HC Deb 17 March 1824 vol 10 cc1198-205
Mr. Hume

presented a petition from Mr. Henry Dundas Perrott, late a lieutenant in the royal navy, complaining of the treatment he had experienced from the Board of Admiralty, and praying the House to refer his case to the twelve judges. The hon. gentleman observed, that: while there was any prospect that the injustice: of which the petitioner complained might be remedied in the proper official quarter, he had advised him to abstain, from any application to parliament; but that now, as all hope of that nature seemed to be at an end, he submitted the circumstances of that injustice to the House. It appeared to be a very hard case. After the most careful examination of the various documents illustrative of the subject, it seemed to him, that by those documents the petitioner's statement was completely borne out. Undoubtedly, there were circumstances which could be thoroughly known Only to official persons; but, speaking; from all the information which he had been able to obtain, he repeated, that be thought Mr. Perrott's a very hard case. It appeared, that Mr. Perrott entered the navy five-and-twenty years ago, when be was very young, For fourteen years he bad been in constant and arduous service; having, during that time, been present at the capture of no fewer than three hundred ships and having been employed, on thirteen occasions, in cutting vessels out of harbour—an enterprise generally attended with considerable danger. In seven of these last instances he had commanded the boats and launches employed on the service, particularly at Boulogne, where he had had to face a very superior force, and was for a long time exposed to a most heavy fire from the enemy. While on board the Hebe frigate, he received a wound, the result of which was the loss of his arm; and he was thus disabled from any of the ordinary means of getting a livelihood. In addition to ail this, he had contributed, during the period he had just described, to the saving a great many lives. For the severe wound he received when he was a midshipman, a pension had been granted him; but that pension he had lost on his promotion to a lieutenancy. It appeared, that, up to the year 1812, Mr. Perrott's services were generally allowed by his superiors, and that he was considered by them to be a very distinguished officer. In that year, however, an action was brought against him, on a charge of having received 23l. from a man of the name of Robert Bullen, for obtaining him a protection from impressment. Affidavits having been made on the subject, a warrant was issued. Mr. Perrot's residence was searched, and his writing-desk broken open, in which were certainly found some papers, shewing that he had had some money from Robert Bullen. That was not denied; but the question was, whether or not he had received that money as the price of the protection alluded to. The matter was brought to trial, and Mr. Perrott being convicted, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, under the act of the 30th Geo. 3rd, for receiving money under false pretences. But the petitioner complained, that he had not been able to procure a copy of the indictment until the day of his trial, so that he was wholly unprepared for his defence, and had been unable, to collect such evidence as would have rendered his innocence manifest. The consequence was, that he was committed to prison, and that three days, after, by order of lord Melville, or whoever was at the head of the Admiralty at that time, his name was struck out of the list of the royal navy. At that time, the petitioner was in very embarrassed circumstances. Like many other young men, he had lived too freely; not having sufficiently adverted to what must be the natural effects of his extravagance and folly. The consequence was, that he was very poor himself: and his friends were so little able to assist him, that it was a long time before he could bring his case to a re-hearing in a court of justice. At length, in the course of the year 1814, while he was yet a prisoner, the case came to be reheard in the Court of King's Bench, before the late lord Ellenborough, whose sentence was to this effect: "that, on hearing counsel on both sides, and there appearing to have been errors in the conduct of the prosecution, the verdict must be reversed, the defendant be restored to all he has lost by it, and forthwith discharged out of custody." Affidavits were made by Robert Bullen, his wife, and other persons who had been principal evidences on the trial, proving that the protection which had been found was not filled up by Mr. Perrott, but by a clerk. If, then, these circumstances were true—if the court reversed the sentence under which the petitioner had been dismissed from the navy—it was but common justice to the petitioner that, having served so long and with such distinction, and having lost his limb in the service, he ought to be reinstated in the rank from which he had been dismissed He was of opinion, that the petitioner had been made the victim of an atrocious conspiracy. But, even if the petitioner had been guilty of the offence with which he was charged, he would put it to the House to say, whether, after the length of his services, after he had been wounded in the course of that service, it would be right to leave the unfortunate petitioner in a state of absolute starvation. It had been decided by lord Mansfield and by lord Kenyon, that the half-pay to officers was given as a reward for services; and it was contended, that there existed no right to take away the half-pay of an individual officer. The case of the petitioner was one of the most cruel that had ever come within his knowledge; and he hoped it would receive consideration. He was aware that it might be more regular to move for certain official documents in order to ascertain whether every statement in the petition was exactly true, and then to submit a specific motion on the subject, but he was satisfied that there would be but little chance of carrying any motion against the wishes of ministers. Now, it was very true, that a court martial had sat upon Mr. Perrott, previously to his indictment; and that three charges were exhibited against him, for going ashore after sunset; for saying, on one occasion, upon deck, that the first lieutenant of the ship was a dangerous man; and for disobedience of orders, in refusing to send the men aloft. Upon two of these charges the court acquitted Mr. Perrott; but on the other they certainly pronounced him guilty. But he could not imagine, that that finding ought to have had any influence upon the Lords of the Admiralty in considering another and a later charge which was brought against the party in a court of justice, for obtaining money under false pretences. And yet, that such an influence did operate on the Admiralty, he was warranted in inferring from their conduct in respect of the accusation which a foul conspiracy had preferred against this individual, "that he had taken money in order to obtain a protection for a man named Bullen; he having no power to obtain it, and well knowing the same." The petitioner now stated to the House, "that for several years past he had been scarcely able to obtain a meal, and was in want of almost the common necessaries of life;" and he concluded his prayer in these words:—"Let not a nation so famed for its generosity, allow a man, whose limbs have been mutilated in its service, to suffer from want of that bread which it accords so freely to the natives of other kingdoms." He (Mr. Hume) had taken great pains to make himself master of all the facts which were alleged in this petition; but he had not had access to the records of the Admiralty, so as to be able to see what colouring they might receive from other sources [hear]. The petitioner con- cluded, by praying, "either that the House would be pleased to refer his case to the twelve judges, in order that it might be ascertained what compensation should be granted for his past services, considering his present inability to obtain any other livelihood; or that it would grant such other relief as its wisdom might deem proper.

