HL Deb 13 March 1866 vol 182 cc120-34

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


said, the object of the Bill to which he now asked their Lordships to give a second reading was to enable Her Majesty in Council to establish an entirely new political Constitution for the Island of Jamaica. As their Lordships were aware, in 1833 an Act was passed by the Imperial Parliament by which a complete change was made in the condition of the West India Islands. We thereby abolished slavery in those islands, and placed those who had hitherto been in the relation of master and slave in the relation of employer and workman. It was to be expected that so great a change would cause great disorder, great cessation from labour, and consequent ruin of the proprietors, and an indisposition to work on the part of those who had been slaves. These anticipations have not however been realized to the extent expected, and if the returns relating to the production of sugar were to be taken as an indication of their condition, three of the islands showed no falling off in labour and production. For instance, in Barbadoes, during the last six years of slavery, the production of sugar was 338,793 cwt.; in Trinidad it was 293,862 cwt.; and in Antigua it was 173,079 cwt. In 1864 the 338.793 cwt. raised in Barbadoes had become 539,706 cwt., the 293,862 cwt. of Trinidad had become 670,793 cwt.; and the 173,079 cwt. of Antigua had become in 1863 (the year 1864 being a year of drought) 202,483 cwt. On the other hand, whilst the total quantity of sugar produced in all the sugar colonies in the last six years of slavery was 4,346,853 cwt., in 1864, it was only 4,314,691 cwt., thus showing that the falling off in the production of sugar was not great, and was not so great as might have been anticipated. In Barba does the amount of the black population was such as to create great competition for employment, and by that means production had been kept up; and in the island of Trinidad there was a great immigration of coolies, and as they were exceedingly industrious, that accounted for the increase in the production of sugar in that island. In Antigua, although wages were low, still there was sufficient labouring to produce the amount of sugar he had just named But the state of the island of Jamaica hail been unhappily far different from that of the other islands—there the supply of labour was so deficient, that no less than 2,500,000 of acres had been left entirely unproductive, and the production of sugar instead of being, as it was in the last years of slavery, 1,356,628 cwt., was, in 1864, no more than 471,521 cwt. It was difficult to account for so great a difference in Jamaica; but in that island the relation of master and slave, which had produced so much calamity and ill-will during the period of slavery, had, since slavery had been abolished, given place to another state of things equally unfortunate. The working population of the island complained that they were told, and that they expected that they were entitled to a certain amount of wages without any reference to their continuous labour, and without reference to that profit which every employer must expect to obtain from the application of his capital. They were told that they would be paid certain wages, and that they ought to expect them. He was not going to allude to the unfortunate occurrences of last year, for, doubtless, when the Royal Commissioners made their Report, it must attract the attention of Parliament, but to allude only to the state of things which had existed in that island previous to the late unfortunate outbreak. There has been representative government in Jamaica, but it has been very imperfectly constituted since the period of slavery, and has been productive of various abuses. The Assembly has usurped various powers, the body is very much divided, and it does not at all represent the population of the island. Thus they found that in a population of about 450,000—namely, 13,000 whites, 81,000 coloured people, and about 380,000 blacks—there were only 2,000 on the voting lists; and, in fact, the representative body did not represent more than about 1,500—so that neither the whites nor the blacks were adequately represented. Unfortunately the Assembly had pursued a very impolitic course. It had very much increased the debt of the island; and though the minority was small they were able to keep up an incessant agitation; and the consequence was that at length the Assembly themselves came to the resolution of entirely changing the government of the island, and to have a Council nominated partly by the Crown and partly elected, and to abolish altogether that Constitution which had so long existed, and which had been productive of so much evil. The object of the present Bill was to enable Her Majesty to assume the power transferred by the Act of the Assembly, which was to come into operation immediately it had received the assent of Her Majesty in Council. The proposed Constitution corresponded to that of the island of Trinidad, which had been blessed with prosperity and good order, compared with the condition of Jamaica. Upon these grounds he asked their Lordships to assent to the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Russell)


