The Sydney Morning Herald
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1886.
The meeting held at the Town Hall last night, for the purpose of petitioning the Governor, to exercise the prerogative of mercy in the case of the young men now lying under sentence of death for taking part in the Mount Rennie outrage, can hardly be regarded as a representative one. The meeting was large and enthusiastic, and both the speakers and the audience may be credited with the possession of intelligence; but the resolutions adopted cannot be accepted as an expression of the sense of the community with regard to the manner in which the criminals who are con- demned to suffer should be dealt with. When the people are deeply stirred there is a general movement, the indications of which are on the surface, but in this case the action that has been taken is partial—it does not run through the community and excite it to spontaneous and determined action. The letters that we have published since the decision of the Executive Council was made known
show that opinion is divided, and, judging from the general attitude of society, we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that the com- munity as a whole is content to let the law take its course, or, at all events, to leave the
matter in the hands of the Executive.
The arguments made use of last night in favour of sparing the lives of the wretched young men who have been condemned were similar to those which have been advanced in the letters to which we have given publicity. Before dealing with them it may be noticed that those who urged that clemency should be extended to the criminals expressed abhorrence of the crime, and did not ask that a light punishment should be inflicted. All they contended for was that blood should not be shed—that justice should be tempered with mercy. Neither did anyone suggest, as some of our correspondents have done, that there had been an unfair or an incomplete trial. It was conceded that the young men had been properly tried and lawfully convicted; the point at issue was the character of the punishment. The chief arguments against the death penalty were that it was too severe; that in most civilised communities hanging for rape had ceased to be the law; and that serious doubts were entertained as to the guilt of some of the condemned prisoners. In putting forward the first of these arguments, the Rev. Dr. Gilchrist declared that the simultaneous hanging of six young men for an offence such as they had been convicted of would be a terrible shock to the community, an "advertisement of shame" for the colony. New South Wales, he pointed out, is almost
alone in its adoption of the death penalty for this class of offences, and was it to go forth to the world, he asked, that this community is so wicked that it must adopt a special penalty to deter offenders? This argument, which found much favour with the meeting, answers
itself. The shame to the colony lies not in the punishment of the criminals, but in the offence. If the sentence of death is carried out in those cases, it will appear to the out- side world that we deal drastically with certain classes of crime, but the in- fliction of capital punishment will not he lighten the offence in the estimation of critics abroad. The offence will remain the same, no matter whether we are lenient to the prisoners or severe. But even if we could minify the crime by keeping the offenders from the gallows, should we be justified in doing so to keep up appearances before the world? There is only one reply.
The question as to whether the law is or is not too severe is a very proper one, to discuss
at the right time and in the proper place, but it is not a point that can be submitted with any propriety to His Excellency or his advisers. They are placed where they are to see that the law is administered; not to say whether this or that law is too stringent, and therefore not to be acted upon. If the people wish the law to be repealed, let it be repealed; but as long as it exists it must be carried out. The Executive of course
possesses the prerogative of mercy, and can always exercise it; but, while appeals for clemency are legitimate and proper, petitioners have no business to ask for the respite of a criminal on the ground that the law is wrong. The laws are made by the Legislature, and if they are defective the appeal should be to Parliament, not to the Executive. With regard to this point, it must not be forgotten that the law which was declaimed against last night represents the will of the Legislature and of the country as recently expressed. It is not as though a long dormant or obsolete law had been revived. The Act under which the young men now in gaol were condemned to death was passed by Par- liament only three years ago, with the full concurrence of the community as far as it could be ascertained, and the object in view was to prevent the occurrence of such out- rages as that of Mount Rennie. It is possible that opinion may have changed, and that Dr. Gilchrist is right when he says that offences of this kind, should not be punishable by death. Mr. Butcher's sug- gestion, that if the prisoners are hanged after the recommendation of the jury that mercy should be shown them other juries will refuse to convict at all in cases of outrage, is also worthy of consideration; but all those points are arguments in favour of altering the law rather than grounds for com- muting the sentence.
