UK, House of Lords, “Canada—Mr. Turton”, vol 45, cols 588-600 (19 February 1839)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Canada—Mr. Turton“, vol 45 (1839), cols 588-600.
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The Earl of Winchilsea rose in pursuance of the notice he had given last evening to move that an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that she would be graciously pleased to order to be laid upon the Table of the House any correspondence which had passed between her Majesty’s Government and the late High Commissioner of Canada, relative to the appointment of a Mr. Turton. He should occupy very little time in stating the grounds, which were but few, on which he brought forward his motion; and he hoped they would appear to the House to be such as to entitle their Lordships to call on the Government to lay those papers on the Table, not on behalf of themselves, but of the country at large. He had stated when he had brought this subject first forward, that he did so from no party or political feeling. He could now honestly also state, that no individual on his side the House was aware of his doing so until he had actually brought the subject forward; nor was any individual on that side of the House aware of his intention of renewing it last night, until he had actually given his notice. There were circumstances
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in which unhappily Mr. Turton had placed himself, which made him think it was inconsistent with what was due to the character and honour and dignity of the Crown, that he should have received that appointment, as well as, without the slightest desire to injure the feelings of the noble Earl, inconsistent with the best interests of his Government, because it was an opinion which he (Earl of Winchilsea) held in common he believed with all the high-minded people of this country, that the best and only sure ground of respect on the part of the governed towards their Government must be fixed in their private respect and esteem for the persons by whom that Government was composed. With that view, having had the acquaintance of that individual for some time, it was with feelings of private pain to himself that he had brought forward this question at all; but with the honest views he entertained, if Mr. Turton had been his nearest and dearest relative, still be should have taken the very course which he had pursued. On the 27th of April last, he asked the noble Viscount at the head of her Majesty’s Government whether that individual had been appointed the legal adviser to the government of the noble Earl. To that question the noble Viscount gave him a most decided answer. The noble Viscount’s answer was, that no legal adviser had been appointed, and that upon reconsideration it was not considered necessary to make such appointment.
At all events his (Earl of Winchilsea’s) information was pretty correct; no matter from whence it came, that such appointment was under the consideration of her Majesty’s Government. He then hoped, that the noble Viscount clearly understood, that it was not to any one particular situation, but to any situation at all under that Government, to which his objection extended. Not altogether satisfied with what the noble Viscount had said, on the 30th of the same month, he asked the noble Viscount whether that individual had left the country under any promise, or with any expectation, either from her Majesty’s Government or from the noble Earl, of any public appointment when he reached British Canada. The answer he received from the noble Viscount on that occasion was, “I say, then, first of all, that no situation whatever was offered by her Majesty’s Government to the gentleman
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whose name he has alluded to; and next, that that gentleman has gone out to Canada, if he has gone out at all, which I do not mean to deny—without any appointment, without any prospect of an appointment, and without any intention on the part of Government, or on the part of my noble Friend, the Earl of Durham, to appoint him to any public situation whatever.*” When he got that answer from the noble Viscount he was perfectly satisfied with it. Circumstances compelled him to leave town, and a noble Friend of his seeing that gentleman’s appointment gazettes as Secretary to the noble High Governor brought the subject under the consideration of the noble Viscount again, and alluded to the statement which the noble Viscount had made, which had just been referred to. On his (Earl of Winchilsea) return to the House, on the 16th of July he stated, that he was not satisfied with the answer which had been given him, and had he been present when his noble Friend mentioned the subject, he should have pressed for a further statement from the noble Viscount.
What the noble Viscount stated to his noble Friend was, “He could only say, that it was with great concern and surprise he saw that appointment announced,” adding, “at the time he made the statement to this House, which had been referred to, he felt confident, that no such appointment would take place.”
When he (Earl of Winchilsea) read this, he could not reconcile it to himself with what had passed; and after having drawn the attention of her Majesty’s Government to the subject, he thought, that it must have been known to some one of her Majesty’s Government, and that it would be according to the natural course of things, that when he had drawn the Prime Minister’s attention to it, he would have been informed upon it. He then expressed his opinion to the noble Viscount, that the answers which had been given to him were not satisfactory, and asked him whether he could give any test to the country of the sincerity of those expressions of surprise and regret which he had publicly stated in that House. The answer he received then was, “Ministers had very recently received an account of the appointment complained of, and had not yet had time to communicate with the government * Hansard (third series) vol. xlii p. 673. Ibid. vol. xliii. p. 1167.
