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THE POLITICAL TRIALS.

These commenced on Monday, the 18th inst.

There were two separate indictments, viz,

Father Larkin, a Roman Catholic priest ; John Manning, editor of the " New Zealand Celt" [a weekly Fenian newspaper published in Hokitika] ; James Clarke, member of the County Council; William Melody, Thomas Harron, Denis Hannon, and John Barrett, were charged with '• unlawful^assembly," in being tho leaders of, or parties to, a procession to the Hokitika Ccmotcry, into which they effected a forcible entry, for the purpose of planting a " Celtic cross," in memory of the men recently exosuted in Manchostor for the murder of Constable Brel t. The formor two persons were also charged with seditious libel as tho propriotora and joint editors of the " Celt," in which had appeared a succession of very rabid articles against tho Queen's Government.

Special interest was attached to theso trials from the circumstance of Mr Ireland, Q.C., the eminent barrister and ex-Attornoy-Gouoral of Victoria, having been retained at a fee, it is said, of a thousand guineas, to come over to Now Zealand to lead the defence for the prisoners. Together with Mr Ireland, Mr South, Mr Eees, and Mr Guinness, wcro retained for tlio defence. The prosecution was conducted by Mr Prendorgast, the Attorney-General of the Colony, with whom were Mr Harvey and Mr Button.

We are obliged to omit any detail of the evidence, and also the very eloquent speeches of Counsel on either side. Tho address of Mr Ireland to live jury was the most masterly pieco of forensic eloquence evor hea,rd in our

Justice hall, and although it did not secure the acquittal of the prisoners, it made such an impression upon the Court, that tho sentences passed upon them after their conviction, were merely nominal. The seven prisoners charged with riot were tried first, and found guilty, after the following able and elaborate summing-up of the evidence by His Honor Mr Justico Richmond: —

