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CONVICTS UNDER SENTENCE OF TRANSPORTATION.
MR. BURKE called the attention of the House to the melancholy situation under which those unfortunate people laboured who were sentenced to transportation. In a country which prided itself on the mild and indulgent principles of its laws, it should not be suffered that the situation of particular delinquents, instead of being meliorated by provisions dictated by clemency, should become infinitely more severe than if inflicted in the utmost rigour and severity of the laws. The number of convicts under this description was at present estimated at not less than 10,000. Every principle of justice and humanity required, that punishment should not be inflicted beyond those prescribed and defined to particular kinds of delinquency. But that principle received additional force, when it was considered, that these extraordinary severities were exercised under the appearance of mercy; that is to say, the culprits were remitted certain punishments by the mild spirit and principles of the English laws; and received, in commutation, others, infinitely more severe than the most rigid construction of the laws had, in the worst of cases, designed for them. There was, in the mode of punishing by transportation, no distinction made between trivial crimes, and those of greater enormity; all indiscriminately suffered the same miserable fate, however unequal their transgressions, or different their circumstances. Besides these considerations, some regard should, in such times of difficulty and distress as the present, be paid to frugality and economy. The business of transporting convicts, among other inconveniences, was attended with a very considerable expence. Instances of profuse expenditure were sometimes justifiable, when they had humanity and clemency for their object; but could never derive any
sanction from cruelty and inhumanity. He wished to know what was to be done with these unhappy wretches; and to what part of the world it was intended, by the minister, they should be sent. He hoped it was not to Gambia, which, though represented as a wholesome place, was the capital seat of plague, pestilence, and famine. The gates of hell were there open night and day to receive the victims of the law; but not those victims which either the letter, or the spirit of the law, had doomed to a punishment attended with certain death. This demanded the
attention of the legislature. They should in their punishments remember, that the consequences of transportation were not meant to be deprivation of life; and yet in Gambia it might truly be said, that there all life dies, and all death lives. He should wish, as a preliminary to something being done on the subject, that the state of the prisons, so far as respected persons under sentence of transportation, were laid before the House; and this he thought would come best by several motions, which, if agreeable to the House, he should propose. Before he did this, he wished to know whether any contract had yet been entered into for sending these convicts to the coast of Africa. [He was answered, No.]
The Speaker remarked, that this motion came at somewhat too short a notice; whereupon Mr. Burke withdrew it for the present.
This day Lord Beauchamp begged leave to remind the House of an order that had been made at an early part of the present session, and of which he was sorry to find no notice whatever had hitherto been taken. The order to which he alluded, was, that a report should be made to the House relative to the manner in which government intended to dispose of felons under sentence of transportation. He presumed the chancellor of the exchequer had not had leisure, from the
multiplicity of public affairs, to attend to an order of such great moment. He wished, however, that he would inform him, when he conceived a return might be expected to the ordinary question, as he intended to ground upon that return a motion, which he would submit to the House on a future day. Mr. Pitt admitted the importance of the subject, and stated as an excuse for the neglect of the order a very great hurry of public business; he would, however, take care that the return to it should be made with all possible dispatch. At the same time he thought the noble lord would do well, if he would make the House acquainted, at present, with the nature of the motion that he intended to propose on a future day. Lord Beauchamp replied, that as his motion would, in a great measure, depend on the nature of the return, he could not, until he should have seen that return, gratify the wish of the right honourable gentleman. Some motion, however, would be absolutely necessary. The transportation of felons had generally been to places within the dominions of his majesty; but, if report spoke truth, government had it in contemplation to send them to the coast of Africa, and to form a colony of them out of the British territories. This appeared to him a subject well worthy of inquiry.
Mr. BURKE said, that the design of sending the felons to Africa, was of a very serious nature. It would affect not only the present unfortunate wretches who were under sentence of transportation, but also future generations of convicts, if the idea of colonizing Africa with felons should be once adopted. He could not reconcile it with justice, that persons whom the rigour of the law had spared from death, should, after a mock display of mercy, be compelled to undergo it, by being sent to a country where they could not live, and where the manner of the death might be singularly horrid; so that the apparent mercy of transporting those wretched people to Africa, might with justice be called cruelty. The merciful gallows of England would rid them of their lives in a far less dreadful manner, than the climate or the savages of Africa would take them. [Mr. Pitt interrupted Mr. Burke, by observing that he was assuming facts, without any better authority than report; he thought
therefore it would be more proper for the right honourable gentleman to wait till he should have seen the return called for by the noble lord.] Mr. Burke said, that though there was no question actually under discussion, he was not of opinion that, in any thing he had said, he had been out of order. The situation of the felons who were to be transported, called for immediate attention. He understood that seventy-five of them were now on board a ship, which might sail before morning, and the wind would soon carry them out of the reach of the interposition of parliament. He was now appealing to the minister for his interference. The king, by his coronation oath, had bound himself to execute judgment in mercy; and the right honourable gentleman was the trustee of his majesty's oath. There were at the moment that he was speaking, nests of pestilence in the country; the gaols were crowded beyond measure; there was a house in London, which consisted at this time of just 558 members; he did not mean the House of Commons (though the numbers were alike in both), but the gaol of Newgate: they attended in their places much more punctually than the members of the former; and reform in one would not be less agreeable than reform in the other. Pestilence might be the consequence of so many persons being crowded in one house; and the public safety, no less than a humane regard to the individuals in question, called for the interposition of parliament.
Here the business rested for this day.
MR. PITT'S MOTION FOR A REFORM OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE IN PARLIAMENT.
THE question of a reform in parliament was this day brought before the House by Mr. Pitt, who concluded a speech of considerable length with moving," That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend the representation of the people of England in parliament." The plan which he proposed for this purpose, was to transfer the right of choosing representatives from thirty-six of such boroughs as had already, or were falling into decay, to the counties, and to such chief towns and cities as were at present unrepresented— That a fund should be provided, for the purpose of giving to the owners and holders of such boroughs disfranchised, an appreciated compensation for their property- That the taking this compensation should be a voluntary act of the proprietor, and if not taken at present, should be placed out at compound interest, until it became an irresistible bait to such proprietors. He also meant to extend the right of voting for knights of the shire to copyholders as well as freeholders. Such was the outline of Mr. Pitt's system. The motion was opposed by Mr. Powys, Lord North, Lord Mulgrave, Mr. Burke, Mr. Rolle, and Mr. Young; and supported by Mr. Duncombe, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Fox, the Attorney-General, Mr. Arden, Lord Frederick Campbell, and Mr. Dundas.
Mr. BURKE, after entertaining the House for a considerable time on the subject of Mr. Dundas's conversion from the principles of anti-reformation, proceeded to discuss the merits of the present question, as well as the manner of bringing it forward. It held out, he said, the alternative, either for the House to adopt this limited, confined plan of reform, or be perhaps liable to receive one from the Duke of Richmond, on a more enlarged scale. Between the minister and the House of Commons there appeared to be