§ Mr. Denman,
in bringing before the House the motion of which he had given notice on the first day of the present session, begged to premise, that, although the papers upon which that motion was founded, had been ordered on the 1st day of March last year, yet they had not been bid upon the table until a late period of the session, and that he had not had an opportunity of reading them, until some time in the recess. He was well aware how extremely difficult it was to arrest the attention of the House at the present moment of danger and alarm, unless upon some question connected with commercial distress, or the state of the currency; but yet he thought, that the subject to which he was about to implore their consideration, was one in which they could do more good than they had been able to effect in all the protracted discussions 1008 upon that truly important, but, unfortunately, ill-understood, matter of inquiry. For as, in the one case, it was difficult to trace the causes of the evils which alt felt and acknowledged, and still more difficult to apply a remedy to misfortunes which each succeeding discussion seemed to prove more and more beyond their reach or control; so, in the other, he would be able to show, that they themselves had been the cause of the commission of great crimes, for which they were deeply responsible, and to which it was in their power to apply an instantaneous and effectual remedy. In the one case, they were engaged, night after night, in discussions, which, from their ignorance of the disease or the remedy, could hardly turn to any practical benefit; while, in the other, they could immediately make themselves acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, and see that it was in their power to make that knowledge a means of preventing the further commission of deeds disgraceful to the character of the country. This much he would say, that if they did not look upon the case he would submit to them as deeply worthy of their attention, they would prove themselves unfaithful representatives of the people of England, who, in spite of all their distresses and difficulties, he rejoiced to say, had never for one moment lost sight of their suffering fellow-creatures on the other side of the Atlantic, or ceased to feel, with a truly Christian spirit, the horrible state of oppression to which they were subjected.
Considering, then, that judicial oppression was the hardest of all evils to bear by civilized man, and that it bad, in the case to which he was about to allude, reached the highest pinnacle of its power—a height, indeed, far beyond any thing they could possibly conceive—he would briefly state the circumstances, which, he hoped, would convince the House of the propriety of their expressing a strong opinion upon the conduct of those who were invested with the power of administering justice to their fellow-creatures. The transactions to which he alluded, occured in Kingston, Jamaica, in December, 1823. He begged to observe in the outset, that what he had to state was wholly contained in the documents laid upon the table by the authority of the House; a course to which he was restricted from his not possessing any other source of information, and which he indeed could not 1009 regret, as he felt convinced he should be able to furnish from them more than sufficient grounds for the prompt interference of parliament. It appeared, that the idea of insurrection, which caused the execution of a certain number of negroes, had its origin in the conversation of an inhabitant of the parish of St. Mary's, in the island of Jamaica, with his negroe boy, on the 16th of December, 1823. That person, named Roberts, a butcher, having occasion to chide his boy for neglecting his person and apparel, received some answers, in exculpation of his negligence, which caused the trial of eight persons, for a pretended conspiracy, in three days after; and a sentence that they should be hanged by the neck till they were dead, to be actually executed on these unhappy men in four days after their condemnation. Every one of them, in that sad moment, denied most strenuously their guilt; and refused, one and all, even on the scaffold, to purchase their safety by any confession which would have involved any others in the alleged crime for which they were about to surfer. The mode in which the conspiracy was said to be discovered, was this—"On Monday, the 16th December, the butcher, Roberts, scolded his negroe Boy, William Stirling, for not getting his frocks, and asked him how he would appear to follow him about at Christmas? William said, 'Massa, you will have bad Christmas.' Witness said, for what? are the negroes a going to rise? He said, yes, his father told him so. Witness asked him if he had seen the negroes meeting; he said, yes, two times; but that his father told him more than he knew at the meeting. Witness asked him if any of his negroes were among them; he said, he believed George was. Witness asked, if any more Bay negroes; he said, yes, Mr. Walker's Ned and Douglas. Witness asked, if he thought they were going to kill all the Buckrahs (Whites); said, his father told him so. Witness then asked him what he must do; should he go to Kingston or Spanish-town? He answered, no; negroes would walk all about the country. Witness asked, if he should pack up his books and go to the fort, or Mr. Beard's, would he be safe? He said, no; negroes would walk all about, and Wentworth negroes Would rise the same as Frontier. Witness asked if they would kill every body? He answered, yes, every body; and advised witness and captain Barton to go on board of ship, and take him with them; would 1010 not be safe any where else;"—So they would find, that the whole charge rested upon the evidence, scarcely supported in any one instance, by a boy who had trumped up a story to save himself from correction. They would even see that the master had led the way in every question, and had actually put into the boy's mouth what he should say; and that he did say all this on the leading of the master could not be considered very extraordinary, when it presented such a good opportunity of diverting the attention of the master from the boy's negligence, to the master's personal safety. If the boy had been, in the first instance, taken before a magistrate, and examined with proper judicial inquiry, the case would have been different; but they would find, that without any step of that kind, the authorities proceeded to take precautions for their security. With any of these precautions he did not mean to find fault. If they dreaded an insurrection of the negroes, nothing was more politic than to shew, by the sight of an overwhelming force of grenadiers and of Windward Browns, and corps of light infantry, how hopeless any such attempt must prove on the part of the negroes. Nothing could be more proper if apprehension existed; but still he should have conceived it necessary to have had a solemn investigation of all the circumstances before a magistrate, and have examined the persons accused separately, so as to have seen how far their tales varied from each other, and in what circumstances the story of the boy could have been supported. The boy, when at last taken before the magistrate, repeated his childish story with an addition, very like what a boy would make who wished to have his evidence thought more impressive, that he saw them flourish cutlasses. And upon this evidence, without any other proceedings, without a previous examination of the unhappy accused before a magistrate, or any attempt to confront them with their accuser, were these individuals in three days brought to trial. Nothing was done in the way of previous examination to avert the possibility of falsehood, or save the authorities from the charge of unnecessary bloodshed. They were apprehended on the 16th, on the 19th they were brought to trial. The boy, upon being examined off the trial, repeated the story he had told his master, adding some circumstances for the purpose of confirming and explaining that which 1011 was before only general. It appeared by the papers he had alluded to, that the boy stated, that "his father, James Sterling, told him that the negroes were going to rise, and that he, witness, must keep himself away or he would get hurted; and he advised his master to go on board of a ship. His master asked him if he went to the fort, or to Mr. Beard's, would he be safe? Witness said no, that he must go on board a ship, as the negroes were going to rise, and walk all about, and murder every body. After his father had told him this, he went to Frontier to see him there; saw the prisoner and other negroes; they were talking, but he did not hear what they said; some of them were flourishing cutlasses, as if they would cut off some person's head; he, witness, was then near them (about three yards); there were a number of men, and some women among them; saw Ned and Douglas there. Another evening, going to his father, he saw them again; they were flourishing cutlasses, and said they would go on Port Maria Bay at Christmas fall; he did not see prisoner that night" Although there were many other individuals mentioned who might have been examined, and who could have vouched for it if it was true, only one was brought before the magistrates, who on the 16th of December instituted the preliminary inquiry. This witness was Ned, the slave mentioned by the boy, and he finding that he would be implicated in the accusation made by the boy if he should attempt to contradict it, confirmed the statement as to the meeting of the slaves. Being examined he deposed—"That he was present at a meeting about ten days ago, held at the bridge near Frontier estate, and heard a consultation respecting which way they were to act; that they intended to have risen at Christmas fall, but in consequence of the appointment of guards, they changed the day for the day after the full of the moon, Thursday night next, the 18th instant, when they thought it would be full. That the intention was then to burn the trash house and works at Frontier estate, and when the white people came to quench it, they would then destroy them; after which they were to begin at the top (the east) of the bay, and set fire to the buildings, when a general massacre was to take place: that it was to be general throughout the parish at the same time, and that the negroes before mentioned, belonging to Frontier estate, 1012 were the most prominent persons that he knew of at the meetings."
On the evidence of these two young boys, eight individuals were deprived of life. The boy Douglas appeared to have been disposed of in a most extraordinary manner. He had a right to infer, that he had been put on board ship only because it had been discovered that he could give no evidence which could implicate any individual. The accused persons were all tried on the 19th of December. First came Charles Brown. It was not unimportant to remark, that this individual had been an overseer, and had conducted himself with great severity to the slaves, particularly the women. If, therefore, any individual was wanted to fill up the dramatis personas of the plot, this Charles Brown was the person whom the intemperate imagination of the boys was most likely to fix upon to supply the omission. The proofs of guilt against this slave were very trifling; indeed there was little to affect him. The next persons tried were William Montgomery, and four others. The evidence against these were as slight as that given in the former case.
The next case it was impossible for any person to contemplate without a good deal of emotion. It was the case of James Sterling, the father of the boy William, who, in order to escape the punishment which he anticipated for not having done what was expected of him, had given the first information which formed the foundation of these horrid transactions. The first witness against the boy William's father was the boy Ned. He being admonished to speak the truth, said he knew the prisoner. He was not sworn to give evidence: on none of the trials were the boys sworn to give evidence. The boy William was then called to give evidence against his father. Being admonished to speak the truth, he said "he went to his father's (the prisoner's) house, who told him the negroes were going to rise, and he, witness, must take care of himself, and keep out of the way, in case he should be hurt, because they would kill every body. His master asked him if he thought the negroes would rise? He told him 'Yes.' He asked him if he thought the negroes would kill him (his master)? He said, he did not think so, but advised him to go on board the ship." His master asked him if he would not be safe if he went to the fort or to Mr. Beard's? He, witness, said no; he had better go 1013 on board of ship, as the negroes were to walk all about. Did not see his father among the negroes; when Ned was with him, there were men and women; the men had a number of cutlasses flourishing."—"The prisoner in his defence, said, he thought his son William was a runaway, and scolded him; he, prisoner, always attended his work; his master always supplied him with clothes and victuals, as he was an old man."—"The jury found him guilty, and the court passed the following sentence:—That you James Sterling, be hanged by the neck until you are dead. You will now be taken from hence to some safe and secure place of confinement, there to remain until the pleasure of the governor is known, at what time and place you are to be executed."—This sentence was subsequently carried into effect. There were these remarkable circumstances of difference between the evidence of Ned, a slave of James Walker, esq. who only speaks of having seen the negroes upon one occasion. On that occasion William was with him, and he says, that "his father was not then among the negroes." Neither upon the trial, nor on the previous examination, was William sworn; yet was the law permitted to take its course against the father, in the manner he had described.
The other case to which he intended to advert, and which every man must feel to be a most painful and distressing one, was that of Henry Nibbs, who was arraigned under the same charge, and who wa convicted on the evidence of his wife. Ann Nibbs was the first witness examined—"Ann Nibbs, a free person of colour, says she knows prisoner, who lives in Mr. White's yard; in the middle of the night of Thursday last, heard some person in prisoner's room strike a light; saw a man belonging to Frontier going into prisoner's house, and when going away, on seeing Mr. Merrilees, he appeared frightened." Another witness Mary, his wife, says—"She is a native of St. Domingo, knows prisoner, is his wife; knows Charles Watson, who belongs to Frontier, has often seen him with prisoner, who often goes to Frontier; prisoner had three guns when living at Port Maria Bay, once left one at Mahoe Bay; he brought two guns when he removed to Manning's town, and gave one to James Sterling, and one to Charles Watson." Her evidence went to state a detailed conversation, which she asserted that she over- 1014 heard; but he protested against a husband being placed at the mercy of a wife, to take advantage of every vague expression which, in the familiar intercourse between man and wife, she might hear, and put whatever construction she pleased upon it.
Thus, these eight men were tried and executed, upon charges which, he would not hesitate to say, in no satisfactory way whatever went to establish the existence of a rebellious conspiracy. Witnesses were not examined who might and ought to have been called; and, in the examination even of those who were called, many contradictions were to be found. He would, as an instance of this contradictory testimony, advert to the evidence of Mary and Ned, on the trial of James Sterling. Ned said, when he met the negroes talking bad words, he asked them if they did not hear that guard was to be kept at Christmas, the day previous to the 26th, the day said to be fixed for the breaking out of the rebellious conspiracy? Upon his suggestion they changed the day to the 18th. He said, that this conversation took place on Saturday, about eight o'clock in the evening; but this could not be: and this could not be the cause of the charge, if what Mary said was true, as she said that, on the preceding Friday, she heard that the rising would take place on Wednesday or Thursday, as the guards were fixed for Christmas. Many similar instances might be pointed out in the course of the evidence. The account of the execution was communicated in the following letter to Mr. Bullock, the duke of Manchester's secretary:—
"Industry, December 25, 1823.—Dear Sir; I have to acquaint you, for the information of his grace, that the eight negroes were executed yesterday, with all due solemnity and decorum, attended by the custos and several magistrates, four companies of St. Mary's regiment, and a troop of horse; only one of the wretches confessed to the rev. Mr. Girord, that it was their intention to have burnt Frontier works and Port Maria, and kill the whites; but none would mention any other negroes concerned with them, or shew any symptom of religion or repentance. They all declared they would die like men, and met their fate with perfect indifference, and one laughed at the clergyman, Mr. Cook, when he attempted to exhort him under the gallows. Every thing is at present perfectly tranquil; 1015 three companies are on duty in different parts of the parish.—Your's,&c. H. Cox."
In a previous letter of colonel Cox to the secretary, he states, to shew the anxiety for having the trial of these unfortunate negroes expedited, "I thought it my duty to insist on the magistrates trying the negroes that had been taken immediately, and to send their trial and sentence, by express, as it will, in my opinion, be highly important for the safety of the parish, and probably for the island, that they should be executed before the holidays, as an example to the other negroes, and to prevent the danger of an escape, or an attempt to release them." In another part of the same letter he states, "I have issued orders to apprehend every negro against whom there is the least suspicion, and shall proceed to try all or any of them as soon as I think I have sufficient evidence to convict them," So here was a gentleman writing to the secretary, anticipating the conviction of these men on whose cases he was about to sit in the capacity of a judge. He suggests their conviction and execution, not for justice sake, not on the ground of their guilt, or any evidence preferred against them, but that their execution might be an example to the whole island. He would ask if it was on such a report as this that the governor ought to have acted, was it on such evidence as he had referred to, that the conviction of eight human beings, and their subsequent execution, should have taken place; an execution which colonel Cox states, in the letter of the 25th of December, to have been gone through "with all due solemnity and decorum?" The hon. and learned gentleman proceeded to advert to the correspondence of colonel Cox with the secretary, and felt satisfied that the House would feel how cruel was the course adopted towards these eight prisoners, who thus underwent the severest sentence of the law, without the opportunity of a full and fair investigation—without counsel—without witnesses being called, who could establish their evidence, and without the usual forms and modes of criminal justice observed in this country. It was the duty of the House to interpose, and to prevent persons in future, whether slaves or not, from falling the victims of perverted evidence, of ignorance, and of passion, which tended not less to the punishment of innocence, than to the impunity of guilt.
