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Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


Prosperous state of the Colonies and Dependencies - Extraordinary Prosperity of India - Sir C. Wood's Indian Budget - Canada: Anxiety of the English Government with regard to the American designs upon it: Money voted for the Defences of Quebec - New Zealand: The Maori War still continues: Mr. Cardwell's Policy - Insurrection of Negroes in Jamaica: Description of the Island; Its unsatisfactory condition: Account of the Riot: Excitement in the Island: Proceedings of Governor Eyre: Proclamation of Martial Law: The Suppression j Its ruthless character: Anderson's Evidence: Colonel Kobbs and the Maroons: Colonel Elkington's Letter: Provost-Marshal Ramsay: Cases of Grant, M'Intosh, and Clarke: Case of G. W. Gordon; He is taken from Kingston to Morant Bay; His Trial; Circumstances of his Execution: Appointment of a Royal Commission: Indictment of Governor Eyre, General Nelson, and Lieutenant Brand: Charge of the Lord Chief Justice of England - Condition of Jamaica under Sir J. P. Grant.
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"Her Majesty rejoices at the continued tranquillity and increasing prosperity of her Indian dominions; and she trusts that the large supply which those territories will afford of the raw material of manufacturing industry, together with the termination of the Civil War in the United States of North America, will prevent the recurrence of the distress which long prevailed among the manufacturing population of some of the northern counties."

These words, from the Queen's speech which closed the session of 1865, give a true insight into the state of the most important of the dependencies of England. India was, in 1865, very tranquil and exceptionally prosperous. As the events of the next year showed, it was even too prosperous; the successful attempt to introduce the cultivation of cotton, and, partially at least, to make India take the place of America as a source of cotton- supply, had led to over-speculation and a reckless spirit of investment. It is the fault of all speculators in exceptional times, to fancy that the exceptional times will last for ever. The Bombay merchants, for instance, as we shall show when we come to tell in detail the history of the financial collapse of 1866, presumed upon the long continuance of the American War; they imagined an eternal blockade of Charleston, and thought that the mills of Manchester would look for ever to the cotton- fields of Guzerat. Hence this year of which we are speaking was a year of extraordinary prosperity in India. The prosperity, too, affected the revenue; and Sir Charles Wood was able to present a satisfactory Indian Budget when he made his financial statement before the House of Commons. As usual, the statement was deferred till the end of the session, for Parliament has little patience for the concerns of its vast Eastern empire; but the figures showed a surplus, and a surplus is always welcome. The most notable point was Sir Charles Wood's statement of the money which had been spent in public works during the six previous years. This amounted to no less than seventy-three millions sterling; £34,500,000 on irrigation, roads, buildings, &c., and £38,500,000 on railways. This last figure speaks volumes; some notion of the extension of the internal commerce of India may be derived from it.

It was natural that the termination, or the approach of the termination, of the American War should cause some anxiety as to the views of the United States with regard to Canada. This anxiety was not lessened by a notification that was received early in this year from the Washington Government, to the effect that the United States intended to withdraw from an agreement entered into with England in 1817, by which both Powers had agreed not to equip naval armaments on the Canadian lakes. This intention of the United States Government was the result of certain " raids " made by Confederate guerrillas from a base of operations in Canada, without encouragement of course, but unfortunately without successful hindrance, from the Canadian authorities. The two Houses of Parliament took prompt notice of the action of the United States; and the matter was linked on to the question of a grant for the defences of Quebec, moved in the Commons by Lord Hartington, Secretary at War. A good deal of vigorous language was used, not too friendly to America, not too complimentary to the Government; for many persons felt that there was a possibility of serious complications, even of war, between the two countries, on the ground of supposed breaches of neutrality on the part of England during the American struggle. Events, however, have proved Mr. Bright to have been right when he said that if there came a war, it would be one, not arising out of national necessities, but out of Cabinet manoeuvring; " and that," he said, " I consider a most improbable event." The matter ended by a vote of £50,000, part of a larger instalment, being carried for the defences of Quebec; it being understood that the Canadian Government were to fortify Montreal out of their own revenues. But a few days after, Mr. Cardwell eased the apprehension of the House, by announcing the receipt of intelligence that the Washington Government intended to withdraw its notice for the abrogation of the agreement of 1817. A short time afterwards, the American War ended, as has been previously described, and the relations between England and the United States entered upon a new phase.

