HL Deb 13 August 1867 vol 189 cc1437-46

rose to bring the case of Mr. Eyre under the consideration of the House, and to ask the Secretary for the Colonies, Whether the Government were prepared to adopt the opinion of the late Attorney General in regard to the criminal prosecution of Mr. Eyre, as published in the newspapers of July 29, and whether, in consequence of that opinion, and taking into consideration the fact of more than one abortive attempt having been made by persons styling themselves the Jamaica Committee to carry out the object they had in view, the Government would now undertake to defend Mr. Eyre against any further persecution? In bringing the Question forward, he might be permitted to state that he regarded it as one of the greatest importance, not only to the individual to whom his Motion had special reference, but also to all Governors of our colonies. He would not detain the House by going through the long history of the case, which was well known, and had been thoroughly sifted by the public; he would, simply point out that ex-Governor Eyre had received from various sources, especially from the late Government and the Commissioners who were sent out to Jamaica, abundant marks of their approbation of his conduct. Mr. Eyre had been before the public in posts of great trust for twenty-five years, and during all that time his conduct in many parts of the world had received the approval of the Governments of the time being. He would refer to one or two passages in confirmation of what he said. In 1841 Mr. Eyre was first employed as stipendiary magistrate on the Murray River, in South Australia, and in that capacity his experience of the colony and knowledge of the aboriginal character enabled him to perform valuable services in controlling the fierce tribes of the Murray and the Darling rivers. In 1846 Mr. Eyre was transferred by Earl Grey from South Australia to the post of Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand, and in appointing him that noble Earl said— Since I saw you, shortly after my appointment to this office, I have been very anxious to find some employment of a superior kind to that which you have had in South Australia which it might be in my power to offer you, but hitherto without success. I am, however, happy to say that an occasion has at last presented itself which enables me to make you an offer which I trust may be agreeable to you. It is intended to appoint a Lieutenant Governor for the southern part of the colony of New Zealand, to act in the absence of the Governor. In the present state of affairs this situation is a very important one, and it is expedient that the person to whom it is intrusted should proceed to the colony with the least possible delay. Mr. Eyre remained in New Zealand until 1853, and Earl Grey, in a letter to Governor Sir George Grey, expressed his approbation of Mr. Eyre's services in these words— I have the same favourable opinion of the zeal and intelligence of Mr. Eyre's administration, which I am happy to see that you entertain. In October, 1854, Sir George Grey, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, appointed Mr. Eyre Lieutenant Governor of St. Vincent, under Sir W. Colebrooke, who was Governor-in-Chief of the Windward Islands; and in this position likewise Mr. Eyre obtained the approval of his immediate superior "for the zealous and able manner" in which he had conducted the administration. In 1859 Mr. Eyre was appointed by the Colonial Secretary of the day, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, to administer, during the absence of the Governor, the government-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, and in that position also the conduct of Mr. Eyre gave great satisfaction. In 1861 Mr. Eyre was selected by the late Duke of Newcastle to administer, during the absence of the Governor, the government of Jamaica, confessedly the most unmanageable of all our colonies. Mr. Eyre in this post met with the most determined opposition, and a petition was presented to Her Majesty praying for his recall; but such was the high opinion which the Duke of Newcastle entertained of his merits that the petition was practically answered by the immediate appointment of Mr. Eyre as Captain-General and Commander-in-Chief over the Island of Jamaica. He came now to the occurrences relative to the insurrection in Jamaica in the autumn of 1865. When the news of that event arrived Mr. Cardwell was Secretary of State for the Colonies, and in a despatch dated the 17th of November, 1865, Mr. Cardwell said— I have next to convey to you my high approval of the spirit, energy, and judgment with which you have acted in your measures for repressing and preventing the spread of the insurrection. I have also to express my gratification at the clear and succinct manner in which, under all the great difficulties of your position, you have been enabled to communicate to Her Majesty's Government the narrative of the transactions. It was the first duty of your government to take, as you did, effectual measures for the suppression of the horrible rebellion, and I congratulate you on the rapid success by which those measures appear to have been attended. Then a change came over the scene. A deputation from what was called "the Jamaica Committee" waited upon the Secretary for the Colonies. Whether the late Government was afraid of alienating Parliamentary support was not for him to say; but, in consequence of the importunity of that Committee, a Commission was sent out to Jamaica to inquire into all the circumstances of the case. And what did the Commissioners say? In the body of their Report they stated— That the disturbances in St. Thomas-in-the East had