HC Deb 06 August 1869 vol 198 cc1422-33

said, that on the 4th of June last the following Question was put to the Home Secretary by the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray):— If his attention has been directed to the statement published in one of the Irish newspapers, apparently on authority, to the effect that the prison authorities so secured the hands of one of the political prisoners by manacles behind his back, that he could neither dress nor undress, or raise food to his mouth, and continued this cruelty for thirty-three days; and if the statement be true, was the circumstance reported to the Home Office, and is there any objection to place the before the House, with a statement as to whether the officer guilty of this cruelty was reprimanded or otherwise dealt with, and how?"— [3 Hansard, cxcvi. 1238–9.] To that Question, the Home Secretary replied— I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making this inquiry, for it is clear that the statement he has just made, if true, ought to be explained; if not true, it ought to be contradicted."— [Ibid. 1239.] The Home Secretary went on to describe various acts of violence committed by the prisoner while in confinement, and then proceeded to say that the facts were these— The prisoner having committed these acts of violence, and being a very powerful man—so powerful that it required three or four warders to master him—was for a while manacled with his hands behind his back. But, so far from being kept in this condition thirty-five days, he was only so for apart of a day; but when he took his meals the handcuffs were placed in front, so that he was able to take his meals without difficulty. The punishment of manacling a man with his hands behind his back is never inflicted except when prisoners are so violent that they cannot be restrained in any other way. Rossa's handcuffs were never on at night."—[Ibid. 1241.] That was reported in The Times in the first person—a test of care and accuracy in reporting; and in a leading article on the following day in The Times, this version of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was given— It is quite true that the prisoner's hands were tied behind his back as an indispensable precaution, but only for a few hours. About three weeks after that he himself received a letter from a solicitor in London, enclosing a statement purporting to have been made by a warder employed in Chatham Prison at the time that cruelty was alleged to have been perpetrated. And, although not then aware how far he was empowered to use the name or the deposition of the writer, he lost no time in informing the right hon. Gentleman that he had received a formal contradiction of the statement he had made in the House, in order to give him an opportunity of again referring to the authorities of the prison and verifying the statement. When he subsequently read in the House the deposition of which he had given the Home Secretary notice, the right hon. Gentleman, with something less than his usual courtesy and fairness, objected to the course he had taken in not giving him previous notice of the name of his informant, and that taunt from the right hon. Gentleman was received with those peculiar cheers which were always heard on those (the Government) Benches whenever by any accident a Minister of State made use of an unjust or ungenerous expression. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the whole matter involved in the statement originally made, in the contradiction which the right hon. Gentleman gave to that statement, and in the contradiction which he himself had read of the right hon. Gentleman's contradiction resolved itself into a question of the comparative credibility of a dismissed warder and the authorities of Chatham Prison. But since then two Members of that House had seen the prisoner, who, in their presence, and in the presence of the deputy governor of Chatham Prison, distinctly and solemnly averred that he had been manacled, as originally stated, for thirty-five days, from five o'clock in the morning to seven in the evening. [Mr. BRUCE: The original statement was that he was manacled day and night.] He raised no dispute whatever as to whether the punishment inflicted on the prisoner was proper or not —a point altogether wide of the question now before them. He believed that no man in the House was more inclined to treat these unfortunate persons with clemency and kindness than the right hon. Gentleman; but the question at issue was one of a more important character than the offence committed by the prisoner or the punishment inflicted on him; it was whether a Minister of State had been induced by the representations of the authorities of the prison to make in that House a statement which was directly opposed to the facts of the case. He was sure that neither the House, nor public opinion, nor the right hon. Gentleman himself would allow that to remain a moot question. If it were true that that prisoner was manacled for only a day, or part of a day, or for a few hours more or less, then, of course, whether through aberration of mind or otherwise, the man was utterly unworthy to be believed on his word. But if it was substantially true that he was manacled for thirty-five days, as had been stated, then the governor of Chatham Prison had conveyed as deliberate an untruth as had ever been conveyed to a Secretary of State. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would take care that such an investigation of that matter was made as would satisfy the public mind on the facts of the case one way or the other; and no kind of investigation would satisfy the public mind unless the prisoner was allowed to be represented by some professional man of character and ability.