Gentlemen — Whatever may be the result of this trial, there can, at all events, be no dispute, that the defendants have had the advantage of a most subtle and eloquent defence. I have read and studied tho defences in the re- | cent trials at Dublin to charges of the same nature, and I take it upon me to say that not ojic of those defences, powerful as they were, [ surpasses in force and subtlety that which has been made to-day. lam put under no ordinary difficulty. lam asked here, and now, to disentangle a web of most able reasoning. It is my duty to endeavor to do this, and in so doing, it is not only with the legal points whicli have arisen that I have to do, but I must also deal with the social and ethical considerations which in reality form a main part of the defence. I must do this in order that you may fully understand both sides of the question. My task is a heavy one, and I undertake it with a full consciousness of my own fallibility. I am thankful that tho decision rests with you, and not with my3plf. It is my business to put before you both sides, to renew in your minds the effect of the arguments used by the Attorney- General, in his lucid and temperate statement, arguments which may have been obscured by what you have since heard from the counsel for the defence, and, at the sametime, to give full weight to whatever sound argument lias been used on the other side. I shall take the unusual course of not reading over to yon the evidence. I do so because there lias been no real difference upon the material facts of the case, and because the evidence must be quite fresh in your memories. If, on cither side, or by yourselves, I am asked to recur to any part of the evidence, I shall, of course, do so"; It has been contended on behalf of two of the defendants, Hannon and Harron, that there is no evidence connecting them with the procession. You will remember, however, that they were seen by one of the constables arranging the banners before or during the erection of the cross. If the evidence is strong enough to convict one of the defendants, it is, I think, enough to convict all. The case may seem somewhat stronger against two of tho defendants — the Eev. Father Larkin, whom I am sorry to see in such a position, and Mr Manning. If, hereafter in speaking of the defendants I refer to them in the manner usual in courts of law, they will understand that I imply no disrespect to them in so doing. Before I deal with the main question, I will give you a few short directions oh .the general nature of the evidence requisite to support the different counts of the indictment. And, first, a3 to tho third count. This count charges that the procession was such as to create alarm among Her Majesty's liege subjects. But there is no evidence of any open breach of the peace, in the ordinary sense. The evidence of a, manifest seditious intent boars, however, on this count; for the notoriety of such- an intent might make that alarming which, in mere externals, had nothing raonacing about it. I now pass to the seventh count, which ehargos forcible entry at common law; and with regard to this, I think, on consideration, that I ought to lay down the law in the way suggested by tho Attorney-General. It does not seem to me necessary that any great actual force need be used. If any one come with a multitude — with a show of overwhelming force, and then, under the shadow (so to speak) of tho power of that multitude, anado the entry, a slight actual force following a, show of that kind, and supported by it, is sufficient. In this case it is alleged that there was such a show as to induce a reasonable belief of the possibility of a mortal result, so much so that tho appropriate guardians of the peace abstained from the use of the small force at their command. If, therefore, yon are satisfied with the evidence of this, you will convict. We now come to tho three counts, the first, second, and eleventh,' which allege seditious acts. I must givo you a caution not to bo detcrrod by Mr Ireland's facetious observations on the absurdly redundant phraseology, from considering the substance of the charges. The Attorney-General had no alternative but to draw the indictment in tlie form in which you find it. Unfortunately, tho stylo of criminal pleading is still such as to be most obscure to ordinary men ; and the approved terms in which the most serious charges are preferred are often exaggerated, and even ludicrous. You may convict under theso counts if you are satisfied of the necessary tendency of the acts proved to have been dono to excite armed resistance to tbe Government in this country or in England. We have no right in this roniote corner- of the world to any greater license than in any part of the Queen's dominions. Sedition is imnlicd in designedly spreading the sentiment that it is a righteous thing to resist the British Government ; to make one man feel it when he did not feel it before is enough to constitute sedition. Mr Ireland would prefer to wait until there had been some overt act, some actual experience of mischief. But in a case of this kind, a Government cannot wait until it has had experience of mischief. Tho fact that no open breach of the peace has occurred, does not show that great actual harm has not been done; that worse may not be apprehended. Any act which tends to excite a spirit of disaffection towards the Government tends, however remotely, towards treason. With regard to the proclamation which was issued on tho daj r before the procession, it is not my business to dofend that proclamation : It appears to have been intended to prevent open breach of the peace at tho time of the procession : and to lcavo the persons engaged in it to the legal consequences involved in their act. It is not the duty of the Government to lay down tho law, but to ccc that the law is obeyed. Wo • live under law administered by the judges of the land — not under law created by proclamations and despatches. Nor is the Government bound to give warning to thoso who aro about to break tho law. We are deemed to know the law, which is our palladium. It would seem that some think, and it has to-day been argued almost in torms, that the past mis-government of Ireland excuses sedition in Irishmen. But, by the same reasoning, the vast majority of Englishmen would be justified in sedition, on account of the wrongs suffered in by-gone 'ages from tho misgovernment of England ; on account of the monstrous tyrannies of the feudal age, the institution of " Villcnage," and, in later times, such enactments as tho Statutes of " Laborers." If tho Eoman Catholics have suffered under persecutions and disabilities, so also have English Protestant dissenters. Tho repeal of tho Test aud Corporation Acts, almost tho last remnant of those unjust restrictions on tho 'Non-conformists, took place only tho year before Catholic Emancipation. But no one in England supposes that tho memory of a bad past justiQes sedition ; and as to the future no man who looks on tho signs of tho times will say that the hoplessncss of pcaceablo reforms in Ireland is such as to justify Irishmon in robollion. But it is said that very violent agitations, even verging on civil war, havo been tolerated by Government — such, for instance, as those whicli obtained Catholic Emancipation, tho Eoforni Bill, and tho repeal of tho Corn Laws. But the fact that prosecutions were not instituted does not provo that nothing illegal was dono. No prosecutions were instituted because tho Government admitted the claims ma-do to bo substantially just, and proposed legislation to meet them. On tho two formor occasions much, doubtless, took place which amounted, in law, to sedition. In truth, thoso agitations fell very little short of revolutionary action. Aud now, gentlemen, 1 reach tho main ques-

