HC Deb 15 April 1812 vol 22 cc374-93 374
The Hon. Mr. Bennet rose to make the motion of which he had given notice respecting corporal punishments in the army. He began by observing, that he could not anticipate any serious objections to the motion which he was about to make. Returns were regularly laid before the House of the number of capital punishments inflicted, and he did not perceive that any greater inconvenience or danger was likely to result from publishing the number of punishments in the army. The punishments to which he now alluded were such as were not generally known; they were most debasing and degrading to the soldiers; and were attended with such cruelty and inhumanity that they were inflicted in secret, in holes and corners. [Hear, hear! from the ministerial benches.] He repeated it—in holes and corners; because it would not be possible to inflict so much torture and ignominy in open day, and in the face of the world, without the presence of an army to keep down the indignation of the people. The horrors of the middle passage had led to the destruction of the Slave Trade, and the horrors of the present system of military punishment, he hoped, would soon lead to its abolition. It was a mode of punishment objectionable in the first place because its infliction was arbitrary: in the second, because it varied with the varying powers and feelings of the sufferer; and in the third, because it had been proved to be utterly inefficacious as an example. Its abolition would greatly conduce to the good of the service by rendering recruiting more easy, and would be of advantage to the discipline of the army by freeing soldiers from that disgrace and debasement they were at present subject to. He concluded, therefore, with moving, "That there be laid before the House a return of the number of Corporal Punishments inflicted in the army, in the militia, 375 and in the local militia during the last 7 years, up to January, 1812, specifying the offences, where committed, and the number of lashes inflicted respectively."
Mr. C. Adams spoke against the motion.
Mr. Manners Sutton conceived, that if it was the object of the hon. mover to revive the debate on the question of corporal punishment, this object might be attained without acceding to the present motion. If the returns were desired merely for the purpose of examining whether there were any cases of abuse, he thought it hardly a fair proceeding; and that the only ground which could induce the House to consent to the motion was the previous production of such cases. It certainly would not be difficult to procure the returns, because under the excellent system of management introduced and adopted by the commander in chief, the most minute records were preserved. The Present illustrious commander in chief had laboured incessantly to bring the discipline of the army to the highest possible state of perfection, and as speedily and generally as possible to do away corporal punishment; but such an alteration could be effected only by degrees. There was much variety of opinion on the subject, even in the army; and he believed if that whole body was consulted, whether corporal punishment should be altogether abolished, there would be as much difference on the subject among the men in the ranks, as among the officers who commanded them. No slur ought to be thrown on the administration of the army, without just cause. As to the effects of the punishment on the discipline of the army, what better answer could be given than to appeal to the character of that army, and the mutual attachment that prevailed between the officer and the soldier. His great objection to the revival of this discussion was, that it tended to unsettle the military mind, to lead the army to believe that there must be grievances, though to them unknown, which caused the subject to be so often agitated. He could not see how the abstract question could be elucidated or assisted by the production of these re turns; and as he believed that no practical advantage could result from it, while its natural effect must be to impute remiss ness to the commander in chief, whose in defatigable attention to the welfare, interests and even comfort of the soldier was denied by none, he felt himself compelled to withhold his assent from the motion.
Mr. Abercromby said, he thought no thing could be farther from a slur on the army than the present motion. On the contrary, if such an account were annually laid on the table, it would, according to the hon. and learned gentleman's account of the attention of the commander in chief to the army, redound more to his honour than any thing that could be done by concealment. Nothing also would be so likely to give a new tone of feeling to officers in general, as the consciousness that the legislature would review their proceedings. He should, therefore, vote for the motion.
Mr. W. Smith expressed himself to be of the same opinion. The refusal to grant the paper moved for, shewed that some abuses did exist; he thought, therefore, it ought to be produced; and in voting for that production, he disclaimed any intention of censuring the commander in chief, or the military system of which he was at the head.
