HC Deb 08 August 1850 vol 113 cc933-7

Order for Third Reading read.


wished to call the attention of the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies to the defective state of the regu- lations respecting the immigration of Africans into the West India colonies, and more particularly into Jamaica. By the existing regulations African immigrants could only be bound by contract to their employers for one year, whereas three years I were absolutely necessary. In the first year the immigrants were, to a certain extent, useless. They generally arrived in a sickly condition, often covered with sores, almost always unused to the business upon which they were employed, and intractable, and in consequence of their inability to labour, and the expense of medical attendance, he had often known, the employer out of pocket for the first year. If the contract were allowed to extend for three years, however, these disadvantages would I be overcome. He had always contended that the African labourers were by far the best adapted to the cultivation of the soil in the West Indies—decidedly preferable to the Coolies, against the introduction of whom he had always set his face. The state of the labouring population in Jamaica was deserving of the serious and paternal attention of the Government. He did not come there claiming protection, but he thought that as a West India proprietor he was entitled to ask the Government to I assist in regulating the supply of labour; and he feared that if the consideration of that question was delayed much longer, the most lamentable consequences would follow.


said, the statement of his hon. Friend, he was sure, was too true. The neglect and want of attention of the colonial authorities had brought on those evils. He was ready to state, on the part of the people of Trinidad, that they wanted no favour; they only wanted that the same laws which affected vagrants in this country should be carried out there. They wanted labour to be free; at the present moment it was restricted. He could not see why labourers should not he imported from the coast of Africa. They were slaves there, but the moment they got to our colonies they would be free, and if three years contracts were necessary, he thought they ought to be allowed. The labourers would be under the protection of magistrates paid by this country, and they would have all the rights of freemen. There was a prejudice against importing slaves from the coast of Africa, which he thought had just grounds when slavery existed in our colonies, but he could see no ground for it now. Unless something was done for the colonies, they would soon become like St. Domingo, of no value either to any one there or in the mother country. He had often said, why should they not be allowed to have labourers from the coast of Africa? The change would be decidedly beneficial to the labourers. They were slaves in Africa, but the moment they set their foot on our shores they would be free men, and would be placed under the protection of magistrates paid by this country. If the Government wished to preserve the colonies—if they wished the produce of the colonies to supply our markets, and our manufactures to be sent to the colonies, they should encourage the supply of labour.


should be exceedingly sorry if the House imagined that the Colonial Office was indisposed to attend to the observations either of the hon. Member for Rochester or the hon. Member for Montrose on this subject. Both of them had paid great attention to it, and the hon. Member for Rochester had considerable experience and an intimate knowledge of the state of our colonies. He fully admitted the distress which prevailed in the West Indies, and he greatly deplored it. He thought the proprietors entitled to every sympathy which the Legislature could extend to them, consistently with the principles of commercial policy which he believed were now firmly established in this country. The observations of the hon. Member for Rochester had been almost entirely confined to the nature of the contract which ought to be sanctioned between the employer of labour and the labourer. The observations of the hon. Member for Montrose related to a totally different subject, namely, the general supply of labour. He proposed, in the few observations which he intended to address to the House, to keep these two subjects quite distinct. The hon. Member for Rochester said, he was convinced that a contract of three years was absolutely necessary. His noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office—and he (Mr. Hawes) shared the feeling with him—did not rely with any confidence upon long contracts of that kind, because it was quite in the power of the labourer, if he was unwilling to work, to make the contract a burden instead of a benefit; and there was nothing they could do to enforce the contract without resorting to means which would be justly objected to by a large portion of the people of this country. He was aware that there was a prevailing opinion among the planters and others in- terested in property in the West Indies, that unless labour were obtained under longer contracts, it would not be found beneficial to the employer. Under these circumstances his noble Friend had sanctioned contracts for a term of three years in British Guiana. But in Jamaica at this moment the law limited the contract to one year; and if anything was to be done to extend the term, as respected that island, it must be done by the local legislature, and not by the Secretary of State in this country. His noble Friend, however, having sanctioned three years in British Guiana, would of course be quite prepared to sanction it also in Jamaica. The same thing had been done in Trinidad. His hon. Friend the Member for Rochester had said that the only species of immigrants that would he useful in the West Indies were African labourers. But there was this difficulty with respect to that class of immigrants, that by existing treaties the Africans were considered as free subjects, and it would be contrary to those treaties if liberated Africans, upon being landed in our colonies, were compelled to enter into a three years' engagement. But they might be employed for a period of one year, and if after that they chose to enter into a three years' engagement no objection could he made to it; but it must be a free contract, and not compulsory upon their landing in the colonies. His hon. Friend had also said, that the importation of Coolies would not be useful in Jamaica; but he (Mr. Hawes) must remind him that that was not a universal impression in Jamaica. With respect to the observations of the hon. Member for Montrose upon the supply of labour generally, he begged to say that there was nothing to prevent the importation of free immigrants into the West India colonies. What his hon. Friend wanted was that merchants should be permitted to go to the coast of Africa and buy them from the hands of slave-dealers, and to take them to the colonies, where, upon their landing, they would be declared free. But his hon. Friend seemed to have forgotten the internal state of Africa; that those labourers to whom he referred were brought down to the coast as slaves; that they had been either taken in war, or had been stolen for the purpose. To suppose that the people of this country would sanction the supply of labour to any part of the British empire by slavedealers, was out of the question. They would never sanction such an iniquitous proceed- ing. But the Colonial Office had given every possible facility to the planters to get free labourers from the coast of Africa. A Government vessel had been fitted out for the purpose of conveying them to the colonies, and that House had voted a considerable sum towards the scheme; but the experiment had failed. What greater possible assistance could the Government have given? Many representations had been made to the Government in favour of the renewal of Coolie immigration. He was happy to say that arrangements were being made to comply with that request. He might state that arrangements were also being made for the introduction of Chinese immigrants into Trinidad. When Dr. Gutzlaff was in this country, he (Mr. Hawes) had had communications with him on that subject, and also with a gentleman connected with Trinidad, and the result was that arrangements were in progress for the importation of free Chinese immigrants into Trinidad.

Bill read 3°.

On the Question that the Bill do pass,


repeated his complaint of want of free labour in our West India colonies. He had always contended that they never could put down slavery in Brazil and Cuba until they could make free labour cheaper than slave labour. If, therefore, they refused to assist our colonies to procure free labour, so as to enable them to reduce the cost of their produce, and undersell the Brazilians and the Cubans, they must be considered a party to the perpetuation of slavery. Was it not better to buy a slave on the coast of Africa and make him a free man in our colonies, than to allow the Brazilians and Cubans to buy him and continue him in a condition of slavery? It was said that Exeter Hall would not permit such a thing. Pooh, pooh, for Exeter Hall! Exeter Hall had done too much evil already, and he hoped the time was come when less attention would be paid to the ignorance and prejudice which emanated from that quarter.

Bill passed.

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