HC Deb 24 July 1839 vol 49 cc721-3
Dr. Lushington

wished to ask his hon. Friend, the Under Secretary for the Colonies, whether he had received any despatches from the Mauritius, containing an authentic account of the slaves in that colony being actually emancipated, and whether such emancipation had taken place tranquilly; and further, whether the Orders in Council had been carried into effect in the island, beneficially or not?

Mr. Labouchere

stated, that in the last despatches from the governor of the Mauritius, which were dated the 2nd of April, he said that, on the 31st of March, a few days before, a final and complete emancipation of the apprenticed labourers had taken place in that colony. As only two days had elapsed, the governor had been able to afford very little information as to the effect of the measure; but as far as his information reached, it had been, upon the whole, satisfactory. The population was perfectly peaceable, although there was a disposition, on the part of the negroes, to leave some estates on which they were located. Very little reliance, however, could be placed upon any information that had been received on this subject. As to the other question which the hon. and learned Gentleman had asked, he must say, that the Orders in Council to which he referred, relating to marriages, vagrancy, the unauthorised occupation of land, and contracts for labour, had been promulgated on the 15th of March, and he trusted that he might confidently anticipate, that the same good effects which had been produced in the West-India colonies, where the orders had become the law of the land, would be produced also in the Mauritius.

Colonel Brownrigg

said, that he had received information a fortnight later than that of the right hon. Gentleman, and it stated that the change had taken place in the most peaceable manner. Some of the estates, which were deficient in wood and water, had undoubtedly lost some of the negroes, as soon as the option of going or remaining was given to them. He particularly attributed the peaceable and cheerful manner in which the negroes worked, to the fact that engagements had been entered into to work for short periods. When there was a combination entered into make engagements for long periods, they could not immediately be made to understand that this was not slavery in another shape. When, however, the negroes were allowed to work from month to month, they were willing to enter into engagements that were exceedingly reasonable, and this had led to a diminution of expense to the proprietors.

Sir J. Graham

wished to ask, whether the statement he had seen in the newspapers of the melancholy mortality of the Coolies who had been imported into Demerara was true or not? If true, he asked whether any step had been taken upon the subject of the release of those unhappy persons from the contracts into which they had entered? He also wished to ask, whether certain information had been received from the Mauritius with regard to those unhappy persons, of whom there was a large number in that island.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that with respect to the condition of the Coolies in the Mauritius, he was happy to say, that the accounts, as far as they had been received, were upon the whole extremely favourable. As to the situation of those persons in Demerara, no positive information had been received at the Colonial-office. At the same time he was bound to say, with regard to the estate of Belle-vue, the one referred to in the newspapers, the accounts previously received at the Colonial-office were to the effect, that on that particular estate, owing to improper conduct on the part of the medical attendant, extensive sickness had taken place, which led to considerable mortality. He felt bound to state, in justice to the proprietor of that estate and the overseer, that the medical man was dismissed when this was discovered. He would only say, that while on the one hand the general condition of this people was not one of disease and mortality, at the same time there was abundant proof in the information that had reached the Colonial Office to show, that too great vigilance could not be exercised over the employment of those strangers by a Government which was anxious to prevent cruelty and hardship of the worst description. He felt bound to say, that the governor, Mr. Light had exercised every vigilance in his power, and had shown himself most anxious to protect the particular class of persons to whom the question referred.

Mr. Wakley

the right hon. Gentleman has not stated, whether any step had been taken to preveut the further importation of those persons.

Mr. Labouchere

last year an Order in Council was issued, by which the further importation of these persons was prevented. He believed, that since it had been issued, not a single Coolie had been imported.

Sir J. Graham

said, if it should be found necessary to release these unhappy persons from their contracts, even at some charge to the public, he hoped the delay of the recess would not be allowed to intervene. If the papers to be produced by the right hon. Gentleman sustained the case that these unhappy persons ought to be released and sent back, he thought that Government might appeal with confidence to that House, and the means would be readily afforded of doing what was due to humanity, to the honour of this country, and to those unfortunate people themselves.

Conversation dropped.