HL Deb 03 July 1857 vol 146 cc856-8

EARL TALBOT rose to move for correspondence relative to the murder of the late Mr. John Price, of Melbourne, Inspector of Convicts. He wished to call attention to this disgraceful and diabolical murder of a near relative of his. It was not necessary for him to go into the harrowing details of this barbarous transaction, but it would suffice to say that Mr. Price was in the execution of his duty among the convicts when they rose and literally stoned him to death, and made an attempt to do the same to the other officers present. It was, no doubt, the result of a plan and combination, and there was every reason to suppose that the plan was devised in consequence of a false and morbid sympathy out of doors for the persons who had murdered Mr. Melville, and who were acquitted on a point of law. He had a report of the inquest on Mr. Price, which showed that there was a morbid sympathy for criminals in the colony, which required to be inquired into, and if possible put a stop to. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against fifteen of the prisoners, and they added, "that, in their opinion, one cause of the occurrence was the misplaced sympathy of the public for the persons in the case alluded to, which by some means had become known to the convicts, and had caused a spirit of insubordination to arise among them since the trial of the murderers of William Melville, in November last." Now, he (Earl Talbot) would venture to think that this was a subject which ought to be investigated by the Executive Government. Those convicts were sent out under sentence for heinous crimes, and it was the duty of the Executive Government to see that they were properly guarded, and kept from contact with the public out of doors, and free from those influences which had led to this catastrophy. Mr. Price's character was unimpeachable, and during the time he was an Inspector of Convicts in Norfolk Island he did his duty with equal kindness and firmness, and when the convicts were removed from that place the same duties were imposed upon him at Melbourne as he formerly discharged at Norfolk Island. He would read an extract from a Melbourne paper, which would give the House some notion of the feeling on the subject in the colony. The noble Earl read an extract, to the effect "that an attempt had been made by a party of long-sentence convicts to escape, in resisting which Mr. Price fell; insubordination was now the rule in the hulks; the convicts defied their custodians, and had got among them a copy of a report of a meeting of the citizens' committee, a self constituted body, at which Mr. Price was held up as a cruel, inhuman monster, and it had become the prison talk that the ruffians who murdered Mr. Melville had been acquitted; and these things having found their way into the hulks had produced such effects that the convicts were in a state of insubordination, under the belief that they had with them the sympathy of the public outside." At the inquest, Captain Blanchard, in his evidence, said, "that Mr. Price's manner was kind and almost fatherly; that since Mr. Melville's case his difficulties had increased; he had lost his control over the men, and yet he had to go among them; the sympathy of the press and the public had had a great effect on the men, and when Mr. Price refused them a request, it was always done kindly." The officers were unarmed, and the reason given for this was, that as there were only twelve or thirteen men to control 150 or 160 of these desperate ruffians, they were afraid that if they carried arms the convicts would seize them and turn them against themselves. It seemed that newspapers were allowed to get among the convicts. He thought he had said enough to prove that this was a case worthy of their attention, and he hoped that the Government would, not only for the sake of the Imperial Government, but for the sake of his lamented departed relative, take some steps to control those dastardly ruffians. He hoped they would lay on the table any correspondence relating to the matter which was in their possession, and give an assurance that the matter should be inquired into, and justice done to the memory of his lamented friend. He had heard that the Colonial Legislature had made a provision for Mr. Price's widow and orphans; and he had an additional claim on the sympathy of this country, as he had married a near relative of Sir John Franklin.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Correspondence relative to the Murder of the late Mr. John Price, of Melbourne, Inspector of Convicts.


said, the noble Earl had justly characterized this case as a most diabolical outrage, and Her Majesty's Government would make every inquiry into the subject. He would be ready to lay the correspondence on the table.

Motion agreed to.