HC Deb 17 March 1834 vol 22 cc280-4
Mr. F. Buxton

took that opportunity, seeing the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of the Colonies, in his place, of asking a question or two which related to a subject of very great importance, and was deeply interesting to many both in and out of that House. He wished to know whether the great experiment of last year, with reference to negro emancipation, had, as far as it had hitherto proceeded, satisfied the reasonable expectations of Government? A Report had been circulated, that very important intelligence had been received from Demerara, manifesting the most cordial and conciliatory spirit on the part of the masters of slaves, and exhibiting at the same time the best disposition on the part of the negroes. It was also reported that in the island of Antigua the House of Assembly had passed an Act for immediate emancipation, without the intervention of the term of apprenticeship. With regard to Jamaica, he had also heard, indeed he had seen a letter from that quarter to the effect, that but for some unaccountable misapprehension, that the parent Legislature was anxious that the apprenticeship clause should not be dispensed with, they would have followed the same course, by passing an Act for immediate abolition. He was anxious to know whether Government had received any official information upon these points? There was only another thing to which he would allude. There had been a strong apprehension, he believed, in many instances, honestly entertained last year by many hon. Gentlemen, both in and out of that House, that in consequence of the measure then adopted, the ordinary quantity of provisions and stores would not be sent out to the West Indies. Now, he had been given to understand that the quantity of stores sent out fell very little, if anything, short of the usual supply. Feeling the importance of the subject, and well knowing the great interest attached to it out of doors, he was anxious to ascertain whether the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies could give any official information to the House upon the points he had alluded to?

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, although he was not prepared to go extensively into the different questions which had been put to him by the hon. Member, yet he could not but embrace with great pleasure the opportunity thus afforded him of referring as far as he could satisfactorily and distinctly to each of them. And first of all, he had to thank the hon. Member for having privately communicated to him his intention of putting the questions specifically on the present occasion. As to the success of the Negro Emancipation Bill, and whether it had answered the expectations of his Majesty's Government, his hon. friend was well aware, that the Act had not yet come into operation in any one of the Colonies, and it was, therefore, difficult to give any further answer than that contained in his Majesty's Speech, that so far as they could yet judge, they had every reason to form the most sanguine expectations of its ultimate success. With regard to Antigua, it was undoubtedly true that the Legislature had in progress a measure for doing away with apprenticeship altogether, and thereby to carry into effect emancipation on the 1st of August next. They waited, however, till they should ascertain from his Majesty's Government whether, in the event of such a Bill passing, the British Parliament would object to it as being in fact a variation from the original plan. He had no hesitation in assuring the inhabitants of Antigua, as indeed he had previously communicated by means of a circular letter, anticipating, in the case of some of the colonies, that measures of that nature would be proposed, that as they had the power of generally regulating and abridging its period, they had also the power of doing away with the apprenticeship altogether; but he hoped he had correctly expressed the feelings and intentions of Parliament in saving, that it would not be competent for them to substitute for the system of apprenticeship any other and different species of coercion, drawing a distinction between the state of the negroes and that of the rest of the population. They must either embrace the apprenticeship in its main details and principal provisions, or, doing away with it entirely, admit the negroes to a full and equal participation in the rights of their fellow-subjects. What the result might be of this communication of course he knew not. He must add, that he had found it necessary to be precise upon this point, because the proposal of immediate abolition without apprenticeship had been associated with an attempt to introduce the discussion of the four-and-a-half per cent duties, which he had undoubtedly said, could not be taken up by that body, and the annexing of which, as a condition of immediate emancipation, not being sanctioned by Government, would at once defeat their object, and risk the loss of the entire Bill. With regard to Jamaica, he was not at present sure that he could speak with entire confidence, although he had undoubtedly heard reports similar to those referred to by the hon. Gentleman, and that a desire had been expressed to pass a Bill terminating the system at once, without the intervention of apprenticeship. They had, however, passed an Act to which his Majesty's assent had been given, fully carrying the principle, and almost all the details of the original measure, and thoroughly and completely entitling them to compensation, for full and free compliance with the provisions imposed by the Imperial Legislature. With regard to Demerara, he could only say he had a still more gratifying announcement to make to the House. He had received, on the 13th of the present month, two despatches dated the 26th and 27th of January; and although two papers, to which the Governor referred, had by some mistake not accompanied the documents, yet the language made use of sufficiently showed what the scope and tendency of those enclosures were. He stated, in the first place—"I cannot show you in a more gratifying manner the tranquil state of this colony than by submitting to you the Returns for the last month from the three fiscals and the protectors of slaves, the one containing all cases of punishment imposed on the slaves by the judicial authorities, the other all cases of complaint throughout the colony, comprising a slave population of 80,000, against their masters." For Demerara itself, by some accident, the report of the fiscal has not been forwarded, but the total punishments awarded in the other two districts in the month of December, (an holyday month, be it recollected, when some little excitement was naturally to be expected), "amount to no more than thirteen—no one of them being of a corporal nature, and varying from one to three weeks' imprisonment."—"The total number of complaints from 80,000 slaves against their masters amounted also to thirteen; while all of them were of the most trivial and insignificant nature." He had also to state, although the returns alluded to could not yet be submitted to the House, that the governor used these expressions, as to the amount of produce and the diligence of the slaves—"I beg also to lay before you, and draw your attention to returns, showing the quantity of colonial produce gathered this season, as compared with preceding years,"—he (Mr. Stanley) regretted much not having the identical documents—"a considerably increased quantity has been made last year, although the season has not been by any means peculiarly favourable. This increased quantity is solely attributable to the increased good-will and diligence of the slaves, and this good-will and diligence of the slaves are the consequences of the milder treatment they now experience, and the cheering prospect they have before them." He had only one other, and not the least gratifying statement to make—that the Court of Policy of Demerara, composed, as to one moiety at least, of colonial planters utterly unconnected by any tie with Government, and not very sparing in the course of the last few years in venting their feelings of anger at some of the Government measures, had unanimously passed an ordinance, without one dissentient voice, abolishing, from the 1st of March, 1834, the power of the masters to inflict corporal punishment to any extent, and for any cause whatever; thus by five months anticipating one of the principal enactments of the British Legislature. They had constituted Courts of petty Sessions, not to be attended by less than four Magistrates, and to be presided over by the fiscal, for the trial of all causes between master and slave; and they had added to this the wise provision, that no master should give his voice upon the question of any punishment proposed to be inflicted on a slave belonging to himself. He need not say, he had advised his Majesty with the greatest satisfaction to express his approbation of this wise, humane, and liberal policy adopted by the colony of Demerara which he was bound to say, afforded to Government and the country the best security for the final and complete success of the great experiment itself. He had also had the satisfaction of expressing his Majesty's approbation of a proclamation issued by the Governor, pointing out to the slave population, most justly and properly, that for this anticipation of the benefit conferred on them the slaves were indebted to their masters, the colonists themselves; and it afforded additional satisfaction for him to have the opportunity of making that statement in the House, in order that, together with his Majesty's approbation, he might be able to communicate to the colonists, as he confidently anticipated, the applause and sanction of the house of Commons for the wise and liberal course they had pursued.

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