1016 He would now proceed to notice the, trials which had taken place in other parts of the island. There appeared to be a taste for plots in Jamaica, so numerous were the charges of conspiracy, and so slight was the foundation for them. At St. James's, a great number of negroes were convicted of conspiracy; but the duke of Manchester was so satisfied of the ridiculous nature of the charge, that he commuted the sentence of transportation for life to imprisonment for three months. The whole affair, it appeared, originated in the idle conversation of a lame boy about "king Wilberforce." The duke of Manchester declared that, after reading over the whole of the evidence, he had not been able to discover any combination amongst the negroes for any criminal purpose. The next case of alleged conspiracy occurred at St. George's. In this case a slave named Corberand, who might in some respects be compared to Titus Oates, was the principal evidence. This man was examined on the 26th of December, and stated nothing that could in any degree support a charge of conspiracy. On the 7th of January, however, another slave, named Mack, came into play, and stated various particulars. Corberand then, finding that there was a demand for a plot, came out with the following deposition, equal to any that Oates imposed upon the credulity of the English nation.
"Buff Bay, Court-house, Dec. 26, 1823," Jamaica, ss. St. George.—The examination of Jean Baptiste Corberand, of Mullett Hall plantation, sworn:—Saith, that some time before the death of Mr. M'Farlane, late overseer of Balcarras, he understood that the negroes of that property were mustering by night; and one night being in one of the negro houses, and hearing a noise, was induced to go and see what it was; that he found a large concourse of negroes in Richard Montagnac's house, which was called the Court-house, and inquiring what they were about, they asked him if he would be a clerk, and he said he would; that he thereupon asked them what were his duties, which they refused to explain to him; from thence they marched to James Thompson's house (who was called the king)in military order; escorting Dennis Kerr (who was called the governor); that Thompson then gave them all some refreshment; they were discoursing one with another; but deponent did not un- 1017 derstand what they were talking about, and after some time left them. Deponent further saith, that he went again the night after, accompanied by his brother, to James Thompson's house, and found the people mustering in the same manner as they did the night before; that they offered to make his brother second governor, which offended deponent, who thought it was not right that his younger brother should be put above him; that not being able to obtain any information from them, he did not afterwards return. Further this deponent saith not."
The House would observe, that the closing words of the deposition, which contained no matter of charge of rebellion, were—"Further the deponent sayeth not;" yet although he had closed his deposition in this way—finding there was a great demand for plots—and a great encouragement given for the supply of them, he added a great many things, which he would not otherwise have thought of. Fortunately, however, he was detected, by having endeavoured to implicate Lecesne (whose case had been already before the House) in the rebellious conspiracy, which was, however, satisfactorily refuted by the equally satisfactory circumstances of his being, for a greater portion of the time, off the island; and for the other part of the time, confined in prison, except for a very short period, during which he clearly shewed that he could have taken no part in the alleged conspiracy. A sufficient proof of the infamous character of these witnesses was to be found in the following recommendation of the secret committee of the assembly, that Charles Mack and Jean Baptists should be sent off the island as persons of too dangerous a character to remain at large in the colony. The hon. and learned gentleman proceeded to advert to the gross perjuries of Corberand, who ought to have been prosecuted and severely punished, for having deposed, on the 26th of December, that he knew nothing of a rebellious conspiracy, and afterwards having hatched a plot, with all the circumstances of unlawful oaths and murderous purposes.
The other place in which an insurrectionary spirit was said to be manifested, was the Hanover estate; and there the disturbances by no means partook of the character of a general discontent. It arose from the abridgment of a holiday which the slaves were generally permitted 1018 to enjoy. From the refusal of allowing them to enjoy this festival, a spirit of dissatisfaction arose, which it was attempted to convert into an insurrectionary movement. This occurred, however, in the month of July, long before the general spirit of rebellion was said to have broken out; and, although trials and convictions had taken place, nothing appeared to justify the suspicion that the discontent at Hanover was one that partook of the nature of a rebellion or conspiracy against the white population of the island.
He had now gone through four cases—to which he might easily add many more—shewing the very objectionable and unjust manner in which criminal justice was executed in the West Indies. In all the cases to which he had adverted, the convictions, twenty-three of which were followed by execution, were founded, almost exclusively, on the evidence of the slaves, and therefore of persons who knew not the sacred nature of an oath, and all the important obligations of justice. And this brought him to a subject which last night had occupied the attention of the House; namely the admissibility of the evidence of slaves in courts of justice. A motion upon that subject had been brought forward in the House of Assembly, and rejected by a large majority; and the manner in which it was discussed, and the very large majority that divided against it, satisfied him that the discussion was entertained, but with no very great likelihood of a different conclusion being, at any near period of time, adopted. The motion was introduced by Mr. Stuart, the Custos of Trelawney, who certainly stated a very strong case in favour of it. Among other cases which he stated, was the very distressing and inhuman one of a female slave, whose head was twisted off, and a conviction and subsequent punishment did not take place—not because there was any doubt that the atrocious deed had been done, but because, although several persons had seen it, yet the evidence of those persons was not legal. He also stated another case of a very atrocious nature. It was that of a female who was locked up in a room, and who was most cruelly branded and disfigured with a marking-iron, used for branding sheep and cattle. This person, would have escaped with impunity, had it not been for the accidental circumstance of a young man of colour, who saw the 1019 smoke issuing from the window, and who Saw the cruel act perpetrated through a crevice in the wall. He was in this manner detected, convicted, and punished. Another case was mentioned in the course of the same discussion by Mr. Mais. He poke as follows:—"There is one instance which, because of recent occurrence, I must take leave to mention. It is the case of a female slave, who, on her return home, was met by a free man of colour, who had been out shooting. A little dog, which accompanied her, barked, and probably might have snapped at the man. This irritated him, and he threatened to shoot the dog; the woman, alarmed for his safety, called out, 'Oh! don't shoot him; don't shoot my dog'; upon which the man turned angrily upon her, and said, 'Not shoot him? I'll shoot you if you say much,' and with little ceremony, lodged the contents of his piece in her side. This was in the face of day, in the presence of many persons, but who, being slaves, were not qualified to give testimony on the occasion. This was a damning fact, and yet the offender escaped. Shall it be said, then, that such a provision as is now sought for is not necessary?"
There was, he admitted, much weight in the objections which were urged against the measure. It was argued, and he felt the force of the argument, that there were persons in this, the mother country, who were as insensible to the obligations of an oath as the slaves in the West Indies. This might be true to a certain extent; but the forms of Christianity, the religious education, and the moral habits of the people here, independent of their free condition, operated as a check and a restraint against so great a prevalence of perjury. It was, he was aware, very difficult to say in what cases, and under what circumstances, slave evidence ought to be admitted. The right hon. Secretary (Mr. Canning) had pointed out in a speech attributed to him, the requisite qualifications for the admissibility of slave evidence. He first proposes that the slave should be convinced of the truth of Christianity—that he should have a fellow-feeling for his brother-man—and that he should be, in various other ways, duly qualified to have his evidence received, in cases affecting white-persons. To him (Mr. D.) the strongest argument in favour of the admissibility of that evidence, was, that a greater security would be given to the property and persons of the White 1020 population, from a greater Inducement being thereby given to the majority to observe peace and order, which would be effected by this approach to the level of their own condition. At the same time that great difficulty presented itself, he thought the whole secret was developed in the sentiments delivered by Mr. Hislop, who, at the same time that he expressed himself in some parts of his speech favourable to the admission of those rights to which a progressive improvement would entitle them, yet put this very striking case, namely, what was to be expected from persons, who, as soon as they have given evidence in a court of justice on the life of a fellow-creature—as soon as they came out of the courthouse—might be sent to the work-house at the caprice of their master to receive a flogging? Between these two extremes, how was it expected they would act? The moral influence, which would induce them to speak the truth would be quite neutralized and overcome by the terror which they would feel themselves under. Bodily fear would predominate over a sense of mental propriety and duty and, as long as the slave was placed in a relation which filled his mind with fear, it was in vain to expect from him a free, impartial and uninfluenced disclosure of all he knew. A human being in that situation might be said, in a manner, to be ready to depose or declare any thing—to be a victim of terror, and to surrender his faculties altogether to the guidance and regulation of his master. It was upon such evidence that the persons whose cases he had cited had been condemned. Under such circumstances, he might be asked, what was his remedy? He was free to confess he knew but of one—one just in principle, effective in practice, and simple in operation—the extinction of slavery [hear, hear!] There could be no other remedy. It might be that this could not be effected immediately, that it should be brought about gradually, and that religious instruction should prepare the way for the emancipation of the negroes. Persons had gone to them to diffuse this religious instruction, and he hoped it would have all the beneficial effect that was expected and intended to flow from it. But the extinction of slavery must be the object-at which they must arrive, before they could hope to place the white population in that state of security, and the negro 1021 population in that state of comfort, which the interests and the happiness of both required. But how could the christian religion be taught to these blacks by their owners, with any degree of consistency, or with any prospect of success? Would not the slave naturally say to his instructor, "you tell me that God is no respecter of persons; that he is equally the Creator of us all; and that we are equally inheritors of eternal life; you teach me that the great injunction of Christ to his followers, is, 'do unto others as you would be done by;' I suspect your whole system; for, in spite of all this doctrine, precept and exhortation, you call me your slave, and tell me that you own me as your property." Could Christianity make any progress when taught by such instructors, and under such circumstances? It was utterly false that these unfortunate beings were indifferent to religion: they died full of repentance for their own sins, and imploring the mercy of their God. Such men must reject the whole fabric of Christianity, on account of those by whom it was taught to them, they must say, "our masters are by their own religion so condemned and denounced, that it is a moral degradation to hold any communion with them."
These were the circumstances under which he had felt it to be his duty to bring this subject before the House. When he spoke of the abolition of slavery, he trusted that the House would not imagine that he was the advocate of hasty measures; but he thought his majesty's ministers should always bear in mind, that the abolition of slavery was the goal; that, considering the interests of individuals, this object should be made the ground of their measures. It was of the highest importance that the people of England should be fully informed of what was passing in their colonies; and this was one of his motives for bringing this subject forward. He would now move,
"That this House, having taken into their consideration the accounts laid before them of the judicial proceedings in Jamaica on the trials of slaves for rebellious conspiracy and other offences, in the years 1823 and 1824, deem it their duty to express, in the strongest terms, the sorrow and indignation with which they contemplate the perversions of law, and violations of justice, displayed in those trials; they deeply lament the precipitation with which sentence of death, wholly 1022 unwarranted by proof, was in several instances carried into execution, and they cannot refrain from declaring their conviction of the necessity of an immediate and effectual reform in the administration of criminal justice affecting slaves in that island."
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, that the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down, had concluded his speech with observations which, though they very naturally grew out of the subject, were not, however, necessarily connected with the question more immediately under consideration. Though he did not feel himself called upon to follow the hon. and learned gentleman in these observations, he trusted that neither he nor the House would, on that account, conclude that he felt less interested in the subject, or was less anxious to see the intentions of government and of the House carried into effect, for the amelioration of the condition of slaves, and the final extinction of slavery itself. Though fully prepared to concur with him in all he had said with respect to the great evils inseparable from slavery, and the only effectual cure for those evils, he would not detain the House by entering into these questions. He must, however, guard the House against the impression which might be produced by some observations which had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman; particularly that in which it was asserted, that the law had been corruptly violated. He would undertake to convince the House, by a plain statement of facts, that the duke of Manchester and the public authorities must have felt convinced, by what had occurred among the slaves in the northern districts of Jamaica, that rebellious intentions existed among them. The proof that such was the impression on the mind of the duke of Manchester, was to be found in the demands he made for additional troops, and his preparations to meet the danger which circumstances induced him to believe threatened the island. It must be recollected that he, as governor, was intrusted with the protection and super intendance of a place peculiarly situated, where the disproportion was so great between the whites and the slave population, and where, of course, the apprehension of any rebellious or insurrectionary movement ought to have inspired the greatest caution. There was every reason to believe that the slaves, in the northern parts of the island, had been influenced in their 1023 conduct by an idea, that the intentions of government in their favour were frustrated by the unwillingness of their owners to comply with instructions supposed to have been sent out. He was prepared to maintain, in opposition to what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman, that in St. George's and St. Mary's there were indications among the slaves of a rebellious conspiracy. In St. George's, the confessions of the slave, Black Jack, who could have had no motive for asserting falsehooods, would be sufficient to satisfy any unprejudiced mind, that designs of a dangerous nature were in contemplation. This slave, it should be remembered, could expect nothing from any discoveries he might make; for he could not, at the time, entertain the least hope of freedom. At a later period, there was evidence of rebellion among the negroes of Mr. Vanborough. Now with respect to St. Mary's he would ask the hon. and learned gentleman, whether there was any thing irregular in the proceedings there? Was he aware of the state of the law? And, however desirable an alteration in that law might be, however severe it was, however greatly to be lamented, the state of things under which it could for a moment be judged necessary, still, if the proceedings which had taken place, were conformable to it, were they now to censure those, who, having no other rule to guide them in their legal decisions, felt themselves under the necessity of acting upon its provisions? He did not stand up as the advocate of that law. He did not mean to defend the justice or wisdom of it. That was another question. What they had to decide upon was the conduct of those who acted under it. However desirable an alteration might be, if it existed at the time those trials took place, the conduct of the court could not, with any thing like justice or fairness, be attacked, however deserving the law itself might be of reprobation. These were some of its enactments. The forty-sixth section provided "That if any slave or slaves shall, after the commencement of this act, enter into or be concerned in any rebellion or rebellious conspiracy, or commit any murder, felony, burglary, robbery, or set fire to any houses, out-houses, negro-houses, cane-pieces, grass or corn pieces, or break into such houses, out-houses, or negro-houses, in the day time, no person being therein, and steal there out, or compass or imagine the death 1024 of any white person, and declare the same by some overt act, or commit any other crime which would subject white persons or persons of free condition to be indicted for felony, such slave or slaves shall for every such offence or offences, upon trial and conviction thereof in manner hereinafter mentioned, suffer death, transportation, or such other punishment as the court shall think proper to direct, according to the nature and extent of the offence."—By the forty-eighth section, it was enacted, "That if any slave or slaves shall hereafter be found to have in his, her, or their custody or possession any fire arms, pikes, sabres, swords, cutlasses, lances, gunpowder, slugs, or ball, without the knowledge of his, her or their overseer, such slave or slaves shall be taken before two magistrates, who shall, if they are of opinion that the same was with evil intent, commit such slave or slaves to the gaol, to be tried by a slave court, as hereinafter directed; and, upon conviction, the said slave or slaves shall suffer death, transportation, or such other punishment as the court shall think proper to direct."
