HC Deb 23 May 1879 vol 246 cc1146-60

, in rising to call attention to the way in which the Netterville Trust property had been managed for the last 18 years by the Trustees, especially with regard to the Louth Institution, said, his object was to secure an inquiry into the subject. The late Lord Netterville, by his will, left some fee-simple property and a large funded property for a particular purpose, and the executors proved the will in 1832, one of the things inserted in it being that there should be a school established; and a subsequent codicil showed that Lord Netterville was most anxious that this school should be established. The property which was bequeathed to the Louth Institution consisted of 52 acres of fee-simple land, and some £10,000 or £12,000 of funded property. The Trustees thought that, in order to get the school thoroughly established, they could not do better than incorporate it with the National system, as far as weekdays were concerned, and a Sunday-school was also to be established. The school was carried out to the satisfaction of the people in the surrounding district from 1836, when it became one of the National Board, to the year 1866, when Mr. Gradwell became an acting Trustee for the property. He lived on the spot, and it was thought he would be better able to carry out the bequests of the trust than other persons could. Well, they found Mr. Gradwell, a very short time after he was named as an active Trustee, in connection with the other Trustees, bringing forward a scheme before the Master of the Rolls in Ireland to sell a portion of the trust property, which, according to the will and codicil of Lord Netterville, was to remain for ever unsold, in order to benefit the widows and orphans. The scheme having been put before the Court, an order was granted in 1864 to carry out everything in the scheme, and a portion of land was to be sold, in direct opposition to the will of Lord Netterville. The order also gave power to the Trustees to grant leases to the tenants for 31 years; but the Trustees did not inform the occupiers of the land that these leases could be granted, and they were thoroughly in ignorance of this provision in the order; but Mr. Gradwell availed himself of the opportunity of selling to himself this trust land. He (Mr. Kirk) had a thorough knowledge of this land, because he had walked over it and seen what it was. The scheme put before the Court was a fair one to look at, saying that 30 years' purchase was to be paid for the land, and no doubt that was a long period; but when they considered that the land was inside Mr. Gradwell's own demesne, he might well have been willing to give 100 years' purchase in order to get possession of it. He bought 12 acres, for which he paid £1 an acre, which, at 30 years' purchase, amounted to £360. The land was covered with large trees, and it could be proved that Mr. Gradwell had already cut down more trees than would pay the purchase money, and there were as many trees still standing as would pay the purchase money over again. He, therefore, thought the object of the trust had been grossly violated, and three times the money would have been obtained if the land had been sold to any- body else. Then, in this section, there were two or three other provisions. One was, that the school-house was to be turned into a chapel, Mr. Gradwell thinking that it was necessary for the inmates of the institution to have a chapel. But there was this fact to be borne in mind. Some time before Mr. Gradwell had had a quarrel with the parish priest, and he refused to go to his church; and as it was very inconvenient for him to go many miles to another church, he was very anxious that he should have a chapel close to his own house. The Bishop at first refused to allow the private chapel; but he subsequently said he would make a compromise, remarking that for a number of years Mr. Gradwell had paid no dues to the priest, but he would allow the chapel provided he consented to pay dues. Mr. Gradwell assented, and the chapel was fitted very comfortably indeed. There was a large fire in it on Sunday, and Mr. Gradwell took the first seat beside the fire for himself and his family. This showed how anxious he was about the inmates of the institution, who were poor widows, and they had to remain in the background. Another portion of the scheme was that a school-house was to be fitted up, and the school removed thereto. After some time, the attention of the public was drawn to the fact of the school not being established, and the Commissioner of Charitable Bequests was written to, and he replied that the order had been given for the establishment of the school. Consequently, Mr. Gradwell had misled the Court of Chancery by stating that the school was established in 1864. When he (Mr. Kirk) examined it, there was no roof nor ceiling, and so it remained until a few years ago, when it was taken down for the erection of a new place. In 1864, Mr. Gradwell purchased for £360 the deer park, which, if the inquiry were granted, would be shown to have been worth six times the amount. Then he was anxious to have another portion of this property—at least, so it was asserted in the newspapers, and by an hon. Member who brought forward the case not very long ago. This being the case, he picked a quarrel with an