HC Deb 29 April 1864 vol 174 cc1917-40

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the case of Mr. W. Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland. He trusted the House, when they considered the nature of the subject, would excuse him for bringing it forward a second time. When he last brought this subject before the House, there were forty-six hon. Members present, of whom, deducting four tellers, twenty-two voted against his Motion, and twenty voted in its favour. But the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) by mistake went into the Government lobby, but for which accident the numbers would have been equal, and the result would have been decided by the casting vote of the Speaker. He would not presume to inquire how that right hon. Gentleman would have voted, but from his known character as a friend of the oppressed, he was confident that his Motion would have been carried. After the division he received many communications expressive of regret that his Motion had been unsuccessful, and the press generally took up the subject in a fair and generous manner. He was, therefore, induced a second time to trouble the House with the story of Mr. Bewicke's wrongs. Mr. Bewicke was a man of respectable position, of independent fortune, and of an ancient family, which had been in the armigery of the county of Northumberland for 800 years. He got into a lawsuit, but, for some reason or other, he refused to pay the costs, and allowed the sheriff to levy for them. It became important to consider who were the men employed by the Sheriff of Northumberland. Although it was quite proper that strict inquiries should be made into the character of men seeking to enter the police force, yet it was still more necessary to be particular in selecting persons to serve as sheriff's officers, because, while the policeman had to deal with crime, the sheriff's officer had to deal with misfortune. In that case, the chief officer employed to levy was a man named Stainthorpe, who, he found, from recent intelligence, had been discharged for embezzlement. That man had been convicted before the Hexham magistrates for heating his wife, had been fined and bound over to keep the peace. He had been several times summoned for assaults, and upon another occasion for deserting his wife and family. Such wore the antecedents of one of the men employed to carry out the law. The second officer was a person of the name of John Dodd. That gentleman had been sentenced in 1852 to seven years' transportation for perjury, and he was at the time of that transaction out upon a ticket-of-leave. [Sir GEORGE GREY: That was nine years after, in 1861.] That man was then at large upon a ticket-of-leave, and he was employed to assert the majesty of the law. He had also been convicted of poaching and other offences, and altogether he was a very pleasing character. The third man employed was named Hutchinson, against whom were recorded four convictions for assaults, as well as two other convictions for felony. Daglish, the fourth man, was an extremely bad character, and had been; brought up for assaults and poaching times without number. There might be some hon. Members in the House who looked with great leniency upon poaching, but for himself he had always found poaching and graver offences went hand in hand. These men proceeded to Threepwood Hall to arrest Mr. Bewicke, who, it seemed, had been prepared to pay the debt, which amounted to something like £49. When he observed the banditti approaching, he was somewhat startled; he thought it would be best to pay the money to prevent them from robbing his house. The chief of the party proceeded with great nonchalance to pull out pistols and to distribute them among his followers. There upon Mr. Bewicke went into his house, produced his revolver, and said, "the fact is, if this is your sort of game you shall not play it with impunity." He said "I will not admit such a set of blackguards into my house, for you will pillage it." They then waxed somewhat more civil. He went into his house and barricaded it, there being carts and cart horses which he permitted them to take in execution. The sheriff's officer departed, leaving the other four worthies outside. It had since come out that when the men were approaching the house they halted and resolved themselves into a sort of committee of supply, and held a council as to how they should proceed when they got into the house. The sheriff's officer said they showed great ignorance; that they knew nothing of their profession, as it was always a settled thing to go at once to the wine cellar. Well, it was settled nemine contradicente that that should be their mode of proceeding. During the night, probably finding themselves chilly, they sent to Mr. Bewicke begging for provisions, and being an open hearted Englishman he sent some out to them. The next morning Mr. Bewicke, having occasion to discharge his pistol, called out to the men down below to get out of the way, as he was going to fire. They called out, "All right," and then he discharged the weapon. Thereupon they said, "Now we have got him," and they went to a magistrate and laid an information against Mr. Bewicke for obstructing them in the execution of their duty, and firing at them with intent to do them some bodily harm. Dodd brought a bullet in his waistcoat, which another of the villains was to find and did find. The characters of all the men were perfectly well known to the magistrates; but in spite of this, Mr. Bewicke was committed for trial, bail to the amount of £2,000 being accepted for his appearance. Mr. Bewicke, who regarded the turn affairs had taken as being merely an exhibition of ill-feeling on the part of the magistrates, employed no counsel to defend him, believing that the characters of the men alone would be sufficient to repel so monstrous and absurd a charge. He was, however, found guilty and sentenced to four years penal servitude. In prison Mr. Bewicke might have remained until now—or he would not say that Mr. Bewicke would have remained until the present time, because he was nearly dead when he was released. It happened that he had a faithful and very clever housekeeper, a Mrs. Lodge. She had been examined at the trial, but her feelings overcame her and she broke down. Afterwards, however, she collected a large mass of evidence; and she went straight to Mr. Serjeant Shee, who received her kindly, and since counsel cannot look at a case in the first instance, gave her a note to Mr. Ivimey, of Staple Inn. Mr. Ivimey looked to the proof, found it to be valid, went down into the country, arrested the four men, and brought them to trial. John Dodd was sentenced to two years' hard labour for the part he took with reference to the bullet, Daglish was sentenced to one year's imprisonment in Morpeth gaol for perjury, and Hutchinson was sentenced to four