HL Deb 23 February 1854 vol 130 cc1137-43

rose to inquire of Her Majesty's Government whether an arrangement had not recently been made for the withdrawal of troops from the smaller West India Islands? Their Lordships were aware that those islands were garrisoned by detachments of troops from the head-quarters at Jamaica or Barbadoes. Since the beginning of this year some troops had been withdrawn from the smaller islands, to the great alarm of the white settlers, who were apprehensive of the rising of the black portion of the population. The white settlers did not consider the blacks as well affected towards them, as the blacks looked upon them in the odious light of taskmasters. That these apprehensions were not altogether ill-founded was evidenced by an insurrection which had taken place at Tortola in the January of last year. There was no garrison there, and the white residents fled in great dismay, leaving Colonel Clads, who was obliged to send to the nearest place, which was a Danish island, for succour. Some delay, however, took place before it arrived, as the commander of the detachment did not like to undertake the responsibility of sending troops to a British island without the consent of the Governor. He believed that after some time had elapsed troops were sent there from Antigua. He thought it was disgraceful that British subjects, British property, and British territory should have to be protected by foreign arms. Great alarm had, in consequence, arisen among the capitalists in these smaller islands, who were unwilling to trust either themselves or their capital in them any longer. He believed that the withdrawal of the troops was, therefore, false economy, as almost the very existence of some of the islands depended upon capital, and the yearly value of the insignificant island of Tortola alone amounted to 10,0007. He wished to know what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government for the future maintenance of order in these islands? He had heard from private sources, that if Her Majesty's Government thought it was necessary to withdraw these troops from motives of economy, contributions would probably be raised in the islands themselves to defray the additional expense of keeping them, which would not amount to much more than 15,000l. He believed that some of Her Majesty's ships were to touch at these places from time to time; but was it probable that the moral effect of an occasional visit from a ship would preserve order among the disaffected, excitable, and ignorant black population?


The noble Earl has been rightly informed as regards the withdrawal of a detachment of troops from four of the West India Islands, namely, St, Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, and St. Christopher. The noble Earl assigns a reason which, although entering into our consideration, was not the only reason for this measure. He seems to think the sole reason was economy. Now the reasons for the course pursued were threefold, the ground of expense being the smallest. In the first place it has been found—and it must be obvious at once that it is so—that the discipline and good order of troops, especially in a climate like that of the West Indies, are greatly deteriorated by their being dispersed in small detachments stationed at the various islands. The first reason is therefore of an entirely military character. Another reason is, that these detachments are so extremely small (at Tobago, for instance, only numbering eighty-four men), that for any purpose of external defence they are entirely useless, and worse than useless, because in time of war they would only present a temptation to privateers to make a descent upon such islands for the mere purpose of inflicting disgrace upon the arms of this country. That is a second military reason. There is also a civil reason for the measure. The retention of troops in a colony simply for preserving internal order has a tendency to prevent such communities from taking measures, which every community is bound to adopt, to establish a police force in order to prevent or repress internal disturbances. The question of police has been lamentably neglected in these islands. Now experience has shown that a military force, however efficient for the suppression of disturbances, are almost inoperative for the purpose of preventing them. The result of withdrawing the troops from these islands will be to impose on the colonists the duty they have so long neglected, of providing themselves with a police force. Then comes the third reason—that of expense. The maintenance of troops in small detachments is a considerable additional expense to the country, on account of the commissariat establishments, and the cost of transporting the troops. For these three reasons this measure has been adopted. The noble Earl (the Earl of Desart) says, very justly, that considerable doubts have been entertained as to the effect of these withdrawals; and I am not surprised that such apprehensions should arise among people who have been accustomed to have a military force among them. The communities from which the troops are withdrawn will then, however, stand in the same position as others which have never had a military force. The noble Earl also referred to a case in which a disturbance occurred a short time ago in Tortola. I must say that the neglect on the part of the local authorities of that island was most culpable, and that upon their heads, in a great measure, rests the blame of the disturbance which occurred. The noble Earl has supposed that I should tell him that Her Majesty's Government propose to meet the case by occasionally sending a ship of war to visit these islands in order to produce a moral effect upon the black population. I can assure him that I do not entertain any such idea; but an arrangement has been made which I think will be more effective for its purpose, and will obviate the evils which have been referred to. Her Majesty's Government have placed at the disposal of the Governor of Barbadoes and the commander of the forces there a steamer for the conveyance of troops, at a moment's notice, to any of the islands where they may be required. I believe that, by the concentration of the forces, you will obviate all the evils which I have pointed out; and you will also, I hope, obtain the advantage of producing among the colonists an impression that they must establish a police force which will not merely be adequate to the duties which the military have hitherto performed, but will be much better fitted for their performance. The noble Earl is right in saying that an offer was made by some of the colonists to contribute 15,000l. if the troops were allowed to remain. The payment of that sum would, however, only remove one of the reasons for the concentration—the saving of expense; and I am sure, if that or a smaller sum is expended in the establishment of an effective police force, the colonists will have no reason to regret the step which has been taken. Your Lordships will find that by the adoption of this plan you will have a much more efficient military establishment, and will avoid the demoralisation of the troops, which I am sure any one who has been connected with troops in these islands will bear me out in saying that I have not exaggerated. Let me add that the policy which the Government has adopted is not to be limited to the West India Islands; it is but part of the system of policy to be pursued in regard to all our colonial possessions. In Canada, for instance, every effort is being made to concentrate the troops. Many small posts, which have been maintained since the war, have been removed, and the troops have been withdrawn to more considerable stations. I have myself recently carried out measures of a similar character in the island of Mauritius. My opinion is that, as a general rule, it is undoubtedly the duty of this country to protect our colonial possessions from foreign aggression at all hazard and all expense; but we are not bound to maintain an army in every small colony, and in every portion of a colony—for it really amounts to that, if you once establish the principle that each West India island is entitled to a force to supply the place of police;—and I think we have done right in departing from such a practice.