industrious, hardworking, and independent man; and one of the great things which he brought forward as objectionable with regard to this tenant was, that he had expended too much money on the property. There was also another matter. There was a piece of antiquity which had been disturbed by the Royal Irish Academy. He (Mr. Kirk) regretted that the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) for the protection of ancient monuments was not pushed forward with more vigour, so as to protect such antiquities; and no one would condemn the tenant more than he would for disturbing a single stone of an ancient monument. Well, that antiquity in question—a moat—was disturbed and excavated, and the Trustees permitted it to be done, and did not replace the stones and put pressure on the Royal Irish Academy to put the stones in the same position again. They allowed them to be taken away, for a number of years, from the field where they lay loose around. Mr. Gradwell picked a quarrel with the tenant, on the ground of having taken stones away, and said he would eject him. There had been happy relations in that district between landlords and tenants, and the people were sorry to see that those happy relations could be disturbed by such a miserable quarrel, and they called on a few hon. Members of the House to go down and try to settle it. The hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) and himself (Mr. Kirk) went down, and were met, in a tenant's house, by the acting Trustee, who seemed to a great extent to come to their views. The tenant was anxious for a lease, and said he would even pay an increase of rent, and the acting Trustee solemnly told them that it was the determination of the Trustees that no lease should be granted; but he had at the time in his pocket a letter from one of the Trustees in favour of the tenants having a lease. They tried to settle the case, and thought they had done so, conditions being drawn up; but the persons who did not comply with those conditions were Mr. Gradwell and the Trustees, who imposed new conditions, and the man was evicted. The tenants had been persecuted for five years, and harassed and mulcted in law costs, and the end of it was that he left his holding on a cold winter's day, with frost and snow on the ground. The tenant put in his claim before the County Court Judge for the county of Meath for compensation, under the Land Act of 1870, for disturbance, and also for the value of the buildings which he had erected. There was not one single stone on another in regard to buildings when he came into possession. The tenant stated that he had expended upon the buildings £1,860. As a set-off to this amount, Mr. Gradwell put forward an item of £150 far deterioration of the property. Mr. Gradwell wanted to compromise the matter on the land being given up to him, and he offered to let the tenant certain property for £15 a-year. He wanted to deduct for the deterioration of the property by the buildings, and, on the other side, to let certain property at £15 a-year for the expenditure of the tenant. By the will of the late Lord Netterville, it was clearly laid down that there was to be a Sunday school in the old castle, and the Gothic room was to be laid out specially for the children of the neighbourhood. A school was to be kept up, and a master employed at a certain sum to educate the orphan children, and also the children of the neighbourhood. Mr. Gradwell got rid of the schoolmaster, and of everything in connection with the school, and now he had a matron who was, he said, qualified to teach the orphans and other children. He (Mr. Kirk) had no fault to find with her, as the matron of the establishment; but certainly she was not competent to instruct the children. This also was a violation of the will of Lord Netterville. There was no school at all, and had not been one since 1864. He thought, also, there must be some truth in what he understood was stated by reliable persons in the neighbourhood, as to the neglect of some of the inmates, and therefore he was anxious for the inquiry, which might have the effect of clearing Mr. Gradwell of these charges. When he (Mr. Kirk) visited the institution, in 1876, he found it in a deplorable state. In the dormitory the children were lying literally on rags. A garden had been kept up for the benefit of the inmates, but he found the garden turned into a place for a man to keep a horse in, and a very small piece of ground set apart for the inmates to walk up and down. This, again, was, he thought, a violation of the trust. The people of the district had risen up against the acting Trustee, because they believed he had done a great many injustices, and an inquiry was absolutely necessary. He considered that he had made out a clear case for inquiry into the matter in regard to a good, honest, and hard-working tenant; and if such an inquiry were granted, he believed such a case would be made out as would guarantee the proper working of the institution in the future. The case had been before the country for a long period, and had caused greater excitement and disturbance in Louth and Meath than anything that had occurred for a long time. If the Attorney General for Ireland thought the present was not a proper time for the granting of the inquiry, he would bring forward the matter again.


