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Ireland - Assassination of Lord Norbury - Speech of Lord Oxmantown on the State of the Country - " Property has its Duties as well as its Rights" - Mr. O'Connell - The Precursor Association - Banquets in Dublin and Drogheda - Attack on the Irish Government by Mr. Shaw, Recorder of Dublin - Lord Morpeth's Defence of the Government - O'Connell's Assault on the Irish Tories - Lord Roden's Motion for a Select Committee on the State of Ireland - Lord Normanby's Defence of his Government - Diminution of Crime - Liberation of Prisoners - Condemnation of the Government by the Lords - O'Connell's prodigious Activity as an Agitator, in order to keep out the Tories - Resolution of Lord John Russell on the Policy of the Irish Government – Sir R. Peel's Amendment - Monster Debate on Ireland - Lord J. Russell and Sir R. Peel on the Causes of Irish Crime - Speech of Lord Morpeth - Increase in the Value of Land in Ireland and of other Property - Defiance of the Opposition - Remarkable Speech of Mr. Sheil - Majority in favour of Government - Suspension of the Constitution of Jamaica- Virtual Defeat of the Cabinet - Resignation of Lord Melbourne - Sir R. Peel fails in his Attempt to form an Administration - The Ladies of the Bed-chamber - Sir R. Peel's Explanation - Lord John Russell's Reply - Remarks on the same Subject by Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, and Macaulay.
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The first day of 1839 was marked in Ireland by an atrocious crime which was involved in a mystery that has never yet been cleared up. The Earl of Norbury, an amiable nobleman, regarded as one of the most exemplary of his class, both as a man and a landlord, was shot by an assassin in the open day near his own house at Kilbeggan, and in presence of his steward. He was walking in a shrubbery late in the afternoon, giving directions about the cutting down of some trees, when he fell by the hand of an assassin. The account given by the steward at the coroner's inquest contains all the information that has ever been obtained by the public upon this subject. It was about a quarter to four, and clear daylight. The steward at the time had his back turned towards a hedge which skirted the plantation, in which they then were; and while looking up at the trees that were to be cut, he heard the report of a gun, and turning round saw smoke proceeding from a hedge, and then a man on the other side, stooping and running away. He followed him twenty yards, but was recalled by the cries of Lord Norbury, who was weak and faint, the shot having penetrated his body a little below the left breast. The Earl died about twelve o'clock on the night of the 3rd, after forty-three hours of extreme suffering. He had received six wounds from a blunderbuss, loaded with swan shot. The only other gentleman stopping at Kilbeggan at the time was Mr. Stewart, son-in-law of the deceased. Lord Norbury had never acted as a magistrate, he took no part in politics, and he bore an excellent character among the Roman Catholic population for his good and charitable disposition.

This event deserves special mention, because it was, during the year, the subject of frequent reference in Parliament. There was a meeting of magistrates at Tullamore, at which Lord Oxmantown presided, and made some important remarks on the state of the country. In his opinion the murder originated in a far-spread conspiracy, for wresting property out of the hands of the proprietors, by the abolition of rent, with the determination of effecting by assassination what they were unable to extort by open rebellion. "It was," he observed, "but an additional demonstration of the deep and increasing demoralisation of a country where the assassin found in every peasant his protector - in every cottage a place of concealment, and was seldom brought to justice, but by the most strenuous exertions, the magistrates and police extorting by ingenious devices from unwilling witnesses some trifling fact which at length led to the detection of the parties." Lord Oxmantown ascribed this demoralisation to the following causes: - " The years that immediately followed the Act of Emancipation gave birth to a class of men, who were unable to rest content with simple equality; without any pretensions to station or personal merit, they aspired to a predominance which could be achieved only by the alienation of the Roman Catholic tenants from the landlords, who had generally a great hold over them by their feelings as well as by their interests. It was accordingly their policy to form in every village a little club of the lowest sort of agitators. These persons made it their special business to calumniate the landlord, and to raise a prejudice against him, speaking contemptuously of gratitude, when that feeling presented an obstacle to their purposes, and palliating acts of extreme personal violence, in cases where it was necessary to overawe men by fear. The parochial clubs were in connection with county societies, which in their turn maintained communication with a junto of agitators in the metropolis. The known character of the chief movers in these proceedings prevented their acquiring any considerable influence among the better sort of people till 1835. At that time the peasantry were led to believe that a compact had been entered into by the Ministry with the leading agitators in Dublin, which bound the Government, in exchange for the political assistance of those individuals, to the adoption of their principles. From this moment the little knots of idle and vicious persons in each parish succeeded in spreading their demoralising influence among the peasantry, with an authority almost equal to that of Government emissaries, and had been the main instruments in bringing the people into their present condition."

