HL Deb 16 February 1875 vol 222 cc391-3

said, he wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to an inquest held at Cambridge on the body of George Brewster, a boy between 14 and 15 years of age, who lost his life in a flue up which he had been sent by a master-sweep for the purpose of sweeping it. [The noble Earl read the report of the inquest on the deceased from The Pall Mall Gazette, in which the facts were narrated, with the result that the coroner's jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against the master.] It was high time that an end should be put to such practices. The year before last there was an atrocious murder—for it was nothing else—of a child aged 10 years, who had been sent up a chimney at Gateshead—and they did not know how many other poor children might not have been sacrificed in the same way even since that time. In the metropolis, with its population of nearly 4,000,000, there was no such thing as a climbing boy employed in the sweeping of chimnies, and, on recent inquiry in the great city of Glasgow, which contained upwards of 500,000 inhabitants, he was informed by the Chief Constable that there, too, such a mode of chimney-sweeping was now unknown. Why, then, should it be resorted to in smaller places? It was perfectly scandalous and abominable that any case such as the one at Cambridge should occur in this country. From the evidence at the inquest it would appear that the deceased boy was suffocated. Having been only a few minutes up the flue, he was taken out in a dying condition; and, notwithstanding that every effort seemed to have been made to restore him, he died within an hour from suffocation, caused by the presence of soot in the lungs and wind-pipe. He desired to know whether Her Majesty's Government could give any further information with respect to the case, and whether they would institute an inquiry? He believed the existing law was sufficiently strong; but it could not be denied that, in a great many instances, when cases were brought before magistrates, the latter would not convict. If this were so, the action of the Government might be necessary.


was afraid he could not add anything to the information which the noble Earl already possessed in regard to the case to which he had so properly called attention. "With the noble Earl, he believed the law to be sufficiently strong for the entire suppression of chimney-sweeping by means of climbing boys—there were already two Acts passed in the reign of Her Majesty for putting an end to the practice—and if the law was not sufficiently stringent for that purpose, undoubtedly it ought to be made so. He did not, however, gather from the facts stated by the noble Earl that any special inquiry was called for in this case. The law did not appear to have been in any way evaded: at the inquest a verdict of "Manslaughter" was returned, and therefore there had been no failure of justice so far, and there did not appear to be any reason for apprehending that there would be. He would ask for further information, but he did not know that any special investigation would be necessary. The matter was already under the cognizance of the magistrates, and he did not think that the interests of justice would suffer at their hands. At the same time, he thought their Lordships would agree with him that the noble Earl had done well to call attention to the matter, as no doubt his having done so would be attended with beneficial results.

House adjourned at a quarter past Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.