HL Deb 28 April 1845 vol 79 cc1359-68
The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, he intended to depart to a certain extent from the usual course of proceeding adopted by their Lordships. He was desirous of making a Motion of which he had given no notice; but when he stated the nature of that Motion, he was sure that but one feeling could exist in the House with respect to the subject, and he, therefore, could not anticipate the slightest opposition to it, although he had not given the usual notice preparatory to bringing it forward. It would be in the recollection of their Lordships that about three years fijjo, in the case of an unhappy man who was sentenced to suffer death for murder, public attention was directed to a scene which took place in Newgate, which he believed, and which he was convinced their Lordships would agree with him in believing, was irreligious, disgraceful, and unbecoming. Notice was taken, both in that and the other House of Parliament, of the scene to which he alluded; and it was thought that that notice would have had such an effect on the country and the public mind as to prevent a recurrence of such scenes; but it would appear that such was not the case, and that yesterday, as he found in the papers of that day, there had been a recurrence of this exhibition—a proceeding which their Lordships and all right-thinking people in the country would agree with him in reprobating. On a late occasion, when a criminal, to whose case much public attention had been directed, suffered the punishment of death at Aylesbury, the authorities had the firmness, and discretion, and proper feeling, to refuse to lend themselves to anything which was not in accordance with the strict letter of the law and the usages which it authorized; but the conduct of the authorities of the prison of Newgate, in the city of London, had not conducted themselves in a like manner, or taken a course which he could describe as characterized by similar propriety. The proceedings to which he wished to draw the attention of their Lorships on this occasion were described in the newspapers of that day, from one of which he would read an extract for their Lordships, descriptive of what was called the "Condemned Sermon," which had been preached on the day before in Newgate, in the hearing of a large audience, attracted by curiosity to witness the spectacle, which was correctly described as a theatrical sort of exhibition. The account in the paper, which he held in his hand, was as follows:— The Sheriffs having issued tickets for as many persons as the chapel could, without being crowded to the inconvenience of all, contain, the seats were soon after the admission of the visitors completely occupied. Notwithstanding the general censure to which female visitors upon occasions of the kind have been subjected, there were some of the sex whose curiosity prevailed over the feelings by which the majority are influenced. Mr. Cope, the governor, made very judicious arrangements, by which confusion and inconvenience were obviated, and the reporters for the newspapers were admitted, according to a previous regulation, at a quarter past ten o'clock, exactly fifteen minutes before the service commenced. After a delay of a few seconds, Hocker entered, accompanied by the deputy governor of the prison and an assistant turnkey. It might be called a theatrical movement. The ease and self-possession which the convict exhibited as he advanced to his seat evidently surprised those of the congregation who had never before seen him, and he seated himself on a chair facing the altar, and at the end of the chapel opposite to that which Connor occupied. He was very particular in fixing his chair, and the hassock which had been placed for his use so as to enable him to make a display. He exhibited, in fact, a perfect consciousness that he was "the observed of all observers," and had to all appearance made up his mind to represent in this the last scene but one of his existence the character which he has been performing since his apprehension. The passages which he had read for their Lordships would show that he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was perfectly justified in bringing the subject before their Lordships. Let it not be supposed from what he was saying, that he had any sympathy with a criminal who was sentenced to death, or any objection to the publicity of the execution of the sentence which the law awarded. When a criminal was sentenced to death, the punishment, to be effective, ought to be public; but it was not right to desecrate the house of God by admitting to such scenes persons who were possessed of such morbid feelings as to find pleasure in witnessing them. There was no right to desecrate the Liturgy of the Church by placing a man in that position before an assemblage of spectators