Sir George Cockburn

lamented, that the hon. member had gone so much into detail on this occasion, inasmuch as it compelled him to do so too in replying to his statement; and he lamented the circumstance the more especially, because he had received letters from some members of this party's family, requesting him not to go into the full exposure of his case. Had the hon. member thought proper to content himself with merely bringing the petition up, he (Sir George) would not have felt it necessary to take the step which he was about to do. The hon. member's proceeding, however, compelled him to it; and the case itself was so monstrous as to leave him no choice. The facts were simply these:—This Mr. Dundas Perrott, being a lieutenant in his majesty's navy, informed a person that he could get a protection from the impress. That person was a poor unfortunate servant-woman, who really imagined that Perrott could procure a protection for her husband, Robert Bullen. He required an advance of money for the purpose; and she gave him that money. He soon afterwards pressed her for more, which she again furnished. He still applied for money, in order, as he said, to fee the clerks at the Admiralty. She had parted with all the cash she had, and borrowed a sum to meet his demands: but still the man wanted additional funds. The poor woman was unable to raise them; but she happened to possess a small furnished house of her own, and actually took away her furniture and sold it. In conclusion, the man was pressed; and the unhappy wife, after having vainly sacrificed her all, went before a magistrate. That magistrate considered it proper, upon a hearing, to send the matter before another tribunal; and evidence was then gone into, which clearly proved, that a more iniquitous case was never yet produced before a court of justice. The Lords of the Admiralty, and the service generally, were filled with indignation at the detection of such misconduct in an officer who had the honour of bearing a commission in the royal navy. The House bad already heard that the petitioner was sentenced to a long imprisonment. After he had been in prison some time, it was discovered that there had been such a flaw in the indictment, that the lord chief justice held him to be entitled to his release. Upon this, the Admiralty, who had conceived no previous indisposition towards the party—(a fact which was established by the previous circumstance, that though, by reason of the sentence of the court-martial, he was already under martial law, yet had they reinstated him in the service, under that favourable feeling towards a wounded officer which they would always entertain)—the Admiralty immediately sent all the law proceedings to their legal advisers, and asked them, whether there was any thing in them which might have the effect of doing away with the legal crime that Mr. Perrott had been supposed to have committed. The Admiralty counsel and solicitor were of opinion that there was not. The affidavits which had been tonight brought to the notice of the House, were transmitted to Mr. Jervis, the counsel for the Admiralty, and to the Admiralty solicitors, that they might look into the whole of them again, and see whether they contained any thing which might mitigate the petitioner's guilt. As to that part of Mrs. Bullen's deposition which the hon. gentleman relied upon, the House would recollect, that she made an affidavit of the criminatory circumstances in court, and upon oath. Her voluntary deposition, now made, could be of no importance, therefore, to the question. As to the Admiralty, they would have been very happy if Mr. Perrott could have made out the case he now brought forward; for as it was, it had cast a stigma upon the service. It remained, however, to be added, that after Perrott was seized, there was found, among his papers, and in his own handwriting, a forged discharge. In answer to what was stated about the petitioner's losing his former pension, it was to be observed, that it was very true he had, while a midshipman, enjoyed a pension on account of the wound he had received: but when he was promoted, he gave up the pension, according to the well-known custom of the navy. Now he was dismissed the service, he got neither that nor his half-pay. But this was matter of course. If a person who had been a clerk in a public office, afterwards was pensioned, and it should ap- pear that he had misbehaved himself in so extraordinary a manner, that his pension should be taken away, he could not go back and demand his clerk's pay. As to this petition being brought up, he did not know whether it was worth while to oppose it; but he should do so, unless the House should wish to hear it read, in order to be more fully informed of facts to which, he presumed, he had now given a sufficient answer.