Sir F. Burdett declared, that when the right hon. and learned gentleman announced his intention to oppose the motion, he had expected to hear rather more cogent reasons for his so doing. He had talked indeed of the necessity of producing some grave case as a foundation for this motion, but he seemed to forget that many such cases had been already brought before the consideration of the House. He had himself on a former occasion stated the instance of several men who had died at Gibraltar in consequence of flogging, as declared by the surgeon in the first instance, although he was afterwards induced to alter the return to "died of fever," and he had also stated, that several officers who had refused to join in that barbarous proceeding, had been dismissed the service, although on their return to this country they were reinstated on the representations of a distinguished officer (lord Hutchinson) to the Commander in Chief. He had recently seen in the public prints, many statements of suicide committed, in order to avoid this dreadful punishment, and that those men who had attempted suicide ineffectually, had actually received additional punishment for the attempt. To these statements he was inclined to give credit, because they could not be made, if false, without danger to the publishers. As to the compliments so often paid to the officers of the army, he believed, and he was not inclined to flatter any man, particularly in that House, that like the rest of their countrymen, they were not deficient in humanity, but it was the frequency of these spectacles of horror and suffering that necessarily familiarised them to such scenes, and gradually extinguished all the livelier sympathies of their nature.—He had once mentioned to the House the case of a man of 70, who was condemned for some trivial offence to be flogged. He pleaded that he had been 50 years in the service, he pleaded too the excellence of his general character, and that it was not the pain but the shame, and the shame only, that alarmed him. In spite of every remonstrance however—notwithstanding his age and his long and meritorious ser vice—he was flogged. In the Isle of Wight, no long time ago, a boy of 16 was sentenced to the same punishment, and he pleaded his youth in mitigation. But neither the feebleness of age, nor the in discretion of tender years availed against the supposed necessity of making military examples by the application of the disgraceful lash; for example surely was the only object, as it could not be said to be improvement. To him it appeared astonishing that men having the forms and feelings of their species could hear with indifference and coolness, the recital of such atrocious cruelties. The situation of the English soldier was at this moment scandalously unprotected; no coroner's inquest sat upon his remains, he was confined where no friend could approach him, to whom he might relate his tale of woe, or from whom he might receive the consolation of a sympathising concern. He had lately heard of the case of a man named Tork, who being ordered to be flogged, his wife set out from Yorkshire to visit him, and on her arrival at the quarters of the regiment, she met his body carried by his comrades to the grave, he having died in consequence of the severity of his punishment.—Was the House then to be told that there existed no grounds for instituting any enquiry? The right hon. and learned gentleman seemed to think, that it was a kind of indecorous proceeding for the House of Commons to interfere at all with what might be said to fall under the exercise of the royal prerogative. This was a doctrine about the unconstitutional nature of which it was not necessary to say any thing; but he would ask whether the crown could carry into effect any one of the articles of war, or keep alive the army or its discipline without 378 the previous consent and sanction of that House? What then was it but a most flimsy pretence, a weak and miserable subterfuge, to talk of the slur or the implied censure which the motion conveyed with respect to those who had entrusted to them the management of the army? The right hon. and learned gentleman had bestowed abundant panegyric on the con duct of the Commander in Chief, and sup posing it all to be perfectly applicable and well merited, it was at the same time altogether beside the present question. He had no doubt that the Commander in Chief, as well as other military men, were possessed of humane sentiments, but habit in time got the better of those tender feelings; and if it did not entirely eradicate them, imperceptibly blunted and subdued them.—The right hon. gentleman talked of no case having been made out, but he would assert on the contrary, that there was a profusion of evidence which he himself was prepared to produce, in proof of all he had stated, and all of which concurred to establish one conclusion, that the punishment was inhuman, had been often inhumanly exercised, and was at once repugnant to the dictates of reason, justice, and humanity. The right hon. and learned gentleman, however, treated all this with levity, and betrayed an indifference of manner, and coldness of feeling—that seemed to him utterly inconsistent with a due sense or correct comprehension of the infernal nature of the infliction. He seemed to treat the subject as a boy might be expected to treat the whipping of a puppy dog. He himself looked at it in another light, and in its real colours. He saw it unite a degree of torture, with a still greater degree of ignominy and shame, which it was scarcely possible to imagine that human beings could have devised, except from the motive of imitating the supposed torments of the damned. Was it remembered that the instrument of torture was the cat-of-nine-tails, that when the wretched victim was fixed to the halberts in order to have the flesh torn from his bones, each separate lash inflicted