HL Deb 07 July 1851 vol 118 cc272-81

said, he had given notice a few days ago that he would move for returns with reference to persons committed to, or discharged from, the gaol at Agra, for the purpose of making a certain statement of facts which had come to his knowledge since he last alluded to this subject, with reference to the misconduct of certain magistrates in India in getting up evidence against Jotee Pershaud. If he had understood that the Governor General of India had ordered any inquiry into the circumstances, or even if the noble Lord the President of the Board of Control (Lord Broughton) would give him an assurance that he would order them to be investigated, he would have left the matter entirely in the hands of Her Majesty's Government; but as he could not obtain an intimation to that effect, he felt it his duty to proceed with the statement which, on a former evening, he had declared that he would offer to their Lordships. Without any further preliminary remarks on his part, he said that it was patent on the face of the proceedings that great injustice had been done to Jotee Pershaud. There was ample ground for inquiry in the naked facts of the case, as admitted, and as they were now before the public. In the only paper in India which had taken the part of the Government in these proceedings, he found it averred that— A large number of the native witnesses were declared by the Court to be unworthy of credit, they having been parties to the perjury, subornation of which was charged in the calendar. The chief of these was Muheysh Doss, who, having been sworn to certain facts before the magistrate, in order to establish claims against the Government, afterwards confessed that he had sworn falsely, and, being pardoned, gave a fresh deposition on oath, purporting to be a full disclosure of the truth, in contradiction of his original deposition. He found also that The Court declared that while there was no power in the law to debar him from being presented, there was also no power in the law to give credibility to what he said. He also found this statement:— With respect to another witness, Bhowannee, an old man, who in his second deposition had, like the rest, contradicted the first he had given before the magistrate, there was a new feature presented in the case. He did not, as they did, contradict in court his first deposition, but his second; that is, he swore that the first was true, and that he really had supplied the bullocks, which he had 'under fear,' as he now said, denied all knowledge of on the second occasion. For this he was put into custody by the Court, and so remained till the close of the proceedings on the following day, when he was released, on the ground that there was no sufficient proof of perjury; there was ostensible, but not legal, perjury. He likewise found this statement:— Mr. Lang also took a sweeping objection to the whole commitment; the defendants had never been confronted by the magistrate with any one of the witnesses, and this court could not be made a court of first instance. The Judge in addition brought out that not one of the witnesses for the defence had been examined at all. Further, it was stated that Mr. Lang —"contended against the reception of nearly the whole record—copies occupying the place of original documents, and the signatures in both copies and originals being generally unproved. What he (the Earl of Ellenborough) had now stated, which formed the principal facts of the case, were amply sufficient, he would not say to justify, but to require the authorities in India, and if they declined, the Government at home, to institute a rigorous and searching inquiry into the details of the getting-up of this case; for it was not a case which had been got up by the solicitors, but by the magistrates of India, and they had used all their strength, influence, and power, to destroy this able but unfortunate man. In his (the Earl of Ellenborough's) view of the case, it was of no importance whether Jotee Pershaud was guilty or not, for there was no security even for an innocent man in a country like India, unless he had a fair and impartial trial. But Jotee Pershaud had had nothing like such a trial. He emphatically asserted that Jotee Pershaud had not had a fair trial, as all the means which the authorities had at their disposal had been employed to withdraw the witnesses on his behalf from his knowledge and control. It became the Government of India, jealous as it ought to be of its character for its own sake and that of the country, to use every exertion to punish all wrongdoing and injustice on the part of its subordinate officers. In England, and in all well-constituted countries, the people looked up to the law for protection, but in India they looked up to the Government; and any dereliction of its duty towards the natives by the Government must be productive of most injurious consequences; and a corresponding good effect would be produced by the intervention of Government to punish its officers for improper conduct. He understood, from information which had been supplied to him from credible sources, that it was not correct to say that the first person who gave information to the Government of these alleged frauds on the part of Jotee Pershaud was in the Commissariat Department. He asserted distinctly and confidently that that person was a convicted felon, just discharged from the common gaol of Agra. It had been further stated to him, that every witness who tendered evidence in favour of Jotee Pershaud had been bullied and abused, and threatened