HC Deb 05 August 1875 vol 226 cc561-75

Resolutions [August 4] reported.


rose to call attention to the sentence imposed by Mr. Justice Brett on Colonel Baker, at the Croydon Assizes on the 2nd day of August 1875. He did so because he believed that there was a very growing feeling amongst a large class of persons in this country that the law was not administered with that justice which the country and the Constitution demanded. In point of fact, there was a feeling that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor, and that the old Constitutional maxim, that "everyone is equal in the eyes of the law," had been considerably modified. He believed every man in the country who rightly valued the preservation of our laws and liberties would agree with him that in the administration of justice there ought to be nothing like class distinction; but according to the sentence passed by the learned Judge on Colonel Baker it would seem that the rank of a defendant was to be the standard by which sentences were to be imposed—that there was to be one class of sentences for Dukes, Earls, or Marquesses, and an entirely different class of sentences for persons in a lower position of society. It was certainly new to him—and he had for some time studied the history of our country—that a Judge should lay down any such invidious distinction as that which was calculated to introduce discontent amongst the people, and to sap the very foundations of justice itself. He wished to call the attention of the House to the atrocious nature of the offence of which this colonel had been found guilty. He was indicted upon three counts—for an assault with intent, for an indecent assault, and for a common assault. The jury arrived at what seemed to him a very lenient view of the colonel's conduct in acquitting him of the intent. Any person who had at all devoted any portion of his time to a consideration of the evidence given by Miss Dickinson must be satisfied that this colonel had undoubtedly in his mind at the time he assaulted her an attempt to violate her person. ["Oh!"] He did not care for shouts of "Oh" at all. He could assure hon. Gentlemen that he intended to maintain his ground in that House. Shouts of "Oh," and cries of "Order" were not likely to make him change his opinion. He repeated—and any person who had carefully studied the evidence could entertain no serious or reasonable doubt in his mind—that this gallant colonel intended to violate that lady, but was prevented by circumstances over which he had no control, and that although he had not come under the actual purview of the law with reference to the crime, he was as guilty as if he had effected his purpose. The description which the lady gave of the transaction was calculated to excite a feeling of the highest indignation, and that indignation would be increased by the sentence, which was really no punishment at all for one of the most scandalous and atrocious crimes ever committed. [The hon. Member proceeded to read, amid the marked impatience of the House, the evidence of Miss Dickinson.] He must appeal to the Speaker. It was impossible for him to proceed in the execution of what he considered his duty while Gentlemen on all sides were interrupting him. Was he to be heard in his place or not? [Mr. SPEAKER: Order, order.] The hon. Member having read the evidence, proceeded;—The young lady described the man—whom she had never seen before—obtruding his attentions upon her, and behaving in a most shocking and indecent manner. He could make every allowance for young men—and particularly young men in the Army; but he did not think it possible that any man at the period of life of this defendant, and filling the rank which he did, could commit himself to such atrocious conduct. The learned Judge had imposed no penalty at all. He had directed that this colonel should be imprisoned for 12 months without hard labour, without being subjected to the rigorous discipline of a gaol, and to pay a fine of £500, which in the case of a prisoner in his position was what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government once said in reference to our National Debt, "a mere fleabite," He (Dr. Kenealy) was, however, greatly shocked and astonished at some of the remarks of the learned Judge in passing sentence, as he found them reported in The Standard, which gave a very full and most accurate account of the trial. His Lordship said the crime must have arisen from a sudden outbreak of wickedness, and he should therefore not pass