HC Deb 06 April 1838 vol 42 cc465-72

The order of the day having been read for going into Committee on the Slavery Abolition Act Amendment Bill,

Mr. James Stewart

rose to move as an instruction to the Committee a clause, that negro apprenticeship, as established by the 3d and 4th William 4th., cap. 73, should cease in the island of Jamaica on the 1st of August, 1838. The planters, said the hon. Member, had been guilty of a gross and shameful violation of all the conditions which they had undertaken to perform in consideration of the Parliamentary grant. Every thing which this country had promised was fulfilled to the letter, while the planters, upon their part, had failed to make good any one engagement into which they had entered. The first and most important particular in which they had failed to perform their engagements was their entirely omitting to pass a law for the classification of slaves whether prædial or non-prædial. The correspondence which passed between Sir Lionel Smith, the Governor, and Lord Glenelg clearly established the fact, that up to the present moment the Legislature of Jamaica had not passed any Act to regulate the classification of apprentices in that island. The second breach of good faith of which they had been guilty was the neglect to pass any law, or at least any sufficient law, for the establishment of a police force. Some regulations, it is true, were made, but being considered insufficient, were disallowed by Lord Glenelg. The third particular was their omitting to pass a law to preserve the customary allowances to the apprentices. The fourth respect in which they had violated the conditions was the mode in which they regulated the hours of work and labour. In the fifth place they had wholly neglected to pass a proper system of valuation, so as to allow the apprentice to purchase his freedom at a fair price. The report of the Commissioners of 1836 proved the defective constitution of the tribunal appointed for those who were desirous of purchasing their freedom. That Committee made several recommendations, all of which had been totally disregarded by the colonial legislature. Sixthly, they had omitted to pass a law to protect the special magistrates against vexatious prosecutions, and to secure their independence. He ventured to assert, without fear of contradiction, that the ordinary local tribunals were effectually closed against the negro population, and were worse than useless. It was only to the special magistrates that the poor negroes could look for justice and protection. One great object of the Abolition Act was to provide a tribunal which should not be dependent on the planters, but de- rive its powers from the Colonial-office. That object, however, had been wholly frustrated by the conduct of the planters. Every single undertaking which they had entered into had been violated, and their conduct could be best described by saying, that "they had done what they ought not to have done, and had eft undone what they ought to have done" From all which he had heard or read, the substance of which he had stated to the House, he came to this conclusion, that if the colonial Legislature had neglected those things which they were bound to do, and had done those acts which the Act intended should not be done, they had violated their contract, and Parliament had a right in the very next Session after the Act had passed to bring a Bill to abolish negro apprenticeship at once. The condition of the negroes had become worse since the Abolition Act came into operation, and they did not receive that protection which the Legislature had intended in the appointment of the special magistrates. Those magistrates were becoming day by day more and more under the dominion of the planters. Government was bound to take measures either to compel the colonial Legislatures to do justice to the negroes or to do it itself. The House had now a precedent for dealing with refractory colonial Legislatures in the dictator whom they were sending out to Canada; and after such a precedent he was not without the hope that, before the end of the Session, he should find some such Act passed for Jamaica as would compel the planters to do justice to the negroes. The Parliament owed it to the negroes, and to a proper sense of its own dignity to adopt the principle of the clause which he was about to move. If the negro had a good master, his condition had been gradually improved, and he was fit for instant emancipation; if he had a bad master, that was too a still stronger reason for releasing him from the planter's power. The longer this act of justice was delayed by this country, the less would be its moral power. Why should England remain behind some minor states in passing such an act of justice? Bolivia had given complete emancipation to its slaves, so had; Hayti had done so long ago, and it was only since she had done so that she had taken her station amongst nations. He hoped, though the reign of Queen Victoria might not be signalized by the trophies of war, it might go down to posterity with the still greater glory of having been that in which the negroes in our colonies were made completely free. The hon. Gentleman brought up his amendment.

The Speaker

said, that as the present Bill was entitled an Act for the Amendment of an Act relating to the Abolition of Slavery, and as the present motion related to the duration of the apprenticeship, there was no reason why it should not be discussed in Committee.

