§ Lord Althorp
having moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform Bill,
The Marquis of Chandos
rose to ask his Majesty's Government whether any despatches had been received from the West Indies, and whether their contents 35 were calculated to allay the extreme anxiety created by the intelligence received through other channels with regard to the Islands of Jamaica, Antigua and St. Lucia?
§ Lord Howick
said, that despatches had been received that morning at the Colonial Office. The intelligence from Jamaica was on the whole satisfactory, and they certainly led to the conclusion that the insurrection was virtually suppressed. Almost all the ringleaders were brought in, and most of them had suffered for their crimes. The despatch of Lord Belmore, indeed, expressed an opinion that no further resistance from the negroes was to be apprehended. He must, however, state, with deep regret, that the accounts showed that a most frightful destruction of property had taken place, and, it was to be feared, a very great loss of life. With respect to the other parts of the West Indies to which the noble Marquis had alluded, he was not aware there was any thing in the state of those colonies of a nature to excite the slightest uneasiness.
The Marquis of Chandos
said, that, he had received intelligence from Antigua, by a letter which was dated the 30th of Jan. 1832, which described the Island of St. Lucia as being in a state to which he could not understand how it was possible that the noble Lord's observations could apply. With the permission of the House he would read a part of one of his letters upon the subject. The writer stated, that—On the receipt of the Order in Council, and the directions that they must be complied with without delay, the merchants of St. Lucia shut up their stores. In consequence of this, the commanding officer in that Island ordered the merchants to open their stores, and, in case of refusal, be threatened to order the military to force their doors, and compel them to do so. That duplicates of the Orders in Council were laid before a special meeting of the Legislature of the Island. The meeting was held with closed doors, and it was determined to send to England to remonstrate, when they were informed by the Governor that despatches had been received from the Colonial Office, stating that the Government would not permit any modification or alteration of the Orders to be made, but that the Orders, the whole Orders, and nothing but the Orders, should be either agreed to or not, and that if they were rejected by the colonial Legislature, fiscal penalties would be resorted to.He wished to know from the noble Lord, whether this statement was correct or not?
§ Lord Howick
said, that the statement in the letter was virtually correct. In the month of December last Viscount Goderich did send out a circular to the Governors of all such colonies as possessed local Legislatures, announcing that certain fiscal measures were to be adopted for the relief of the West Indies, but in favour of those colonies only which adopted the measures that had been so many years recommended to them by the Government respecting the treatment of slaves. To prevent all cavil and dispute as to what was to be considered a compliance with the wishes of the Government and the country, it was intimated that a declaratory act, giving force to the Orders in Council within the colony, would be the only course that could be so considered. If that were the proper time he was fully prepared triumphantly to vindicate the conduct of the Government upon this transaction. There was no one in the Government who would shrink from that task when the proper time came. In the course they had taken, indeed, they had only followed the advice and opinions of those most alive to the state of West-India affairs, from a local knowledge of what that state was. He need not recal to the House how the Government had been urged to adopt measures to enforce their previous resolutions, and how, at the close of last Session, Gentlemen got up and expressed in the strongest terms their censure of the Government for allowing that irritating state of things to continue, which, for the last eight years, had been constantly exciting the country. He had no notion that this subject would have been brought on, or he should have come down prepared with extracts from the speeches made at the time by hon. Gentlemen connected with those Islands. On the 13th of December, 1831, the hon. member for Sandwich himself stated that it was the duty of the Government to take some measures upon the subject. He felt, however, that it would be improper to go into the discussion at the present time, and although he was aware of the extreme inconvenience of allowing attacks to be made without answer, on the policy of the Government towards the colonies, he would abstain from the discussion. The noble Marquis had alluded to the reports respecting the officer in command at St. Lucia having threatened the merchants of that Island that if they did not open their stores they should be compelled. After 37 the exaggerated statements that had appeared in the newspapers respecting what had occurred at St. Lucia, he thought the House would allow him to state very shortly what the facts were. On the 30th of December Colonel Bousfield, the officer in command, having received his Majesty's Orders in Council of the 2nd of December, gave notice that they would come into operation on the 18th of January. This notice caused great excitement, and produced a very violent remonstrance from the planters; a deputation of them waited on the Governor, and a negotiation was opened, their object being to obtain a withdrawal, a suspension, or a modification of the Orders in Council, in order to allow them time to remonstrate with the Government at home, this was very properly declined by the Governor, who replied, as was the fact, that he had no discretionary power to suspend the Order. When this attempt had failed, on the evening of Saturday the 14th of January the Governor was informed that none of the shops and stores of the merchants would be opened on the following Monday, various other alarming rumours were also put into circulation. The pretence under which the merchants resolved to shut up the stores was, that a new and oppressive tax had been laid upon them. Now, the very persons who protested against that tax, had themselves admitted that it was necessary, and although it had been asserted that the expenditure had been