years' penal servitude. This last villain had been a perjurer from the commencement; had come out of prison on a ticket-of-leave, had perjured himself on the trial of Mr. Bewicke, had perjured himself for his companions, and when he came to be tried himself pleaded guilty. It was not for him to question the decision of the Judges, but Mr. Justice Mellor let this rascal off from the severer part of the punishment on account of his having pleaded guilty. It was not necessary for him to dwell upon that point, but it struck him as being rather an extraordinary one. Stainthorpe, who, as he himself expressed it, had had so much of prison that he did not want any more, turned Queen's evidence. Would it be believed that Dodd, instead of being allowed to pass his full term in prison, was permitted to go at large at the expiration of sixteen months on a ticket-of-leave. What must have been the feelings of Mr. Bewicke during his dreary imprisonment of twelve months? A man born and educated as a gentleman, having ancestors to look back to, and desirous of not dishonouring them, must have suffered most acutely. A fine, robust, powerful man when he went to prison, he came out broken in constitution and in heart. He was liberated on the authority of a most objectionable document, granting him Her Majesty's pardon. Could innocence be pardoned? Could a man be pardoned for being innocent? If it were necessary to keep to forms, and if the word "pardon" must be employed in the warrant, then the "pardon" should be, granted to the Judge and jury who had made the blunder. But this was not the end of Mr. Bewicke's troubles. The trustees of Greenwich Hospital, it appears, are Lords of the manor of Langley, on which Mr. Bewicke's property is situated, it having been granted to them by the Crown on the attainder of the Earl of Derwentwater. On Mr. Bewicke's conviction, they came down, and at one fell swoop seized every thing in the house. Away went the family pictures; away went the timber; away went the plate, that had been in the family for years; away went the library, Mr. Bewicke's chief solace. There was one little room which the ruffians employed did not touch; it was the room of the housekeeper —Mrs. Lodge. She was a widow, and when she came to live at Mr. Bewicke's she asked permission to bring some of her furniture to increase the comfort of her own room. That was accorded to her, and the sheriff's officer, with good feeling, said he did not desire to take her furniture. The chief officer went away, but that same evening the rest of the men broke into the room, took Mrs. Lodge's bed from under her, and left her to lie upon the floor. Mr. Bewicke returned, and found bare walls and discomfort where all had been comfort; but the circumstance which hurt him more than anything else — and that showed the good feeling of the man—was the treatment received by Mrs. Lodge. Mr. Bewicke determined to proceed against the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, but when the case was laid before counsel, the opinion given was, that he was not capable of bringing the action, being a felon when the furniture was seized. Thus a pardon did not remove the stain of felony from even an innocent man. Such was one of the beautiful anomalies of the existing law. It was not for him to point out the remedy for such a state of things, but the hon. and learned Member for East Suffolk (Sir Fitzroy Kelly), who was, unfortunately, absent, had taken up this matter strongly, and was of opinion that there should be a Court of Appeal. Such, then, was the end of the tragedy, for he might almost call it a tragedy. Mr. Bewicke's law expenses amounted to between £2,000 and £3,000, and the loss consequent upon the forced sale of his furniture was fully 80 per cent. Among this furniture, much of which was quite new, was a marble tessellated and antique table, which he had obtained from Italy, and for which he gave 100 guineas. This was sold for £17, and it was afterwards offered to Mr. Bewicke as a favour for £37. A grand piano by Broadwood, in excellent order, sold for £20. A pony sold for £14, and was offered back to Mr. Bewicke for £25. He had a great many valuable books, especially in French literature. He had the whole works of Voltaire, Racine, Moliére, and Corneille, and down in that part of the country those books fetched little more than the price of waste paper — they were in all probability destined to become wrappers for tobacco and cheese. He appealed, then, to the House to take the hard case he had again stated into consideration. He could not, for his life, understand what answer the Attorney General would make, though it would, no doubt, be very ingenious. Perhaps he would say that if there were one Bewicke with such a case, there might be twenty. He would answer that as long ns the Legislature thought proper to keep the law in its present state, it was their duty to satisfy every one of these cases. The House might compensate Mr. Bewicke for his furniture, they might give him a quid pro quo for that which he had lost, but how were they to compensate him for his sufferings? How were they to compensate a man of honour and a gentleman for having been herded with the lowest felons, and subjected to every indignity to which the most wretched criminal could be subjected? Let them ask Mr. Bewicke which he would rather do—meet death or undergo another year of penal servitude, and he would tell them to be merciful, and to give him dentil. As far inferior as was bodily suffering to mental anguish, so to a man of honour a crushed reputation far exceeded the agony of death. It was to compensate Mr. Bewicke, then, that he appealed to an assembly formed of 600 Gentlemen, the first assembly in the world; and he did not believe that he should ask in vain, or that little Home Office scruples, or the quirks of the legal profession, would prevent that compensation being granted.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon Monday next, resolve itself into a Committee, to consider of an Address to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be gra- ciously pleased to direct adequate compensation to be made to William Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland, for the pain, degradation, anguish of mind, and consequent ill-health, he has suffered, in being confined for twelve months in a prison as a felon, on a charge since proved to be false; for the confiscation of his goods, chattels, family pictures, plate, and library, thus inflicting upon him an irreparable injury; also for the heavy pecuniary loss he has suffered in prosecuting and bringing to justice the persons who had conspired against him, such having been the only means by which eventually he was enabled to establish his innocence; and that this House is prepared to assure Her Majesty that it will make good the same,"—(Mr. Henry Berkeley,) —instead thereof.


