HL Deb 10 June 1852 vol 122 cc378-88

presented a petition from the Judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature, the Vice-Chancellor and Masters in Ordinary of the Court of Chancery, the Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and other Members of the Legal Profession of Jamaica. It was not his intention to enter into the subject of the petition, or make any statement with regard to the allegations contained in it; he would content himself by simply reading this important document to their Lordships. The noble and learned Lord then read the petition, which complained of the measure of 1846, in reference to the differential duties on sugar, as increasing the foreign slave trade; of the diminished value of property in the island, the impoverished state of the proprietors, and the generally depressed state of the country. It also stated, with regard to the demoralised condition of the population, that if the actual amount of crime in the colony had not greatly increased, yet that offences against the person, including violent breaches of the peace, had formed an alarmingly large proportion of the offences brought before the criminal courts; that the petitioners were afraid, from the complaints which were universally made, and their own observation, that the people were becoming daily less attentive to their religious duties, and were bringing up their children in habits of indolence, which must result in vice; that it was fearful to contemplate what would be the probable conduct of the future generation; and that without venturing to ascribe this unhappy state of things to any particular cause, and still less to point out the measures which might be best fitted to meet the exigency of the case, they had thought it right to submit to the House that which they believed to be an unexaggerated statement of facts, in the confident hope that their Lordship's would speedily apply such a remedy as in their wisdom might seem to be requisite and necessary. The noble and learned Lord added, that differing as he did from the petitioners upon one branch of the subject— namely, the economical good which had sprung, from the measure of 1846, yet that, as regarded the effects of that measure in increasing the foreign slave trade, he entirely concurred with them. It gave him the most heartfelt satisfaction to state that the recent operations on the coast of Africa, our negotiations with Brazil, and other circumstances fresh in the recollections of the House, led him to hope—and it was not a faint hope—that whilst we had on the one hand stimulated that execrable traffic, we had on the other hand, and with the aid of others, very effectually diminished it, if we have not paved the way for its total abolition.


said, he could never hear the statement which had just been made by his noble and learned Friend, with respect to the measures of 1846 and 1848,, made in that House, without expressing his entire dissent from it; and whenever the question should be argued, he could show to demonstration that the effect of those measures had been to add to instead of diminishing the efficiency of the measures adopted by the squadron in repressing the slave trade. There was this striking fact in the papers on their Lordships' table, that, taking the five years before the admission of foreign sugar into the markets of this country, and taking the five years since there had been a marked diminution in the amount of the slave trade; and there was still this more remarkable fact, that at this moment the planters of Cuba were so satisfied by what they saw going on, that free labour was cheaper than slave labour, that they were taking measures to introduce no fewer than 8,000 industrious Chinese free labourers. With respect to the statements in the petition of the state of distress in the Island of Jamaica, he did not suppose it was all overcharged. According to the best information he possessed, indeed, he believed that it was a correct description of the state of affairs; but he only wished that the conclusion of the petition, instead of being addressed to their Lordships, and calling upon them to provide a remedy for that state of things, had been addressed to the local Legislature, and bad called upon them to adopt the many reforms which successive Governments had so long pressed upon their attention, which, up to this moment, they had so utterly neglected, and which were so urgently, and so grievously required.


said, he laboured under the same inability to remain silent after hearing the sentiments to which the noble Earl had just given utterance, as the noble Earl said he laboured under when he listened to the noble and learned Lord who presented the petition. He (the Bishop of Oxford) could never hear in that House the statement which the noble Earl had just made, without rising to enter his protest against it. He believed it was known that, on the economical view of the question, he agreed with the noble Earl, and that had the matter stood upon that view of the question alone he should have advocated the measure of 1846; but that, believing as he then believed, and as he now saw no reason to doubt that he had believed rightly, that the necessary effect of that Act would be to give a great stimulus to the Brazilian slave trade, he felt it his duty to raise the question out of the mere science of economics into a far higher atmosphere—the atmosphere of the highest national and moral considerations; and to show that, however right it might have been upon economic principles to introduce slave-grown sugar into this country, upon moral principles it was positively wrong. The noble Earl had endeavoured to draw from certain returns the inference that the effect of the Act of 1846 had not been to increase the slave trade; but he (the Bishop of Oxford) begged their Lordships to consider these facts, first, that it must have had the effect, and had been known to have had the effect, of promoting the production of sugar in the Brazils; next, that every hogshead of sugar so produced in Brazil must have been produced by slave labour; third, that the slaves who had furnished that labour must have been slaves, not bred in the country, but imported from Africa; for, whatever conclusions might be drawn by ingenious deductions from returns, a man must be able to show, either that the sugar was produced without hands, or that the hands that produced it were free, or that they had been bred in Brazil, before any ingenious deductions could ever tend to support the conclusions of the noble Earl. The noble Earl had referred to the present desire of the Cuban planters for free labour, and had attributed it strangely enough to the Act of 1846; when the plain and palpable reason, which could be seen by every eye as distinctly as the sun at noonday, was, that it was because of the unexampled success which had attended the brave and unwearied exertions of our cruisers on the coast of Africa, which had made it so difficult and expensive to introduce slaves; and because an apprehension was growing up that when this country took a great cause like that in hand it was impossible to frustrate our efforts: it was for these reasons and these reasons alone that the planters had found that their labour must be supplied otherwise than it had hitherto been. That, he maintained, was the plain and palpable explanation of the fact to which the noble Earl had referred; and he begged to enter once more his protest against any lower consideration being held in any degree to justify the retrogression of this great nation in the cause of justice upon which they had entered, when they set themselves to undo the last wrong to the African race by in every way discouraging the slave trade.


