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Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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Many charges of revolting barbarity have been made against the rioters; but it is only just to say that nothing more atrocious than murder has been proved against them. For instance, in Governor Eyre's first despatch to Mr. Cardwell, lie mentioned numberless rumours of horrible deeds - how Lieutenant Hall had been pushed into a building which was set on fire, till he was " literally roasted alive; " how the fingers of the custos were cut off, " and kept as trophies by the rebels." It was proved, however, by Mr. Rutty, who was present, that Lieutenant Hall was shot dead in the heat of the struggle, and the hand of the custos was mutilated, but not, apparently, with any specially barbarous intent. He, and many of the rest, were put to death with " cutlasses," that is, the knives or bill-hooks used in dressing the sugar-cane; and cutlasses in the hands of a mob are likely to be wildly used. These facts it is important to bear in mind; for half the criminality of the proceedings of the soldiers afterwards springs from the fact that they were done upon hearsay evidence, upon rumours of barbarities which, dreadful as the original murders had been, were enormously exaggerated. Neither during the attack on the court-house, nor in the plunder of Amity Hall, nor elsewhere, were any women or children injured, though, in many cases, the rioters had them in their power. This fact, at least, happily distinguishes the deplorable Jamaica outbreak from such carnivals of savagery as the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

During the next day or two there was undoubtedly great excitement among the negro population throughout all the east end of Jamaica, and the white residents were in danger. The Morant Bay rioters broke up into parties, and dispersed in two or three directions - up Blue Mountain valley, towards Manchioneal, towards Golden Grove, and elsewhere. In some parts they were joined by the negroes of the neighbourhood; many excesses, almost entirely in the way of plunder, were committed. A mob attacked Hordley estate, and wrecked the furniture and set fire, but without effect, to one of the "trash-houses" (a house used in the sugar-making); but something may be learned of the absence of the worst kind of ferocity from the fact that the ladies of the house were in the other trash-house, and were never looked for or discovered. The great cry was " colour for colour," but more energy was spent in shouting the cry than in seeking out whites to wreak vengeance on.

These events were, of course, enough to move the white population of the island to a high pitch of excitement, and to call for prompt action from the Government.

Governor Eyre's proceedings may be told nearly in his own words, as given in his report to Mr. Cardwell, and in his evidence afterwards before the Royal Commission. His official residence was Spanish Town, an inland town, fourteen miles from Kingston. His private residence was at Flamstead, fourteen miles from Kingston and twenty- three from Spanish Town, where, according to the Opposition newspapers in the colony, he spent a good deal of time rearing chickens. How Mi^ Eyre wrote to General O'Connor, requesting 100 men to be sent to Morant Bay, has been already told. After that order had been sent, Mr. Eyre returned to his residence at Flamstead, "to be present at a dinner-party which was to meet there the next day." This was Thursday, the 12th, the day after the riot; and the news came just in time to spoil the Governor's dinner-party. At half-past five, a letter came from a magistrate with the news, and the Governor at once rode off to Kingston, to concert fresh measures. It is enough to say that 200 men were immediately sent off to Morant Bay; a detachment of white troops was ordered to march from Newcastle to intercept the march of the " rebels " into Blue Mountain valley; and the Governor himself took measures for proceeding to the scene of action. Just before lie started, that is, between eight and ten on the morning of the 13th, lie presided at a council of war, and with the advice of the Attorney-General of the island, drew up the proclamation of martial law. As this famous document, which embodies Governor Eyre's most important and central act, became afterwards the subject of great legal arguments, it had better be transcribed literally.

" Proclamation of Martial Law.
" Jamaica, ss.
" Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, and of Jamaica Supreme Lady, Defender of the Faith.
" To all our loving subjects:

Whereas we are certified of the committal of grievous trespasses and felonies within the parish of St. Thomas- in-the-East, of this our island of Jamaica, and have reason for expecting that the same may be extended to the neighbouring parishes of the County of Surrey of our said island; we do hereby, by the authority to us committed by the laws of this our island, declare and announce to all whom it may concern, that martial law shall prevail throughout the said County of Surrey, except in the city and parish of Kingston; and that our military forces shall have all power of exercising the rights of belligerents against such of the inhabitants of the said County, except as aforesaid, as our said military forces may consider opposed to our government and the well- being of our loving subjects.