The hon. and learned gentleman, in the course of his speech, had said, that no act had been proved, on the trials, which subjected any of these unfortunate slaves to the penalty of death. Now, was it not proved by the woman, Mary, that she saw a slave with a gun and bayonet in his possession, and also some powder and ball? The powder and ball were found by the officer who searched the place where she said they were concealed in a basket. Here was an act, which, by the law, subjected the person so offending to the punishment of death. If such was the case, it was surely the law they had to blame, and not the persons whose business it was to administer it.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
proceeded.—The last clause of the act was still more severe and sweeping than any to which he had yet referred; for it provided that, "whereas it is necessary to prevent the secret meetings of slaves, and their administering of oaths at such meetings, by drinking of rum mixed with gunpowder, &c. Be it further enacted, that all persons found guilty of the same shall suffer death or transportation for life, as the court may direct."—As a commentary on what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman with respect to the evils inseparable from slavery, he might say that the act, 1025 the provisions of which appeared so severe, was actually an amendment of another act, passed in the year 1750. Laws of this kind were a dreadful proof of the stale society must assume in those countries where slavery existed; of the terrors it must naturally excite in the minds of the ruling, but the far less numerous, portion of the population, and the necessity they consider themselves under of guarding against the dangers of insurrection, by excessive severity of the laws. An individual who belonged to the office with which he was connected, and who was, he believed, as meritorious a public officer as lived, Mr. Stephen, the son of the master in chancery, in a commentary on the act of 1817, observed, that it contained many beneficial clauses for the slaves. If, therefore, however severe it might appear in its enactments, it had not been agreed to by that House, the act of 1750 must still have remained in force, and the slaves would be deprived of the advantages of these clauses.
The hon. and learned gentleman said, that not one of those who suffered acknowledged the justice of the sentence, or made any confession of guilt. Now, he begged to refer him to page 44, where Mr. Cox states, that "one of the wretches confessed to the rev. Mr. Girod, that it was their intention to have burnt Frontier Works and Port Maria, and killed the whites." The hon. and learned gentleman endeavoured to hold up Mr. Cox as a person divested of all sense of humanity, and disposed to treat the negroes with the utmost severity. He believed there was not in the island a more worthy, estimable, or humane man than Mr. Cox. It so happened, that this very gentleman was the person who proposed the clause for depriving the slave court of the power of passing sentence of death, and ordering the slave for immediate execution. Had it not been for him, the magistrates would have the power of directing immediate punishment, without any reference to the executive. With respect to his letter, dated December 25,1823, he saw nothing in it to condemn—nothing exceptionable, except the use of the word "wretches," which no doubt was inadvertently used, and was perhaps in some measure excusable, considering the circumstances under which it was written. A more benevolent or humane man did not exist, or one who entertained more kind feelings towards the slaves than Mr. Cox. This 1026 praise he did not bestow lightly or inadvertently. He had the very best authority for entertaining that opinion of him. If Mr. Cox had reason to be convinced that the slaves on his estate had entered into a conspiracy to burn and destroy his property—to take away the life of himself, his wife, and his family, at the very moment when they were receiving at his hands the most kind treatment—it was not greatly to be wondered at, that he should have felt somewhat irritated, and under the influence of such feelings, made use of language which, in his cooler moments, he would not have employed. The good he had done should not be entirely neutralized by the use of that single word, "wretches."
The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that the trials at St. Mary's were got up entirely upon the evidence of a boy named William, who had been scolded by his master. It was impossible that such an hypothesis as this could be, for a moment, sustained by any person who had read the whole of the evidence with attention. The boy, on his first examination, named his father as one of the conspirators; but denied after that his father had been concerned. He did not mean to defend that state of the law which admitted of the evidence given; but if the law of the island was such, however desirable improvement might be, could they with justice cast blame on those who acted under it, who had no other rule of conduct, and who, from the nature of the circumstances, were placed under the painful necessity of taking measures to put down the danger which they apprehended, and which indeed had been proved to exist? To account for the conduct and feelings of the colonists, gentlemen must go back to the period when the slave population was very different, in every respect, to what it was at present. Indeed, there was nothing which appeared to him so extraordinary in the whole conduct of the planters, as their not perceiving, the change which had within some years taken place in the situation of the slave, their not perceiving that circumstances were now very different from those of the time when large numbers of the population of Africa were, every year, dragged from their homes, landed on the West-India islands, after all the miseries of a voyage which must naturally have filled them with thoughts of vengeance, at 1027 immediately placed under a system of restraint, from which they must have naturally been eager to free themselves. Compared to these the slave population of the present day were humanized and intelligent, and required a different sort of management. The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that manumission and money were the rewards held out to the witnesses for conviction. Upon this he had only to observe, that it was expressly denied by the duke of Manchester. The hon. and learned gentleman referred to the debates which took place in the assembly of Jamaica, in which some of the members spoke of the utter in competency of the slaves to appear as witnesses, from a total ignorance of the nature of moral restraint, and the solemn obligation of an oath. It was with a view to their moral and religious improvement that a special provision had been inserted in the order in council, containing a restriction as to the time, and specifying certain conditions, on which only the evidence of the slave could be admissible against a white man.
With respect to the practical part of this important question, the hon. and learned gentleman must be aware, that there was at present a legal commission in Jamaica, one of whose instructions it was, to direct their attention to this subject. The distinction he had been anxious to draw was, between that state of the law which was practically objectionable, and the conduct of those whose duty it was to apply the law to such cases as might come before them. Before they condemned they must look at the animus of the parties. Now, was the House to believe, could any person acquainted with human nature suppose for a moment, that Mr. Cox would sacrifice his slaves, destroy his own property, merely for the purpose of gratifying some angry feelings? It appeared utterly improbable that any man in his senses could act in such a manner. He felt persuaded that Mr. Cox knew the evidence was sufficient to produce conviction; that he was thoroughly persuaded of the guilt of the parties, and that feeling that, he communicated his apprehensions to the duke of Manchester. But, what was the situation of the duke of Manchester himself? He had information from a hundred various sources of the state of feeling among the slaves, and of the apprehensions entertained that a conspiracy was in progress. But, said 1028 the hon. and learned gentleman, even admitting all this, the proceedings were too summary. What better course could have been pursued, at such a crisis, than by a timely act of severity to prevent further mischief? What motive could Mr. Cox have for the conduct he pursued, but to do the best he could for the safety of himself and those similarly circumstanced?
With respect to the trials at St. Mary's, and the force of the evidence given upon the occasion, every person who had ever attended a trial must admit, that the jury were influenced by many circumstances which it was utterly impossible to put upon paper; the countenance, for example, of the witness, the tone and manner in which he answered some questions. With all these circumstances it was impossible that those who merely saw the account in a printed form could be acquainted. In addition to this, the duke of Manchester said, that the trials were most scandalously reported, and that throughout, there was the greatest incorrectness. These observations he threw out, just to remind the House, that the evidence which they had an opportunity of consulting was not that on which the court and the jury decided. The blame of introducing the evidence of negroes was to be visited on the law, and not upon those whose duty it was to administer it.
With respect to the trials at St. George's, the confession of Jack was quite sufficient to shew what the intentions of the negroes were. He said, that bad usage had driven him to his crown; that James Manhertz brought up thirty-six guns, in three turns, each turn he had two mules, on each mule six guns. Corberand then brought up a keg of powder, and carried it to Oliver's house. Oliver then said, it would not do to hide the kegs and powder in Balcarres. He would hide the guns, but Corberand must carry the powder to Mullet-hall, and there hide it. Jack here invoked the Almighty, and the Bible. Oliver, Corberand, and John Braeme, resolved on hiding, and that nobody else should know, lest, if they quarrelled, they might tell. The ensuing Saturday was appointed to hide the guns and powder. Then they hid the guns at Balcarres, and powder at Mullet-hall. Corberand told the negroes at Balcarres, before the guns were hid, "that the reason why the English negroes never succeeded in their revolt was, because they had not the heart 1029 same as French negroes. When the French negroes fought, they did not mind being killed. They were killed plenty, and they killed buckras." Here was quite sufficient to show that such acts had been committed as, under the existing state of the law, were punishable with death. It had been observed, that the rebellion which broke out in July, was not proof that it was not contemplated in December. It was, however, a strong circumstance to shew that such feelings were about the time, prevalent in the minds of the negroes.
The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that with respect to what took place at Hanover, the slaves were driven to it by ill usage, having been deprived of a day, on which they had been in the habit of being freed from labour. He did not mean to contend that this was a judicious act; but at Golden Grove and Alexandria the slaves made common cause with the others. The conclusion naturally to be drawn was, that their conduct arose from an impression produced on their minds, that they had been ill-treated, and that injustice had been done them. For these evils, which every person must lament, there was no cure but the progressive improvement of the slaves. In proportion as that advanced; in proportion as their faculties were improved, and they came to know their true interests, and the views that were entertained with respect to them, in the same proportion would the apprehensions of their owners be diminished, and the slaves themselves be placed beyond the reach of being influenced in their conduct by groundless motives. There never was a system of slavery in which calamitous differences must not, of necessity, occasionally arise between the master and the slave.
He must oppose the resolution, because he conceived that consequences might follow from it immeasurably more mischievous than any which could be produced by what had occurred, in which, be it recollected, no law had been violated. The duke of Manchester was prevented from interfering, not from want of sympathy with the slave; but, in the responsible, and delicate situation which he filled, intrusted with the government of the island, he felt that some example was necessary; and that, by a timely act of severity, scenes of robbery and bloodshed might be prevented. In his opinion, under all the circumstances, the wisest 1030 course would be, to avoid every thing which could at all tend to stir up feelings of animosity on both sides, and to excite such exasperation as might eventually prove injurious to the slaves themselves. The House should consider whether, if substantial justice had been done, the examples made were not calculated, however the necessity might be deplored, to prevent the most serious calamities. Even in this country, where the state of society was different, he would ask, whether it did not sometimes happen that men were punished with the utmost rigour of the law, for crimes which, under different circumstances, a lesser punishment would be deemed sufficient. The duke of Manchester acted on a similar principle. The object was, by striking a salutary terror, before the mischief had got head, to prevent the calamitous consequences that might have followed. With respect to the proceedings at St. Mary's, his hon. and learned friend the Attorney-general, was, more competent than himself to answer the hon. and learned gentleman, and therefore he should leave that part of the subject to him. The case of St. George's was quite analogous to that of Hanover. With respect to the contradictions of Corberand, they were not sufficient to show that he did not speak truth in the first instance; but at all events, the question was whether the jury believed him or not. In the three cases he endeavoured to show that rebellious proceedings had taken place; that whatever the state of the law might be, it was strictly followed; and that the punishment took place in conformity to its enactments. These were the grounds on which he maintained that the motion ought not to be agreed to. It had been said, that this was all idle panic, and that there was no occasion to take such severe and sudden steps for putting down the insurrection. Gentlemen were not, perhaps, fully aware of the extent of the horrors excited in the minds of the white population, when an event of this nature was apprehended, and the dreadful consequences that must follow from an attempt of the kind, in which the actors were slaves whose minds were prepared for committing, without remorse or pity, the most frightful outrages. He would not attempt to draw the picture. No language that he could use would be sufficiently strong; but he would quote a passage from a writer who described the re- 1031 sults of such an insurrection in words sufficient to strike terror into the most resolute mind: "It is, indeed, no common fate to which the European settlements in the Charibean Sea will be left. Hordes of blood-thirsty savages, intimately acquainted with every corner of the planter's house, every retreat into which his family may be driven, every crevice in the whole country, mad with unnatural rage against all that deviates from the sable hue of their own ferocious brethren; pouring over every spot where European life exists; scattering on all sides, not destruction, for that would be mildness, but every exquisite form of ingenious torment, only stopping in moments of satiety to lay aside the sword for the torch, and in the intervals of mercy alone exchanging torture for murder: marching against the parent with the transfixed body of his butchered infant as a standard; sacrificing the weaker sex to their brutal lust, amidst the expiring bodies of husbands and kinsmen; and enacting other deeds of such complicated horror, that it is not permitted to the pen of a European to describe or to name them. These are a few features of the picture which wretched eye-witnesses have given us of negro warfare."*
This picture was true in former times, but he did not mean to assert that it was so now. He merely cited it to show the nature of those consequences which tended to justify; in some measure, the alarm felt by the white population, when any thing like rebellion showed itself among the slaves. It was only in their own mental improvement that the slaves could look for an effectual amelioration of their condition. Such being his sentiments, he would propose the following amendment:—
"That this House sees in the proceedings which have been brought under its consideration, with respect to the late Trials of Slaves in Jamaica, further proof of the evils inseparably attendant upon a state of Slavery, and derives there from increased conviction of the propriety of the Resolutions passed by this House on the 15th of May, 1823—But, that however desirable it is that the law under which the late Trials took place, should be amended, it does not appear to this House to be expedient or safe to impeach sentences passed by a competent tribunal*Brougham's Colonial Policy, v. 2. p. 308.1032 upon persons brought to trial according to law, and convicted by a Jury duly impanelled, and sworn to give a verdict according to the evidence laid before them."
