I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his attention has been called to a mutiny which broke out on 30th May on board the Bibby liner steamship Yorkshire, lying in Tilbury Docks, among the Lascar firemen, in consequence, as alleged by them, of harsh treatment from the engineers of the steamer; whether he is aware that, on Friday last, one of these Indian seamen was sentenced to two months' imprisonment, another to six weeks, and three more to one month each, with hard labour in each case; and that on Monday 32 more were sentenced to 10 days' hard labour for leaving their work, all of the prisoners being undefended, while the prosecutors were represented by solicitors; whether he is also aware that the statements of the prisoners were translated by an interpreter to the Court, while what the solicitors for the prosecution said, and their witnesses deposed, was not translated to the prisoners, preventing them from making any adequate defence; and that the prisoners declared in Court on Monday that they had been kept without rations and water for two or three days after the outbreak; and whether he will cause careful investigation to be made into the matter, with a view to the immediate release of the prisoners?
§ MR. ASQUITH
I have made careful inquiry into all the circumstances connected with these two sets of convictions. The facts as to the sentences imposed are correctly stated in the second paragraph of the question. The longer sentences were imposed for an assault committed by five of the Lascars upon the second engineer. The attack was a concerted one, and was carried out by men who had armed themselves with crowbars and other iron instruments. The injuries inflicted were of a serious character, and the Magistrates were in some doubt whether they ought not to send the case for trial. Allegations of harsh treatment by the engineers in the course of the voyage wore made by the Lascars, and denied by the officers, and I have directed the evidence to be laid before the Board of Trade. But the second engineer, who was the victim of the assault, had only joined the vessel the 785 day before, and I cannot say that, on the facts proved, the punishment was excessive. After these convictions a large number of the men refused to do any work unless both the chief and the second engineer were discharged and the men in custody released. They were accordingly prosecuted for a breach of Section 243 of the Merchant Shipping Act— that is, for disobeying a lawful command of the officers. The allegation that the men had been deprived of food and water was denied, and does not appear to have been sustained by the evidence. As to the procedure, it is true that the prisoners were undefended; but I am informed by the Magistrates that on both occasions the whole of the evidence was translated to the defendants by a native missionary engaged at the Thames Church Mission. Written statements by the defendants wore handed up to the Bench, who cross-examined the witnesses upon them, and at the request of the Magistrates the defendants elected two or three of their number as spokesmen, and these men made statements, cross-examined witnesses for the prosecution, and called evidence for the defence. Upon the whole, though I regret that these ignorant men had not the advantage of professional assistance, I see no reason to doubt that they had a fair trial, and that the Magistrates gave them every possible opportunity of putting forward their case.