HL Deb 14 June 1872 vol 211 cc1725-9

LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE moved for copies of Correspondence relative to the release of the prisoners convicted of assault upon the late Mr. Murphy. He had also to ask whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been called to the indecent conduct of the Roman Catholic mob at Birmingham on the occasion of the funeral of the late Mr. Murphy. In making his Motion and asking his Question, he must observe that a cold blooded and deliberate murder was not a matter to be regarded lightly. No doubt, Mr. Murphy, who was connected with the Scottish Reformation Society had used language that was quite unjustifiable; but the way in which he had met his death rendered his case of no slight interest, and the crime one by no means to be excused. Mr. Murphy gave his lecture in a private room, where no one need go who did not choose to hear, and he there denounced—in strong language, no doubt—those views from which he differed. The Government had stated on a former occasion that the police went in ten minutes after the riot began and rescued Mr. Murphy; but that was not done until he had been so much injured that he died in consequence of his injuries. He would be told that the Judge, before whom these rioters were tried, had sanctioned their release, but it was impossible to understand on what grounds, as, in sentencing them, the Judge stated that he had never known a more cowardly and brutal attack of some hundreds on an unarmed man. The Government should also be extremely careful how they dealt in this case, lest it might be supposed that Mr. Murphy, having contributed to the defeat of Mr. Gladstone in Lancashire, might be said to influence them in their conduct. Her Majesty's Government, the other day, in Ireland, very properly sent a considerable body of police to prevent a collision between two priests heading two mobs. They also saw that a Republican lecturer—at the time of the illness of the Prince of Wales—was protected in Glasgow. In fact, they took care to protect their friends, but allowed a Protestant lecturer to be attacked at every place he went by organized mobs, one of which at last murdered him. Re-calling the assistance the Conservative party received from the Protestant party in Lancashire at the last Election, he was sorry not to hear one word of reprobation from them on this and other occasions, when he had felt it his duty to bring this matter before the House. What had happened to induce the Government to mitigate the penalty which had been inflicted upon the rioters at Whitehaven? In his opinion there was nothing whatever to justify them in shortening the punishment to which these persons had been condemned—and certainly punishment ought not to be awarded to criminals in accordance with the number of friends they could bring to bear, and there could be no doubt that the release of these men had resulted in immediately renewed violence between the Roman Catholic and Protestant mobs, the former having assembled at the prison gates to give an ovation to these prisoners. He thought that such mal-administration could but bring the Executive into contempt. Besides, it was to be feared that the course which had been adopted by the Government would tend to promote violent encounters between parties who held opposite and extreme opinions.

Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to lay before this House all correspondence relative to the release of prisoners convicted of assault on the late Mr. Murphy, whether between the Roman Catholic chaplain of the jail in which such prisoners were confined, or with the visiting or other magistrates of the county or borough in which the conviction of the said prisoners took place, or with the Judge before whom the said prisoners were tried, and Her Majesty's Government.—(The Lord Oranmore and Browne.)


