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Victorian Struggles page 2


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The great step of abolishing slave-owning in all her possessions was taken by France in 1848, and for this action great credit is due to the French Abolitionists-aided by their colleagues in this country. (The British Society sent deputations to Paris in 1840, 1842 and 1844.) But even after the abolition of slave-owning great watchfulness continued to be required, for in 1852 the French Government began the practice of introducing African negroes into their colonies under the euphemistic title of 'emigres libres.' In 1857, 1858 and 1859 this question was discussed in the British Parliament, and the French Emperor ordered enquiries to be made. In 1863 the attention of the British Government was called to 'the sale by the Pasha of Egypt to the French of 450 Nubians for service in Mexico.'

The story of French efforts to substitute Indian coolie labourers for negro slaves is very similar to our own. For a good many years the Government of India permitted the recruiting of Indian coolies for the French Colonies of St. Pierre, Reunion, Martinique, Guadaloupe and Cayenne. M. Victor Schoelcher, Deputy for Martinique and later Senator, whose exertions on behalf of the coloured races in the French Colonies earned for him the title of 'the Wilberforce of France,' made many protests against the ill-treatment of the Indian coolies. They were overworked, underfed, their death-rate was excessive, and the planters used them, to quote the words of a French Government Commission of which M. Schoelcher was a member, 'as being merely instruments of agriculture.' M. Schoelcher attended a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society in London in 1878 and stated that the treatment of Indian coolies in the French Colonies demanded the urgent attention of the English people. Finally the permission to import Indian coolies into French Colonies was cancelled by the Government of India.

Madagascar, which had long been under French influence and had had a French Resident since 1885, was formally recognised by Great Britain as a French Protectorate in 1890, and the French Government became responsible for putting an end to the slave-trading and slavery which still persisted, although in 1875 the Christian Queen of Madagascar had granted freedom to the Mozambique slaves. In 1877 slave-trading from Madagascar had been nominally abolished, but ten years later questions were asked in the House of Commons regarding the trade in slaves, or so-called labourers, from the West Coast of Madagascar to Reunion and the activity of the slave-trade on the Mozambique Coast. Slave-owning in all parts under French authority was abolished by proclamation on September 27, 1896. Forced labour in the public service was abolished in 1901, but the personal tax due from 16 to 60 years has been very heavily increased.

Although there were notable French Abolitionists and Emancipators from the time of the French Revolution onwards, it was not until 1865 that the French Anti-Slavery Society was formed. An important Conference was held in Paris in 1867, convened by the French, British and Spanish Societies, and thenceforward French Abolitionists did all in their power to assist their Spanish colleagues in their uphill task. Cardinal Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers, played an outstanding part in rousing the Catholic Church in all parts of the world to the abominations of slave-owning and slave-trading. He spoke with magnificent eloquence and force at a great meeting held in London in 1888, and presented to the Society, through Cardinal Manning, a generous gift of 50,000 francs, part of a sum of 300,000 francs entrusted to him by the Pope for Anti-Slavery work. Cardinal Manning was a great supporter of the Anti-Slavery cause in this country, and did much to stimulate public opinion.

When the Victorian era opened, Spain was no longer a great Colonial Power and the main efforts of the Emancipators were concentrated on Porto Rico and Cuba. A Spanish Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1865, Spanish Abolitionists attended the Paris Anti-Slavery Conference in 1867, Joseph Cooper, the Secretary of the British Society, visited Spain in 1868, and in the following year he received a striking letter from Garibaldi denouncing Spanish slavery. In 1870 the first step was taken by a decree declaring all slave children born after the passing of the Act free, under conditions. In 1873 a law was passed to abolish slavery in Porto Rico within three years, and in 1875 the British Society urged Lord Derby, then Prime Minister, to stipulate for the abolition of slavery before recognising Don Alfonso as King. It was at this time that Senor Vizcarrondo, the courageous Secretary of the Spanish Society, suffered imprisonment for his opinions.