said, he was aware of the disadvantage under which he laboured in objecting to a Motion of that nature, in a case which was undoubtedly calculated to excite the sympathy of the House, and to which, were he to be guided only by personal feelings, he should be very glad to assent. In the discharge of his duty, he should be compelled to ask the House seriously to consider the question raised by the Motion, and to hesitate before they committed themselves to a principle which must have a much wider application than to the particular case before them, and which, in fact, involved an entire alteration of the law. He did not mean to prejudge the consideration of the particular question, if it were brought properly before the House; but it would be his duty to point out the results which, in his opinion, would follow from the adoption of the Motion in its present form. With regard to the facts of the case, he had heard for the first time some of the details in the picturesque narrative of his hon. Friend, but there was no difficulty in gathering an outline of the case, and that he took from Mr. Bewicke's petition, presented during the last Session. In 1861, Mr. Bewicke was defendant in an action in which the verdict was against him, and as he refused to pay the costs, the sheriff of Northumberland by his officers proceeded to levy them. He was not about to defend the character of the sheriff's officers, but he thought the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) must be mistaken in his statement that one of those men, who was afterwards convicted of perjury and sentenced to two years' penal servitude, was discharged with a ticket-of-leave after only sixteen months of his sentence had expired. He could not understand how that had happened unless it was upon the recommendation of the visiting justices of the gaol, on the ground of danger to life from further imprisonment. If the visiting justices stated that longer confinement would endanger the life of a prisoner, and their statement was supported by medical testimony, then the sentence of imprisonment was not converted into a capital sentence, as would be the case if the prisoner were longer confined, and he was released. He did not know whether that had been the case in the present instance, but he would make inquiry as to the facts. Mr. Bewicke resisted the execution of the process, and was charged with the very serious offence of shooting with intent to do some grievous bodily harm. He was committed for trial by magistrates residing in his own neighbourhood, with regard to whom the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) might have spared the imputation that they acted upon feelings of personal dislike for Mr. Bewicke. With regard to one of these gentlemen, who had served the office of High Sheriff, he believed him to be utterly incapable of having been actuated by any other feeling than that of a desire to discharge his duty; and he presumed the same might be said of the other though he was not personally known to him. Mr. Bewicke was committed for trial, and the case came on before Mr. Justice Keating at the Spring Assizes for 1861. Mr. Bewicke, unfortunately for himself, employed neither attorney nor counsel, but conducted his own defence. The case was tried with great patience and forbearance by the learned Judge, for there was public testimony to this, and the jury found Mr. Bewicke guilty—a verdict in which the learned Judge, upon the evidence given, entirely concurred—though it was known that the character of the witnesses was not the best. The Judge did not pass sentence instantly, but communicated with Mr. Justice Hill, who was on circuit with him, and than whom there was no more learned or able Judge upon the Bench. The facts were considered by those two Judges, and next day Mr. Bewicke was sentenced to four years' penal servitude— a sentence which both Judges were of opinion was demanded under the circumstances of the case. A petition was subsequently presented to the Home Office on behalf of Mr. Bewicke, and it was referred to the Judge who had tried the case; but, notwithstanding the statements made on behalf of Mr. Bewicke, that learned Judge and Mr. Justice Hill, with whom he conferred, were of opinion there was no reason to doubt that the verdict was a right one. He had understood his hon. Friend to suggest that a pardon ought to be granted to the Judge and the jury to free them from their guilt in the transaction; but he could not think that any blame whatever was attributable to either the Judge or the jury. Well, then, they came to the year 1862, when; Mr. Bewicke was enabled to bring forward evidence to show that those who had deposed to the important fact in the case-namely, whether the gun was loaded or not—had committed perjury. Those persons was prosecuted and a conviction was obtained against them. When the conviction was obtained a free pardon was at once granted to Mr. Bewicke. A wrong had been done him undoubtedly, but that was the only way it could be redressed— by means of a free pardon. Bills to establish a Court of Appeal had been brought forward from time to time; but he had never heard it proposed that the time of appeal and of application for a. new trial should be indefinite. In the present case the Judge was perfectly satisfied with the verdict, and it was not till nearly a year after the trial the evidence was discovered which proved the perjury. He did not think that hon. Gentlemen would propose that a power of appeal extending over so long a period should be given in criminal cases. A free pardon, therefore, was the only form by which the wrong committed on a prisoner in such a case could be redressed. But his hon. Friend complained that as soon as Mr. Bewicke was convicted the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, as grantees of the Crown, became possessed of his property, stripped his house of all it possessed, and took away his furniture. He spoke from information communicated to him from a source which he could not doubt, when he said that the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital had been most anxious that not a particle of the furniture should be removed from the house. They had made repeated attempts by communications with members of his family to make arrangements by which the property might remain in the house until Mr. Bewicke himself was set free; but all those attempts having failed, as Trustees for a Public Charity, they were bound to advertise the property for sale. It was sold, with the exception of some of the pictures, and the whole proceeds of the sale, minus £30 for expenses, and the unsold pictures were handed over to him when he was discharged on the free pardon. Those being the facts of the case, his hon. Friend asked for compensation for Mr. Bewicke on three grounds—first, "for the pain, degradation, anguish of mind, and consequent ill-health he had suffered in being confined for twelve months in a prison as a felon on a charge since proved to be false." That demand appeared to him to raise the important question, whether in every case in which a person had been convicted of crime, and was afterwards proved to be innocent of that crime, though the conviction might have taken place not through any defect in the law, or in the administration of the law, but from the inherent defect of human testimony, compensation was to be given to the sufferer out of the public funds. No doubt the case of Mr. Bewicke was one calculated to call forth the sympathy of the House; but he was sure the House would not agree on a Motion to give him compensation, unless they were prepared to give it to every person, however humble, who might be convicted and imprisoned, and whose innocence might afterwards be proved. Those cases, happily, were not very numerous; but his experience informed him that they were not very rare. Cases occurred of mistaken identity, in which the evidence had been honestly given, but in which there had been an unintentional mistake as to identity. In these cases, when the mistake was discovered, no compensation was given, even although the innocent person had suffered imprisonment. Then there were other cases in which convictions had taken place in consequence of wilfully false swearing. Some time ago the chaplain of a large county gaol in the neighbourhood of London was charged with a very serious offence, and convicted on the evidence of two girls. He lost his situation as chaplain of the gaol, and suffered imprisonment. After a considerable time he was able to convict the witnesses of perjury, and, of course, he was discharged from prison; but no compensation was asked for him, though he must have suffered very much from the charge and the conviction, the more particularly as he was a clergyman. He believed that gentleman's friends raised a subscription for him, but no claim was made on the public for compensation, though the case was a stronger one than that now before the House. He wanted to know how compensation of this kind was to be measured —how the suffering in mind and body was to be estimated? There was one circumstance in this case which it appeared to him did not tell in favour of Mr. Bewicke's claim. That gentleman had defended himself, and had employed no lawyer or counsel, Were persons who acted in that way to come to Parliament and ask for compensation if they were convicted on the evidence of witnesses for the prosecution? He believed himself it was highly probable that those witnesses whose evidence had convicted Mr. Bewicke would have broken down under the searching cross-examination of counsel. Passing from the first ground on which compensation was asked for Mr. Bewicke, he would take the third before the second. The third ground was "for the heavy pecuniary loss he had suffered in prosecuting and bringing to justice the persons who had conspired against him, such having been the only means by which eventually he was able to establish his innocence." If the House agreed to the present Motion, was it to be understood that they were prepared to grant compensation, not only to Mr. Bewicke, but to all other persons who might be obliged to undertake a prosecution in order to prove their innocence. Were they prepared to pay the expense of all such prosecutions out of the public purse? If so, that ought to be clearly understood. The second ground of compensation, which he was taking last, was really the main ground—namely, "the confiscation of his goods, chattels, family pictures, plate, and library." He was bound to say he thought that claim stood in a different position from the two others. A Bill had been brought in by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. Charles Foster), to abolish the law by which the property of felons went to the Crown. That subject, in his opinion, deserved attention; but it was one on which hasty legislation would be very unadvisable, and therefore he thought his hon. and learned Friend had done well to give time for its further consideration. If it were true, as Mr. Bewicke appeared to think, that his property was sold for far less than its value, then he might have some claim on the consideration of the House, and he should have no objection to a Committee to inquire into those special circumstances of the case. He believed that such an inquiry would show that the conduct of the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital towards the family of Mr. Bewicke had been marked by great kindness and consider- ation, and it would enable the House at the same time to say whether there were any special circumstances in the case which would justify them in deciding that Mr. Bewicke was entitled to compensation in that respect. The House would take the course which it thought best under the circumstances, but he had felt himself compelled to point out the inexpediency of introducing any new principle of law founded on a particular instance without a deliberate inquiry. The form in which the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), had made his Motion prevented him from moving his Amendment, but if the hon. Gentleman was disposed to accept the suggestion he had made, and would on a future occasion move for a Committee to inquire into so much of the petition as referred to his loss by the sale of his property, he should not offer any objection.


