HL Deb 05 June 1863 vol 171 cc397-401

rose to put a Question to the noble Duke the Secretary of State for the Colonies, relative to the Royal Victoria Asylum, Wands worth. His chief object was, to make a personal explanation in consequence of some observations which had fallen from a right hon. Friend of his (Sir John Pakington) in another place. For some time considerable difference of opinion had existed with reference to the conduct of the Asylum, and particularly as related to the competency of the lady superintendent and the chaplain. The Ladies' Committee investigated the matter, and elicited certain facts, the result being, that they came to a resolution, declaring that they could not continue to act beneficially to the institution if the lady superintendent and chaplain remained at the head of the establishment. The Executive Committee declined to remove those persons, and in consequence of this decision four of the seven ladies who formed the Ladies' Committee at once resigned. The other three did not resign at the moment, but waited to see whether the Royal Commission would approve of the decision of the Executive Committee; and on finding that they did approve of it, these three ladies, one of whom was his own daughter, also sent in their resignation. At the meeting of the Royal Commissioners, at which it was determined to retain the officials objected to, his noble Friend (Earl Grey) moved a Resolution for their removal; and he (Lord St. Leonards), in supporting that Resolution, expressed himself very warmly on the subject. From the report of his observations, in another place, it would seem as if his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) imputed to him that he had taken that course, and warmly supported his noble Friend's Resolution, because his own daughter was a member of the Ladies' Committee; but if his right hon. Friend had looked into the facts, he would have found that there was no reason for imputing motives to him. He might observe, that of the four ladies who first resigned, three were wives of members of the Executive Committee, and two were also wives of members of the Royal Commission. The husbands of those ladies voted for retaining the officials to whom he had alluded, whereas the ladies themselves resigned because they were retained; so that affection was not allowed to get the better of a sense of duty. It was only recently his daughter had become a member of the Ladies' Committee; but from the first he had been a Royal Commissioner. He had also been a member of the Executive Committee; and that body having done him the honour of electing him their first Chairman, he had worked for the institution day by day and hour by hour during a period of two years. He had not resigned till every shilling of the vast sums contributed towards the establishment and maintenance of the asylum had been secured and appropriated to its proper purpose. It might interest their Lordships and the public to hear that of the vast sums which had come to the hands of the Royal Commissioners by driblets and in sums of all amounts, from all quarters of the globe, every single shilling had passed through the hands of the Royal Commissioners, without any sum whatever having been spent in entertainments, or in anything that might be called personal expenditure on the part of the Commissioners. The contributions had been advertised as they were received; the money, as it was received, was duly paid into the Bank of England every day; no one was allowed to retain any money whatever, and none was drawn out of the Bank except by cheque signed by the Chairman and two other members of the Committee. He had employed a competent person to trace the various subscriptions: that person found that every shilling that had ever been advertised had passed into the fund, and that there was in the fund a considerable sum over and above the amount that had been advertised as received from subscribers. Great precaution had been used with respect to the opening of letters containing inclosures, and also in respect to the drawing of cheques, so that the Royal Commissioners might confidently assert that their management had been a disin- terested one. But their Lordships would remember those painful occurrences in the school which had attracted so large a share of public attention. After the institution was fully established, it was superintended by a Ladies' Committee, and in the course of their supervision they discovered certain proceedings of which they could not approve. A girl died in a solitary room in which she was confined; and another girl was sent to London to be mesmerized; and altogether there was a bad moral tone in the school. These were the circumstances which weighed on his mind, and led him to support the Motion of the noble Earl (Earl Grey), and not his affection for the lady who had been, as he thought unnecessarily, alluded to in another place. His right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) said that at a late meeting of the Royal Commissioners he (Lord St. Leonards), in the most frank spirit, declared that having passed several hours of the previous day in looking over the establishment, he felt bound to state that he had never seen an institution in a more satisfactory condition. That implied that he intended to retract what he said previously, which was certainly not the case. He had never changed his own opinion, though he was willing to yield to that of the majority; In visiting the establishment he found all persons at their posts; the lady superintendent, the chaplain, the schoolmistress, the pupil teachers, and the children, were all busily occupied, and he admired what he saw there as he had done before. His objection was, in fact, not to the routine of the school— that was free from all objection; it was that the heads of the Asylum Had permitted certain acts which had demoralized in some degree the school, and had led to the death of a girl. He was happy to say that in consequence of the course pursued by the Ladies' Committee steps had been taken recently which tended to remove all such objections to the establishment as he had referred to. As the Royal Commissioners had decided on retaining the lady superintendent and the chaplain, he did not desire to say a single word against them. There was one thing, however, of which he thought the Commissioners could not approve; he referred to the fact that a girl sixteen years and seven months old was, for petty theft, aggravated by lying, sent to a private reformatory. He thought no individual had a right to send her to such a place. It appeared that she had borne a good character up to the time of committing the offence in question, and that on leaving the reformatory she went to service. In his opinion, it would have been far better had she been punished at the school instead of being stigmatized by being sent to a reformatory. The Ladies' Committee, of which he had spoken, had now ceased to exist; and believing that the institution could not work well without such a Committee, he wished to ask the noble Duke, Whether any steps were being taken for the formation of a new Ladies' Committee?


said, he was sure his noble and learned Friend would not expect him to enter into the misunderstanding which seemed to have existed between him and the right hon. Gentleman who spoke upon the subject in the other House of Parliament. But taking an interest in the Commission to which his noble and learned Friend had referred, he had gone very carefully through the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and it did not seem to him that there was intended to be or was any aspersion cast upon the motives or the conduct of his noble and learned Friend. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was not a member of the Executive Committee, upon whom devolved all the internal regulations of the Victoria Asylum, but filled the office of chairman of the Patriotic Fund, a post which he had occupied since the death of the lamented Prince Consort. He could not therefore reply authoritatively to the questions addressed to him, but would give such information as had reached him. His noble and learned Friend's Question inferred that no steps had been taken to re-constitute the Committee of Ladies. The phrase used by the noble and learned Lord was likely to mislead. The Committee of Ladies had consisted of twelve ladies—seven of whom had resigned and five remained. He believed that those five ladies had not since met as a committee, but an arrangement was made among themselves individually to visit the asylum, and he believed they had done so. His noble and learned Friend shook his head, but that showed the mistake in putting the Question to himself, as it was clear the noble and learned Lord knew better than he did. He was informed that one of the five ladies had recently been compelled to leave this country in consequence of her husband being ordered on service abroad, and a proposal had been made to nominate another lady in her place, and he also understood that the Executive Committee at their next meeting on Tuesday intended to consider what steps should be taken with a view to increase the Ladies Committee. He hoped his noble and learned Friend would be satisfied to learn, that if not technically, at least practically, the Committee had continued to exist, and that steps would be taken to increase the number of its members.

House adjourned at half past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.