their immediate origin in a planned resistance to lawful authority; that the causes leading to the determination to offer that resistance were manifold; that the principal object of the disturbers of order was the obtaining of land free from the payment of rent; that an additional incentive to the violation of the law arose from the want of confidence generally felt by the labouring class in the tribunals before which most of the disputes affecting their interests were carried for adjudication; that some, moreover, were animated by feelings of hostility towards political and personal opponents, while not a few contemplated the attainment of their ends by the death or expulsion of the white inhabitants of the island; that the original design for the overthrow of constituted authority was confined to a small portion of St. Thomas-in-the-East, yet the disorder, in fact, spread with singular rapidity over an extensive tract of country, and that such was the state of excitement prevailing in other parts of the island that had more than a momentary success been obtained by the insurgents their ultimate overthrow would have been attended with a still more fearful loss of life and property; that praise is due to Governor Eyre for the skill, promptitude, and vigour which he manifested during the early stages of the insurrection, to the exercise of which qualities its speedy termination is in a great degree to be attributed; that the military and naval operations appear to us to have been prompt and judicious. Mr. Cardwell, on receiving the Report of the Commissioners, wrote as follows:— Governor Eyre fully deserves all the commendation bestowed upon him; Her Majesty's Government agree in your conclusion that the naval and military operations were prompt and judicious, and considering the large share personally taken by Governor Eyre in the direction of those operations, they attribute to him a large share also of the credit which is due for their success. The addresses of the Legislative Council, of the House of Assembly, of the various parishes of the island, and of others testify the sense generally entertained by the white and coloured inhabitants of their obligation to Governor Eyre for the promptitude and vigour of those measures. One of the charges made against Mr. Eyre was that he was too ready to apply martial law all over the island; but upon that point Mr. Cardwell used these words— Nor must it be forgotten that he resisted the proposal urgently made to him by the custos and magistrates to proclaim Kingston; that he refused to accede to the suggestion of Colonel Whitfield to proclaim the parishes of Trelawny, St. James, Hanover, and Westmoreland, or that of Major-General O'Connor, who thought that from the first the whole island ought to have been placed under martial law; and that in respect both to the assistance offered by the Governor of Cuba, and to the summoning of British troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia, he showed himself superior to feelings of alarm expressed and entertained by those around him. In passing, he might remark, that addresses of congratulation and approval were presented to Mr. Eyre from both Houses of the Legislature in the Island, and from persons of every religious denomination, all of whom concurred in declaring that it was owing to Mr. Eyre's promptitude, energy, wisdom, and decision that the lives of the whole white and coloured population were saved. An Act of Indemnity was passed by both Houses of the Legislature in Jamaica, and confirmed by the Privy Council in this country. It was not for him to give an opinion about martial law. That subject had been discussed in a most learned Charge by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, whose opinion as a lawyer must carry great weight, and be treated with every respect. But there were persons who disputed the accuracy of the judgment of that learned functionary, and contended that some of the positions which he had laid down in his Charge were not correct. But whether martial law was legal or not, it was not the opinion of any one in Jamaica that it was illegal, nor was it in his judgment the opinion of anybody anywhere else. Where a great danger arose assuredly there must be some remedy and the Government in case of emergency must act in self-defence. He was only contending that, whatever the law of the realm in the matter was, Mr. Eyre was bound to act according to what appeared to him to be the best course. He denied that Mr. Eyre had kept out of the way on his return to his country; he remained in town a considerable time, his address was well known and he could have been found at any time. Mr. Eyre knew that the Jamaica Committee wanted to attack him, and he published his address and also came up to town and attended one of Her Majesty's levées. There was no ground for any imputation that he shirked any legal consequences of his con- duct. Mr. Eyre was suddenly superseded by the Secretary for the Colonies, and this decision of the Secretary of State threw Mr. Eyre out of employment, after his long services, totally unprovided for. The position of Colonial Governors was a very hard one. Military or naval officers at any rate had their half-pay to fall back upon; but there was no such provision in the case of Governors, and Mr. Eyre had not served quite the time necessary to entitle him to a pension. Much had been said of great and undue severities which had taken place in Jamaica; but it was necessary to consider the critical position in which Mr. Eyre was at the time. A map of the Island had been prepared showing the points of attack, and the military and naval forces available, and the fact was that when the outbreak