presented a petition from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Jamaica, complaining of distress in the island, and from a body of men who, his Lordship said, well deserved the consideration of the Legislature, namely, from the Board of Council and the House of Assembly of the Island of Antigua, taking notice of a loan which had been granted by Her Majesty's Government soon after the earthquake in that island, and praying for further time for repayment of the same with interest. When he said that they in a particular manner deserved the respect and attention of their Lordships, it was on this ground, that the island of Antigua had the distinguished honour of having anticipated the Imperial Parliament, and of having alone emancipated the slaves, and put an end to the intermediate stage of apprenticeship. He had another petition to present from the same Island, complaining of the competition to which the free produce is subjected by the admission of slave sugar into the British market, and praying for relief. The petitioners set forth that they were utterly borne down by the unrighteous competition of slave-grown sugar, forced on them by the Act of 1846 —that they had struggled to maintain the contest by making every exertion to introduce improvements into the mode of cultivation, and, at the same time, to lessen its cost, yet the depression of prices had reduced them to a state of embarrassment and despair. He (Lord Brougham) would to heaven their Lordships could see any chance of affording the petitioners effectual relief; but of this he was sure, that their past conduct well merited the respectful consideration of their Lordships.


presented a petition to the same effect from the inhabitants of British Guiana, which he said was numerously signed by all the leading people in the colony. The petitioners declared their conviction that the Sugar Act of 1846 had, besides ruining them, given a fresh stimulus to the slave trade, which tended to perpetuate slavery itself. They urged that the colony was brought to the verge of ruin, and prayed their Lordships to take these premises into their most serious consideration, and in their wisdom to take such measures as should arrest the further progress of their ruin.


presented a similar petition from the inhabitants of Mauritius, praying also for the introduction of free labour into the colony; and another from St. Kitts, complaining, in addition, of the demoralisation which had arisen from the extreme impoverishment of the population. His Lordship said the subject was one which was well worthy the consideration of their Lordships, though he was not prepared to urge any particular measure upon their attention. In his opinion, the exclusion of slave-grown sugar would not meet the difficulty; for, unless they went further and excluded all foreign produce, whether slave or free, the difficulty of competition would remain where it was; and he was sure that public opinion would not allow them to go so far in the way of retrogression. If, however, Government could discover any means of removing the distress, either by an improvement of the laws for the regulation of labour, or by an encouragement of the introduction of free labour, or of an improved cultivation of the land, he should be glad to see it, for there was no subject which better deserved the attention of the Government and of the Legislature generally.


said, that seeing the petitions which had been presented on this subject from various quarters, he thought it might be well to state that he had that day received, not indeed a petition, but a memorial addressed to himself from clergymen of all denominations in Jamaica, bearing (testimony not only to the, distress which prevailed in the colony, but also to the retrogression of civilisation, the diminution of the means of education, and the relapsing into barbarism of a large portion of, the population of the colony; and attributing this lamentable state of things in a great degree to that to which every. one else attributed it, except the noble Earl opposite, namely to the operation of the legislative enactment of 1846. That memorial was' signed by, the bishop, two archdeacons, and 69 clergymen of the Established Church; and by 83 ministers of different denominations, including Wesleyans, Baptists. Independents, and Roman Catholics; and its prayer was that Parliament would, direct their attention to applying a remedy, which, he feared, in the present state, of the public mind, was impracticable, though he believed, it was the only effectual remedy, namely, that of stopping the progress of the reduction of differential duties which Was now taking place. How far: the public mind was, prepared to take that step, it was not possible for him to say at the, present moment; but he believed that whatever other alleviations might be given to the distress of the planters, there was none but that which could really arid effectually place them upon a fair footing of competition with the produce of other countries, which, notwithstanding the opinion of the noble Earl opposite, he believed could produce sugar much cheaper by slave labour than it was possible the West Indian Colonies could do by free labour. He repeated that whatever other alleviations might be afforded to the distress of the planters, they, could only be enabled effectually and permanently to meet the competition of foreign countries by some measure which should have the effect, if not of establishing the old differential duties, at least of preventing the further reduction of those which now subsisted between British and slave-grown sugar. At the same time, he confessed that, like the noble Earl on the cross benches (the Earl of Harrowby), he entertained great doubt whether the public mind in this country was prepared to sacrifice the economic interests which might be involved in such a proposition. He looked, however, with serious apprehension and the deepest sympathy to the present distress of these hitherto valuable possessions of the British Crown.


