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Our Colonial Administration


Our Colonial Administration - Sir William Molesworth's Motion - Lord Palmerston's Defence of the Colonial Secretary - West Indian Slavery - The Slave Trade - Lord Brougham's Oration - Horrors of the Middle Passage - Negroes thrown Overboard - Lord Minto's Defence of Naval Officers - Portugal a Standing Nuisance on the Ocean- Iniquities of the Apprenticeship System in the West Indies - Eleven Females murdered by a Flogging and the Treadmill - Attempt to establish Slavery in British Guiana - Coolies - Lord Brougham's Resolutions on the Subject - The Roman Catholic Oath - Mr. O'Connell's Interpretation - The Bishop of Exeter - Lord Melbourne on Oaths of Office - The Pope's Disapproval of the Roman Catholic Oath - Conservative Banquet to Sir Robert Peel - His Exposition of his Policy - Irish Questions - The Church Establishment and the Corporations- Sir Thomas Ackland's Resolution on the Appropriation Clause - Alleged Breach of Faith on the part of the Conservatives - Denied by Lord Stanley and Sir Robert Peel - Scene in the Commons - Settlement of the Irish Questions - Preparation for the Queen's Coronation - The Marquis of Londonderry - Earl Fitzwilliam - The Procession to Westminster Abbey - The Ceremonial - Return of the Procession - Public Festivities.
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On the 6th March, Sir William Molesworth, with a view to bring the whole colonial administration of the empire before the House of Commons, moved that an address be presented to Her Majesty, expressing the opinion of the House that in the present critical state of many of her foreign possessions, " the colonial minister should be a person in whose diligence, activity, and firmness, the House and the public may be able to place reliance; " and declaring that " Her Majesty's present Secretary of State for the Colonies does not enjby the confidence of the House or the country." The honourable baronet made a speech of two hours' duration, which was a dissertation on colonial policy, containing a survey of the whole of Her Majesty's dominions in both hemispheres. He disclaimed all party considerations in bringing forward his motion, or any intention to make an invidious attack on Lord Glenelg. But as the colonies were so numerous, so diversified in races, religions, languages, institutions, interests; and, as they were unrepresented in the Imperial Parliament, it was absolutely necessary that the colonial administration should be vigilant, prompt, sagacious, energetic, and firm. Lord Glenelg was wanting in those qualities, and the colonies were all suffering more or less from the errors and deficiencies of this ill-fated minister, "who had, in the words of Lord Aberdeen, reduced doing nothing to a system." Lord Glenelg was defended by Lord Palmerston, who regarded the attack upon him as an assault upon the cabinet, which would not allow one of its members to be made a scapegoat. He declared that Lord Glenelg's administration had produced satisfaction and contentment in the colonies, where formerly disaffection had prevailed. The effect of the motion, he said, would be the resignation of ministers; but were the Tories ready to take office in conjunction with the Radicals; or did the honourable baronet think that when they had triumphed, he and Sir Robert Peel would meet upon the field of victory and divide the spoil? In conclusion, he said he should meet the motion by a simple negative. Lord Stanley was called up by some remarks of Mr. Labouchere, and caused laughter and cheers by a taunt against Lord Palmerston. He said he knew not whether his noble friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had any intention of forming part of the new Tory administration; but if he did not, he would perhaps allow him to say that for a much longer period than that to which his memory could go back, it would be the only administration which his noble friend had not joined.

Sir George Grey and the Chancellor of the Exchequer having spoken in defence of the Government, and retaliated on the Conservatives, Sir Robert Peel rose, and delivered a sarcastic speech, remarking that ministers had, no doubt, been looking back, while suffering under the stripes they had received last week, when they had been defeated in four out of five divisions, seeking consolation in the records of other beatings, and the defeats of other governments. Lord John Russell replied to Sir Robert, and alluding to an amendment brought forward by Lord Sandon, remarked that " parties, like serpents, are moved by their tails." The noble lord concluded by suggesting to Sir W. Molesworth the expediency of withdrawing his motion, in order that the sense of the House might be taken upon the amendment which referred to the affairs of Canada, thus offering a fair trial of strength between the two sides of the House. To this Sir William agreed; the amendment was put as a substantive motion: and the House divided, when the numbers were - ayes, 287; noes, 316; majority for ministers, 29.