nine stripes, every one of which was capable of drawing blood from the body! But in his opinion, horrible as the punishment was in point of the bodily torture which it created, its effects upon the moral feelings of shame and honourable pride, were still more grievous and deplorable. It was the disgrace which never could be obliterated, that in his 379 mind formed the most important part of the evil. And for what offences was this torment, was this irrecoverable degradation frequently inflicted? He had heard of one case, in which a man was sentenced to be flogged for having married. Thus arbitrary was the power of these military tribunals, thus capricious was its exercise. But the right hon. and learned gentleman was positive that no abuses had taken place. Why then refuse the returns, if it were only to establish a fact so pleasing to the country and to the army, and so truly honourable to those on whom the right hon. gentleman had bestowed his eulogium? His belief however was, that there had been great abuse, that there were still great abuses, and that great abuses would continue, so long as such a system of punishment was endured. It was a system unworthy of the English nation and of the English soldier, and a system which he believed would not be allowed to prevail in any other country. The right hon. and learned gentleman had admitted, that the production of the return could do no harm, would be productive of no inconvenience, and his only objection was the very courtly and unparliamentary pretence, that it might not be agreeable to the feelings of those who happened to be high in rank and office. As to the opinion that this mode of military punishment had no injurious effects on the recruiting service, he would ask gentlemen to knock at their own hearts, and imagine themselves in the situation of spectators of this dreadful spectacle, and then to say, would this or would it not damp their inclinations to enter upon a course of life in which they would be exposed to the liability of suffering the same infliction. He knew well, for he had been frequently applied to without however possessing the means of affording relief, by persons who had deserted merely from the terror of this punishment, and who felt the most ardent desire of returning to their ranks, if they could have been secure from this dreadful evil. He believed that the soldiers could not be left longer in such a state; and he thought that the people of the country had been too indifferent hitherto on this subject; and now, with shame he must con fess it, that it was with some justice that the punishment about which the country was so indifferent when confined to the regular army, had fallen upon the whole nation in all the classes in which they were liable to be called on for military 380 service. A noble lord had said upon a former debate, that he thought it almost impossible that a man could die of receiving 240 lashes. He, however, remembered to have read a speech of Baron Maseres, attorney-general of Canada, on the trial of some officers who had sentenced a soldier of the name of M 'Donald to receive 200 lashes, who after receiving 170 of them, was carried to the hospital, where after lingering for four days he died. In that speech the attorney-general for Canada stated," that when a man had been guilty in France of the murder of one of its sovereigns, (Ravaillac for the murder of Henry the fourth) the Council deliberated on a punishment adequate to the enormity of the crime. They even encouraged propositions to be made to them for that purpose; and among others, a butcher proposed to flay the man alive, and keep him in that state three days be fore he should die. This proposal appeared to the council too barbarous even for so heinous a crime, and they contented themselves with breaking the regicide on the wheel, and keeping him two days on the rack. Now the officers of this regiment had, for an offence comparatively trivial, inflicted a more cruel death than the council of France could bear to hear of, even for the murder of a sovereign, and more barbarous than even the butcher could propose; for he had only thought of keeping a man three days in torture, while those officers had flayed the man, and kept him four days in agony before he died."
Such had been the feelings of a crown lawyer formerly, on such a punishment; but now crown lawyers and other lawyers and members of parliament could speak of it with levity, and two hundred lashes, as it seemed, were thought nothing at all of in the present state of our army. It was known, however, that deaths had since taken place in consequence of such punishment, and that many suicides had occurred from the apprehension of them. There was also published in a provincial paper an instance of a serjeant in a veteran battalion, of the name of Gill, who cut his own throat merely to avoid the pain of being obliged to witness a number of those punishments. He recollected to have read some time ago in the public papers, an article under the title "Resolute Insensibility," where it was stated that a young man, in order to obtain his discharge from the militia, pretended to 381 be seized with a total insensibility in all his parts, and so resolutely persisted in it, that after pins had been run under his nails, and every torture ingenuity could devise had been exhausted, a surgeon was called in, who, supposing that he had met with a hurt in the head, recommended that he should be trepanned, which operation was accordingly performed upon him, and it was not till they were scraping his brain, that a low groan at length burst from him. He obtained his discharge, loon rapidly recovered, and on the rumour of a press-gang being in the neighbourhood, disappeared. The name of the regiment, and of the surgeon, had been stated, and the officers of that regiment or the surgeon would have undoubtedly contradicted this statement if