mr. Adair had received great provocation. He had purchased the property in Ireland of the representatives of a man who was murdered, and did everything in his power to improve the land and elevate the people, but had to contend with constant opposition, and that of the most shameful and lawless kind. He had not, however, attempted to exercise this power until he came in contact with a system only paralleled by the secret courts of Germany in the middle ages—the Ribbon system. It was, indeed, a humiliating thing that such a scene as had been witnessed of late should have taken place in the British dominions; but it was more humiliating that within twenty-four hours' journey of that House the law should be systematically and continually defied. Many persons might say "Why did Mr. Adair not sell his property and retire?" but hon. Members must be aware that there were men who, exactly in the same proportion as they met with resistance, when they knew they were right, felt a determination to persevere. Mr. Adair felt it had come to this point—that it must be decided whether anarchy or Queen Victoria should rule in that portion of Ireland. There was there an organized system of disaffection and determined violation of the law—a hatred in fact to the rule of the Queen, so much so that recruiting officers were insulted. This was the wretched state of the peasantry, and they had been made what they were by those who ought to have known better. If they had not been encouraged to set at defiance the laws of the country, the late humiliating exhibition would never have been witnessed.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Cork would redeem his pledge of bringing this matter before the House in a manner in which it could be properly discussed. Notwithstanding the energy of the noble Lord who had just sat down the letter of Mr. Adair was in itself a sufficient condemnation of the conduct of which complaint had so justly been made, for that letter boldly propounded the principle that it was right to punish the innocent with the guilty. In his published letter, that gentleman had said that he was recently attacked by a number of peasants, among whom he recognised several re- siding in the district, but although he was in the commission of the peace he had taken no steps to bring them to justice, preferring to act upon this principle of wild justice. Was it to be wondered at if the tenantry should follow the example which he had set them?


said, he understood the question before the House to be whether Mr. Adair was fit to hold the commission of the peace; and he thought they were indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Cork for having brought the matter before the House. The Secretary for Ireland had done his duty in the matter, for he had written to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to ascertain the opinion of that functionary; but it appeared that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland was of opinion that Mr. Adair had done no more than what he had a legal right to do, and that he should not be removed. He thought the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had stopped short of his duty. he would recommend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to follow the example of the Lord Chancellor of England on a recent occasion under somewhat similar circumstances. It would be remembered that in a trial which took place at Guildhall it transpired that a gentleman in Warwickshire had conducted himself in private life in a way that became a public scandal. The Lord Chancellor called upon him to justify his conduct, and because he was not able to do so he removed him from the commission. If the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had pursued a similar course in this instance, and had called upon Mr. Adair to justify himself, that gentleman might or might not have succeeded in doing so; but at any rate the proceedings would have been more in accordance with public convenience and propriety.


said, he could not agree that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had been guilty of any dereliction of duty; the case cited was one in which the gentleman concerned in it had been shown, upon his own testimony, to have been guilty of the most shocking misconduct and a degree of moral turpitude which must be regarded as rendering him unfit for the due discharge of his duties as a magistrate. The case before the House, if he understood aright the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland was one in which a man exercised his legal rights in the manner he thought fit. It would be a serious question if the Lord Chancellor were called upon to strike out of the commission of the peace every landlord who should exercise his legal rights with the same severity as Mr. Adair.


said, he must protest against the demand which had been made by some Irish Members that a gentleman should be struck out of the commission of the peace before the papers relating to his case had been laid on the table. The present was not the first time that the attention of the House had been called to the county of Donegal. It would be recollected that four or five years ago heartrending statements were made about the frightful and abject misery of the people, and the tyranny and cruelty of the landlords. What was the result? A Committee was appointed to inquire into the matter, and it was found that the whole thing was entirely without foundation from first to last, a Roman Catholic priest having taken advantage of the ignorance and barbarism of the people to persuade them to hide away their property in order to give themselves the appearance of extreme destitution. The Irish were an extremely excitable people, and he believed they were stimulated to much of the evil which was too common among them by the violent and unjustifiable statements made in that House by those who claimed to be their representatives.