tion, and I ask you to concentrate your attention on the eleventh count, because that sets forth this charge of sedition with the greatest degree of particularity. The question raised by the eleventh count is— did or did not that procession, with its array of emblems and banners, its religious service, and its final act of erecting the cross, necessarily, by inevitable inference, testify approval of armed resistance to the law, as administered by the British Government. In my chargo to the Grand Jury I said that " the reasoning which establishes that tho act imputed to the defendants was an act of sedition, would be perfect if it could be shown that the act of Allen, Larkin, and Gould was an act of resistance to the law of the land; more especially if it could 'bo shown that tho resistance was on political grounds." Now the one thing which I there supposed might be wanting to complete the proof has been admitted by the defence. Mr Ireland has said, meeting the case against his clients boldly and frankly, in the spirife of a true advocate, that tho defence would bo meaningless, that it would be deprived of all its significance, if it were not admitted that the act of the .three men was done in resistance to the law. But I do not ask you to adopt my conclusion until you have yourselves applied to it the most rigorous tests ; and for this purpose, let us try whether any other meaning than the seditious one can be attached to the procession ; whether this and no other is the real significance of the defendants' act. It may be said that this procession was a legitimate expression of opinion on a matter of public interest. And 1 will lay it down broadly that opinion is free, absolutely, and that for acts alone are men amenable to the law. First, then, I ask was the procession intended as a mere expression of opinion on the legal merits of the verdict at the Manchester trials ? We know that it has been by some men contended that the three nien~were hi law guilty only of manslaughter, or, not even of manslaughter, but of a mere assault on tho police. No doubt some such opinion may have been held by persons taking port in the procession. But was this the tiling they infended to express ? Did they call the men patriots — did they call the men martyrs — because instead of death they deserved penal servitude ? Gentlemen, to say so would be to insult your understandings. The demonstration had nothing to do with the technical merits of the verdict. It admitted the verdict. The shot, no doubt, was fired. Brett, no doubt, was killed in tho affair. Allen, Larkin,and Gould, were in law criminals ; but, in reality, they were praiseworthy, and that in the highest degree. That, surely, is what the parties to this demonstration really meant to express,and not an opinion on the dry legal merits of tho verdict. They did not affirm that the men were legally innocent ; they, on the contrary, admitted that in tho dry barren view of English law tho men were guilty. Was it, then, secondly, a legitimate expression of opinion on the conduct of the Government in carrying out the extreme penalty of the law,seeing that the murder might be looked upon as only constructive murder? It was more than this. As I have already said* the procession did not mean that the punishment was excessive ; it attributed to the men absolute moral innocence, and high political merit. Nothing less than this is implied* in the words " martyr" and " patriot," two of the noblest terms that men can use of their, fellow men. But, again, was it a justifiable demonstration of grief for the sad fate of these men — of admiration for the fortitude with which they faced death — of religious joy that they died in the true faith ? If this were an adequate account, there might be the same ceremonies on the death of every repentant murderer who bravely mot his fate in the faith of the Catholic Church. Everyone knows this is not so. It was not their death, nor the way they met it. It was the cause in which they suffered. As Larkin puts it in his speech in tho Cemetery, " Wo respect, too, the sacrifice they made for their country." So, then, this demonstration was no mere celebration of a religious rite ; no ordinary