it could be contradicted. And would it after this be maintained, that men were not struck with dismay, at the very idea of being driven into a service, where this punishment of flogging was part of the system? Would it be alleged that they not only would not wish to see it changed; but, as was alleged on the other side, that it even formed a bond of union between the officer and soldier? If this [...] he knew nothing to which he could [...] are that sort of affection on the part of the soldiers, except to the idea of [...] in one of his satires, where it is said, that the fish was anxious that it might be taken, in order that it might form part of the emperor's dinner. In the year 1808 there were found to be nearly eight thousand blind men in the army, applying for their discharge on that account, but as it was suspected that the greater part of those men had caused their own blindness to procure their discharge, there was an order issued to deprive those discharged for this cause, of the benefits of the pensions they would otherwise have had. When it was considered what dreadful sufferings men had thus borne or inflicted upon them selves to get their discharge, it was hard to believe that the situation of a soldier was quite so comfortable as had been represented. Young officers were obliged to attend these dreadful punishments in order to inure them to it; and private soldiers, who, perhaps, would have had fortitude enough to have undergone them, had often fainted in the ranks at being obliged to witness them. He was convinced that if such a practice took place, in the face of day, and the public, it must be soon laid aside, and that it 382 could be continued only in holes and corners. He would not disguise his feelings on the barbarous and ignominious punishment which hung over the backs of the army, and now, indeed, of the nation also nor could he at present join in the encomium passed on the Commander in Chief, being totally ignorant on the subject. If the papers called for were once before the House, and warranted that encomium, he should feel pleasure in joining in it; but he could not, without every information which could be required being before the House, join in covering the foulness of the cat-o'-nine-tails. As to petitions for reforms, or for the redress of grievances, what were they in comparison of this measure? If England was to be flogged, it was a species of infamy which no other people, he believed, had ever been condemned to, or would have endured. When he saw attempts thus made to baffle all enquiry into the actual state of things, and to throw dust into the eyes of the House, be could not sit still and see such despicable chains fastened on the people. The great benefit to be derived from the present motion in his mind was, that it had in view the total abolition of this punishment, which he trusted would be speedily effected. Gentlemen on the other side wished to be esteemed religious; if they believed the Bible to be the word of God, they must agree that this was a punishment forbidden by it. Forty stripes lacking one, were as many as were allowed by that which they themselves called the law of God. It was a punishment against the policy of the military law itself. It was known in the military code of no other country; and what was there in the nature of the English, that it should be palatable to them alone? Was it to be endured, that the image of God in man should thus be disgraced?
Mr. Lockhart observed, that this punishment was not peculiar to this country, as the hon. baronet appeared to imagine; but that among the Romans, the most high-minded and military nation of ancient times, corporal punishments were allowed. The dictators and consuls were attended by lictors, and the order was often given"I lictor, perge, cœdite." In the French army, formerly, there was the punishment of running the gauntlet, and there still was imprisonment in a dungeon, working at fortifications in irons, serving on board the gallies in irons, and, above all, death, which was inflicted at 383 least 100 times for once that it was in the English army. He had conversed with many French officers, prisoners in this country; who had assured him, that nothing could be more precarious than the condition of the French soldier, or more dependent upon the particular character or caprice of the officers. As to the number of stripes given, he certainly agreed with the hon. baronet, that such a number should never be given as would endanger life; and, indeed, he believed that our code was too loose upon this subject. He thought that it might, perhaps, be useful to have our military code revised; and he hoped it would be found possible, in ordinary cases, to fix the proportion of the punishment to each offence. He did not think any danger of oppression and cruelty was to be apprehended in the militia or local militia, as in both those services the officers were gentlemen accustomed to serve on juries, and acquainted with the spirit of our constitution. As to the English being a flogged nation, as the hon. baronet expressed it, that was a mistake. Punishment was not made for the English nation, but for the guilty, or those who deserved it. Ignominy depended on public opinion—it was not punishment but crime which conferred ignominy.
Mr. C. W. Wynn would vote for this motion, although he was not prepared to agree to the total abolition of corporal punishment. He thought that the frequency of it, however, might and ought to be much diminished; and that, except in extraordinary cases, such as the suppression of a mutiny, corporal punishment' ought never to be inflicted without previously consulting the commanding officer of the district. He believed that cruel punishments frequently proceeded from the mistaken notions of very young officers, who considered that nothing was more for the good of the army than great strictness and severity.