said, as he was one of the Members alluded to by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. G. H. Moore) as having visited Chatham Convict Prison, to inquire into the truth of the statements made respecting the manacling, for a long period, of O'Donovan Rossa, he begged to give the House a short detail of what he heard and the impression made on him. His hon. Friend the Member for Cork County, (Mr. Downing) was desirous that he should accompany him when he went to ascertain whether the allegations contained in the Irishman newspaper were true respecting the treatment of the prisoner. He (Mr. Blake) accordingly applied to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for permission to visit the prison and interrogate O'Donovan on the subject. This was freely granted, the Secretary of State expressing a strong desire that the truth should be ascertained. On Friday last he and his hon. Friend went. In accordance with the order of the Secretary of State the prisoner, O'Donovan Rossa, was produced. His statement was to the effect that about fifteen months ago—soon after he was transported to Chatham, in consequence of charges of breaches of discipline, and especially the assault on the governor— his hands were manacled behind his back for thirty-five days, from five in the morning until seven in the evening, except at meal times, when he was handcuffed in front, to enable him to take his food with a spoon. The deputy governor, Major Farquharson, who was present, positively contradicted this statement, saying it was impossible that it could be; but the prisoner as strongly re-asserted it. He (Mr. Blake) and the hon. Member for Cork then went to the office, where they met. the other deputy governor; they repeated the statement of the prisoner. He, too, said it wag impossible, and that the records of the prison would prove that no convict had been placed in irons in the manner described for so long a time. He retired to consult the records; on his return he said he did not deem himself at liberty, without authority, to produce or state what was on the records of the prison. Accordingly, he and his hon. Friend were left without any information as to what the records would really prove. Against the resolute assertion of the prisoner there was nothing opposed except the ipsi dixit of two gentlemen, neither of whom were officers of the prison when the alleged occurrence took place. The governor, who might have thrown more light on the matter, was absent. These and other circumstances inclined him and the hon. Member for Cork to believe that the statement of the prisoner was true. With respect to the violence of O'Donovan, especially his outrage on the governor—and a very disgraceful outrage it certainly was, if the perpetrator could be regarded as being in a state of mind which rendered him an accountable being—he wished to observe that, from the extraordinary things the prisoner was said to have done at the time, the frenzy he appeared to have been in, and other circumstances which were stated, he came to the conclusion that O'Donovan must have been deranged at the time that the deplorable occurrence had taken place with respect to the governor. The prisoner himself stated that on his arrival from Milbank —no other political prisoner being then at Chatham—he was put to work with nine ordinary convicts; that he suffered many annoyances from them, disliked their association, and requested to be put to any labour apart from them; that, on this being refused, he became exasperated, and then begun those acts of insubordination for which he states he was so severely punished. They subsequently saw Richard Burke, who well deserved the high terms in which the Secretary of State had spoken of him when the subject was last before the House; he was, indeed, as the Secretary of State said "bearing his fate like a man." He disdained to make any complaint about himself, but made some representations on behalf of his companions. He looked delicate and emaciated; and it was only when he (Mr. Blake) and the hon. Member for Cork pressed him as to the cause of his looking so ill, that he said he was unable, owing to an intestinal complaint, to use the gruel for breakfast and supper, and had consequently been obliged to use bread and water for these two meals for some months. Still, he wished