Motion withdrawn.

On the question that the Speaker leave the Chair,

Sir E. Sugden

said, that he should only detain the House for a few minutes, whilst he stated the reasons which induced him to withdraw all opposition to this bill. It appeared to him that the provisions which he meant to introduce were necessary for the safety of the apprenticed labourer; and as her Majesty's Government had adopted them, all his objections to the Bill were removed. The first provision was, that no apprenticed labourer should be subjected to whipping or beating in any prison, workhouse, or other place, except with the approbation, and in the presence of a special magistrate. The other clause was still more important, and the whole correspondence which had taken place showed the want of such a power. It was this, that the Governor in Council in each colony should, if he deemed them expedient, make such new and other regulations in the prison, workhouse, or hospital, as to him might seem fit. This clause would give a power of controlling the Colonial Legislatures and doing justice to the apprentices. The last alteration was, that the apprenticeship should altogether cease in the year 1840. So that there should be no restricting tie left on the labourer under the Act of 1833. The hon. Member for Knaresborough proposed, that this clause should include free children. So far from objecting to this, he thought that her Majesty's Government ought not to lose an instant in turning their attention to the condition of the free children of the colonies. He was glad that the frankness with which the Government had adopted his amendment released him from the necessity of further opposing the Bill.

Mr. Baines

was anxious to introduce into this Bill a clause with regard to the marriages of the labourers. There was at present a defect in the state of the marriage ceremony in the West Indian colonies, which, as it had been admitted by the Government two years back, he was surprised had not been removed. At present the children of the negroes were left in a situation that it was impossible to say whether they were legitimate or not. It was not a single case, but a thousand which were left in this dubious state without fixing any criterion by which this important question could be regulated. He had only to beg his hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) to explain what the intention of the Government was on this subject, in order that he might either introduce some substantive measure, or move an amendment in the progress of this Bill as it passed through Committee to meet a contingency which he was sure was of an urgent kind, and deserved immediate and strict attention.

Sir G. Grey

reminded his hon. Friend that a circular had been sent to the respective Colonial Governors some years back, requesting them to submit to the local Legislatures the expediency of passing such a law as would enable the various missionaries to solemnize the ceremony of marriage. He felt happy in stating, that a prospective law was passed to effect that object, but very great difficulty was found in legislating for past marriages, and defining accurately the criterion by which they should be determined. The Wesleyan Missionary Society had the subject under their consideration, and had promised to furnish such lists as they deemed requisite. If the Colonial Legislatures were not found to adopt the views of the Home Government, he hoped with the assistance of his hon. Friend, and the valuable aid of his hon. and learned Friend (Dr. Lushington), to introduce such a plan as would be unobjectionable.

Sir F. Trench

felt the extreme importance of the amendments which had been introduced by his right hon. Friend Sir E. Sugden; but while he did so, he should take every opportunity of impressing upon the Legislature the necessity of the immediate abolition of the apprenticeship system, and of making the negroes entirely free. His constituents took an immense interest in this question, and so did he. He was induced to rise, because it had been imputed to members at his and the other side of the House that they had acted in the manner which they felt it their duty to do, in order to conciliate the opinion of their constituents. He should look upon himself as very weak and foolish, if such a fear induced him to act contrary to his conscience. When he heard the declaration of the Marquess of Sligo, coming from a proprietor and a Governor—when he considered the prosperous state of Antigua, with its 30,000 emancipated negroes, he felt bound to declare that the only concession which he was willing to make, was to postpone the period of emancipation from August to December in the present year, to allow time for those preparatory measures which he did not understand, but which were considered necessary by the Government to come into operation.

House went into Committee.

Clauses, with several amendments and additions, were agreed to.

Mr. James

Stewart moved the insertion of a clause foe the total abolition of negro apprenticeship, as established by the act of 3rd and 4th of William 4th c. 73, in the island of Jamaica, on the 1st of January, 1839.

Clause brought up and read.

