Page images

the character of the forfeiture. The Etrusco, on her rem turn from Canton, had been detained and adjudged for. feit to the crown in the prize court, for a violation of the ponopoly of the East India company. This had been the first case of the kind which haul occurred; for ac. cording to the laws respecting the East India company, the forfeitures are to that company and not to the crown. And if ever tbere had been a case in which liberality should have been exercised with respect to the forfeiture, it was this. As judges, the house ought to take into its consideration what had been, at the time of this transac. tion, the state of the East India company. From the increase of ti» ir territory, they invited foreigners to engage in their trade, and even connived at British subjects embarka ing in it. The honourable officer who was the subject of this charge had been engaged in the trade in common with other British subjects and officers, and recognised as a British oflicer by the con•pany's government in India, in the recommendation to the court of directors to apply for promotion for him to the admiralty, in consequence of bis services. As to the charge of smuggling, it had never bcen urged in the whole progress of the cause by any of the advocates, nor even in captain Robinson's memorial; the former had too much taste, and the latter was too much of a gentleman, to apply such a disgusting term to the cir. cimstance of four or five out of 3900 chests of tea being delivered out of the ship at Dungeness, whilst the captain had gone on shore. He contended' that by the loss of 30,000. sir Home Popham had suffered sufficient punishment for the illegality of the transaction. His whole property in the vessel amounted to 63,0001., the government would give him back but 25,0001. and had restored to him but 18,000/. or 19,0001. ; so that he was a loser to the aniount of 43,0001. Besides, it ought to be considered how far he had expiated, by subsequent services, this offence, The India company, insensible of any injury, had not prosecuted bim; and though the public might be interested in this question, it appeared by the papers, that he had, on the relief of Tournay and Ghent, contributed to save much public property, as also to facilitate the retreat of the army. In consequence of these services he had been recommended the commander in chief for promotion, to lord Spencer, who had expressed his satisfaction at promoting an officer that had performed such service to his country. Looking to such services, he was sure the house would not think of the voyage to the East Indies; and therefore he had no hesitation to say, that the grant was an act of justice on the part of his majestý. But it had been said, that it was an act of injustice to eap. tain Robinson. That officer, however, had had the enemy's part of the property, condemned to the captors; but could have no right whatever to that part of it, which, from belonging to a British subject, was forfeited to the king. Besides, the seizure of this vessel was not what ought to be called a ca ture, and the act itself, in the road of Ostend, had given rise to a question of territory which had not been decided for four years. The captors had their reward' in the condemnation of M. De Pirou's part of the legal property; a d it was the fault of capain Robinson, if he had not yet brought in a bill of costs that could be allowed, if he had not received them. On the whole, therefore, he thought the grant an act of justice to sir Home Popham, and that Mr. Pitt, or bis board of treasury, was not deserving of censure from bav. ing advised his majesty to remit the forfeiture. :

Mr. Windham conceived that where blame aftached, a's in the present instance, both to the treasury and to the gallant officer, it was iinpossible to separate him from the question as to the merits of the treasury. They might as well attempt to separate sir Home Popham from himself, as to separate him from the present question. There was another objection, however, made to the present discus sion ; namely, that it went to fix blame on a great man, now no more. It would be recollected, that the present question arose in consequence of an inquiry how the immense sums coming under the name of droits of admitally were applied. Gross misapplications of them were stated to have taken place, and the grant to sír Home Popham was adduced as an instance. This was denied, and of course the discussion had been brought forward. But because the question originated in Mr. Piit's administration, was the house to abstain from the inquiry? He was minister for eighteen years; and were the house to be int terdictul from inquiring into any thing which had passed during the whole of that period, because the country was now deprived of his service? This he could by no means admit. Having disposed of these preliminary points, he should confine bimself to a few of the topics touched on by the learned ge tleman who had just sat down. His first object seemed to be, to endeavour to extenuate the offence which had been committed. Did that honourable and learned person mean to say, that it was so venial an offince to be guilty of smuggling? That the vessel did break bulk off Dungeness was most certain ; but the great blame, in his opinion, was, in a British officer being engaged in a collusion against the laws of his country, and in a system of deception in every part of his conduct. But, said the honourable and learned gentleman, the traf. fic was not thought by the company to be so injurious to their interests. He (Mr. Windham) conld not conceive by whom it was so understood, but was sir Home Popbam to set himself up as a judge in matters of the kind ? The gallant officer had indeed an extraordinary talent in that line; but he (Mi: Windham) hoped he would not again think of interfering in a way the most unwarrantable, and prejudicial to the interests of the country ; that be would not take on himself the privilege of giving ad. vice or recommendations so much out of the line of his duty, and which might, to an almost incalculable degree, involve the country in difficulties and misfortunes. But, if be understood the honourable and learned gentleman's argument, captain Robinson was to blame in seizing on the ship in question. If so, why bad he not been tried by a court martial ? He had acted a harsh and severe, nay, if he understood he argument, en unjust part by a brother officer, only because he had been engaged in a Jittle illegal traffic! Had he deserted his duty, or left bis station? Was it not rather a fact, that he had been appointed specially to seize on this vessel? and the conse