The Earl of Charleville adopted the same view of the subject, and took occasion to animadvert very strongly upon an expression in a letter, in answer to a memorial lately presented by the magistrates of Tipperary, in which Mr. Drummond, the Under Secretary, uttered the celebrated maxim, that " property had its duties as well as its rights." This, under the circumstances of the country, was felt to be little less than a deliberate and unfeeling insult. He did not hesitate to say that the employment of those terms had given a fresh impulse to feelings which had found their legitimate issue in the late assassination. In the course of the meeting, resolutions were proposed and carried to the following effect: - " That the answer to the Tipperary magistrates by Mr. Under Secretary Drummond has had the effect of increasing the animosities entertained against the owners of the soil, and has emboldened the disturbers of the public peace. That there being little hope for a successful appeal to the Irish executive, they felt it their duty to apply to the people of England, the legislature, and the throne for protection."

These resolutions may be taken as expressing the feelings of the landed gentry as a body against the Melbourne administration and the agitators. But the latter were not idle. O'Connell had then his " Precursor Association" in full operation. It received its name from the idea that it was to be the precursor of the repeal of the Union. On the 22nd of January a public dinner was given in honour of the "Liberator" in a building then called the Circus, in Dublin, for which one thousand tickets were issued. Two days later, a similar banquet was given to him in Drogheda, and there he made a significant allusion to the murder of Lord Norbury, insinuating that he had met his death at the hands of one who was bound to him by the nearest of natural ties, and had the strongest interest in his removal. Mr. O'Connell volunteered the assertion, that the assassin of Lord Norbury had left on the soil where he had posted himself, " not the impress of a rustic brogue, but the impress of a well-made Dublin boot."

These occurrences in Ireland led to hostile demonstrations against the Government in Parliament. On the 7th of March Mr. Shaw commenced the campaign by moving for returns of the number of committals, convictions, inquests, rewards, and advertisements for the discovery of offenders in Ireland from 1835 to 1839, in order to enable the House to form a judgment with regard to the actual amount and increase of crime in that country. The Opposition were the more strongly provoked to adopt this course from the fact that there was no allusion to the condition of Ireland in the speech from the throne. When the returns were obtained, they were represented as unsatisfactory and illusory, for reasons which it is not now necessary to investigate. Mr. Shaw, in allusion to the murder of Lord Norbury, a nobleman avowedly so useful and so beneficent, said that if anything were wanting to confirm the evidence of a conspiracy against property and the exercise of judgment, it would be found in that unprovoked and atrocious crime. Mr. Garry, the agent of the deceased lord, had received from a poor man a copy of the speech made by Emmet before Lord Norbury, the father of the murdered nobleman. This was printed in Paris in 1835, and had been in circulation previous to the murder. Owing to constant menaces, Mr. Garry himself had been compelled to leave the country. Mr. Shaw contended that all this went to substantiate the existence of a general confederacy. He was forced to believe with most of the land agents of Ireland that the formidable confederations that had been in existence during the last century, under the various names of Whitefeet, Rockites, Terryalts, still continued to exist, and were, in fact, never in more active operation than at the present moment. Mr. Shaw adduced, as proofs of this, some documents that had been found belonging to a Ribbon Society. " The Ministers," he said, " had encouraged agitation, and were now reaping the inevitable fruits. They have shaken, by the wholesale exercise of mercy, the foundations of justice; they have slighted the judges; they have insulted the magistracy; and when the resident gentry were struggling against the most trying circumstances for the preservation of their lives and property, they made use of that most infelicitous moment to insinuate that their duties as landlords were neglected; they have selected from the ranks of the ' Precursor Society ' the legal adviser of the Crown, and have made lord-lieutenant a nobleman who had avowed his interest in the war which was going on against the Church in Ireland. It is with sorrow," continued Mr. Shaw, the Recorder of Dublin, " that I have borne testimony against my own country. I must suffer with her adversity, and can only prosper when she is prosperous. In common with all loyal subjects in Ireland, I implore you to consider the sufferings, the shame, and the sorrow of a sister people, before that unhappy land ceases to be inhabitable, and be blotted out from among the civilised nations of the earth."

