HC Deb 20 May 1862 vol 166 cc1965-9

rose to move that there be laid before the House— Copies of the Depositions taken at a Coroner's Inquest held at Tullamore, in the King's County, on the 3rd day of January 1862, on the body of Alice Delin, who had been imprisoned in the county jail for seven days: Of the Order or Conviction (if any), and of the Committal, under which she was so imprisoned: Of the Entry (if any) of such Order or Conviction in the Petty Sessions Order Book of the district, and of all Entries or Orders appearing on the page of the said Order Book in which such Conviction or Order is entered: Return stating when and from whom the said Conviction or Order was received by the clerk of Petty Sessions, when he made an entry of the same in the order book, and in whose handwriting the original of said Order or Conviction and the signature thereto is: Copy of the Informations sworn against the said Alice Delin: Return stating in whose handwriting the original of said Informations is, where they were written, and also whether the prisoner, the deponent, or any justice of the peace were present while such Informations were being written, and also if the prisoner was present when such Informations were afterwards sworn: And, Copy of any Correspondence of any members of the Irish Government in relation to the above case. The hon. Member said, that the excitement in the King's County which immediately ensued upon the circumstances of this case becoming known had not subsided at the end of five months; and as one of the representatives in Parliament he was called upon to state the grievance to the House. The magistrate whose conduct was questioned was Mr. Trench, a gentleman who was intrusted with the management of one of the largest estates in King's County. Alice Delin was an old woman of seventy-eight. Upon some day shortly before Christmas she was seen to enter the house of one of the tenants of the estate to which he had referred. Mrs. Carter, the wife of the tenant, was in the house. Mr. Trench followed the old we man, and asked Mrs. Carter whether she had been begging. Mrs. Carter said she had asked for a bit of sugar; but, knowing the old woman as a neighbour, she did not wish to prosecute. Mr. Trench produced a Bible from his pocket, administered an oath, questioned Mrs. Carter again as to what had been asked of her, and, having obtained the presence of a police man, sent Alice Delin to the county gaol for a week. It must be remembered that she had lived for forty years in the locality, that she had never committed any offence, that she had never been in the workhouse, and that, when too old to gain a living by selling trifling articles, she received the gratuities of the neighbours who respected her, and, whenever she could, rendered them little services in return. This woman was sent a distance of six or seven Irish miles on a cold December evening, and five days afterwards she died. The horror and excitement of the neighbourhood necessitated an inquest, and at the inquest the police-constable stated that the weather was so cold he had to lend his coat to wrap round her; that in the presence of the magistrate she would have fallen but for his support; that he took her to the barrack, where the head constable made out Mrs. Carter's information from what he told him, neither Mr. Trench nor Mrs. Carter being present; that on arriving at the gaol at six o'clock he had to lift her bodily out of the car, and that she said she was sure she should not live to come out of gaol. He did not wish to excite public feeling, but to allay the natural indignation which must exist in the minds of humane people, by giving the executive Government an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the case. This question might be considered in the legal view and the moral view. Asking alms within a house did not constitute an offence under the Vagrancy Act; but, even if it did, Mr. Trench did not comply with the provision of the Petty Sessions Act, which required that the depositions on oath of witnesses should be taken in the presence of the accused. In the present situation of Ireland, however, he did not rest this question on a miserable legal technicality; he viewed the question as one of moral duty, and would ask the House whether it was right that even the poorest in the land should be dealt with in such a manner, contrary alike both to justice and to mercy. The distress which prevailed in that country rendered the con duct of Mr. Trench still more monstrous. He was well aware of the noble efforts which the landed proprietors were making to alleviate the misery of the people, and he was certain they would share the hodest indignation with which this affair was regarded. He joined in execrating the horrid outrages which had recently been committed; but he could not but feel that such behaviour as that of Mr. Trench was apt to be used as an argument to palliate those crimes, and must create dangerous agitation in the minds of ignorant and Buffering people. He hoped the Government would produce the papers on the subject, and would see the propriety of removing Mr. Trench from the commission of the peace. He was quite aware that the circumstances of the case were widely known, but he wished them to be placed before the House in an official form. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the papers.


seconded the Motion.


said, that as there was no opposition to the Motion, it was, perhaps, unnecessary for the hon. Gentleman to enter into all the details of the question. He did not complain, however, that he had felt it to be his duty to bring the matter under public notice. The hon. Gentleman said he did not desire to excite ill feeling in the country, but rather to allay it; but he (Sir Robert Peel) thought that as all the facts had already been placed before the public, this renewal of the discussion on the matter would rather tend to the perpetuation of bad feeling than promote any good end. The papers moved for had already appeared in the shape of a pamphlet, and had received sufficient publicity through the newspaper press; but as the hon. Gentleman desired to have them in an official form, the Government was prepared to accede to his request. The Lord Chancellor had authorized him to say that he would add to the documents the letter which he wrote on the subject; but he could not see how any public good could result from the continuance of the agitation on this question. The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that very great excitement had been created in the country by the conduct of Mr. Trench. The Lord Chancellor wrote to that gentleman asking an explanation, and on receiving it severely reprimanded him. He understood from the Lord Chancellor, however, that Mr. Trench erred rather from want of judgment than from a desire to use the old woman harshly or unjustly. Instead of entering into a discussion on this matter, which in the present excited state of certain parts of Ireland might be very injurious, he hoped the House would accept the statement he had made, and not pursue the subject further.


observed, that it was very desirable that the people of Ireland should have perfect confidence in the administration of justice, and urged that Mr. Trench should be removed from the commission of the peace, which his behaviour had proved him unfit to hold. That gentleman ought not to be allowed the opportunity of repeating the atrocious con duct for which he had been reprimanded by the Lord Chancellor.


tendered his thanks to the hon. Member for the King's County for having ably and dispassionately brought this matter forward. For the first time the fact had been ascertained that the Lord Chancellor had felt it is duty to severely reprimand Mr. Trench; and it was there fore acknowledged that the conduct of that magistrate was not capable of any defence. Before any further discussion took place on the matter, the papers ought to be produced, and then, after a careful consideration of the Lord Chancellor's letter, it would be for the House to decide whether a sufficient punishment had been inflicted upon Mr. Trench, or whether it might not be better that the bench of justice should no longer have him as one of its occupants.


said, there was one feature in the affair which he could not pass over without some notice. He alluded to the testimony of the medical officers, which proved that they were most inhuman in their conduct towards the poor creature. One medical man deposed that she died from congestion of the lungs, while at the same time he stated that he made only an external examination. Now, as a medical man himself, he arraigned that opinion, believing that the cold which the unfortunate old woman endured was the chief cause of her death. It was as clear as possible that the evidence of the medical men was not such as ought to have been given, but that they were under the influence of a certain power, which pre vented their giving the evidence they should have done. He trusted that when the subject next came under their consideration the House would mark its sense of the treatment shown to this poor creature by requiring a much more severe punishment to be visited upon the author of this inhumanity than that which he had already received from the head of the magistracy of Ireland. He held that it was not fit or right that any gentleman should hold the commission of the peace who was capable of committing such acts of inhumanity as were imputed to Mr. Trench.

Motion agreed to.