upon him a sentence which would carry with it all the personal and all the physical degradation which usually accompanied an ordinary sentence for this offence. Those remarks called for the direct censure of this House. Every one knew that an ordinary sentence for an indecent assault committed on a defenceless young lady in a railway carriage would involve hard labour. But this man, because he happened to be a colonel in the Army and was supposed to be a brilliant ornament in certain circles of society, received a sentence that meant only that the rank and high and fashionable surroundings of colonels in the Army should be allowed to stand between them and justice. The Judge said—" I fear it would subject you to a penalty far greater than it would be to a person differently situated," by which, of course, he meant a person in a lower rank of life. General Steele was reported in the newspapers to have committed the indecency of standing in the dock while this man was on his trial—an act of indecency not only to the Judge, but to the Army, and one of which he hoped the Secretary of State for War would take notice. The colonel by the sentence would be allowed to amuse himself, to receive his friends, and entertain them, to live upon what food he pleased; he would be subjected to no restriction whatever, but he could pass his time as pleasantly as possible, receiving everybody, and no doubt being visited by persons of the same class as those who stood beside him at the trial. It was necessary to draw the line somewhere. An ordinary banker's clerk would have quite as much sense of degradation or sense of honour as this colonel; and if he were convicted of any breach of trust he would be sentenced to hard labour. He never knew a clergyman to be spared hard labour because he happened to be a clergyman; and there were innumerable instances of merchants and bankers whose feelings, he thought, were entitled to as much respect as the feelings of this colonel, being sent to penal servitude and sentenced to hard labour for offences infinitely less in heinousness than that for which this man had been convicted. He read the remainder of the learned Judge's remarks with feelings of the greatest indignation because he insinuated that this colonel, who had outraged every principle of honour and decency, was to be kept in the Army. He had laid down the law to the Secretary of State for War that he was not to interfere with the position of this colonel in the Army—that he was to be allowed to retain his rank and position, and the learned Judge went the length of saying that by some brilliant achievement—military achievement he presumed was meant—he hoped the defendant would regain his rank. He (Dr. Kenealy) hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not adopt this suggestion, and that the name of Colonel Baker would not be allowed to sully the pages of the Army List any longer. He now wished to call attention to the kind of punishment inflicted for certain offences. By the Bishop of Oxford's Act, if a man decoyed a young girl under the age of 16 from her home, although he had no improper motive for doing so, and no injury had been suffered by her, he was liable to imprisonment with hard labour, and he invariably got it. He remembered very well a case on his own circuit—the Oxford Circuit—in which a manufacturer was sentenced by Mr. Justice Quain to 18 months' physical degradation with hard labour for having decoyed a girl, between 15 and 16 years of age, from her parents and placed her in a convent. He was a man of the highest respectability, a married man, with a family, and no man stood higher in the manufacturing department of his county. No one ever suspected that he had improper motives in taking the girl away, yet the sentence imposed upon him was not to be compared with that passed on this colonel. Again, in the case of garroters, the punishment that was invariably inflicted on conviction in a case of that kind was flogging and imprisonment with hard labour; and yet this man, who was guilty of a much more atrocious offence, were allowed to escape as it were scot free. Then, again, there was the case of persons who beat their wives, who on conviction were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour; and yet the offence of Colonel Baker was of an infinitely graver character. He had done his duty in calling the attention of Parliament to that case, and he would now sit down, hoping that some justification would be offered of this extraordinary sentence.


