HL Deb 26 April 1875 vol 223 cc1614-20

My Lords, I have most unwillingly to ask your Lordships' attention for two or three minutes to a matter personal to myself; and, being a personal matter, I have had great hesitation in determining whether or not I should trouble your Lordships with it at all. But I believe that a matter which concerns the honour and character of any Member of your Lordships' House, however insignificant, ought to be, and I have no doubt is, a matter of interest to the House at largo. Other noble Lords, on other occasions, have felt it their duty at once and publicly in your Lordships' House to repel attacks made upon them, and when, perhaps, the consequences of remaining silent under them would be far less mischievous than they might be in my case. My Lords, last Friday night, in another place, the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, in the course of some observations which he was making in moving for a Royal Commission, to consist of Members of both Houses of Parliament— To inquire into the matters complained of with respect to the Government Prosecution of The Queen ". Castro, and to the conduct of the Trial at Bar and incidents connected therewith, and certain incidents of the said trial which have occurred subsequent thereto, took occasion to make a long and elaborate attack on conduct of mine. My Lords, the substance of that attack was this: That when I was Attorney General, and when I had the conduct of the case of young Sir Henry Tichborne, in the civil action which was tried in the Court of Common Pleas, when his estates were sought to be recovered from him by the person who is now undergoing penal servitude in Dartmoor Prison for perjury committed by him on that trial, I put forward documents—false and forged documents—which when I put them forward I knew to be false and forged; that I asked the jury to act upon documents which I knew, when I so asked them to act, were false and forged documents; and that I had under my own hand written a confession that I did know them to be false and forged when I so dealt with them. That, my Lords, was the charge which was made in another place on Friday night. Nothing had been previously said or done by the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent which had suggested that any attack was about to be made upon me, and I need hardly say that I had no personal notice of it whatever. Indeed, I was addressing your Lordships on the subject of the Judicature Bill when the charge was made. It was made at great length and with considerable detail. It is true that I had heard from time to time that attacks of a like nature, and upon the same subject, had been made in a paper called The Englishman, purporting in its first page to be edited by Dr. Kenealy, one of Her Majesty's Counsel. But, my Lords, I do not see or read The Englishman. I have never seen above three or four numbers of The Englishman. I have treated, and shall continue to treat, anonymous slander with the silence of disdain. But, my Lords, it is another matter when an attack is made by a Member of Parliament, no matter who he be, and when it is addressed to the audience to which that Member made it. Now, my Lords, my hon. and learned friend Sir Henry James did all that was possible to do under the circumstances. He let me know the circumstances of the attack; he got from me as well as he could a statement of the facts; he made a powerful and eloquent use of those facts; and I am able to say with profound thankfulness, that I understand he stated them to the absolute satisfaction of the Assembly which was at the time his audience. But, my Lords, I state—and state with perfect truth—that if the slander had been true I should have been perfectly unfit for the station which I have the honour to hold, and that my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone would have been extremely to blame in advising Her Majesty to appoint me to any such station. Now, my Lords, the facts of the case are simply these—A certain Mrs. Pittendreigh was the wife of a copying clerk in the office of Messrs. Lobinson and Geare, who were the attorneys for young Sir Henry Tichborne in the civil action, and who were my clients. Mrs. Pittendreigh got into communication with the person who was then called "the Claimant," and the Claimant's wife—how I do not know, nor is it in the least material to inquire. She brought to Messrs. Dobinson and Geare what purported to be a correspondence between herself and the Claimant, consisting of four apparently genuine letters from the Claimant himself, and a number of copies of letters which she said she had addressed to him, the originals of those letters of course being in the Claimant's possession. They represented a simple, natural, and harmonious whole, and they showed most unmistakably a knowledge of and an interest on the part of the Claimant in the fortunes and persons of the Orton family. Certainly the letters of the Claimant were most important evidence, if genuine. These letters—the Claimant's part of them—were submitted by Mr. Dobinson to the examination of Mr. Chabot, and Mr. Chabot, I believe, reported on them in writing. That report I never saw; but Mr. Dobinson told me what he understood to be its purport. Mr. Dobinson was a man of great honour and great intelligence, and I have no doubt that what he told me he told me truly. The substance of it was this—that as to two of those letters, Mr. Chabot was satisfied they were in the handwriting of the Claimant; that as to a third he had considerable doubt; and that as to a fourth it had been written over pencil marks, the pencil marks remaining in many places, and who had written the pencil writing it was impossible for him or for any one else to say. At that time there was no suspicion of Mrs. Pittendreigh's part of the correspondence. Her copies of her letters and the supposed originals of the Claimant's presented a harmonious and intelligible whole. There was a great similarity between the handwriting of the letters which Mr. Chabot believed to be written by the Claimant and those as to which he had doubts; and in the Claimant we had to do with a person who had before admitted that on other occasions he had written letters in a feigned name and in a feigned hand. Under these circumstances, my Lords, I formed the opinion that it was at least likely that the whole of this correspond-once might be genuine. We had the tendered oath of Mrs. Pittendreigh, against whom there was at that time, though she had done an unhandsome thing, no serious suspicion. I had the resemblance of handwriting; I had a consistent, harmonious, and intelligent correspondence, and against that there was nothing but the doubt of an expert—that expert being Mr. Chabot—as to the handwriting of two of the letters. Now my Lords, such being the case, I thought then and I think still that it was my duty to test the truth of the whole of that correspondence by doing what I did; and I think I should have ill discharged my duty by my young client if I had done less. What I did was this—I put the letters one after the other—one by one—into the Claimant's hands, and I asked him, one by one, if he had written each of those letters; and at first he admitted that he