HC Deb 18 May 1866 vol 183 cc1187-94

said, he rose to call attention to the Treasury Minute presented a short time since respecting the Records of Great Britain and Ireland. It was a most interesting document, but while it showed how much had been done for England, it also showed how little attention had been given to Ireland. A Commission which sat in 1836 had recommended that the records, memorials, and papers connected with the laws and history of the country should be arranged and published, and the Master of the Rolls stated that there were masses of documents, perhaps unequalled in the civilized world, available as materials for the illustration of the national laws and history, but in their then state these were not available for purposes of reference. He accordingly recommended that they should be arranged and published; and as the clerks in the Record Office were otherwise employed even when qualified, and consequently unequal to such additional duties, he proposed that a certain number of literary men should be engaged to carry out this undertaking. With this object in view the services of some most distinguished men were secured, among others those of Messrs. Duffus Hardy, Bruce, Brewer, Palgrave, Green, and Turnbull, and an immense number of records and papers had since been edited by them. Calendars of the Records and historic papers of the reigns of Henry VIII., Queen Mary, Edward IV., Elizabeth, James, and Charles I. had been edited in England, and many of them had been published. We had many works of a similar nature in Scotland. But while so much had been done, and so judiciously done, for England, Ireland was almost totally neglected. It was well known there was a most interesting class of records known as the Carew Papers, which were deposited in the Library at Lambeth Palace, while another most valuable mass of papers which Carte had taken from the family of the Duke of Ormond, relating to the Rebellion of 1641 in Ireland, but equally interesting to illustrate the history of that time in England, were kept in the Bodleian library at Oxford. He need not remind the House that the Lord Deputy Carew had done much to destroy the nationality of Ireland, and had removed many records of the Irish history to England, which was probably the best means of preserving them. At this moment Government were employing two gentlemen to edit both the Carew and the Carte Papers, and he hoped they were competent to the task. But he had heard with regret that permission had been given to the editors of the Carte Papers to make selections from them. Now, editing that class of documents it would be, he thought, a most dangerous power to give to any editor to allow him to make such a selection as he might think fit, containing, as they did, most detailed accounts of the transactions to which they referred, and the secret negotiations of the Duke of Ormonde, Lord Antrim, Lord Preston, and all of the transactions between the Confederate Catholics and Ormonde himself with his adherents in Ireland. The smallest omission might destroy their use. The Government had received suggestions as to the several manuscripts and records connected with the early history of Ireland which were to be found in this country, and there was, he believed, an immense number of such papers which would be of interest not only to Irishmen, but which would possess great interest also for the English historian. All the early charters from the time of the invasion of Ireland were to be found in England, and they were of the utmost importance as well in a legal as in an historical point of view. There was at the present time a Bill before the House which he intended to oppose, and on which great light might be thrown by some of those ancient charters—he alluded to the Bill dealing with certain portions of the Curragh of Kildare, with which the Government had no right to meddle. He might mention that there were many patents and other documents connected with Irish grants to families such as charters and patents, which were now in the English Rolls Office. These were written on skins of parchment. Some of the writings related solely to Ireland, while some writings on them related also to England. Where those skins were filled with matters wholly relating to Irish affairs they ought to be sent back to Ireland, but it might be unreasonable to ask for their return where English matters were mixed up with them, and he would then ask hut for copies. He must impress on the Government the expediency of having all those papers properly edited, and, in those instances in which it was possible to do so, all merely Irish papers restored to the Rolls Office in Ireland. The expense of editing them would be very small, and he saw no good reason why such expense should be incurred for the advantage of England which did not, equally apply to Ireland, or that the Irish manuscripts should be neglected. There were papers at Simancas, in Venice, and in Paris and other places on the Continent, which threw important light on some of the events of English history, and he believed the Government were engaged in endeavouring to obtain copies of several of those documents which related to England. But there were also papers to he found on the Continent, connected not only with Irish families and Irish history, at Rome, in Spain, in the Low Countries, at St. Gall, in Switzerland, and even in Denmark, which shed an equally interesting light on English history as well as on that of