Sir, I will not stop to question the taste with which the details of this case have been laid before the House. But I wish to remind the House of a matter which I think they will recognize as true, and which ought to be considered—that, at all events, this is a legal sentence; and, without saying one single word for or against Colonel Baker, I will remark that there was a long trial before a very competent and experienced Judge. Neither I, as Secretary of State, nor this House, has the slightest power over that sentence. If there is any fault to be found, as the hon. Member seems to think, with a trial by jury, by all means let the hon. Member for Stoke bring forward some Motion to alter—if alteration is needed—the law. If there is any accusation to be made against the learned Judge, the proper course is to move for an Address to the Crown with regard to his conduct. But I do hope that the House will now pass to the Orders of the Day, and that it will never, unless there is such a Motion as I have just alluded to with reference to the conduct of the Judge, undertake to re-hear, or attempt to re-try, a case of this kind. With regard to the matter referred to in relation to the Secretary of State for War, I am quite sure that the House feels that any case which comes before him is perfectly safe.


I do not rise for a moment to attempt to condemn the conduct of Mr. Justice Brett, or to offer any opinion on the character of the sentence which that learned Judge pronounced upon Colonel Baker. But I think the hon. Member for Stoke seems to have dealt with this question as though the sentence had no precedent whatever. I have, however, in my mind at this moment two instances of a similar sentence having been pronounced. I shall now trouble the House by referring to only one, and I shall select that case because I think it is of a character that will commend itself to the consideration of the hon. Member for Stoke. In the year 1850 a gentleman was arraigned before the Court of Queen's Bench, charged with an offence of a somewhat similar character. [Dr. KENEALY: "Hear, hear!"] I say of a similar character, because the law jealously protects both women and young children from aggravated assaults. I say of the same character, because the individual who was charged on that occasion, although he was not an officer in the Army, was a gentleman belonging to another honourable profession—a gentleman learned in the law. That individual was charged with a gross and aggravated assault upon a young child, and that child his own son. He was found guilty—not by a common jury or at an ordinary Assize Court, but by a special jury sitting in Westminster Hall, in the Court of Queen's Bench—and the Judge pronounced upon that man sentence of one month's imprisonment, without hard labour, no doubt feeling, as Mr. Justice Brett felt, that to a man in his position the physical degradation of hard labour would be a far greater punishment than it would be to an ordinary criminal belonging to those ranks of society from which criminals generally come. That individual benefited by the leniency of the celebrated Judge—Lord Chief Justice Campbell—who sentenced him, who spared him the physical degradation of hard labour, and gave him an opportunity of rehabilitating himself in the eyes of his fellow-barristers. How far he has succeeded in doing so I know not. That is for the country to say. I will only remark that I should have thought that the last man in this House, and one of the last men in the country, who ought to rise up in his place to find fault with the sentence of Mr. Justice Brett is the hon. Member for Stoke.


I should not have risen but for one statement which the hon. Member for Stoke has made which refers to a member of the aristocracy, and which has not the slightest foundation. I heard him make the statement that the Commander of the Troops at Aldershot placed himself in the dock beside the prisoner at the trial. Now, I happen to know upon good evidence—the evidence of my own eyesight—that Sir Thomas Steele was in the public gallery, and never was near the dock until he was called to give evidence as to character in favour of Colonel Baker. He was in the public gallery the whole of the trial excepting at this time, and from first to last he never had any sort of communication with Colonel Baker. One other point. It has also been stated by the Member for Stoke that Colonel Baker was a man of fashionable or aristocratic connections. I have had no means of judging whether Colonel Baker was a man of fashion—I never saw him before the other day when he was in Court; but, as regards aristocratic connections, neither of the parties in this regrettable affair is connected, I think, with what are conventionally called the upper classes. As to the heroine of this unpleasant romance—["Oh, oh!"] I do not use those words in an offensive or disrespectful sense—she certainly does not belong to the upper classes: and as to the prisoner, I think that no one can accuse him of being in any way connected with the aristocracy.


Sir, I hope that, as a personal attack has been made upon me, although it may not be quite in conformity with the Rules of the House, I shall be permitted to answer the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is in accordance with the character of this House not to allow attacks of this nature to be made without permitting the person who is attacked to make his defence. I must first of all call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the extreme inconvenience of the precedent he is endeavouring to form—namely, that the private incidents and events in the lives of Members of this House should be brought forward here on account of their performing a public duty. I submit that is a very inconvenient precedent to lay down. ["Order." "Chair."]


I must point out to the hon. Member that the House has extended its indulgence to him in allowing him to make a personal explanation, and that the observations he is now making are not of the nature of a personal explanation.