criticism by assembled citizens of the jury or the Home Office. The act of resistance is not denied ; the rescue is not denied. On the scaffold, Allen said, "I die in defence of my country, proudly and defiantly." This defenco is the very thing approved of. Does not this character of defiance, I ask, color the whole proceeding ? That is the question for you. The men, they say, died martyrs. Thoreby it is affirmed that they witnessed by their death to a great cause or principle. The men, they say, died patriots. Thereby it is affirmed that the cause they died y in was that of their country. There is no getting over the import of theso two words. No one supposes that 'the sympathy was with the killing of Brett. Who would meet to glorify murder per se ? Such a thing is inconceivable, except in a country whero Thugs make a religion of murder. The sympathy wa3 with the act of resistance to the British Government. No one says they wore glorifying murder. It was something much less base, but much more dangerous — rebellion. It is the defiance that is applauded, it is the resistance that is honored and canonised. And, of course, I quite agree with Mr Ireland when he says that it was not the legal but the moral view which those who 'formed the procession took of the Manchester affair. Quite so; and herein precisely lies the danger and the illegality of what was done. There is but one more view I can suggest, on which it might be snid that tho procession was not seditious. It might be said that the three men were honored as miguided enthusiasts. This, indeed, would give all sections of the people a common ground on whicli they could honorably meet. % I suppose no one in this Court is not content to take that view of the act of those three poor Irish lads. But upon this view, whilst we make allowance for, and can even yield a certain honor to, tho feelings wluch misled them, we may, and must, strongly condem their act as fatal to social order. This, again, is not the position taken by the defendants. And here observe, that in such a caso as this, absolute approval of one side is absolute condemnation of the other. If the men were patriots, the English Ministry were tyrants, If tho men are martyrs, those who put them to death are persecutors. The same act expresses sympathy and antipathy — the words of lovo are words of hatred. This is the reason why men are bound to abstain from making a parade of opinions and feelings whicli necessarily carry with them insults to their fellowcitizeas. It is, indeed, no treason to love Ireland ; the treason is in hating England. It is not ponal to defend Ireland ; but penal it is to attack Great Britain. We may all say from our hearts " God save Ireland/ but let us see that in tho blessing thoro is no curse implied. Ebal, tho mount of cursing, stands over against Gerizim, the mount of blessing ; and but a narrow valo divides them. Gentlemen, that funeral cortege was, depend upon it, quite in earnest. It was no mere mockery — no holiday torn-foolery. I ask yon — under the outward aspect of grief — under the ashes — did there not lurk a dangerous fire ? Wo should all de3iro to indulge each othor in the frc9 expression of feelings not condemned by reason or religion. I, for my part, do not doubt tho full sincerity of those weeping, praying, women. But wrath and hatred are corolative to all this love and grief, aud are tho more dangerous from their association with such high principles as patriotism and roligion. To raako plainer ,tho sources of this danger — to show that it is no unreal phantasm, conjured up by the fears of over-timid people — to show, also, that it is a double danger, arising from antagonistic passions — lot mo just suggest to you the way in which Englishmen must view the deed for which tho three men suffered at Manchester. I' say Englishmen, bocauso Englishmen it more particularly affects, as tho deed Avas done in an English city. Wo aro told it was -an act of warfare. It is justified as the resource of tho weak in a Avar against the strong. But how did it appear to the inhabitants of Manchester ? How did it seem to them when, in the busy thoroughfares of the crowded city, they heavd the sudden report of