by the magistrates with an indictment for perjury, in case he did not vary the tendency of that evidence; and that, on the other hand, every witness who volunteered evidence against that individual had been gladly welcomed and thankfully received by the magistrates. And he was further told that Jotee Pershaud was himself warned that if, in the necessary prosecution of his own concerns he should dare to leave Agra, he should be dragged back as a common felon, and should be lodged in safe custody. He asserted that these were facts which witnesses could prove. He further asserted that it was only by accident that Jotee Pershaud heard of the accusations which were to be preferred against him, and that when he asked for distinct information as to the nature of those accusations, that information was denied to him. Such being the facts of the case, he now told the noble Baron opposite (Lord Broughton) that, before he left the House that night, he (the Earl of Ellenborough) would furnish him with the name and residence of the gentleman who had given him this information; and, if the noble Baron pleased, he might see that gentleman either tomorrow or the day after, and satisfy himself of the correctness of the facts he was about to detail. He must now inform the noble Baron that the military magistrate at Agra had had presented to him a pe- tition from a person who stated that he was confined in the "compound" of the civil magistrate at the same place; that he had been confined there for several days without any of his relations having been permitted to have access to him; that he had been treated as a criminal; and, further, that he had been threatened with commitment to the common gaol unless he would consent to alter the deposition which he had made in favour of Jotee Pershaud. The military magistrate did not receive that petition, because it was in some respects informal, but he drove in the course of the day to the residence of Mr. Denison, the magistrate. There he saw the person who had sent him the petition, and whom he found in the custody of the police. That man almost threw himself under the carriage-wheels of the military magistrate. He stated that he had then been confined for twelve days, and, furthermore, he declared that he had been dragged to the place after he had made his deposition, in open court, in favour of Jotee Pershaud, and had been imprisoned in the "compound" for twelve days because he would not vary his deposition, and that he had been every day threatened with removal to a common gaol. Of the correctness of that information the noble Baron might satisfy himself whenever he pleased. That man, he said, had been illegally confined during every hour he remained in prison; for the civil magistrate who held him in durance had no authority, no jurisdiction in the district where the man resided; and in this country such a stretch of power would have been visited with heavy damages by any jury to which it was submitted. The military magistrate retired after seeing the man, and after promising that his case should undergo investigation. These facts affected Mr. Denison only; those which he should next relate affected Mr. Gubbins. There was a native banker in Agra, who had no connection whatever with the Commissariat, but through whose house, in the course of business, it happened that some pecuniary transactions between Jotee Pershaud and his agents had passed. That native banker was called before the magistrate—his deposition was unsatisfactory to the magistrate. The magistrate abused him in terms so gross that he sent an account of it to Calcutta, and asked the opinion of Mr. Longueville Clarke, the most eminent counsel there, whether he could not prosecute the magistrate for defamation of his character. He did not know in what terms that opinion was couched, but he was given to understand that Mr. L. Clarke was of opinion that an indictment would be for the language used. That native banker was again called before the magistrate, and was then committed to the common gaol, because he persisted in not varying his original deposition. He was confined in a small cell, and near his sleeping apartment was another, in which he was compelled to perform the offices of nature—an abomination and impurity intolerable to every Hindoo. That respectable man—for a respectable man he certainly was—was only at last relieved from this indignity in consequence of a petition of his having been presented to the Supreme Court at Calcutta by a Mr. Stowell, who was the first English merchant residing at Agra. In that petition all these facts were stated, and that petition could easily be obtained by the noble Baron. A Mr. Pell was also cognisant of all the circumstances of this case. These were all facts; "and there,"—said the noble Earl, tossing over an envelope to Lord Broughton—"there is the name of my informant. I ask for inquiry, and for nothing but justice in that inquiry. It is necessary to the character and security of Government in India, that wrongs like these should not be inflicted on our subjects there with impunity, but that they should be fully investigated to the bottom, in order that the wrongdoer, if wrongdoer there is, should be punished." The noble Earl concluded by moving for A Return of the Names of all persons committed to or discharged from the Gaol of Agra between the 11th of March and the 7th of November, 1850; specifying in each case the Magistrate by whose authority each such commitment or discharge took place, together with the grounds, if any, assigned for the same in the warrant.