Abolition in Cuba was a long and difficult business. In 1850 the Slave Trade was admittedly increasing, and in 1860 Lord John Russell acknowledged that between 30,000 and 40,000 African slaves were carried annually to Cuba. To the abominations of African slave-trading were added the iniquities of Chinese immigration on a large scale. The subject was brought up several times in Parliament from the year 1856 onwards, and in 1879 Lord Selborne, in the House of Lords, raised the whole question of slavery in Cuba and of our treaties with Spain, which gave us a right to demand emancipation. In 1885 the Anti-Slavery Society was able to report that 'Emancipation progressed steadily,' and in the following year slavery was finally abolished in Cuba, without any pecuniary indemnity to the owners - a real triumph for the Anti-Slavery Societies of Great Britain and Spain which had struggled long and earnestly to create public opinion.

The story of British efforts to get slave-trading and slave-owning abolished in Portuguese possessions is like that of the mouse in 'Alice in Wonderland' - 'a long tale and a sad one,' and long before its ending the student of Anti-Slavery records finds himself murmuring with Alice, 'that was the fifth bend' - so many are the twists, evasions and disguises, so wearisome the contrast between the high-sounding moral phrases of Portuguese legislation and the 'patent continuance in evil-doing.' Our 'Ancient Ally' continued to indulge in slave-trading regardless of treaty obligations. In 1885 the Anti-Slavery Society reported that 'the Slave-trading practices of the Portuguese in their Colonies in Western Africa were notorious,' and in 1891 that 'sad accounts were received from West Africa of the enforced labour traffic carried on by the Portuguese Government.' The abolition of slavery in the Portuguese Island of Cape Verde was decreed by the Portuguese Government in 1874, and in 1875 another decree was issued putting an end to slavery in all Portuguese possessions within one year. But its legal termination was followed by various forms of disguised slavery in the Portuguese Cocoa Islands and Angola, as set forth in a later chapter.

Reference has already been made to the immense numbers of African slaves imported into Brazil in the years 1829-30. In 1840 the British Society circulated 8,000 pamphlets in Brazil and received a good deal of local support. In 1851 a local Anti-Slavery Society was formed. The Brazilian Government had in 1850 issued a decree declaring slave-trading to be piracy and signed a Slave Trade Convention with Great Britain. Brazilian Ministers seem, honestly to have tried to observe their engagements, but they had against them a ring of rich and powerful Portuguese slave-traders and their own power over a loose confederation of provinces with an interminable coast line was limited and ineffectual. It must be confessed with no little shame that British mining companies in Brazil owned slaves, a fact to which the British Anti-Slavery Society drew repeated attention from 1859 until 1882, when the Final Court of Appeal granted judgment against the St. John D'el Rey Mining Company, and declared the slaves free after the Superintendent of the Company had been dismissed from the British Vice-Consulship which he held! The total abolition of slavery in Brazil took place in 1888, and for this no small credit was due to the Brazilian Anti-Slavery leader, Senator Nabuco.

Holland, as an important Colonial Power, was concerned in the slavery question. In 1854 her Government set up a Royal Commission on slavery in the Dutch Colonies, one of the Commissioners being a corresponding member of the British Anti-Slavery Society. In the following year the Society sent a deputation to Holland. British subjects were not guiltless, and in 1860 Lord John Russell instructed our Consul in Surinam to warn British subjects that the British Government intended to enforce the law against the Slave Trade. Victory was won in 1862 when Holland decreed total Emancipation to take place in her West Indian Colonies on July 1, 1863.

Scandinavian countries have always led the way in good works, so it is not surprising to find that Sweden, which had been one of the first to abolish the Slave Trade, abolished slave-owning in 1847, and that Denmark followed suit in all her Colonies in 1848. Russia has never been a Colonial Power, but it is interesting to note that the British Anti-Slavery Society addressed the Czar on the subject of serfdom in 1858 and that the serfs were emancipated in 1861. In 1873 Russia abolished slavery unconditionally in Khiva.

Germany did not enter the field as a Colonial Power until slave-trading and slave-owning had ceased to be reputable institutions. In 1871 the British Anti-Slavery Society corresponded with friends in Germany with the purpose of urging their co-operation with England in suppressing the East African Slave Trade, and twenty years later, a deputation from the Society on the same subject was sympathetically received by the Emperor William II at Buckingham Palace. During the same year the Slave Trade in Togoland was debated in the German Reichstag, but the Government denied the allegations made and stated that the domestic slavery which existed was not of a burdensome character and moreover formed the economic basis upon which the country was founded.

