HC Deb 13 March 1827 vol 16 cc1166-73
Dr. Lushington

said, that he rose to bring before the House a subject intimately connected with the character and welfare of one of our principal West-India colonies. He would call the attention of parliament and the country to an act of lawless violence and indecent outrage, perpetrated in violation of every respectable feeling, and instigated by a clergyman of the Church of England, against an individual as helpless as he was unoffending. The act to which he alluded, bad as it was, had been accompanied by circumstances of brutal violence, which required no comment, and defied exaggeration. The subject he had undertaken to bring forward was, in his opinion, of no small importance to those who had been accustomed to the discussion of such subjects in this House; and it would excite no small surprise, when it was considered, that it had occurred after the recorded wish of parliament, that it would take every measure in their power to maintain religious freedom, and an observance of the laws in the West Indies. Throughout the island of Jamaica, it had been a long-established custom, that the slave population should be indulged with an annual relaxation from their toils at Christmas; upon which occasion the militia regiments of the island were called out upon service. This latter practice had, for many years, fallen into disuse; but recently it had been renewed; and, for the last two years, the regiments of militia had been stationed on guard, during the period of Christmas. On last Christmas day, in the parish of St. Ann's, Jamaica, the militia were called out to keep watch and guard over the slave population, and protect the property of their masters. They had previously assembled to hear divine worship in the parish church of St. Ann's. On that occasion, a sermon had been preached by a Mr. Brydges, the chaplain of the bishop of Jamaica. The House would hear with astonishment the sentiments and exhortations of the preacher. He had thought fit to deliver to this regiment of militia, a discourse couched in the most inflammatory language; censuring the establishment of missionaries in that island; and exciting a body of men, with arms in their hands, to acts of outrage and blood-shed. Immediately after that sermon, a company of the regiment was left on guard. During that time, about midnight, they made an attack upon the house of the rev. Mr. Ratcliffe, a Wesleyan Missionary, which was inhabited by that person himself, with his wife, children, and servants. The attack was made with muskets and horse-pistols, and no less than fourteen musket balls were fired into the house; not hurriedly or without consideration, but at intervals, and by word of command. The guard, of which he had already spoken, was all this time on duty, in the close vicinity of Mr. Ratcliffe's house, but no attempt at interference took place on their part; and it was owing, not to the humanity of this white company, or to the Christian exhortations of the rev. Mr. Biydges, but to the accident of the balls not having taken effect, that murder was not added to outrage and violence. He had not gone to the length of the accounts which he had received from Jamaica; nor had he slated the case as strongly as he would have been justified in stating it, from the accounts which had been published in two Jamaica newspapers. He trusted that the House would lose no time in lending its weight and authority to punish guilt, as they had in vain attempted to prevent its commission, by passing its former Resolutions. He brought forward the present measure not at the desire of any body of men; but he would state, that the person outraged was one of the body of Wesleyan Missionaries. He had no connexion with that body whatever; and he brought forward the subject, because it was an infringement of the principles of toleration—an attempt to suppress religious freedom. But, if he had no connexion with the Wesleyan Missionaries, he was but doing them justice to say, that it was owing to their exertions that the lower classes in the West-India islands had acquired any sentiments of religion, and that they were no longer sunk into the lowest state of idolatry and Paganism. The right hon. member for the borough of Christ-church (sir George Rose), who was so intimately connected with the West Indies, had stated, that out of the slave population of all the West-India colonies, only one hundred thousand possessed the slightest knowledge of Christianity, and of these, seventy thousand were indebted for what knowledge they possessed to the Wesleyan Missionaries. It would appear, that the Wesleyan Missionaries had no competitors in the clergy of the Church of England. At the same time, he was far from blaming the Church of England for not effecting what it had, perhaps, no means of accomplishing; neither did he intend to blame the ministers of the Church of England, because they had been equally destitute of assistance, to enable them to enlighten our slave population. Government had most wisely determined to remove that defect; but he should grieve, if the Church Establishment, in the colonies, were to bring along with it all the evils of religious persecution. The Missionaries had overcome every obstacle and difficulty; and they had achieved so much, that every man who had a regard for the moral improvement of the human species, and who had at heart the propagation of religious sentiments, must yield to them applause for what they had effected. He for one would not desert them, if he saw in any quarter a disposition to expose them to calumny and oppression. He would be the first to come forward to enable them to obtain that protection to which, by the laws of God and of the land, they were entitled. If a regiment, three-fourths of which consisted of coloured people, saw their white fellow-soldiers allowed to perpetrate an outrage, such as that which he had described, what would be the natural effect of it? What example was this to set them? Would they not thereby be encouraged to treat with less respect, the laws which they saw their comrades violating with impunity? What would be the effect of the example upon the slave population, when they saw the whites, in violation of the laws, committing all but murder? But the matter did not stop here. On the Sunday following, only two days having elapsed, this very identical clergyman, Mr. Brydges, had the confident assurance to mount, his pulpit, to allude with triumph and satisfaction to the preceding outrage, and to repreach the same sermon? Some hon. members might wish to know who this rev. Mr. Brydges was. He was an individual who first attracted public notoriety by the promulgation of a libel upon the memory of a man entitled to the respectful recollections of all those endued with the feelings of humanity. The first public proceeding of Mr. Brydges was a libel on Mr. Wilber-force, to whom he applied these words—"Mel in ore, verba lactisFel in corde, fraus in factis."