THE MARQUESS OF WESTMEATH
, in calling the attention of the House to the Papers presented in the case of Mary Ryan, said, that as the case was one of a poor Irishwoman who had been most oppressively and illegally dealt with, he felt it to be his duty to bring it under their Lordships' notice. But he must, in the first place, bring to their Lordships' notice that the Order for the production of the papers was that "all the papers" should be produced; and he should show that that Order had not only not been obeyed, but that many documents necessary to an understanding of the case had been withheld, and improperly withheld. The case was brought to the notice of persons who were on the pier at Dover on the night of the 7th of September. A young woman was forced down the pier by a man and two nuns. The attention of the narrator was attracted by a loud scream. When arrived at the landing place, she was taken from those who had her in durance by a man in the employ of the agent of the 1647 Belgian Mail Packet, who carried her on board. She said nothing until arriving on the deck of the steamer, when she cried out "Mamma, mamma" two or three times, and screamed. This man says he had great difficulty in carrying her, and that her legs were tied, and she had a straight-jacket on. By the papers which had been laid upon the table, it appeared that while the train which conveyed these persons from London to Dover was on the road she was heard screaming, crying out to be rescued, shrieking "murder," and screaming out "Mamma, mamma." It appeared that the train, being an express, made but few stoppages; but on one occasion, when it was at rest, one of the guards went to the window of the compartment where she was, when he found the blinds pulled down, and on inquiring what was the matter was told "Nothing." At the Dover Station, one of the railway porters, on opening the carriage door, was asked by one of the women, dressed as a Sister of Mercy, to assist the invalid out. She was holding the arm-rest of her seat, and calling out "don't let me go" and "murder." It was assumed that the young woman was mad—it was so stated by the persons who professed to have charge of her. The matter was originally brought before the public through the means of the public press. There was a letter among the papers from a Mr. Ashwin, who appeared to have been present at an early stage of this business, who, while passing through the streets of London, saw this young woman forced into a cab by a man and some women. Not liking the appearance of the transaction he inquired of a man in dark clothes, standing at the window of the cab, what was the matter? He said it was "fever." He replied that it was no fever. However, they pulled the window up and told the cabman to drive on; and one man who assisted in putting the young woman into the carriage, went to the opposite house, which turned out to be an abode of "nuns" or Sisters of Charity." This was the unfortunate person who was found at Dover. It appeared that she was taken over to Bruges, and there placed in an asylum, which the persons concerned in the early part of the transactions stated was a house especially devoted to the reception of nuns who had become insane, there being no house in England specially adapted for her reception. There was then a letter from Dr. Millar, described as Medical Superintendent of Bethnal House, 1648 stating that he had been called in to see a nun, whom he found labouring under an attack of mania of recent duration. He would be able to prove that this was all a conspiracy got up by a gentleman—and he begged to call the attention of the House to this—calling himself the Vicar General of Westminster and D.D. This person associated himself with a doctor, who was stated to have given a certificate to justify the removal. Under the Lunacy Act, unless a certificate was given, such removal could not, at least ought not, to be made. However, this doctor, and two nuns, and this Vicar General, came to a resolution that the young woman was insane; and, on their authority, without any certificate, this poor person was forcibly removed to a foreign lunatic asylum, at Bruges, where, being an Irishwoman, and not speaking French, she would, of course, he incapable of communicating with those around her. In reference to his statement that all the papers relating to this subject had not been produced, the noble Marquess proceeded to read two letters from the Secretary of the Protestant Alliance, Sergeant's Inn, Fleet Street, addressed to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, giving a statement of the circumstances of this affair as far as they had come to light, and concluding with a prayer that his Lordship would cause inquiry to be made into these allegations. These letters had not been included in the papers produced to Parliament. The most serious part of the case was the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Homo Department. He stated that he had taken the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and they told him that the removal of a British subject to a foreign country under the circumstances was illegal; and yet the right hon. Baronet, though he admitted their conduct to be illegal, refused to prosecute the guilty parties. Of all the instances of official presumption of which he had ever heard or read this was the most remarkable. He had taken upon himself to dispense with the law, and denied a British subject, who was expatriated under circumstances of the greatest harshness and cruelty, the protection to which she was entitled. Considering the treatment she received, it was not wonderful if she became rapidly insane. And yet Sir George Grey tried to shelve the matter. The whole case was abominable, and he trusted that something would he done to 1649 prevent the Home Secretary in future from having it in his power to say whether the law was to be carried out or not, and steps ought to be taken to bring this poor young woman back to England, to teach the Home Secretary that the law must be carried into effect.