said, he was not aware what course the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) meant to pursue, but, if he might offer a word of advice, he should counsel him not to close with the offer of the right hon. Baronet. The whole argument of the right hon. Baronet was simply, that the House of Commons was not to perform one act of justice, lest it should be called upon at some future time to do another. The illustration which he had used to prove the soundness of his advice to the House proved its unsoundness. He cited the case of a clergyman who was convicted unjustly, and who never made any claim on the Crown for compensation. That showed that if the House did justice in the present case it did not follow that it would be called on to do justice in every other similar case which might happen. Whether it were in respect to a gentleman of birth and education equal to themselves, as Mr. Bewicke was said to be, or in the case of the humblest member of society, he hoped the House would never hesitate to do such an act of justice as the hon. Gentleman now called on them to perform. The right hon. Baronet said that, though he might have no objection to change the law, as long as it remained unchanged he objected to justice being done in exceptional cases; but so long as the Government, who were chiefly responsible for the existing state of the law, were contented with that state of the law, and permitted those exceptional acts of injustice to be perpetrated, it was to that House the sufferers must appeal. The right hon. Baronet had not referred to the case of Mr, Barber, which was a precedent for the course they were now asked to take. It could not be said that any great evil had followed from the act of justice which the House of Commons then performed. The right hon. Baronet's own statement showed that those cases occurred very rarely, and he hoped the House of Commons would not be frightened by the terrible unknown consequences which the right hon. Baronet had conjured up from the performance of an act of justice, whether it were to a well-born, educated man, or to the humblest member of society.


