HL Deb 30 June 1893 vol 14 cc490-8

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he had received any further information as to the late fatal disturbances in the Island of Dominica; and, if so, to move that copies or extracts of the Correspondence on the subject be laid on the Table of the House. He presumed it was necessary that he should say a few words in regard to the serious circumstances which led to the question. The Island of Dominica, as their Lordships were aware, formed part of the Leeward Islands Colony. It was fertile and beautiful, but hitherto had been unprosperous. At present the population was decreasing, and somehow or other the Island did not prosper under English rule. The seat of Government in the Colony was about 150 miles from Dominica, and the Local Government of the Island consisted of a Resident Commissioner, who supplied the place of a Lieutenant Governor, an Executive Council, of which it appears the number had not been filled up for some years past, and the Legislative Assembly comprising 14 members, one-half of whom were elected by the people. The local taxes had long been complained of by many of the residents, and especially the Laud and House Tax. A few months ago, at La Plaine, a district about 20 miles from Roseau, the capital of Dominica, warrants of ejectment were issued against certain persons who had neglected to pay that tax. The bailiffs who endeavoured to execute the warrants were forcibly resisted. At the beginning of April last the District Government officer, Mr. Jarvis, together with the Inspector of Police and a few policemen, endeavoured to eject one Pierre Colar, a defaulter. They were driven off with stones and threatened the next day by a mob of the peasantry of the neighbourhood. The Commissioner of Dominica, thinking the aspect of things somewhat alarming, telegraphed off on the 7th April to the Governor of the Leeward Islands, who promptly sent down the Inspector of Police from Antigua and nine policemen armed with Snider rifles. Immediately afterwards, on the 11th, Governor Haynes Smith himself arrived on the scene of disturbance by H. M. S. Mohawk. He appeared to have acted with great discretion in the first instance. He landed almost unattended, in company only of Captain Bayley, the Commander of the Mohawk, Mr. Le Hunte, the Commissioner of Dominica, the Inspector of Police, and an interpreter or secretary. At the Governor's request, the people of the district were summoned by the parish priest; and the Governor, on their assembling, addressed them. Then he called for Colar, and tried to induce him to sign an undertaking to pay the amount of taxes in default (amounting to 13s. 4d.) when he was able to do so. This the man refused to do, because he could not understand the undertaking he had to sign, being ignorant of the English language, and unable to read or write. The Governor then called to his assistance armed force. A signal was made to the Mohawk, which was lying off La Plaine, and nine Antigua policemen and 20 sailors were landed in order to enforce the warrant of ejectment against Colar. Then, for some reason or other, general stone-throwing ensued. The negroes in that place are an excitable race, and stone-throwing is their usual method of expressing their indignation or anger. An order was given to the sailors to fire in the air; and, from some cause at present unexplained, the police, too, fired, but into the middle of the mob, and killed four men, as often happens on such occasions, killing innocent people who were taking no part whatever in the disturbance. The next day Mr. Le Hunte, the Commissioner of Dominica, in pursuance of his office as Magistrate of the La Plaine district and Coroner, went with Mr. Thompson, the Inspector of Police from Antigua, and Dr. Hunter, the surgeon of the Mohawk, to hold an in- quest. A jury was empannelled, and a verdict was given that— The four men came to their deaths by bullet wounds received from Snider rifles, but under extreme provocation, and without orders from, the superior officer. That was, briefly, the sad story of the disturbances in Dominica. Comments unavoidably suggested themselves, and it was to be hoped that satisfactory explanations would be elicited. The stone-throwing was said to have been due to violent treatment of a man who resisted the police. He might mention to their Lordships that he had studied the accounts given in the newspapers, both on the official side and on the non-official side. In the first place, it appeared that the district officer, Mr. Jarvis, the man who had the duty in the first instance of carrying out the warrant of ejectment, was a young, inexperienced man, quite ignorant of the language spoken in Dominica, which