HC Deb 17 May 1833 vol 17 cc1345-7
Mr. William C. Gladstone

presented a Petition from Portarlington for the Abolition of Slavery. Me wished then to allude to certain observations made by the noble Lord, the late Under-Secretary for the Colonies, in his speech to the House on Tuesday night. The noble Lord had selected an estate in Demerara, belonging to his nearest relative, for the purpose of showing what a destruction of human life had taken place in the West Indies, from the manner in which the slaves were worked. The noble Lord stated, that, in three years, a decrease of seventy-one slaves had taken place on the estate of Vreeden Hoop, which he attributed to the increased cultivation of sugar; but the noble Lord omitted to state the real cause of this decrease, in the very large proportion of Africans upon the estate. When it came into the possession of his father, it was so weak, owing to the great number of Africans upon it, that he was obliged to add 200 people to the gang. It was notorious, that Africans were imported into Demerara and Trinidad up to a later period than into any other colony; and he should, when the proper time arrived, be able to prove, that the decrease on Vreeden Hoop was among the old Africans, and that there was an increase going on in the Creole population, which would be an answer to the statement of the noble Lord. The quantity of sugar produced, said by the noble Lord to be 1,900 lbs. per head annually, was small in proportion to that produced on many other estates. Within a short period, the cultivation of cotton in Demerara had been abandoned, and that of coffee very much diminished, and the people employed in these sources of production had been transferred to the cultivation of sugar. Demerara, too, was peculiarly circumstanced; for, owing to the nature of the soil, sugar was made all the year round; and, consequently, the labour of the same number of negroes distributed over the year, would, in that colony, produce a given quantity of sugar with less injury to the people, than a similar number in other colonies working-only at the stated periods of crop. He was ready to admit that this cultivation was of a more severe character than others; and he would ask, were there not certain employments in this and other countries more destructive to life than others? He would only instance those of painting, and working in lead mines, both of which were well known to have that tendency. The noble Lord attempted to impugn the character of the gentleman acting as manager of his father's estates: and in making this selection, he had certainly been most unfortunate; for there was not an individual in the colony more proverbial for humanity, and the kind treatment of his slaves, than Mr. Maclean. That gentleman had acted in judicial capacities, and had, during his long residence, been appointed by the Orphan Chamber to very important trusts. He held in his hand two letters from Mr. Maclean, in which that gentleman spoke in the kindest terms of the people under his charge; described their state of happiness, content, and healthiness; their good conduct, and the infrequency of severe punishment; and recommended certain additional comforts, which he said the slaves well deserved. It was stated by the noble Lord, that Mr. Moss, a gentleman of the highest respectability, had transferred the charge of his estate from his former manager, to the individual just alluded to. He had done so; but the fact was, that up to that period his estate was a source of loss, rather than of profit, owing to the idle habits of the people.

Mr. Marryat

had been instructed, on behalf of the colony of Grenada, whose interests he represented, to correct some of the misstatements contained in the speech of the right hon. Secretary for the colonies but, before entering into particulars, he could not but deeply regret the tone and temper of that speech towards the Colonial Assemblies. The right hon. Secretary truly stated, that almost insurmountable difficulties met him on every side, in the adjustment of this important question. What then could be the motive or policy of gratuitously raising up a still greater difficulty in courting, as it were, the hostility of those men through whom, and by whom alone, any plan could be safely and satisfactorily carried into execution? Supposing, even, that the accusations were true, was it fair or candid to use such language towards men who were not in a situation to defend their conduct? In rejecting the measures proposed by the Government, these Legislatures had acted, not in a spirit of "scorn and mockery," but he believed, upon a conscientious conviction, that while a system of slavery existed, the power of the master must be absolute; and in this they had been fully borne out by the testimony of the noble Lord, the late Under-Secretary for the Colonies, who stated, that they had done wisely in rejecting the Orders in Council attempted to be imposed upon them, and that he believed a greater amount of punishment was inflicted in Dominica, under the mitigated system of slavery, than in Jamaica, where the power of the master was absolute. That speech was a complete answer to the charges of the right hon. Secretary against the Colonial Legislatures. With respect to the measure of the right hon. Secretary, he must express his deep disappointment at it, for it was neither safe nor satisfactory. With every disposition to bring this most complicated question to a satisfactory adjustment, admitting that the time was now arrived, when a definite period must be fixed for the extinction of slavery, he could not conscientiously give the measure, as it now stood, his support. He trusted, however, that before it was again brought forward, such modifications would be made, as would remove his objections; for in its present shape it would be found to be impracticable. He would remind the House, that by the Acts of the Grenada Legislature, slave evidence was admitted on all trials in civil and criminal cases, in the same manner in every respect as the testimony of free persons was received; that slaves were allowed property almost without restriction; that punishments were recorded; that the use of the whip was abolished in the field since 1825? and that manumissions, encouragement to marriage, prevention of separation of families, and religious instruction, had been provided for. He could confirm this by referring to the despatches of Lord Bathurst and Sir George Murray, in which were acknowledged the spirit of liberality and benevolence that characterized the Acts of the Grenada Legislature. He regretted to state this in the absence of every member of his Majesty's Government; but he could not permit the assertions of the right hon. Secretary to remain any longer without contradiction.

Petition laid on the Table.