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Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


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Now, even supposing the proclamation of martial law to have been legal, which we believe it not to have been, it expressly excluded Kingston from the operation of martial law. What Governor Eyre did, therefore, was to seize a political opponent, to carry him off in a ship of war from a district under civil jurisdiction to a district under military jurisdiction, and then to hand him over to the tender mercies of a court-martial. There is an account in Thucydides of what was done by the Lacedemonians to the defenders of Platsea when the town fell into their hand, which forms an instructive parallel. The defenders were promised a trial. They were taken one by one before a Spartan court-martial; they were asked one question, and one only - " whether, during the war, they had done any good to the Spartan cause P " As they failed to answer yes, they were taken quietly and put to death without further question. So with Mr. Gordon. He was brought before a court-martial, composed of two naval lieutenants and an ensign lately gazetted; one of the lieutenants being the same Lieutenant Brand who, with a couple of " dingy boys " from his ship had " had the pleasure" (his own words) of hanging the first " rebel," and shooting him with his own revolver as he hung; who had openly said that " nothing would give him greater pleasure than hanging this - - Gordon;" who, some time later, when a newspaper-writer who had offended him was ill, went into his bedroom, revolver in hand, and threatened him; and who afterwards awoke the laughter of all England by sending a letter, richly garnished with oaths, to Mr. Charles Buxton (a prominent member of the Jamaica Committee), challenging him to fight a duel. To such temperate-minded men was Mr. Gordon delivered. He was an old man; he had been barbarously treated; he was wretchedly ill. Before his trial he was called out by Ramsay, the Provost-Marshal, to witness the execution of Grant, who had beep a political friend of his. " Look there," said Ramsay; "that is your friend Grant, and you will be hanged like him." A Mr. Joseph G. Smith, a volunteer, thus tells, in his evidence before the Commission, how witnesses were collected against Mr. Gordon: -

" Afterwards I went into the guard-room, and he [Ramsay] was then swearing five of the prisoners, with their hands fastened and a rope round their necks, and lie was swearing them in these words, 'You shall well and truly state what G. W. Gordon has to do with the rebellion;' and between each part of this a sailor came down with the whip over their shoulders."

On evidence of this kind, the evidence of men who had had the promise of their lives if they would accuse him, Mr. Gordon was tried. As to the taking of the evidence, we have the words of the Lord Chief Justice of England, Sir Alexander Cockburn, in his famous charge to the grand jury in the case of Nelson and Brand: " He could not be tried on that evidence. No competent judge acquainted with his duties could have received that evidence. Three-fourths - I had almost said nine-tenths - of the evidence upon which that man was convicted and sentenced to death, was evidence which, according to no known rules - not only of ordinary, but of military law - according to no known rules of right or justice, could possibly have been admitted." But even supposing it had been admitted, all that was proved was that Mr. Gordon had written letters to, and been on friendly terms with, some of the rioters; but none of the letters were produced except one, where he said that " the people of Jamaica were very wretched." Ho was proved to have called the Governor " a bad man." He was proved to have had an action-at-law against the late Custos von Kettelholt. Above all, he was proved to have spoken at public meetings, and to have dwelt on the misery of the negroes and the way in which their case was misrepresented to the Colonial Office. For these offences - literally for none other - he was sentenced to death. Lieutenant Brand signed his sentence, and Brigadier Nelson approved it. " He asked to see the Reverend Mr. Panther, Wesleyan minister," wrote Brigadier Nelson; " I considered it inexpedient." Without the consolations of religion, condemned on less than no evidence by an unauthorised and incompetent tribunal, Mr. Gordon was hanged on the 23rd October, 1865. He had been in life the representative of the negroes of Jamaica in their cry for equal government; in death he is their representative in their cry for justice.