thought the course taken by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Kirk) was scarcely one that would commend itself to the House on the ground of expediency. The Notice had appeared on the Paper for the first time the day before, and he thought that where such a matter was brought forward Notice should be given in a clear and specific manner, so that the gentleman whose conduct was impugned might have an opportunity of applying to his friends, or any officials he thought proper, and acquaint them with the subject; but it was obvious that the first and only Notice of such a matter, dealing as it did with the administration of a private institution, and impugning the conduct of a certain Trustee, should have been given previously to the day before that on which it was brought on; and he had himself, in a private conversation, intimated to the hon. Member the inconvenience which would result from bringing such a subject before the House without specific Notice being given to the parties principally interested. Another inconvenience of such a course was that the matter was practically under adjudication in Ireland at the present time. He was aware that the hon. Member for Louth was accurate in saying that the exact point which he had brought forward was not sub judice; but, practically, it was so, for the matter connected with the charity were indirectly involved in the case, which was tried before the County Court Judge on the 7th or 8th of the present month, and, after a hearing, was adjourned till the 4th of July. Was there, he asked, any reason why resort should be made to that House as a final Court to hear all the abuses which might be connected with the case? Had any case been made out by the hon. Member? He himself (the Attorney General for Ireland) knew nothing of the case except what he had read in the newspapers; and it appeared that the case referred entirely to the Netterville Trust property, which was private charity, and the ordinary Courts of the country were fully open, and had been open since the constitution of the charity, to anyone who thought there was a grievance; and there was nothing at all to prevent any person taking the case to the Court to have it decided, and if there was anything against any of the gentlemen connected with the affair—if any of them had violated the trust—redress could be had before the ordinary tribunals of the country. But that was not the sole resource open to them. There was a body in Ireland called the Board of Charitable Donations and Bequests, which attended very closely and jealously to all complaints made against charitable estates, and, if necessary, directed the attention of the Attorney General to the subject. It was obvious that what the hon. Member had referred to were matters of detail, possibly important details. He had referred over and over again to the circumstances that the will of the late Lord Netterville had been violated, and had referred to certain provisions; but, surely, these wore matters which should be taken to the Law Courts, and not brought to the House of Commons. He held that it was to the last extent inconvenient, unless in a case of supreme necessity, that such eases should be brought before the House of Commons before they had been submitted to the ordinary tribunals of the country. He noticed that a document was read by the hon. Member, the appearance of which was very much like a brief; and he would have thought that that might have suggested to the hon. Member that it would have been far more proper to have addressed his arguments to the ordinary Courts of the country than to the House of Commons. The hon. Member had expressed the hope that the Attorney General would look into the matter; but his Motion was really to bring the whole of the matters connected with the charity and its administration during the last 18 years before the House. As far as he knew, no inquiry had yet been instituted in connection with the general case, nor had any application been made to the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, while he was sure it had not been brought before the notice of the Attorney General in his official capacity in any shape; and, therefore, he did not think it was reasonable to bring the matter before the House. Under these circumstances, he thought the hon. Member would have acted more reasonably had he accepted the suggestions made to him before he rose to address the House.


