HL Deb 23 November 1837 vol 39 cc132-3
Lord Brougham

rose to present a petition signed by upwards of 1,300 respectable inhabitants of Southampton, complaining of the non-execution of the provisions of the Slavery Abolition Act. The petitioners stated, that great imperfection was observable in the execution of the Act, and that universal disappointment was felt, in consequence of the colonies not having taken such steps as ought, and well might have been adopted, for putting an end to slavery, after the grant of 20,000,000l., which had been generously, rather than justly, made to them by the people of this country. Having performed their part of the compact, the petitioners thought the people, who had advanced so large a sum of money, had a right to call on the colonies to execute theirs, and to remove, without delay, the evils of slavery. He was himself of opinion that full freedom might immediately be granted to the slaves without any ill effect whatever. The experiment had been tried in one, and a most important one, of these colonies, where entire and perfect freedom had been extended to the slave population on the instant. He alluded to the island of Antigua. The proprietors there did not wait till 1840, but at once converted the negro apprentices into absolute freemen. On the first of August, 1834, the same day on which the new law came into operation, the local legislature framed a Bill by which the fetters were absolutely, instantly, and entirely struck off from every slave. Freedom was at once given to 30,000 unfortunate slaves in that colony. He might be asked, how far that virtuous measure had succeeded, and whether it had proved to be wise as well as virtuous? In answer to that, he would say, that he believed, (and the accounts which he meant to move for would show whether he was right or wrong) that the experiment—he could not state the fact more strongly—had succeeded as well as it deserved to succeed. As a proof of this, he could adduce several important facts—1st, that property in the colony had improved in value; 2nd, that with few exceptions, no difficulty was found in procuring labourers, and not, in any case, to a greater extent, than was occasionally and partially felt in this country, during harvest, to get the required number of hands; 3rd, that offences of all descriptions, from capital offences, down to crimes of less magnitude, had diminished in this colony; and 4th, that the average export of sugars from Antigua for three years after the liberation of the slaves had been considerably increased. The average exports of sugar from that colony for three years prior to the removal of slavery amounted to 165,000 cwts., while the average exports for three years (1834–5–6), subsequent to the removal of slavery, amounted to 189,000 cwts. making a difference of 24,000 cwts., or one-seventh of increase on free labour as compared with slave labour. It might, perhaps, be supposed, that this increase was owing to favourable seasons; but the contrary was the fact, for two of the seasons were unpropitious, and in 1835 the drought was so excessive, as to render the importation of water necessary for the inhabitants. When the papers which he meant to call for were laid before their Lordships, he conceived that he should have a right to call on the other colonies to explain why they had not followed the example so virtuously, as well as so successfully, set them by Antigua. As the noble Secretary for the Colonies was absent, he would move for those papers on the following day.

Petition laid on the Table.

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