—As a reward for this composition the House of Assembly in Jamaica voted him a sum of money; and, as a further encouragement, the bishop of Jamaica appointed him his chaplain. He trusted that, if the facts which he had stated could be brought home, some means would be devised of punishing, not only those who had been guilty of a violation of the law in firing into the House of Mr. Ratcliffe, but also the fountain and author of that outrage; for, undoubtedly, those who suffered themselves to be made the instruments of such an act of violence, however culpable, were less guilty than the man at whose instigation it was perpetrated. But, could the House be surprised at this occurrence. He confessed that he was not, when he recollected the shameful transaction which had taken place at Barbadoes; and when he reflected that no punishment of any sort had lighted on the heads of the offenders—when he knew that the magistrates had not only been regardles of the offence which was committed, but actually in connivance with the guilty parties—and when, so far from the participators having been visited with the penalties due to their crimes, they had all been suffered to retain their situations. When he saw how incapable the parliament had hitherto been to repress or to redress grievances of this description, he could not fool surprised at their recurrence. Jamaica was at least as fully entitled to the protection of government as Barbadoes. He did not scruple to say, that he entertained a higher opinion of the former colony than of the latter; and, although the people of Jamaica had, in sonic instances, done him injustice, he would not retort that injustice upon them. The necessity of the interposition of parliament was not removed or diminished by the cir- cumstance of colonel Cox having endeavoured to investigate the transaction shortly after its occurrence. He trusted that that investigation would be attended with more beneficial results than had flowed from the proclamations of general Ward on a similar occasion in Barbadoes. The efforts of general Ward had been fruitless; but he hoped that the proceedings of colonel Cox would tend to rescue the island of Jamaica from the reproach and obloquy which would attach to it, if such an atrocity as this were passed over in silence. The occurrence, he was able to say, was not viewed with apathy or indifference in Jamaica. Two of the public papers there had reprobated it in much stronger terms than he had ventured to use. He hailed the return of good feeling in Jamaica; and he would exhort the colonists to recall as far as possible their past conduct, and to adopt a more becoming course in future. When he saw the galaxy of talent and ability which shone in the House of Assembly in Jamaica—and no one could read the deliberations of that body without being struck with admiration of the wisdom and talent it embodied—he felt it impossible that the darkness of superstition, and the degradation of sentiment, which had given rise to this outrage, could long withstand their influence upon the society of the island. He would say to the legislators of that island, "Do not wait for the orders of government—anticipate the measures of parliament—do all you can to save the character of your island from the disgrace of having permitted a body of armed men to commit, an outrage upon an unoffending missionary—take into your own hands the prerogative with which the mother-country has invested you, and show yourselves worthy of the charter which, in her kindness she Cave you." His reason for bringing forward the subject at the present moment was to show his determination, after what had occurred at Barbadoes, not to allow a single instance of religious intolerance in the West Indies to transpire, without bringing it under the notice of the House. He knew that this spirit of illiberality was spreading; that endeavours were made to depreciate the efforts and the characters of the Missionaries, and to set the Church of England against them. If it should so happen, that, in process of time, through the instrumentality of her ministers, the Church of England should attain a superiority over the Missionaries in the West-Indies, and extinguish Methodism, he would most cordially hail such a consummation; but, in Heaven's name, let it not be effected by means of oppression and persecution. Let the Missionaries have fair opportunities, by their own exertions, to maintain their ground; and, which, ever body should eventually possess the superiority, the results must be the diminution of immorality and vice, the spread of religion, and the advancement of those feelings which it ought to be the object of every just, wise, virtuous, and beneficent government to foster and promote. He hoped he had not let fall one word that night which could be likely to increase the animosity that prevailed in the West Indies. Far from wishing to irritate such feelings he was most anxious to soothe and allay them, and to unite all classes in that course which would forward the cause of justice and humanity. He would conclude with moving for "Copies of all despatches which his majesty's government have received from Jamaica relative to an attack made on the Wesleyan Missionary Meeting House, and the dwelling of Mr. Ratcliffe the Missionary, at Christmas last.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