Mr. Wilberforce said, that he felt it impossible to avoid being carried away, in some measure, by the powerful effect of the statement of the hon. baronet, and by the warm feelings which he had displayed so honourably, and so forcibly. At the same time, when he considered what an army was, and how sharp and powerful an instrument it had proved against the enemies of the country, he thought there should be great caution used before any very important alteration was made in our military system. He was aware that generals 384 of great reputation had expressly declared their disapprobation of corporal punishment, but at the same time he thought that it could not he done away all of a sudden, and especially in such times as these. It was very satisfactory, however, to know, that those punishments were now much less frequent than they were formerly; and he thought it might be a great improvement to refer those cases (whenever they could be referred) to the judgment of general courts-martial, rather than to the judgment of a few officers, and perhaps some of them young and ignorant of what was really most conducive to the good of the army. As to the difficulty of procuring discharges, that had formerly been a great hardship, but considerable improvements had already taken place in, the regulations on that subject, and other improvements might be expected. He must own he felt a dread of the army looking up either to the House of Commons, or to any individual member of it, for redress of their complaints. He should be glad to get the information required, but not in the way proposed. If the government had such accounts regularly filed at some public office, he believed the effect would be produced of diminishing those punishments.
Sir Samuel Romilly begged to call back the attention of the House to the question really before them. This was not a motion for the abolition of corporal punishments, but for the production of certain papers regarding military punishments. In resisting the production of the paper now called for, gentlemen on the other side did more mischief to the cause they wished to support than any return, however great as to the number and extent of punishments it contained, which the ingenuity of man could conceive, could by possibility effect. Must not it go out to the world that they opposed the production of the paper in question, because the number of punishments which it contained must fill all who perused it with astonishment and horror? And was not this idea calculated to irritate? If the account would shew a diminution of punishment, why should they run the risk of those misrepresentations or exaggerated reports which their refusing the information would naturally produce? It was not the hon. baronet therefore who was to blame in making to the House a statement calculated to pro duce alarm. It was the right hon. gentle man opposite, who told the House, that to 385 produce the paper called for must lead to the abolition of corporal punishment. If this was really to be the result, must it not be supposed to proceed from this, that the return would be found to be so enormous, that this must be expected as the necessary consequence? The hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Lockhart) said, he should wish to revise the military code. But would he wish to do so without knowing what it was, and without information whether it required revision or not? The return now sought for ought to be made, if gentlemen opposite were correct, in order to remove false impressions. Did any man say, that false statements, on such a subject, ought to be suffered to go out, while they were capable, by a fair view of the subject, of satisfactory explanation? Was there ever an assembly of human beings so infatuated as to suffer such a statement to go forth; preferring to cover facts in the veil of darkness, rather than to allow them to meet the light; particularly when the production demanded was calculated to remove unpleasant impressions or surmises? He could not forbear expressing his astonishment at his hon. friend behind him (Mr. Wilberforce), who agreeing in the desire to remove the evil complained of, still refused to be informed on the subject. He hoped his hon. friend would see the propriety of altering his opinion. As to his fear of the army looking to that House; nothing, he thought, could be more natural than that they should look to parliament. Did not parliament legislate for them? Did not parliament annually pass their Mutiny Act? And was it not proper that parliament, and also the tribunals which sat to give effect to the legislative provisions enacted by parliament, should be informed of the consequences, beneficial or otherwise, produced by the regulations of the one, and adopted for the government of the other?
