HC Deb 18 February 1867 vol 185 cc463-5

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for War a Question relating to the report of an inquest held on the body of Robert Symes, a private soldier in the 74th Regiment, on whom corporal punishment had been inflicted by sentence of a District Court Martial, on the 24th ultimo. As the Question related to the life and death of one of Her Majesty's subjects, he hoped the House would permit him to state the facts on which he based the Question. ["No, no!"] He was quite in order in stating the facts. It had been stated in many newspapers, and especially in The Lancet, that a soldier belonging to the 74th Highlanders died in the military hospital at Limerick on the 9th instant, after receiving corporal punishment, having been sentenced to receive fifty lashes, and to be confined for 168 days. Shortly afterwards an inquest was held on the body, at which three military medical officers and one civilian gave their evidence. The evidence was to the effect that his death was caused by fever, which set in owing to the punishment which had been inflicted, and the jury found that the deceased died in consequence of congestion of the brain supervening on the punishment to which he had been subjected. Now, he wished to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, Whether the statement given in the newspapers was substantially correct; and whether the punishment which the soldier had received was of undue and extraordinary severity, or no unusual punishment for offences such as he had committed?


Sir, in consequence of the Notice given by the hon. Gentleman, I sent to Ireland for information on the facts, and I find that they are as follows:—Private Robert Symes, 74th Regiment, was tried by District Court Martial on the 9th of January, for an act of gross insubordination in having struck with his fist a sergeant of the regiment, and kicked him on the face when he was knocked down. He was sentenced to 365 days' imprisonment, with hard labour (197 of which were remitted), and fifty lashes. The staff surgeon examined the man on three different occasions, and pronounced him to be in a good state of health, and able to undergo corporal punishment; he was flogged on the 14th of January, a staff assistant-surgeon being present at the parade. After punishment he was sent to the cells, where he was allowed bedding, &c, and seen daily by a medical officer. On the 29th of January (fourteen days afterwards) he was admitted into hospital suffering from fever; his back had nearly healed. On the next day erysipelas of the face and head set in, and he died on the 9th of February. The post-mortem. examination showed that death was occasioned by congestion of the brain consequent on the erysipelas; his back bad healed at the time of his death; he had always been a healthy man but of bad character.