watching to see what effect the solemnities of the Church might produce on him—to see what might be wrung from him by those solemn observances. He knew their Lordships would agree with him in opinion, that such a scene was a disgrace, not only to the particular locality in which it occurred, but to the whole community—for these reports went abroad and affected the national character; and although the Ministers of the Crown might have no direct authority over the gaol of Newgate, yet it was quite clear that they could adopt measures for the purpose of preventing the recurrence of such proceedings. The proceeding by which the Liturgy of the Church had been desecrated did not end with the portion of the description which he had read for their Lordships; and he regretted to say that what further took place on that occasion was contrary to every principle of law and justice which was recognised in this country. Not only was the convicted man brought forward in that public manner before so many spectators, but a man who was charged with a crime — who had not as yet been tried—who was presumed by the law to be innocent—was placed in a prominent position, where his demeanour could be watched and observed by all those around him, during a part so impressive, under all the circumstances, that it must have been very trying, he would not say to any woman's, but even to any man's nerves, and particularly to the nerves of a man who was going to be tried himself in a short time for a similar offence. That was the ordeal to which a man who was yet to be tried had been exposed; all his demeanour observed, and the play of his features reported in this mockery of justice. The demeanour of the man yet to be tried was thus described in the paper which he held in his hand:— The gaol bell having summoned the prisoners in the various wards of the gaol to Divine service, the divisions of the chapel assigned to them were speedily filled. As soon as they were sealed, Connor, the young fellow who was committed for trial upon the charge of the wilful murder of Mary Brothers, in George-street, St. Giles's, was brought in by the turnkey in whose charge he has been placed since his removal to the prison upon the magistrate's warrant. Connor appeared to be improved in health, and was decently attired in black. He was conducted to a chair prepared for him in the body of the chapel, directly opposite to the pulpit, and close to the pew appropriated to the use of the family of the Rev. Mr. Davis, and he seemed to be affected frequently during the service. The turnkey sat on a form next to him. At length the service commenced. The Rev. Robert S. Rower, the chaplain of the gaol of the county of Somerset, ascended the reading-desk, and the reverend Ordinary took his place at the altar. The beautiful Liturgy of the Church of England was then read by the former clergyman in an extremely impressive mariner. Throughout the service, Connor paid the most deep attention to every word that fell from the lips of those engaged in performing it, and manifested extreme thoughtfulness and dejection. There was then an account given of the sermon, from which it appeared that the clergyman, in an affecting discourse, not unnaturally alluded to the condition of that man (Connor) who was placed opposite to him to be preached at; and there was an account given of how it affected him, and the impression which had been made upon him. The clergyman alluded to the subject of executions for the crime of murder in some observations, with respect to which, he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) did not agree with him, constituted as society was. The clergyman said— It appeared that another offence of a similar atrocity was perpetrated, for which there was now present another young man, of whose guilt or otherwise it was not his province to speak, though he stood committed for trial on the oaths of several witnesses. It was added, that the sermon made a "deep impression" on Connor. No wonder that it made a deep impression on him after all he had heard, when he was reminded that he had been committed on the oaths of several respectable witnesses. He did not think it fair to expose that man to such an ordeal; he did not know whether he was innocent or guilty, but he ought not to be treated as if guilty until he was fairly tried. After the statement which he had made, he was sure their Lordships would have no objection to allow him to make a Motion on the subject without notice. The Motion was one which he made with a view to enabling further steps to be taken by the House if it were found necessary. The noble Lord concluded by moving— That there be laid before this House a Copy of the Regulations relating to the Attendance on Divine Worship by Criminals convicted of, or Persons awaiting their Trial for, Capital Offences in the Gaol of Newgate.