said, that being well acquainted with the unfortunate gentleman who was the subject of the present Motion, he trusted the House would allow him to make a few remarks which would generally confirm the statement of the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley). When he first heard of the charge from the High Sheriff of the county, he was: under the impression that it was merely an ordinary charge of a trifling breach of the peace, violent language, or something of that sort. To his surprise he found he was charged with wilfully firing at the sheriff's officer with a felonious intent. He went to see him, and could scarcely bring him to realize the gravity of the position in which he was placed. In fact, Mr. Bewicke treated the charge from the first as a monstrous one; he could not be persuaded to attach any importance to it, So fully was the evil character of these men known, that he fully expected that when the charge was examined in court it would explode of itself. He could hardly describe the consternation and dismay created in the north of England when Mr. Bewicke was convicted. A large number of memorials were forwarded to him from almost every parish in the neighbourhood, signed by thousands of persons, which he laid before the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary. Of course, the Home Office could not act until some new facts were laid before it, and though the men on whose evidence Mr. Bewicke was convicted had been heard afterwards to express their disappointment at not getting the compensation, or hush money, they wanted, yet it was some time before any trustworthy, credible witnesses could be procured, whose evidence proved that the charge was provoked by the cupidity of those perjured witnesses.


said, he felt bound to make a few remarks on this matter, as in some respects the character of his fellow magistrates had been impugned. He must express, with all his heart, his thanks to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), who had, in so feeling and able a manner, brought this melancholy case before the House; and he was also bound to thank the House for the way in which it had received the hon. Member's statement. When precedents were spoken of, he must say he believed that such a case of hardship as the present was quite unprecedented, and would probably never occur again. It was, he thought, a case alike discreditable to English law and practice, and the sooner the House set about finding a remedy for such legal anomalies the better. He desired, however, to say that one of the magistrates who, he believed, acted on the bench on that occasion was Mr. Knowing, whom he had the pleasure of knowing as one of the most active and able members of the bench, and a gentleman who was held in the highest estimation in the district. He must have been misinformed as to the real facts, or he never would have allowed the character of those rascals, who acted as assistants to the sheriff's officer, to pass without inquiry. It was to be regretted that Mr. Bewicke had undertaken to defend himself at the assizes, instead of obtaining professional assistance; but that was only an additional proof that he was conscious of his own innocence. He trusted that the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) would not accede to the proposition of the Government, but would take the sense of the House on his Motion.