it to be understood that he did not urge this as a complaint, as he was resolved to bear with everything without a murmur. Anyone who saw this man, let him even condemn the course he took, could not but feel admiration for the fortitude he displayed. They would also feel it hard to believe that one who seemed to care so little about himself, and yet showed such kindly solicitude for others, could have been a party to running the risk of the loss of many lives in order to secure a benefit for himself. Indeed, at last, it was being admitted that even those who were known to be engaged in the attempt to rescue him never contemplated that such a fearful catastrophe would have happened—the best proof of which was, that some of themselves perished in it. The food given to the prisoners, as shown to them, appeared to be good, but the quantity for breakfast deficient by four ounces of bread. The report that had got out, that, after the hon. Member for Mayo's speech, some of the prisoners were put out of hospital and sent to hard labour, was incorrect. None of them had been in hospital for some time, except Halpin, a few months ago, and none of those at Chatham were at present at hard labour. On his return the same night from Chatham, he (Mr. Blake) sought out the Home Secretary, and made a strong representation to him. as to the necessity of at once directing that Richard Burke should get nourishing food that he could make use of, or that otherwise he would be likely to fall into consumption. The right hon. Gentleman listened to his representations with the greatest attention, and promised at once to have the prisoner's case inquired into, with a view of having whatever diet given to him that was necessary for the preservation of his health. In common justice he must say that he believed there never was a man in his position possessed of stronger feelings of justice and humanity than the Home Secretary. He had no doubt that he had done everything in his power consistently with the law and what he considered his duty, to mitigate the lot of the political prisoners. It was not the Home Secretary's fault that the law subjected them to the same punishment as criminals convicted of the worst offences. He therefore had the greater confidence in appealing to him to go a step farther, and recommend Her Majesty to set these men free. They had suffered a great deal. To anyone, no matter what privations and hardships they might have been accustomed to outside, the fate of a convict was a dreadful one. The iron discipline, enforced silence, utter solitude for many hours, absence of interesting occupation, and separation from home and friends, rendered the punishment even to the most hardened terrible to endure; but to men like many of the political prisoners, well educated and accustomed to refinement and comfort, the horror of their situation was difficult to realize. Public opinion was now strongly inclining to the feeling that men for political offences ought not to be subjected to the same degrading punishment as those who had been guilty of heinous crimes. It seemed, indeed, hard that a man who violated the law in the assertion of a political opinion he entertained, no matter how erroneous it might be, should be classed and treated like a common robber. He had too good an opinion of the Home Secretary's enlightenment and high-mindedness to think that he would subscribe to such a doctrine. Whatever the political offences of these men might be, they had paid a terrible penalty. This ought to be considered, as well as the present peaceable state of Ireland and the strong feeling which had existed there in favour of an amnesty. The Government could not be blamed for imprisoning those who opposed it as those men had done; but sound policy, as well as humanity, dictated that when they had gone through so much, and when there was no longer danger to be apprehended, mercy should be extended to them. The remedial measure which Government had lately passed and what was expected from the land question would go far to restore peace and prosperity in Ireland. It was the true way to make the people grateful and loyal; and the House might rely that no act would be felt more gracious, or gratify the majority of the country more, than to set free those on whose behalf he had, he feared, but feebly pleaded.