said, primâ facie, it seemed inconvenient to bring such a question before the House, and not to take it before the Courts of the country, or to bring it on without giving notice to the parties whoso conduct was impugned. But the fact was that it had not been brought forward until the people of the district had, as they thought, exhausted every form of redress known to the law in Ireland. They subscribed money to bring the matter into the Court of Chancery, where it was decided that they had no locus standi. They were put out of court, and had to pay the whole of the expenses of the application. That would show the Attorney General that the House of Commons had not been hastily appealed to in the matter. With regard to the notice to the parties concerned, there was no matter more notorious in that part of Ireland than that the junior Member for Louth had pledged himself on the subject, and it was well known to Mr. Gradwell and all concerned that he came over to carry out that pledge. He knew that Mr. Gradwell and his friends felt that that would lead up to a real and earnest inquiry into the abuses which existed, and were not at all taken by surprise. If it was said that the matter was a purely local and petty one, he contended that no matter was purely trivial which caused such excitement as that had caused in Louth and Meath. The case had been for three or four months the cause of great exasperation and considerable mischief; and he could pledge his word to the House that, from letters which had reached him, the ease had caused the most intense alarm and exasperation. Here was a ease of a public charity, the conduct of which was gravely impugned. The people in the neighbourhood had exhausted all the forms of law, and, in doing so, had been mulcted in costs in endeavouring to bring it to the light. Surely, in such a case, it was right for the people's Representative to make good the claim of the people, not for punishment, but simply for inquiry. When the eviction took place, the scone that was witnessed was unparalleled for 150 years. From all quarters the farmers sent in their carts to assist in drawing off the wood which was the property of the tenant, and testified their sympathy in other ways; while Colonel Maguire, magistrate of the county, took the, apparently, dying man into his own room, and tended him. The case disturbed the social relations, in two large counties, between landlord and tenant, and between the magistracy and the people, and that in connection with a public charity. He deprecated that there should be a Dotheboys Hall in Louth, while there was a sum of £3,000 accumulating, which should be spent for the benefit of the children concerned. The tenant to whom reference was made was a most respected and upright man; and, in the interests of the people of Ireland generally, he contended that the inquiry asked for should be granted.


said, the Notice contained a charge against the Trustees of having mismanaged the trust estates for the last 18 years. He was personally acquainted with two out of the three Trustees, and he believed those two gentlemen to be incapable of any act of misconduct or neglect in reference to the property confided to them. He did not say the House was not competent to inquire into such a matter; but it was certainly a novel course to take. The hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) said the parties had appealed to the Court of Chancery, and everyone knew that the Court of Chancery had power to investigate the affairs of that and every other charity. In fact, that Court was essentially the tribunal to deal with such matters, and if good grounds for an investigation were made out an investigation would be granted. Then, again, they had in Ireland the Board of Charitable Bequests, which had power to investigate the cases of charities misapplied, withheld, or concealed; and if this Mr. Gradwell, being a Trustee, became the purchaser of the trust property at a gross undervalue that had only to be stated to the Court of Chancery for an investigation to be granted. As to eviction by Mr. Gradwell of a tenant on the estate, he believed that was still sub judice; the County Court Judge had not announced his decision; and if it was found that it was a case which the law did not reach, then let them bring it forward in Parliament. But do not let them trammel it with a charge of misapplication of trust, which could be duly dealt with by the ordinary tribunals of the country.


