HC Deb 28 February 1866 vol 181 cc1264-9

(Mr. Secretary Cardwell, Mr. William Edward Forster.)

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Cardwell.)


said, that as they had arrived at the last stage of this Bill for making a permanent change in the Constitution of Jamaica, it might be respectful in him, who had long been connected with that colony, to explain why he supported it, a little more fully then on previous occasions, when there was the danger of exciting a premature debate on the recent unhappy outbreak. His conviction was, that the decline of Jamaica had been caused by the want of continuous labour, and that this want had been mainly owing to the late form of Government; other reasons had been assigned, but they applied also to those colonies which enjoyed a higher degree of prosperity. Absenteeism, merchants' charges, want of capital, want of skill, were not peculiar to Jamaica. Traditions of slavery had died away, estates had changed hands, and new blood had been introduced there as elsewhere; and those who talked of exhaustion of soil forget that the little Island of Barbadoes supported a population of 920 to the square mile, against sixty-nine only in Jamaica, though its fertility could never be compared with that of the larger colony. Emancipation in the West Indies was carried by a rush; the West Indians, especially the House of Assembly of Jamaica, brought it upon themselves by the obstinacy with which they rejected the amendment of their code. Hence the planters were regarded as vanquished enemies and the negroes as cherished allies. While the prevalent fear in this country was that the negro would not be relieved from compulsory labour as completely as was intended, the apprehensions of other nations had been that he would not substitute for it voluntary industry— The difficulty respecting labour" [this was from a North American paper] "lies with the negro, not with the employer. The freedman is bent upon renting a little land of his own, and growing enough upon it for his immediate wants, and waiting to see what God will give him. It was as natural that he should shrink from the employment with which the associations of slavery were connected as that a schoolboy should throw aside his books on a holiday. This feeling and this result were not peculiar to the African; the following was a description of another lately freed race from a Russian paper:— The emancipated peasant interprets personal independence as the right to do nothing beyond what is required to buy him a little food and a great deal of spirits; the proprietor finds it impossible or unprofitable to cultivate the soil except in the more densely-populated parts. The tradesman suffers under the depression of commerce, the capitalist has been so discouraged that the banks founded for lending money on real property can hardly dispose of a single share. The negroes in Jamaica were induced to quit the estates of their former masters and become small freeholders. This they had no difficulty in doing, as land was extremely cheap, and though there had been complaints that the rent was high, yet the fee simple could be bought for about two years' purchase, and the amount was easily earned in those days by labour on an estate for a very few weeks. Sir Lionel Smith, the Governor at the time of emancipation, recom- mended the people in a public speech not to permit their children to work on estates —on the other hand, there were many attempts by employers to take advantage of the labourers by violence, and looking back, as we could do now more calmly, upon these events, it would almost appear as if both sides were determined that emancipation should be a failure, and a warning rather than an example to other nations. The result brought about was that which Goldsmith celebrates as the ideal of national felicity— When every rood of ground maintains its man, For him light labour spread her wholesome store, Just gave what life required, and gave no more: but of which Sir Robert Peel expressed a different opinion when he said, in that House, in 1841— If ever the black population of the West Indies shall become squatters on the waste lands or mere cultivators of provision grounds instead of labourers for hire, then slavery and the slave trade will have received the last and greatest encouragement which it is in the power of man to bestow. Whichever might be right, the result clearly wa3, that the larger colonies were left gradually without a labouring population. They had the proprietors of estates, and they had the small freeholders, but the class which lived by labour for wages became gradually smaller, and estate after estate was consequently abandoned; usually when the proprietor had been ruined by years of unproductive expenditure. Up to this time the small freeholder obtained a material addition to the produce of his ground by the dollars he earned in casual work upon the estates, and those who only required negro labour at odd times said, and said truly, that they could always get it, and it was well done. But what he was endeavouring to show was that the people could not be depended upon, any more than small freeholders in this country, to work all day six days a week, and he need not ask employers the value of desultory labour. It was not a question of rate of wages, but of command of labour. It might pay a man to give 5s. a day for six days a week, when it would ruin him to give 2s. 6d. for three. There were even now planters with a peculiar talent for managing the people, but it was not every one who could coax the negro, as if he were a candidate, for votes instead of a payer of wages. It was enough to say that such relations between employers and employed were wholly exceptional, and could not be taken into consideration in discussing the labour question in any part of the world. It might be stated broadly that when labour for wages ceased to be a necessity of existence to the labouring class the existence of the employer of labour became precarious and eventually impossible, and this had gradually come to pass in Jamaica, except in those fertile plains where there were no waste lands, and where the people, whose strong local attachments prevent their moving, gave their labour more regularly to the estates. As whole districts were abandoned the small freeholders lost the advantage of occasional employment. They had at length killed the goose which laid the golden eggs. The same cause deprived them of a market for their provisions, which, as Sir H. Barkly wrote in 1854, they lost by the cessation of immigration and the return of the immigrants. The loss of inducement to work produced habits of idleness. The idle lived, as elsewhere, by robbing the industrious, and a general feeling of dissatisfaction prevailed, which was increased by the drought of the last two years. Up to a certain point the case of Jamaica was the same with that of the other sugar colonies with superfluity of land and deficiency of population. But Mauritius, British Guiana, and Trinidad were Crown colonies, and as soon as the Colonial Office, after years of ruinous obstruction and delay, discovered that the only way to enable free labour to compete with slavery was to provide a sufficiency, and that this could only be done by immigration under contract, enactments were passed to that end. The system was violently opposed, not only by parties at home, but by those classes in the colonies who did not directly benefit by it. Their opposition was overruled, and now they acknowledged their error, and confessed that they had profited even to a greater degree than the planters themselves. Let him read to the House an account of the results in Trinidad — This system is approved by every class of persons. I conversed with Government officials, planters, missionaries, storekeepers, and coolies themselves. I did not hear a single complaint. Men of the most opposite opinions agreed in this, that immigration is a success. Contrary to anticipation, it has improved the condition of the negroes. The command of coolie labour has increased the growth of the sugar cane. With this there has necessarily arisen a demand for hedges and ditches, drainage, carpenters, coopers, enginemen, &c. The demand for ground provisions to supply the wants of the coolie labourers has increased. The garden produce finds a better market. All these occupations are taken up by the negro. The coolie is therefore no competitor with the negro in the labour market, and no ill feeling exists because of the displacement of one by the other. Coolie labour opens a wide field of exertion to the negro. Hon. Members would not think this picture was overdrawn, when they heard that it was from the pen of Dr. Underhill. In Jamaica the same short-sighted views were entertained as in the other colonies; but, owing to the Constitution, which gave so much power to those who advocated them in the Lower House, they triumphed to such an extent that either Immigration Bills were thrown out altogether, or departed so widely from the model ordinance, that they were disallowed at home; and, therefore, while the other colonies were augmenting their population, and increasing their products year by year, large tracts in Jamaica were relapsing into wilderness. Since 1843 no less than 313,538 immigrants had been introduced into Mauritius, while in Jamaica, which was nearly ten times larger, there had come only 18,569. Let it be remembered, moreover, that the same Assembly which objected to immigration for the fancied good of the negro, or on the ground of economy, levied the high Customs duties of which the negroes so much complained, maintained many costly and useless offices, and wasted enormous sums in their disputes with the Governors or with the other branch of the Legislature. That ancient body had now terminated its existence by its own act, and he believed it was really a "happy despatch." The present Bill prevented the chance of its coming again to life, and it now rested with the Colonial Office to be doubly careful in the choice of fit Governors to wield the vastly increased power which would now be vested in them.


