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Victorian Struggles page 3


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After the fall of Arabi and the occupation of the country by British forces, the British Government became virtually responsible for the government of Egypt; and to Sir Evelyn Baring (later Lord Cromer) belongs the main credit for suppressing slave-trading and slave-owning in Egypt. Thanks to his efforts the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1877 between Egypt and Great Britain ceased to be a dead letter, and in 1891 he was able to report to Parliament that it had been found an efficient instrument for the gradual suppression of slavery, and that thanks to the Slave-Trade Department under Colonel Schaefer, the trade was said to be extinct, although in 1894 he was obliged to note that continual vigilance was necessary to prevent the smuggling in of the slaves from the west and to control the shipment of slaves from the coast south of Suakin. Lord Cromer's Report for 1898 proved the success attained by his efforts. Although, despite the utmost vigilance, a few cases of slave-trading still occurred, domestic slavery in Egypt proper was rapidly disappearing and infractions of the law were reported by the people, a sure proof of the support of public opinion.

General Gordon and Lord Cromer, though their spheres and methods differed widely, were both in their different ways admirable examples of what can be accomplished by first-class administration and energy.

Among the South American countries progress was made, though it is to be feared that accomplishment often lagged behind promise. Chili decreed the Slave Trade to be piracy as early as 1841. Argentine 'constitutionally abolished' slavery in 1853, Peru decreed the 'unconditional abolition of slavery' in 1854, but she followed the bad example of Queensland in setting up a new slave trade by importing Polynesian labourers who were slaves in everything but name. After the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Societies had presented a memorial to Lord John Russell in 1864, the British and Peruvian Governments took action and the traffic was forbidden. At another period Chinese coolies were imported, as they were also into Cuba and Mexico, under conditions of appalling cruelty.

From 1883 onwards the Anti-Slavery Society was greatly concerned with the open slave traffic and barbarous treatment of slaves in Morocco. The Secretary and Treasurer of the Society visited Morocco in 1884, when the first and last Anti-Slavery meeting ever held in Morocco took place in the house of a British resident, who formed a local Committee of European sympathisers. The British Minister, Sir J. Hay Drummond, described the country as 'An Augean stable beyond his power to cleanse.' The prisons were barbarous beyond description; men, women and children were sold in the streets like brute beasts; heart-breaking scenes might be witnessed any day in the slave markets of Morocco City and Fez, and glaring cases of cruelty were of almost daily occurrence. In 1887 Mr. Donald Mackenzie, on behalf of the Society, presented to the Sultan the first Anti-Slavery Address ever received by a Sovereign of Morocco. Mr. Mackenzie reported that, although Morocco was still a stronghold of slavery, the Society's efforts had already done much by securing the closing of the slave market in port towns and by interfering to prevent many cruelties. But alas, in 1891, local reports showed that public auction sales of slaves in the seaport towns had been resumed, and in the same year Lord Salisbury, in a notable speech at Glasgow, felt himself compelled to state that 'Morocco still remains the home of the worst abuses, of the greatest cruelty, of the greatest ignorance and backwardness in all that conduces to prosperity or humanity.'

In 1898, His Majesty's Minister at Tangier wrote to the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society that there were serious difficulties in the way of proposing with any hope of success any measures likely to lead to the suppression or mitigation of slavery. (Morocco is still a field in which grave need for reform exists. - J. H.)

The Bey of Tunis abolished the Slave Trade in 1842, but this decree appears to have been ineffective until about 1877, when actual abolition was thankfully noted by the Anti-Slavery Society. A time-lag of thirty-five years between promise and performance is remarkably long, even in countries in which difficulties are great and procrastinations and delays inevitable!

Abyssinia is engaging so much attention to-day that it is interesting to find that in 1873 the Anti-Slavery Society sent an Address to Menelek, then 'King of Shoa,' asking him to stop slave caravans passing through his kingdom, and that in 1879 he sent 'the joyful message' that he had abolished the slave trade throughout the kingdom, and complained that he was excluded from all legitimate trade with other countries by the action of Egypt. 'Will you kindly raise your powerful voice,' wrote Menelek, 'in order that I may have the way opened to me, for I desire to inaugurate in my Kingdom European civilisation, intelligence and art?'

Considerable difference of opinion was felt as to the success of the Liberian experiment as a practical solution for slavery. There were those who shared the misgivings expressed many years before by Clarkson when in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison, the American Emancipator, he wrote: 'Newly emancipated slaves are not qualified to become Colonists in Africa to any good purpose. How could they civilise others, who wanted civilising themselves? The American Colonisation Society had no right to send the scum of their population to Africa.' Clarkson's misgivings have been only too amply justified.

Thus it will be seen that fifty years after British Abolition, the British Foreign Office, the Abolitionists and the Emancipators were still struggling to obtain the abolition of the Slave Trade and the liberty of the slaves in a score of countries.

It is estimated that Great Britain spent 50,000,000 between 1817 and 1875 in naval efforts to put down slave-trading. The partial success obtained by these efforts was due to the fact that slave-trading could not be suppressed so long as slave-owning was permitted to exist.