said, he could not share the view of the hon. and learned Member for King's County (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock), that the House should not enter into the merits of the case, but should leave them to the ordinary tribunals of the country. He had heard the arguments used in 1870, that the House should not intervene between the tenants and the ordinary tribunals; and he trusted that the hon. and learned Member for King's County would enunciate these principles to his constituents at the next Election. The hon. and learned Member had shown a deplorable ignorance of the merits of the case, because he had stated that the people of the district appealed to the Court of Chancery with reference to what he (Mr. Callan) would call a sale by the Trustee to himself of trust property. There was no such appeal; no appeal was made on that point. They applied to the Court of Chancery on a point which concerned themselves—namely, the school of the widows' house. Early in the present century—40 years ago, and more—the late Lord Netterville made a bequest of a charitable character, in which he gave his own residence as a widows' house. Trustees were appointed to carry out that bequest, until an English adventurer—he used the word advisedly, but not in the sense of being an impecunious adventurer—an English monied adventurer—came to Ireland in the Famine years, and when property was selling at four, five, or ten years' purchase, he purchased property there. Mr. Gradwell became the Trustee of this property. He was bound to make to the Court of Chancery a true statement of the purchase he had made. Even professional men were viewed with great suspicion when they purchased in the Landed Estates Court. But Mr. Gradwell was the sole acting Trustee, and he concealed the fact from the tenants that they could purchase their holdings, or take leases of 31 or 41 years. In 1864 he proposed to the Court, without the knowledge of the tenants or the surrounding gentry, to become the purchaser of 12 acres of a deer park. There were upwards of 1,000 trees in it. Mr. Gradwell bought this land for £360. If it had been put up at Drogheda at the time it would have fetched £1,800. Was not this House the proper place to bring forward such a flagrant case? Those 12 acres were an historical spot. They overhung the scene of the battle of the Boyne. He had nothing to say as to the eviction of Mr. Elcock, except that he believed there were some faults on both sides. The bit of a farm from which he was evicted was opposite the entrance gate of the magnificent mansion of which Mr. Gradwell became the owner in the depressed times, and Elcock had the effrontery to build a haystack opposite the entrance gate to Mr. Gradwell's castle. This came between the wind and his nobility. He ordered it to be removed. Mr. Elcock sent back a rude message, and the reply was a notice to quit. But these were small matters which were to be dealt with at the Meath Sessions in July. After such charges had been made, he thought it was incumbent on the Attorney General and Chief Secretary to put the Charitable Bequests Commission in motion, and have an inquiry. What would be thought of it in Ireland, if there was no inquiry after such charges had been made as he (Mr. Callan) made now, undertaking to prove every iota of what he had stated as to Mr. Gradwell and his dealings with the trust property.


said, he thought that great exception could be taken to the manner in which this question had been brought forward. He did not refer to the fact that it had, so to say, nicked in in the middle of a debate on another subject, for he had always contended for the undoubted right of private Members to avail themselves of their legitimate privileges, and especially now that from various causes the opportunities they possessed of raising discussions had become somewhat diminished, he felt more than ever that Members were acting strictly in accordance with what was their right in retaining their places upon the Notice Paper; but he did not think that a Notice, given in yesterday in the vague terms in which this appeared, could be regarded as sufficient. He (Mr. J. Lowther) never, until the Notice appeared, heard of any of the places referred to, and had never, until now, had the good fortune to hear of the gentleman who had been spoken of in such scathing terms. At one part of the debate He was likened to Mr. Squeers, further on he was called an adventurer, and latterly he appeared as a fraudulent Trustee, and he did not know what he might not become by the time the debate terminated. He was asked to commit the Government to grant an inquiry; but, so far as he had been able to gather, he had heard nothing to justify him in assuming that this gentleman had done anything wrong. He might have committed every thing that had been alleged against him, but he had had no such circumstances brought to his knowledge, and there had been no time to obtain information which would justify him in forming a judgment on the matter; and it was contrary to the usage of this House to bring forward serious charges of a personal nature—charges of direct fraud and malpractice—without those who were appealed to, to express an opinion or announce their intention of adopting an unusual course of action, having the slightest opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the subject. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not continue the discussion, which could not possibly lead to any useful result, but might be the means of doing considerable harm, because the persons whose conduct was impugned had had no means of communicating their defence.