said, that some papers which he had moved for in 1864 showed that grounds other than those mentioned by the noble Earl might exist for putting an end to a Constitution which had existed for 200 years. From that Corre-pondence he did not feel himself, under present circumstances, at liberty to quote more than a single extract, but it would show what were the position and views of Governor Eyre. Writing in 1864, he said— My own tenure of office, too, has always been so very uncertain that I have felt unwilling to take any step, which, however right in itself and necessary to maintain my position properly, might, if a change in the administration of the Government took place, suddenly create difficulties and embarrassments for any new Governor who could not have that knowledge of the country and the people necessary to enable him to understand and grapple with them. There is scarcely any position so difficult and delicate as that of the temporary administration of a Government like Jamaica, where promptness, vigour, and independence of action are essential to inspiring confidence and commanding respect. I have unfortunately been in an anomalous and doubtful position during the whole of my administration. My first nomination was only for twelve months. A considerable amount of feeling existed in reference to the Governor whose place I took, and as he was expected to return I was bound to consider carefully how any acts of mine might affect his position upon his resuming the administration. After it was decided that Sir Charles Darling was not to return, I was never informed that I was to remain for any definite period, but I have simply been left to stay on from month to month, never knowing that any packet which arrived might not bring me an order to retire. This extreme uncertainty has had a most prejudicial effect upon my position. It has enabled those who were hostile to me to keep the public mind in a constant state of excitement, by circulating fresh reports of my recal, or of the appointment of a new Governor, on the arrival of almost every packet; it has prevented the colonists from having confidence in the stability of anything I might inaugurate, seeing I might not remain to carry it to a conclusion; it has deprived me of much of the active support which a more settled position would have ensured … and it certainly has made me feel unwilling to take many steps which, though right in themselves, might have led to temporary embarrassments, which some other person, newly appointed, might perhaps have been called upon to meet. I am unwilling to refer to matters of a more personal and private nature, further than to remark that since the termination of my first year's service the absence of my family and my inability to make any other than temporary arrangements as regards my establishment have, perhaps, rendered my continued tenure of office less acceptable than it might have been if there had still been a lady to preside over the society, and a more complete and organized establishment kept up in maintenance of what is termed the dignity of the position. I do not make these statements as in any way complaining of the position I have been placed in, or as justifying any imperfections in my administra- tion, but I wish your Grace, when reviewing my career here, to bear in mind how very unusually and exceptionally I have been circumstanced for the long period of fully two years. I am anxious that your Grace should be able to feel satisfied that if I have not succeeded in accomplishing all that could be desired, I have at least done all which my peculiar position permitted, and that in the path of duty I have never shrunk from encountering the personal obloquy, misrepresentation, and opposition which must ever attend a Governor in Jamaica who discharges his duty faithfully and fearlessly."—[Jamaica Return (1864), p. 89.] The facts detailed in that letter showed that there were other points worthy of consideration besides the shortcomings of the Jamaica Legislature, over which Her Majesty's Ministers now sought to write the epitaph, "Died of a bad Constitution." He would, however, add, "And of bad doctoring." Surely, a Governor appointed by the Home Government was not to be held answerable for the evils of the Colonial Administration?