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abroad. Under these circumstances it would not be convenient to state the course which Government intended to pursue.”* He would say, that the country had a right to be informed of any communication which had passed of an official character, and that such a communication must have taken place, from the answer which the noble Viscount gave on the 16th of July, no man could entertain a doubt. He could say, without any reference whatever to party feeling, that if the confidence of the country could not be implicitly placed in the statements of an individual holding the elevated station of the noble Viscount, such an impression would be most detrimental and injurious to every interest of this country. He felt the importance of this subject so strongly, that he did hope the noble Viscount would not refuse to produce the despatch; but if he did, he should feel it to be his duty to press for the production of those papers by dividing their Lordships on his motion, for an Address to be presented to the Throne, begging her Majesty to order those papers to be laid on the Table.
Viscount Melbourne placed the most entire reliance on the sincerity of the noble Earl, as expressed in his address, that he neither upon the former nor upon the present occasion, brought forward this question with any other than the purest motives, or any other desire than to have manifested that which undoubtedly was the best safeguard to the best interests of the country, viz. pure and honest statements connected with public affairs, on the part of persons holding high stations. At the same time he should be deceiving their Lordships if he were not to state that he felt on seeing this question again brought forward, considerable concern, not on his own account—not on account of the noble Earl, who was more particularly connected with this transaction than himself—but on account of the learned Gentleman who, without being present, and without having the opportunity of defence afforded to him had been made the subject of public animadversions and discussions—animadversions and discussions which must necessarily be very painful to his feelings, and not a little injurious to his prospects. It was impossible not to feel the hardship of the case as it affected him. With respect to what took place on the former occasion, he (Lord Melbourne) * Hansard, (third series) vol. xliv. p. 203.
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had only to say that the circumstances which occurred respecting the appointment of that gentleman by the noble Earl, had induced a strong opinion in his mind that no such appointment would take place; and it was under that impression he gave such an assurance to the House as he had given. The noble Earl behind him appeared to have acted under a different impression—in this respect, that he acted under the distinction which he drew on a former occasion between the office he gave and the other offices which were in the gift of the Crown—a distinction which he (Lord Melbourne) owned he could not concur in. But that was the cause of the noble Earl’s acting in the manner he did. When he saw that appointment, unquestionably he felt precisely as he had expressed himself in that House—surprise at the appointment which had been made, and concern at the course which had been pursued.
He could assure the House that what he had expressed he had stated with perfect sincerity and perfect truth on both these occasions. Now the object of the noble Earl opposite appeared to tat to gain information of the course pursued by him as the head of the Government, upon this appointment being made known to him—an appointment so contrary to what he had professed to expect, and so contrary to the noble Earl’s expectations opposite. He apprehended that if the production of those papers were to be granted, the papers would not be found to give information on that point, but he would supply that information, and would now state to the noble Earl precisely the course which was taken on the occasion. After what had passed in that House he wrote a private letter to the noble Earl, expressing unquestionably his disapprobation of the course which had been pursued, and impressing upon the noble Earl the necessity of rescinding that appointment. The noble Earl said, in a letter in reply, that he considered his honour pledged, and most distinctly declined to take such a course. He was of opinion that whatever might be the real merits of the case, it would not have been proper for him to have interposed, so as to have interfered with the Government of the noble Earl, even upon the face of those ordinances which had been submitted to their Lordships. Their Lordships would perhaps not be surprised that he who had recommended the rescinding of that appointment on that occasion,
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should not have been inclined to disturb the Government of the noble Earl by insisting on the dismissal of that gentleman. In this situation matters stood until the whole was cancelled by those more serious events which not only put an end to this appointment, but also put an end to the Government of the noble Earl himself. This transaction then entirely merged and was lost in those greater occurrences. Under these circumstances, seeing that this was a question of a very peculiar nature—seeing that it was a question, the agitation of which must necessarily occasion extreme pain—and seeing that no greater satisfaction would be obtained by the noble Earl obtaining the production of the despatches, which as to the greater part of them, would afford no information at all upon the subject, and considering the information he had now given, he trusted the noble Earl would not press his motion for the production of the despatches.