The attention of Parliament was occupied during this session by another colonial question of wider and deeper interest affecting the coloured population in the West Indies. The anti-slavery agitation did not cease when the Emancipation Act was passed. The apprenticeship system, however good in theory, failed in practice. The slaves were irritated because they Had still to bear fragments of their chains; the masters, because restraints were put upon their power. On the one side, therefore, there was sullen disobedience; on the other, cruelty and violence. The colonial legislatures, composed of planters, were ill-conditioned and obstinate, full of resentment against the Home Government, and bitterly exasperated against the race that was contumaciously struggling to escape from their tyranny. Lord Brougham, being now out of office, and having little to occupy his active and energetic mind, fretted by inaction, took up the anti- slavery question with great earnestness. He opened the campaign on the 29th of January by presenting» petition from Leeds, praying for the immediate abolition of negro slavery. The noble and learned lord took that opportunity of delivering a powerful oration on the enormities still committed in the slave trade. " That accursed traffic," he exclaimed, " flourishes under the very expedients adopted to crush it, and increases in consequence of those very measures resorted to for its extinction. When the act for abolishing the British slave trade passed in 1807, and when at a later period treaties were made with a view to extinguish the traffic carried on by France, Spain, and Portugal, the plan was adopted which was now in operation. The right of search and seizure was confined to certain vessels m the service of the state, and a promise of £o head-money was held out as an inducement to quicken the activity of the officers and men, to be paid for eaclk slave on board the captured ship over and above the proceeds of its sale upon condemnation. Now," said his lordship, " a little reflection might have sufficed to show that there was an inherent vice in this scheme, since an inducement was thereby offered to permit the principal part of the crime, namely, the shipping of slaves, for the sake of this head-money. And thus the policy which holds out a reward, not to the cruiser that stops a slave-ship, and interrupts the commission of the crime, but to the cruiser who seizes her on her way back, when full of slaves, gives an interest to the persons employed in the service to let her reach Africa, take in a cargo of slaves, and sail for America. Now," said Lord Brougham, "whether he succeeds in gaining the opposite shores, or is overtaken and condemned, let us see what the effect of this system is in the vessel's construction and accommodation. Let us see how the unavoidable miseries of the middle passage are exasperated by the contraband nature of the adventure - how the unavoidable mischief is aggravated by the means taken to extirpate it. Every consideration is sacrificed to the swiftness of sailing in the construction of the slave- ships, which are built so narrow as to put their safety in peril, being made just broad enough in the beam to keep the sea. What is the result to the slaves? Before the trade was put down by us in 1807, they had the benefit of what was termed the Slave-carrying Act, which gave the unhappy victims the benefit of a certain space between decks, in which they might breathe the tainted air more freely, and a certain supply of provisions and of water. But now there is nothing of the kind, and the slave is in the condition in which their debates found him above half a century ago, when the venerable Thomas Clarkson awakened the world to his sufferings. The scantiest portion which will support life is alone provided, and the wretched Africans are compressed and stowed away in every nook and cranny of the ship, as if they were dead goods concealed on board smuggling vessels. On being discovered, the slaver has to determine whether he will regain the port or will fare across the Atlantic, and so perfect his adventure and consummate his crime, reaching the American shores with a part at least of his lading. How many unutterable horrors," exclaimed Lord Brougham, "are embraced in the word that has slipped my tongue! Yes, yes; for no sooner does the miscreant find that the cruiser is gaining upon him than he bethinks him of lightening the ship, and casts overboard men, women, and children. Does he first knock off their fetters? No. Why? Because these irons by which they have been held together in couples for safety, are not screwed together and padlocked, so as to be removed in cases of danger from tempest or fire, but they are riveted - welded together by the blacksmith in his forge, never to be removed nor loosened until, after the horrors of the middle passage, the children of misery shall be landed to bondage in the civilised world. The irons, too, serve the purpose of weights; and, if time be allowed, more weights are added, to the end that the wretches may be entangled, to prevent their swimming. Nor is this all. Instances have been recorded of other precautions used for the same purpose. Water-casks have been filled with human beings, and one vessel threw twelve overboard thus laden. In one chase, two slave-ships endeavoured, but in vain, to make their escape, and in the attempt they flung into the sea 500 human beings, of all ages and either sex."