said, that anybody who had been called upon to consider the position of Jamaica and the causes of the miserable condition of that island must be aware that its evils were of long standing, and of no ordinary character. He need hardly say that the spectacle of a great colony coming forward and asking that its local Legislature might be put an end to, and the colony itself governed directly from home, bespoke a state of things of the most extraordinary and anomalous character. And anybody who had looked into the history of Jamaica must know that there were few of its evils and misfortunes which could not be traced distinctly to the action of the Colonial Legislature. The sins both of omission and commission of that Legislature were more flagrant than in any other of the colonies: and there were defects in the constitution of the House of Representatives there which were enough to ruin any similar Assembly. Tomorrow, if these defects were introduced into the House of Commons, they would corrupt and ruin its influence, and give rise to a demand for an immediate change. In the first place, there was vested in the Jamaica House of Representatives a power of originating money votes without the sanction of the Crown; and during the interval between Sessions it prolonged its existence by the appointment of committees, who virtually governed the country, giving rise to a pernicious system of local corruption and jobbing, and usurping the functions of the Executive. What had been the re- sults? They had ruined the finances of the country utterly. In a mere party conflict they refused to continue a Revenue Bill, and threw to the winds a very large sum of money properly belonging to the public. They never carried into effect any proper system for the supply of labour to the colony, and thereby ruined the sugar cultivation. Their finances having become involved in irreparable confusion they came to this country some years ago for a loan; and the Government consented to guarantee that loan, insisting, however, on certain stipulations, which did, to a certain degree, in practice improve the working of the Colonial Assembly. He hoped their Lordships would not suppose that the example of Jamaica was at all conclusive as to the failure of negro emancipation, or as a proof that black and white could not live together. With the exception of Jamaica, he believed that as much sugar was now ex ported from this West India Islands as at any former period, and from the Mauritius sugar was supplied to the markets of the world. It was to the faults of the Legislature and to no other cause, he believed, that the wretched condition of Jamaica was attributable. Under good government he hoped that the resources of the colony would now be developed, and that it would become the glory, as it had been the disgrace, of the British Crown. In 1839, at the time that he had the honour of filling the station of Under Secretary to the Colonies, it was his duty to ask the House to agree to a Bill somewhat similar to that now introduced. The measure was violently opposed by the Jamaica Legislature of that day, and by the great party opposite, it being much more the fashion then than it happily was now to make colonial topics a ground for party struggles. The Ministry accordingly were obliged to withdraw the Bill, which would have proved so important to the true in terests of Jamaica, and to substitute for it a measure of a most imperfect character.


My Lords, I entirely concur with my noble Friend who has just sat down in thinking it of much importance that the very unsatisfactory results of the abolition of slavery in Jamaica should not be attributed to any inherent fault of the negro race, when the difficulties which have been felt have arisen really from the conduct of the Legislative Assembly. Having taken a deep interest in this question for more than thirty years, I think I may now venture to ask your Lordships' attention while I review the proceedings which have brought the fine island of Jamaica into so deplorable a condition, and have at length led to the necessity for passing the present Bill. To this measure I give my most hearty support. I regard as the single wise political measure that has ever emanated from the Jamaica Legislature, the act by which they committed political suicide, and on which the Bill now before us is founded. The Assembly of Jamaica, up to this time, has been in possession not only of the usual powers which belong to a representative Assembly, but also of many powers which, in a Constitution modelled on our own, rightly belong to the Crown or the Crown's representative. These usurped powers were exercised by the Assembly under the authority of various local acts, most of which were passed many years ago. In this manner, in addition to the sole power of granting money, the Assembly, as my noble Friend has pointed out, had secured for its members, under the name of Commissioners of Public Accounts, the right of expending the grants made for the public service, and that of collecting the revenue. These unconstitutional powers had been grossly abused. In collecting the revenue, the Members of the Assembly habitually neglected to enforce the payment of the taxes due by themselves and their friends with the same strictness which was used towards others, and corruption and jobbery prevailed in every branch of the Administration. The result has been that for a long series of years the finances of the island have continued to become more and more embarrassed. But even the financial mal-administration of the Assembly has been productive of less evil than its persistent resistance to the mother country—first, with reference to the change in the social condition of the colony, and afterwards on the question of commercial policy. It is now more than forty years since the struggle between the Imperial