The Earl of Winchilsea said it was not his intention to have taken this course if the answers to his questions given by the noble Viscount, had been satisfactory. It was the furthest thing from his wish, unless compelled by an imperative sense of public duty, to take any course calculated to inflict pain on any individual. It was a sense of public duty, that had compelled him to come forward now as he had done, and he had to express his regret, that the grounds on which he had come forward being public grounds, communications of a private nature had taken place by her Majesty’s Government on this subject; and that he should have to be informed there was no communication of a public character upon it which could afford any information.
Viscount Melbourne said, none of a public character respecting the latter part of it.
The Earl of Winchilsea expressed his honest and sincere regret, that when the noble Viscount owed it to the country to take a public course, however painful to him, he should have failed to have taken a public course. Having satisfied his own mind upon this subject he would now leave it in the hands of the House. He could not but express his deep regret at the course taken by the noble Viscount, because, if by an inadvertency the noble Lord intrusted with a great public mission, should have to be remonstrated with, and
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that was to take place in the shape of a private communication, and the private nature of that communication to be urged afterwards as a reason why the public should not know what had taken place, then the public could not be prevented from having that information to which it was entitled.
Load Brougham said, that having taken part in the observations that were made on this subject before, he could not but join with the noble Viscount in expressing a hope that the noble Earl would withdraw his motion, the pressing of which could lead to no advantage after the explanation which had taken place.
The Earl of Winchilsea said, it was his intention to withdraw it.
Lord Brougham was extremely happy to hear that which he was not before aware of. Nothing could be more candid and fair than the statements of the noble Viscount at the head of her Majesty’s Government. This was a painful subject to allude to, but it would be more painful to him not to make an observation or two upon the subject. However much a circumstance in Mr. Turton’s conduct was to be condemned, yet he had long known him, and his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Durham) had known Mr. Turton for a very many years—he was at school with him; he knew well his excellent general character, his great abilities, and his extensive information; he too, well knew his abilities, and great information, and he would venture to say there was not a man in the profession of the law or out of it, of a more exalted character, of higher honour, or purer spirit, or of a more unblemished character, than Mr. Turton, and that very few men were a greater ornament to the profession of the law, than he was.
He felt bound from what had been said, and from the stigma that had been thrown upon him to say thus much. With respect to the particular transaction he was the last man in the world who would stand up to defend an act of seduction or adultery; but he would add, that a noble Friend of his now no more, who, from his official situation as Lord Chief Justice of England, was as sensitive as any man upon a case of this kind, directed his particular attention to the case. He was to hear that case in that House in his official character; and his late noble and learned Friend had said to him there was such a case coming before him; there was
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a strong prejudice against the party whom he had known for a long time; and that something had fallen upon his ear upon going the circuit in that part of the country, which led him to believe, that that case was not so bad as was generally circulated—therefore, said his noble Friend to him, “have your attention awake to the circumstances.” His answer to his noble Friend was, “I shall do so most willingly, but you must assist me in it—you must come and sit with me—I wish to have the comfort of your assistance on the occasion.” That noble and learned Lord came—he sat two days hearing the cause and then he said, “I think you will pretty well see now, that I had some ground for my remark.”
Those who were sitting with him then said they saw very well how it was, and that it was by no means so bad a case as had been supposed, very little out of the ordinary way; and the noble and learned Lord was told, that he had then better go to Guildhall, because they could then deal with the case very well by themselves. Now, he desired it to be understood, that he was the last man to say a word in justification of adultery, but still he hoped noble Lords would not run into excess, which was certainly a very bad thing for morality on all occasions, but remember that cases which were called by the same name presented every shade of variety. Apart from that trans. action Mr. Turton was a man of the highest talent, the most profound information, and upright character.
The Earl of Wicklow could not conceive that what the noble and learned Lord had just said with respect to the private communications which he had alluded to, was likely to raise the high character of the judicial functions and station of this country.
Lord Brougham said, if that was the noble Lord’s opinion, it was one of the most astonishing opinions he had ever heard. All that he said was, that his late noble and, learned Friend had requested him to attend to this case, because it required particular attention. Was no attention to be paid to a private communication? Then, what were their Lordships to do when they received an invitation to dinner? [The Earl of Wicklow meant judicially.] He meant judicially too.
Some Hon. Members. —Hear, Hear.
Lord Brougham—Hear, hear!—yes, and understand as well as hear. What was the use of hearing unless noble Lords
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would also understand? Let not the country be told, that justice was well administered because persons did not choose to understand it. That case had been heard for three days, it was thoroughly, understood, it was properly disposed of, and nothing improper had taken place in reference to any communication made in respect of it, but on the contrary.