said, that there were only 36,000 members of the Church of England in Jamaica. The revenues of the island were taxed to the amount of £28,000 for the benefit of 100 ministers of the Church, so that not a twelfth part of the population absorbed more than one-tenth part of the whole revenue of the island. The Church was not content with this tenth portion of the revenue of the island, but received out of the Consolidated Fund, under an old Act of Parliament, a further sum of £7,000 a year, which was distributed among certain bishops, archdeacons, &c. There were two bishops attached to the Church in Jamaica. One of them had not been seen in his diocese for many years, and spent his time chiefly in Europe. The other bishop received £2,000 a year. There were also three archdeacons in the receipt of £3,000. If the Church of England wanted bishops and archdeacons, they ought to be maintained out of her own revenues. It was time the House received from the Colonial Secretary an assurance that as these offices became vacant they would not be filled up until Parliament had an opportunity of expressing its opinion. When the Act of Parliament to which he referred was passed, the West India interest was dominant in that House, but the principle now recognized was to leave the maintenance of public worship to the colonies.


said, he entirely agreed with his hon. Friend, that the general views of Parliament and the country with respect to these ecclesiastical endowments had very much changed since the passing of the Act, imposing the change upon the Consolidated Fund, to which he had referred. He trusted, however, that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the answer he had given on a former occasion to the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield), that it would be premature for the Government, in the present state of affairs, to make any declaration with regard to any detailed changes which it was their intention to propose. The Legislature were now engaged in laying the first stone of the new building. When that foundation was laid the Government would endeavour to build upon it the edifice of future prosperity for the colony.

Motion agreed to.