Government and the Jamaica Legislature respecting the emancipation of the slaves first commenced. That struggle began in 1823, when, on the Motion of Mr. Canning, the House of Commons passed its celebrated Resolutions for the adoption of measures for the gradual abolition of slavery. The Assembly of Jamaica, in common with the other Colonial Legislatures refused to pass any effective measures of the kind contemplated by Mr. Canning's Resolutions. Injustice to them I am bound to say that I do not think they deserve the severe censure that they have incurred by this refusal, since I am convinced that the whole scheme of what is called gradual emancipation was essentially unsound. The result was, however, that nothing effectual having been accomplished in ten years for the mitigation and ultimate extinction of slavery by the Colonial Legislatures, Parliament took the matter into its own hands, and passed, in 1833, the Act for the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, this Act was founded on a principle which at the time I was convinced was a false one, and which was soon proved to be so by experience. I ventured to oppose the system of apprenticeship from the first, because I believed that the opportunity was being lost for adopting those measures which were required for organizing the new state of society, and placing the negro in a situation which would lead him to work as efficiently as a free labourer, as he hitherto had done as a slave. The warnings of myself and those who held the same opinions were disregarded, but our forebodings with regard to the system of apprenticeship were speedily fulfilled. The object which the Colonial Legislatures attempted to effect was, to retain as much as possible the essence of slavery, and having received compensation for the emancipation of the slaves, to grant as little benefit as possible to the negro. A state of things consequently arose which this country would not tolerate. A cry was got up for the immediate and total abolition of the apprenticeship, and this cry became so strong and so general that the Government of the day could only resist it by proposing that Parliament should effectually guard by very stringent legislation against the abuses that had been brought to light. Accordingly, an Act was passed in 1838 which so fettered the power of the masters over their apprentices, that the Colonial Legislatures unanimously agreed that the system of apprenticeship, so fettered, was not worth preserving. They all, therefore, passed laws putting an end to the system, but in doing so they still showed their desire to cling as far as possible to the vicious principle they had been compelled to give up, by the spirit of their legislation, which was at once unfriendly towards the negroes, and yet neglected to subject them to that discipline which the change in their social state had made so necessary. The laws passed by all the colonies were ill-calculated to facilitate the transition from slavery to freedom, but in none were they so defective as in Jamaica. In that island the manner in which the Assembly dealt with the fiscal, police, and other arrangements, was utterly opposed to all the dictates of political science and political economy, and it was not at all to be wondered at that failure should be the result. The island continued in a most unsatisfactory condition, and the Assembly entered into a long controversy with the Home Government with respect to abuses it refused to remedy. This led, in 1839, as my noble Friend (Lord Taunton) has remarked, to the suspension of the authority of the Jamaica Legislature being proposed. This measure was urgently required, though I thought then, and still think, that that proposal was not made in the form best calculated to obtain the sanction of Parliament. That Bill did not pass, a matter deeply to be regretted, for if it had I firmly believe that the condition of the island would be very different from what it now is; but the West Indian interest, supported by a very powerful opposition, and by some of those who called themselves colonial reformers, proved too strong for the administration of Lord Melbourne. The measure consequently failed, and the Assembly remained in possession of unchecked power to mismanage the affairs of the island. In 1846 it was determined by the British Parliament that there should be free trade in sugar. That measure led to a most violent opposition on the part of the West Indian party, and every opportunity was made use of for the purpose of thwarting the Government in all its measures, with the view of compelling it, if possible, to abandon its policy, and recommend to Parliament the restoration of protection. The opposition of the colonists was successful in defeating most of the measures designed for their benefit, but they totally failed in their real object of regaining the protection they had lost. And when a few years later the Administration was changed, the new Government, though composed of the statesmen who had been the great supporters of the planters, and from whom they expected so much, found that the abolition of protection had been attended with so much advantage to our trade and finances, that they did not attempt to induce Parliament to alter the policy which it had adopted. During the whole time, from 1834 onwards, the state of Jamaica continued to become worse and worse, but I entirely deny that the decline in the condition of the island is attributable either to the abolition of slavery or the establishment of free trade. The proof that it is not so is to be found in the fact that in other colonies, having fewer advantages and greater difficulties to struggle with than Jamaica, free trade and emancipation have in the end proved beneficial instead of injurious. Look, for instance, at the case of Trinidad. Trinidad, in 1846, when the sugar