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
said, that honourable gentlemen on the other side had uniformly deprecated all such discussions as the present, upon the ground that they tended to keep alive all those violent and angry feelings which were said to exist in our colonies, and were described to have their origin in the agitation of the question of slave emancipation in this country. For himself, he was always infavour of those discussions, because he felt that they were productive of great benefit to the important object which he had in view. Not a meeting took place, not a discussion arose in that House on the subject, in which some advantage was not gained, some concession was not made, in favour of the negroes. Even that night, and thus early in the discussion, some important concessions were made by the hon. Secretary for the Colonies. It was not his intention to follow his hon. friend through all the mazes of his argument, but this he had admitted, that no such proceedings would be for a moment allowed in this country; and further, his admissions proved, that where slavery existed, impartial justice could not be obtained. Let the House look at the series of injustice and cruelty which had been perpetrated within the last three years. First came the trial, he might call it the murder of Mr. Smith, the Missionary; then followed the massacre, he could use no better term, of the negroes at Demerara, merely because they wished to know what was their real situation; close upon this followed the persecution of the Missionary Shrewsbury; then came the deportation of two free natives from Jamaica; next, the Berbice Papers; and last of all the proceedings at Jamaica, which occupied their attention that night. Now, he would undertake to show, from the evidence before them, that there was no plot at St. Mary's, St. James's, or St. George's. With respect to the proceedings at St. George's, there were three witnesses, Mack, Corberand, and Hypolite. One stated that the former was a great liar; his young master said, he would not believe him, and his old master said, he had a bad opinion of him. He would undertake to shew that the evidence of Corberand was altogether false and con- 1033 tradictory; and in doing so, he should confine himself entirely to the report of the proceedings before the Court. Corberand said, in page 84, "that being in one of the negro houses, and hearing a noise, he was induced to go and see what it was; that he found a large concourse of negroes in Richard Montagnae's house, which was called the Court House," &c. &c. In page 96 he said, "that he met the parties coming from Balcarres on the night of the Swear—that he met them there on purpose," &c. So that from this evidence it appeared, that Corberand, on one occasion, said, he met the parties accidentally; and, on another, he swore that he met them on purpose. Then again Corberand said, they offered to make him clerk. In page 103 he said, that, on meeting him near Montagnac's house, that person said, speaking of him, "there comes the clerk." He then described the time of the meeting, which was at variance with his former statement. He begged of the House to consider what it was this witness swore at the trial. First, he swore that he saw a negro cut his finger, but, correcting himself, he said that it was his arm; and that "he dropped the blood in a basin, to which he put a quart of rum and some gunpowder, and served it round to all of them to drink." Here the House saw this witness, who saw a magician practising his incantations, and yet he did not proceed to tell his master. Well, the magician went on, "the drink was to render them invulnerable, and a part of the mixture rubbed upon their faces was to render them invisible to the white men;" but the magician did not stop here, for it seemed that he offered to catch the musket balls in his hand. The plan at first was, to destroy the whites, and he (Corberand) heard them appointing a king, generals, governor and a mayor; this appeared in page 84. In page 89 he said, that the plot was contemplated before he knew Lecesne; they were to fight all; they never spoke how they were to fight the soldiers in this country. In page 130, he stated, that "he knew Lecesne since he was a little boy; that Lecesne was anxious that the affair should be kept secret, but did not swear him to secrecy." And yet in another place he said, so little did Lecesne care for secrecy, that he was seen marching openly with music at the head of a party? Mack, in his evidence, said, "he believed there were a number of guns with proportionable ammunition, 1034 concealed in a bush, though he never saw them;" and again, that he saw no person with a gun but Oliver. In another place he swore that he saw Wray with a gun, powder, and bag. He swore he saw Prince there. In page 88 he stated, that he did not see Spalding there on the night of the Swear. He, in one place, swore that they left Balcarres three weeks before Christmas; and, in another, that they were at Balcarres a week before Christmas. These contradictions, be it observed, appeared on the Minutes of Evidence, and were elicited, not in his cross-examination, but in the examination in chief. If then, such contradictions manifested themselves in the first instance, what a mass of perjury and false swearing might have been proved, if counsel had been employed to examine those witnesses! It should be observed, too, that the witnesses were questioned, and returned their answers in a language but indifferently understood by negroes. And being upon this subject, he wished to call the attention of the House to the defence made by one of the prisoners, at page 108—a defence, be it observed, made without the aid of counsel, and with a very imperfect knowledge of the nature of the proceedings against him. This defence he wished to observe, was taken from the judge's notes:—
"Jack, at Balcarres, run for it; at night went to Balcarres; he knew it from word; walked through H. Oliver's house. H. Oliver, J. B. Corberand, and Jack together; this gun story made him know; but at Balcarres, H. Oliver, and J. B. Corberand quarrel about guns; H. Oliver asked why guns not to be concerned by J. B. C.? J. B. C. explained; three proposed to hide guns; two mules, three turns; six mules brought guns, six each; thirty-six guns; James Manharty and Charles Mack, and James Crossly, with Jack, slept in house; James Manharty brought guns; James Crossly helped to take them to his house first and second time. Second, asked what was in bags; James Crossly rebuked him; Jack said it favoured guns; they came in flannel with Osnaburghs; in Henry Oliver's house they put the guns; Buckra looked, found big trouble; Henry Oliver, J. B. Corberand, and J. Brame quarrelled; J. B. C. explained, and said the guns could be easily hid; eight guns came one month before Christmas, not two months; three hid guns; nobody to help; nobody but 1035 these can find guns, and if not will be seen again; J. B. C. had powder keg, gave it H. Oliver; hid with guns; will confess what he has done, but no more; knows that every Saturday the negroes at Balcarres mustered; Bouger, Mount Pleasant, mustered; did not swear; the Court explained the nature of self conviction; was at Balcarres, never did anything, nor went to Cow-pen; saw the doing at Cow-pen, same as Charles Mack; as he was in lush, fell into scrape by being at Balcarres; never intended to hurt white man.
"Prince—no business in matters; wood, punish, fear; J. B. C. brought word; never mustered; Jack saw him at Balcarras, made hoops. M. Pl. gave Ct. to negroes to do work, though in the wood. B. P. Mul. H. Leo—-gun—knows J. B. Corberand, put bit in mouth to get free; broke he neck; never let master's property; when at home worked at wood; made baskets for salt."
This was called hearing a defence, from a poor creature who, if he could have spoken English, could easily have proved a mass of perjury and corruption, which would have established his innocence. [Here an hon. member whispered Mr. Buxton.] His hon. friend had very properly reminded him of the impression made upon the negroes by what they called "put bit in mouth." A bit was a small piece of silver coin, and there existed amongst the negroes a superstitious feeling, that if a man put a piece of silver in his mouth when giving evidence, he would be freed from all liability for any perjuries or falsehoods which he might utter. Upon this occasion the witness, Corberand, was actually observed to put a piece of silver in his mouth, and the jury having remarked upon it, he was not called again upon the trial [hear, hear!]. He wished next to call the particular attention of the House to a case which took place in the parish of St. James's. There thirteen persons were convicted; and, with respect to their trials, he need say little more than repeat the opinion expressed by the duke of Manchester, in respect to that district. That noble personage said, "that having most accurately looked into these trials, it afforded him particular satisfaction to state, that he could see no evidence of any combination at Montego Bay for a criminal purpose." He now came to St. Mary's; and, first, he found that a boy was brought forward as a witness 1036 against his own father. That boy first swore positively to the presence of an individual, upon a particular occasion, and then he swore as positively, that that individual was not present. Then it was said that the boy was not sworn, and it was not considered decent to administer an oath to him, it was indecent to swear the boy, but it was not considered indecent to bring him forward as a witness against his father's life![hear, hear!].
said, that the boy had not been sworn in either case, and this was the great objection to the course of proceeding.
§ Mr. F. Buxton
said, he was not complaining of the conduct of any individual, but of the whole system, which was an abominable one; an illustration of which he was giving in this case. That boy William, who was not sworn, contradicted himself; and declared at one time, that persons had been present at meetings, whom at other times he did not mention. The second witness in this same case, a man named Ned, was a thief and an accomplice. Now, let the House consider the nature of this man's evidence. He stated that he was going along the high-road, and there he saw a number of negroes publicly plotting a conspiracy. They were doing this openly, and in a place where any person passing might over-hear them. He walked into the midst of the conspirators, and no objection was made to his presence; he offered them his counsel, they accepted it, and altered the whole of their plans at his suggestion. This was the whole of the direct proof against them, and even this was contradictory to that of the boy. The boy swore that there was a large concourse of negroes; the man swore that there was only six persons present. The boy said that there were plenty of women, the man asserted there were none. There were many other contradictions equally glaring, in the testimony of these two witnesses. There was no collateral evidence given, nor was there any corroborative evidence, save the testimony of Mr. Gordon, who stated, that, on the night in question, he heard a gun fired; that he arose from his bed and walked about his room for two hours; that he looked out of his window to see what was the matter; that he saw two negroes walking under his window with white frocks on (no doubt the garb of rebellion); that he heard one of them say "It won't do;" but what "would not 1037 do," or what was the subject of their conversation, he could not say. Mr. Gordon, after hearing this, was so violently alarmed, that he went quietly to bed and forgot his alarm, and fell asleep. The evidence taken upon these trials, was sent day after day to the governor. But the evidence of this gentleman had reference to the night of the 17th, whereas, the insurrection broke out on the morning of the 17th. Next came the evidence of the constable. He was asked whether he had not found guns amongst the insurgents? His answer was, that he had not; but he had found a place where he was told guns had been. Then he was asked if he had not found large quantities of ammunition? and he answered that he had not. Had he not found a number of bayonets? "No," said the constable, "but I was shewn a basket in which 1 was told a great number of bayonets had been." He was at length asked, if he had not found a great many balls? and certainly, if the question had been put in the singular, instead of the plural, he might have answered in the affirmative; for he had, as he stated, found a single ball. This was the mighty stock of ammunition with which these desperate people were to overturn the king's government [hear! and a laugh]. Mention had been made of the important confessions made by some of the convicted persons. But, according to the statement of one of the magistrates, "only one of the wretches hanged yesterday, confessed—the rest refused to declare their coadjutors, and met their death without evincing any appearance of Christianity." His hon. friend had observed last night, that as the unfortunate negroes were liable to be imprisoned for their masters debts, so they might be punished for their masters faults, and here was an exemplification of the fact. The master robbed the wretched negro of his time; he persecuted the missionary who came to instruct him in his duty to his God; and then he turned round and accused that unhappy fellow-being with a want of Christianity! But it was said, that one convicted negro had made some important disclosures. If so, why were they not produced? And, until they were produced, he, for one, should take leave to doubt of their ever having been made. Looking at the state in which the unfortunate accused were placed, and finding that, notwithstanding the absence of counsel in their favour, the most glar- 1038 ing contradictions were made apparent on the part of the witnesses—notwithstanding which they were condemned, as he might say, unheard, he agreed with his hon. and learned friend in saying, that there was a total perversion of law and justice in our colonies. It had been treated lightly by the hon. gentleman opposite, but he would venture to say, that there was only one conspiracy on record in the annals of this country, which could bear any comparison with the present. It had been alluded to by his hon. and learned friend. He meant the Popish plot. It was singular to observe the similarity between these trials, and the prosecutions instituted in the reign of Charles 2nd for asserted implication in the Popish plot. Hume, in his history, says, that Titus Oates at first knew little or nothing, but afterwards, when occasion required, he knew every thing. The same observation was applied to Bedloe. The case was exactly similar in the West Indies. There the witnesses, as he had shown, set out with knowing little or nothing, but as they proceeded, they became well acquainted with all the details of the rebellious conspiracies then carrying on in the island. Then again, the same similarity ran through the whole proceedings. Witnesses were wanted, and hundreds of pounds offered as rewards, with abundant promises of kind treatment. Mr. Hume, in noticing this mode of procuring witnesses said, "Such bountiful treatment did not fail to bring forward a sufficient number of witnesses." No doubt it did bring forward a sufficient number. Witnesses were to be had in the West Indies in equal plenty as they could be obtained in England at that time, and for the same reason, rewards were given in both countries. It was advertised, that if free, they would be made comfortable for life; and if slaves, they should be emancipated, and provided for. He should now conclude his observations with a remark of Hume's; who, in speaking of the Popish plot, had said, that it was "an incident which for the credit of the nation, it were better to bury in eternal oblivion, but which it is necessary to perpetuate, as well to maintain the truth of history, as to warn, if possible, posterity, and all mankind, never again to fall into so gross, so shameful, so barbarous a delusion."
