Imatges de pÓgina

of Great Britain, a spirit no less than the turbulent and refractory zeal of this fortunate people to fecure its effects." I am much afraid that this turbulent fpirit no longer exifts: if it had, the honourable gentleman would not have been fo fuccefsful in this measure.

But let us look at the effects which the fufpenfion of this act has produced. A number of perfons were arrested laft year, I believe, not less than seventy or eighty: Has there not been time to bring them to a trial? To have arraigned and convicted these persons would, in my opinion, have been the best reason that could be urged for continuing the fufpenfion of the Habeas-Corpus Act. Two terms have, however, elapfed without an attempt being made to try one of the perfons who have been confined in confequence of the extraordinary powers given to the Executive Government. I fhould' be glad to know what reafon can be affigned for continuing this power any longer in the hands of His Majefty's Minifters. Has there lately exifted any fymptoms of rebellion, or have any infur rections taken place in any quarter of the country? On the contrary, I believe the right honourable gentleman oppofite to me cannot point out any period fince the Revolution, when more loyalty and more attachment to the Government was difplayed than at prefent. It furely will not be pretended that we have now any thing to fear from invasion. The fleets of the enemy have been' destroyed, and the country is covered with foldiers: I believe we have not less than between 2 and 300,000 men in arms. Now, under all these circumftances, protected by fuch a force, and by the general difpofition of the people, no appearance of any attempt to disturb the internal tranquillity of the country, and fecured againft all dangers from without, why continue to fufpend an act upon' which the liberty of the subject depends?

There is another reafon I fhall state to the Houfe why I think the fufpenfion of the Habeas Corpus Act ought to ceafe, and I state' it upon good information. Indeed, if I did not think that I had important information to give, I should not trouble the Houfe with any remarks on the fubject. Was it not for this confideration, I should not have prefumed to hold up my faint and glimmering' rufh-light, when the great and fplendid luminary of Oppofition is withdrawn. The reason is this; the perfons imprifoned under the act, which it is now propofed you should continue, are most cruelly ufed. I do not affert this from hearfay, but from my own perfonal obfervation. Having heard a great many reports refpecting their fituation, I refolved to go and fee them, and inquire into the fact. An honourable friend of mine (Sir F. Burdett) was rather cava VOL. VII.


lierly treated when he hinted at the fituation in which thefe unfortunate men were placed, and I was refolved to ascertain the true ftate of the question. I procured an order from a Magistrate, and I went to see the prifon, in company with my honourable friend and another gentleman, who is not a Member of this House, but who is diftinguished by his humanity, and by relieving many diftreffed families of perfons imprisoned under this act, on the information of fpics. But I fhall make no invidious obfervations on this fubject. I ought to recollect, that I lately (in a high Court of Juftice) heard an eulogium pronounced on fpies and informerswho were hailed as the guardians of the State-as the tutelary deities of the Conftitution. If they betrayed their former affsociates, treafon was fublimed into loyalty, and treachery into virtue, as if poison could be medicated by additional venom.

I went to vifit the prifon, and I must confefs that I found the reports that had reached me, of the fituation of the perfons under confinement, had been exaggerated-[A cry of "Hear! Hear!"] Yes, they were exaggerated; for had they been true, the cruelties exercised in this prison would have far exceeded any oppreffion that ever was committed under the horrible tyranny of Roberspierre, Still, however, I muft fay, that their fituation was extremely wretched, and the manner in which they were treated unexampled in feverity and rigour. I found them without fire and without candle-denied every kind of fociety-expofed to the cold and rain, which in that inclement season (it was about a month ago) entered by the iron bars of their cells-only allowed to breath the air out of their cells for about an hour-denied every comfort, every innocent amufement-excluded from all intercourfe with each other, and each night locked up from all the reft of the world. Now I appeal to the gentlemen who hear me, whether they could have imagined that such a practice exifted in this country, and whether they think that there was any neceffity for treating State Prisoners in this


I do not believe that His Majesty's Minifters were privy to those proceedings. I cannot fuppofe that the ufage thefe unfortunate men experienced was known to any perfon in Administration; but the severity they experienced was greater than I can defcribe it, and fuch as, for the fake of humanity, and the honour of the country, I should hope will not again be permitted. Among the prisoners, I faw a gentleman, with whom I was acquainted above thirty years ago; an officer diftinguished in the fervice; and amiable in his character and manners-I mean Colonel Defpard. I am happy, however, to state, that I understand his fituation has fince been

- ameliorated. I am told he has lately been put into a room with fire; and this change, I am informed, he owes to the humane interference of Mr. John Reeves. Till the 25th of laft month, he was confined in a folitary cell, where even his wife was not allowed to vifit him, though we were. These cells are fo cold, that at this feafon of the year, it is fearce poffible to exift in them. The cold may, in fome degree, be tempered by clofing the wooden shutters; but if the unhappy prifoner wishes to be cheared by the air and the light of heaven, he must admit the rain and chilling blafts of Winter at the fame time. This ufage appeared to me fo extraordinary, that I was at fome trouble in inquiring of feveral gentlemen, eminent in the profeffion of the law, if ever they had known of such practices in this country. They uniformly answered, that they never had heard of such severity; that they confidered the treatment I had described to be altogether unprecedented; and that they could not imagine that any men were used in such a manner in this country.

