SMH Friday 12/3/1858


To the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

SIR,-The facts contained in your paper of to-day in reference to the examination concerning the unfortunate Stebonheath show a state of things which every Englishman must look upon with something more than suspicion. I conceive it to be the duty of those who own Australia as the land of their birth or adoption, and who consequently are practically affected by emigration, to protest against any such investigation as is now being carried on at the Emigration Barracks taking precedence of, and hindering, that open enquiry which is due not only to the passengers themselves, but also to the colonists amongst whom they are to make their abode. What would be the value of the evidence taken before the Board in the Police Court ? It consists of mere assertions, and would be worth as much as assertions generally are in a court of justice ; but, in the meantime, it is actually preventing a public inquiry where the evidence would be substantiated by oath. There are no legal gentlemen present to prevent the proposition of "leading" questions, or to elicit important evidence which witnesses of a retiring disposition-overawed by what might appear to them something like an inquisition might withhold ; and there is no place provided for the Press.

It has been said that the desire of the Commissioners is to get at the truth, and I would not have it believed that l doubt their good intentions ; but I complain that the public Press is excluded, and I ask upon what just grounds is Ellen Loughborough prevented from making her complaint before a magistrate. I have been informed that a gentleman is taking notes of the evidence, but whether they are for the benefit of the home Commissioners or the Government of this colony I know not. The evidence may perhaps be laid upon the table of the House, and some hon. member may move that it be printed ; but it will be after all mere assertion, and whether such a motion be carried or not is of little importance if it satisfy not the public. Perhaps it may eventually be transmitted to England duly labelled, and placed in some quiet corner on one of the shelves in the office of the Home Commissioners. There are few who will not look upon the present investigation as un-English, and as being likely to injure the cause of emigration to this colony.

After reading an account of the charges made against the whole of the passengers by the Stebonheath, people will be very cautious in placing themselves under the surveillance of any matron, however estimable may be her character. It is to be feared that the remarks of one of the passengers is but a true index to the feelings of the great majority :-" If I had established myself here," he said, " and had the means to send for my friends, however much they might be able to benefit themselves, I would not send for them - I would rather they remained in England, than that they should come out here in an emigrant ship."

There is one statement contained in your remarks in reference to the Stebonheath, which is almost incredible. After all, one is inclined to ask, can it really be true that three persons sitting as a Board of Emigration are detaining against her will a woman anxious only for a short reprieve to make complaint to a magistrate? If it be true that Helen Loughborough is not permitted to step beyond the precincts of the Barracks to make affidavit of one of the grossest pieces of cruelty (if the evidence of some of the passengers is to be relied on) which has ever disgraced an emigrant ship, probably some of your legal readers would inform the public, through the Herald, upon what authority she is detained. The probable consequences of this detention will be evident to all her wounds will be less terrible, and witnesses necessary to corroborate her testimony may, ere she be able to take proceedings, be far away up the country.

I am, Sir, yours, &c,