said, that with regard to the riot at Birmingham, referred to by the noble Lord, the attention of the Home Secretary had not been called to it, nor was there any Correspondence in the Home Office relative to that riot. As to the first part of the noble Lord's Motion, he did not feel it necessary to vindicate his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary from the charges the noble Lord had insinuated against him; though he must say that the suggestion that the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy was ever exercised with a view to religious or political influences was not to be justified. Neither did he mean to say a word as to the motives which had influenced the late Mr. Murphy or as to the mode in which he lectured. He did not wish to throw doubt on his conscientiousness and sincerity, however great his doubts might be as to the soundness of the judgment exhibited by Mr. Murphy in going about delivering such lectures as those which he had been in the habit of advertising. The facts were these—Mr. Murphy had advertised to deliver a lecture at a hall at White-haven. Some persons opposed to Mr. Murphy's views attempted to enter the hall; Mr. Murphy opposed their entrance—a scuffle ensued, in the course of which Mr. Murphy was hustled and injured. He afterwards died. Of the seven persons tried for the attack, five were sentenced to 12 months', and two to three months' imprisonment. After the former had been in gaol for nine months a memorial for the remission of the remainder of their sentence was addressed to the Home Secretary. Among the memorialists were seven magistrates, four members of the municipal body, and two clergymen. Before acting on that memorial his right hon. Friend took the opinion of the learned Judge who had tried the case (the Lord Chief Baron), and this was his answer— I have very carefully considered the case of Dennis Doyle and others, convicted at the Carlisle Summer Assizes of last year of a riot and assault upon the late Mr. Murphy. There was much provocation, and the prisoners had all borne irreproachable characters, and though there was evidence that three or four of them took part personally in dragging about and inflicting some degree of injury upon Murphy, it certainly did not appear that they had assisted in the attempt to throw him over the bannisters, from which he had received the several hurts to which he had been subjected, and, considering upon the whole that the religious feelings of the prisoners were put to a hard test, and may be said to have been outraged by the perseverance of Mr. Murphy in publicly denouncing the observances and the practices of Roman Catholics, and that the agitation caused by these contentions and conflicts has now subsided, I would venture to observe that Her Majesty might well be advised to remit the sentence pronounced as to the yet remaining portion of the term of imprisonment. In another letter to Mr. Bruce, Sir FitzRoy Kelly said— You are quite welcome to read my letters, and to add that I am quite convinced that none of the prisoners lately released intended to do more than prevent Mr. Murphy from lecturing. What had been done in this case was in accordance with the precedents of the Home Office, but it would be wholly without precedent to produce the Papers moved for by the noble Lord.


, while bearing testimony to the scrupulous sense of honour which actuated the Home Secretary in the discharge of the duties of his office, must venture to question his discretion in this case. The release of these prisoners seemed to him to have been exceedingly unwise—the Secretary of State had overstepped his discretion in exercising the mercy of the Crown immediately upon the death of the person for assaulting and injuring whom these persons had been convicted. It was no excuse that the men were of excellent character. Wherever Murphy appeared to deliver his lectures a mob was organized for the purpose of putting him down. Was that to be the system under which we were to live? He thought not; he thought we were bound to allow men to deliver their opinions on religious questions. This was a very serious matter, and involved a very important principle. On several occasions it had happened that in a town where Murphy advertised to deliver a lecture some Roman Catholics went before the magistrates and swore that disturbances were likely to occur if the lecture was permitted, and the magistrates had thereon prohibited the lecture. This he condemned; it seemed very like saying—Only threaten a riot and we will put these lectures down. But we ought to teach those individuals who were ready to take the law into their own hands to exercise some discretion, and make them learn the lesson of being tolerant of the opinions of others. This state of matters should not be permitted to continue. On these grounds, he thought it had been extremely unwise of the Secretary of State to release these men.


said, he must join with the two noble Lords who had expressed regret that the Home Secretary should have seen fit to modify the full sentence of the law in this case. He did not wish to raise the question in any sectarian spirit, or to charge the Secretary of State with religious or political partiality, but he did regard his course as one prejudicial in regard to public policy. In some countries it was thought right to regulate and confine all public discussion within very strict legal limits—in others it was allowed full freedom by law; but if it were tolerated in its use, it was impossible to prevent its occasional abuse also, and still less could individuals be allowed by lawless force to exercise a restraint which the law declined to exercise for itself. He wished to speak of Mr. Murphy as he should of a person of any other opinions who assailed any other sect or party, and he urged that if the attack which caused his death were treated as venial, it was an authorization to any person to judge for himself what latitude of speech might be allowed to his opponents, and if he deemed them to have exceeded it to assail their lives. Mr. Murphy was not the only lecturer who was very offensive to the feelings of many of the community. There were the lectures of Sir Charles Dilke—there was, above all, Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, whose effusions—which Mr. Murphy's did not—bordered on high treason. But those whom these lecturers displeased belonged mainly to the orderly part of society who would deprecate the thought of similar violence; and why should their feelings be entitled to less respect than those of Mr. Murphy's enemies?

On Question? Resolved in the Negative.