quence was, he was now pretty nearly ruined. Was this, he would ask the honourable and learned baronet, the way in which they dealt with small offenders, with petty

smugglers? If one of them had no better plea than sir · Home Popham, wve would be opon bim! Merey, libera

Jity, and forbearance, were fine words, and such as he (Mr. Windham) highly approved of. But when what was given to one was taken unju tly from another,-to that he could never assent. What! was all the indulgence to

[ocr errors]

be shewn to the captured, none to the capturer all to. the culprit, none to the accuser? all to the guilty; none. to the innocent ? Surely the merit of taking was as great, as being in a situation which subjected one to be taken. Place captain Robinson's merits as low as the gentleman chose, it could hardly be possible to reduce them to a level with the demerits of sir Home Popham. Yet sir Home was rewarded with 27 or 28,0001. while the captor, who was entitled as such to a share of the proceeds, was hardly allowed what would cover his expences. As to the subsequent services of sir Home Popham, they could have nothing to do with the matter. He did not dispute his activity ; but an act so much to be regretted, so unprecedented, so revolting to the feelings of scrvice, so prejudicial to the country, as to take hin hot, as it were; fron the sentence of a court martial, and place him over the heads of other meritorious officers, had never yet been heard of. As to naval services, he had none to plead ; his delinquencies had been proved against him. But sup posing that the forfeiture was to be remitted on account of services, why take this reward for services out of the pocket of captain Robinson ? There was here, however, a sort of double entry ; for, on ivoking at the pensionlist, it would be found, that he was there rewarded to the extent of 6001. per annum; which he (Mr. W.) was convinced two gallant admirals, in his eye, would agree, that most naval oflicers, who had higher pretensions than sir Home Popbam, would think an adequate compensation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not feel it neces. sary to say much alter the very able speeches of bis right honourable and learned frien:ls. He differed from the right bonourable gentleman who had spoke last, as to the propriety of separating the act of the treasury from the consideration of the merits of sir Home Popham, though he would admit that there was a connection-between both so far as the board of treasury was cognizant

of the circumstances. But was it possible by any torture of ingenuity, to apply to the conduct of the ireasury wliat the right honourable gentleman had said respecting Buo

nos Ayres ? The right honourable gentleman might.introduce such an extranevus tapic, but was it not for the purpose of exciting a prejudice against an individual, whose crédit, honour, and character, were at issue? Was it not 10 propagate such prejudice, in a question upon which he was to decide as a judgr, so that lie might af. terwards employ the cry thus raised against the late government ? Was this justice, or was it candour? Though the honourable ge tleman who had bronght forward this question, 'had declared, ihat he was actuated by a sense of duty in promoting an inquiry into ihe expenditute of the public money, and was reluc'antly cons rained to advert to the conduct of an individual, yet nire-tenths of his speech had been taken up with a personal attack upon that honourable officer. He would now suppose for the argument, what he should afterwards deny in fact, that the honourable officer had been convicted of the illicit trade; and that the delivery of five or six chests of tea at Dungeness, fourteen years ago, could be considered as an act of smuggling: was that a circumstance that could apply to a charge upon the government of Mr. Pitt? Or if a dilatory plea had been entered in the progress of an action upon the respondentia hond, was the house to feel so scrupulons, on the score of morality, as to take notice of it ? Would it be considered criminal enough to attract the notice of that house, if a man were to turn round a corner of a street to avoid moeting a creditor ? Were they to be called upon to expel from among them à person who might, so long as fourteen years since, have been concerned in a smuggling transaction? However highly he valued the feelings which the right honourable gentleman had alluded to, he could not agree that, in a time of pener, when the lieutenants of the navy had only a naked subsistence upon half-pay any of them who might enter into he merchant service should be consigned to dishonour. It was injustice to sir Home Popham to in.troduce the e topics, when the charge was brought against the government : and they conid not proceed to a censure upon an is dividund without following it up by some vindictive consequence. The substance of the charge was against the conduct of the late treasury, though there. were many weighty phrases affecting the honourable ofli. cer, which the house could not agree to, unless coupled with some substantive charge against him. In the year

« PreviousContinue »