duties were altered, was in a most distressed condition; its planters and merchants were on the brink of insolvency, its finances were so embarrassed that it was with the greatest difficulty that the Government could find the means of providing for the most necessary expenses. But by the adoption of sound principles of legislation, by eschewing jobbery and corruption, by adopting a sound fiscal system, and by the wise administration of my noble Friend Lord Harris the colony was brought through its difficulties, and Trinidad is at this moment in an extremely prosperous condition. The production of sugar has been largely increased, its pecuniary difficulties are at an end, and there is an annual excess of revenue over expenditure, in spite of the large sums of money that have been expended in public works. In many of the other sugar colonies, and especially in Guiana and in Mauritius, where the Crown possesses, as in Trinidad, a larger authority than elsewhere, there has been a similar change for the better in the state of affairs, and in the prospects of the planters, notwithstanding their loss of protection. I confess this result is very gratifying to me, because it proves that the policy of 1846 which I assisted in recommending to your Lordships, was sound in its principles During five years I bad to discharge the painful and laborious task of maintaining both in this House and in the official correspondence with the colonies the policy of giving free trade to the colonies, and I am glad that the results have proved that the course adopted by the Government of that day was right. The adoption of this principle, so far from having been the ruin of the colonies, has, on the contrary, when accompanied by proper local measures, been the means of placing their property on a more stable footing than ever, since in the West Indies in former times, although the planters occasionally made large profits, but few years passed without their Buffering extreme embarrassment and distress, which was the natural and necessary consequence of the artificial system in which they were placed. Having laboured for many years under great difficulty, and in spite of great opposition to maintain this principle, it is satisfactory to me to find it now clearly proved by the result that we have by adhering to it placed the prosperity of these colonies upon a far sounder and better basis than before. This contrast between Jamaica and the other sugar-producing colonies shows that it is not the abolition of protection or the abolition of slavery that is the cause of the misfortunes of the former. These misfortunes are the natural result of the gross mal-administration of the affairs of the island by the Legislature we are now going to abolish. It is now nearly twenty years since I pointed out to Sir Charles Grey, the then Governor of the colony, what would be the certain consequences of the policy to which the Assembly so obstinately adhered, and also the principles of the legislation required for the improvement of the population, and for placing society in a wholesome state. In the present state of affairs we see the result of refusing to act upon this advice. I am glad, however, to find that Her Majesty's Government have proposed a Bill in the shape of that now before the House; and I do not think it so wonderful, as some people do, that the Assembly of Jamaica has assented to this act of political suicide. As my noble Friend has shown, the political power in the island has hitherto been confined to a very few persons. The planting interest has had the power mainly in its own bands; and this interest is not composed of persons having a permanent interest in the colony, but of agents and overseers who are anxious to beep up the old abuses for the time, so as to enable them to make their fortunes and return home as speedily as possible. My late lamented friend Lord Elgin pointed out this fact to me as the most despairing feature in the state of the colony, that those who exercised the chief ascendancy were men who cared little or nothing what might follow, provided the system could be made to last their time. But, much as the colony has suffered in its commerce and industry from the false policy and mal-ad ministration of the Assembly, still the negroes by slow degrees have acquired property and a corresponding amount of political influence; and it has lately become clear, looking to the various symptoms of a coming change, that in a short time the political ascendancy would have passed out of the hands of the whites into those of the negroes had the existing constitution been allowed to remain in force. This fact explains the readiness of the Jamaica Parliament to commit political suicide. Her Majesty's Government have acted most prudently in accepting that sacrifice, and in proposing to place the government of the colony under the authority of the Crown, restricted only by the responsibility of the Ministers to Parliament. From all the evidence I have been able to collect, I have come to the conclusion that for many years to come the negroes will be unfit to exercise political power, and, therefore, in my opinion to have abolished the authority of the oligarchy and to have placed the political power in the hands of the blacks would have left the colony in a worse position than before. I confess I should look with great alarm at a proposition to place the political power in the hands of those who wield the brute physical force of the colony. I should also regret the adoption of any half measure such as that which was originally proposed by the Assembly—namely, to place the power of legislation in the hands of a council composed partly of members appointed by the Crown, partly of members chosen by electors having a high property qualification from among the residents in the colony. Such a system would have