begged shortly to offer a few observations upon the motion; and, in doing so, he assured the House, that no despatches had been received in his department, in which mention was made of the outrages alluded to; and he would further state, that, had he received notice of the commission of any such outrage, he would have felt it his duty to have brought it under the consideration of the House. As matters at present stood, he thought it would be most advisable for the hon. and learned member to wait until such information had been received as would enable his majesty's government to interfere with, and direct the local authorities. With respect to the rev. Mr. Brydges, he should, if the statements were true, strongly condemn his conduct; but it was too much to suppose that the whole colony were actuated by such sentiments. It might or it might not be true that, sermons, such as those alluded to, had been preached by that gentleman; but they were bound to wait until they had ascertained the fact. In the mean time, it was not too much to say, it was highly improbable that such sermons had been preached from the pulpit, for such purposes. The hon. gentleman here read an extract from a Wesleyan Missionary Report, dated 1824, for the purpose of showing that the government of Jamaica was not at all hostile to the Dissenting Missionaries established in that island. He again assured the House, that no complaint of the nature alluded to had reached his office; and he trusted, the proposed inquiry would show, that there did not exist any such feeling towards the Dissenters in that island. While he said this, he trusted, that any outrage so base and unwarranted as that described, would, when fully established, meet with condign punishment. Upon this point, however, they must wait for further evidence; and that evidence being once laid before them, there could be little doubt that they would come to a satisfactory decision upon it.

Mr. F. Buxton

said, that, without entering into the general question before the House, he thought he could show, that it was not only possible, but probable, that the rev. Mr. Brydges had been guilty of the conduct imputed to him. That rev. gentleman had been made rector of St. Ann's, and chaplain to the bishop, after the period to which he was about to allude. The honourable member was proceeding to show that the rev. Mr. Brydges had been guilty of gross mis-statements, in an answer to a pamphlet published by Mr. Wilberforce, in which he stated, that he had baptised such find such numbers of negroes, in different districts, when—

Mr. Wynn

rose to order. He would put it to the House whether they ought to go at once into the inquiry proposed by the hon. member? The motion before the House was for papers relative to a certain outrage which had been committed in Jamaica; that outrage, it was said, had been fomented by the rev. Mr. Brydges, and, when his hon. friend made no objection to the motion, up rose the hon. member for Weymouth, and stated, that he could show that the rev. Mr. Brydges might have been guilty of the alleged outrage, because he could prove that that rev. gentleman had been guilty of falsehood in other instances. He was not there to say whether the answer to Mr. Wilberforce was founded in truth or falsehood, but he felt that that was not an inquiry into which they ought to enter at present.

Mr. F. Buxton

said, that if the right hon. gentleman had allowed him to go a little further, he would have found it un- necessary to interrupt him; but, as he had felt it proper to do so, he would go no further at present.

The motion was agreed to.