said, that he could not but submit, both to their Lordships and to the noble Earl opposite, that the noble Earl was placing the Government in India, and the authorities against whom he preferred such grave accusations, in a position which he (Lord Broughton) must say was scarcely fair; for he had himself informed the noble Earl that he had not yet received any official information which would enable him to say either "yes" or "no" in reply to his (the Earl of Ellen-borough's) statement. He told the noble Earl further that these accusations, coming as they did from an eloquent individual, who had once wielded the highest authority in India, ought not to be made on the vague authority of any newspaper or any private individual, unless that individual, by avowing his name and station, was ready to incur all the results and consequences of giving wrong, and, it might be, false information. He repeated once more that he was in a position which would not enable him to answer the noble Earl's statements, and the noble Earl was aware of it. But he said that, as the noble Earl's former charges against the Government of India had turned out to be totally unfounded, so he presumed that the accusations which he now made would also want some of that authority which the noble Earl had so gravely attached to them. What was the charge made against the Government in the outset—a charge which the noble Earl did not venture to make in that House, because he knew that it must be instantly refuted? It had been stated that the Indian Government had endeavoured to stop the civil suit of Jotee Pershaud against it to get what was due to him, by instituting criminal proceedings against him, which they knew to be unfounded. Now the effect of that charge had been stopped, by showing that the criminal proceedings were instituted before civil action was commenced. The noble Earl had then indulged in a passionate vein of declamation against the outrages which he said were committed in the zenana of Jotee Pershaud, and had even gone so far as to allege that the authorities had torn a ring from the nose of his wife. He thought he might venture to say, emphatically, "That accusation is not true;" for when Mr. Lang conducted the defence of Jotee Pershaud—a defence which was not conceived in any moderate spirit, or in any very measured language—he did not venture to repeat in court that charge, although he had made that charge in the newspaper of which he was the proprietor, in similar, though not in the same, language as the noble Earl opposite. All that Mr. Lang stated in court was this, that when an inventory was produced of Jotee Pershaud's goods, in that inventory was found the nose-ring of his wife. The noble Earl had said in his speech that that ring had been positively taken away; but that was certainly not the fact. As neither that charge, nor any other of the charges now preferred by the noble Earl, was alluded to in Mr. Lang's defence, he could not help inferring that the charges preferred.by the noble Earl were equally unfounded. He did not say that they were positively unfounded, for he had no information. But the noble Earl was so eager to bring forward his charges that evening, that he did not even wait for his reply to his (the Earl of Ellenborough's) preliminary question. If the noble Earl had not been so impetuous, he would have heard the information which he now gave him, namely, that he (Lord Broughton) had already written to India, directing an inquiry to be made into all the circumstances of this extraordinary case. The noble Earl had said that if he could have an assurance from him (Lord Broughton) that an inquiry would be instituted into this case, he would not make his grievous accusations; but he did not wait to see whether or not he would give him that assurance. He did not like to interrupt the career of the noble Earl's eloquence, and he was now very glad that he had not done so. Had it been in the House of Commons, he should have interrupted the noble Earl in less than five minutes from the commencement of his speech. The noble Earl had told them that the rumours to which he had formerly alluded were facts. Now, if the noble Earl would only have the goodness to look at the speech of Mr. Wylly, the counsel for the prosecution, he would find that several of his pretended facts had already received a decided contradiction: and these facts were brought as charges against the Indian Government on the authority of some nameless informant, who declined coming forward in his own proper person, and whose name had just been transmitted to him in a private note by the noble Earl, which he had not opened, as he cared nothing for the information of so irresponsible a witness. It was not, in his opinion, at any time a gracious task on the part of any person returning from India to furnish on his first arrival matter of attack on the Government of which he had been a servant, and of which he ought to be the faithful servant. He did not mean to say that if there were malversation or maladministration on the part of the Company's servants in India, the mouths of its servants were to be, as it were, hermetically sealed; but it was not usual, when persons in official situations in India were attacked, to bring accusations against them when their official defenders were without means of offering either refutation, or palliation, or the grace of confession, if anything illegal had been unintentionally committed. He must also inform the noble Earl that he was quite mistaken in supposing that only one newspaper in India had taken the part of the Government in these transactions. He held at