The Attorney General
said, that in rising to offer a few observations upon the 1039 subject brought under the consideration of the House by the motion of his hon. and learned friend, he begged distinctly to disclaim any intention of justifying the proceedings to which it had reference. After what had passed between himself and his learned friend, he felt called upon to rise. So far, however, from rising in the spirit anticipated by his hon. friend opposite, no one, he could assure him, could reprobate more than he did, or feel greater mortification at, the system of West-India evidence, and the administration of justice in that part of the British dominions. He confessed, that he could not understand upon what principles it was that the administration of the law should be different in the case of blacks to what it was in the case of whites. He could not understand why a more summary proceeding—a proceeding less fenced about by time, form, and circumstance—should prevail in one case more than in another; and he was persuaded, that ultimately they should arrive at that state of things, although he did not pretend to point out by what progression, in which the slave, where his life should be concerned, would be defended in the same way, and prosecuted by the same forms, as the white. It was impossible to look at this case, arising as it did out of the vice of the system, without deprecating that system, and wishing for a change. If the white, upon his trial, had an opportunity afforded him of knowing the charge, and thereby preparing his defence, why should not the black have the same advantage? Now, a particular act had not long since compelled the reduction of this charge to writing; but though that act had passed the legislative assembly at Jamaica, it had been accompanied with the sweeping proviso—that no objection ever should be raised upon a point of form. Unfortunately, persons in the situation of the members of that assembly were very likely not to distinguish accurately that which was matter of form from that which was matter of substantial importance. This was his objection. He did not mean to say, with reference to the present proceedings, that they were illegal under the slave law of Jamaica; but only let the forms of the charges in any of the trials be looked at, and let the House then say whether that system of law could be supported. The prisoners were charged with being guilty—of what?—of "rebellious conspiracy." And was that all? No; 1040 but there was the addition—and of "other crimes." This left the prosecutor at liberty to give evidence of any crime, no matter how unconnected with the main charge, of which the party might have been guilty. The prisoners were charged with "rebellious conspiracy." Every body knew in this country, that a man could not conspire by himself; but these charges stated no time, no place, nor any parties, with whom the culprit was accused of having conspired. Would the House, then, fail to say, that this system deserved reprobation in the highest degree; and would it not join heartily and unanimously in the amendment proposed by his hon. friend the Secretary for the Colonies, which, while it treated the law as one which could not too speedily be got rid of, discharged those from blame who had only followed the accustomed course in carrying it into effect?—He would now call the attention of the House to another curious point—he meant the law as it related to slave evidence. In the case of an accusation made against one of the white population, slave evidence was not allowed, on account of the low moral character of those individuals. They were supposed to possess no adequate idea of morality; they were viewed as beings who had no due notion of the distinction between truth and falsehood; and they were not suffered, therefore, to give evidence against a white man. But let the House mark the extraordinary inconsistency which distinguished the system. When a slave was to be tried, the evidence of slaves was admitted against the accused party—not under the sanction of an oath, but on his bare word, he having previously listened to an exhortation not to tell a falsehood. Now, he would ask the House, could a system of this kind be good? Could it lead to the ends of justice? He did not blame the persons who acted under this system, but be blamed, in the most decided manner; the system itself. Those individuals were not proceeding contrary to the law, their acts were only in accordance with it. He reproached not them—It was the law which he condemned. Now let the House look at the charge which was made in the case of Charles Browne. What was it? It was a charge of high treason. The principal witness on the occasion to which he was now referring, was the boy William. Was he sworn? No, he was not. He was insensible to the obligation of an oath, 1041 and yet he was admitted to give evidence to take away the life of a fellow-slave. And here he begged the House to mark another peculiar circumstance. Was it not, he asked, the universal rule of common law in this country (and he always understood that the common law of the country extended to Jamaica), that hearsay evidence should not be received? Yet, in this case, hearsay evidence was received to a very great extent. The boy William said, "Sterling, my father, spoke such and such facts." This was the very worst species of hearsay evidence; and yet it was admitted against the prisoner. He understood that, though the law was different with respect to whites, this course of proceeding had been uniformly admitted with reference to blacks. He condemned this system in its general principle; he condemned it also in its mode of working, as it was developed in the cases before the House. But when he stated this, he must declare his conscientious belief, that the persons who were engaged in those prosecutions were convinced of the existence of a conspiracy; and, in endeavouring to defeat it, it could not be denied that they had acted in accordance with the established law—that law which had existed for a hundred and fifty years in the colony. He did not, he could not, attempt to defend that system; on the contrary he joined in its reprobation; but still it was due to those who only acted under that system to state the fact. Let the House consider further the inconsistency which appeared in some of those trials, and which had been very properly pointed out by his hon. and learned friend who spoke first on this occasion. The boy William declared before the Court, that he knew of large bodies of negroes meeting together; but, in his first examination, he had spoken only of the assembling of five persons. Every body, however, who read the reports of those trials, must perceive that they were very imperfectly given. Indeed, they could form but a very loose idea of the guilt or innocence of the parties accused, from the mete reading of those reports. Those who were present, by, marking the demeanour of the witnesses, by observing the conduct of the accused, could form a more just idea of the guilt or innocence of the parties, than any set of men were capable of doing from the perusal, not to Say of an imperfect report, but of the most perfect report of those proceedings. On 1042 that point, therefore, some allowance should be made.—He objected, as much as his hon. and learned friend could do, to the evidence of a son being received against his father. Here, however, he must observe, that this was not illegal; that it was not contrary to the law, even in this country. He was not sorry to say, that he had known instances in our criminal courts, where a son and daughter were sworn to give evidence when the life of the father was at stake.—There was another observation of his hon. and learned friend, on which he wished to make a remark. His hon. and learned friend had said, that on one of those trials nothing material was disclosed in evidence, except what was advanced by a wife against her husband. Now, he admitted, that evidence was given by a female against the prisoner; and he knew that, in the printed report, that female was stated to be the prisoner's wife. He knew, however, and his learned friend must also know, that when amongst the slaves, a woman entered into cohabitation with a man, it was usual to speak of her as that man's wife. He had made inquiry into the fact, whether the woman who gave evidence in this case was or was not the wife of the prisoner; but he had not been able to procure satisfactory intelligence on the subject. He admitted that, if she were the wife of the prisoner, nothing could be more irregular—nothing could be more contrary to law, nothing could be a greater violation of the first principles of justice, than to suffer her to be examined; but, on the other hand, if she were merely cohabiting with him, it was not illegal—it was not contrary even to the law of England, as practised in the highest courts. It was true that, under such circumstances as had been disclosed, he himself would not have returned a verdict against those people; but he must contend, that there was no ground for charging those before whom they were prosecuted with any intentional act of injustice or impropriety. The question was, did those persons believe that a conspiracy existed? Surely no person who had read the letter of the magistrates to lieut.-colonel Cox, could for a moment suppose that those individuals did not fully believe that a conspiracy had been formed. The answer to that letter clearly showed the honest conviction on the mind of lieut.-colonel Cox to have been, that the persons accused were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. Lieut.-colonel Cox 1043 was well known and highly respected by many members of that House. He was a gentleman possessing English manners, feelings and habits. He was brought up in this country. He was a man of known mildness and humanity; but being convinced of the existence of a conspiracy in the island of Jamaica, he felt the necessity of using prompt measures to put an end to it.—But there was other evidence on this point which he considered most decisive. He meant the honest persuasion which appeared to fill the mind of every gentleman on the island. He begged leave to allude, most particularly, to what had passed in the debate in the House of Assembly on the Slave-evidence bill. One of the most active supporters of that measure was a gentleman of the name of Evans. No man was, or could be, more anxious to ameliorate the condition of the slaves in the West-India islands than that individual was; and therefore his persuasion on this point—namely, that a conspiracy existed—must make a greater impression on the House, and on the mind of the hon. and learned member himself, than that of almost any other person. Mr. Evans, in his speech, thus expressed himself—"We had the misfortune at the period to which I have alluded, to be compelled to institute the important trials of those persons." This, be it observed, was the expression of an individual, running, in a certain degree, the same race as his hon. and learned friend—advocating the same cause with the same sincerity; and, he would add, with great and distinguished talents. Mr. Evans went on to say,—"The parishes of St. Mary, St. George, and St. James, were the chief scene of the conspiracy. Fifty-four persons in all were convicted, and twenty-three were acquitted. Of those convicted some were executed, some were transported, and some were pardoned. The convictions in almost every case rested on the evidence of slaves; and yet no one supposed that that evidence was defective. On the contrary, it appeared to be clear and decisive. Of the number of slaves examined on those trials, only two or three were viewed with suspicion; and their evidence was disregarded, except it was confirmed by other and more credible testimony." Why did he read this? He read it because it was the evidence of an honest individual—of an individual who was anxious to render the slaves as comfortable as possible—to the fact, that he 1044 believed in the existence of a conspiracy; He read it to prove the decided conviction which prevailed in the minds of honourable men, that a conspiracy really existed, and that the parties accused were guilty of the offence charged against them. And yet after this evidence they were called on to censure and blame twelve men who declared on their oaths, that they were of opinion that a conspiracy existed. If the House thought that those men did not believe in the facts detailed in evidence, then the motion of his hon. and learned friend ought to be supported; but if, on the other hand, they felt that a conspiracy had been set on foot—if they were convinced that the parties proceeded consistently with the law, and administered it (acting under the solemn sanction of an oath) honestly and fairly, to the best of their judgment, then, however they might disapprove of that law, it would be their duty to support the amendment of his hon. friend. That amendment was condemnatory of the system, and reprobated the abominations practised under it; but it did not pronounce any opinion upon the conduct of the persons who had acted upon the occasion. It was known that many of those individuals were persons of high character, and he did not feel himself justified, upon the imperfect materials before the House, to agree to a resolution of censure upon such individuals. Let the House condemn the system—let them abolish it—let them proclaim it to be a system as unjust as it was cruel, but let them not, after having so long slumbered at their posts—after having for so long a period, not adopted another and a better system—condemned those who had given effect to the system, who had acted consistently with law, and who had, in the administration of that law, acted honestly, and to the best of their judgment. He had made these observations, because a call had been personally made upon him. He agreed with his hon. and learned friend in almost all that he had said, and he should have acted unworthily, if he had not obeyed that call, and had not thus openly stated his opinions.
said, that feeling so deep an interest as he did in every question connected with the administration of justice in the colonies, he trusted the House would indulge him while he expressed his sentiments upon the proceedings which were the subject of the present discussion. 1045 If the arguments of his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney-general, were good for any thing, they must go to the fearful and dangerous extent of shewing, that provided the forms of law were but observed—that provided the forms established in any one of the distant territories of this country, however revolting to humanity, were adhered to—the House of Commons were prohibited from inquiring how far justice had been administered in any given case. The hon. and learned gentleman had dwelt on the difficulty which must arise in judging of what had occurred at a great distance, when an incorrect record of the proceedings was before the House—when they had not such an opportunity as the jury had, for sifting and examining the matters alleged against the accused. He, however, looked to the principle which governed those proceedings; and, keeping that principle in view, he would contend, that it mattered not whether those individuals were executed on the evidence of bribed slaves, or of an unsworn boy; they might have been condemned on half the evidence adduced, and the argument of the hon. and learned gentleman would have been just as conclusive and just as available. He, however, would contend, that the first duty of that House was, to see that justice was administered in a strictly impartial manner, even in the most distant possessions of this country. This was the more important, because in those distant possessions, there was an infinitely greater opening for injustice and oppression, than could, by possibility, be found near the seat of government. Here, if only an apprentice were ill-used, or if the least abuse were discovered in a gaol, members of that House were ready to start up, to call on ministers to redress the grievance, or, if they found it necessary, to proceed with the case themselves. Now, however, they heard of the execution of six or eight unfortunate individuals, under most extraordinary circumstances, and they were told, that they were not to inquire into what had taken place, because, forsooth, it was all in strict accordance with an old and barbarous system. The evidence which they had heard, and which was printed in the minutes, was the most inconclusive that could be imagined: but when observations were made on it, it was exclaimed, "Oh, that evidence was considered quite ample by the duke of Manchester: that evidence was deemed quite sufficient by him." He 1046 should like to know what evidence the noble duke had received. Was the whole of it to be found in those papers, or had he kept any part of it back? To him it appeared to be the weakest and the most illegal evidence he had ever seen. How came it, he should like to know, that the duke of Manchester had authorized the execution of the individuals found guilty upon this evidence, without having it fully examined by legal men? He might have had the opinion of the chief justice of the island, who would at once have detected the errors with which that evidence abounded. He contended that the whole proceeding was contrary to the forms of substantial justice, and he was astonished to think that any tribunal, consisting of Englishmen, could, in a case of life or death, receive the evidence of an unsworn boy. He imputed not to the duke of Manchester or the magistrates any wilful malice; but he did impute to them great carelessness. He did accuse them with having, when they should have been most awake, fallen asleep on their posts, and suffered themselves to be dictated to by others. He had evidence which was to be found in the minutes of the extraordinary statements which had been received on the trial of these people. They had been found guilty of rebellion in a great measure, upon hearsay evidence—that species of evidence which was never received in this country, and ought not to be received in any of its possessions. In p. 52, No. 14, they would find the information of W. C. Movier, esq. who states, "that Mr. Hole, a non-commissioned officer of the Hanover troops, and others, informed him at Flint River, that the overseer at Magotty, Mr. M'Donald, had informed them, that the driver on the Magotty estate had stated to him—['Here,' said Dr. Lushington, 'was hearsay evidence with a vengeance; it was no less than three deep.']—that the Tryall negroes had invited the Magotty negroes to join them in a conspiracy to assert or claim their rights, or freedom, but the Magotty negroes had refused to do so; nothing of the kind was intended on Magotty estate by the negroes." Such was the satisfactory testimony which led to so melancholy a result! He would next call the attention of the House to some of the important particulars which were made known to the government of Jamaica, and on which it had been pleased to act. Let gentlemen turn 1047 to No.7, and peruse the letter of Mr. Vaughan. It was strange that any person could act upon such frivolous information. The commencement of that letter ran thus,—" I deem it my duty to make the following communication. It appears there is a general expectation among the negroes of freedom being given shortly by government at home. The negroes are everywhere behaving well, and perform their work as usual, but still entertain this belief. The grounds on which I have formed this opinion I shall now give. Mrs. Fowler, at Kensington, St. James's.—She saw many strange negroes, who talked freely with her that they were soon to be free; she laughed at them, and asked whether if they had a fowl they would give it up for nothing? Eliza Tucker, a person of colour, Greenwich-hill, St. James's.—She hired a man from Gilsborough on negro days, who talked much of this free, but said he did not like it, for many negroes would be idle, and quarrel and fight as in Guinea country, and who was there to give clothes, fish, &c.?" Now, he would ask, could any rational being suppose, looking at the samples of evidence which he had quoted, that any insurrection was contemplated, or could be contemplated, by those who were described as likely to be the actors in it? His hon. and learned friend, after expressing his entire disapprobation of this system, had stated that, on the present occasion, no blame could be attached to the magistrates, who had honestly and truly adhered to the laws. For his own part, he could not in any degree assent to that position for a moment. He could not think that twelve Englishmen (and there were five magistrates on the bench), unless they were actuated by strong prejudice, or by that fear and cowardice which sometimes compelled men to do injustice towards others, could have returned such a verdict as they had done. The hon. Secretary for the Colonies had said, that not one of the persons who gave evidence had been induced to come forward on the occasion by the influence of bribes. Now, in contradiction to that, he would state one of the resolutions of the secret committee of the House of Assembly. The words they used were these:—"We recommend to the House to reimburse to the parish of St. Mary the sum of 376l. paid by them for the manumission of certain slaves who rendered essential service by the discoveries which 1048 they had made." Was this likely to produce honest testimony on the one hand, and were those who held out such temptation seeking for such evidence on the other? Those whose manumission was thus paid for had, he would maintain, received their reward for the evidence they had given; and he must say, that if any thing could tend more than another to pollute the source of justice, it was the holding out such an extraordinary temptation to slaves. Those persons were, of all beings living, the most easy to be tempted; and here a temptation of the most winning description was placed before them. They were asked to give evidence against, and to prosecute to conviction, their fellow-slaves, as the road by which they might arrive at the greatest boon which could be conferred on a bondman; namely, his own liberation.