On the motion that it be read a second time,

Mr. Ward

supported the motion, and said, that he could not do so without adverting to the great question of negro apprenticeship, upon which the House had recently come to a division. He confessed, for his own part, he never came to a vote with more doubt and uncertainty than upon that occasion; nor ever voted with less reliance on the accuracy of his own judgment. He felt bound to make this statement in the face of the House, because of the partial publication of a letter which he wrote on the morning after the division, all the expressions contained in it relating to the doubts which prevailed on his mind having been studiously omitted. The advocates of total abolition, and the antislavery delegates had, in their meetings, passed a severe censure on him and those hon. Gentlemen who took a like course. That letter, as published, seemed to attack all those Gentlemen who had arrived at a different conclusion from himself on the subject. Nothing would have been more unfair or more unjustifiable on his part than to have intended to have expressed himself in any such manner; and nothing, he could assure the House, was further from his wish than to do so. He had stated distinctly, that one of the reasons why he did not reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Newark, was the utter impossibility he felt of reconciling the facts and statements which had been communicated to him, with regard to the popu- lation of Guiana, with the statements contained in the speech of that hon. Gentleman, who vouched his authority for the accuracy of those statements. [Mr. W. Gladstone had not pledged his own authority for their accuracy.] No; but the authority arising from the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of what was passing on the estates belonging to his family in that colony. He claimed for the British Legislature the right to shorten the term of negro apprenticeship, and he must affirm, from the evidence already before them, that there was a determination, from first to last, on the part of the colonial legislatures, and of juries, magistrates, and all other persons in any sort of authority in the colonies, to resist or evade the Imperial Act of Abolition. But whatever doubts might exist as to the other colonies, there could be no doubt, that as regarded the island of Jamaica, not one condition of that great act had been complied with by the Assembly. The British Legislature was therefore perfectly entitled to provide for the immediate abolition of the apprenticeship system, if it should be considered proper his hon. Friend should press his motion to a division, he should certainly vote with him.

Sir G. Grey

said, that having a few nights ago so fully entered into the question, and the House having then, when it was more than usually full, decided upon the proposition brought before them, after that proposition had been argued almost exclusively with reference to the colonies, of which Jamaica was one only, he felt he should be improperly intruding upon the House, if he were now to state at length, the grounds upon which he opposed the present motion. The debate to which he had referred, lasted two nights, during which the fullest opportunity was given for the amplest discussion, and the division took place without any intimation being expressed on the part of any hon. Member of a wish to add anything further to that debate. After the solemn and deliberate decision to which the House arrived on that occasion, and more especially after the notice which had been given that the general question would be again brought forward after the expiration of the Easter holidays, he did not believe that the House would consent to revive that discussion now. He fully concurred with the hon. Gentleman in the wish to accomplish all the objects contemplated by the Legislature on passing the Abolition Act; but he was of opinion that the greatest obstacle that could be raised to arriving at a beneficial result in their efforts on this subject, was the bringing the question so repeatedly under discussion. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press his motion, if his hon. Friend did, it would become his duty to oppose it.

Mr. O'Connell

protested against one argument which had been used by the hon. Baronet; namely, that this question had been decided already. One of the great arguments used against the proposition before the House the other night, was, although Jamaica might be very faulty, vet, inasmuch as all the other colonies were included in the proposition, it was incumbent on the House to resist the motion altogether. So that Jamaica was protected because the other colonies were connected with it in the terms of the proposition. As to putting an end to the agitation now going on upon this subject, that could only be done by the total abolition of the apprenticeship system.

Mr. Yates

opposed the clause, and said, that he considered our legislation had done more mischief to the cause of humanity, in the colonies, than anything besides. He had full confidence in the wisdom of the colonists themselves, who he had no doubt would adopt whatever measures the general interest required.

Mr. Luke White

hoped that his hon. Friend would not withdraw his motion. It was well known that the planters of Jamaica and the Assembly there had opposed the Abolition Act in the most disgraceful, cruel, and inhuman manner.

