said, that seeing the First Lord of the Admiralty in his place, he begged leave to ask him a question on a subject which had given him very considerable surprise, and which he believed had excited much astonishment in the public mind. He alluded to a very great outrage said to have been committed by a captain in the navy in respect to a gentleman who was a passenger on board his ship, then on the Mediterranean station. Nothing was imputed to this individual beyond bad temper; that bad temper, however, it was alleged, had caused him to act improperly, but nevertheless no court-martial was held on him. Now, when he recollected that Lord Brudenell, one of the most gallant and deserving officers in his Majesty's service, was by the sentence of a court-martial dismissed from that service, to which he was an ornament, and to which his whole heart and soul and life had been devoted, it did appear to him (as in this case the complaint likewise arose from some infirmity of temper) that it was extraordinary why the same course was not pursued in the one instance as in the other. Why, he asked, was not a court-martial held in the one case as well as in the other? If the facts were not true—if the rumours were founded on fiction—he should be greatly delighted to find it so; 1020 but if they were true, then that inquiry should take place which would take place in the case of an ordinary captain, who was not protected by powerful friends, on the principle of strict impartiality.
§ Lord Auckland
had received no clear and distinct knowledge of the circumstances referred to, and which were said to have occurred on the Mediterranean station. The whole of the case, as he had heard it, rested on vague rumours and newspaper reports; he would say that it rested on the most vague grounds imaginable. If the circumstances were brought before him in a more regular and a more tangible shape, he should consider it to be his duty to act upon the advice of those with whom he should feel it necessary to consult.
said, the statement of the noble Lord gave him great satisfaction, so far as it went. It was a sort of confirmation of the truth of that which he suspected—namely, that there was no real foundation for these rumours. Still he thought that the noble Lord ought to direct inquiries to be made in the proper quarter on this subject; because, whether these rumours were well founded or not, they were very prevalent out of doors, and the mere negation of proof in that House, and their Lordships' disbelief of them, would not lead the country in general to discredit them.
said, the transaction alluded to had occurred on the Mediterranean station, where a flag officer commanded. The person, therefore, who felt himself aggrieved had a right to apply for redress to the Admiral in command, and to call on him to summon a court-martial to investigate the case. The Admiralty could not, in the first instance, take the matter up. The matter was in the hands of the flag-officer.
said, that doubtless the course pointed out by the noble Viscount was the proper one; but that course not having been pursued, he conceived that the Admiralty ought to have instituted an inquiry.
§ Viscount Beresford
expressed his surprise that this subject should have been brought forward by an individual who, he believed, was totally uninterested in the proceeding referred to. He knew both the parties very intimately, and he knew that they were now perfectly satisfied with each other. The matter was solely of a private nature, and he never before heard 1021 of a third person coming forward (in the name of whom he did not know, and on behalf of whom he could not tell) and terfering in a case of this kind. The whole affair had been amicably and cordially settled, and he knew not on what principle the noble and learned Lord got up in his place and intermeddled with it.
could not but observe, when the noble Viscount spoke, of his intermeddling in this case, that it was the first time he had ever heard that a Legislator, speaking of a public officer employed on the public service, interfered improperly when he alluded to a breach of public duty by that officer. The noble Viscount had told their Lordships that both the parties were perfectly satisfied. Precisely the same thing was asserted some years ago, when the case of a seaman was brought before the House of Commons, first by Sir Francis Burdett, and afterwards by Mr. Whitbread. But when at length an inquiry was set on foot, it turned out that one of the parties was not satisfied. The noble Viscount then had a long lesson in Parliament to learn, if he thought that this was the first time when a matter of this description was thus introduced to the Legislature. Here was a captain in his Majesty's navy, who, it was asserted, had used his power for the gratification of private spleen against an individual. This was not a private Question, it was one of a positive public character, requiring, nay, demanding public cognizance, by the people's Representatives in the House of Commons, or by their Lordships, representing themselves in that House. It was the doctrine and the practice of the constitution. The noble Viscount might sneer at the idea of the constitution; but whatever constitution he might have been at the birth of, or at the death of, elsewhere, he would tell the noble Viscount, that the constitution of England called imperatively on both Houses of Parliament to keep a watchful eye on the two services—that of the army and that of the navy. Let it not, therefore, be said that the public breach of a public duty by a public officer was a matter of a private nature.
