HC Deb 03 April 1838 vol 42 cc360-3
Mr. Scarlett

moved for a copy of any communication from the Colonial Office to the Marquess of Sligo, the Governor of Jamaica, directing the sudden emancipation of the apprentices upon the estate of Philip Anglin Scarlett, Esq., and for copies of any other documents relating to that transaction. The hon. Member said, the slaves on the estate of this gentleman had been declared entirely free, and discharged in consequence of some defect in the registration. The labourers had abandoned it, and left it entirely uncultivated up to the present time. Mr. A. Scarlett had suffered in the rebellion of 1830, having fled before the insurgents for his life, with the loss of all his property. However, he had settled on another estate, where, by an accident by fire, he a second time, lost his all, and was utterly ruined. Nothing but his buoyancy of spirits enabled him to rise above these repeated calamities, and the present motion related to no fewer than 107 negroes, who he complained had been illegally and unduly declared free. Without expecting much advantage from a complaint to the House of Commons, yet this was the only course open to him. Government appeared to have neglected the course pointed out to them by the law on this subject. A special magistrate had repaired to the estate, without, he believed, any notice to the proprietor, assembled the negroes and declared to them that they were free. They thanked the governor, and thanked their master; but declared they would continue to live with him, and labour for him, which they continued to do for some time; but such is the fickleness of the race, that just before the cropping season they left him, and the crops were, in consequence, wholly lost and wasted. The ground on which the manumission took place was, that the negroes were not duly registered. Now he contended, that they were duly registered according to the act 59, George 3rd, c. 120. They had been registered (as slaves) in 1816, and up to 1832; and that his opinion was correct, and that they were registered within the meaning of the Abolition Act, was confirmed by a decision of the Privy Council. It must be observed that no intention was ever imputed even to the proprietor of wishing to evade the registration; there was no fraud whatever in the transaction. Mr. Scarlett, the petitioner, complained of a great grievance, the amount of which was, that injustice had been done to him in consequence of Government having undertaken to enforce their own views of the law. In the motion which he had felt it his duty to make, he had no intention of making an attack upon her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, he thanked them upon the part of the petitioner, for enabling him to defend his just claims to his property. He did not, for a moment, suppose that Lord Glenelg himself would do anything harsh or oppressive; but he thought that a certain kind of influence was exercised in the Colonial Office, which was both injurious to the colonies and prejudicial to this country. The hon. Member concluded by moving for copies of any communication from the Colonial Office to the Marquess of Sligo, the Governor of Jamaica, directing the sudden emancipation of the apprentices, upon the estate of Philip Anglin Scarlett, Esq., and for copies of any other documents relating to that transaction.

Sir G. Grey

was at a loss to know what object the hon. Gentleman had in view in the motion which he had made. The facts occurred so far back as 1835, and could not, of course, be fresh in the recollection of hon. Members. The case was simply and entirely one of law, turning upon the construction of the Slave Emancipation Act. The noble Governor of the island of Jamaica had taken the step complained of in accordance with the opinions of the law officers of the Crown. He could not understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by bringing the case before Parliament at a time when parallel and corresponding cases were under the consideration of the judicial Committee of the Privy Council upon appeal from the courts of Jamaica, and after all the House had lately heard as to its incompetency to decide upon abstruse points of law. The case was shortly this:—In the spring of 1835 the Marquess of Sligo, then Governor-General of the island of Jamaica, brought under the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies a question which had been raised there upon the construction of the Act of Parliament, as to whether or not the slaves which had been registered in 1832, and had not been registered in 1835, came within the provisions of the Emancipation Act. The law officers of the Crown having the question submitted to them, were of opinion that the slaves ought to have been registered triennially, and that in cases where that had not been done, they were entitled, under the provisions of the Act, to unconditional freedom, and the Government would not be justified in compelling them to continue to submit to a continuance of slavery. Acting upon this advice, the Marquis of Sligo set the slaves upon the estate of Mr. Scarlett free. Under these circumstances, he could not consent to the production of the whole of the papers in the Colonial-office upon the subject, as there was no order for the liberation from the Colonial-office. He had no objection to the production of the Jamaica papers, which he thought would answer the hon. Gentleman's object.

Mr. Scarlett

replied. The want of registration was entirely a mistake, for which a man ought not to lose a large portion of his property.

The Attorney-General

observed, that in Jamaica the fault of non-registration lay entirely with the owners of the slaves, and not with the returning officer.

Papers, as suggested by Sir George Grey, were ordered.