Lord Brougham showed that so far from our efforts materially checking it, the bulk of this infernal commerce was undiminished; and so safe was it that the insurance at the Havanna was no higher than 12½ per cent, to cover all hazards. Of this 4½ was allowed for the usual sea risk, leaving but 8 for the chance of capture. In 1835 eighty slave ships sailed from the Havanna alone, and each of them brought back, on an average, about 350 slaves; so that about 28,000 were brought to that port in the year. In December of the same year between 4,000 and 5,000 were safely landed at Rio, One of these ships carried 570, another no less than 700 slaves. Of all the criminals engaged in these atrocities, Lord Brougham said, "the Brazilians, the Spaniards, and the Portuguese are the greatest - the three nations with which our commerce is the closest and our influence the most commanding; " and he called upon the Government and the House to compel those feeble states to abandon their nefarious traffic. It was admitted, both by the Colonial Secretary and the Duke of Wellington, that there was no exaggeration in those statements. Lord Minto denied, however, that British officers allowed vessels equipped for the slave trade to escape, in order to secure the head-money, and to wait at the mouths of rivers till the cargoes had been shipped. On the contrary, the only complaint he heard against them was that they were too ready to take those vessels, and too little careful of themselves, not attending sufficiently to their own security against prosecutions. Lord Brougham having asked whether there was any objection against the abolishing of head-money, and the substitution of a reward according to the tonnage of the vessel captured, Lords Ellenborough and Ashburton concurred in this view; but Lord Glenelg said there was no other way of rewarding the captors, except in the case of vessels sailing under the flag of a nation with which we had a treaty, including the equipment article. He said the only nation that still thwarted the endeavours of this country to put down the trade was Portugal; and he could not conceal the fact that vessels under her flag were constantly guilty of violating, not only the laws of humanity, but the direct stipulations of the treaty. Lord Ashburton suggested that strong measures should be taken to compel Portugal to desist from being a standing nuisance on the ocean.

Again, on the 20th of February, Lord Brougham took up the subject of negro emancipation in the West Indies. In eloquent and glowing language he described the joy that had been excited by the Emancipation Act, the hopes which the negroes had cherished, and the cruel disappointments to which they had been subjected; contending that the slave-holders had not kept faith with this country, and that the condition of the negroes, instead of being improved, was, in many respects, worse than before. They were stinted in diet, the victims of partial tribunals, of excessive and illegal punishments. He selected one instance from the papers on the table of the House. Eleven females were flogged, and then put on the treadmill: when faint, and about to fall off, they were suspended by the arms, so that the wheel at each revolution bruised and galled their legs, till their sufferings had reached the extreme pitch which life can endure. In the course of a few days these wretched beings languished and died. A coroner's jury was empanelled; the verdict given, "Died by the visitation of God! "

In the colony of British Guiana there had been an old law which permitted the importation of labourers without distinction. In 1836 a law was passed by the Governor and Council which regulated the relations of such persons to their employers, restricting the term of bondage to seven years. This was sanctioned by an order in Council in 1837, but with several important alterations, with respect to servants from the West Indian colonies, in which slavery had been abolished, the introduction of labourers from Africa being entirely prohibited. An application was subsequently made to allow the importation of Hindoos, called " hill coolies," or highland labourers, to be bound for a period of seven years, as no shorter one, it was alleged, would pay the expense of importation. To this Lord Glenelg gave his consent on the 12th of July, 1837.; and it appears that arrangements had been made during the winter for the deportation of coolies on an extensive scale. The vigilance of Lord Brougham detected in these proceedings a masked slave-trade, and he accordingly brought the subject before the House of Lords on the 6th of March, when he moved two resolutions in condemnation of the order in Council, introducing his motion by a masterly speech. He showed that 25,000 Africans had been imported into the Mauritius in defiance of the law, and he predicted that they were about to expose to the infernal traffic in human beings the entire Asiatic coast, "from Madagascar to the Red Sea - from the Arabian Gulf along Malabar to Travancore; thence from Cape Comorin to the mouths of the Ganges, and of all the unknown and nameless streams that water the peninsula and flow into the Indian Ocean, while no precautions had been taken to secure proper ship's provision, or accommodation for the labourers on their voyage." In conclusion, Lord Brougham exclaimed - " No, my lords, I could not slumber without seeing before me, in visions of the night, the great and good men who have passed away, seeming as if they could not taste their own repose until I should lend my feeble help, and stretch forth this hand to chase away the monstrous slave-trade from the light it once more outrages."

Lord Glenelg contended that Lord Brougham had exaggerated the danger, but the Duke of Wellington asserted that the law was quite inadequate to check the evil, and he proposed that the embarkation of the labourers should be superintended by a responsible person, who should go with them and protect them while on board and on their landing, and see to the due performance of their respective bargains, the nature of which should be clearly explained to them, and they should be at liberty to return if they did not like the service. Unless some such arrangements were adopted, he declared he would vote for Lord Brougham's resolutions. Lord Melbourne promised that Government would attend to the duke's suggestions. Lord Ellen- borough, Lord Lyndhurst, and Lord Fitzgerald condemned the order in Council; but the Duke of Welling, ton having obtained a distinct assurance from Lord Melbourne that the labourers would be protected, moved the previous question, which was carried by a majority of 56 to 14.

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The coronation of Queen Victoria
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