said, it would, no doubt, be far more agreeable to the House to support a Motion of that kind, if convinced that it was right, than it would be to oppose it; but persons who stood in his position were bound to take care that the House should, as far as possible, be made thoroughly aware of the true nature and probable consequences of the Resolution it was asked to adopt. The Question was one which emphatically belonged to the House; and the Government could have no object except that if the House thought fit to affirm the Resolution it should clearly understand the principle involved, and the serious pecuniary charge which might possibly be placed upon the nation. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) described that case as discreditable to English law and practice, and as resulting from legal anomalies. If they considered the different steps of the transaction, it would be difficult to say what part of the case was discreditable to the law or could be held justly chargeable to its administration. In every country in the world where justice was administered, if persons came before the competent authorities and laid informations upon oath of offences said to have been committed against the law, it was the bounden duty of the magistrates to receive those informations, and deal with them according to the evidence adduced and the principles of law applicable to the case. The criminal law had been brought into operation before the Hexham bench in the usual manner; and it would surely not be said that the magistrates, having the means of knowing that no credit ought to be attached to the evidence given before them, nevertheless proceeded to require very heavy recognizances for the appearance of that unfortunate gentleman Mr. Bewicke to take his trial. The magistrates had discharged their duty with perfect honesty; and there being nothing before them at the time to discredit the evidence, they could not do otherwise than act upon it. What possible amendment of the law could alter that state of things? Nothing could be more disagreeable to him than to have to remind the House that the indiscretion and want of judgment which that unfortunate gentleman displayed had placed him in a most false position. He originally refused to pay the costs recovered in an action against him, and legal process was employed to enforce their payment. Unfortunately, his indiscretion did not stop there. As if to supply to malicious persons a link that might he wanting in the chain of evidence against him, he fired off a pistol, and that the pistol was actually fired there could be no doubt. The trial took place before a jury and before Judges of the highest impartiality; but, unhappily, Mr. Bewicke treated the charge with contempt. No man in the kingdom was entitled to treat such a criminal charge with neglect, or to leave that to be done after his conviction which ought to have been done before it. That, however, was the course taken by Mr. Bewicke. He omitted to retain an attorney or counsel for his defence. [An hon. MEMBER: He did quite right.] He could not think that any Gentleman whom he now addressed would, if placed in a similar position, not have felt it his bounden duty to prepare for his trial on so serious a charge, and employ those indispensable adjuncts of justice—attorneys and counsel. They must all lament what had happened in this case, and sympathize with Mr. Bewicke's misfortune; but when a Motion like the present was proposed, the House could not overlook the indiscretion and the negligence which that gentleman had shown after solemn warning. Was the jury to blame? Were they to know by intuition that the witnesses were perjured, and had convictions recorded against them? Was it the duty of the Judge or jury to supply evidence out of their own imagination? That evidence ought to have been brought forward by the diligence of the person accused. There had been no defect in the administration of justice. The Judge and jury were satisfied; and it was only some time afterwards that steps were taken to discover those facts, which due diligence should have discovered before. What was the charge against the law? That when this gentleman had been convicted the law could not assume his innocence till he had prosecuted these parties for perjury by evidence which ought to have been produced by him at his own trial; and the country was now asked to repay the expenses of that prosecution for perjury in consequence of his own neglect to take the proper means of defending himself in the first instance. The next charge against the law was that Her Majesty had granted this unfortunate gentleman a free pardon. But a solemn sentence could not be treated as a nullity merely because a conviction had proceeded on false evidence, for which the law was not responsible, and which did not appear in the course of the trial. If this Resolution were affirmed, except so far as it had been assented to by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the House would be asserting the principle, that wherever false evidence in the due administration of the law had resulted in procuring a conviction which afterwards turned out to be erroneous they would make compensation, although the neglect of the person who was the sufferer had contributed in a very great and important degree to that result. In that particular case they were all satisfied of the innocence of Mr. Bewicke. The circumstances were remarkable which established his innocence. But if the House agreed to the present Motion, would it not afford a general encouragement to convicted per- sons of all degrees to speculate on the means of throwing doubt on the justice of their convictions, relying on Parliament afterwards indemnifying them for their sufferings? It was not very easy to sec to what extent such demands on the public would go. If the House was determined still to assent to the Motion, he hoped they would do so on some ground which might hereafter be referred to as exceptional. The only point he could find of that nature in this case was, that the persons out of whose perjured accusations this series of misfortunes originally arose were persons in a certain sense denominated officers of the law, but not officers of the public administrative law of the land. They were officers of the sheriff, selected by him, and for whose acts the sheriff was civilly responsible. If anyone ought to pay this gentleman's expenses it was the sheriff. He hoped if a Committee were appointed they would take care to state the grounds on which they proceeded, and that, at least, the nation would be saved from the consequences of other demands of a similar character.


said, there could be no doubt that the case of Mr. Bewicke not only demanded but had the sympathy of the House. The only question was as to the best mode of doing him justice. He understood the right lion. Baronet was willing to refer the question of the forfeiture of the goods to a Committee of Inquiry. That being so, why not add to that inquiry the best means of doing justice to Mr. Bewicke. It would be difficult to adopt the Motion as it now stood, but he certainly considered that some inquiry was necessary.


observed, that the great fault which, according to the Attorney General, the unfortunate gentleman had committed was, that he neglected to retain the services of counsel. No doubt that was a grave error in the estimation of those hon. Members who belonged to the Bar, but in the present case it had arisen from the entire consciousness of innocence. Besides, Mr. Bewicke possessed considerable abilities, and he thought he should have no difficulty in establishing his innocence. The Attorney General had said this was a question more for the House than the Government to consider, he therefore hoped he might appeal to his hon. and learned Friend and his Colleagues, as Members of the House, so to record their votes that justice might be done.