One of the greatest objections to the present system of military punishment was, that there was no limit to the punishment courts-martial might inflict, but the mercy of the members. They might order the infliction of 5, or 5,000 lashes, without control, and it was most important, that they should in future know, what it was they did, and what they ought to do. He would be glad to be informed, what mischief was to be dreaded? Was it discussion? The other side of the House, by their resistance to this motion, provoked it, and, according to their own statement, the discussion 386 of this subject had produced the most important benefits, since within these few years, in consequence of it, corporal punishment had been greatly lessened. An hon. gentleman had said, that in the militia nothing was to be feared, because the officers were frequently magistrates, or had served upon the grand juries. How true this assertion was, might be gathered from the writings of military men, best acquaint ed with the subject, among whom was Sir Robert Wilson, who had stated expressly, that corporal punishment was more frequent in the militia, than in any other department of the service, and had supported his observation, by making it appear, that if as many men were continued to be so punished annually, as had hitherto suffered, for only six years, the whole 70,000 men would have undergone the inhuman sentence. With respect to the nature of the punishment, it was almost needless to quote the well known authority of judge Blackstone, who had declared that by the constitution of England simple death, un attended with any circumstances of torture, was the severest punishment that the law allowed; the rack and the knout were unknown, and it remained for us by a refinement of cruelty to drive a man to the very verge of existence, a surgeon standing by to feel the pulse of the sufferer, and to pronounce when nature could bear no additional infliction, and when his soul was about to forsake his tortured body, to leap into eternity, he was taken down from the halberts, removed to an hospital, and every means taken to call back life only to be again tortured. Here the poor wretch was left, his body more at ease, but his mind still upon the rack, reflecting, that the faster his wounds healed, the nearer he was to the infliction of the remainder of his sentence; and that his wounds were only healed by his tormentors that they might again be torn open. It was mere hypocrisy to say, that the minds of the soldiers would be inflamed by what passed in parliament; they perhaps would never hear it; and would those be affected by statements in a deliberative assembly who were compelled to witness unmoved the sufferings of their fellow-creatures? The substitution of death would be comparatively merciful, for individuals had been known to fly into his arms to be shielded from the lash. It should like wise be remembered, that the persons who were thus degraded and tormented, were not voluntary victims; they were first compelled 387 to enter the army, and afterwards to endure its punishments; boys, who in law had no power of disposing of their property, were, in the army, permitted to sell their lives and liberties for a few guineas, spent in licentious debauchery. Under all these circumstances he was of opinion, that the account moved for ought instantly to be laid upon the table.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer would impute only the purest motives to the supporters of the motion; but the effect of their arguments he was convinced would be productive of mischiefs of the greatest magnitude. Thinking as he did that the continuance of corporal infliction was a necessary evil, he was of opinion that he could not have done any thing more detrimental to the service, than if he had employed such language as had been used on the other side. He did not dread so much the dissemination of the truth, as he did the exaggerated misrepresentations that had been employed, and bringing forward into notice solitary instances of severity or suffering for which no parallel could be discovered. He admitted that there had formerly been cases where the punishment was partially inflicted at one time and completed at another, but the modern practice had been directly the reverse. It would have been well, there fore, had his hon. and learned friend, be fore he drew such a picture of the repetition of the punishment of flogging for the same offence, enquired whether such a practice was continued. The question of its legality had been submitted En his right hon. friend, the present Judge Advocate, and he had pronounced it not lawful. Why then was such a representation made, when no grounds for it any longer existed? It was likewise true that in some regiments corporal punishment was more frequent than in others; but the obvious reason was, because it was more deserved. Would the production of the document required throw the faintest light upon any of the cases which the hon. baronet had selected from the newspapers; to which authority, however, he declared that he gave little credit? Would it afford any information upon the instance of singular Insensibility which he had adduced with so much ostentation, and which (though taken from a newspaper) the hon. baronet implicitly believed? For his part, he was not quite so credulous, for he discredited the story altogether. The statement that was published bore upon the face of 388 it marks of fabrication; it was said, that the man had pins thrust under his nails, and endured the most exquisite tortures that could be invented, unmoved, until at last he was trepanned, and the brain being scraped, he simply exclaimed, "oh" This might be true, as well as the addition to it—that the man being discharged, instantly recovered; but on hearing that a press-gang was in the neighbourhood, made his escape, and never was heard of afterwards.—He confessed, he thought that he never had been heard of before. This story shewed the distress to which the hon. baronet was reduced, and the state of mind in which he came to the discussion of the subject, when he who professed in general very little respect for newspaper authority, could still for his own purposes think every word of this improbable narration strictly true.