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, he would endeavour to explain some of the points on which the noble Marquess had touched. As to his complaint that the papers before the House were not in the form ordered by the Minute of the House, he could only say that he had consented to the Motion of his noble Friend for the production of the papers only in the shape of copies and extracts of all official correspondence relating to the abduction of the nun Mary Ryan. The Motion was put into that shape, and in that shape it was agreed to. With regard to the general question, it divided itself into two parts. The first related to the practice, which it appeared from these papers was not an uncommon one, of conventual establishments in this country, when a nun became insane, sending her away to an establishment for lunatics abroad instead of relieving her at home. The Law Officers of the Crown had been consulted on that practice, and they had declared that it was entirely illegal. No doubt, by the exercise of such a power unknown to any law and wholly unsanctioned by any Judge, great abuses might occur. In the instance now before them every facility had been given to the Consular authorities and a Lunacy Commissioner to sift the matter to the bottom; but a case might occur of a person being carried away by force into a foreign country who was not really insane, and his friends might be refused admission to him. Therefore, the practice was not only illegal, but dangerous to the liberty of the subject. For this reason he had asked his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to inform the directors of this conventual establishment that such a practice of removal was entirely illegal, and we might presume that persons placed in such a position would take care that such things did not occur again. With regard to this particular case it appeared that Dr. Millar, who was the medical superintendent of the lunatic asylum at Bethnal Green, had been asked to see this person and inquire into her mental condition. He found her suffering from acute mania; and she was afterwards removed over the sea in the illegal manner described, not by the authority of Dr. 1650 Millar or any properly constituted authority, and placed in an asylum at Bruges. Inquiry was made at the desire of the Secretary of State, and the British Minister at Brussels examined into the case and found that the asylum in which she had been placed was a well-conducted one. The medical authorities at Bruges were of opinion that this young woman was suffering from disease of the intellectual faculties. The British Consul also visited the place, and found the establishment to be a well-conducted one, and that Mary Ryan was apparently suffering from mental disease. The Secretary of State for the Home Department desired one of the Commissioners of Lunacy, Mr. Wilkes, to visit Bruges; and that Gentleman reported that he found the young woman had been labouring under a very acute attack of mania when she was removed from this country, and that after her voyage across to Belgium and arrival at the asylum she was, owing to her refusal to take food, in a very exhausted condition, which at one time caused apprehensions for her life. He also stated that in his opinion she required to be taken great care of because she was suffering from melancholia, with a suicidal tendency. The question was, what was to be done in the case? The Home Secretary having ascertained all the facts, and having found that the young woman really was insane at the time of her removal, that she was placed in an asylum where she was well cared for, it became necessary to consider whether steps should be taken to bring her back to this country. His right hon. Friend was of opinion that the law had been broken, but he did not consider it to be his duty to prosecute the parties. The Law Officers of the Crown were consulted, and they were of opinion that the conduct of the persons who removed Mary Ryan was illegal, but they did not think that there was any necessity for a prosecution. Then came the question whether steps should be taken immediately to remove the young woman back to this country. The Belgian authorities were quite willing to hand her over to any agent of the British Government. Neither he nor his right hon. Friend thought it was necessary for the vindication of the law to bring over this poor girl at the risk of exposing her to an access of frenzy, but that it would be better to wait to see whether there was a chance of recovery. Inquiries were made in Ireland, and it was found that the girl had no parents living nor any near relatives who 1651 could take charge of her. Those were the steps which the Government had taken in the matter, and he thought it would be agreed that they could not have done more under the circumstances. At the same time he must remark that it appeared to him to be a singular thing that the Roman Catholics of this country and Ireland, forming a body possessing great property, seeing that the inmates of convents were as liable to attacks of insanity as the rest of the community, should not have provided an asylum for the reception of such persons—an asylum in Her Majesty's dominions, which could he certificated and duly authorized by law. He had mentioned the subject to a Roman Catholic friend, and he hoped that some steps would be taken to provide such an asylum.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
thought that it was impossible after reading these papers to have any doubt as to two points—first, that Mary Ryan was insane; and secondly, that the Government had done all they could to investigate the case. But he did not think that this acquitted entirely the Home Secretary from blame. He did not say anything against the proceedings of the noble Earl (Earl Russell), who seemed to have done his duty in ascertaining all the facts; but he did not acquit the Home Secretary of having treated the matter somewhat too lightly. The noble Earl did not speak one atom too strongly upon the great importance of protecting British subjects from accidents of this kind. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) did not attribute any improper motives to the lady at the head of this convent in sending this young woman abroad, for no doubt she acted in ignorance of the law—nothing was more natural than that there should be this ignorance of the law in such establishments where the inmates led a life of seclusion; but then they ought to be taught the law, and the Home Secretary ought to teach the law not only to the head of this particular convent, but to the heads of the numerous other similar establishments in this country. Now, what was the way in which this could be done? It could not be done by private communications to the offending party; and if some one had not moved for these papers this case would not have been known of at all, and the heads of these convents would have remained in ignorance of the law, and we should have been exposed to similar breaches of it in future. He had himself thought it his duty to give notice of a 1652 Motion in reference to a similar case—not, indeed, connected with any convent, but arising from an illegal order of a magistrate, by which an unfortunate man had been confined in a lunatic asylum for five days, at the end of which time he obtained his release upon the certificate of two other magistrates and two physicians that he was perfectly sane. It should be impossible that such things should happen in this country. We had every sort of machinery to prevent such accidents occurring; but one of the best ways of preventing a repetition of such things was for the Secretary of the Home Department when he could—even when in his discretion he should not think it right to prosecute—to publicly remonstrate with the particular Superior or other person in authority in order to teach them the law. But when it was done in this private manner there was no protection whatever for the future.