HC Deb 30 July 1875 vol 226 cc270-4

, on rising to call attention to the ease of Captain J. Balsir Chatterton, with the object of an inquiry being instituted into it, said, that gentleman, a perfect stranger to himself, belonged to the Indian Army. He was engaged in active warfare during the Indian Mutiny. Being wounded and carried to the rear in November, 1857, he was exposed to the night air and the cold. This originated a form of rheumatism well known in India, called muscular rheumatism. This disease came on at intervals; its progress was often very slow indeed, but it was of a lamentable character, and hopelessly crippled those who could not be cured of it. During a visit he (Sir Thomas Chambers) lately paid to the Hospital for Incurables at Putney, he found that a large number of the inmates were suffering from muscular rheumatism. Captain Chatterton had a severe attack in 1862 which obliged him to relinquish duty for a time. For this he was reported; a court-martial was held in his absence; and, on the evidence, he was found guilty of malingering or shirking his duty. When the sentence was read out to him at his bedside, he emphatically denied that he was malingering, and said he was then suffering from excruciating rheumatism. He was carried from Benares to Calcutta in his bed, and examined by the principal medical men there and four Presidency surgeons; they certified to the Indian Government that he was suffering from muscular rheumatism, and was unable to discharge his duty in consequence. Previously to the court-martial neither the surgeon nor the assistant-surgeon of the regiment examined him, though they said he was suffering from nervous irritability caused by indulgence. He came to England, and on his arrival the certificate of Sir William Fergusson and Mr. Canton stated that Captain Chatter-ton's inability to perform his duties was caused by his suffering from acute muscular rheumatism. Assuming that certificate to be a well-founded statement, it was a slander upon Captain Chatterton to assert that his inability was caused by his having lived too freely; but that had been asserted, and an order was sent from the Home Government to India that he should be put on half-pay; but he could not get even that until he reached England. He had undergone 13 surgical operations, and had incurred great expense in travelling for and obtaining surgical advice. He came to Europe for such advice, and some of the most eminent surgeons in Italy, France, and England were consulted by him. He was advised that if he would return to the warmer climate of India he might obtain some relief for his sufferings, and he accordingly returned to Calcutta, but he was soon turned out of the Calcutta hospital into the street. Now, the question was, which side told the truth? He (Sir Thomas Chambers) maintained that it was proved beyond a doubt that Captain Chatterton was suffering from rheumatism now, and had suffered from it in 1862, and therefore the verdict of the court-martial was wrong. Under these circumstances, it was the duty of the Government to either make a complete answer to the case if they could, or else confess that a serious wrong had been done to this gentleman. He (Sir Thomas Chambers) was not a soldier himself—and he was glad of it—he was only a lawyer; but, so far as he could see, the grievance he had brought under the notice of the House was a substantial one, and one which, at any rate, justified an inquiry being made into the circumstances of the case in order that the truth might be arrived at.


said, he had always stood up in defence of his fellow-officers when he thought they had just cause of complaint on any ground; but, on the present occasion, he was far from thinking that any such ground had been made out. The facts' of the case, as far as he knew them—and he had taken some pains to inquire into the matter—led him to think that, instead of being placed on half-pay, Captain Chatterton ought to have been required to leave the service long ago. He deeply regretted that the hon. and learned Member should have been induced to bring before the House this case of an officer who had been accused of malingering, a crime which, in the Army, was even worse than cowardice. It would be far better for a man to be in his grave than have so disgraceful a title. In the whole of his own experience in India he had never met with a single case of malingering. The hon. and learned Member had stated that this officer was wounded in India. The fact, however, seemed to be that he was simply carried to the rear among the wounded. Seven years after his trial he was, in 1869, again accused of malingering, and then removed from the Service; and now certain officers were maligned. The case was, therefore, one which ought not to have been brought before Parliament. He ventured to suggest to the Government that it would be better to allow cases of this kind to be dealt with by courts-martial in India than to follow the slow and cumbrous process now in existence.


said, that, of course, hon. Members had a perfect right to bring forward Motions of this kind for inquiry; but he submitted that before doing so, they should make themselves acquainted with the facts of the case which they undertook to advocate. He regretted that the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone had not done so in this case, for after the statement the hon. and learned Member had made, it would be necessary for him (Lord George Hamilton) to rake up certain facts, which both for the character of the person involved and the honour of the Service, had much better have remained unknown to the public. This officer never was tried for malingering. The facts of the present case were that Lieutenant Chatterton, who joined the Army in 1857, was tried by a general court-martial in 1862 for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and prejudicial to good order and military discipline in that, at Benares, he rendered himself unfit for duty by excessive indulgence in intoxicating drinks. The evidence was very clear against the offender, and of the two witnesses called for the defence one said that Lieutenant Chatterton was not so drunk as to be unfit for duty, and the other was unable to give much stronger testimony in his favour. Lord Strathnairn, then Commander of the Forces in India, approved of the finding, and on a subsequent occasion, when Captain Chatterton sent in a memorial, the sentence, on inquiry made, was confirmed. Lord Sandhurst succeeded Lord Strathnairn in the command of the Forces, and he was inclined to take a more lenient view of the case. The charge and the evidence were therefore carefully considered by him, and subsequently sent home for the opinion of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, and also confirmed by him. He (Lord George Hamilton) held in his hand a letter written by Lord Sandhurst, dated the 5th of January, 1869, in which he stated that this officer was totally unfit to be in the Service. There was not one item of evidence which the hon. and learned Gentleman had been able to adduce that could afford ground upon which to upset the verdict of the court-martial, if that was his object; and if it was not, he did not understand what case he had, since Captain Chatterton himself applied more than once to be allowed to retire from Indian Service. If the conduct of Army medical officers was to be made subject to examination and inquiry at a distance of 10 or 15 years, and without a particle of evidence to justify such a proceeding, the position of those gentlemen would become intolerable. If the inquiry now asked for were granted, it would afford an opportunity for making charges against a large number of officers in the Indian Service who had rendered good service to the country, which Captain Chatterton had not, when no ground whatever had been offered to the House for adopting such a course.