hoped he should be permitted to make a few observations in reply. He would remind the noble Earl, although he had not the papers in. his hand to refer to, that, there were papers on their Lordships' table in abundance, which proved that the opinion which he had that day tittered, and which the noble Earl had said was held by him alone, was shared by the ablest officers who were employed under the Crown in the West Indies, and confirmed by the clear and positive facts which they stated. He begged to remind the noble. Earl, also, that it was established by statistical facts, that before the measure of 1846 came into operation, all those evils which were now complained of were in active existence; that the negroes were becoming idle, and falling back in civilisation and the like; and to what principal cause had that been attributed? It was attributed by every man who had looked into the state of the colonies to this simple reason, that the negroes had been relieved from the coercion to which they were formerly subjected, and that they were living in a country were there was an almost unlimited extent of fertile land open to them, where the climate did not render either fuel or clothing absolutely necessary to life; that wages were so enormously high as to enable them to live as well as they desired to live, upon the production of one or two days' labour in the fortnight; and that they had consequently no earthly motive to give a greater amount of labour in return for their subsistence. The demoralisation of the negroes and their disinclination to work, arising from this cause, commenced long before the Act of 1846. It dated from 1833, according to the statements, of all the, ablest officers who had been employed there, from 1833 down to the present time, including, among many others, Sir H. Light and Governor Barkly, who had both shown in their very able despatches, that the true cause of the mischief was the, want of any adequate stimulus to labour of the part of the negroes from the manner in which the abolition of slavery was effected. That having been the real cause of the evil, what was the effect anticipated, by those who proposed the measure of 1846? Simply, that the planters, who were compelled by, competition with each other to give the very highest sum for labour which the price they obtained in the market for their sugar enabled them to offer, seeing that they must look for a lower price for their sugar, would lower the wages paid to the negroes, and that lower wages would im- pose the necessity for greater exertions on the part of the negroes. Therefore, as far as it went, that measure had had a tendency to prevent the evils complained of. In every one of the colonies there had been a material reduction of wages, which had been met, not by the negroes earning less than they did before, but by their doing more work for the same money. The consequence was, that the production of sugar in the British colonies, instead of being stopped, as had been predicted, by the measures of 1848, had since that time continued steadily to increase. This increase was shown by the triennial average; and it was still going on, since the return for 1851 showed an increase on the production of 1850 in every colony under the British flag. That was the way in which the predictions of 1846 had been realised. In the face of the facts, then, he was entitled to assert, and he did assert, that the evils which were complained of had not been enhanced by the Act of 1846. He begged further to add, that in 1833, when Parliament thought fit to emancipate the slaves, without taking any measures to correct those tendencies which subsequent events had amply realised, he, in the House of Commons, had openly expressed his conviction that those results would follow. Again, in 1838, when the Act was passed, which practically put an end to that most ill-judged and unwise system of apprenticeship, he did all in his power to call public attention to the consequences which he said must ensue, if this were done without, at the same time adopting other measures of prevention; and from that time to the present he had never ceased to press it upon the attention of Parliament and the Colonial Legislature. Again, when the population of Jamaica was thinned by the cholera, he, being then Secretary of State for the Colonics, was called on by the merchants and planters interested in Jamaica to adopt whatever measures might be calculated to mitigate the effect of that great calamity; and he then prepared a despatch, in which he went as completely as he could into the causes of the then existing state of things, and into the remedies to be applied. That despatch was communicated to persons in this country connected with Jamaica, and to the Association of West India merchants, who entirely concurred in the suggestions for improvement which it contained, and it was transmitted to the House of Assembly in Jamaica, with the recom- mendation that they should adopt those suggestions. From that day to this, however, not one of those remedial measures had been adopted by the local Legislature. The state of things in the West Indies was, therefore, not owing to the Act of 1846. It was rather attributable to the fact that the planters and merchants were looking after a shadow of protection which they could never grasp—that they were seeking a phantom—that they refused to shut their eyes to the fact that the days of monopoly were numbered. This was the reason why these perfectly practicable and perfectly feasible measures were utterly disregarded. The planters, in their vain search after protection, turned in disgust from those economic principles which the greatest statesmen of all ages had acknowledged to be sound, and the result was now before them, in the ruinous state to which these colonics were reduced. It was not to those then who were lately at the head of the Government that blame was to be attributed, it was rather to the present advisers of Her Majesty, who kept alive and fostered these vain and foolish hopes.