" The total number of deaths caused by those engaged in the suppression amounted to 439, and the total number of dwellings burned was 1,000.... The whole number subjected to the degrading punishment [of flogging], during the continuance of martial law, we think could not be less than 600." These are the words of the Report of the Royal Commission, consisting of General Sir Henry Storks, Governor of Malta, Mr. Russell Gurney, Recorder of London, and Mr. Maule, Recorder of Leeds, who were sent out to Jamaica in the beginning of 1866, and who cat for fifty-one days examining witnesses. Long before the Commission went out, however - in fact, as soon as the news of the " suppression" arrived in England - public opinion had been roused. Public meetings took place, and a committee was formed, under the name of the Jamaica Committee, to see that full investigations were made, and that legal remedies should be sought against those who had been guilty of illegal excess. The battle of opinions, the fierce disputes in the newspapers and in Parliament, which followed are, perhaps, more properly to be treated under the history of 1866; but one point may be dwelt on here, that the responsibility of the Governor and his officers may be seen to be fully established. The Jamaica Committee announced that " having been advised that the facts disclosed in the Report of the Royal Commissioners afford a proper ground for an indictment for murder to be preferred against Mr. Eyre and the other persons concerned in the trial and execution of Mr. Gordon, and that no other mode of vindicating the law in reference to those facts is open to them, they have instructed their solicitors to proceed forthwith with an indictment against Mr. Eyre." They did proceed with an indictment against Mr. Eyre, Brigadier Nelson, and Lieutenant Brand. Mr. Eyre was domiciled in the country - he had been recalled from Jamaica and superseded - and the question of committing him for trial was argued before a Shropshire bench of magistrates. The Shropshire bench of magistrates declined to commit him. The London stipendiary magistrate, being a trained lawyer, understood his duty differently in the case of Nelson and Brand; he committed them for trial at the Central Criminal Court. The prosecution failed in the end; but not before it had elicited from the Lord Chief Justice a charge to the grand jury so elaborate, so learned, so telling, and so clear, that it may be said to have once for all defined the scope of " martial law," and to have once for all settled the rights and duties of local authorities in dealing with riot or insurrection. That charge, which during the six hours of its delivery chained the attention of all who heard it, contained a complete review of all the statutory limitations of martial law in England, of all the notable opinions of great lawyers as to its nature and extent, and of all the important instances of its exercise. Two points stand out clear from the Chief Justice's charge: first, that martial law, exercised in Great Britain or in any of her dependencies, means the law administered by courts-martial - the law, that is to say, which is laid down for the trial of military offenders by military courts; secondly, that, by the Petition of Right and all the statutes and examples which have confirmed it, civilians are in no case amenable to this law. The statement of the Duke of Wellington, " that martial law is neither more nor less than the will of the general who commands the army," though it may be sound as to what may be done in an enemy's country in time of war, is repudiated by the Chief Justice as to England and her dependencies. Nothing so arbitrary or unfixed has any validity or any legal existence. Martial law means military law - that is, the law administered under the Articles of War and the Mutiny Act, with recognised procedure, recognised principles, and recognised limits. Moreover, no civilian can ever be tried under this law; it simply applies to soldiers; and even a phrase in an old law of the island of Jamaica, that " the martial law shall prevail," must be taken (says the Chief Justice) to mean that the militia are to be called out, and that those who compose it are, while it is called out, to be subject to military discipline and military jurisdiction. It was with high approval, and with a just pride in the supremacy of the civil courts, that the Chief Justice quoted the celebrated case of Wolfe Tone, a notorious Irish rebel in 1799, which may be told in the shorter words of another authority.

" The rebellion was in full activity, and the state of martial law in force, when the famous leader of the Irish insurrection was taken on board an enemy's ship-of-war in an enemy's uniform. He was tried by court-martial, and sentenced to death. But the Court of King's Bench instantly granted a writ; and by a noble exertion of the judicial authority, tore a notorious criminal from the illegal fangs of a military tribunal. It established that the most flagrant traitor was amenable to the law, and not to the sword; that martial law exists only in reference to operations in the field; that civil justice will confront and arrest the red weapon of the soldier on service, in defence of the meanest of those who are committed to its keeping."

What, then, the Governor and the military authorities in Jamaica had the right to do, was to use all diligence in suppressing what, for a moment - though probably wrongly - appeared to be a formidable insurrection; and to do this by military force. They had undoubtedly the right to put to death or flog any rebel captured with arms in his hands; their justification in this was, that highest law - necessity and the right of self-preservation. They had also the right to seize any dangerous persons, and hand them over to the civil courts. But they had no right to assume a jurisdiction over the whole actions of civilians, to hang and flog and burn on mere charges of " complicity " or of past guilt. The trial of Mr. Gordon - all the trials that took place in the county of Surrey in that dreadful time - were no trials at all; they were military cruelty and race-tyranny aping the forms of law.

The grand jury threw out the bill, but made a formal presentment, "strongly recommending that martial law should be more clearly defined by legislative enactment." Mr. Eyre and his subordinates escaped; but their actions afford, let us earnestly hope, the last example in the history of England of insurrection being met by giving free leave to a furious soldiery to hang, burn, and torture as they please.

It is a consolation that the changes which followed upon her ordeal of fire have been fruitful to Jamaica. After Sir Henry Storks returned from his temporary government of the island, a new Governor was found in a distinguished and very able Indian official, Sir John Peter Grant. Under his rule, Jamaica has flourished in every way; security was established first, and has brought prosperity in its train. No better conclusion to this long and sad history of Jamaica's time of trial could be given than the accompanying figures from the returns of revenue, &c., during the years that succeeded Governor Grant's appointment: -

Revenue
1867 - 425,780
1869 - 475,897
1870 - 448,759
1871 - 464,564

Public island debt
1866 - 682,466
1867 - 718,952
1868 - 706,964
1869 - 686,830
1870 - 609,505
1871 - 591,656

Value of import
1866 - 1,030,796
1867 - 859,186
1868 - 1,012,279
1869 - 1,214,061
1870 - 1,300,212
1871 - 1,331,185

These figures are eloquent, and their story is one of unmixed encouragement.

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Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3

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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