was a French patois, and concerning whom representations had been made before to the Governor protesting against his appointment in the district. A rather grave assertion was made that Mr. Jarvis, at the time the firing took place, seized a rifle and himself fired into the mob. In connection with the circumstances a suspicious fact was that Mr. Jarvis found it convenient to leave the Island by the next mail steamer—a week after the occurrence—and took passage for Barbados. It might be asked whether the Riot Act was read on the occasion? No record could be found that that had been done before these violent measures were taken. It would be interesting also to know the view taken by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Roseau of the matter. The Government had applied to him apparently to send instructions to the priest at La Plaine to afford every facility for the assembling of the people, and so forth. He understood that the Bishop had written to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for the Colonies protesting against the action taken by the Governor upon the occasion. A Memorial had also been sent to the noble Marquess by the seven elected Members of the Legislative Assembly. From his knowledge of Dominica some 10 or 12 years ago, though not acquainted with the names of all the signatories to it, he could say that more than one of them were well-known and respected in the Colony. In that Memorial strong complaints were made of the Governor's methods of administration, and the blame for this tragedy was distinctly put upon him. As to Mr. Le Hunte, who acted as Lieutenant Governor of the Island, besides being Magistrate and Coroner of the district in which La Plaine was situate (the scene of the tragedy), it appeared to have been observed in Dominica that he had always avoided his duties as Coroner until this occasion, when the verdict mentioned was returned. Vehement complaints had been made for some time past by the representatives of the people in Dominica of the Governor's methods of administration. But from all he had been able to gather, Governor Haynes Smith appeared to be a thoroughly high-minded and well-meaning man, though he seemed to be imbued with the views set forth by Mr. Froude in his work on the West Indies as to the ideal method of governing such a Colony as this, a method which might be briefly summed up as being "benevolent despotism tempered with sugar." It was complained that the Governor consulted no one of local experience, but that he undertook everything on his own responsibility, and disregarded the advice of his Executive Council and of the Legislative Assembly. At the same time, his intentions seemed to have been generally good throughout, and he appeared to have adopted every method of conciliation in dealing with these poor men. The spirit in which he acted was very clearly set forth in the Despatch sent him by the noble Marquess on the 9th May last, in which the noble Marquess said— I am happy to be able to express my approval of the spirit in which you acted. Everyone would no doubt approve of the spirit in which he acted, but whether his action was altogether wise was another question. This was not the first time a similar occurrence had taken place in the West Indies. The negroes were excitable and violent at times, but were easily overawed by a calm and temperate display of superior force. Only some two or three months ago a similar affair occurred in the Island of St. Vincent; but upon a man-o'-war being sent to the scene of dispute the whole matter quieted down immediately. In Dominica itself, also, a similar disturbance had happened some 20 years ago at Roseau, the capital of the Island; and when a man-o'-war was brought on the scene the disturbance was quelled without the slightest bloodshed. So that it was to be feared that in this case some terrible bungling had occurred somewhere, and certainly, according to the verdict of the Coroner's jury, homicide was committed. These poor people apparently were killed by bullets fired from the rifles of the Antigua police, and one woman, it seemed, was wounded by a bullet from the Martini-Henry rifle of one of the bluejackets. This lamentable occurrence must have been due to some lack of wisdom in some quarter or other; and it is to be hoped that some legal inquiry will be made by some properly-constituted authorities in the Island itself. Meanwhile, as these grave questions had arisen, he hoped the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for the Colonies would be able to state whether he had received any further information upon these various points; and, if that were the case, he would move that the Papers on the subject be produced.