I shall then, with the permission of the House, give a personal explanation with reference to that matter, upon which I certainly did not expect that I should be interrogated to day. It is perfectly true that in the year 1850 I was brought before Lord Campbell in the Court of Queen's Bench charged with an assault. As to that indictment I need not characterize it or the way in which it was framed; but I am entitled to say what the learned Judge told the jury—that it contained charges which were not only not true, but were disproved by the evidence. It is perfectly true that, in the exercise of what I thought was right, and for the purpose of correction, I did administer chastisement to a child of mine. I myself was chastised over and over again when I was a boy. I should not be surprised, Mr. Speaker, if many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have themselves been chastised when they were boys, and probably hence guilty of the same offence of correcting the erring propensities of their children. Now, the learned Judge sentenced me, and I should be extremely glad if the hon. Gentleman who brought this matter forward would read the sentence which was imposed upon me by that Judge; for I should not care if it were blazoned in the House of Commons or in any Assembly in the world. The learned Judge, instead of speaking of me in the language which the hon. Gentleman has thought fit to use, spoke of my kindness to my child in the most feeling and affectionate terms, and he expressed the greatest and, I believe, the most profound regret that technically he was called upon to sentence me because I had violated the law. He imposed upon me a sentence of a month's imprisonment. That imprisonment I suffered, and I left the prison without, I think, having suffered in the opinion of any man who ever knew me. Her Majesty several years afterwards, on the recommendation of one of the most illustrious Lord Chancellors this country ever had, did me the honour to nominate me to the rank of Queen's Counsel; and I am quite sure that he would never have advised Her Majesty to do that if he had thought that a single stigma of dishonour rested on my character. I therefore make the hon. Member who introduced this matter—I do not know who he is—a present of this contradiction; and I hope I have done quite enough to satisfy everybody in this House that nobody who had the spirit of a true gentleman would ever have thrown this in my teeth.

First Seven Resolutions agreed to.

Eighth Resolution— That a sum, not exceeding £72,105, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1876, in aid of Colonial Local Revenue, and for the Salaries and Allowances of Governors, &;c., and for other Expenses in certain Colonies, —read a second time.


raised an objection to the grant of £40,000 proposed to be made to Fiji. The previous day had been remarkable for speeches made by the late and the present Prime Minister. In the House of Commons the former right hon. Gentleman rather reproved—and very properly reproved—the House of Commons for being extravagant, and of stimulating rather than controlling expenditure. As an humble portion of the legislative machine he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) wished not to stimulate, but to check expenditure. But then there was the speech of the other right hon. Gentleman who, at the Mansion House on the previous night, gave a very glowing description of our Colonies, and said we should "assimilate not only their interests, but their sympathies to the Mother Country," and that they would "prove ultimately a source, not of weakness and embarrassment, but of strength and splendour to the Empire." However this might be, he thought it right that they should have an explanation of how the money he referred to was to be expended. He had no doubt the Under Secretary for the Colonies would give an explanation which, if not satisfactory, was plausible. Perhaps the grant was proposed on account of the sad epidemic which had been raging in Fiji. His hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. M'Arthur), in advocating the annexation of the Fiji Islands, used to describe their beauty and excellence, and among his reasons for annexation was their value as a coaling station, and as a field for the cultivation of cotton and coffee. They had also been told that New South Wales and New Zealand had offered to take their fair share of any burden the Islands might impose on us; and he wished to know whether any communications had taken place between the Government and these Colonies on that subject, and what was the result? He and a few other Members had opposed the annexation of the Fiji Islands, on the ground that they did not think that we were called upon to set up a Government for the good of the 2,000 Whites who had established themselves there. In one of the debates which the House used periodically to have about Fiji, the Junior Lord of the Treasury (Sir James Elphinstone)—who was not heard so often now as then—spoke of these 2,000 Whites as the "most unmitigated ruffians "in the world. They had been told also that there were a few savages—cannibals—living in those Islands, and that it was desirable to annex them also. We had taken over a considerable debt which, but for that, would never have been paid, and we had, moreover, pensioned off the King. In what respect we were the better for all this he was at a loss to perceive. It was all very well to talk of the "strength and splendour" of the Empire. That did very well at the Mansion House. Anything did very well there. The result, so far, of our dealings with the people of Fiji, seemed to him simply to be that we had given them the measles and they had given us a war-club. In a paper he was reading when coming down to the House he saw a paragraph about a new industry which marked the progress of Fiji. A man had got an elaborate still from some distant country, and was now turning out 200 gallons of rum per day for the few whom the measles had spared. It had been said by a prominent speaker at a meeting in the City that, now we had begun a connection with the islands of the Pacific, there would be no limit to the extension of our Empire in that quarter of the globe. This meant that wherever 200 or 300 "unmitigated ruffians" settled down we were, after a certain time, to put up an expensive government to look after them. That was what we called adding to the strength of the Empire. He did not deny that annexation was very popular. It was popular in that House and in the country; but, for his part, he objected to all those wild expeditions, enterprizes, and annexations. Bach seemed to him to be more senseless than the other. In Abyssinia, after spending millions of money, we managed to get the crown of King Theodore; in Ashantee we secured an old umbrella; and he wished to know whether the war-club of King Thakombau was worth the £40,000 which it was now proposed to give. He moved to reduce the Vote by that amount.

