No corrections yet
Gentlemen — In the police reports of your last im pression, my attention was particularly directed to the case of one Patrick Macguiilnn, a labourer, hrnue-lit un in the custorfv oi' the noli'je. and chanrcd
with stealing a horse the property of his employer, John Ellis, Esq., of Port Gnwlcr. If that report be correct, which from your known accuracy I do not question. I unhesitatingly pro nounce such a prosecution one of the grossest inva sions upon the liberty of the subject, and one of the most flagrant acts of petty tyranny that has ever disgraced and insulted the boasted freedom of the province of South Australia. A servant yet in his master's employ; yet living in his master's house ; yet undischarged ; yet in the possession of goods entrusted to him by his master; yet unpaid his wages, and yet unsettled with, is dragged from his wife and family to ihe felon's cell — thence to the felon's dock — and for what? for riding a horse en trusted to his care by John Ellis, Esq., of Port Gawler, his roaster. It is true the trial ended in ac quittal ; but is the tyranny less flagrant and cruel. I think not. I have read this report carefully through, in order, if possible, to discover some pnUiating circumstance — some justification, or some attempt at justification, for such a wanton, harsh — nay, most cruel procedure, but without success. Of Captain Ellis's general character in respect to his servants, I know nothing beyond what your reports occasionally furnish, but that one like him i;i the possession of such re puted wealth, should endeavour to convert the crude laws of a free country to the sordid purpose of de priving the ' labourer of his hire,' is a con cl vision which ought only to be applied to those whom a legal possession of the human species has steeled against every nobler impulse of our nature. If Macguiilnn had done wrong, were r.ot the pro visions of the Masters' and Servants' Act in that bfi half stringent enough ? As a Justice of the Peace Captain Ellis should have Jtnown that they were, and that such was his remedy ; or, at all events, common prudence, and the odium attendant upon an inaptitude for his magisterial functions, should have suggested the inexpediency of prosecuting his servant for an offence which Captain Dashwood had brains enough to see was preposterous before the charge was half gone through with. Another part of the report I cannot help glancing at as rather peculiar — I mean the admonitory remarks of the worshiptul Commissioner of Police, addressed to the prisoner when discharged. It is true that some allowance must be made for the greatness of the power with which that functionary is invested, and also for his Worship's lengthened le£ial studies
having engendered that (occasional) callousness of feeling said by some to be inseparable from such pur suits ; but when a man was declared innocent of an alleged crime before the case was half gone through with, some little respect, notwithstanding a quarier deck and cat-o-nine-tails' education, might have been paid to his outraged feelings, and the poor fellow might have been spared the mortification of insult added to injury. A case such as the present must have its effect upon the mind of every man coming within the reach of the Masters' and Servants' Act, and associations for mutual protection must sooner or later be the consequence. The bond of union, the links which bind the employer and employed would be severed by a few such cases, and the worst results ensue, if the latter did not know he had a remedy, and did not experienoe the salutary effects of the laws of his country being fairly and impartially administered. Macguillan, it is true, has the weapons by which to redress his injury ; but, perhaps, not the same wealth and consequently not the same power to use them. Shall, then, the working man allow the case to pass by as an ordinary occurrence r I have a higher notion of J.heir patriotism and intelligence. I am, Gentlemen, Yours respectfnlly, HlTMANITAS. Nov. 5, 1847.