said, that the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General had done their best to stifle the discussion; and in the very remarkable speech that had just been heard from the Chief Secretary—not, indeed, remarkable for him, but remarkable for a Gentleman in his position—he stated that he had never heard anything of a question that had resounded throughout the length and breadth of the country of which he was supposed to be the Governmental Representative in this House. When the Chief Secretary coolly told them that he had never heard of these places, and never heard of the name of Mr. Gradwell, he was driven to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman must think that the responsible affairs of his government were entirely beneath his notice. If there was one question that had attracted greater public attention in Ireland than another during the last three or four years in the newspapers and in the Courts of the country, publicly and open, and everybody to hear and see, it was this case of Mr. Elcock and the Trustees of the Netterville charities. He was thoroughly surprised that the Chief Secretary, who might be supposed to take some little interest in Irish questions, declared that he had never heard of these places or of the parties in this question. The Chief Secretary also said he had heard nothing which sustained the charges brought against Mr. Gradwell. It was usually supposed that neither a trustee nor an agent could be the purchaser of property of which he was the trustee or agent. Mr. Gradwell, who was both agent and trustee, had the audacity to sell to himself a portion of this property, and there was considerable doubt about its confirmation, and the Courts of Dublin refused for some time to sanction the purchase. It was only on the promise of Mr. Gradwell that he would set up certain schools and afford certain advantages to the charity that the sale was effected. He (Mr. Parnell) was disposed to think that even now if the matter could be brought before the Courts the sale would be set aside. But the people who were interested were very poor; they were humble tenant farmers, and their efforts to set things right had come to grief for want of means. Besides, the laws governing trust property in Ireland were so imperfect that it was difficult for people to get justice done. He (Mr. Parnell) thought sufficient Notice had been given, and he thought the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Kirk) would have been violating his duty if he refrained from taking advantage of the opportunity of bringing the case before the House, because at this period of the Session the opportunities of private Members were very few. Mr. Gradwell had had plenty of notice. He had had two or three months' public notice, and could long since have instructed some Member to defend—if, indeed, he could get a Member of the House to defend his conduct—which he (Mr. Parnell) very much doubted. It appeared to him that nothing would have pleased the Chief Secretary or the Attorney General more than the statement that there were not sufficient grounds or sufficient motives for the action which was taken. They were told that they had no right to bring this subject forward, because it was a 'trumpery case, and one which the House could not listen to; but those whom he represented did not consider it a trumpery case. The people of the country had publicly sympathized with Mr. Elcock in the most emphatic manner. His neighbours were encouraging and receiving him, and two officers of Her Majesty's Army had given him the shelter in which he stood so much in need of. If any person was banished for being wrong it should not be Mr. Elcock; and if he suffered for removing any of these stones, so should Mr. Grad-well. The question was one of 30 years' standing, and now it was attempted to be set up as an excuse for removing Mr. Elcock from his holding. The Archaeological Society of Dublin allowed him to remove stones for building purposes, and it was impossible that he could restore the moat to its former condition under his agreement. If that was to be done, according to the reading of Mr. Gradwell, an agreement was entered into to refer the matter to arbitrament of the law, but that was not carried out. Mr. Elcock therefore proceeded in his old manner, and, but for the charity of his neighbours, he would have lost property to the extent of many thousands of pounds. The law had since removed him from his holding, and the only question was the amount of compensation he was to get for his permanent improvements, and nothing had been said against his claim in that direction. The whole thing resolved itself into this—that the Trustee, instead of recognizing his position as a Trustee, had mismanaged affairs, and there seemed no possibility for the people of the locality to get redress. Their only redress was to come to the House and ask of the Government officials to take an interest in their case. He hoped the Chief Secretary would be better informed upon the subject after the Whitsun Recess than he was tonight, and that in the interim he would devote his attention to this very important Irish question. He assured him that in doing so his time would not be thrown away. It was a case of life and death with Mr. Elcock. That gentleman was in a dying state in consequence of these troubles, and if the result of this Motion were to direct the attention of the Law Officers of the Crown to this iniquitous and scandalous case, the Chief Secretary might put some machinery in motion by which justice might be done to Mr. Elcock, and which would remove the property from the scandal and reproach under which it now existed.


was sorry that the hon. Member for Meath had attacked the Royal Irish Academy, an institution of which every Irishman ought to feel proud. The hon. Member alleged that the Academy had commenced this work of destruction, whereas their chief object was to preserve and maintain all the ancient monuments illustrative of the history of the country.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.