§ Viscount Beresford
had not sneered at the mention of the constitution. He denied the accusation. The noble and learned Lord had no authority for making it. He had not given the noble and learned Lord any reason for making such an ob- 1022 servation. He would repeat, that this was a private concern—a private dispute—if it were any thing at all. Two gentlemen, it appeared, had a misunderstanding. One of them was neither a sailor nor soldier on board, but a passenger. He knew not, therefore, how the thing could be taken up by the Admiralty. Of this, however, he was certain—that, whatever it was that occurred, it had been perfectly, and fully, and satisfactorily settled, with reference to all the parties. Therefore, he must say, notwithstanding the constitutional right for which the noble and learned Lord contended, that he could not see what the object of the noble and learned Lord was in bringing before the House the private quarrels of two gentlemen.
The Marquess of Salisbury
said, that there was one other point connected with this matter which he must notice, and that was the want of common courtesy in the noble and learned Lord. It was always the custom in that House when any noble Lord was about to bring forward a matter relating to any one who was connected with any other Member of that House, to give such Member notice of the matter, that he might take the opportunity of being in his place, and giving the House proper information, or affording an explanation of the matter. The noble and learned Lord had quite forgotten this common rule of courtesy, or the individuals most nearly connected with the noble Lord, whose conduct had been thus attacked would have been in their places to meet the attack.
hoped that their Lordships would draw no such inference from newspaper reports as the noble and learned Lord appeared to have done. He was convinced that the noble and gallant officer to whom allusion had been made, and whom he well knew, would himself have called for a court of inquiry, if he conceived that his conduct demanded it. He would not have left it to Members of that, or of the other House to have investigated the case, if he had felt that there was any ground or necessity for inquiry. He would have at once applied to the Admiral on the station for a court of inquiry. With respect to the allusion which had been made by the noble and learned Lord to the case of a seaman, which had been taken up by the House of Commons (and which, he believed, was a weak case 1023 after all), that seaman was not in his Majesty's service when the matter complained of occurred, and therefore he had applied to a Member of Parliament. In the present instance, the officer alluded to, was serving under the immediate orders of the Admiral commanding on the station, to whom, if redress were wanted, application should have been made. He begged pardon for occupying their Lordship's time, but he could not sit quiet in that House and hear an officer in his Majesty's service traduced as the noble and gallant officer alluded to had been traduced by the noble and learned Lord.
said, that in answer to the extraordinary observations of the noble Lord, who had accused him of traducing an officer in his Majesty's service, he would ask whether there was any impropriety in noticing a rumour which was in every man's mouth? This subject was a matter of general conversation whenever the Mediterranean fleet was mentioned. Fifty times had he been asked why the matter had not been taken up in that or in the other House of Parliament? He had answered, that he did not know, but that he thought, if Government were interrogated about it, they would be able to give a satisfactory answer. Now, he would say, that the answer which had been given was satisfactory as to the Government, but it was not satisfactory with reference to the Admiral on the station, or to the officer in question. That House or the other House, was bound to inquire, when an officer did not appear to have done his duty, whether an investigation had taken place by the proper authorities; and, if such an investigation were made, they should know what was the reason that prevented the individual against whom complaint had been made, from being brought to a court-martial.
§ Lord Colchester
did not rise to find fault with the noble and learned Lord, for making the first inquiry on this subject, but for the observations he had since made upon it. It appeared to him that the way in which the noble and learned Lord had acted, was an attempt to cast a reflection on the conduct of a noble and gallant officer. If the noble and gallant Lord who commanded, had been guilty of conduct derogatory to the character of an officer and a gentleman, he could not but think that the gentleman who had suffered from, it, would have taken some step to 1024 vindicate himself. He would have applied to the Government or to some Member of either House of Parliament. He had, however, extended his forgiveness to the noble Lord, if any forgiveness was required, and would the noble and learned Lord destroy the amicable termination of the matter? He did not question the right to make the inquiry, but he thought that in this case inquiry was unnecessary.
said, his objection was to the alleged conduct of a public officer, and had nothing to do with the injury inflicted on the individual, and all consideration of which such individual had a right, if he pleased, to wave from private or personal feelings. His objection was directed to a breach of discipline, by an officer of his Majesty's navy, in having used, for purposes of private vengeance (and he cared not whether the party aggrieved had forgiven that officer or not), those powers which had been intrusted to him for other and very different ends. His objection was, that an officer had commanded his men to do an act which had no connexion whatever with the discharge of his public duty.
§ Lord Colchester
The noble and learned Lord states positively that this officer committed a breach of discipline, but where is his proof.
I expressly stated that I wished there might be found no shadow of foundation for these rumours, but I was desirous to know the truth.
The Duke of Buccleugh
did not wish to prolong this conversation, but he was anxious to state, on the authority of a person who was on board the vessel at the time, that there was nothing in the case that could warrant the rumours and reports which had been circulated. He knew not how those reports had originated, but he was satisfied that there was nothing in the conduct of the noble and gallant officer to call for the interference of the Admiralty. In justice to the noble and gallant officer he deemed it necessary to make this statement.