said, he wished to correct an inaccurate statement which had just been made by the noble Earl, with regard to the testimony of all the officers who had been employed there as to the causes of West India distress. He was hound in truth to say, that since he had been at the Admiralty, he had had an interview with the Earl of Dundonald, lately Commander-in-Chief on the Naval Station there, who had represented to him that the state of distress in which the West Indian Islands now were, as having been caused by the very law which had been the subject of conversation this evening. The noble Earl had also informed him, that in an interview which he had lately had at the Colonial Office, he had made the same representation.


said, that he had referred to officers in the civil service of the Crown as Governors, and not to those in military or naval command, whose attention could not be so much directed to the subject.


felt to the full the extreme inconvenience of discussing a question of this nature in the incidental way in which it had come before their Lordships; yet he trusted that he might trespass upon their attention for a few moments while he noticed one or two of the noble Earl's statements. The noble Earl's argument was, that the real distress of our sugar colonies had in no way arisen from the Act of 1846, and that the demoralisation of the negro population was not to be traced to it; but that, on the contrary, it had tended to raise their condition. In the first place, the noble Earl's argument altogether turned on this one supposition, that it would be, under this new system, still the interest of the planters to employ negroes largely in the production of sugar; but if the planter should be unable to obtain such remunerative returns as to make it worth his while to employ them in the cultivation of sugar, then the argument fell altogether to the ground. They had not only had the evidence of merchants and planters, but of all the ministers of religion in the Colonies, and of other parties in the colonies who were capable of imputing valuable information on the subject, that the Act of 1846, as they then saw it working, instead of producing that wholesome effect upon the negro population, was reducing the whole people day by day, gradually, but rapidly, to a state of barbarism. The general impression which prevailed among capitalists, that it was impossible for free labour to compete with slave labour, had moreover let to large investments of money in Cuba and Brazil, so that every possible improvement in the machinery and manufacture was there introduced, while in our colonies they were utterly unable to obtain capital for a similar purpose. The consequence was, a greatly increased production in Cuba and Brazil. The consumption of that which was produced by slave labour must inevitably lead to increase the trade which supplied that labour. Thus did they undo with the one hand what they did with the other, if, when they attempted to prevent the slave trade on the coast of Africa, they stimulated the demand for slave labour by the increased consumption in this country of slave-grown sugar.


explained: What he had stated, and what he begged to repeat, was, that instead of there being a falling-off, the quantity of sugar produced in every one of our Colonies had, according to the triennial average, steadily increased, and that the production up to the 5th of April, 1851, showed an increase upon the production up to the same period of 1850.


in corroboration of the statement of the right rev. Prelate, relative to the increased production of Cuba and Brazil, referred to a series of statistics. Prom these it ap- peared, that in Cuba the average annual export of sugar for the four years from 1831 was 82,000 tons, and in the next four years it was 100,000 tons, in the next four years 124,000 tons, in the following four years 130,000 tons, in the last four years, up to 1850, 186,000 tons, and last year 235,000 tons. The production of Brazil had also increased very largely, but not in the same ratio. In the three years from 1842 it was 63,000 tons, in the three years following 87,000 tons, in the next three years, up to 1850, 103,000 tons, and last year 111,000 tons. In Jamaica, on the other hand, there had been a diminution upon every year, except 1850, since 1847. In 1847 the production was 37,000 tons; in 1848, 31,000 tons; in 1849, 31,000 tons; in 1850, 28,000 tons; and in 1851, 30,000 tons. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) treated the matter as if free labour could always compete with slave labour. With a dense population it could; but the case was different with a thin population of great inducement to idleness. As a proof of existence of distress in some of the West Indies, he would mention the circumstance of machinery being sent away from our islands to the Havannah, to be more profitably employed there.


observed, that since slave emancipation, the cultivation of beet root had greatly increased in different countries of Europe, for the purpose of making sugar; that tended to decrease the price of the latter article, and he thought that more stress was laid on the legislation of 1846, as depreciating the price of sugar, than was just.

Petitions ordered to lie on the table.

House adjourned till To-morrow.