HL Deb 03 February 1817 vol 35 cc169-73
The Earl of Thanet

, in rising to present a petition from Mr. Hunt, said, that he was not sufficiently conversant with the orders of the House, to judge whether the petition could be received or not. Having been applied to, however, he felt it to be his duty to submit it to their lordships.

The petition was then read as follows: "The petition of Henry Hunt, of Middleton Cottage in the county of Southampton, "Humbly sheweth; That your petitioner, being ready to prove at the bar of your honourable House, that there has been carried on a conspiracy against his character, and eventually aimed at his life, by certain persons, receiving salaries out of the public money, and acting in. their public capacity, and expending for this vile purpose, a portion of the taxes; and, there being, as appears to him, no mode of his obtaining a chance of security, other than those which may be afforded him by parliament, he humbly sues to your honourable House to yield him your protection.

"That your petitioner has always been a loyal and faithful subject, and a sincere and zealous friend of his country. That at a time, during the first war against France, when there were great apprehensions of invasion, and when circular letters were sent round to farmers and others to ascertain what sort and degree of aid each would be willing to afford to the government in case of such emergency, your petitioner, who was then a farmer in Wiltshire, did not, as others did, make an offer of a small part of his moveable property, but that, really believing his country to be in danger, he, in a letter to the lord lieutenant, the earl of Pembroke, freely offered his all, consisting of several thousands of sheep, a large stock of horned cattle, upwards of twenty horses, seven or eight waggons and carts, with able and active drivers, several hundreds of quarters of corn and grain, and his own person besides, all to be at the entire disposal of the lord lieutenant; and this your petitioner did without any reserved claim to compensation, it being a principle deeply rooted in his heart, that all property and even life itself, ought to be considered as nothing when put in competition with the safety and honour of our country. And your petitioner further begs leave to state to your honourable House, that at a subsequent period, namely, in the year 1803, when an invasion of the country was again apprehended, and when it was proposed to call out volunteers to serve within certain limits of their houses, your petitioner called around him the people of the village of Enford, in which he lived, and that all the men in that parish (with the exception of three) capable of bearing arms, amounting to more than two hundred in number, immediately enrolled themselves and offered to serve, not only within the district, but in any part of the kingdom where an enemy might land, or be expected to land, and this offer was by your petitioner transmitted to lord Pembroke, who expressed to your petitioner his great satisfaction at the said offer, and informed him, that he would make a point of communicating the same to his majesty's ministers.

"That your petitioner, still actuated by a sincere desire to see his country free and happy and holding a high character in the world, has lately been using his humble endeavours to assist peaceably and legally in promoting applications to parliament for a reform in your honourable House, that measure appearing to your petitioner to be the only effectual remedy for the great and notorious evils, under which the country now groans, and for which evils, as no one attempts to deny their existence, so no one, as far as your petitioner has heard, has attempted to suggest any other remedy.

"That your petitioner, in pursuit of this constitutional, and, as he hopes and believes, laudable object, (an object for which, if need be, he is resolved to risk his life against unlawful violence) lately took part in a public meeting of the city of Bristol, of which he is a freeholder; and that though a large body of regular troops and of yeomanry cavalry were placed in a menacing attitude near the place of our meeting, the meeting was conducted and concluded in the most peaceable and orderly manner, and the result of it was a petition to your honourable House voluntarily signed by upwards of twenty thousand men, which petition has been presented to, and received by, your honourable House.

"That your petitioner, who had met with every demonstration of public goodwill and approbation in the said city, was surprised to see in the public newspapers, an account of a boy having been sent to gaol by certain police officers and justices for having pulled down a posting bill, which alleged your petitioner to have been hissed out of the city of Bristol, and containing other gross falsehoods and infamous calumnies on the character of your petitioner, calculated to excite great hatred against your petitioner, and to prepare the way for his ruin and destruction.

"That your petitioner, who trusts that he has himself always acted an open and manly part, and who has never been so base as to make an attack upon any one, who had not the fair means of defence, feeling indignant at this act of partiality and oppression, came to London with a view of investigating the matter, and this investigation having taken place, he now alleges to your honourable House, that the aforesaid posting bills, containing the infamous calumnies aforesaid, were printed by J. Downes, who is the printer to the police; that the bill-sticker received the bills from the said Downes, who paid him for sticking them up; that the bill-sticker was told by the said Downes that there would be somebody to watch him to see that he stuck them up; that police officers were set to watch to prevent the said bills from being pulled down; that some of these bills were carried to the police office at Hatton Garden, and there kept by the officers, to be produced in proof against persons who should be taken up for pulling them down; that Thomas Dugood was seized, sent to gaol, kept on bread and water, and made to lie on the bare boards from the tenth to the twenty-second of January, 1817, when he was taken out with about fifty other persons, tied to a long rope or cable, and marched to Hicks's Hall, where he was let loose, and that his only offence was pulling down one of these bills; that a copy of Dugood's commitment was refused to your petitioner; that your petitioner was intentionally directed to a wrong prison to see the boy Dugood; that the magistrate, William Mannaduke Sellon, who had committed Dugood, denied repeatedly that lie knew any thing of the matter, and positively asserted that Dugood had been committed by another magistrate, a Mr. Turton, who Mr. Sellon said, was at his house very ill, and not likely to come to the office for some time.

"That your honourable House is besought by your petitioner, to bear in mind the recently-exposed atrocious conspiracies carried on by officers of the police against the lives of innocent men, and your petitioner is confident that your hon. House will, in these transactions, see the clear proofs of a foul conspiracy against the character and life of your petitioner, carried on by persons in the public employ, appointed by the Crown, and removeable at its pleasure, and that this conspiracy has been also carried on by the means of public money.

"And, therefore, as the only mode of doing justice to the petitioner and to the public in a case of such singular atrocity, your petitioner prays your honourable House that he may be permitted to prove (as he is ready to do) all and singular the aforesaid allegations at the bar of your honourable House, and that if your honourable House shall find the allegations to be true, you will be pleased to address his Royal Highness to cause the aforesaid magistrate to be dismissed from his office. And your Petitioner shall ever pray."

The Lord Chancellor

said, that, anxious as their lordships must be to listen to, and redress, any grievance which might be stated to them, still, he was sure, they would see the propriety of not receiving petitions, drawn up like the present, which called on them to exercise a jurisdiction that did not belong to the House. The petition, in fact, demanded that they should interfere in a case which was open to judicial proceedings; that they should assume an original jurisdiction, contrary to the principles of the constitution, which said, that they should not exercise such a power.

The petition was rejected; as was also a petition from Thomas Dugood, the boy alluded to in Mr. Hunts' petition. [See the proceedings of the Commons].