that moment in his hand the Bengal Hurkaru. The editor of that journal was commenting on the evidence produced in the course of these transactions—in which Jotee Pershaud was the participator, if not the principal; and this was the language he used:—"They were parts of one gigantic system of knavery." He then proceeded as follows:— The honest and disinterested endeavours of the Government officers in their researches into gross and notorious malversations have been met by opposition such as is rarely found in even this country, where justice never strikes down the wealthy culprit until all the weapons of intrigue, perjury, intimidation, and corruption have been fairly worn out in his defence. …. His friends and advisers have even presumed, perhaps unwisely, to threaten officers of the military and civil services, who could not protect, or who dared to attack him. A patient and fearless inquiry has, however, elicited convincing evidence, and that evidence has all been obtained from sources which, had the accused been honest or guiltless, would have been the most available means for their defence. That came from another newspaper; and he ventured to affirm that that newspaper gave as fair a representation of these transactions as any that had been made by the noble Earl opposite, or by any of the friends who had instructed him. Now, what was the character which the advocate of Jotee Pershaud gave of Hindoo witnesses, and of Hindoos in general, including, of course, his own client? Mr. Lang, the advocate of Jotee Pershaud, said— We must take the natives of this country as they are; we must not make war upon human nature. Do any of us think worse of a native for telling us deliberate lies? None of us have any reason to do so. And why? Because among them—even the most honourable of them—mendacity even of the gravest character involves no species of criminality or disgrace? Non mens hic sermo; it was what Mr. Lang, the advocate of Jotee Pershaud, said, when talking of the character of those persons of whom his client was one; and, therefore, could their Lordships be surprised that if in the transaction to which the noble Earl alluded, one witness on a certain occasion gave one kind of evidence, and on another occasion gave another kind of evidence? If any persons were sufferers from this prevarication, it was the prosecutors; for, as the noble Earl knew, Jotee Pershaud got his acquittal; and he begged to inform the noble Earl, that if there was any reason to complain of partiality, the charge on that head at- tached, not to the prosecution, but to the other side, for, on looking over Mr. Wylly's speeches, he found that gentleman said— Before the proceedings of the Court open this day (April 3), I have a duty of much importance to perform. It is to record my protest against the course pursued by the Court yesterday in several most important respects. I complain, first and generally, of the great departure from the usual procedure of this country which has marked the conduct of the Court; secondly, of the injurious hurry with which the most important facts and witnesses are hurried on in review before the Court, without allowing time for those important facts to which they testify being duly grouped and weighed. This was the complaint of the gentleman connected with the prosecution; and if their Lordships looked to the records of the whole proceedings they would find that throughout there was manifest appearance of the greatest fairness to the person accused, and they would, he thought, agree with the gentleman he bad just quoted, that the leaning was decidedly against the prosecutor. If the statements of the noble Earl were correct, of course the persons alluded to by him ought to be punished; but the noble Earl the other night reduced the delinquency pretty much to an error of judgment, and that, of course, ought not to be visited with such condign punishment as the noble Earl seemed to call for. Considering the vastness of the empire we administered in the East, and the number of officers engaged in its administration, it was but seldom that any great extent of delinquency took place; and when cases of that nature did occur, they were almost always inquired into, and real delinquency, when proved, was punished. He could assure the noble Earl that, in respect to the matter he had brought under the notice of the House, inquiry would be made, and information would be asked for with an anxiety equal to the noble Earl's, to elicit the truth.


observed, that at the commencement of his address he distinctly stated, that if he received assurance that inquiry had been or would be made into the circumstances, he would not trouble their Lordships with any observations; and he reminded the House, that a fortnight ago he postponed a statement on the subject, under the idea that possibly news might be received from India to the effect that the Governor General had ordered an inquiry. But, if neither the Governor General nor the noble Lord instituted a searching inquiry into the facts of the case, he should then have a charge to make against both. He regretted that the noble Lord had spoken as he had done in reference to a gentleman to whom he (the Earl of Ellenborough) had alluded. He was quite sure that that gentleman had not gone beyond the limits of his duty in communicating the information. He begged also to say that his statement did not rest on the authority of newspapers, but on that of most careful informants, and of letters from Affra, and upon the personal knowledge of persons whose names he would mention to the noble Lord.

On Question, agreed to; and ordered accordingly.