With the exception of the events in Jamaica which are about to be described, nothing of great importance seems to have taken place in the remaining colonies of Great Britain during the present year. The Maori War, however, in New Zealand still dragged on, and formed the subject of a debate in the House of Commons, which called forth from Mr. Cardwell the views of the Government as to the proper policy to be pursued by England. This is not the place to describe the origin of the war, nor to discuss the questions to which it gave rise. It is enough to record Mr. Cardwell's statement, that "the former arrangement, by which the colony could command the services of a large force of the Queen's troops on paying a merely nominal contribution to the expenses incurred for that force, was at an end." It was decided, in other words - and this with the willing acquiescence of the Governor, Sir G. Grey - that the best policy for the - interests of the colony was to leave it pretty much to take care of itself. English opinion declared strongly against a war of extermination, in the outset of which the natives had, by the confession of the English Governor, been in the right; and it was thought that, by teaching the colonists that they could not always look to England to fight their battles for them, a more pacific mode of dealing with the natives would be entered upon, to the benefit both of the colonists and the Maories.

It was towards the end of October in this year that the alarming news arrived of an insurrection of the negroes in Jamaica, which was at once seen to be the most serious event that had happened in any British colony or dependency since the Indian Mutiny. Few, however, suspected that the importance of the event itself would be lost in the still greater importance of the secondary issues which it raised - the questions of the duties of Colonial Governors, of the legality of martial law, and so forth. These, as will appear in the sequel, were the questions to which the Jamaica insurrection, or riot, gave rise. They were argued in the newspapers, in Parliament, and in courts of law, with passionate earnestness on both sides; for both those who approved of the acts done in the suppression, and those who disapproved of them, felt that a crisis of great magnitude had arrived, and that a proper settlement of the points at issue was essential to the welfare of the colonies, and, through them, to the welfare of England. It will be necessary in this History to treat the matter at some length.

Jamaica, as everybody knows, is the largest of the English colonies in the West Indies, and has been in English possession since the time of Cromwell. It is an island to the south of Cuba, and to the south-west of Hayti; its extreme length is 170 miles, its extreme breadth 50 miles, and its area about 6,250 square miles, or rather more than 4,000,000 acres. The population is about 360,000, of whom about 15,000 are whites, and the rest either black or "coloured," that is, of mixed race. In physical conditions, the island is subject to the laws that prevail almost throughout the tropics; its soil is fertile to exuberance, bearing everything from the coffee-plant to the majestic palmetto-tree, 140 feet in height; the rain comes down in torrents at its season, and hurricanes sweep furiously across the sugar-fields. Still the heat is bearable, and white men can work if they choose. Yet the white workers are few, and, indeed, only a small part of the island - not more than an eighth - is under cultivation at all. The rest is mountain and virgin forest. The government of the island is vested in a Governor appointed by the Crown, a Council, and a House of Assembly, the former chosen by the Crown, that is, with the exception of the ex officio members, by the Governor; the latter elected by the freeholders. There is usually a military force amounting to about two English regiments, some of the soldiers being white and some natives; and male whites are subject to compulsory service in the militia. There is a bishop, and a considerable number of parish clergy (the Church Establishment ceased to exist in 1867, by an Act of the Jamaica Legislature); but these clergy have little influence over the black population, who prefer the more emotional services of the rival Nonconformist bodies of the Baptists and Wesleyans. Commercially and socially, the island has never recovered (although it is now recovering) the collapse which followed the abolition of slavery in 1834. It was said above that an eighth of the acreage is all that has been brought into cultivation; the number of inhabitants has steadily decreased since the Jamaica planters lost their monopoly of the sugar trade; and the debt of the island, till the apointment to the Governorship of Sir J. P. Grant, as steadily increased, the deficit of an average year under the old régime being about £40,000. But a glance at the revenue tables themselves gives the best indication of the material decay of Jamaica. Thus, while in 1830 the amount of sugar exported was 100,000 hogsheads, in 1850 it had fallen to 40,000; while in 1809 the coffee exports were 52,500,000 lbs., in 1850 they were 5,120,000, or not quite one-tenth. This state of things, distressing to every one, and especially to those who regard the emancipation of the slaves as a right act, is clearly shown by a comparison of the accounts with those of all the other West India Islands (whose revenues have all this time been improving) to have been the result of some cause not operating in them. That cause was bad government. Distress was very prevalent in 1865, especially in the eastern part of the island; wages were extremely low; capital was withdrawn from the country; everything pointed to such legislation and such administration of the law as should conciliate, and even relieve, the great and growing poverty of the labouring class. Instead of this, new " Trespass Laws " were made, creating offences out of what the negroes had always regarded as their right- - gathering yams, picking occasional sugar-canes in passing by a field, and so on; and also converting into a " trespass" the occupation of certain lands, to which the occupiers thought they had a right rent free. Popular opinion, naturally warm enough on points like these, was roused to great heat by agitation, especially by a letter directed, in 1865, to Mr. Cardwell, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, by Dr. Underhill, a Baptist missionary. This letter was taken up by the local Radical party, led by Mr. Er. W. Gordon; meetings were held in many places, and, as is natural from the character of the negro, the language used was often not over-wise. Still there were real grievances; and it is an undoubted fact that these grievances were met in a scandalous manner by the Government of the island. Mr. Gordon was treated by Governor Eyre, not as the representative of a suffering class, but as a firebrand whom it was right to extinguish. The magisterial benches - badly constituted, as the Royal Commission afterwards declared - were filled up by unpopular men; the complaints of the blacks were hardly noticed; memorials sent up to the Colonial Office through the Governor were tampered with in transit; obnoxious laws remained unrepealed; the "piccaninny gangs," or gangs of children for field labour, were not discouraged - in a word, nothing was done to remedy a very serious condition of affairs; they were left to break out in a violent explosion.