stated, with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham (Sir Henry Willoughby), that he proposed that the petition of Mr. Bewicke should be referred to a Select Committee, so far as it related to the sale and disposal of his property,


said, he was not able to give a silent vote on the Motion before the House, because it might go further than many hon. Gentlemen supposed. It was most important that the House of Commons should not constitute itself a tribunal to decide on ex parte statements without a full and adequate inquiry. There was the case of Mr. Barber. An inquiry was instituted, a careful investigation was made by a Committee, and upon the Report of that Committee and the evidence it obtained the House came to a decision. But now, what they were called upon to do was, in a most unreasonable manner to judge, under the heat and indignation which they all felt (and he must say that he had the deepest sympathy with the story of the wrongs of Mr. Bewicke), as to the compensation due to that gentleman upon grounds which they did not thoroughly understand. He must urge upon the hon. Gentleman opposite to consent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole petition, in order to see whether the circumstances of the case were not so exceptional as to justify the House in going out of its way to deal with it in a manner different from that in which it had dealt with former cases. The House wished to see justice done, but let them act with deliberation, and not with too great haste. Let the Committee be appointed, and if the Government agreed to that course he could never consent to vote for the Resolution before the House.


said, it was the universal opinion that the sufferings of Mr. Bewicke were such as to entitle him to compensation. The right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) had consented to refer part of the petition to a Committee—that part having reference to compensation with respect to the loss of his furniture. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy) that the reference ought to be general; that the whole petition should be referred to a Select Committee, who should be desired to report upon all the allegations, and say whether Mr. Bewicke was entitled to any and what compensation. The substance of the whole case ought to be referred.


My right hon. Friend has explained that it is impossible for the Government to assent to a Resolution which, like the one before us, pledges the House, as we consider and construe it, to this principle—that whenever pain, degradation, and anguish of mind arise out of an erroneous conviction, quite irrespective of loss of a tangible kind, the case should be made the subject of an application to Parliament for pecuniary compensation. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy) opposite, and the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Malins) who followed him, have made a proposition which we feel ourselves able to assent to. I do not deny, and my right hon. Friend has not denied, that there are contained in the petition allegations which may be made the subject of inquiry. The best mode of proceeding will be to agree that the petition should be referred to a Select Committee, and the Government assent to it on the understanding that the Resolution is withdrawn.


I should like to understand distinctly whether the whole merits of the case are to be referred to a Committee. I confess I have a sort of compunction in agreeing to the suggestion, because we do not always know that the formation of a Committee is one on which we can depend. However, I am in the hands of the House, and if they consider I ought to agree to this proposal, I will do so.


said, he was a Member of the Committee in Mr. Barber's case. The whole petition was referred to them to report as they thought fit.


I understand my hon. Friend is invited to follow the precedent set in the case of Mr. Barber. A Committee was appointed to inquire into the circumstances; they made a Report; upon that Report the House took action, and awarded compensation.


What we agree to is the appointment of a Committee, to whom the petition [Mr. DISRAELI: What petition?] shall be referred, with a direction to report their opinion to the House. It is impossible to pledge the House to act upon the Report of the Committee.


I wish to remind the House that there is a great difference between the case of Mr. Barber and the case of Mr. Bewicke. Mr. Barber had not con- victed any person of perjury against him. The case of Mr. Bewicke is the case of an individual who has found that those who were the origin and cause of the infamous injustice he has experienced were perjurers. The case of Mr. Barber required great investigation, because in it were involved circumstances of a suspicious character; but in this case the whole facts are before us; nobody doubts them. Then, again, we are told about a petition being referred to a Committee. We know of no petition for our consideration to-night; and how can we agree to refer a petition to a Committee when it is a document with which we are not acquainted? Besides, we are not sure that the petition is wide enough to bring the whole facts of the case before the Committee. With regard to the case itself, there has been a great objection made against Mr. Bewicke that he was indiscreet, because he did not avail himself of the assistance of the members of the long robe and the other learned branch of the profession. It has been very well said by one of his neighbours, that he had great confidence in his own I abilities (which, I believe, are not inconsiderable); but we are not to treat it as a great offence because an individual on his trial does not retain counsel. Then we are told that no one can question the conduct of the Judge. Well, the Judge might have cross-examined these men; and if a man like the present Lord Chief Justice of England had been Judge in this case, he would soon have found out the character of the witnesses. Or the Judge might have appointed counsel to watch the case for Mr. Bewicke. This is a case of infamous oppression. I do not remember any case like it. The argument of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the argument of the hon. and learned Attorney General, is most inconsistent. They say, "We admit the sufferings of Mr. Bewicke and the injustice which he has experienced; but if you agree to this Resolution you establish a precedent dangerous in its consequences, and the claims which will be pressed on the consideration of the House will be so numerous that they will weigh seriously upon the Exchequer." Then they immediately say, "The case is rare; it never happened before; and it may never happen again." How can they reconcile these two statements? The fact is, that instances of this kind must be decided upon their merits, and there is no gene- ral principle which can be applied. The case of Mr. Bewicke is before us; the facts are known; no investigation is required. It is one of unparalleled oppression, and exactly one with which we can deal. As to the petition which we are asked to refer to the Committee, I myself know nothing about it; and my advice to the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) is to stand upon the Motion which he has placed before us, and take the opinion of the House.