The petitioners have really only two grounds upon which they can approach the Governor. They may ask for a commuta- tion of sentence as an act of clemency, or they may ask that further inquiry should be made in the hope that the conduct of the condemned may be placed in a more favourable light. With regard to one or two of the prisoners it is alleged that exculpatory evidence is forthcoming, and if that is the case the testimony submitted to the Executive will, of course, receive the fullest consideration. But the
suggestion that all the prisoners should be reprieved because a vague idea is enter- tained that some of them may be innocent is scarcely one that the Execu- tive can listen to, neither, as we have said before, can it give the men their lives because in the opinion of the petitioners the law under which the sentence of death was passed is too severe. These men have been tried by a judge and jury according to
the laws of the country, and notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, they have been fairly tried. The Executive after the trial investigated the case and all its surroundings. It went carefully and anxiously into all the facts, and found that in the case of three of the men there were mitigating circumstances, while in the other cases there were none. The sentences of three of the men were commuted, while the others were allowed to stand. What the mitigating circumstances were we do not know, but the statements made at the meeting that it was wrong to make distinctions, that the prisoners ought all to be spared, or all hanged together are unjust and improper. The Executive acted upon facts laid before it, about which the public is not informed, and in the absence of such knowledge comments of the sort that were made last night are out of place, to say
The duty of the Executive appears to be plain. It has come to a decision on the strength of certain facts, and if the facts remain as they were before, we fail to see any reason why the original determination should be departed from. But if fresh information is brought forward, it must be weighed and sifted, and if it tells in favour of the pri- soners, it will have its effect. The Governor can take what course he thinks pro- per. He may exercise the prerogative of the Crown on his own responsibility, if he thinks fit to do so; but while it is his duty to consider the prisoners, it is also his duty to consider the interests of the com- munity. No doubt it is a sad thing that a number of young men should be hanged, no matter what the circumstances may be, but it is a sadder thing that such a deed as that for which the prisoners have been condemned to suffer should have been perpetrated. If any of them can be merci- fully as well as justly dealt with, it will be a satisfaction to the community; but there is the honour of the country to be considered, and that must be maintained in any case.
In accordance with the provisions of the Act to consolidate and amend the laws re- lating to the Corporation of the city of Sydney, Mr. John Young will, on Saturday, have ceased to perform the duties of Mayor, and Mr. Riley will proceed to exercise the functions of that important office. It is a wise arrangement that although the Mayor, except in tho case of an extraordinary vacancy, is elected from year to year on the Oth December, ho does not enter upon his official duties until the first day of the following year. The Mayor-elect is thus able to re- ceive congratulations, and feel his way, B» that by the time he takes tho Mayoral chair he may be confident in his position and have matured his plans for tho future.
Upon the whole, the city has been fortunato in tho choice of its mayors. With few exceptions the most suitable members of the City Council have been ohosen, and the chiof magistrate of the oolony I has commonly commanded a high de- gree of respect, shown liberal hospitality, and boen zealous for the honour of Sydney. The outgoing Mayor has not been an exception to tho rule. Ho has held tho office with dignity, and exorcised his authority with discretion. And yet during his régime the city has been scandalised by the exposure of frauds of a kind not alto- gether beyond the region of previous suspi- cion, and by erratic aldermanio conduct whioh will bear comparison with the liveliest pranks of tho most demonstrative members of the Legislative Assembly. These, however, must bo regarded as excep- tions. They certainly cannot bo taken to in- dicate the ordinary demeanour of the city fathers, and it is to bo hoped that the council may be absolvod from any Tammany taint. As much cannot be said of eil municipal coroorationB. and with the exnerieno« oí
r--» , ut«« othep countries, the citizens will do Veil 1ft selecting representative« to choose men of high character and business capacity.