Turkey, Egypt and the Sudan require a volume to themselves, but can only be treated briefly. The refusal of Beaconsfield and Salisbury to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Congress of Berlin in 1878 was bitterly regretted by the Anti-Slavery Society's supporters, whose Journal for August, 1878, remarked that: While England has taken on herself the most formidable responsibilities to sustain the remnant of Ottoman Rule, she has left Slavery and the Slave Trade, the prolific source of its crimes, its degradations and disorders, to flourish as before, when her word would have obtained, from an approving Congress, the adoption of measures for their final extinction.

Public feeling in England was aroused. Lord Shaftesbury stated that in Turkey the slaves were bought and sold extensively by private agents, and emphasised the point that as Turkish society was constituted, slavery was 'as necessary and indispensable to the Empire, especially among the wealthier classes, as the Sultan himself,' There was much evidence as to the regular slave trade in Circassian girls, carried on 'for the benefit of the luxurious and wealthy classes,' and the kidnapping and sale of white children was not uncommon. A petition from the Society was presented to the House of Lords, deploring the abandonment at the Berlin Congress of the British policy of opposition to slavery and the Slave Trade, and praying that the Turkish flag might no longer be suffered to protect the Slave Trade in East Africa. Egypt supplied many of the slaves required for Turkey. So did Tripoli. In 1893 the Italian Anti-Slavery Society reported that Turkish vessels carried slaves surreptitiously to various ports in the Levant, the authorities providing the traders with letters of liberation to cover the deception. The attention of Lord Rosebery, then Foreign Secretary, was called to the fraud, for Turkey had been one of the Powers to sign the Brussels Act in 1890. When Cyprus, after the Congress of Berlin, became a part of the British Empire, a discussion was raised in the House of Lords by Lord Shaftesbury. The answer given was that no slavery existed in the island, and that if the law were honestly enforced in Turkey (which was admitted to be a very rare occurrence) it would not exist there either.

Slave-trading and slave-owning in Egypt and the Sudan occupied British reformers for many years. In 1867 the British and French Anti-Slavery Societies went on a deputation to Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, on the question of the White Nile Slave Trade.

In 1873, Ismail (Dr. Bernard Allen, Observer, January 22, 1933.) invited General Gordon to become Governor of the Equatorial Province (of the Sudan) in succession to Sir Samuel Baker. Gordon was attracted by the prospect of opening up these distant lands to legitimate commerce and thus striking a blow at the slave-trade, and he accepted the Khedive's offer. For three years (1874-76) he was engaged.... in one unceasing struggle with a deadly climate... and a corrupt native administration. All but one of the white colleagues whom he took with him either died or were invalided home, and he was left, practically single-handed, to carry out the arduous task of establishing a line of posts along the reaches of the Upper Nile right through to the Lakes. He succeeded and the Khedive made him Governor-General of the whole Sudan, an area of a million square miles.

For three years (1877-79) he ruled this huge province with hardly any European assistance and by a ruthless suppression of corrupt officials, strict enforcement of justice and merciless severity against the slave-dealers, inaugurated a reign of order and fair dealing that won him the affection of the people.... On one well-known occasion when some desperate slave-dealers were threatening revolt, he dashed across country on his camel, rode with the smallest of escorts into a camp where thousands of armed ruffians were assembled, and cowed them into submission by sheer force of his personality. Courage counts for much in the East, and the hold which Gordon gained over the Soudanese people was due to his daring actions as well as to his beneficent rule.

After Gordon left, the slave-dealers began again to raise their heads, and in 1881 the Mahdi's successful revolt broke out in the Sudan (at almost the same time as Arabi's revolt in Egypt). Gordon was asked by the Gladstone Ministry to undertake the perilous task of withdrawing many thousands of defeated Egyptian soldiers from the Sudan. The story of his heroic death on January 26, 1885, at Khartoum is well known. He was described by Sir Henry Jackson as 'A soldier by profession, a philanthropist by inclination, a ruler and leader of men by nature.... He aspires to govern men for their good and has uniformly and conspicuously succeeded.' He was a warm supporter of the Anti-Slavery Society, corresponded frequently when abroad and met their Committee when in England, and wrote of their work, which he liberally supported: the Anti-Slavery Society has probably done more than any one religious society in the world for the releasing of the bonds of man from the cruelty of his fellow-creatures. Unsectarian, and appealing to the sentiments of humanity in every man, no civilised being ought to exist who has not some interest in its success.

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