unnecessarily increased, it had, in fact, been diminished by some thousand pounds annually, since the year 1827, when the reductions were commenced under the Administration of Lord Goderich. The fact was, as was evident by the documents laid on the Table of the House, that since that time the expenditure of the colony had been reduced by the late Government from 19,250l. to 12,500l., which he thought the House would see was as small a sum as the Government establishment could well be maintained for. When the Governor first heard of the intention to close the shops, he also heard that it was the intention of the people to refuse to pay the tax on shops, though the taxes for 1832 had been agreed to on the 14th of December, and the authority for the imposition of the tax on shops was signed by three of the leading men of the Island, who afterwards advised resistance to the order which they themselves had previously 38 approved of. From that day, the 14th of January, a combination was entered into by the merchants and storekeepers, not to sell to the Government, and in consequence the Governor was obliged to send for stores to the Island of Martinique. But the principal persons concerned in the combination at St. Lucia, endeavoured to disappoint him, by calling on their friends in the other Island, by letters, to co-operate with them in embarrassing the Government. The Governor having intimation of this proceeding, laid an embargo upon the vessel which was to have conveyed the letters to Martinique. But the Captain attempted to evade the embargo, by carrying the letters in an open boat to an American ship which lay in the offing. He was intercepted, and the letters found upon him were brought to the Governor, who thought it necessary for the peace of the Island to open them. Now, to show to the House the length to which the Gentlemen opposed to the Government in St. Lucia were prepared to go, he (Lord Howick) would read some of those letters. In one, addressed to the House of Ferguson and Co., of Martinique, the writer says:—Among other measures of passive resistance which we have adopted here, we have not opened our stores since the 14th; and the shopkeepers have followed our example. We have done this with a view to resist the payment of a tax—
§ Mr. Croker
rose to order. He had been one of those who thought it would have been well to obtain from the Government some answer upon this important subject calculated to quiet the public mind. But he was sure that they were not then doing right in listening to a statement calculated to prejudice an individual who might hereafter be charged with a very serious offence. He thought the noble Lord was prejudicing the case against any persons who might be considered to be implicated.
§ Lord Howick
said, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was right. The statements he was entering into were hardly proper, and he therefore would confine his remarks to the information which had been received by Government. There had not been any disturbances of the nature supposed by the noble Marquis in St. Lucia, and he would therefore content himself with stating, that the shops and stores had since been opened; and that when the 39 Admiral came from Martinique to St. Lucia with two vessels, he found the island quiet, and he consequently returned without landing. When the proper occasion arrived, he should be prepared to justify the Order in Council, and the measures which had been taken in consequence of it.
would not follow the noble Lord through the statement he had just made, not being prepared for the discussion; but the account he had received of the transactions at St. Lucia, differed very much from the ex parte statement of the noble Lord. The parties accused were willing and anxious to meet every investigation; and he trusted the noble Lord would lay the papers relating to this transaction upon the Table, when the House would be better able to judge of the merits of the case. He was certain that on no occasion he had ever expressed any sentiments which could be construed into approval of the measures of Government in sending out the Order in Council. On the contrary, he had, in his communications with the Colonial Office, strongly protested against this measure, and those representations were always received with courtesy, and in some instances complied with. The expression alluded to, referred to the proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Society, which he then contended were calculated to do infinite mischief, and the question which he wished to see settled, referred, not to slavery itself, but to the angry controversies between the contending parties.
§ Mr. Burge
was quite sure the House must have felt that the noble Lord was taking a most objectionable course, even if the right hon. Gentleman had not pointed it out. The noble Lord was founding an ex parte statement upon materials derived from a very questionable source. The noble Lord had his information from the Governor of St. Lucia; but did not the noble Lord know that the people of that island had complained of the conduct of the Governor? The evidence of that gentleman ought therefore to be received with caution. Something had been said of the conduct of the present Government being approved of by the West-India proprietors. He defied any person to point out a single instance in which a person authorised by the colonies had given his sanction to those fatal proceedings. What had been the conduct of the Government? 40 Many of the colonies possessed legislative assemblies, which were by right and in law free; and yet what had the Government done? Why, sent out certain Orders in Council, which authorized the Governors of the colonies to insist upon the legislative assemblies passing a declaratory act making those Orders in Council, law; and that step the Government demanded should be taken, without any alteration whatever having been made even in the words of the Orders in Council. Did the noble Lord imagine—
§ Lord Althorp
rose to order. It appeared to him, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was going into a discussion of the Orders in Council, and that was a course beyond the present question. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in calling his noble friend to order, but upon the same principle the hon. and learned Gentleman was departing from the line of order. He was sure the hon. and learned Member would, on consideration admit, that to pursue his present course would be highly inconvenient.