fire-arms, and saw brought forth the corpse of the peace-officer, thus suddenly set upon and slain in the execution of his duty? Surely, to the people of Manchester, an acfc like this could not appear an act of war, but simply an audacious crime. And may not all peaceable people ask, how far is sympathy with such acts to go ? Shall we not yet have to add to the Manchester martyrs the patriots of Clerkenwell ? Will not the same reasoning apply to the act of theso latter also ? Let us see how it fits. But fir3t I will describe the act in words used by the Bishop of Cloyne in his late Lenten Pastoral. In evident allusion to the Clerkenwell explosion, the bishop speaks of "These outrageous crimes which, send a thrill of horrror through the civilised world — crimes which scatter death broadcast among innocent and unoffending children — crimes which make desolate the widow's and tho .orphan's home, and crowd the public hospitals of London with mutilated and dying victims." Such, then, was the act. But did those who fired tho train intend the death of these helpless beings ? No ! Then they, too, were no murderers. Again, what was the motive. Doubtless, the liberation of the Fenian prisoners. Ireland's cause again ! They, too, then — these wretches whom no one vindicates — have in that case jeopardised themselves, will witness for it on the drop, are patriots and martyrs. Understand, I impute to no one this conclusion. But I put it to you as a fair reduetio ad dbsurdum. No doubt there is a difference between Clerkenwell and Manchester. It is just the difference between a pistol fired into a prison-van, -with men inside it, and a barrel of gunpowder exploded in the streets of a crowded city. The difference is in degree only, not in kind. It is impossible 'that, to Englishmen, acts like these can seem acts of warfare. Such acts belong rather to tho class of those which, in past centuries, robbed Europe of some of its most enlightened, tolerant, and liberal statesmen — of William the Silent, founder of the Dutch Republic ; of Henry IV. of France; and which, in our own times, in the name of Liberty, cut off the simpleminded and pious Lincoln. They are acts of fanaticism. They show but brigands and pirates are courageous. Brave they are, but it is the bravery of Bedlam. In this light her Majesty's peaceable subjects — I have said in England, but now I say throughout her Empire — must needs view the act honored by this ceremony. They may pity the misguided enthusiaism: even honor, in a way, the selfoblivion ; but doing this, they must emphatically condemn the act as an act of barbarism, and repudiate its authors as the enemies of social order. This is the light in which the act must bo regarded by her Majesty's loyal subjects everywhere ; and hence it follows, that to pay ostentatious honor to the memory of tho three men is dangerous to the peace. It is said, indeed, " Let tho mother country take care of herself. Keep you clear of State prosecution, and the enemities they provoke. Don't have yourselves spoken of as a divided people." No doubt, if addressed to the learned cousel's own clients this would be excellent advice. But, on the part of the Government of this colony may it not be said that we are bound up with the mother country? The sections of our population correspond with like sections in hers. The Crown complains that the defendants at the bar have done an act certain to inflame, and which has inflamed, against each other these different classes ; and gladly as we would avoid State prosecutions, we have had one forced upon ua (say the Government) by the act of the defendants. Gentlemen, it will be for you to consider whether the learned counsel's very just remarks on this head afford logical ground for a verdict of acquittal. On each side powerful feelings are arrayed. On the part of the Irish sympathizers are feelings not immoral, not disgracofulj yet not justifiable, it seems to me, on a calm review of the fact 3of tho case, On the other side is an indignation justified, I think, equally by law and by reason. Thus have I endeavored to present to you every aspect in which the act of taking part in this procession can possibly be viewed : and for my own part, I frankly say, it does , appear to me, that it did imply a most solemn and, at the same time, a most offensive approval of an act condemned by the law of the land and by right reason — an act of armed and defiant resistance to tho Government of the country and to its law. Lastly, gentlemen, I warn you against the advice of the counsel for the defence to let motives of public policy sway your decision. You and I, gentlemen, have no concern here with the policy of Government. It is law we are administering, and not Government. It is not for you to consider tho effect of your decision on the country; and still less on yourselves, your families, or your trade. Leave all this to those to whom by the voice of the people the Government of the country is for the time committed, and upon whom alone the responsibility rests. Do not usurp their functions, but keep within the limits of your own, and do your duty therein ; and that you may do your duty, be animated by that thorough I love of fair play which, is common, I hopa, to Celt and Saxon — (if we must use these misleading '.terms)— common, I hope, to all the races of the mother country. If you can by any possibility regard the acts of the defendants as of innocent tendency, by all means do so. If you cannot, the Crown, upon your oaths, is entitled to your verdict. Gentlemen, I have done, and you may now withdraw to tho jury-room.

Tho verdict of Guilty being returned,, His Honor passed the nominal sentence of a fine of L2O upon each of the prisoners, which was at once paid, or guaranteed to be paid by prisoners' Counsel. The defendants then left the Court, with the exception of Father Larkin and John Manning, who had to be tried on another charge.

On the following morning these two prisoners, under the advice of their able counsel, Mr Ireland, pleaded Guilty on the indictment for seditious libel in the " Celt" newspaper, and were each sentenced to one month's imprisonment in the Lower Gaol at Hokitika, tlila provisio involving a remission of most of the humiliating conditions ordinarily attaching to penal imprisonment. 1

So ended these trials which have attracted so largo an amount of public interest throughout the colonies.

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Bibliographic details

THE POLITICAL TRIALS., West Coast Times, Issue 838, 30 May 1868

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4,366

THE POLITICAL TRIALS. West Coast Times, Issue 838, 30 May 1868

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