Mr. P. Howard

thought, it would be a breach of promise on the part of the British Legislature with the colonists, to adopt the clause of his hon. Friend.

The Committee divided.

Ayes 61; Noes 115: Majority 54.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Duke, Sir J.
Archbold, R. Dungannon, Viscount
Attwood, T. Easthope, J.
Baines, E. Eaton, R. J.
Barnard, E. G. Evans, W.
Blennerhassett, A. Forester, hon. G.
Blunt, Sir C. Gibson, T.
Briscoe, J. I. Grote, G.
Brownrigg, S. Harland, W. C.
Bryan, G. Hawes, B.
Cayley, E. S. Hodges, T. L.
Dashwood, G. H. Jervis, J.
Denison, W. J. Jervis, S.
Dennistoun, J. Jones, J.
Kinnaird, hon. A. F. Scholefield, J.
Langdale, hon. C. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Lennox, Lord G. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Long, W. Style, Sir C.
Lushington, Dr. Thorneley, T.
Martin, J. Turner, E.
Mathew, G. B. Vigors, N. A.
Monypenny, T. G. Villiers, C. P.
Morris, D. Wakley, T.
Muskett, G. A. Warburton, H.
O'Brien, W. S. Welby, G. E.
O'Connell, D. White, A.
O'Connell, J. Wilde, Sergeant
Pattison, J. Williams, W.
Redington, T. N. Winnington, T. E.
Salwey, Colonel Stuart, J.
Sanford, E. A. Ward, H. G.
List of the NOES.
Acland, T. D. Hobhouse, right hon. Sir J.
Adam, Sir C.
Ainsworth, P. Hodgson, R.
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Holmes, W.
Ashley, Lord Howard, F. J.
Baillie, Colonel Howard, P. H.
Bannerman, A. Howard, R.
Baring, F. T. Howick, Viscount
Barron, H. W. Hurt, F.
Benett, J. Hutton, R.
Blackburne, I. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Blair, J. Kemble, H.
Blake, W. J. Kirk, P.
Bramston, T. W. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Broadley, H. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Buller, E. Lefevre, C. S.
Callaghan, D. Lynch, A. H.
Campbell, Sir J. Mackenzie, T.
Cavendish, hon. C. Macleod, R.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Maule, hon. F.
Clements, Viscount Morpeth, Viscount
Clive, hon. R. H. Murray, rt. hon. J. A.
Conolly, E. Northland, Viscount
Dalmeney, Lord O'Ferrall, R. M.
Dundas, F. Ord, W.
Dundas, hon. T. Paget, Lord A.
East, J. B. Pakington, J.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Palmerston, Viscount
Ellice, Captain A. Parker, J.
Fazakerley, J. N. Patten, J. W.
Fellowes, E. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Fergusson, right hon. R. C. Philipps, M.
Plumptre, J. P.
Filmer, Sir E. Power, J.
Fitzgibbon, hon. Col. Price, Sir R.
Fitzsimon, N. Reid, Sir J. R.
Fremantle, Sir T. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Gladstone, W. E. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Gordon, R. Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.
Gordon, hon. Captain Round, C. G.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Russell, Lord J.
Graham, right hon. Sir J. Sandon, Viscount
Seymour, Lord
Grattan, J. Sharpe, General
Greene, T. Sheppard, T.
Hawkins, J. H. Smith, A.
Hayter, W. G. Smith, R. V.
Somerset, Lord G. Walker, R.
Spencer, hon. F. Wall, C. B.
Stanley, Lord Westenra, hon. H. R.
Stewart, J. White, S.
Stuart, Lord J. Wilbraham, G.
Strutt, E. Wilbraham, hon. B.
Talbot, C. R. M. Wodehouse, E.
Tancred, H. W. Wood, C.
Thomson, rt. hn. C. P. Wrightson, W. B.
Troubridge, Sir E. T. Yates, J. A.
Vere, Sir C. B.
Verney, Sir H. TELLERS.
Vivian, Major C. Grey, Sir G.
Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. Steuart, R.

The House resumed, the report to be received.