Ireland. The papers and records to be found in Rome were in the eon-vent of St. Isidore; they had formerly been taken from Ireland and placed there by officers and persons who fled from Ireland after the wars which followed the outbreak of 1641, and could not fail to give valuable assistance to the historian of that period. After or rather during the French Revolution these papers were removed from Louvain to the convent at Rome, and there was no difficulty in obtaining copies of them as he himself had easily done so. In Spain, not only at Simancas there were also valuable documents relating to Ireland as well as England, and some would throw light on several of the transactions connected with the flight of the O'Donnells to that country in the reign of James I. It was, he thought, but right that the Government should have those papers copied also and placed in the Irish Record Office. He thought it would be admitted that the Irish Members were justified in asking of the Government that there should be some little activity with respect to the publication of Irish Records. Then, let us consider what had been done as to these historic documents, as he had stated it would be seen much had been done for England, while very little attention had been given to the historic documents of Ireland. The outlay on the collection and publication of such documents was to some extent repaid by the sale of the volumes; and it would be difficult to overrate their importance in a literary point of view. He believed it was true that a volume entitled The Wars of the Danes in Ireland, of which the text was Irish, was being edited, with an English translation, by his friend the Rev. Dr. Todd, than whom no one could be more competent for the editorship of such a work. The Chronicon Scotorum, also written in Irish, was being prepared by Mr. Hennessy, and the Treasury Minute stated that it had been a long time in his hands. This was not to by wondered at, seeing that Mr. Hennessy's other duties as clerk in the Lunacy Office in Ireland occupied very much of his attention. It would be well if the Government placed Mr. Hennessy, who he believed to be an accomplished Irish scholar, in a post that would be more suitable to and worthy of his talents. The editing of the Brehon Laws had been commenced under a very distinguished scholar, John O'Donovan, then whom no one was so well fitted to undertake the work; but he feared it was not now carried on under such favourable auspices, for he was informed that the gentleman to whom it was now committed, although, perhaps, skilled in the manipulation of statistics, did not even understand Irish. But, in fact, we were fast losing our Irish scholars, O'Donovan was gone, Petrie was gone, Currey was gone, and this was a strong reason why the Government should find young men who would turn their attention to this important but peculiar line of study, and this could only be done by holding out encouragement, giving such remuneration as would permit them to withdraw from other pursuits. A new Record Office had been built in Ireland at an expense of about £30,000. In a few weeks it might be finished, and he would impress upon the Treasury the importance of having it finished at once, so that the records might be placed there before the long days of the summer had passed by—and he was told the Government intended to form a department in Ireland similar to that in England—for the care of the records to be placed there, as well as for the calendaring and editing them. This department was to be formed on the model of the one in England, which, under Mr. Duffus Hardy, who had an able staff under him had published a large number of historical calendars and papers at a cost of £29,000. The department would remain as at present under the Master of the Rolls; but much of its utility would depend upon the selection of a Deputy Keeper; and the Treasury ought to lose no time in engaging an efficient staff from among the competent men now to be found in Ireland, and we possess such men as Greaves, Hardy, Gilbert, and others, all eminent in archaeology and perfectly competent. Although few of the Irish Members were then present, he believed the feelings of them all were enlisted in common with his own in that matter. The outlay made in latter years upon the records of Ireland was very small in comparison with the corresponding expenditure for Scotland and England. He found that during the last few years there had been expended in reference to matters of this kind in England and Scotland, between £700,000 and £800,000, whilst £40,000 was about all that had been laid out in Ireland, and therefore he thought that they had a right to call upon the Government for a greater outlay in reference to Irish records. Before he sat down he was anxious to know from the Secretary to the Treasury why the Return (ordered last year, but not presented, and again ordered on the 9th of February, in the present Session) of all manuscripts, historical or legal, edited or prepared, or partially prepared, for publication by the Irish Record Commissioners or any other persons employed by the Government for that purpose to the 1st of January, 1866, specifying the nature and character of each manuscript, had not yet been presented. The documents he referred to were those which had been intrusted to the former Record Commissioners who had worked some years with singular abilities and published several volumes of Calendars Inquisitions, and other documents; we