The Douglas Archives

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Captain Douglas, in custody on a charge of desertion

A curious scene was witnessed in the Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday; the law playing with a prisoner as a cat with a mouse. Captain Douglas, who had been in custody on a charge of desertion, was brought up on a writ of habeas corpus. The facts of the case may be briefly recapitulated. Captain Douglas, has been in the service of the East India Company twenty years: his regiment, the Fortyninth Native Infantry, was at Madras; he had leave of absence to go to the Neilgherry Hills, and his leave would expire in March next. He had, however, come to England under a feigned name; and it is said to have been discovered that he was guilty of malversation in a civil office which he held. He was lately arrested on a charge of desertion, taken before Mr. Hardwicke, the Magistrate at Marlborough Street Police-office, and committed to Tothill Fields Prison; thence he was transferred, on a warrant from the Secretary at War, to the custody of Lieutenant-Colonel Hay, the commander of the East India Company's forces at Chatham. Mr. Kelly, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Montagu Chambers appeared for Captain Douglas; the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, Mr. Clarkson, Mr. Pollock, and Mr. Forsyth for the East India Company. Mr. Kelly urged at considerable length three objections to the course which had been taken: it was not shown that Captain Douglas ought to be with his regiment; the 32d section of the Mutiny Act, the only one which applied to the East India Company's forces, extended tbe act to their forces in the Untied Kingdom, Captain Douglas's corps being in India; and the 22d section of the act, which authorized tbe committal of deserters by a Magistrate, applies not to officers but only to common soldiers. The Bench held the objections to be valid, and Captain Douglas was ordered to be discharged. He was leaving the Court, when the Attorney-General called him back ; and, while the Captain was hesitating whether he should return or not, moved that he should be committed on a charge of malversation in the office he held in India, where he had unlawfully received the sum of 12,800/., and that on such charge he should take his trial in this country. Mr. Kelly interposed; and Lord Denman decided that the judgment of the Court must have some effect, and that Captain Douglas was free to go where he pleased. He left the Court; but outside he was arrested under a writ of capias, to recover penalties to the amount of 12,800/., tbe sum alleged to have been misappropriated in his office. About an hour and a half afterwards, Mr. Kelly obtained the attention of the Court, and a long argument arose as to the legality of the second arrest; the Captain's counsel contending that it was a civil process, and that the plaintiffs could not take advantage of Captain Douglas's wrongful custody and presence in the court to arrest him. The Bench held the proceeding to be of a criminal nature, and refused to entertain the application for the prisoner's discharge. He was accordingly removed in custody.

The Spectator, 19th November 1842

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