The Minute placed on record by the retiring Mayor in reference to certain charges and innuendoes is, as wo havo already pointed out, somewhat humiliating. It was not at all neces- sary for Mr. YOUNO to have given any such explanation. It would be ridiculous to suppose that the chief magistrate, and especially one who had shown such great liberality, could be guilty of tin» potty offences inferentially attributed to him. Public sentiment will be more ia accord with the expressions of the ohairman at the picnic given in honour of tho retiring Mayor. Everybody admits that Mr. YOUNO has filled the highest civic office in tho colony ably and well, and to the satis« faction of the people. At the beginning of the year it is probable that he, like many of his predecessors, hoped to accomplish moro than he has bean able to compass during his term of offioe. He sees now how greatly the' goodintcntions of men must be discounted. He has done excellent work in regard to the sanitary arrangements of the city in the demolition of buildings unfit for human habitation, in connection with wood paving, and in many other directions advantageous to the citizens. If he has erred at all, it has been on the side of a too profuse liberality. It is not desirablo that the Mayors of Sydney should vie Avitk each other in feasting and entertaining the citizens to the vorge of extravagance. This Avould be likely to have an injurious effect, inasmuch as it would place the office beyond the reach of good men who are not wealthy, or who disapprove of any exaggera- tion of the hospitalities usually supposed to bo connected with the office of Mayor. Mr. YOUNG has acted with firmness
and impartiality. He has dono good work. Ho has dispensed the hospitalities of the ToAvn Hall with dignity, and his happy thought of celebrating tho Jubilee year of Her MAJESTY'S reign has brought into close and pleasant union with us the civic bodies of other Australasian colonies. Many citizens will regret that he did not se© his way to bo a candidate for the chair for another year. It is gratifying, however, to know that his seat will bo filled by a gentleman of great ability, of sterling character, and one who has special knowledge of a kind likely to be benefioial to the city at this juncture. i
Mr. Alderman RILEY is somewhat new to
city munioipal life, but has had good experience in the suburbs. Thus it is that, while tho municipal field is supposed to be o training-giound for legislative work, the suburban municipalities may be the pro- bationary schools for the highest civic office. At the banquet given to the MAYOR-ELEC. by tho pooplo of Burwood, in whoso
municipality ho resides, Mr. RILKY, in a very modest speech, expressed his surprise that he had been selected for such a respon- sible position as Mayor and Chief Magistrate of the metropolis of the southern hemisphere. " To their own merita modest men are dumb ;" but it is evident that while Mr. RILEY has been unostentatiously serving the public, the public not only in his own locality, but also in the city, have not been unobservant of his good qualities. They have noted that he possesses in a considerable degree those qualities which ho disclaims, viz,» the requisite amount of culture and large administrative ability, and they give him credit for a desire to promote the best interests of the country of his birth. Wo may hope from a man who gives evi donco of possessing the suaviter in modo as well as the fortiter in re, a bénéficiai in- fluence on the proceedings of the assembly over which he is now called upon to preside, and from tho evidence he has given of his belief in the neces- sity for business arrangement and proper organisation, we may hope that the woik of the City Council in all its de- partments will be placed on a satisfactory footing and conducted on business principles. The prominent part he has taken in regard to the inquiry as to the official arrangements of the Council, and the conduct of its affairs, shows that he understands the points which militate against successful oûioiul work. At the same time it may be inferred that while he will be strict in the mainten- ance of order and discipline and in the in- sistance of efficient work for municipal pay, ho will nevertheless take care that the officers under him aro treated as gentlemen.
The citizens will be pleased to learn that it is the new MAYOR'S intention not to be found wanting on the score of liberality in the entertainment of visitors, and in uphold- ing the honour of the Council, but also that in everything which pertains to hospitality and entertainment he will seek to preserve au elevated tone, and also that he will not be unmindful of the poor. There is reason to hope
that in the coming year still groater progress will be made in municipal affairs, and that under the presidency of Mr. RILKY, tho City Council will sot an example to suburban insti- tutions. The time is not far distant, however, when there must bo a great relative chango in the position now occupied by tho Council of tho city of Sydney. With the completion of tho large scheme of water supply, and the further progress of the immense sewerage works ia course of construction, the duties of thf Sydney Corporation will be curtailed to the limits of its own area. The sewerage and water supply must be placed in charge of k body representing the whole of the metropolis. A Board of Health and Works must be created, and then it will be necessary to bring the Corporation of the city under the law whioh controls other boroughs and muni- cipal districts. The only alternative will be to make some special law in regard to the metropolis as a whole, in which caso, practically the limits of the city would be extended. But there can be no toleration in this colony of a state of things like that which exists in the old oountry where " the city" ia endowed with special privileges as distinct from the metropolis.