said, that as this was a question affecting the character of public servants, he hoped that by the indulgence of the House he might be allowed to address them again on the Motion for adjournment. He was anxious, first of all, it should be clearly understood that this punishment, whether excessive or otherwise, was inflicted upon Rossa for an act of insubordination only, and not in consequence of his being a Fenian prisoner. The complaint was, that he had had his hands tied behind his back for thirty-five days, and it was added in an Irish newspaper that he had been manacled night and day, so that at meal times he had to lap up food like a dog. The answer he (Mr. Bruce) gave was, that this was not true; that the prisoner had to be manacled for an act of insubordination, but was manacled only during a portion of the day, and not at all at night or when he had his meals. In consequence, however, of the statement made by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gr. H. Moore), he had ordered an inquiry by one of the Directors of Prisons. Major Farquharson, the deputy governor who was present at the interview between his hon. Friend (Mr. Blake) and the prisoner, stated to the Director that the latter gave a somewhat different account to that given by his hon. Friend. Major Farquharson said— The prisoner stated that he had had his hands handcuffed behind his back the greater portion of thirty-five days, and that he had frequently had to eat his meals on his belly like a dog, and he gave the exact dates. Mr. Blake and Mr. Downing then expressed, themselves satisfied with everything concerning the prisoner's treatment, with the exception of this one point—namely, the mode and duration of his being handcuffed. The governor was then called upon to explain what had actually occurred, and what was really the punishment inflicted on this man. He would read the questions and answers— Did you give an order that the convict O'D. Rossa should be placed in handcuffs after he committed the assault on the 16th of June, 1868? If so, state the circumstances under which it was given.'—' The day after the assault was committed I went on leave for three days, giving over charge to Captain Harvey, who requested to know, before I left, whether I would authorize his placing convict O'D. Rossa in handcuffs with his hands behind him, the prisoner being then in such an excited state that some severe measure of restraint seemed requisite. I authorized his doing so, provided they were taken off at night.' ' Do you remember how long he was restrained, he being handcuffed behind his hack?'—'As I was absent on leave I cannot exactly say, but on being called upon to state in May last the length of time passed by Rossa with his hands behind him, I sent for the warder who had been doing duty in the separate cells, who stated that, to the best of his belief, it was only for one day. To convince myself of the truth of his statement, I desired him to bring me his separate cell-book, which confirmed his statement. I also sent for the chief warder's occurrence book, which corroborated the entry in the separate cell-book. I then felt no further doubt on the subject, and considered the evidence thus produced quite conclusive.' ' On subsequent visits after the assault was the prisoner handcuffed behind his back?'—' I have no recollection of over having seen him with his handcuffs behind his back. No other order was given by me for him to be handcuffed behind his back between the 16th of June and the 23rd of July, 1868, nor has ha ever been so restrained more than a few hours at a time, except on the occasion above referred to.' The chief warder was asked— 'Were you in charge of the separate cells on the 16th of June, 1868, when convict O'D. Rossa was confined for assaulting the governor?'—' Yes.' 'Was he placed in irons on reception at the separate cells?'—' To the best of my belief he was not.' 'Was he ever handcuffed with his hands behind his back?—' He was.' ' How often, and when?'— ' Cannot exactly say; but whenever the governor's order was given for the use of handcuffs it was invariably entered in the separate cell-book. It is so long ago that I cannot exactly say how long he was handcuffed behind.' ' Was he handcuffed behind for so long a period as one month?'—' Oh, no. I doubt whether the period extended to three days.' ' Were the handcuffs invariably removed at meal times and at night?'—' Yes.' ' Do you remember the prisoner being placed in handcuffs on the morning of the 17th of June, 1868, and who gave you the order?'—' I can't give the exact date, but it was on the morning the governor went on leave after the assault. Captain Harvey gave me a verbal order personally, but I cannot remember whether he specified the hands being behind the back or not.' ' Would you place the handcuffs behind without an order to that effect?—'No.' ' Is it customary to record in the separate cell-book all cases of prisoners handcuffed behind?'—' Yes, in all cases.' ' You cannot state the exact time the prisoner was kept in handcuffs behind; do you think it could have been a week, of course, assuming that they were removed at night?'—' I do not.' Captain Hardy, the deputy governor, was asked— Were you on duty as deputy governor on the 16th of June, 1868, at this prison, and do you remember convict O'D. Rossa being under punishment in separate cells for an assault on the governor?—' I was on duty on the 17th and 18th, and remember the occurrence. I think I visited the prisoner in the separate cells on the 18th.' ' Was O'D. Rossa then in handcuffs?'—' Yes, with his hands behind his back.' 'Did you visit him daily after that?'