The abolition of slavery as a recognised legal status in British possessions, after the great initial step had been taken in 1833, was fairly straightforward provided that the power of the Crown could be directly exercised. Where the British Government possessed only indirect rights, as in the Indian Native States and the Protectorates of Zanzibar and Sierra Leone, reform was a slow and difficult process.

Abolition in British India was the logical sequence to the Act of 1833. In 1840 the Anti-Slavery Society was busily agitating against slavery in British India, in the following year the Society brought the question before the British electors, and in 1843 abolition took place in the whole of British India 'under the same great Viceroy, Lord William Bentinck, to whom India owes the abolition of Suttee,' and in Scinde, but in most of the Native States slavery lingered for a good many years. The enlightened attitude of the Aborigines Protection Society towards Indian questions is interesting at the present day. The Society was pressing for the employment of Indian natives in positions of trust and responsibility as early as 1851. Its Report in 1856, the year before the Mutiny, contains the following warning: 'We have sometimes felt terrified in the contemplation of the policy of aggression and conquest which we have pursued in India.... It becomes the solemn duty of every English citizen to see that the Indian subjects of Queen Victoria participate, as far as circumstances will permit, in the rights and privileges of Englishmen.' Very shortly before the Mutiny broke out public attention was drawn to the torture and oppression practised by the Indian police, to the opium monopoly and to 'the few hundreds of thousands of pounds expended per annum for education and public works, whilst they are almost perpetually draining the resources of the country in external aggressive warfare.' The Society analysed the underlying causes of the Mutiny as the poverty of the vast masses of the population, police oppression, and the fact that 'Hindoos, having grown in intelligence and formed a true estimate of their strength and our weakness, no longer regard us as invincible conquerors.'

The views of the Protestant Missionaries in India, who presented a petition to the House of Commons through the Hon. Arthur Kinnaird very shortly before the Mutiny, were identical with those of the Society. When the Mutiny was over the humane instructions of Lord Canning, Governor-General of India, regarding the treatment of Indian mutineers, aroused the fury of The Times, the Morning Post, and a large majority of the Members of the House of Commons, but the Aborigines Protection Society assured him that ' neither he nor his children will ever have reason to be ashamed of the title of "Clemency Canning."'

In Ceylon and the Straits Settlements Abolition took place, as in India, in 1843. Hong Kong followed suit in 1844 with what our predecessors described optimistically as 'complete abolition.' It is to be feared they knew little or nothing of the old-established system of Mui Tsai or child slavery which is weighing so heavily upon our consciences to-day.

Zanzibar was not recognised by France and Germany as a British Protectorate until 1890, but our influence there had been growing ever since the death of the Sultan Seyyid Said in 1856, and our responsibility for the continuance of slavery and slave-trading on a large scale had been a matter of steadily increasing concern to the Anti-Slavery movement in Great Britain. In 1870 Mr. Gilpin, M.P., obtained the appointment of a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and the following year Sir Bartle Frere was appointed by the British Government as a Special Anti-Slavery Commissioner in East Africa. He was succeeded by Sir John Kirk, and it was in his time that a young English missionary, Arthur West, bought from the Sultan of Zanzibar the slave market, giving his whole capital (of 100,000 (The Times, December 24, 1932.)) to do so. On Christmas Day, 1874, while Arthur West lay dying in Sir John Kirk's house at Zanzibar, the foundation of the present cathedral was laid on the site of the slave market.

In 1876 Sir John Kirk succeeded in getting the Sultan to promise to forbid the export of slaves, but in 1890 it was discovered that Zanzibar slaves were being enlisted under compulsion to serve in the Congo, although in that same year the Sultan had issued a decree abolishing the legal status of slavery. This decree was so manifestly a dead letter that in 1894 Mr. J. A. Pease (now Lord Gainford) raised the whole question of Abolition in the House of Commons. He was supported by Joseph Chamberlain, who denounced the Government for not taking this step, as well as for not building a railway and establishing our rule in the interior. Sir Charles Dilke opened another debate two months later, but progress was very slow. In 1895 a valuable step was taken by the Anti-Slavery Society which sent out Mr. Donald Mackenzie as a Special Commissioner to study slavery and slave-trading not only in Zanzibar but also in the Red Sea. His report was of great value, and after a petition from the Anti-Slavery Society, the Society of Friends and the Congregational Union, and several more debates in Parliament, Sir Edward Grey admitted on behalf of the Government that 'the thing had to be done,' and Sir William Harcourt added 'at the earliest possible moment.'

This long-continued pressure produced at last, in 1897, a decree signed by the Sultan of Zanzibar for the abolition of the legal status of slavery, but even after this important measure progress was exceedingly slow.

Even our own representative in Zanzibar, Sir Arthur Hardinge, aroused considerable anxiety amongst reformers in this country by his despatches defending slavery and estimating the financial loss to the revenue which he anticipated from its abolition, and still more by his appeal on behalf of the slave holders to ' English justice.'

Progress continued to be very slow up to the end of Queen Victoria's reign, but it must be remembered that the traditions and customs of Zanzibar were entirely opposed to reform, and that the lack of enlightened local public opinion made the suppression of slave-trading and slave-owning an exceptionally difficult task. That it was at last achieved was almost entirely due to pressure from this country.

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