maintained to a large extent the power in the hands of the existing oligarchy, and would have relieved the Crown from that responsibility which will now rest upon it. I therefore entirely approve the form of the Bill at present before us. I am particularly glad that the clause restricting the operation of the Bill to three years has been struck out by the other House—a restriction for which I saw no necessity It is sufficient for Parliament to legislate with the view of remedying present evils, leaving it to future Parliaments to give the colony such a government as its altered condition may demand. I am persuaded that in the first instance full power should be given to the Crown, and I hope that such power—which I trust will be unanimously granted by both Houses of Parliament—if used judiciously, will soon greatly alter for the better the condition of the colony. From all the evidence brought before me, I am persuaded that there is no peculiarity in the black race which will prevent their improvement; they are a people capable of great industry, although, doubtless, very excitable, and having certain faults that in time will disappear; but they are capable, when placed in proper circumstances, of earnest and persevering industry. But they must have some powerful motive to make them submit to toil, and in this they do not differ from whites. The real difficulty of inducing the negroes in most of the colonies to do regular work since emancipation has arisen from the fact that the cheapness and abundance of land has enabled them to supply all their wants with very little exertion. This difficulty might have been averted if proper means had in the first instance been taken to compel the negroes to pay such a price for the land they required as to make it necessary for them to do a fair amount of labour. This was the principle originally suggested by the late Mr. Gibbon Wakefield, which was earnestly pressed by myself and others on the West Indians in 1833. The present state of things in Barbadoes is a proof of the soundness of the theory of Mr. Gibbon Wakefield; there no complaint has been made of want of industry in the negroes, simply because they must work or starve; and it was a great blunder at the time of emancipation not to endeavour artificially to place the negroes elsewhere in a somewhat similar situation, which might then have been easily done. I am quite aware that the time has gone by when measures that would have been easy thirty years ago could be adopted, but still I am persuaded that the principle might with proper caution even now be acted upon at least to some extent. All depends, however, upon the manner in which the powers granted by this Bill are exercised by Her Majesty's Government and by those employed by them, and especially on the fitness for the duty of the persons into whose hands this great task of restoring prosperity to the island shall be committed. We should have in that colony not only a Governor of first-rate ability, but we should also have the assistance of men—not such as were usually found in a colony, but of men of the highest talents and acquirements sent from this country. These men should have a full acquaintance with all those great questions of social organization which have of late years attracted so much attention, in addition to a knowledge of the principles, of political economy. This knowledge is absolutely essential in men who are to be engaged in putting the legislation of Jamaica on a satisfactory footing. I trust that the persons employed will be chosen with the view of carrying out this great object, and that Her Majesty's Government will not practise the false economy of sending out underpaid men to a tropical and unhealthy climate, but will give liberal salaries, which will enable them to send out men of talent and energy to work out the problem of organizing labour, and of making this magnificent and fertile island again one of the most productive of the West Indies.


said, that of all the deplorable features exhibited by the Jamaica papers the most distressing was that describing the demoralized state of the people, especially as regards those in the matrimonial state. Whatever authority was about to discharge the government of the island, he trusted attention would be given to the matter he had referred to, because without that no mere political arrangement could confer the least benefit upon the people of Jamaica.


trusted that when the case of Governor Eyre came before Parliament consideration would be given to the fact that he had been left so long a time to administer the affairs of a considerable government in a position that was calculated very much to weaken his authority. It was not surprising that differences of opinion should have arisen between the members of the local Assembly and the Governor, when the latter could not tell from month to month whether he was Governor or not, He had visited many colonies, and spent much time there; but he had never in the whole course of his communication with colonists heard a good word for the Colonial Office. Indeed, one very respectable Chief Justice had expressed to him, in language it would not do for him to repeat, a very strong wish that "those fellows at home" would learn to leave the colonies alone. It was to be hoped that the recent history in Jamaica would tend to direct politicians at home to the whole question of colonial administratration, which, in his opinion, was in a very unsatisfactory state, and was naturally held in very little favour, either at home or abroad.


remarked that the present condition of She colony arose from their being left to their own devices, and from the Crown having no power to carry into effect the measures the Imperial Government thought necessary for the prosperity of the island.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.