had written the whole of them. I then cross-examined him as to the contents of the letters; and after some time he recalled his first admissions, and while admitting that he had written two of them, denied that he had written the other two; and he also said, as well as I remember, as to one of the two which he admitted to be written by him, that it had been altered and an important word inserted in it. That is the impression made upon my mind, and was the impression upon my mind then, of the result of a number of inconsistent and contradictory answers. I then cross-examined him and pressed him with the contents of Mrs. Pittendreigh's part of the correspondence, putting to him that his letters appeared to be answers to those letters of hers, with copies of which she had furnished us, as being her side of the correspondence. He denied that he had ever received the originals of which these purported to be copies; and on my asking him whether he had received letters other than the originals of these letters, and whether he could produce them, he said he had, and would produce them. Later in the same day, or next day, he did produce letters from Mrs. Pittendreigh, and then it appeared that the copies Mrs. Pittendreigh had furnished to Mr. Dobinson as copies of her original letters were no sort of copies at all, and that her original letters did not fit in, as her professed copies did, with the supposed letters of the Claimant, to which they purported to be answers, and to form part of the same correspondence. It was plain that Mrs. Pittendreigh had deceived us—that she was a person upon whom no reliance could be placed; and when I came to address the jury on the case I withdrew every one of the letters I had put in, about which there could be the slightest suspicion, because they had come to us from a tainted source. I thought then, as I think now, that very likely the whole correspondence was genuine, but it was not worth while to enter into the question, because the only person I could have called to prove the letters was a person upon whose evidence nobody could be expected to act. Now, my Lords, all of that was stated to the jury by me. My speech was taken down in shorthand, and was published, and it was before the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent on Friday night when he made that statement in the House of Commons. My Lords, I can only say that if this thing were to be done over again, I should do it over again. I think no man in my position would have discharged his duty to his client if he had not done as I did upon that occasion. The letters never were put to the jury; they were never insisted upon by me to the jury; and they were withdrawn as soon as I myself was satisfied that they were evidence upon which the jury could not be expected to act. My Lords, I was leading counsel in that case, and I hold it to be unmanly to attempt to share my responsibility with any of my colleagues. The responsibility was mine, and I accept it. But, my Lords, I had colleagues. I had colleagues who knew what I did then, and who know it now. Those colleagues were Mr. Hawkins, Sir George Honyman, Mr. Chapman Barber, and Mr. Charles Bowen. They were my friends then—they are my friends now—some of them my intimate and affectionate friends. My Lords, one other word and I have done. When subsequently, during the criminal trial in the Court of Queen's Bench, Dr. Kenealy attacked Mr. Dobinson in no measured language for his conduct in respect to those letters, I wrote to Mr. Hawkins a letter, which has been published in the public prints, taking upon myself the whole responsibility of what I had done. Mr. Dobinson was dead; Mr. Dobinson had been my friend; he was a man of high honour and absolute integrity, and I did not wish, if I could help it, that he being dead should be blamed for a matter as to which—if there was any blame in connection with it—I thought myself at least as blamable as he was. And, my Lords, I am thankful that Mr. Dobinson's family, and those who value Mr. Dobinson's honour, do not blame me in any degree for the course which I thought it my duty to take on that occasion. Now, this, my Lords, is the whole of my connection with these so-called forged letters. This is the answer that I make to the slander of Friday night. I forbear from comment; I will not stoop to retort. I leave it to your Lordships and to my profession—among whom I have practised long and largely, and, I hope, with unstained honour—to say whether I have done anything which ought to cause my friends to blush for me, or my foes, if I have them, to rejoice. My Lords, I thank you very much for being kind enough to listen to what I had to say. I am perfectly aware—no man knows it better—that so far as claim of ancient descent or lofty rank is concerned, I, one of the people and sprung from them, have no claim to stand among your Lordships as an English nobleman; but I do claim, in point of honour and integrity, to be the perfect equal of the proudest Peer in your Lordships' House. My Lords, I have made these observations because I felt that when thus attacked it was my duty to meet the charge once and for all, and to satisfy your Lordships—as I hope I have—that at least on this score your Lordships have no reason to be ashamed of the last man whom the profession of the Law has sent by the grace of the Queen into this great Assembly.


My Lords, I am not surprised that my noble and learned Friend has desired to make to your Lordships the statement he has now done; but not because the charge made against him could have for one moment been entertained by anyone whom he has addressed in this House. My Lords, all who know the personal character of my noble and learned Friend, and those who know his public and his professional character, could not have hesitated—would have been perfectly certain—that the charge made against him was not only without foundation, but that it had not a tatter or a shred of foundation. My Lords, I go further—I venture to say that any person who dispassionately considered what that charge was could not have failed to arrive at the conclusion that the charge on the face of it was ridiculous and absurd. But, my Lords, the charge was made, and made in a place where charges of that kind are not accustomed to be made without reflection; and the charge having been made against one who occupies one of the highest judicial positions in the country, I am not surprised that my noble and learned Friend should take the opportunity of referring to it, and of giving to it the most indignant denial in your Lordships' House. My Lords, I wish I could think that this charge, having now been made—not privately, not anonymously, not in the columns of a newspaper—but publicly and in the face of day, and having now been contradicted with publicity equal to that which accompanied it when it was made, and that not only it but the other charges by which it has been accompanied have been met and have been repudiated, and have been shown in public discussion to be incapable of being sustained—I wish I could think that we had now heard the last of them. But I can only say that if charges of this kind continue to be repeated they can only recoil upon the heads of those who make them.