Amendment proposed, to leave out "£72,105," and insert "£32,105,"—(Sir Wilfrid Lawson,)—instead thereof.


said, his hon. Friend had not only made the inquiry as to the expenditure of this sum of £40,000, but he had entered into a review of the general policy openly avowed by the Government of maintaining the integrity of the Empire.


explained that he had referred only to the policy of annexation.


said, he had understood the hon. Baronet to require him to justify the annexation of Fiji. He need hardly remind the House that, although the annexation was carried out on the entire responsibility of the Government, without Parliament being asked in any way to share that responsibility, it nevertheless happened that on a Motion which was brought forward in that House a very general approval was expressed of the policy of that annexation. That approval was not rendered the less valuable on account of the arguments in a contrary sense having been most ably put before the House—as any arguments coming from his hon. Friend always were—by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle himself. Therefore the House had not decided ex parte upon this matter. As to the special point now raised he had to state that the £40,000 was required, in the first instance, to promote the erection of buildings, the construction of roads and telegraphs, and other works, which might fairly be classed under the head of capital account. But owing to the terrible visitation of measles a decrease in the revenue of the colony had unfortunately occurred; and further, the death of some of the leading inhabitants and chieftains, on whom the Government had, in the main, depended for carrying out the measures connected with the annexation of the Island, had thrown additional burdens upon the Executive Government. He should add that this grant was to be repaid at some future time. [A laugh.] His hon. Friend seemed to be incredulous; but he might observe that only the other day £10,000 was repaid on behalf of the Settlement of Lagos, which showed that better days were in store as regarded colonial loans. He thought the House would see that in regard to an extraordinary outlay of this character they could not fairly call upon the Governments of New South Wales and of New Zealand to contribute any portion of it; but those Governments had rendered very valuable assistance in various ways with respect to the annexation. The assistance of the Governor of New South Wales and some of his judicial staff had already been placed at the disposal of the Government. He hoped his hon. Friend would not feel it necessary to press his Motion.


sincerely hoped that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle would press this matter to a division. He found that annexation was invariably followed by this unhappy consequence to the islanders annexed—that there was an influx of European vices and demoralization which tended to destroy their primitive innocence and simplicity. They pretended to be actuated by the highest motives of Christianity when they annexed these countries; they sent out missionaries there who really were like the gentlemen mentioned by the hon. Baronet, simply rum merchants in disguise; but the real object of all their annexations was to give more patronage and power to the holders of office at the Treasury, who cared not what might be the result so long as they were able to provide for their own friends in these distant countries where they could do exactly as they pleased. The hon. Member for Carlisle was engaged in a crusade of most glorious and honourable description, and he certainly would add to the respect which was felt for him wherever the English language was known if he would adopt in his programme of reform a resolution against the system of taking possession of Islands like Fiji without the slightest regard to truth and justice, and keeping them up at great expense to the taxpayers of this country.