took place the whole Island was upon a volcano. A despatch was sent out by his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) to Sir John Peter Grant, in which his Lordship drew the attention of Sir John Peter Grant to the Return of the sentences inflicted by the Special Commission, held at Kingston, between the 24th of January and the 9th of March 1866, and added that he found that many of the sentences were of great severity—that thirteen men and two women were sentenced to penal servitude for life, and seven men and four women to penal servitude for twenty years. Lord Carnarvon then added that as the investigation of the Royal Commission had enabled the Government to appreciate more clearly than was possible at the time, the nature of the recent disturbances, and the guilt of those implicated in them, it would be desirable that the proceedings of the Commission specially appointed to try those persons should now be revised; and he wished Sir John Peter Grant, therefore, to call for the Judge's notes; and, after consultation with the presiding Judge under that Commission, to report his opinion whether in any of the cases there were grounds for remitting any portion of the sentences. This despatch was more or less of an implication upon Mr. Eyre, and was therefore made the most of by people in this country. But Sir John Peter Grant, in his reply, said— Having given the case of every one of these prisoners my best attention, it is my opinion that considerations of justice will not admit of any remission of the punishment in some of the cases; and that in others of them, though the mercy of the Crown may be extended to them at a future time, it would not be advisable, for the reasons to which I have above ventured to point, to announce any remission of punishment for a long time to come; and then only if the state of feeling in the colony recovers its tone. This was a tacit reproof of the charges made against Mr. Eyre, and served to exonerate him from any reflection on this score. To show the spirit in which the prosecution of Mr. Eyre had been carried on, he might mention that lately it had come to light that Captain Edenborough, who was the captain of a Confederate armed vessel, and had been in this country, had made an affidavit that Gordon, the principal person implicated in these transactions—the man, who in his (the Earl of Shrewsbury's) opinion, laid the train and got others to fire it—came to Captain Edenborough and wished to buy his vessel and arms and bring over Haytians and proclaim rebellion in Jamaica. Captain Edenborongh did not know the person at that time, but afterwards saw Gordon's photograph, and identified him. The animus against Mr. Eyre shown by this strong fact—that when Captain Edenborough wished to leave this country every effort was made to prevent the reception of his evidence, and induce him to retract what he said. This attempt, however had been defeated; his affidavit was sworn, and he was afterwards cross-examined. He (the Earl of Shrewsbury) rejoiced that the magistrates of Market Drayton, with true English manliness and fairness, had not been led away by any outside clamour, but had honestly and firmly done their duty. This was not the first time that there had been clamour and oppression against an individual. There, was an insurrection in Ceylon during the time that Lord Torrington was Governor, and when it was proposed to send out a Commission to inquire into the cruelty which was alleged to have been exercised in suppressing the rebellion, Earl Russell made use of this language in the House of Commons— I believe, whatever that decision may be, that the rules and maxims that we have laid down must be the rules and maxims by which any Government will be guided which seeks to preserve this Empire, and that if any Government was to take the dastardly part of sacrificing a Governor because there was a clamour raised against him, got up with great perseverance and industry—I believe that the Government, while it would sacrifice the colonies, would meet with the reprobation, the deserved reprobation, of the people of England. Thus, Earl Russell at that time threw the shield of his authority over Lord Torrington; yet he was at the head of the Govern- ment that gave way to the clamour raised by the Jamaica Committee, and sacrificed Governor Eyre. He (the Earl of Shrewsbury) had not brought this case before their Lordships on account of any previous knowledge of Mr. Eyre. He had only taken up his cause thinking him an oppressed public servant, and believing that all who were in authority should be backed up by their respective Governments. How was a man to do his duty in a crisis if he had, as it were, a rope round his neck; if he knew that he would be attacked should he not do his duty, and should he do his duty, that then he would be maligned and ruined? It was due to an injured man that some reparation should be made to him. It was only when a violent outcry had been made against him in this country that the authorities had refused him the reparation which they ought to make, and which he hoped they would make to Mr. Eyre. He begged to ask the noble Duke—and trusted the answer would be a satisfactory one—Whether the Government were prepared to adopt the opinion of the late Attorney General with regard to the criminal prosecution of Mr. Eyre, as published in the newspapers of the 29th of July; and whether, in consequence of that opinion, and taking into consideration the fact that more than one abortive attempt had been made by persons styling themselves the Jamaica Committee to carry out the objects they had in view, the Government would now undertake to defend Mr. Eyre against any further prosecution?