I fuppofe it is scarcely neceffary to inform the House, that the prison of which I have been fpeaking is that which is commonly called the Baftile. [A cry of " Hear! hear!"] Do gentlemen doubt it? I can affure them it is very well known by that name. When I took a coach in Oxford-road, in order to vifit the prifon, I defired the coachman to drive me to the Baftile. "Very well, Sir,"

was the answer I received. Being curious to know whether he really understood the place I wanted to go to by this name, I said "You know it then?" "O yes, I know it-why every body knows the Bastile in Cold Bath Fields." Indeed it is not surprising that fuch a name fhould have been given to this prifon, for when another Baftile formerly exifted under a certain regular Government, which fome gentlemen pretend very much to admire, State Prifoners were treated better there than they have been treated in this. Perhaps it may be inquired under whofe direction this prifon is placed. I understand that some reverend gentlemen are among the Magiftrates who manage it. Gentlemen of whom I do not mean to speak in any way refembling terms of difrefpect. I dare fay they act from the pureft motives. Perhaps they kindly subjected these prisoners to fo much pain in this world, that the lefs punishment might be inflicted on them in the next. [A cry of "Hear! hear!" Well, if this motive does not please gentlemen, I cannot help it. Let them affign a better if they can, and I shall give up this; but I affure them it is the best I can think of.

But it is not to perfons fufpected of state crimes alone that the rigour I have described is extended. Many other perfons, charged with offences of various descriptions, undergo the fame treatment. A

man fentenced to imprisonment for felling a pamphlet called the Rights of Citizenship, has been confined in one of these cells. His name is Smith. Now I fhould be glad to know whether this is the mode in which a man convicted of a libel ought to be punished. To be feparated from his family, and shut up in an ordinary gaol, during the time of his fentence, one would think a fufficient execution of the sentence; but under this regimen the culprit was not only prevented from exercifing his induftry to fupport a wife and children, but his health is deftroyed, and perhaps his mind deranged, for it would not be at all furprizing if perfons in fuch a fituation. were afflicted with infanity. I muft not, however, omit to ftate, that this poor man was fome time ago, in confequence of indifpofition, removed from his cell, and placed in the fick ward, and, as the time of his imprisonment is nearly expired, and the sending him back to his cell might occafion a relapfe, he is, I understand, to be allowed to remain in the fick-ward until he is discharged. I am happy to have an opportunity of noticing this act of humanity. The next person whofe cafe I fhall mention is that of a diforderly woman, as he was called, that is, one of those unfortunate creatures who walk the fireets. She was not convicted of any felony, but the was confined in a cold damp cell. She was at the fame time ill of that difcafe with which women of the town are pretty frequently afflicted. I leave it to the humanity of the Houfe, whether it was proper to place this poor unfortunate woman in a fituation, which, added to the virulence of her diforder, was likely to endanger her life. In another difmal cell I found a boy, confined there for difobedience to his master, a punishment which I believe was never before heard of for an offence of the kind.

Such were fome of the fpectacles I witneffed on this visit. I have, however, no doubt that any abufes which may exift will be corrected when they come to the knowledge of His Majesty's Minifters. Indeed I am informed, that the ftate prifoners are now removed into a warm room, where they have free intercourse with each other, and that they are rendered as comfortable as a situation of confinement will admit; but what I have stated to the House is fufficient to thew that my honourable friend was not misinformed when he hinted that the ftate prifoners were improperly treated. For a complaint of this kind, I fincerely believe, there can only be a foundation when the circumftances are unknown to His Majesty's Ministers. State prifoners are more particularly under their care, fince they are confined in confequence of warrants from the Secretary of State; there can, therefore, be no doubt but that Minifters are defirous they should not be treated with any unneceflary feverity.

With regard to any farther arguments that I might be able to urge against the bill, as they would perhaps have little or no weight with the House, I fhall therefore forbear to state them; but I cannot conclude without lamenting that an honourable gentleman, celebrated for his humanity, has not vifited this prifon. I am convinced that honourable gentleman's principles of Vital Chriftianity (principles which indeed I have read in his book) would have induced him to exert himself to ameliorate the condition of these unhappy people. I am certain, however, that the honourable gentleman will not any longer fuffer it to be faid by the unfortunate, "I was, in prison, and you visited me not." I wish the honourable gentleman had been with me when I went to fee this prison. I am certain that his feelings would have been greatly affected, and then his eloquence in defcribing them would have been much fuperior to any thing the Houfe has yet heard on the fubject.

Mr. Secretary DUNDAS obferved, that the queftion before the House was, whether this bill should now be read a fecond time or The honourable, gentleman who had juft fpoken had stated a number of facts, whether they were faithfully ftated or not, they certainly had no earthly connection with the bill now before the House. They related to the fuppofed bad conduct of this gaol, and they might as well be faid to be aimed at the supposed badness of gaols in general throughout this kingdom, but had nothing whatever to do with the power which the Legiflature had given to the Executive Government of this country, and to continue which for a limited time was the object of the bill now before the House. From this view of the fubject he was perfectly at liberty to draw this conclufion, that with all the humanity which the honourable gentleman had difplayed to-night, he believed every particle of it would have remained at reft if the bill now before the House had not been moved; it was this bill that caused the honourable gentleman to fummon up the humanity of the House. If this bill had not appeared the humanity of the honourable gentleman would have reposed under a dead filence; for if the cafe were otherwise, why did he not exhibit his complaint long ago? The points which he urged to-night having no earthly connection with the bill before the House, might as well have been urged at any other time, or any other occafion, as the prefent. Indeed the matter was of fufficient importance to be brought forward fpecifically if the honourable gentleman fhould think fit to do fo. To all he had faid this night there was this general obfervation to be applied-If there exifted any abuse in the management of any of the gaols of this kingdom, there was an eafy remedy-there was not one of them

« AnteriorContinua »