My Lords, there are two questions involved in the remarks of the noble Earl, and, in replying to him, I will take them separately. First, I will deal with the lamentable occurrence on April 13 last, when four lives were lost and several people were injured. I am very glad to hear the noble Earl say that he agrees with the Despatch expressing the approval of the Colonial Office of the spirit in which the Governor acted. I will with pleasure lay on the Table the Papers connected with the question; and when your Lordships see those Papers you will agree that on this lamentable occasion the Governor acted with great patience, courage, and forbearance. As the noble Earl has already related the earlier circumstances of the case, I will not repeat them. When the Governor lauded from the Mohawk, he proceeded to the house of the parish priest, and called together the leading persons of the district, to explain to them the proceedings which had been taken for the recovery of certain taxes. The Governor spent some hours in endeavouring to explain the facts, and he hoped, and tried, to obtain from the person against whom proceedings had been taken an undertaking that he would pay the taxes due when he was able to do so. As some believed, the Governor was not far from arriving at a settlement; but untoward circumstances intervened which led Pierre Colar to refuse to sign the document. And then the Governor, having called to his aid a certain number of police and blue-jackets of the Mohawk, proceeded to take formal steps—and they were intended only to be formal—for carrying out the law. While that process was going on the crowd became excited, and began throwing stones, which were large and very formidable missiles. Several of the police were struck and wounded; and the Captain of the Mohawk, who discharged his duties in a manner which entitled him to the thanks of the Colonial Office and of the Government, was struck on the back of the neck by a stone. If he had not been a powerful man he would have been undoubtedly felled and very seriously injured. Then, I regret to say, the police fired without orders. Of course, no justification can be offered for police who fire without orders; but it was under great provocation. Their lives were in danger, and the Governor, who himself was in danger also, displayed, as Captain Bayley, the Commander of the Mohawk, and others say, great courage on the occasion. Directly after the police had fired, the officer immediately under Captain Bayley—not Captain Bayley himself, but his Lieutenant—ordered the blue-jackets to fire in the air, and they did so. The Governor then ordered all firing to cease, the people gradually dispersed, and the events of that unhappy evening came to a close. The noble Earl said that one woman was wounded by a Martini bullet, which means that a blue-jacket fired the shot. But according to the last advices which I have received, the information of the noble Earl on that point is not correct. I have before me the statement of the Governor himself. I have also received Reports from people who were present, and I have the perfectly impartial account of Captain Bayley; and they all agree that great forbearance and courage was displayed by the Governor. Therefore, I see no reason for instituting an inquiry into the conduct of the Governor, for that course would imply some degree of censure on him, and no censure is deserved. With respect to the other official, Mr. Jarvis, the statement that he himself fired a gun is not correct, as far as I know. If that were established, it would, of course, present a new and grave feature in the case. But Mr. Jarvis has ceased to hold the position which he formerly held in the Island, and has been given an appointment elsewhere; and in that respect I think the Governor was perfectly right. I cannot see that there is any justification for the statement which the noble Earl has made, that Mr. Jarvis ran away after the riot. I agree in thinking it inadvisable that a man should hold such a position as that which Mr. Jarvis held, not being able to speak the local patois, if another can be found who understands the language of the people. It is much better that such an official should have that important qualification. I do not think it is fair to say that Mr. Jarvis gladly ran away from the results of his conduct on that occasion. With regard to Mr. Le Hunte acting as Coroner, I quite agree with the noble Earl that it is not desirable that the same person should act both as Magistrate and Coroner; but the noble Earl knows very well that in the case of these small Colonies there are no funds to enable the Government to have a separate officer in all cases for each office, and that an accumulation of offices is often unavoidable in the smaller islands. All the evidence I have before me leads me to think that the verdict at the Coroner's inquest was a legitimate and just one, and I have no reason to suppose that Mr. Le Hunte acted improperly in his position as Coroner. I have received a letter from the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Island, and have included it in the Papers. It was a very natural letter for the Bishop to write under the circumstances of so sad an occurrence; but I do not think it will add much to the evidence, for the Bishop was not present on the occasion in question. Then, as to the second part of the question, I am bound to say that the state of things in Dominica is not satisfactory. Riots and disturbances have taken place in that Island before. There was a tumultuous assembly when Lord Gormanston was Governor of the Leeward Islands, and signs have not been wanting for some considerable time that there is a state of uneasiness in the Island, and a feeling among the population of dissatisfaction with their condition. Unfortunately, also, at the present time, the seven elected Members of the Legislative Assembly of 14 have had serious differences with the Governor, and have joined unanimously in the representations made to me with respect to the recent riots, and also with respect to certain complaints which they make about the general condition of the Island. The evidence before me leads me to think that the condition of the Island is such as to require an impartial investigation. We have had such investigations before in the West Indies; and here appears to me to be a case of chronic discontent among the people, and dissatisfaction on the part of the elected Representatives of the community, which establishes a legitimate reason for an inquiry into the condition of the Island, and for considering the measures which can be taken to bring about a more satisfactory state of things. With that view I have asked Sir Robert Hamilton, the late Governor of Tasmania, to undertake the duty of inquiring into the state of the Island, and as to the remedies which can be found for the evils, if they exist, into which he will carry his investigation. But in taking that course I do not wish to imply that I censure the Governor in any way, for nothing is further from my intention, and Sir Robert Hamilton will not make any inquiry into the conduct of the Governor, or take any course which would imply censure upon him on my part. When I asked Sir Robert Hamilton to undertake this not very agreeable duty, he at once consented without the slightest hesitation. I need not say anything about his services or official experience, but I will remark that he has this special advantage—that while he will be perfectly impartial in the inquiry, he has has a certain knowledge of West Indian matters, because in 1881 he was employed to conduct an inquiry in Trinidad, which was not altogether dissimilar from that with which he is now entrusted. He will proceed to Dominica as soon as the atmospheric conditions enable him to do so with safety to his health; and he will there conduct an inquiry, as I have said, not into the conduct of the Governor, but into the general con- dition and circumstances of the Island. It will be necessary, however, if the inquiry is to take place, that the Legislature of Dominica should find the funds for the purpose, inasmuch as we have no available funds at the Colonial Office, and a proposal to that effect will be made to the Legislature of the Island as soon as possible. The noble Earl will find the details of the whole question relating to the riots in the Papers which I propose to lay upon the Table of the House.


asked whether the terms of the Commission to Sir Robert Hamilton would also be laid upon the Table?


The terms of the Commission have not yet been drawn up; but I shall be quite willing to give them when they are ready.


thanked the noble Marquess for the light he had thrown on the subject, and for the promise he had given. He, therefore, begged to move—"That copies of the Papers and Correspondence with regard to the late disturbances in Dominica he laid on the Table of the House."

Address for copies or extracts of the Correspondence on the subject of the late fatal disturbances in the Island of Dominica.—(The Earl of Stamford.)

Address agreed to.