" Given at Head-quarters House, Kingston, on the 13th day of October, in the year of our Lord 1865, and in the 29th year of our reign.

" Witness - His Excellency Edward John Eyre, Esquire, Captain-General and Governor-in-chief in and over our said island of Jamaica, and other the territories thereon depending in America, Governor and Commander-in-chief of the Colony of British Honduras, Chancellor of our said island of Jamaica, and Vice- Admiral of the same. (Signed) " E. Eyre.

" By his Excellency's command, (Signed) "Edward Jordan, " Governor's Secretary."

The events which followed, and which had their support and authority in this proclamation, are commonly called " the suppression." From the time when Captain de Horsey, of the sloop Wolverine, wrote to Governor Eyre that he had landed a company of soldiers at Morant Bay, and was preparing to detach 114 of his own sailors to co-operate with them, to the time when "Martial Law" expired, not only was all law suspended throughout the east of the island, but all the guarantees of evidence were dispensed with, and the life of every negro man and negro woman hung upon the will of an angry soldiery and an excited Provost- Marshal. To the white planter and the white soldier, a negro is still, in spite of emancipation, a beast of burden, with a tendency to rebel. Hence the Morant Bay disturbance, which, grave and shocking as it was, has been proved beyond question to have been a local riot, and not the first outbreak of a rebellion, was seized upon without question and at once as a rebellion, and to be punished as such. The soldiers, sailors, and marines acted in three or four directions at once; from Morant Bay, from Port Antonio on the north-east side, and from Newcastle towards the mountainous region in the centre of the county. The towns were all occupied, and their inhabitants, who were as much frightened as Governor Eyre had been, were not much injured by the soldiery; but the whole of the country districts were scoured with troops; negroes, unarmed as well as armed, were [shot down as they ran from soldiers, or captured, tried by summary courts-martial, convicted on the evidence of informers, or on no evidence at all, and hung or flogged, or flogged first and hung afterwards. It was enough that a man should have been unpopular with the authorities of his district, or that he should have a bad character, or that a witness should inform against him, or that he should have been " seen with Bogle," and he was forthwith hanged or flogged as a rebel. This last charge, in fact, touches the root of the whole matter. Undoubtedly Paul Bogle, the leader of the attack on the court-house, was a dangerous man and a rebel. Undoubtedly he was guilty of high treason, and his life was forfeit. But by all the evidence given before the Commission, and notably that given by William Anderson, the informer, it appears that the only real "rebels," that is, the only persons who intentionally and of their own free will took up arms against the Government of the Queen, were Paul Bogle, M'Laren, and perhaps half a dozen more. The rest were on the first day a riotous mob, who thought that, by making a demonstration before the court-house, they would obtain the repeal of a burdensome law, and the removal of an unpopular custos; and afterwards they were a mob afraid of their lives, herding together for defence against the " white men," and still acting, without power of resistance, as Paul Bogle bid them. " The white people send a proclamation to the Governor to make war against us, which we all must put our shoulder to the wheels, and pull together " - those words, from a letter signed by Bogle and three others, express what lie designed, and what he forced others to help him to do. Bogle was the spring of the whole movement; he was a fanatic, an organiser, a disciplinarian; he forced numbers to take the oath of allegiance to his cause, by flogging two refractory young men in their presence, and threatening death to those who would not join him. " He said if they would not go, he would take away their lives; and to save their lives many go along with him." The part played by this William Anderson, from whose evidence that statement comes, is typical of the nature of the " suppression." He was one of those who went with Bogle, on Bogle " calling for five tamarind switches to make a rod, and for guns." He ran away on the first opportunity; he was taken up by a constable, tried by court-martial, and was offered his life on condition that he would be a guide to the soldiers. It was Colonel Hobbs, commanding the 6th Royals, who undertook the grateful task of acting upon the evidence of this Anderson, who, of course, was careful to ensure his own safety, by handing over a sufficient number of his countrymen to the colonel's justice. " The first day of his capture he gave me a list of about fifty rebels," wrote Colonel Hobbs; a statement which prepares the reader of the minutes for those immediately following, viz., that " a gang of twenty-seven were found guilty at Chigoe Fort Market; " that all out of a batch of fifty, " except ten or a dozen" were shot; that nine were " left hanging on a beam in the chapel which was called M'Laren's chapel," at Font Hill, and were not buried; that "fifteen or twenty were shot at extraordinary long distances," and so on. Nor were the soldiers of Colonel Hobbs alone or exceptional in their method of vegneance. The " black soldiers," that is the Maroons, descendants of the old Spanish slaves, and the enemies of the African negro population, shot one hundred and sixty on the road to Manchioneal. One thousand houses of the natives were burnt down by the soldiers. And how these acts were regarded by the superior officers at Kingston, cannot be better shown than in the words of the afterwards celebrated letter of Lieutenant-Colonel Elkington, Deputy Adjutant-General, to Colonel Hobbs. " I send you an order," he wrote on the 18th October, "to push on at once to Stony Gut, but I trust you are there already. Hole is doing splendid service with his men all about Manchioneal, and shooting every black man who cannot account for himself (sixty oil line of march). Nelson, at Port Antonio, hanging like fun by court-martial." Nor was it the officers alone who had life and death in their hands - it was the soldiers individually; above all, it was the Inspector of Police, Gordon Ramsay. For instance, some soldiers, accompanied by the same Dr. Morris who fired two shots with his revolver into the body of the negro Donaldson as lie was hanging, dragged out of his cabin one Ned Bryan, tied him to a tree, and forthwith shot him. Bryan and his brother had been at Kingston all through the riots, and only landed at Manchioneal on the 15th October! That is one instance, literally taken at random from a mass of evidence. To illustrate Ramsay's proceedings is easier still, but it is a loathsome task which we would willingly pass by. He owned to the hanging of 184, six of them females; to the flogging of 237, eight of them females - but in this last respect he was perhaps outdone by Captain Hole, who owned before the Commission that he had flogged sixteen women, and among them one woman twice! Here we may end the catalogue of executions and floggings, only referring those who care to read of Ramsay's brutality, and of the nature of the "cat" frequently used - whipcord mixed with knotted wire - to the evidence of R. Clarke, of P. Bruce, and of Ramsay himself. The pen almost refuses to write the horrible details.