The Earl of Wicklow—My Lords, the noble and learned Lord may be as uncourteous as he pleases towards me; for myself I do not care, but the statements will go forth to the public. No insulting language which he from his usual vocabulary may be pleased to use towards me, will alter my impression. It is not my impression that is of any importance, but the statement which the noble and learned Lord has made with regard to the manner in which he has exercised the judicial functions of this House will go forth to the country, and the country will be able to judge between us.
Lord Brougham—And the country will judge most justly. The people of this country have understanding, and can comprehend what is said, and will not run away with all erroneous impressions. I deny having used any insulting language. If the noble Lord will name any one word I said in the presence of your Lordships at all insulting, or which would show an intention to insult, or even to treat the noble Lord with disrespect—if the noble Lord will point out any such word I will retract and apologise for it. I cannot say anything more fair. The noble Lord forgets that he said the most offensive thing which one man can say against another. He said that I and a noble and learned Lord had combined together to defeat the course of justice. Now, whether anything could be more offensive than that, I leave to your Lordships to say.
Lord Abinger was understood to observe, that it was impossible to suppose, that the communication which had been made to the noble and learned Lord could have any influence on his mind, except to persuade him of the necessity of paying particular attention to it.
Viscount Melbourne said, that as what he had stated had been misunderstood, he wished to add a few words in explanation. When he said there was no despatch on the subject of the appointment, he meant to refer entirely to the course he had taken as the head of the Government, and which
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he had thought himself bound to do in consequence of what had taken place. That, however, was conducted by private correspondence; but there was some other correspondence from his noble Friend, then at the head of the Colonial Department, in which he stated, that the appointments of the Executive Council were approved of, with the exception of the appointment of Mr. Turton, of which he expressed disapprobation, and requested an explanation, in order that the noble Lord might not suppose no official notice was taken of that appointment.
The Earl of Durham—My Lords, it is impossible for me to allow this discussion to pass without addressing a few words to your Lordships, not so much on account of the speech of the noble Lord opposite, as on account of the statements mad by the noble Viscount at the head of the Government. And I feel it necessary to recall to your Lordships the statement I made yesterday, and to adhere to that statement, in the essential part of it, as regards my own character—namely, that I made that appointment on my own responsibility, and without considering that I had in any degree committed her Majesty’s Government on the subject. I considered, and I still believe, that I had a right to avail myself of the privilege which has been accorded to all Governors as regards honorary Executive Councillors, who have been distinguished from the mandamus Councillors in consequence of the opinion given by Attorney and Solicitor General Garrow and Shepherd, that the appointment of honorary Councillors never could officially come before any Government. Now, my Lords, whatever may be the impression existing on the mind of the noble Viscount, I most distinctly assert to your Lordships, and I hope, whatever may be your prejudice against my public career, that you will at least from what you have seen of me, give credence to what I distinctly and solemnly assure you of—I assert, that I considered, after what had passed, I was justified in giving any appointment to that learned Gentleman, provided it did not affect her Majesty’s Government. I did it on my own responsibility, and acted strictly and honourably according to the understanding that existed between us before I left. Now, my Lords, I will not shelter myself under the recommendation of any individual in this country as regards this appointment. If
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any such recommendations were given to me from any quarter, it was solely done in the hope of benefitting me, and it would be ungrateful of me to shelter myself under those recommendations. I therefore, distinctly and openly avow, that it was upon my own responsibility, that I gave the appointment to that learned Gentleman. I considered I was acting according to the pledge I had given, and the understanding I had come to with the noble Viscount before I left, and which understanding has been since corroborated by those who were conversant with it. The noble Viscount has entered into a narrative of this transaction, and has stated to your Lordships, that private letters, and public despatches, were written on this subject, and that in a private letter I had declared my honour was pledged, and that I could not retract the appointment. First of all, with regard to those private letters. It is perfectly true the noble Viscount did propose to me to rescind that appointment, and I declared, that having already made it, and having refused the resignation which that learned Gentleman tendered me of the office, that I could not in honour rescind the appointment, and the only course left to me, therefore, was to tender my own resignation; and to repeat an expression which I made use of in one of my letters—I would rather cut my right hand off, than do any thing which could be considered as having a tendency towards the discredit or disgrace of that learned Gentleman.