—After he had stated this, he would ask whether any man living could get up and say that the conduct of the duke of Manchester, or rather of the Jamaica government, was correct, in proceeding on such evidence as this? How could they, on the single evidence of an accomplice, corroborated in no one particular, and who had contradicted his former testimony in the course of subsequent trials, proceed to the extremities which they had done? Was there, he demanded, the exercise of that cool consideration which ought to have been employed on such an occasion, before a number of victims were condemned to death and execution? Yet, such was the fact. That sort of evidence was received; condemnation was the consequence, and death followed.—There was much more in those trials which filled the mind with disgust and abhorrence. His hon. and learned friend had said most truly, that the people of Jamaica were entitled, as their birth-right, to the protection of the law of England. But while they enjoyed exclusively every advantage that excellent system afforded, was it to be tolerated, that there should be another system for the government of their slaves, in which every principle of injustice and oppression was nurtured? The law of England said, that the judges must be free from all imputation—they were considered to be of counsel for the prisoner: but, in the whole course of these trials, did they ask a single question in cross-examination? Did colonel Cox, who had been so highly eulogised, say to any of the witnesses—"Pray, have you been promised your free- 1049 dom?" Or, "Pray, have you been threatened by your master?" Those judges who were of counsel for the prisoner asked no such thing. Those five magistrates had not the common honesty or the common humanity to make inquiries of that kind, although they were essential to the interests of justice. What was the evidence given, in the case of Charles Brown, by the unsworn boy William, only 15 years of age, and by the slave Ned, who was in the same situation? It was altogether weak and inefficient; as any person who read the trial would perceive. But to bolster up this evidence, they brought forward a white man, one William Kelly, who stated, "I am overseer of Frontier estate; prisoner is a cooper; had been head driver, and was very severe on the negroes, particularly on women, for which witness removed or broke him, and made him a cooper; he was partial in his punishment, and some he punished severely." Now what, he asked, had this to do with the conspiracy? The fact was, those who prosecuted said, "if you do not believe the unsworn evidence of the boys, if you do not believe the slave evidence, we must give you something to act upon in the shape of the evidence of the sworn witness Kelly." This proceeding, he contended, was entirely contrary to the spirit of English jurisprudence. He would not, after the able exposition of his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Denman), travel through all the discrepancies of this evidence. There appeared to him to be good reasons to induce the House to express a very different opinion from that contained in the amendment. If they agreed to that amendment, the result would be, that if those in power abroad adhered merely to forms, they would be entirely relieved from the responsibility of doing substantial justice.—But it was said, that one of those slaves (and be it remembered, one only) had confessed his guilt at the place of execution. Now, he would ask whether the following scene did not occur at the execution in the parish of St. Mary? He would ask whether the graves of the individuals then brought out for execution were not dug beneath the gallows? He would ask whether the clergyman did not offer to spare the lives of any two of them, if they confessed their guilt? And he would ask, finally, whether the whole of them, except Charles Watson, did not firmly 1050 deny their criminality? He put these interrogatories thus strongly, because he had conversed with an eye-witness, who spoke positively to the facts. These unfortunate men were, at the moment that death was staring them in the face, called on, as the means of saving their lives, to confess crimes which they utterly denied. This he believed was something like the system which was acted upon in Ireland, during the rebellion of 1798. He did not mean to say, that under peculiar circumstances, offers should not be made to elicit information, but in this case it was a question with respect to slaves. The inhabitants of Jamacia declared their evidence to be such as, under ordinary circumstances, could not be relied on in the smallest degree. With respect to the European inhabitants of Jamaica, such evidence was altogether excluded; and to say to Watson and his colleagues, when on the point of death, that pardon should be granted to any of them who would confess and give information, was neither more nor less than offering a premium to deprive the other men of their lives.—But it was said, that the duke of Manchester, wishing to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed, had proceeded thus promptly—he would say precipitately. Therefore it was, that he had an example made. He would merely say to this, that the duke of Manchester, before he made that example, should have taken care that it was a just and proper one. It was said, however, that there were 20,000 whites in the island opposed to a population of 380,000 blacks; and that, if the latter were to make a simultaneous movement, the destruction of the former would be inevitable. Therefore, it appeared, laws were passed that were calculated to destroy the very semblance of justice. Many, in consequence, lost sight of that humanity which would operate with them in the case of a white man, and execution followed conviction as hastily as possible. Nothing but timidity and pusillanimity could lead to such cruel results. They arose from apprehension of those scenes which an hon. friend near him had described upon another occasion about twenty years ago. The parties interested exclaimed, "if the negroes once rise up, nothing but scenes of bloodshed can ensue." He admitted, that nothing could be more horrid, nothing could be more appalling, than the character of negro ferocity; but as that point had been touch- 1051 ed on, he wished to know whether it was justifiable in a white man, educated in the Christian religion, brought up in the first principles of morality, to go in cold blood, and in consequence of a dread of danger, to wreak signal vengeance on those whom fate or fortune had placed in his power? He well recollected the statement of Bryan Edwards, who saw two unhappy human beings convicted in Jamaica, and sentenced to be suspended in chains and starved to death. He observed, that it was found necessary to make a striking example, and to render the punishment more dreadful, they were indulged with the luxury of a full meal before the irons were put on them. "I went," said Mr. Edwards, "to see them myself, and for six days I saw them undergoing their torments." Could any individual believe that a man like Bryan Edwards, so highly accomplished, and possessing so many rare acquirements, could narrate such a scene as this without a single comment on its barbarity? Such, however, was the fact. If they wished to preserve the islands to the empire, and to retain the black population in subjection, for Heaven's sake let them do justice and love mercy. It was impossible for men of any race to remain quiet so long as the feelings of our common nature were wronged and tortured. It was not the negro character, any more than it was the character of other men, to be continually restless and blood-thirsty. Let them look to the example of Sierra Leone, where 18,000 persons were collected, who had formerly been caught wild, as he might say—who had been driven; almost mad by their captors and oppressors—forming a motley group gathered from every quarter of Africa to seek freedom. He had it from his friend Mr. Hamilton, who had resided there for twenty years, that there had never been more than 250 soldiers engaged to keep them in order, and those troops had never been once under the necessity of resorting to. force, it Let them then resort to those principles laid down by eternal Providence for, the good government of man: let there imbue their regulations with reason: let them endeavour to impart to the negro a sense of justice and a knowledge of his God. He trusted that time and circumstances were nearly ripe for raising the condition of that fallen race to a state more gratifying to God and man. By those means, and by an enlightened 1052 course of action, tending to their final emancipation, they might secure the regard the affections of their negro subjects. He would trouble the House no more at present. Sure he was that the present consideration of the subject would do much good in the colonies. For nothing could be better calculated to do good than the knowledge in our colonies, in the East or in the West, that the doors of that House were opened wide to well-founded complaints; and that regardless of all difficulties and troubles, in defiance of all danger, there was a resolution to do justice, and to punish oppression.
said, he perfectly concurred in all the sentiments expressed by his hon. and learned friend in his generous abhorrence of slavery, and in his eloquent denunciation of the abuses of slavery. As some difference, however, must still prevail between their opinions, he would take the liberty of offering a few words to the attention of the House, as to the points upon which he differed from his hon. and learned friend; and a few words as to the points upon which they were agreed. If the resolution of his hon. and learned friend had only for its object a prospective improvement in the mode of trial which obtained in the colonies, he might have yielded his assent to it; for the amended resolution of his hon. friend near him was to that very effect. But, when his hon. and learned friend went beyond that line, he proposed something, to which he at least could not give his concurrence. Now, the fact was, that the hon. and learned member's proposition consisted of two parts. That hon. and learned member, not only required that the negro should be equalised, in point of the mode of trial, with the free white man; but he asserted, in pretty direct terms, the gross malversation of all those who had been concerned in the late trials. With that charge it was impossible for him to agree. He would call the attention of the House to one of the prominent parts of the hon. and learned member's resolution. It asserted, that we "contemplated, with sorrow, the perversion of law, and the violation of justice, displayed in the late trials." Now, the House could not adopt that resolution, without being prepared to state, almost in so many words, that the judge who had presided, the jury who had tried and convicted, and the duke of Manchester, who had suffered the law to take 1053 its course on these criminals, had all been guilty of a perversion of the law, and a violation of justice. In such a statement he for one could not concur. The hon. and learned member opposite seemed to have supposed that he (the Solicitor-general) intended to say, that all these trials had been conducted in every respect as correctly as they would have been here; and that in order to support the administration of justice in these colonies, he must make it out to be as good in them as in England. In that supposition the hon. and learned member was mistaken, and there was the fallacy in his argument. The question was not, whether the trials had been properly conducted according to the law of England, but whether they were in accordance with the law of Jamaica? This question was to be determined, not by any general rules of our law, but by the particular lex loci—by the custom of the colony. Those laws and customs were not the same as they were here; and it was therefore not matter of personal reprehension, that the conclusions which the authorities of that island had come to were not the same as those to which a judge and jury in this country might have arrived. The fair question was, whether these trials were illegal, according to the laws of Jamaica? With respect to those laws, he was not; prepared to say whether, if a negro was tried for sedition or treason, he should object to reduce the form and mode of trial to all the certainty of the law of England. He was not prepared to say whether, if a negro was to be tried for high treason he would not have the indictment framed in the same manner as in this country, and whether he would not give the prisoner all the advantage which might be derived from a knowledge of the names of the witnesses intended to support the charge. In fact, he believed he should not object to equalize the negro, with respect to all the means of defence to such a charge which the white man might possess, if it were preferred against him. But then, while he did not object to granting these prospective advantages to the negro, he did object most strongly to a retrospective resolution comdemning the conduct of the judge, the jury, and the governor. On one point, therefore, it was clear that both sides of the House, were agreed; and he could not but afford his mite of praise to his hon. friend near him, for putting in a 1054 state of approximation the sentiments and feelings of both sides of the House, with regard to the prospective amelioration of the condition of the negro. This amelioration might be effected by the legislative assembly of the colony; or, if they did not make any attempt towards it, then, indeed, the duty might devolve on this House to effect that object. What were the grounds, he would ask, on which this House was now called on to adopt the resolution of his hon. and learned friend opposite? On one side, it was imputed that the colony was not governed by laws such as we enjoyed in England, or by the spirit of the British constitution. He believed that all the members in the House would be inclined to agree that such was the fact, if the authorities of the colony were to be made responsible for having acted under the existing laws, which all might acknowledge to be bad but by which those authorities were bound. What, then, if the subject was closely examined, was the real difference between the two sides of the House? He could assure the honourable members opposite, that in all their warmth of sentiment, in all their indignation of feeling, at any act of negro oppression, he was fully prepared to agree, and that on such subjects his feelings were the same as theirs. He would adopt practically that branch of the resolution which said, that, for the future, trials of negroes in the colony ought to be regulated in the same manner as, and in every respect put on the same footing with those of white men. Further than that he could not go; and he was surprised that his hon. and learned friend, who was so well versed in parliamentary proceedings, and who knew so well the laws and constitution of this country, should attempt to lash and stigmatise, in the severest manner, a number of individuals, for having acted according to the laws as they now stood. For himself, he was convinced, that no proceeding in parliament, nor any record in any one of our courts, could be found casting censure on men for having administered a system of law under which they lived, merely because that system was bad. It was wrong to impute this as an error to the men, when, in fact, it was an error in the law; and the blame, if any, was therefore due to the law, and not to the individual. His hon. friend's amendment met all these objections. That the negro should not receive a fair trial was a pro- 1055 position which no hon. member would affirm. On both sides of the House the feeling on that point was the same: on both sides of the House the opinion was the same: on both sides of the House the mode recommended for attaining it was the same; namely, that the colonial legislature should be called upon to amend the colonial laws—and should they refuse, that that House would itself amend them.—He wished to say one word on another part of this subject. He had read through all the documents referred to by his hon. and learned friend, and especially those relating to the case in which the evidence of the son had been admitted against the father. In that case, he was of opinion, that all the evidence given by the son, was, in fact, furnished by two other witnesses, on whose evidence the father might have been convicted. Again, he had read the documents relating to the trial of the man, whose wife was admitted to give evidence against him; and in that case, as well as in the other, he thought the substance of her evidence was to be found in the testimony of two other witnesses, on whose statements that prisoner might have been convicted. In the second of these cases especially, it was clear the prisoner had a gun in his possession. He could not distinctly collect the ground of the charge now made by his hon. and learned friend opposite. It was objected, certainly, that some slave evidence was not admitted at the trial, but that formed no ground of charge against the judge. Again, it was complained that the names of the witnesses were not furnished to the prisoners; to that complaint the same answer might be given. Further, it was alleged, that the witnesses examined, did not so prove the case, as that a judge and jury in this country would have acted on their testimony, and have convicted the prisoners; but surely it was not because the judge and jury there did not weigh evidence so nicely as a judge and jury would weigh it here, that the Jamaica jury were to be punished. They were not to be made responsible, because they were not such a nicely balancing and critically investigating jury as a jury of the county of Kent might have been; and yet the hon. and learned member's resolution went to condemn them for a want of those powers of investigation which an English jury guided by an English judge, might discover in a cause submitted to their decision,—He should now advert to 1056 one thing, which, not latently, but broadly, had been charged against the duke of Manchester. In doing this, he could not but observe on the egregious discrepancy between the statements of the hon. member for Weymouth. Sometimes the House were told that the duke was too severe; while at others he was charged with having permitted thirteen criminals to escape. Now, he admired that hon. member's feelings, but could not agree with his logic, by which the duke was one moment censured for severity, and at another rebuked for lenity. The hon. gentleman seemed to have supposed, that some learned member was likely to rise on his side of the House, who, it was expected, would track the course of that evidence step by step. Now, he thought it very unlikely that such a task would be attempted by any learned member; and unquestionably he was not the learned member who would presume to travel through the ichnography of that evidence. If the hon. member meant to say, that the present system of law in the colony was bad, and, therefore, that the judges ought to be censured, then he must say that be agreed in the premises, but differed much from the conclusion. One hon. member had said that it was an unjust thing to refuse to admit the testimony of negroes, and that that refusal was founded on a prejudice existing against them, on account of their want of religious knowledge. In talking of the prejudices of others, we should consider our own. He would not trouble the House with the details of our rules of evidence, but it could hardly be unknown to hon. members, that, until within 150 years ago no testimony was admitted in our courts from persons who were not christians? Nay, more: it was not more than sixty years since the evidence of Pagans or infidels was rendered admissible by a determination of lord Hardwicke. Even at this very period the evidence of Quakers in criminal cases was not admissible. Might it not be said that it was very hard for a Quaker to have his house torn down or pillaged, and not be able to prosecute the wrong-doers? ["Amend the law, then," from a member across the table.] He would not object to the proposition of the hon. gentleman, who was at liberty, if he chose it, to propose an amendment of the law in that particular to the parliament. What he now complained of, was not colonial injustice, but the British injustice, con- 1057 demning men for carrying into effect the existing law of the country. He was in favour of the amendment of the law of the colony, but he thought we should set the example, and that the amendment of our own laws should precede the amendment of theirs. On these grounds he differed from the resolution of his hon. and learned friend. He had no objection that the same privileged in the mode of trial which were now enjoyed by the white men should be extended to those who were tinged with a black colour; but he did object to condemning men for not acting on a principle not yet acknowledged by the laws under which they lived. He thought the House should recognize that distinction when they were called on to exercise the duty of amending the laws of the colony. He agreed in the sentiments of the hon. gentlemen opposite, as to the hated and accursed system of slavery, and he went along with them in their propositions for the gradual abolition of it, and of its evils; but he could not subscribe to the resolutions they had proposed, which involved in the same disgrace, delinquency, and punishment (for the condemnation of this House was the severest punishment), several individuals for having administered the laws of the colony as they at present subsisted. That those laws were bad, he agreed; but they did exist, and it was no crime to administer them as long as they remained in force.
