HC Deb 04 April 1811 vol 19 cc708-11
Mr. Barham

rose to bring forward a motion upon the subject of Free Labourers for the West Indian colonies. The great object which he had in view in bringing his plan before the House was, to lay the foundation of a system which would do away the necessity of negro slavery, and totally eradicate it from the islands. He did not wish to interfere with the system at once, but to arrive at it by slow degrees, so that at last the abolition should be complete. In order to effect this, as it appeared to him, a great and desirable object, he should propose to introduce into the colonies a Supply of free Labourers, who might shew to the slaves an example of what voluntary industry could accomplish; and he was the more inclined to this, because of late years, the population had materially de- creased. The hon. gent. then read a letter, which he had received by the last packet, which stated, that the returns to the Assembly of Jamaica, on the 28th of March, 1810, were 10,000 slaves within the year, of which number, the decrease had been nearly on the average two per cent. This decrease he hoped would in future be provided for by his plans, and that a commixture of manners would produce an amelioration not only of manners, but of condition among the slaves. This he conceived he was fairly justified in supposing from the number of Europeans who would be introduced; and the introduction would have this beneficial effect, that it would keep our possessions more secure than they were at present, under the frail tenure of slaves; cultivation of the soil would be advanced, and the class of labourers he hoped to sec introduced would be drawn from the shores of Hindostan. He observed, that he had mentioned his plan to the late Mr. Windham when he was at the head of the colonial department, and that gent. had approved of it, and urged him to persevere. He now was urged to bring it forward, from the recollection that Batavia would produce many of their people. Persons thus brought, with their wives and families, should be free; not slaves of necessity, but shewing an example of domestic life, such as would induce the slaves to follow the example. He calculated, that in two years after this exportation, he should be enabled to ascertain whether the plan would succeed. At least, he thought it was a fit subject for discussion in a Committee. It would require no pecuniary aid from the public; and should it be determined that this was not the proper time to adopt it, then it might be adopted when it was judged expedient. The hon. gent. concluded by moving:—"That a Committee be appointed to consider of the practicability and expediency of supplying our West India colonies with free labourers from the East, and to report their opinion thereupon."

Mr. Browne

said, that he did not rise to oppose the motion of the hon. gent., for whom, indeed, he entertained such a respect, as would induce him to further rather than to retard any object which he might have in view. He declared, however, that, with the most sincere wishes for the amelioration of the state of the slaves in the West Indies, he could not avoid thinking the plan proposed by the hon. gent. a visionary scheme; difficult in the execution, and of very doubtful advantage. Still he was desirous that it should undergo investigation; and the principal purpose for which Re rose, was to impress upon the House the importance of not coming to a final determination on the subject, until those had been consulted whose interests were so materially at stake. He said this, because he knew that the project of the hon. gent. would be received favourably by the House; and because he was apprehensive, that in the ardour of their feelings they might neglect what would perhaps appear to them minor considerations. He entreated them, therefore, to look at the subject in all its bearings; to look at it with a view to the nature of the advantages proposed by the plan—to the practicability of the plan—and above all, to the danger which might result, in the event of a failure, from the introduction of a vast additional population into the West Indies.

Mr. Wilberforce

, after observing that a proposition could come from no quarter more deserving of attention, stated that he would not oppose the motion. But it would not be understood, that the House consented to enter into the inquiry upon an admission of the principles relied on by the hon. gent. who proposed the plan. It might, however, be suggested, that nothing was more dangerous than that a community should be formed wholly of two classes, the high and the low, and that it might be beneficial to establish an intermediate rank. So far the plan appeared at first sight well worthy of attention. Without, therefore, pledging themselves to any particular line of proceeding, the House would enter upon the investigation with the most sincere desire to discover the truth.

Mr. Stephen

admitted, that no one could be more entitled to every deference than the hon. gent. who brought forward this plan, and had so disinterestedly supported the sacred cause with which it had some connection. But he must declare his utter despair of any good resulting from, it. His reasons were these: while slavery-existed in the West Indies, it was impossible that free labour could succeed in competition with it. To prove this, he adverted to the failure of the scheme by which Chinese had been imported into, Trinidad. Notwithstanding their industry in their own country—though, they were not accompanied by wives or children, a negro did as much in a week as one of them in a month. Yet his hon. friend proposed that they should be carried to the West Indies with their wives and children. Another reason was, that he had always thought, and still maintained, that the negro population of the West Indies, would, with good treatment, support itself. This had been proved by the best evidence of which the subject was susceptible. He admitted, that this might not-succeed where there was a great disproportion between the numbers of each sex, but the evil would not be cured by his hon. friend's plan, unless he proposed to import females only. The colonial legislatures had not as yet acted upon the abolition as a permanent system. They had passed no acts to attach the negroes to the soil they cultivated, nor adopted any other measures to keep up their numbers. They perhaps never would, if they were permitted to look to a resource of this kind. It would, besides, be unjust to bring the Chinese into a situation, of the nature of which they were not aware. They would in the West Indies be considered as mulattoes, a degraded class, excluded from even the meanest offices of government. But though he expected no good from this inquiry, he would not oppose the motion.

Mr. Huskisson

expressed his strong detestation of the abominable traffic in human beings, and declared that he should concur in the appointment of the Committee, although he had several doubts, similar to those stated by the hon. gent. who had just spoken, as to the probable result of the investigation.

Mr. Hibbert

defended the Colonial Assemblies from the charges which had been preferred against them. He supported the proposition of his hon. friend.

The motion was then agreed to; and a Committee was appointed.