But the story would only be half instructive were we to omit the record of some of the quasi-judicial proceedings by which some of the barbarities were guaranteed. Three memorable reports of trials are printed at the end of the Commissioners' blue-book, and to them, as showing what a court-martial may be, what a foregone conclusion, what a mockery of justice, we may refer any curious readers. The cases are those of William Grant, George M'Intosh, and Samuel Clarke - all of whom were sentenced to death by court-martial. The case of M’Intosh is, perhaps, the most instructive of the three. He was sentenced by Colonel Lewis, and General Nelson approved the sentence, literally for no crime at all, except for having spoken at a public meeting in the house of Mr. George William Gordon, whose friend he was. The evidence which hung the others was about equally valuable.

But the case which was the most outrageous, and which rapidly became the most famous of all, was that of Mr. G. W. Gordon himself. On his trial and execution were based the greater part of the attempt to obtain legal redress in the English courts of law; around his body, so to speak, was fought the question of the legality of martial law, of the responsibility of officers and colonial governors, and of the rights of colonists. The story need not be told at any great length. It is sufficient to say that Mr. Gordon was a negro gentleman, a member of the Jamaica Assembly, a prominent Baptist and leader of Opposition, the friend of the poorer classes of negroes, and in high disfavour with Governor Eyre. This gentleman, who was about as much responsible for the riot at Morant Bay as M. Gambetta was for the excesses of the Commune, was residing peacefully at Kingston at the time of the outbreak. Governor Eyre's own words shall show how little he, the representative of law, cared for legality. "Throughout my tour in the Wolverine and Onyx," writes the Governor to Mr. Cardwell, "I found everywhere the most unmistakable evidence that Mr. George William Gordon, a coloured member of the House of Assembly, had not only been mixed up in the matter, but was himself, through his own misrepresentation and seditious language addressed to the black people, the chief cause and origin of the whole rebellion. Mr. Gordon was now in Kingston, and it became necessary to decide what action should be taken with regard to him. Having obtained a deposition on oath that certain seditious printed notices had "been sent through the Post-office, directed, in his handwriting, to the parties who have been leaders in the rebellion, I at once called upon the custos to issue a warrant and capture him. For some little time he managed to evade capture; but finding that, sooner or later, it was inevitable, he proceeded to the house of General O'Connor, and there gave himself up. I at once had him placed onboard the 'Wolverine' for safe custody and conveyance to Morant Bay."

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Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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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