We wish success to the new MAYOR, and hope that he will be able to accomplish much good during his year of office, and to give great satisfaction to the citizens.
In returning thanks for the Legislative Assembly, at the Commercial Travellers' dinner, the SPEAKER, as in duty bound, spoke well of the body over which he presides. Judging from his own expression, he said "he would be disap- pointed if the country did not recognise that in the case of the majority of members there was a single-hearted desire to serve those who sent them into Parliament." We aro not going to dispute tiia ooundnoaa of the SPEAKER'S JudamanL either
as to'the action of the majority in the Assembly, ' or as to the probable appreciation of it by "the country." But there is one thing which it may bo well to point' out, because it doos not appear on the surface of Mr. BARTON'S remark, and might be overlooked by the public. Parliamentary government is on ita trial here and elsewhere ; and here, as else- where, the question for consideration is not morely what is the character of the majority, but what are tho tactics of the minority. Wo cannot be satisfied with the belief that tho re is a patriotic and orderly majority. Wo must inquire whether there is also % disorderly minority successfully endeavouring to usurp the control of the House. Where that is to bo seen, the single-heartedness of the majority may be pleasant to reflect upon, and worthy of recognition ; but as a factor in the solution of legislative problems it is of little worth. Honest men can render no mor*e service than rogues if they aro laid on their backs with their hands and foot tied. If Parliamentary government is not to collapso, something must be done to restore to the majority, whether it be single-hearted or not, the lost power of action. How to do this is the question now pressing for an answer. The interest of the country is involved In its settlement. A minority to-day may hold ' the belief that it has a monopoly of the good
sonso and patriotism of the House. But if through respect for that comfortablo^creed that minority is to be allowed by blocking business to dominate the Assembly, we must" ^prepared to aee some future minority putting"' forth a claim to similar rights, without even the prefconco to sole honesty and wisdom as a covor for its pro- ceedings. _
The opening up of an additional line of steam communication with the Australian colonies, through the enterprise of the North-German Lloyd's, was a niattor of general congratulation only a few months ago. But already the owners are experiencing tho first serious hampering of their new trade, and these colonies are proving that increasod communication with other lands brings risks as well as benefits. The latest arrival of this company's fleet has brought some 500 passengers to swell our population, but amongst thom it has brought the contagion of-smallpox, and the new-comers aro filling the quarantine stations of our three principal ports. It appears that shortly after the vessel left Port Said symptoms of tho disease appeared in a member of tho crew, and proved fatal. By the time the vessel reached Adelaide the disease had spread, and the strictest quarantine regulations vero enforced. Prepara- tions for equal caro and strictness were at once entered upon by the authorities in Melbourne and at our own quarantine station. But from some cause or other the Melbourne safe- guards were so far broken through that a fireman mado his escapo, and has not yet been arrested, though descriptions of him were sent, without delay, not only throughout Victoria, but to the authorities of the neighbouring colonies. Since tho vessel's arrival in Sydney, on Sunday, three unmistakable cases of smallpox have been developed, and the sufferers have been placed
on board the Faraway. In thirteen other cases j suspicious symptoms havo appeared, and strict I
isolation has been enforced. The authorities are doing all that medical skill and strict administra- tion can do to arrest the outbreak. That our
âunrantino provisions are effective wo had abun
ant evidence only too short a time back. The causes for alarm were then much greater than now, for the contagion had spread through the city before the authorities became aware of its existence. The disease was then very speedily got under and stamped out ; so we nave good grounds for hoping that the present danger will be effectually dealt Avith. But there should be ready co-operation amongst all concerned. Friends of the quarantined should bo as strict as the authori- ties m maintaining complete isolation of all who havo been within range of the contagion. Busi- ness men interested in an early discharge of cargo should submit to the necessary sacrifice of con- venience or of gains, for the public health's sake. The citizens as a whole should reduce the danger to a minimum by scrupulous cleanliness in their homes and surroundings. v