Lord Morpeth, afterwards Earl of Carlisle, then Chief Secretary of Ireland, defended the policy of Lord Normanby. He reviewed the history of agrarian outrages in Ireland, and read a statement made by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, which showed that from the period of the Union - when the retirement of Mr. Pitt from office brought into greater prominence the differences of public men in regard to the Catholic question - Ireland had scarcely been governed for one single year according to the ordinary course of law. The introduction of the Coercion Bill, and the forcible exposition of Lord Stanley on the state of the country, in justification of that measure, were sufficient to characterise the remaining interval before the accession of Lord Normanby. It had been alleged that the clergy were special objects of intimidation under the present Government. " But," asked Lord Morpeth, " how stood the fact? In one year - from April, 1829, to May, 1830 - no less than twelve outrages on clergymen had taken place, while only two such excesses were on record during the four years of the present administration." Lord Morpeth then gave a statistical statement, which he premised by the suggestive remark that it was no wholesome state of things, when any party had been brought insensibly to conceive that they had an interest in magnifying the amount of crimes at a particular period, since there was a clanger that such persons would never display the same energy in the counteraction of what they had long contended to be the actual condition of things. He showed from the constabulary returns that, beginning at 1837, there had been a decrease of 1,117 outrages in eighteen months, while the committals for forcible possession had fallen in the same period from 1,600 to 930. Not only had the committals increased in proportion to the number of offences, but the amount of convictions had been augmented in comparison with that of committals. The progressive increase of committals upon minor charges, which had taken place of late years, was attributed by the best authorities to the establishment of petty sessions, the prevention of the compromise of crime, and the more effectual pursuit of inconsiderable offenders. Lord Morpeth then, with the greatest ease, swept away the arguments of those who would make the Government responsible for the murder of Lord Norbury, and who objected so strongly to the maxim of Mr. Drummond, giving, at the same time, one of the most admirable and complete expositions of the philosophy of agrarian crime in Ireland to be found in our language. " Mr. Secretary Drummond," he said, " has given great offence by asserting, on a late occasion, that property has its duties as well as its rights." It was said that the effect of this expression was to raise a hope of impunity for crime. But unfortunately, at the very moment of utterance the Government was in possession of a clue for the discovery of the murderers in question, who had since been tried and executed. But could it otherwise be supposed that those reckless persons, who were ready, as had been proved, on the slightest prompting of any man with whom they might be connected, either by former engagement, or mere identity of situation, to undertake the execution of the most deadly crime - brood over their purposes for weeks and months with unceasing vigilance, and, at last, accomplish, with calculated accuracy, a deliberate murder - could such a brotherhood, Lord Morpeth asked, be influenced by a common truism from the desk of a Government officer? "And was it, after all," he continued, "so very reprehensible in Mr. Drammond, in reply to a long memorial on the causes of crime from the magistrates of Tipperary, to indicate to those who are alone capable of effectual admonition, the quarter from which all danger mainly emanated, with a caution against increasing, by any fresh irritation, the existing evil?" Lord Morpeth proceeded to read a return of the gross amount of ejectments in certain counties, from the year 1833 to 1838, inclusive. In Tipperary, during these six years, there had been 882; in Carlow, 191; in Longford, 172, besides 330 from the Quarter Sessions Court; in Queen's County, 213; in King's County, 152; in Sligo, 180; in Westmeath, 200. There were, upon an average, four families under each ejectment, and five individuals in a family. About 20 persons, therefore, were turned out in each case of ejectment. These returns might not prove much. But he possessed many documents referring to individual cases - memorials stating facts which were calculated to create no very pleasant feelings in the House, or on the public. He would not read them, but be content with observing that Government would fail in its duty were it to confine the voice of warning to one side only. "Many of these excesses complained of," continued Lord Morpeth, "were stimulated by a feeling, whether just or not, of personal oppression, and there could be no doubt that the poorer classes were influenced in favour of the transgressors by the apprehension of being themselves placed in a similar position. Local circumstances were the immediate causes of these disorders, but their remote origin lay in the radically vicious structure of society, which had arisen out of events in Irish history. No sudden change of men or measures could reach this deep-seated malady. In the language of Mr. Lewis, the Whiteboy disposition sprang from the peculiar state of the peasantry, which makes the possession of land a necessary of life. So long as the same causes remained in operation, there was no hope of suppressing these disturbances by the fear of punishment. Every species of legal severity compatible with our form of government and state of civilisation has been tried, and has failed. Pœnarum exhaustion satis est. Upon men who have nothing to hope in their actual state, and little to fear from the consequences of crime, it is vain to attempt to work with the ordinary engines of government. When the heart is past hope,' said the proverb, 'the face is past shame.'

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