—' Not daily, but alternately, day by day, with Captain Harvey.' ' Did you see him more than once with his hands behind his back?' —' Not more than once, and that was on the 18th.' ' After the third day following the assault can you say with confidence whether the prisoner had his hands behind his back during the remaining portion of his punishment?'—' I am confident he had not.' 'During the time the prisoner was handcuffed behind, were the handcuffs ever removed?'—Yes, at night and at meal times.' He admitted that some doubt existed as to the length of time during which the prisoner had been handcuffed—whether that period was, not thirty-five, but one, two, or three days. Then came the evidence of Dr. Burns, the medical officer, who was asked— 'Did you visit the prisoner daily while under confinement?'—Answer, 'I did.' When you visited him was he handcuffed?' — ' He was.' ' How was he handcuffed — with his hands behind his back or in front?'—' Part of the time in front, part of the time behind his back.'—' Did you often see him handcuffed behind his back?'— Answer, "No.'—'How often did you see him so handcuffed?'—'Three days.' 'Did the three days you speak of follow immediately after the assault?' — '"Yes.' 'How was he handcuffed for the remaining portion of the time?'—'With his bands in front.'—' Do you think that as a means of restraint it was necessary to handcuff him behind?'—Answer, ' Yes; he was in an excited state for some time.' There was also the evidence of Chief Warder Turner, who, being asked whether he ever saw the prisoner handcuffed behind, answered in the affirmative, adding, in reply, to the question, "How often?" "I cannot say the exact time, whether one, two, or three days. There is only one entry of the prisoner being handcuffed behind, and that was on the 17th of June, the day after the assault." Then there was the following note of Captain Stopford, the Director who conducted the examination:— The books are examined, and I find only one entry of the prisoner being handcuffed behind, and that was on the 17th of June, 1868. There are other entries of his having been handcuffed, but not behind. It appears to be the invariable practice to enter all prisoners handcuffed behind as a measure of restraint in this book. Now, it was perfectly true that the Warder Kaye, to whom the hon. Member for Mayo referred, did make a different statement, and inquiry had been made as to the character and trustworthiness of that witness. He found that he had— Joined the service on the 4th of April, 1865; that in June, 1868, he was placed on second probation of three months for making a frivolous and unsubstantial report against another officer, having during the whole of his service been reported very frequently for neglect and irregularities. While so under probation he was several times reported for neglect, irregularity, and insubordination, and consequently was dismissed the service in 1868. The governor reports that this officer never was in charge of the treason-felony prisoners, and could not have communicated with them except by talking through the doors of their cells on one or two occasions when he was patrolling the hall where they were while the regular officer was absent at dinner. The governor con- sidered him to be a man whose word could not be relied on entirely. The statement of Kaye was supported by another man named Douglas, but that witness was also regarded as being untrustworthy. It appeared that during the last five years he had been reported five or six times every year, and that this year he had been reported five times, once for telling a falsehood as to the finding of clandestine correspondence on a prisoner, and making a false statement against another officer which he afterwards denied. Those were the two persons on whose evidence the statement was made in support of the prisoner's own statement; but, in opposition to that evidence, there was the evidence of the medical man, supported by the evidence of the officers and warders. There was, besides, the evidence of the two deputy governors who visited the prisoner repeatedly, and the evidence of the entry in the book itself, which had been examined by Captain Stopford. Therefore, although there was, he admitted, a certain amount of doubt as to the exact length of time during which the prisoner was handcuffed behind, yet hon. Members would, he thought, be disposed to think that the evidence of the entry in the book, as well as of the persons more immediately in charge of the prisoner, was on the whole the most trustworthy. He was, at all events, quite satisfied that the information which had been given by the governor had been given on evidence which seemed to be sufficient, and not without careful inquiry from those whom he believed to be fully informed on the subject. As to the prisoner Burke, it was true that he was not able to eat the gruel which was provided for the other prisoners. The medical officer, however, stated that in his opinion it was fancy on the part of the prisoner, and that he doubted whether it would disagree with him. But, be that as it might, orders had been issued by the medical officer to supply him with food which would give him sufficient nutriment.


said, he was glad the subject had been brought under the consideration of the House, and he would take the opportunity of making an appeal to the Government as to the wisdom and expediency of extending the clemency of the Crown to all the political prisoners in Ireland, declaring it to be his solemn belief that no possible injury, but great advantage, would be the result to the peace and welfare of the country.


made a similar appeal to the Government.