said, he fully concurred with the noble Duke in thinking that this country was not called upon to provide a force for the performance of police duty in the colonies. He had also no doubt of the validity of the military reasons which had been assigned by the noble Duke for the withdrawal of the small detachments of troops; and therefore the measure, if earried into effect with due precaution and in a proper manner, appeared to him to be a judicious one. That such precaution had been taken he did not doubt. The case of the West India Islands differed in some respects from that of other of our colonies. This country had made great sacrifices for the purpose of establishing, upon the abolition of slavery, we ordered and industrious communities in those islands. The success of the experiment depended upon the small white population being enabled for some years longer to continue in those islands; and if the white planters and higher classes of society were by alarm induced to leave those colonies at an earlier period, he was afraid that they would relapse into a state little better than their original barbarism. He therefore trusted that, in carrying the withdrawal of troops into effect, care had been taken not to give the population any unnecessary alarm; and also to give them time for making any arrangements which the measure might render necessary, and to ascertain that the proper tune for the withdrawal had come. As it seemed to be a part of the arrangement that the troops should be concentrated in Barbadoes, he hoped that the arrangements for providing for the health of the troops in those barracks, which two years ago were absolutely necessary, had been carried out. At the time he referred to, nothing could be more unsatisfactory, in regard both to drainage and other matters, than the state of those barracks.


said, that having had many years' experience in the administration of public affairs in some of the most important dependencies of the British Crown, and therefore having had greater opportunities than most of their Lordships of knowing the feelings and sentiments of the colonists, he would beg to make a few remarks on the general relations which ought to subsist between the colonies and the mother-country in reference to the management of their internal affairs. It was his opinion—and he believed the good sense of the colonists in general would concur with him in that opinion—that it was, except under some special and peculiar circumstances, just and reasonable that the colonists should be required to provide at their own cost such forces, whether civil or military, as might be requisite for the protection of internal tranquillity, and of their internal police—he would go further, and say also for their protection against such measures of aggression as they might be exposed to in consequence of any acts of imprudence of their own. But, upon a parity of reasoning, he thought that the colonists had a very strong claim upon the protection of the mother-country against such casualties and calamities as might be brought upon them by the operations of the imperial policy, over which they had no power of exerting any influence or supervision. Such, he thought, was a fair representation of the equity of the case as between the colonists and the mother-country; but at the same time that did not exhaust the whole difficulty of the subject; for it was natural that the people of this country, looking at the vast extent of our colonial empire, and at the progress towards maturity which some parts of that empire were making, should inquire whether the time had not come when some of these young and vigorous communities might contribute something by way of aid and co-operation to the mother-country, in return for the cost and labour which the mother-country had lavished on them during, the period of their infancy and childhood. Upon this point, it appeared to him that when this country deliberately abandoned the system of commercial restriction in respect of our colonial empire—which, whatever its other advantages or disadvantages, threw over the economical relations existing between the mother-country and the colonies a veil of mystery that was wholly impenetrable—we left the question in such a position that the maintenance of the connection between the colonies and the mother-country ceased to be either desirable or practicable on any other grounds than those of heartfelt affection and constitutional sympathy on the part of the colonists, and the sense of the advantage of the protection afforded by the mother-country. He believed that the institutions which the colonies now enjoyed under the protection of England were as legitimate objects of affection and pride, as well calculated to promote their material and social well-being, and as favourable to progress, as any institutions which they might expect to obtain in exchange if the connection between them and the mother-country were severed. The contentment and loyalty which now prevailed in Canada, not among one class or race, but among all classes and all races, were, in his opinion, not less the result of the growth of that conviction, than of the belief that the Parliament and Government of this country were prepared to entrust the colonists with the powers of self-government and the control of their internal affairs. He was sanguine enough to hope that, if no untoward accidents should occur to mar the good feeling which now existed, we should, at the proper time, find that the colonies which were advancing to maturity were conscious of the responsibility which attached to them; and that, in a righteous cause, for the defence of the weak against the strong, of the oppressed against the oppressor, of the victim against the persecutor, they would show that they were anxious to share the glories of Englishmen, and were not unwilling to partake of their sacrifices and their burdens.

House adjourned till To-morrow.