—(Sir F. Burdett said, across the House, that the man belonged to the 1st Somersetshire militia, and that the surgeon who trepanned him was a Mr. Welsh of Taunton.)—No doubt, then, since the hon. baronet was so well acquainted with the names and addresses, he had taken pains to write to Mr. Welsh, of Taunton; but until better authority was quoted, he should think it a complete fabrication, since those who would naturally have received information about it knew nothing of a circumstance so extraordinary. The case of suicide introduced had no better foundation, it had been enquired into, and the newspaper in which it was inserted was now the subject of prosecution. Besides, upon these matters the document required would afford no intelligence, although it was preposterously held out to be one, the contents of which would throw the country into a state of revolt.—One of the great objections to laying this account upon the table was, that it would point out particular regiments in which more flogging was inflicted, (although deservedly) than in others, and would hold up the officers commanding such regiments to the odium of the army, and of the whole country, from which not the slightest benefit could be derived, since the necessary punishments must be continued. The number of corporal punishments would appear, but the grounds and merits of each case would remain out of sight. If officers were thus to be put upon their trial, it would be far better to make any law that might be deemed advisable prospective.—Another reason for refusing it was, that it would only produce 389 future debate, since the avowed object was to bring the general question under the notice of the House. In his opinion, nothing but the most trying necessity could justify the discusssion of military affairs by the legislature, and yet the present was the third or fourth time that gentlemen had volunteered to introduce the subject during the present session. To this it was answered, that resistance to the motion provoked discussion. How could it be avoided? For gentlemen finding that because they should not have the document required to debate upon on a future day, had taken this opportunity of de claiming, not on the point before the House, but upon the general question of the propriety of flogging in the army. An hon. and learned gentleman (Sir S. Romilly) had set out with recalling the attention of members to the true matter at issue, but led away by the warmth of his feelings, and by the wide scope the subject gave to his eloquence, had wandered from the line he had in the beginning chalked out, and had entertained the House with highly-wrought pictures of miseries attending corporal punishment. If, therefore, the return were made, the consequence would be to ensure two debates, instead of getting rid of the subject in one. The hon. baronet had repeated now what he had before stated, that because we had a local militia, Great Britain was a flogged nation. It might as truly be said that we were a hanged nation, because all were subject to the criminal laws; and doubtless the hon. baronet (as well as others) could point out many individuals who, on this account, would wish this punishment also to be abolished; it might be urged too with much greater truth, that many persons had hanged themselves, rather than undergo the same ceremony by the hands of a public executioner. He concluded by expressing his determination to give his decided negative to the motion.
Sir S. Romilly, in explanation, pointed out several misrepresentations in the speech of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which misrepresentations he was astonished to find cheered by the hon. gentleman opposite.
Mr. Brougham supported the motion.—He was astonished at the line of argument adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. member for Yorkshire. The House were told, that if the motives of those who supported the present motion, 390 were not such, as to excite a spirit of mutiny among the soldiery, the motion itself was replete with every danger. It was impossible to allude to the punishments of the army; the bare mention of flogging was it seemed the watchword to discontent; and those who were disposed to avert this danger would oppose every motion which in any way interfered with the management of the army. Where was the consistency of the hon. member for Yorkshire? In the same breath he had declared himself unwilling to interfere at all with the army, and pronounced an eulogium on the late Mr. Windham, whose plans began and ended in the amelioration of the army. He had pointed out freely the abuses of all kinds which existed in his time—the enlistment of individuals intoxicated or under age into a state of service or slavery for life. But no such motives were ever imputed to Mr. Windham. It was reserved to the present question to hear arguments of such a nature brought forward. Why, there was not a single session in which parliament did not interfere with the army, and in which they did not discuss questions which had a tendency to agitate the passions of those of which it was composed even more nearly perhaps than the present. To whom were the army to look up but to parliament? Who paid them? Every thing, however, belonging to the army was not a proper subject for parliamentary discussion. They could not with propriety venture to sit in judgment on the shape of a button, or on the cut of a whisker or of a coat, because this being a more weighty business, required abler heads than could be supposed to be found in parliament; but the rewards which the army ought to receive and the period at which they should be discharged; the commissariat, also, that most delicate subject, were matters that came with propriety before them. The retreat to Corunna, and the expedition to walcheren, where thousands and tens of thousands of our countrymen perished, were subjects upon which the House had deliberated; but never, till this day, did those who wished to scare them from enquiry, resort to such arguments as those of that night. Not even the planner of the walcheren expedition, nor his coadjutor, who caused the question to be discussed with shut