§ Mr. W. Smith
congratulated the House on the progress of more liberal views and sentiments with respect to the extinction of negro1 slavery, and on the active share which his majesty's ministers were taking in the amelioration of the condition of that portion of the subjects of the empire. In what a new situation were the colonists and inhabitants placed by the concession's made that night! He would not weaken the eloquence of his hon. friends by going over the points of evidence on which they had touched. Her rejoiced to hear the expression of the Solicitor-general, who called the West-India system, an accursed system.
said, it was slavery that he had spoken of as an accursed system. He had not applied the phrase to any portion of the subject now under consideration.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, he understood, then, that the hon. and learned gentleman did admit the system of slavery to be an accursed system; and he had defended the 1058 governor, judge, and jurors for supporting that system of law which slavery had made necessary to the preservation of the colonies. The necessity for the laws had grown out of the system of slavery. Did he, in saying that, misquote the hon. and learned gentleman? The hon. and learned gentleman did not mean to impute corruption to a Jamaica judge, or dishonesty to a Jamaica jury, but he said, that justice could not be expected from a Jamaica jury, bound and fettered as they were by the laws. Did he in that misquote the hon. and learned gentleman? If the hon. and learned gentleman had examined all the documents, he would have found reason for imputing to those judges and juries, that they had not attended strictly to the evidence laid before them. He would not hesitate to say, that it did appear to him that those judges and juries had not administered the laws even as they existed. That there were technicalities in the practice of the Jamaica courts might be true; but, was the conviction of men on hearsay evidence, and at third hand too, an observance of a mere technicality? Was not every man of common sense and common humanity bound to notice the vagueness and looseness of the evidence given upon the charges? He would refer to the case in which the evidence of the son had been received against the father, not as the only one that he could adduce, but as a strong one, of the necessity of an alteration in the laws. Indeed it was impossible that those laws should be suffered much longer to exist, a dishonour and a disgrace to the British government; nay, to the empire at large. "Are we to alter the laws?" asked the House. "No," replied the planters, "you shall not touch our laws."—"We hate arid abominate those laws, and we will alter them" say the House.—"No, you shall not touch them," was the language of the colonists. What species of control, therefore, could by possibility be exercised in that case, but public opinion? And his hon. friends only came forward to say, that the control of public opinion should be expressed, respecting the conduct of the judges and juries who had acted in the manner described. He would ask, was that a case in which consideration for the parties should prevent the expression of public opinion? However, let that question be decided as it might, the discussion would do good. It would open to the eyes of the public such scenes as 1059 they were not accustomed to see. It would convince them, that the representations made by those who were falsely accused of misleading the public mind, were true representations; that they had not asserted one fact which was not fully made out by the documents produced; that they had not put forth one statement which was not confirmed to the very letter; that there was not one single accusation of cruelty which was not fully established. He did not say, that the right hon. Secretary (Mr. Canning) had given a few nights ago a picture of the amelioration in the condition of the slaves which he himself did not believe to be true; but he thought the persons to whom he had trusted for his information had grossly misinformed him. The right hon. gentleman had observed, that the abolition ought not to be attempted too hastily, because slavery had existed for ages, under governments who practised and respected the christian religion. But was West-India slavery to be considered in the same point of view as the slavery of remote times? No. West-India slavery was a mushroom, a creature of the day, of comparatively modern growth, and was as repugnant to the spirit of Christianity then, as it was now. Of the resolutions before the House, he preferred the original motion, because he thought the amendment proposed by his majesty's ministers softened down the transaction, and removed a part of the stigma which ought to attach to so detestable a proceeding.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
said, that his hon. and learned friend was entitled to the thanks of the House for bringing forward the subject of West-India abuses. The House of Commons was the legitimate sanctuary where justice should be found; and he hoped that the appeal which had that night been made on behalf of those who were unable to state their wrongs, would not be made in vain. The hon. and learned gentlemen opposite called upon the House not to support the proposition, because it would amount to a vote of censure upon the government of the colony, and upon all those connected with the proceedings which formed the subject of complaint, which was the very object which he wished to see effected. A vote of censure should not only be passed on the governor, but on the judge and the jury, by whose verdict the lives of our fellow-men were taken away. That act 1060 had been endeavoured to be accounted for on the plea of necessity; but he could view it in no other light than that of an authorized murder. Not because they were guilty, were these wretched men convicted. The proofs of their criminality were altogether insufficient. The jury accepted evidence against them, which in law, justice, and humanity, they should have rejected. But there were other instances to be adduced, besides those already stated, of the wilful perversion of justice in Jamaica. In 1822, one James Simpson was tried at Kingston for having chained down a girl only nine years old for the purpose of committing a rape on her person. The counsel for the prisoner, however, took an objection, that being a slave, the girl could only be considered as a chattel, and that her evidence could therefore have no effect. The course of justice was stayed in consequence, and the case was transmitted to England for the consideration of the twelve judges, who decided that, in the then state of the law, judgment could not be inflicted, and the man was liberated accordingly. A strong recommendation had, at the time been forwarded to amend a system which allowed such atrocities to pass unpunished; but that recommendation had been treated like every other of the same kind, sent from this country. Leaving all political considerations out of the question, it was a bare act of justice to censure and reprobate, in the strongest terms, those who upheld and acted under such a system.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, he had not intended to have made any observations on the subject now under discussion, but finding that no one connected with the colonies had risen to express an opinion on the subject, and having had the misfortune to succeed to a property in those colonies, he felt it due to himself, to the colonists, and to the House, not to allow that opportunity to pass, of stating that there were persons connected with the colonies, who felt as warmly concerning all these transactions as any of the hon. members on the other side of the House. It was due to the colonists to state, that the sentiments of many of them were perfectly in unison with those of the gentlemen who reprobated these proceedings. He found it the more necessary to make this declaration, because he intended to vote for the amendment of his hon. friend near him, though in most of what had been 1061 said, respecting the trials, the evidence and the laws of the colonies, he fully-agreed with the hon. gentlemen opposite. But, though he was of this opinion, he did not go, and he could not go the whole length of the original proposition; because he was not prepared to visit with a heavy censure, or to stigmatize as criminal, men who, living in a state of society quite different from our own, whose property and lives being at stake, and who were acting under the greatest apprehension, had not conducted themselves quite so calmly, so dispassionately, as gentlemen would have conducted themselves in this country. He conceived the amendment of his hon. friend expressed all that it was necessary to express; and that the House ought to look less at the conduct of individuals, than to take measures to provide an effectual remedy for the system. He fully concurred with the hon. member for Norwich, that the chief control of the colonies must be looked for in the influence of public opinion; and, during his connection with the Colonial Department, he had, with that view, laid more papers on the table of the House than had ever before been submitted-to parliament. If the resolution of his hon. friend went forth with the unanimous approval of the House, it would be impossible for the colonists not to see how highly their conduct was disapproved of. They must see, that gentlemen who differed on other subjects had united to condemn the colonial laws; and such a sentence of condemnation would, he thought, operate as an effectual check against similar proceedings in future. The resolution of the hon. and learned gentleman involved in it a principle that, if applied to the judicial establishments of this country, would lead to enormous evils. It called on the House, with only imperfect documents before it, to pass a severe censure on the magistrates who had carried the system into execution. He did not mean to give advice to the hon. and learned gentleman, but he thought his hon. friend's resolution was the better of the two, and that if it went forth with the unanimous approbation of the House, it would have more effect in the colonies, than a Resolution supported only by a part of the House.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he differed widely from the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, in his view of the present question, and in his estimate of the nature 1062 and effect of the proposed amendment going out to the colonists. If he could feel that, it would give them reason to belive, that the legislature of this country passed it as their unanimous opinion, that the system of judicature must be reformed, and if it added, what the right hon. gentleman seemed, by some strange misunderstanding of the meaning and purport of the amendment, to infer from it, an expression of disapproval of the course of judicial proceedings which had been exposed, and not attempted, even by the right hon. gentleman himself, to be defended—if the amendment were calculated to convey these impressions, he would not say that he would prefer it to the original resolution of his hon. and learned friend, but he would not feel that decided and irreconcilable repugnance to its adoption, of which, as it stood, he could not divest himself. But feeling as he did, that that amendment was an endeavour to get rid of the question altogether, and with the conviction on his mind that the proceedings which were the subject of the present debate, were sought to be screened, nay, actually defended by that amendment, he was determined to resist it with all his strength, and to press the resolution of his hon. and learned friend, although he should stand alone in the division. The House were told, that those proceedings were all clothed in the forms of law; and therefore it was said, that the system alone was to be amended and that it was not proper to express an opinion on the conduct of those who had acted under it. The Attorney-general had said, that he should be the last man to defend the system; and the Solicitor-general had exclaimed, God forbid, that he should deny, or defend the atrocities of the system! He was even indignant, that it should be supposed he had looked through the report, and examined the cases, with a view to defend it. He did not even attempt to palliate, what ail admitted deserved blame; but he wished the House to distinguish between the law and the individuals, and only to censure the former. But, in his opinion, the law had been so perverted—the evidence was so inadmissible—the charge so vague and irregular that it was not possible to defend the conduct of the individuals. Even in the case of Smith the missionary, there is a better ground of defence. He was tried, indeed, by an anomalous court—by a court half military, half civil; but 1063 there had been a definite disturbance, and there was against him a specific charge; but, in the St. Mary's case, how were the men put on their trial? His learned friend said, they were legally tried; but all the evidence against them was hearsay evidence, some at third hand—such as would not, as he well knew, be received in this country, or in any country where law was known. His learned friend had stated, that the whole had been conducted according to law, and that the law had not been violated. With all due respect to his learned friend, he would say, that if the law had not been violated, it had been perverted—that justice had been violated, and that, under colour of law, a gross and violent act of injustice had been committed. He should not care if the words "perversion of the law" were left out of the resolution, so long as it admitted, that general justice had been most grossly violated, and the common rights of humanity assailed. The charge on which the negroes of St. Mary's were put on their trial was different from that which was brought against those of St. George's and Hanover parishes. In the latter places, the indictments were regularly drawn up, and the requisite forms of law had been complied with; but in St. Mary's, the proceedings instituted against the unfortunate prisoners were not only marked with the greatest irregularities, but were conducted and hurried forward with the most indecent speed. He was entitled to draw this conclusion from the confession of the parties themselves. Colonel Cox wrote on the 20th, the negroes having been tried on the 19th, sending an account of the trial:—"I thought it my duty, he says, to insist on the magistrates trying the negroes that had been taken immediately, and to send their trial and sentence express; as it will, in my opinion, be highly important for the safety of the parish, and, probably, the island, that they should be executed before the holidays." Thus he hurried on the trial, that there might be an execution before the 25th of the month. From the documents furnished by the parties themselves, he could shew, therefore, that the trial at St. Mary's had been less regular than the trials" at St. George's and Hanover, and that no delay, no respite, no breathing time, had been allowed between the trial and the execution. There was a necessity, it was supposed, to hasten 1064 the operation, to proceed with the trial, trusting to a conviction, in order that there might be an execution before the Christmas holidays—Another omission, or rather difference between the trials at St. Mary's and at Hanover, was, that, at the latter, the prisoners had a solicitor, and not at the former. At Hanover there was an indictment; not a vague charge of conspiracy, the meaning of which no man could accurately define. The indictment was drawn up like an indictment in an English court of justice; and it was found by a grand jury, or a body performing the functions of a grand jury. The prisoners had solicitors and counsel, who took a technical objection, which led, in the case of Jack, to a new trial. These circumstances showed that both the form and substance of justice had been violated at St. Mary's. At St. Mary's the men were put on their trial without all these formalities. The charge was vague and indefinite, and they were thus condemned on evidence which would not have been thought sufficient in this country to convict the basest of mankind of the smallest penal offence. In one brief tropical day, eight miserable men were put upon their trials, and before the sun went down they were no longer living. Undefended, un-pitied, and almost untried, they were hurried to their untimely graves, to gratify the headlong impatience of those who wished for eight executions before Christmas! And was the House of Commons to look on at proceedings such as these, and say nothing through fear of casting an imputation on the constituted judicature of Jamaica? If that court of judicature and the governor of the island, had proceeded as no men ought to proceed, were they to be supported by an English House of Commons? Were we to be told to seal our lips, and shut our ears, against the dying groans of our fellow-men, because, forsooth, we might give offence to persons in place and power? If the House felt as he knew they must feel, he was sure they would not be satisfied, unless they passed a censure on this constituted judicature. But if the proceedings of this judicial body were influenced by their apprehensions, the same could not be said of the governor, who was at a distance, and could not be affected by that array of fear, which existed among the people at St. Mary's. Those fears were local; and if they afforded a justification of the people on the 1065 spot, they afforded no earthly pretence of justification, no extenuation whatever, of the rash, the headlong impatience of the governor. He received the statement of the trial, read the vague charges, compared the evidence given on one and the same day, varying and contradictory as it was. He was at a distance, surrounded by his council, his secretary, and his law officers, accessible to give their opinions; and he, too, would give these unhappy men no breathing time, would allow them no respite, but by the return of the messenger, despatched instructions that they should be executed forthwith. The decree had gone forth; and, were they innocent or were they guilty, executed they must be before Christmas. The other case was that in which Leon and George were capitally convicted on the evidence of Corberand. This man, on his own statement, was an accomplice. His evidence was not only unconfirmed by any corroborating circumstance, but there was every reason to believe that it was false; yet, on this most doubtful and unsupported evidence, the governor, with that impatience which characterized all these unhappy proceedings, ordered one of the two prisoners to be instantly executed. After these statements, was it too much to ask if the censure, the heaviest censure, of the House, should not fall upon the guilty parties? Let no false delicacy—no effort to screen individuals of rank and power—prevent the expression of the heaviest censure. It was due to the House, it was due to the country, to pass such a vote, and he was convinced that it would lead to the most beneficial results. It would then go forth to our settlements abroad, that those in power there must not dare to use that power in an intemperate and precipitate manner. He did not wish to employ harsh expressions towards those on whose conduct he had felt it his duty to animadvert; and therefore, agreeing with his hon. and gallant friend, the member for Southwark, in most of his observations, he could not go the length of his gallant friend, and apply to these unhappy proceedings the term of "authorized murders." He considered the proceedings to be a violation of the law, and the covictions to be a gross violation of justice; and if men were placed in a situation where they could be excited by their own apprehensions to commit such acts, and where the system was such that they could commit them with impunity, 1066 it was so much the more necessary that the House should express a strong opinion on their conduct. If men were placed in a situation in which they might, under the influence of some momentary passion, lend themselves to the commission of irrevocable measures, involving no less than the life and death of individuals, it behoved the House the more strongly to express an opinion which might prevent the recurrence of similar conduct. The House was bound to show the world, that, if justice and mercy were duties, it was no less a duty in those intrusted with power to retain their self-possession and firmness; and it was no less imperiously required of them, not to allow themselves to be led away by a panic or terror, under the influence of which they might shed, or, as in this case, sanction the shedding of innocent blood. He should not have thought that he had done his duty if he had not stated his reasons for maintaining that these proceedings ought not to pass the ordeal of parliament unreprobated; for, if it should once go out to the West Indies, that this system of monstrous cruelty and injustice could with impunity be perpetrated again and again, as long as the system lasted would such acts be repeated without compunction, and justified by past tolerance, and in vain could they hope or look for the correction of such inveterate evils.