could see from their proceedings, which were to be found in the Library, that besides what was published some of the work intrusted to them was left unfinished, and only partially prepared, while it would also be seen that some important works were declared to be ready for publication, yet we see nothing of them. What had become of them? They should be informed of what papers existed, and if any of them had been lost, let it be stated what they were. So he, in conclusion, wished to ask what was the intention of Government as to the completion of Mr. Morrino's Calendars? It was said that certain proposed corrections to his Calendars of Patent and Close Rolls were to be published in a separate volume; and he might suggest to publish in it the Rolls which he proposed should (either the originals or copies) be transferred from this country to Ireland. These Rolls, whether close or open, contained grants, patents, and other valuable documents of the earliest period of the connections between Ireland and England. He believed that in the Irish Rolls Office there was no papers of earlier date than the time of Henry II., except one, and even it was doubted that it was genuine; but there was here in England a mass of records much more ancient. Many also of the patents and charters in the Irish Office were mere copies with the word Inspeximus written on them, and it would scarcely be believed that many of these were not correct copies. We should therefore have the originals, or at least corrected copies. So large was this mass of papers, that it would take five years to calendar and arrange them. There is a gentleman, Mr. Sweetman, a man well qualified to undertake the task. Why not at once employ him. Why should time be lost in commencing so valuable a work.


quite sympathized with the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the very small attendance of hon. Members then in the House. He thought there was only one other Irish Member present besides the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. He could not state that it was in the power of the Government at the present moment to give any detailed assurance as to what they would be able to do in future years with respect to the Irish Records; but the Minute to which the hon. and gallant General had alluded had answered in a general way this end. With regard to the Return for which the hon. and gallant Member had moved in the last Session, and also in the present one, he could now say that the last part of it was completed two or three days ago, and it would be laid on the table immediately. He was afraid, however, that it would not be very easy to say which of these papers had been lost, as he feared had been the case with some. But there would be no difficulty in giving a Return of those papers which were preserved. As to the general question of these Records, there was nothing which afforded more satisfaction to the Treasury than to see the desire that was entertained that the Government should expend a reasonable sum of money in collating, compiling, and publishing works of interest to historians and archaeologists. The Government, however, must be cautious as to the extent to which it carried its liberality in that respect; be cause if they went beyond public documents and began to interfere in the publication of works of interest touching our early history which were private property, they might be entangled in very inconvenient obligations. Although there might be many domestic papers relating to England and Ireland, the publication of which ought to be encouraged, yet it was doubtful whether they ought to assent to the doctrine that the Government should publish them. They had, indeed, consented to publish some of these works, referring both to England and to Ireland; and the volumes mentioned at page 5 of the Treasury Minute, were open to the remark that they were not all strictly public papers. Taking the mass of interesting papers of that kind which had been published, he did not think Ireland had been ill-used as far as they had already gone. A mere arithmetical calculation or comparison of the amount of money expended in that way for different parts of the United Kingdom was not a correct mode of looking at the matter. But in considering this point it must be borne in mind that in Ireland the papers were almost wholly of a character relating to that country, and that Ireland had in a much less degree than England a Foreign history. If the Simancas and Venice papers are (so to speak) to be devoted to England, there is nothing corresponding which could be put to the charge of Ireland. As to the future, all he could say was that the Minute he had laid on the table was designed to make Parliament fully aware of what had been done and of what might be done; and it he remained in his present office when the Estimates were framed next year he would undertake that the Estimates should clearly show what the Government were prepared to do in regard to the collation, compilation, &c, of papers of historical interest with respect both to Great Britain and Ireland. He believed that no delay had taken place in the endeavour to bring into the new building the Irish records it was intended to place there, and in the attempt to put them upon a sound and satisfactory footing. They were now in communication with the Irish Government on that subject, and he trusted it would be acknowledged that they had not fallen short of their duty in that matter.

Back to