Lord Brougham

said that, as the highest Court of Judicature, nothing which affected criminal justice could fail to meet the attentive consideration of their Lordships' House. He read, with the same disgust which must have affected their Lordships, that account, which, if true, and he had no reason to suspect that it was not true, of a malversation of management of the religious solemnities by the authorities of the prison at Newgate. He respected those authorities, particularly when they performed their functions without blameable intermeddling, as guardians of the police of the city of London, and when they were not concerned in the base traffic of pandering to the prurient curiosity of the more foolish and idle part of the public. From the "condemned sermon" he held it perfectly clear that the public ought to be excluded, whilst he was of opinion that every publicity ought to be given to the punishment, to the trial, and the sentence, of which the punishment was the execution; but there was no part of the sentence which directed—there was no part of the punishment of the law which awarded or acquiesced in—the torment of having the public eye directed to the condemned criminal during those solemn acts of devotion by which he endeavoured to make his peace with offended Heaven—at a moment when he is on the eye of being compelled to quit the scene of his crime in consequence of his having so offended. It was worthy of recollection that there was one class of offenders with respect to whom this publicity would operate as a punishment, and another with respect to whom it would operate rather as a reward, by gratifying a morbid taste for notoriety. This matter would not be now for the first time brought under the attention of the civic authorities, for it appeared that there were present on the occasion referred to, some of the magistrates of the city, some of the aldermen. It might be very fit that they should have been so present; but from their being so present, they must have seen with their own eyes all these "arrangements for the accommodation of the public, without inconvenient crowding;" as if a theatre were in question, and not the Church of God—all those careful "accommodations for the public press," as if it were a question of a public meeting, a wrangling, political meeting, and not of a solemn religious service, on a peculiarly solemn and awful occasion—when the minister of religion was making, and most fervently was it to be prayed not in vain, an attempt to inculcate upon the mind of the wretched criminal the feelings which ought to accompany his exit from this world, and recommended him to the merciful consideration of a deeply-offended God. He had felt it to be his duty, engaged as he was here, in common with the rest of their Lordships, in the administration of justice elsewhere as well as in that House, to express his strong feeling of indignation and reproof on this occasion; and, as a member of the Corporation of the city of London, he would take leave to give a warning to that corporation of the risks they ran, if they, in whose hands the remedy for this enormous evil was placed, did not speedily and effectually apply that remedy. He expected of the city that the House should never more hear of the public being admitted to the condemned sermon.

Lord Stanley

said that, assuming the statements read by the noble Marquess from one of the newspapers of that morning to be correct, there could be but one feeling as to the extreme impropriety, the extreme indecency, of the proceeding described; and there could be no objection on the part of the Government to comply with the noble Marquess's Motion, if he desired to press it; but he would beg to intimate to the noble Marquess, that the statements he had made were not founded on authority which, unsupported, the House was accustomed to proceed upon. Nothing could, clearly, be more indecent, than that a religious, a solemn, celebration should be made a matter of vulgar display; and he quite agreed, moreover, that such displays, while they operated as an aggravation of punishment upon one class of convicts, upon another class they acted as a temptation to put on, even in the last trying scene referred to, an air of bravado. Upon a similar occasion, two years ago, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, upon representation made by him to the authorities of the city of London, received an assurance that such scenes should in future be put an end to. If the noble Marquess would for the present withdraw his Motion, he (Lord Stanley) would undertake to say, that his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would make precise and accurate inquiries into the actual facts of the case as they really occurred, ascertain what actually passed, and obtain from the city authorities such an explanation of the course they had taken as they might have to tender; and, meantime, he would venture to say, on the part of the Government, that whatever authority it could exercise towards putting an end to such scandalous scenes, should be carried into effect. He might observe, that the noble Marquess's Motion did not seem to embrace one point on which it would be necessary, as fully as much as on any other, to have information. He thought it important that they should have information of the regulations of the prison, relating not merely to the admission of the prisoners to hear the condemned sermons, but also to the admission of the public and reporters on such occasions, which were thereby converted into matters of display. If the noble Marquess should think it right again to call the attention of the House to the subject, he might amend his Motion by wording it so as to bring all this information distinctly before the House. For the present, perhaps, the noble Marquess would not object to withdraw his Motion, and in the meantime inquiries on the subject should be instituted.

The Duke of Richmond

was understood to say, that the Sheriffs had the custody of condemned criminals, and that this was not the first time that such a complaint, as the present had been made in their Lordships' House. He suggested that the best mode of proceeding would be to pass an Act of Parliament, enacting that no person should attend the chapel in Newgate except the prisoners and the officers. Unless this was done, though the same scene might not occur again in the time of the present Sheriffs, it might be repeated next year. If such an act were passed, the Sheriffs would have a very good answer to give to those who applied for admission, for they could say they were prevented by law from giving any. He concurred in the observations which had been made respecting the impropriety of the scene which had so recently passed in Newgate.