There is no petition before the House. Under the circumstances, feeling that the sentiment of the House is with mo, I hold it to be my duty, after the best consideration, to proceed to a division.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 120: Majority 2.

Question proposed, That the words, 'this House will, upon Monday next, resolve itself into a Committee, to consider of an Address to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to direct adequate compensation to be made to William Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland, for the pain, degradation, anguish of mind, and consequent ill-health, he has suffered, in being confined for twelve months in a prison as a felon, on a charge since proved to be false; for the confiscation of his goods, chattels, family pictures, plate, and library, thus inflicting upon him an irreparable injury; also for the heavy pecuniary loss he has suffered in prosecuting and bringing to justice the persona who had conspired against him, such having been the only means by which eventually he was enabled to establish his innocence; and that this House is prepared to assure Her Majesty that it will make good the same,' be added, —instead thereof.

Amendment proposed, To the said proposed Amendment, by leaving out from the words "this House" to the end of the said proposed Amendment, in order to add the words "is of opinion that a Select Committee should be appointed, to consider a Petition presented to this House by Mr. William Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland, on the 28th day of April, 1863, and to report its opinion to the House as to whether Mr. Bewicke is entitled to any and what compensation,"—(Sir George Grey,) —instead thereof.


I look upon this merely as a proposition to rescind the vote which the House has just come to. Therefore it is unnecessary to revive the discussion which has just terminated, and the best thing to be done is at once to go to a vote.


I cannot accept the proposal, which appears to me to be an attempt to upset the vote, and to be indecent and unparliamentary.


I am sure the Amendment is not unparliamentary. I ask you, Sir, whether I am in order in moving the Amendment?


I think the course which the Government is taking is very unusual. It is taking the House by surprise, and putting it in an unfair position. Who knows anything about this petition? It was not presented during the present Session, and therefore it was presented before many hon. Members were elected who have now a seat. We have never seen it, and yet we are asked to rescind a vote which we have just come to, upon a Motion that has been made, by referring to the consideration of a Committee a document which we know nothing about. We do not know whether the allegations in the petition were the case as stated by the mover of the Resolution. There is this difference between the ease which has been referred to and that of Mr. Bewicke. Here the facts are universally accepted. The statements of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) are not disputed by the Government. It is quite evident that Mr. Bewicke has been treated unjustly, and we are very much aggravating that injustice by the course proposed.


said, that it was evidently not within the knowledge of his right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) that the petition referred to had formed the subject of a division as well as of a debate, and that the House had recorded its opinion upon the question whether the grievances suffered by Mr. Bewicke, as set forth in this petition, were such as to entitle him to the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman had complained of the course adopted by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir George Grey). The House had just divided on the Question, in which one only of the alternatives before it was presented. His right hon. Friend had met the difficulty at the first possible moment by proposing a substantive Motion, and the House had now before it in precise terms each of the two propositions between which it had to choose.


said, the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) said the Amend- ment took the House by surprise. But he (Mr. Hunt) thought the division had taken the House by surprise. His hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Hardy) made a suggestion to the Government which the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepted on their part. It was put to the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley) whether he would accept it, and the hon. Member said he accepted it. He believed that many hon. Members had left the House on the understanding that the matter had been arranged. He thought no complaint could be made against the Government.


said, he understood this proposition to be an attempt to negative the vote which had just been taken. He understood the House had affirmed by their vote that Mr. Bewicke was entitled to compensation.; and the proposition now was to refer it to a Committee to say whether he was to receive anything or nothing. No attentive listener could have misunderstood the Question; but the complaint was that they had not decided upon a petition which was not before them. That was not the first, or second, or third time that compensation had been given to an aggrieved man whom the law left with no appeal, and against whom the accusations were false.


was of opinion that the proposals of the Government completely met the justice of the case.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 148: Majority 48.

Question, That the words 'is of opinion that a Select Committee should be appointed, to consider a Petition presented to this House by Mr. William Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland, on the 28th day of April, 1863, and to report its opinion to the House as to whether Mr. Bewicke is entitled to any and what compensation,' be added, —instead thereof, put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider a Petition presented to this House by Mr. William Bewicke, of Threepwood Hall, in the county of Northumberland, on the 28th day of April, 1863, and to report its opinion to the House, as to whether Mr. Bewicke is entitled to any and what compensation.—(Sir George Grey.)

On May 6, Committee nominated as follows:—


And, on May 26, Colonel DUNNE discharged and Lord JOHN MANNERS added.

Moved, "That this House do immediately resolve itself in the Committee of Supply.

Motion agreed to.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."