It is quite unnecessary for me to follow the noble Earl through the various points raised by him in the early part of his statement. No one disputes, or has ever disputed, the ability with which Mr. Eyre has served the country in the many previous positions in which he was entrusted with official responsibility; but the question which Her Majesty's Government have had to decide, and to winch the Question of the noble Earl refers, was the course to be taken with regard to proceedings in which Mr. Eyre found himself involved, not by any act of the Government, but by the act of individuals in this country on his return from Jamaica. That question arose while my noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon), who is not now present, held the office which I have now the honour to hold. At that time the Government decided what should be done under the circumstances in which Mr. Eyre was placed —namely, that of being threatened with a criminal prosecution for certain acts said to be done under his orders during the outbreak in Jamaica. The course which the Government thought it right to take was to give every facility to Mr. Eyre for his defence in any proceedings that might be brought against him; but that it was not the duty of the Government in such a case to intervene between Mr. Eyre and the persons who might endeavour to set the law in motion against him in this country in respect of any acts which he had done. The Government felt that the proper course in such a case was to leave matters to the ordinary course of law, feeling confident that if the proceedings were unfounded they would only recoil on the heads of those who had taken them; and, on the other hand, that if there were any foundation whatever for them the charges brought ought to be subjected to the test of the strict forms of procedure in this country, where ex parte statements would not be allowed any weight until they had been tested by the rules of evidence, and those who made them had been subjected to the ordeal of cross-examination in open court. It seems to me that if that course were right then, it ought still to be persevered in. The present position of matters is this—certain criminal proceedings against Mr. Eyre have signally failed; yet certain persons consider they have claims against Mr. Eyre for damages in respect of proceedings he took against them during the disturbances in Jamaica. At the present moment, two actions are pending against Mr. Eyre. One appears to have been proceeded with no further than the mere issuing of the writ. The other case is proceeding, and there has been recently taken the evidence to which the noble Earl has referred as having an important bearing upon the state of affairs in Jamaica—namely, the evidence of Captain Edenborough of the Confederate navy. I confess it appears to me that while these actions are pending, and examinations proceeding, it would not be right for the Government to step in and, in the words of the Question of the noble Earl, "undertake to defend Mr. Eyre against any further persecution." It seems to me that the only right course for the Government to pursue—and the best for Mr. Eyre—is to allow the proceedings that have been commenced against him to be brought to their legitimate conclusion, and to allow the evidence upon which they are founded to be sifted in a Court of Law. Then, and not until then, will it be right for the Government to decide any question which might arise with reference to Mr. Eyre. The noble Earl thought proper to allude to a despatch of my predecessor (the Earl of Carnarvon), calling upon the Government of Jamaica to explain certain sentences passed, not during martial law, but by the civil authority, upon certain rioters, which sentences appeared to be characterized by excessive severity; and the noble Earl read some extracts from the answer of the present Governor, pointing out the reasons for these sentences, and why they should be persevered in, and otherwise referred to this despatch as indirect confirmation that a state of things prevailed in Jamaica which justified the course pursued by Mr. Eyre. I should not have referred to this despatch, because it does not appear to bear in any manner on the question before your Lordships, but for the printed statement placed in my hands this afternoon, which the noble Earl has quoted, and which, indeed, bears his signature. This document conveys the impression that the Government to which I belong have withheld from the public documents which could throw light on the subject; for it states that Lord Carnarvon's despatch has been inserted in the newspapers, and has obtained wide publicity, while similar publicity has not been given to the reply of Sir John Peter Grant, which contains matter of the highest importance in vindication of Mr. Eyre. I regret that the statement should have been made in such a form, because a reference to the blue book would have shown that this despatch is published in extenso, together with Lord Carnarvon's despatch. I do not, however, see that these despatches in any way bear upon the case of Governor Eyre. With regard to the particular Question put to me, I think that the proper time for Mr. Eyre to bring any question he may desire to raise with regard to his own conduct under the notice of die Government will be when the proceedings now pending against him have closed. At the same time, I shall feel at liberty to discuss the matter with much more freedom when I can refer to evidence, which I do not feel justified in doing while the cases are before Courts of Law. While admitting the embarrassing position in which Mr. Eyre is placed, and appreciating the feelings of disappointment which must necessarily overwhelm an officer who, after serving his country faithfully and honourably so many years in various colonies, finds himself the object of criminal and civil prosecutions, I cannot forget that the liability to be exposed to such vicissitudes is necessarily attached to the high, position which Mr. Eyre assumed. It has been his misfortune to fall upon a time of trouble and difficulties—difficulties which he surmounted—and disturbances during which he showed great vigour and energy. For what he did he has had the misfortune to be arraigned by certain persons, and the legal proceedings must take their course, and the evidence be sifted for the facts before the Government can form any opinion as to the course to be pursued by them with reference to Mr. Eyre.


, in explanation, said, he did not mean to imply that the Government had withheld the despatch of the present Governor from publicity, but that the newspapers had done so. He could not say that the Answer of the noble Duke was very satisfactory. Mr. Eyre seemed to be the victim of a persecution by a party, one half of whom seemed to wish for his blood, while the other half coveted any money he might possess — and, in fact, wished to ruin him.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.