§ Mr. Burge
must appeal to the honour, justice, and candour of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and ask him if he could expect that any man connected with the West-India Colonies, could sit still and hear without remark, the observations made by the noble Lord, the under Secretary for the Colonies. The language of the noble Lord as the organ of the Government, was not to be endured, when he insinuated that some colonial proprietors had countenanced the proceedings of Government. No man who respected the rights of a legislative assembly, could by possibility approve of their conduct, when they made an Order in Council, and imperiously commanded what they were pleased to call a legislative assembly to register that Order, without the slightest alteration, as a law made, considered, and adopted by that assembly. Such a proceeding, he contended, was monstrous. He therefore asked, not only for the information which had been referred to by the noble Viscount, but for that faithful information which had been conveyed to the Government at home by the Governors of the colonies, as to the manner in which the Order in Council had been received, and as to the feeling of its colonies respecting that Order. The Government was incurring a frightful responsibility. If the Ministers intended to leave these colonies 41 in as good a state as that in which they found them when they took office, they must pursue a course totally at variance with that which they had hitherto followed. Let it not be supposed that any information was withheld on account of the wishes or interests of the colonists. There was not a colonist who shrunk from investigation—there was not one man connected with the colonies or wishing well to them who did not desire investigation He had himself continually sought and applied for inquiry, and it was only a week ago that he had been able to get an answer, and that answer was, that the Government would give no Committee of inquiry.
§ Lord Howick
said, the whole of the information required by the hon. and learned Gentleman would be laid before the House as a matter of course. Up to the present time, information upon the point mooted had been received from only three colonies, but when the information had been obtained from the other colonies, it would be furnished in a complete state.
Sir Robert Peel
said, no one could feel astonishment that the remarks of the noble Lord, the under Secretary for the Colonies, should excite comment. He, however, would abstain from entering into any consideration of the Order in Council to which reference had been made. He must observe, however, that he was one of those who had protested not only against the mode of proceeding adopted by the Government, but also against the tone and temper in which that mode was put in action. He well recollected the expressions which had been used by a gentleman of a high and honourable character, and who held an important judicial situation under the Government. That hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that he was authorised by the free people of colour in Jamaica, to say that they were ready to make a sacrifice of their property in their slaves. [Dr. Lushington expressed his dissent.]—Such was his recollection, and although he might be mistaken, nothing short of the explicit contradiction of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself would lead him to that belief. There was also another statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman which likewise impressed itself on his mind at the time, and it was to this effect—that if the white inhabitants of Jamaica breathed a word of sedition 42 against the Government, he would undertake to say, that time free people of colour would be ready to rise and to support the Government. Such were the sentiments propagated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he lamented at the time to hear them, because they were calculated to defeat and not to forward the object which the House had in view. He lamented also the language which had been used on the same occasion by the noble Lord (Lord Howick). Inexperienced as the noble Lord was, he thought he would have acted only with becoming modesty and caution if he had taken a course far less positive and obnoxious. It was not only arbitrary but preposterous to say to a colony with a legislative assembly, you shall adopt an Order in Council, without the slightest alteration, as your law; that Order in Council being only in a state of preparation when that unmeasured declaration was made. At the time of that proceeding he stated he could not defend the conduct of the colonies. He thought the colonies tardy in adopting necessary and salutary regulations, but he also thought the means taken to compel them to adopt those regulations most unwise and most unjust. He well recollected it had been said, that all appeals had been made to the colonists which humanity could dictate, but that their avarice had overcome them. The course taken by the Government and those who supported its conduct had excited stronger passions than even that of avarice. They had excited the passions of horror, pride, and jealousy. Whatever the noble Lord and the Government might think, those passions would be found too strong for control. Such was his recollection of what had transpired, and such his opinions respecting it, though he hoped that his anticipations would not be realized.
§ Dr. Lushington
was glad of an opportunity of explaining any language he had used on a former occasion, which he regretted to find had been misunderstood. What he had said was, that previously to the time when the people of colour were admitted to a participation in the same rights as the whites, he was informed that the free people of colour were ready to accede to any plan to ameliorate the condition of their slaves, which the Government might propose. That declaration was made when the late Government was in office. But the people of colour went 43 further. Upon some person remarking in the colonial assembly of Jamaica, that if the demands of the colonies were not acceded to by the mother country, they, that is the whites, would be justified in throwing off their allegiance and placing themselves under the protection of some other power; they declared, that if any proposal of that kind were made, the free coloured inhabitants of Jamaica were ready to come forward with their lives and fortunes in support of the connexion with Great Britain—that Power to which they owed their allegiance—whatever might be the conduct pursued by the white population of the colony. Their conduct upon every occasion, merited the highest praise. In every insurrection and disturbance, they had conducted themselves most commendably. He would not then enter into the question of West-India slavery; he would only say that he entertained still the same opinions as he had formerly supported. He was convinced that the course adopted by the Government must be persevered in, or misery and desolation would be the consequence. He must inform the right hon. Baronet, that he had never held a situation under Government which had not left him at perfect liberty to exercise and pronounce his own individual opinions.
Sir Robert Peel
said that even the language of the hon. and learned Gentleman should not lead him into a discussion upon slavery. He was only anoxious to prevent it from being supposed that he had uttered one syllable to the disparagement of the coloured population of Jamaica, or of any of our possessions in the West Indies.