HL Deb 17 March 1835 vol 26 cc1053-5
The Earl of Mulgrave

said, that he begged to put two questions to the noble Earl opposite, the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department. Intelligence of a private nature had been very recently received from Jamaica, which spoke favourably of the operation of the Bill passed for the emancipation of the Negroes. He wished to learn from the noble Earl, whether the official information that had been lately received from the West Indies as to the working of the Emancipation Act tallied with the intelligence obtained through private letters and from non-official sources. It had been asserted that the working of that measure would be in some degree tested by the first crop of sugar produced subsequently to the Bill becoming law in the Colonies. He wished, therefore, to know whether, under the operation of the Act, a sufficient number of labourers, and particularly of apprentice labourers, could be provided for the cultivation of sugar. He understood, from all quarters, that the planters were unable to procure a sufficient quantity of labour to carry on the cultivation of sugar. If the noble Earl could, from official documents, corroborate the statements made in private communications it would be giving great satisfaction to the country. The other point on which he wished to say a few words arose from circumstances of which the noble Earl must be aware. It must be known to the noble Earl that there were in the Colonies certain persons who had no property in the soil, bet who were jobbers in slaves; that was, that they were in the habit of keeping slaves and letting them out to the owners and cultivators of the soil. He had heard, that since the passing of the new Act many of those jobbers had not—from want, as it was reported, of sufficient employment—thought it necessary to retain those negroes, and that those dangerous persons had, in consequence betaken themselves to the mountains. Those negroes, now that they were not attached to the soil, were the worst description of neighbours. Before he left the island of Jamaica, he was desirous that some vagrant law should be passed in reference to that description of negroes. He now begged to ask the noble Earl whether it was intended by Government to introduce a law of that nature. He believed that upon this point the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Buckingham) had lately received similar accounts front Jamaica.

The Earl of Aberdeen

felt very great pleasure in being able to confirm the statements of the noble Earl with respect to the favourable working of the new system, and to the abundance of the new crop of sugar. From official intelligence obtained from all quarters he had every reason to believe, that the new crops were of a full average nature. Not only was that the result of the working of the new Act in Jamaica, but the same result was obtained in British Guiana, a colony only second to the island of Jamaica. With respect to the second point touched upon by the noble Earl he had no information, but he believed that the evil did not exist to any great extent. There might be some isolated cases of the jobbers alluded to not retaining their negroes, and of the latter running away and fleeing to the mountains; but such an evil must be of limited extent, since the demand for labour now was greater than it was before. He believed that no vagrant law had been enacted but his impression was, that in December last a provision had been introduced into the new Act, by which wandering negroes might be arrested and punished accordingly. It was his opinion that a law for the suppression of vagrancy in the colonies ought to be enacted if the provision alluded to should turn out inefficient.

The Duke of Buckingham

said, that his accounts confirmed the statement of the noble Earl opposite. The negroes belonging to jobbers in Jamaica were very numerous; they were numerous also in other colonies. There were 30,000 of that class of negroes in Barbadoes alone; he did not see that it would be proper to enact any vagrant law, for it would be cruel to punish those men who had committed no offence. He knew that these negroes were often reduced to a state of great destitution, that they were turned loose upon the world, and that, in consequence of this, child-murder was not un-frequent among them.

The Earl of Mulgrave

expressed himself satisfied with the explanations of the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) on the subject, and said that the evil arising from that class of negroes mentioned, was more likely to affect the property of the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) in the neighbourhood of Kingston.

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