said, that if he was to understand that the Vote was a loan, and that steps would be taken to get the money back, he would not trouble the House to divide.


explained that when the annexation of the Fiji Islands was first resolved upon, his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies went rather carefully with him into the position of the Colony, and assured him that he was fully persuaded it would not be necessary for the Colony to ask for any Imperial assistance whatever. Then came that great visitation of the measles, and in consequence of that his noble Friend officially asked for some assistance from the Treasury. The original suggestion was that it should be an Imperial guarantee for a loan to be raised by Fiji itself. He, however, preferred, and the Government preferred, that what was granted should not be given in the form of a guarantee, because, although a guarantee looked very little, it meant a great deal more than it looked; and thought it far better that they should show at once how far they intended to go, and should give £40,000, on the understanding that it should be repaid, if possible. They expected that it would be repaid.


asked what portion of the expenditure was to be of a permanent nature, and what would be merely temporary? It was hard to see how the measles had effected expenditure on roads and bridges.


repeated that the revenue of the Island had decreased in consequence of the ravages of the measles.


remarked that his hon. Friend (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had deprecated our colonial policy altogether, saying that wherever we had gone we had made great mistakes. But he could hardly have meant to go so far in view of our noble dependencies of Australia and New Zealand. The policy of going to Fiji had been settled by the House and the country, and they ought to make the best of it, and not seek to starve the colony by miserable economy.


trusted his hon. Friend would not divide. Since the annexation a considerable amount of English machinery had been forwarded to Fiji with a view to the manufacture of sugar, which would not have been sent out if no annexation had taken place.


hoped that the hon. Baronet would divide.


, to show the unanimity which prevailed on that (the Opposition) side of the House, expressed a hope that the hon. Baronet would not divide. This amount of £40,000 was necessary to set the Colony afloat, and roads must be made and telegraphs established.


said, the late Government were quite as much responsible for the annexation of Fiji as the present Government, inasmuch as they had sent out the Commission to determine whether annexation was desirable; or, if not, what other course should be adopted; upon what Report annexation was determined upon, and personally he was bound to say that when he was in office it was his earnest desire that the annexation should take place. He would certainly support Her Majesty's Government, and hoped the House would deal in a liberal and gracious spirit with this new Colony, especially as it was believed that we had inflicted upon the inhabitants of the Islands the disease to which allusion had been made.

Question put, "That '£72,105' stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided:—Ayes 189; Noes 10: Majority 179.

Resolution agreed to.

Next Twenty Resolutions agreed to.

Resolution 29. That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £5,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1876, for the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens,

—read a second time.


, while not objecting to the Vote, expressed a hope that his noble Friend the First Commissioner of Works would not decide upon any scheme for relieving the traffic at the point in question without careful consideration. The scheme for the purpose which was now being exhibited at the Conference Room was open to the objections that it was very expensive, that the gradients were not good, that it would necessitate raising the roadway at Constitution Hill, and the making of a deep cutting, while it would besides interfere to some extent with the use of the Park for pedestrians. Now, it was, he thought, possible to hit upon some scheme which would not be open to all those objections, and he trusted, therefore, his noble Friend would act upon his suggestion.


said, he was very much obliged to his right hon. Friend for the kind assistance he had given him in the matter, and could assure him he would do nothing with respect to it without the most careful consideration. The Vote under discussion was intended to obtain from the House of Commons its sanction for some steps to be taken before next year to remove the block which was created by the traffic at Hyde Park Corner, and the great object he had in view was the separation at that point of the business from the pleasure traffic, which at present caused great inconvenience. He had obtained the assistance of two noble Lords in the other House of Parliament, who had consented to act with him as a sort of Committee to look into the subject, and he hoped his right hon. Friend would join them and give them the advantage of his advice. In that way he hoped to be able next year to carry out satisfactorily the object which they both had in view.

Resolution agreed to.

Subsequent Resolutions agreed to.