doors, ventured to hold such a language to the House. If such a ground for the refusing of papers was listened to, then there would be an end of 391 nine subjects out of ten, which were discussed in the House of Commons. In a time of scarcity, no man would dare to speak of grain, for fear of a tumult. The hon. member for Yorkshire would not have carried his question of the abolition of the Slave Trade. No man would have dared to describe freely and eloquently, as that hon. member had described, the miseries of the West Indian slaves, though the tortures which they suffered, he was sorry to say, were not greater than those suffered by our soldiers. Then the dangers of enquiry might have been urged with greater plausibility, when a few scattered whites were exposed to all the evils of a negro insurrection. The question was, whether a document which would shew whether the powers entrusted to courts martial had been temperately or immoderately used was to be produced. The right hon. gentleman said, "Don't enquire; I tell you all is well." But were they, he would ask, afraid to look into the facts of the case? Were they to close their eyes to it? And were those out of doors who ventured to enter upon it, not to be met by argument but by persecution? Would any one who witnessed the irritability which the mention of this subject always excited, not be almost led to the conclusion that all was not so well as it should be? Now, what would be the consequence of the production of this paper? It would either prove the statement of the right hon. gentleman opposite, which was so favourable to the Commander in Chief, or it would disprove it. The right hon. gentleman's eulogy of the reduction of flogging was quite unintelligible. He first denied the abuse, and then he said,—"for God's sake do not ask for the paper, as it will be productive of the most dangerous consequences." Was not this conduct much more dangerous than openly and manfully at once to enter upon the discussion of the question? So far it would appear from severity of punishment being done away, there were instances of persons suffering four several times before they could receive the whole of their punishment, and that very lately. He had a letter dated the 10th of February, 1812, from one of our North American settlements, in which a complaint was made of a Major-General, a German officer there, who very properly, as the law stood, had caused 700 lashes to be inflicted on a man. This was not a solitory instance, for it was stated to be the 392 usual complement of garrison punishment. How could this punishment be inflicted all at once? Other complaints were made of dividing 500 lashes in such a way, as that 230 lashes should be given on the lower part of the back, and 250 on another part of the body. No man could deserve such a punishment. A trifling violation of duty undoubtedly merited some punishment, but not flogging; and in cases of mutiny, or persona violence offered to an officer—if the officer were knocked down and trodden upon, which happened in the case alluded to by him, then a severer punishment than flogging ought to be adopted. But this severe punishment degraded man to a brute, and harrowed up and cauterized the feelings of all who witnessed it. Could any thing be more abominable, than to set apart a class of our fellow-citizens, and demand from them a callousness and insensibility which we would not allow in any other class in the British dominions. While we cherished all the kindly affections in every other branch of the community, and doomed a particular class to such a rigorous and unfeeling system, had we not reason to apprehend the effects either in after times, or in times nearer our own? If the soldier ought to be set apart as little as possible from the citizen, how could they justify a punishment which was confined exclusively to the soldiers, a punishment which debased those who suffered, those who inflicted it, and those by whom it was witnessed. It was his firm conviction, that if our soldiery had not been trained and accustom ed to the system of flogging, they never would have been seen to lend themselves as they did in a certain reign of terror in a neighbouring kingdom, which he hoped yet to see investigated. Adverting to the navy, he said, that he had in his possession a book of punishments in one ship in 1809, kept by the master of arms; and in six months there were upwards of 14,000 lashes inflicted! This was enormous, when the proportion as to severity of flogging in the navy was considered. In one part of the book, a person was entered as having leaped overboard, and been drowned, to avoid three or four dozen of lashes.
Mr. Robinson could conceive nothing a greater insult to the service, than such allusions to flogging in the navy as had been just made by the hon. and learned gentle man, without giving the House the means of ascertaining their truth, by a statement 393 of names. They were little less than a libel on the whole navy. He could tell the hon. and learned gentleman that there was nothing to which the Admiralty paid so much attention, as Corporal Punishments; that returns of all the punishments inflicted in each ship were sent to them; and that had such a case occurred, it would have met with their severest reprehension.
§Mr. Brougham professed himself willing to deliver up the book which he had alluded to, to the Admiralty. He believed it might be of service to them.
§Mr. Long corrected an hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) in an assertion he had made respecting an order of the commander in Chief, refusing pensions to per sons labouring under blindness. That had occurred only where there was proof of deception.
Mr. Brougham wished to be informed by an hon. gentleman, at what lime returns of Corporal punishment were ordered by the Admiralty?
Mr. Robinson could not recollect when.
Mr. Lambe, though not prepared to con cur entirely with the hon. baronet (Sir F. Burdett), or his hon. friend (Mr. Brougham), wished to vote for the motion, because the production of the paper was necessary to the case of gentlemen on the other side of the House.
Mr. Bennet shortly replied, when the House divided.
The numbers were—Ayes 17—Noes 49. Majority 32.