Lord Denman

considered it of great importance that this subject should not be lost sight of. One feature of the proceedings stated was in the very highest degree objectionable, as interfering with the due administration of justice, namely, the introduction, in the manner described, of persons under suspicion merely, and not under sentence. Their every gesture, their expression, their manner, their deportment being watched in this way, was calculated to produce the most deplorable consequences. A man might be imprisoned upon a charge of which he was in reality guiltless. Yet an impressive discourse of the kind referred to, upon a person so situated, might produce in him manifestations of feeling, of nervous excitement, which to the watching eye of those around might seem the result of remorse, of guilty consciousness; and it was impossible to say what effect these manifestations, represented and commented upon as they would be by the public, might not have upon the jury—nay, upon the Judge—before whom the unhappy man should afterwards take his trial. Anything approaching to a theatrical exhibition on such occasions was strongly to be condemned; and he hoped that something of the nature suggested by the noble Duke would be enacted, namely, that no prisoners should be present on these occasions except those for whose immediate hope and welfare the service was intended.

Lord Campbell

said, that the manner in which the individual committed for trial had been treated in the scene described, was a violation of law; and there was no doubt that the persons who brought that individual in might be indicted, convicted, and punished. They had all heard of a play acted for the discovery of a murderer. He knew not whether the scene which had been described was in imitation of that. Was a person committed for trial to be brought forward, and to have his looks and gestures watched? and was a description of his emotions to be afterwards given in evidence? He did hope, that by some regulation of the Executive Government, or by an Act of Parliament, if necessary, this practice of making the condemned sermon a theatrical exhibition would never be permitted.

Lord Redesdale

hoped, that if any Motion were brought forward in reference to the attendance in the chapel of Newgate at the time of the condemned sermon, something would also be done to regulate the proceedings on the morning of the execution. It appeared from a newspaper account that that morning the prisoner was informed that reporters were present if he wished to say anything for the information of the public; whereupon the criminal observed—"I cannot say anything now—I am not sufficiently composed. If I had known that they had been coming here, I might perhaps." He thought that such things should not be reported, because the prisoner seemed to imply that if he had known the reporters were to be present, he should have come prepared, and have exhibited a different spirit from that which ought to influence a criminal on his exit from the world. As it was, the prisoner seemed completely worn out, and fainted on the scaffold. How much better would it have been if all that was known during the culprit's career was his condemnation and execution! He hoped that some provision would be made to prevent the recurrence of such scenes.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, his object was to bring the subject under the consideration of their Lordships, and in moving for the regulations of the gaol of Newgate relating to the attendance of convicted criminals and persons committed for trial, on divine service in the chapel of the prison, he was anxious to know how far the authorities had any right to admit strangers upon such occasions. He had no doubt that Her Majesty's Government would take up the matter; and it would be much more properly left in their hands than in the hands of a humble individual like himself. Still he agreed in the suggestion made by the noble Duke on the cross benches (the Duke of Richmond), that should an act be passed on the subject, it should give the Secretary of State power to interfere with respect to the attendance of criminals and others, to give orders respecting the preparations for the execution, and, in fact, to direct all the minutiæ of the proceedings.

Lord Stanley

thought the noble Marquess would go further than either necessity or expediency required, if he intended that none of the prisoners should be present.

Lord Brougham

said, he meant only that strangers should be excluded. The prison chapel was not a parish church, nor was the service intended for the use of the public. It might so happen that some of the jury who would have to try the very man might be present upon such an occasion; so that when the trial came on, and the prisoner made his defence, the juryman who had watched him at the chapel might say—"Ay, it is all very well to tell such a story as that; but I recollect your conduct at the chapel. I don't forget how you looked when the parson said "Thou shalt do no murder.'"

The Marquess of Clanricarde

remarked, that the last time he had occasion to notice anything of a similar kind, he moved for certain prison regulations, which were on the Table of their Lordships' House. That affair was bad enough; but in this case the man was put in a chair immediately opposite the pulpit; thus putting him out for public scrutiny, according to the principle laid down in Hamlet—"The play, the play's the thing Where with to try the conscience of the king.

Motion withdrawn.

Back to