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, that if the hon. and learned gentleman, who had just sat down, could not suffer this motion to pass without recording his abhorrence of the system which had led to it, neither could he (Mr. Canning) consent to vote for the amendment which, by preference, he would place upon the hon. and learned mover's resolutions, without at the same time recording, that it was not from yielding to him in any one of the general sentiments of indignation which he had used respecting the whole colour of this transaction that he had come to a different conclusion, but that on grounds of a more limited nature he preferred giving his concurrence to the amendment rather than the original motion. Indeed, he thought the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last had himself admitted—at least to that extent went the principles which he had laid down—that to the original resolutions he could not grant an undivided concurrence [no, no]. Such was certainly the tendency of the hon. and learned gentleman's argument; for he had declared 1067 himself not prepared to give an ungraduated reception to the uniform expression of complaint, which pervaded his hon. and learned friend's resolutions—he was not prepared to give one sweeping affirmative to the charge of violated justice and perverted law, upon trials, in the description of which it was one great and leading part of his speech to separate and discriminate. The hon. and learned gentleman, doubtless, in order to aggravate one case, had quoted another, which did not, in his conception, partake of the same repulsive character. He had contrasted the proceedings at St. Mary's with those at St. George's and Hanover, marking distinctly the differences between them, and admitting candidly and frankly, that in the one there had been an observance of form, a cautious delicacy of proceeding, widely different from the other. Indeed, so clear had the hon. and learned gentleman himself drawn the line, that if his speech had been the preface of a motion on the subject, it would have applied very differently to each of the three cases which were involved in the present inquiry. But while this discrimination was essential for coming to an understanding upon the original motion, it was quite otherwise in the view taken by the amendment; and on that account, were it for no other, he greatly preferred it; for there, whatever might be the shades of difference as to the colouring of the facts, the only proposition pressed into their consideration, was, that they collected from the whole of these proceedings additional cause for feeling regret at the existence of distinctions in the law, as in its operation it affected the lives of the white and the black population of his majesty's colonies. That these distinctions in the laws for shedding the blood of two classes of persons, only differing in colour, ought not to endure, he, for one, most readily admitted. Such a system of law called for, and required, considerable alteration; and it was the principle of that reform which he was ready to embody in the amendment that should have his support. Indeed, there was no considerable substantive difference between the original motion and the amendment; for their object was alike, though they aimed, by different degrees, to arrive at its accomplishment. Indeed, if the hon. and learned mover's resolutions had run thus, "That the attention of this House being called to the consideration of certain judicial proceed- 1068 ings in the island of Jamaica, on the trials of slaves for rebellious conspiracy, in the years 1823 and 1824, had deemed it their duty to express in the strongest terms their deep regret at their occurrence, and could not refrain from declaring a conviction of the necessity for an effectual reform of the administration of criminal justice respecting the slave population of that island." To such a resolution he should at once have agreed. But then came these words, "sorrow and indignation at the violation of law displayed therein," and that, "they deeply lament the sentences of death, wholly unwarranted by proof." From these expressions he must, he repeated, dissent; for he was not prepared to affirm by his vote, that these trials were marked by a violation of law, and a perversion of justice—that sentences of death had been precipitated. These were propositions which he could not, upon the facts before him, affirm. He was nevertheless prepared to concede that this system of law was utterly unfit to exist; he was prepared to follow up this concession by a pledge that it should be altered; but he could not go on and pass condemnatory resolutions upon those who, in the discharge of their duty (and a painful duty it must have been), were acting under the known provisions of an existing code of laws. To charge them with these crimes while so engaged, was both extravagant and untrue; and yet that was the proposition involved in the original motion.—He would pursue the same line of classifying his opinions which the hon. and learned gentleman had pointed out to him in the framing of his resolutions. He had already declared, that he could not consent to affirm such a proposition as he had just described; nor was he prepared to admit the precipitate execution of the sentences. That was a charge which obviously included two parties—the judges who pronounced the sentence, and the local government that had confirmed it. With respect to the former, they had the power, if they thought fit, to order the prisoners to instant execution, without awaiting any reference to the government; but they did not do so; they declined to avail themselves of this power, and unnecessarily (he used the words in a legal, not a moral sense) reserved the sentence for the governor's confirmation. So that the bare recital of the fact showed not only the charge of precipitancy to be untrue, but 1069 to be directly false as applied to the proceedings of the judges; for they who had the power to order immediate execution had stayed the exercise of it, and referred the judgment to the governor. Then as to the charge respecting the governor, how did that stand? The duke of Manchester was, it should be recollected, acting in his judicial station, as the representative of the Crown, in possession of the high prerogative of mercy. The argument upon the exercise of that prerogative, from its very statement, could only become a question, after the ends of justice were satisfied. He could not conceive, by way of example, a more formidable question to have been mooted, than the remission or non-remission of punishment by the prerogative of the Crown, or its deputy: it was at once to launch into argument upon the most delicate of all human responsibilities; it was to probe a prerogative, the exercise of which must, from the nature of things, be left to the conscience of him who was invested with it. To his sense of justice, and of the deep and awful responsibility of its duties, this trust must be consigned. It must unquestionably be left to his breast unfettered, or it must be taken away. Were they to make a matter of such delicacy a debateable question in that House, they would destroy the essence of the prerogative, and impair its vitality and obligation. He should never, he hoped, be forced in that place to give an opinion upon the non-exercise of this prerogative; and a fortiori, he would not call for its condemnation in the manner now proposed. He meant not to blame the hon. and learned mover for the course he had taken, though he assured him if he had thought fit to communicate his resolutions to him before this debate, he should have felt much more satisfaction at trying how far he could have agreed with him, than in framing or concurring in, at the last hour before he entered the House, a resolution such as he could sanction by way of amendment to the hon. and learned gentleman's proposition. Nay, he would go further and say, that if his resolution were not so strongly drawn up, and did not contain propositions which were as untrue as, he believed, they were dangerous, he should have even gone more to conciliate the feelings of the gentlemen opposite, than perhaps the nature of the case called for—he would have gone as far as could be, to satisfy all just feelings between man 1070 and man; and, under all the peculiar circumstances of the occurrence, to have called for that expression of the opinion of parliament, which would have been as good, in the way of example, as any specific censure, and at the same time would have wholly avoided the dangerous precedent of that House passing a formal censure upon judicial proceedings, which did not appear to have outstepped the letter or spirit of the law. The preferable motion which had occurred to him was as follows, "That this House, sees in the proceedings which have been brought under its consideration, with respect to the late trials of slaves in Jamaica, further proof of the evils inseparably attendant upon a state of slavery, and derives there from increased conviction of the propriety of the resolutions passed on the 16th of May, 1823." They would thus be showing the working of an imperfect system of law, and then quickening the necessary desire to bring such a state of things to an end. But, after he had seen the hon. and learned gentleman's motion, he had added the following to his orginal resolution; viz., "But that, however desirable it is that the laws under which the late trials took place should be amended, it does not appear to this House to be expedient or safe, to impeach sentences passed by competent tribunals, upon persons brought to trial according to law, and convicted by a jury empanelled and sworn to give a verdict according to evidence laid before them." He particularly wished the last sentence to be preserved, because it recorded the reasons why he could not agree in the sweeping censure pronounced by the original motion. He was most anxious that his difference in opinion from the hon. and learned gentleman should be confined to the prudence, the expediency, the safety, of censuring by a parliamentary vote, judicial proceedings conducted according to a system of existing law. It was to save the House from establishing such a precedent that he was anxious to have the amendment adopted; because while it would sufficiently tend to correct these disgusting tribunals, it would not create a precedent which might hereafter be used, to affect other courts very differently constituted. In the moral estimate of these transactions, he concurred with the hon. and learned gentleman, but he could not concur in his legal inferences. The transactions were monstrous and disgusting 1071 enough but they were not corrupt of illegal. He would not follow hon. gentlemen into their details; indeed, he was not competent to do so, neither did he care to touch such topics, for the purpose of blunting the edge of any susceptible man's feeling, or of insinuating that he did not himself participate in them, but to prevent the dangerous adoption of a precedent so convertible to purposes hereafter which they might all have to deplore. In endeavouring, while he delivered these opinions, to impose a bridle on his own feelings, he did not wish to restrain those of others, but to ward off a precedent, which, in other times, might lead to the worst consequences.
§ Mr. Denman
claimed the indulgence of the House while he briefly replied to some of the observations of the hon. gentlemen opposite. In the first place, he must deny that he had withheld from them any knowledge of his particular motion. On the contrary, more than a fortnight ago, he had communicated its import fully. Still, he felt so strong a desire that their decision should go forth unanimously, that he begged to assure the right hon. gentleman, no partiality to any particular, phraseology of his own would prevent the adoption of his amendment, could he consent with any sense of justice, to compromise the imperative duty which that House owed to the country, in maintaining and guarding the due administration of justice. He had early in the evening regretted his inability to do justice to this subject, and had anticipated that his defects would be abundantly repaired by his hon. and learned, friends who followed him. The hon. gentlemen opposite had also come to his aid, so as greatly to narrow the point in contention. Upon all the strong points they were clearly agreed, and were now only disputing, upon a quibbling fallacy. It was broadly stated, that the lamentable proceedings which he had detailed were by the laws of Jamaica justified. He would reply, no, and he spoke from the Jamaica code, which, thought the courtesy of the Colonial Secretary, he held in his hand. In what part of this code were they bound to bring these, parties to trial within two days? Why try them without the assistance of counsel, without having the opportunity of calling, a single witness? In what page was it prescribed, that eight men should be tried and convicted before one and the same jury? Where was it enjoined that 1072 a wife, should be admitted a witness against her husband? The common law of Jamaica was the same as the common law of England. Then why this dissonance in the practice? The thing was monstrous, and justified and called for the terms which he had applied to it in his resolutions. He denied that there was any thing in the Jamaica code which could sanction these atrocities. But it seemed that this woman was not the unhappy man's wife in the legal acceptation, but a woman with whom he had cohabited. She had, however, stated the contrary at the trial; and he would say that the common law was violated in the unnatural admission of her testimony. The principles of justice had been sacrificed, because the law of nature had been invaded, the solemn obligations of kindred had been trampled under foot. He admitted the justice of his hon. and learned friend's discrimination, as to the classes of these slaves; but, taking them altogether, was there not a gross violation of law, and a perversion of justice in the whole proceedings? Persons were tried and condemned on the testimony of witnesses not swora, and on, hearsay—a wife had been adduced as evidence against her husband—the executions had been indecently precipitated. All these were perversions of law—all of them clearly supported his resolution—and the House would abandon its duty if it adopted any thing short of it. Then as to the judges, it was said that they had not beet precipitate, and they had almost been praised; for not ordering immediate execution, but referring the sentence to the governor. It was a lame cause which required this sort of bolstering. The juries were certainly the least blameable, because they had been misled by the judges. And who was the chief judge m this case? The military commander, who headed the troops which surrounded the Court—who was anxious to have executions before Christmas—who condemned these poor creatures on such unheard of testimony—and who was said not to have been precipitate, because, forsooth, he did not older instant execution, but referred the sentence to the governor—then came the defence of the governor. It was said that it would be most dangerous to interfere with the exercise of the prerogative of extending or withholding mercy. But he maintained, that it was not a question of mercy, but of justice; for the governor 1073 was bound, in justice, not to have ordered execution in such a case. Suppose a case had come before the Secretary for the Home Department, where persons had been condemned upon evidence clearly bad and insufficient; would he, in such a case, advise execution without further inquiry; and that too, in order to have execution done, and an example made before a certain day? Then his resolution called for a reform—of what? Not of the law, though that doubtless required it, but of the administration of criminal justice in the island. But they were told, that the system of law ought to bear all the blame. Was it to be endured, that public functionaries should thus carry unjust sentences into execution in such a precipitate manner, and that the House should do nothing more than coolly say, that all the blame rested with the system? Where were the checks that were justly to be expected from the controlling superintendence of an English governor, endowed with prerogative, possessing the sympathies of national feeling, and the education and habits of the high rank in which he moved? Should they not expect to see him wield his authority for the protection of the weak, from the violence of the mighty, instead of lending the influence of his power to sanction oppression and injustice? If any thing in the arguments of the right hon. gentlemen opposite more particularly called on him not to consent to substitute the amendment for his own resolution, it was the observation of one of them who had long been connected with the colonies, who said he was afraid that if censure were passed upon judicial proceedings regularly carried on, it would establish a dangerous precedent. But, was the House prepared to say, that it never would inquire into any judicial proceedings, in which, although the essence of justice had been violated, the forms had been complied with? If they were, he must protest against a doctrine so unconstitutional. What ever forms were observed towards these eight slaves, the substance of justice had been denied them, and eight men were consigned to death who ought not to have suffered. It was proved, that four of them were convicted on the evidence of a perjured rogue and robber, and that one of them was executed after the governor was aware of the infamy of the witness. If they were to be told, that it was neither safe nor expedient to 1074 pass censure on those who duly acted under the solemn obligations, of judges and jurors, why then had the cases of Russel and Sidney, and other murdered victims of arbitrary power, been revised and reversed? Had they not been tried according to law, before judges and juries, closely observing judicial forms? If the doctrine now insisted upon had been enforced by our ancestors, how could they have wiped off the foul stigma of these murders from the national character? He would no further trespass on the time of the House, than to say, that the government must bring this system of judicial abuse to an end, unless they were prepared to make a mockery of their whole proceedings. He could not adopt the amendment, because his conscience told him, that he ought not to bestow a qualified praise upon individuals, on the ground that what they had done was not in violation of law.
§ The House divided on Mr. Denman's motion; Ayes 63; Noes 103; Majority against the motion 40.
|List of the Minority.|
|Acland, sir T.||Ord, W.|
|Allen, J. H.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Althorp, viscount.||Pares, T.|
|Attwood, M.||Pelham, J. C.|
|Benett, J.||Philips, G.|
|Birch, J.||Philips, G. S.|
|Brougham, H.||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Rice, T. S.|
|Butterworth, J.||Robarts, A.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Calcraft, J.||Rumbold, C.|
|Calthorp, hon. F.||Russell, lord W.|
|Cavendish, C.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Cavendish, H.||Smith, J.|
|Colborne, N. R.||Smith, W.|
|Cole, sir C.||Sykes, D.|
|Corbett, P.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Crompton, S.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Davies, T. H.||Tomes, J.|
|Duncannon, viscount||Tremayne, J. H.|
|Evans, W.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Vivian, sir R.|
|Gaskell, B.||Wall, C. B.|
|Guise, sir B. W.||Webb, E.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Whitbread, S.|
|Heron, sir R.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Williams, J.|
|Honywood, W.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Kemp, T. R.||Wilson, W. W.|
|Leycester, R.||Wood, M.|
|Lushington, Dr.||Wyvill, M.|
|Milton, viscount||Denman, T.|
|Newman, R. W.||Nugent, lord.|
§ After the division, Mr. Brougham, referring to the course and temper of the discussion, suggested the propriety of cutting off the latter part of the amendment relative to the inexpediency of impeaching the verdict of the court, being all that part which followed the words "the year 1823." Mr. Canning assented to the suggestion, and it was agreed nem. con. to alter the amendment accordingly.