With regard to the public despatches, I must say, after what has passed, that I do think I have a right to call for the production of those public despatches. I am not ashamed of them. I wish the despatches I wrote may be made public. Or, if noble Lords do not think proper to move an Address for them, perhaps the noble Viscount will give me leave to read a copy of that despatch. I will not have it supposed, there is any thing in the despatches I wish to conceal, or that any thing further than the motives I have stated to you, would induce me to make the appointment. It would be an infinite satisfaction to me, if every word I wrote in private, and every word I wrote in public, on this subject, were detailed to the House. I have no cause to be ashamed of it; and it would be seen that the circumstances in which I was placed with regard to that learned Gentleman, were such that
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I was bound even to make a sacrifice myself, rather than he should suffer. And now, my Lords, one word with reference to that individual. I feel very much obliged to my noble and learned Friend below me (Lord Brougham) for having called your Lordships’ attention to the eminent professional talents of that Gentleman. I had known him from his earliest infancy, but we were separated by the ordinary circumstances of life—he went to India and I remained in this country. I knew his professional talents—I knew, besides, when he was recommended to me, that he had been employed as Advocate-General in India, by Lord Combermere, above a year and a quarter—that Lord Amherst confirmed the appointment, and that he discharged his duty so well to the satisfaction of the Governor and Council of India, that they did what was a most unprecedented thing, namely, voted him 5,000 sicca rupees, and also a vote of thanks for his conduct.
Lord Brougham—As Advocate-General.
The Earl of Durham—Yes; a vote of thanks for his conduct as Advocate-General. Is it to be endured therefore, that I should be blamed for appointing to this trumpery office, a man who had filled the highest judicial situation in India? Was I to be denied the privilege never denied to Lord Combermere or to Lord Amherst, of taking advantage of his legal and professional services? Not only that, but the inhabitants of Calcutta, Bengal, and Madras, elected him their agent in this country, to be in communication with our Government. All those unfortunate circumstances, which have been made so much of here, were matter of notoriety, and were known in Calcutta, and yet he received these proofs of the confidence and esteem of those who knew him.
Why, he held the office of churchwarden of the cathedral church in Calcutta up to the hour that he left India. Whatever may be your opinion, my Lords, and whatever may be the ridicule noble Lords opposite may make of the matter, I suppose a person appointed to that situation in the Church, could not be considered as a very immoral person. Under these circumstances it was, that I availed myself of his services—services unpaid for to this very hour. He has not received one farthing—he has not received any appointment for his services, and no man could possibly have acted more faithfully or zealously
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in the discharge of his duty. And now, my Lords, you will excuse me, I hope, if I tell you very frankly and very decidedly, that I shall not be sorry on my own account if the noble Earl makes a specific motion relative to this appointment, because I am prepared to meet him whenever he thinks proper to make it. But the noble Earl must be aware of the consequences to which that must naturally lead. He may think it advisable to discuss this question upon this individual case, and I may meet him on that, but it cannot end there. I shall be prepared to discuss the question on general principles, and I feel I shall have a right to enter on the general question of adultery, considered in reference to the conduct of public men, and the great regard your Lordships have for decorum, I am sure, will augment your regard for justice. I feel I am entitled to do that. Aye, and I will go into an inquiry into the case of every public man who may have received official employment after having committed adultery.
A Hon. Members—A laugh.
The Earl of Durham—I am very well used to all these obstacles and impediments which noble Lords endeavour to throw in my way, who will not, with all their sneers and jeers, drive me from the course I have pointed out for myself. I tell noble Lords, that I utterly disregard all their sneers and interruption, and I give them this notice, and from their knowledge of my character they may be sure I will act up to my promise, that if this ex post facto condemnation is to be followed up, that, at any rate, the case of every individual who has been employed in an official situation, and who has been guilty of an adulterous act, shall be brought forward for inquiry. Whatever course the noble Earl may think right to take, with regard to withdrawing or pressing his motion, I say I will second him in any demand for documents I may have addressed to her Majesty’s Government.
The Earl of Winchilsea—I shall discharge what I think to be my duty in this or any other matter. I know myself too well to care for the taunts of any man. I will act up to my principles, and if the noble Earl should bring forward any case of the nature he alluded to, I will give him my support, and be entirely uninfluenced by any principle but that of doing my duty to my country.