Whatever doubts may exist as to the antecedent events, and the state of the island before the outbreak, the facts of the outbreak itself, and of the measures taken in suppression or retaliation, are clear beyond all question, and may be told on the authority of official documents, and of the statements of witnesses before the Royal Commissioners. The early stages of the riots have been recorded by one of the victims of the 11th of October. On the 10th, Baron von Kettelholt, custos of St. Thomas-in-the-East, wrote as follows to Governor Eyre A number of over 150 men, armed with sticks, and preceded by a band of music, came on Saturday, the 7th of October, with the openly expressed intention to rescue a man who was that day to be tried for some offence, if found guilty. Leaving the band of music outside the town, they proceeded to the square in front of the court-house. A man having been ordered into custody on account of the noise he was, making in the court-house, a rush was made by the body of men referred to, and the man rescued from the hands of the police, one of whom was left with his finger broken, and several others beaten and ill-treated. In consequence of this outrage, warrants were issued yesterday against twenty-eight individuals who had been identified, and the warrants placed to-day in the hands of six policemen and three rural constables for execution. On, however, an attempt being made by this force to arrest one Paul Bogle, I am informed by the policemen, who have only just returned, that on-a signal being given, a body of over 150 men, armed with cutlasses, bayonets, and pikes, appeared, and made prisoners of three of the policemen, on two of whom they placed handcuffs, and only suffered them to leave after having obtained an oath that they (the police) would join them. The oath was administered by Paul Bogle on a Bible he had at hand. The statement of all the policemen is to the effect that the people openly declared that they would come to Morant Bay to-morrow." The letter then went on to represent that, in case of a collision, the police and volunteers would form an insufficient force to " uphold the law; " and the Governor was requested to send a reinforcement of troops. This letter was dated the 10th of October, and was received by Governor Eyre on the morning of the 11th, and he immediately ordered Major- General O'Connor, the senior military officer, to send off 100 men in a man-of-war to the scene of the disturbances. Meanwhile, however, the attack which the custos had dreaded had been made. The magistrates and others were in the court-house, at about three o'clock in the afternoon; the volunteers, thirty or so in number (according to the evidence of Mr. Rutty, who was one of them), had been drawn up for two hours or more, when a bugle was heard, and a large mob was seen approaching. They were armed with " cutlasses and bayonets fixed on long sticks, muskets and pistols, and various kinds of weapons." They advanced irregularly; once they halted; a bandsman went forward extending his arms as if to make peace, 'ttye custos from the court-house shouted " peace," and then, when they were within a few yards of the volunteers, there came a shower of bricks and stones. The order was given to the volunteers, whether from their captain or the custos is uncertain, to fire, and a volley was poured in. The mob was roused to frenzy; the volunteers retreated into the rooms under the court-house, and into other shelter, and the people fired in upon them, and upon those assembled in the court-house, through the windows. Presently the school-house was set on fire, and soon the burning spread to the court-house, in which the whites were assembled. Mr. Georges, who was one of them, tells us how he leaped out of a back window, and got into the committee-room underneath, and that while there he saw Mr. Walton leap out after him and run for his life, but to no purpose. Baron Alfred von Kettelholt, son-in-law of the custos, just escaped; but his father-in- law was killed. Mr. Georges, with three gun-shot wounds in his thigh, lay hidden in some shrubs till midnight, and so escaped. Dr. Gerrard was allowed his life, " because he was the doctor; " but the negroes kept him among them by the expedient of taking his boots off. Mr. Rutty, a volunteer, tried to pass for his assistant, but was beaten almost to death, stripped to his shirt, and left to die or recover as he might. Mr. Price, a negro, was with the custos and the magistrates, so he was pronounced "a black man with a white heart," and was killed. Lieutenant Hall, Captain Hitchings, Mr. Herschell, a clergyman, and many more of the whites assembled, were killed.

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Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

The Jamaica insurrection
The Jamaica insurrection >>>>
General Lee
General Lee >>>>
Great house, St. Thomas-in-the-East, Jamaica
Great house, St. Thomas-in-the-East, Jamaica >>>>
Manchioneal bay
Manchioneal bay >>>>

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