Mr. Hume

, in explanation, contended that the question was, whether the facts that had been sworn to against the petitioner were proved or not. By the affidavits which he held in his hand, it appeared, as he maintained, that they were not proved. This petition had been handed to him by sir Edward Perrott; and in answer to a question which he had put to sir Edward, as to whether he was prepared to meet any statement that the petition might occasion in parliament, sir Edward had replied, that he was quite willing to do so; and that he was most anxious it should be presented without loss of time.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that it bad come to the knowledge of the Admiralty, that some members of the petitioner's family had tampered with Mrs. Bullen before the trial, and offered her the money out of which she had been defrauded, if she would not appear against the petitioner. After the verdict, it was not a question for the Admiralty, whether the indictment was found deficient on technical points, but whether the petitioner was morally guilty.

Sir Isaac Coffin

would be glad to know, whether gentlemen could suppose that any Admiralty in the world would be so inhuman, as to refuse relief to a man who had suffered so much in the cause of his' country as the petitioner appeared to have done, if there did not exist some strong case against him.

Mr. Croker

assured the House, that had there been any doubt in this case, the Admiralty would have given the benefit of that doubt to a person in so interesting a situation as that of a wounded officer. He would mention a single fact, which, he thought, would go far to satisfy the minds of gentlemen upon the merits of this case. It was a fact that took place, he would assume, without the knowledge of either of the parties, but while this fraudulent negotiation was going on between Perrott and the poor woman. Perrott now denied that there was either fraud or negotiation on his part: whilst Bullen and his wife asserted, that there were both. It did happen, however, in the meanwhile, that application was made at the Admiralty for a protection, and by whom? By sir Edward Perrott. To sir Edward he imputed no improper design; and all that this circumstance imported was, a hope, perhaps, that the respectable name of a baronet might give the application an additional chance of success. Such an application, however, was made for a protection, and for whom? Why, for Robert Bullen; and when the whole matter as to Perrott'a conduct came out, among that person's papers, there was found a forged protection for Robert Bullen, in Perrott's own handwriting.

Mr. Agar Ellis

was bound to state, that such a case as that brought forward by his hon. friend he had never heard. The explanations of gentlemen opposite must have quite satisfied the House, as to the impropriety of proceeding further in the matter.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the petitioner was found guilty by a jury, and he now appealed from the decision of a jury, stating that he was innocent of an offence of which that jury, on their oaths, had said he was guilty. This, he believed, was the first attempt that had been made to establish a precedent, the dangerous consequences of which it was not necessary to dwell on. With respect to what had been said about affidavits, four out of five of the affidavits which parties made, complaining of the administration of justice, were framed in the same way. There was one plain answer to these affidavits—why were not the persons by whom they were made examined in open court? No, they shrunk from such examination; but were ready enough to come forward with affidavits, where they were not exposed to the penalties attendant upon perjury.

Mr. Hume

said, he would not press the House to a division, but he thought the petitioner intitled to the commiseration pf the country.

Mr. Peel

added, that he might have objected to the reception of the petition, on the technical ground, that it prayed for pecuniary compensation.

Mr. Monk

recommended Mr. Hume to withdraw the petition; and the latter, with the leave of the House, complied with the request.