« ZurückWeiter »
the island. But the intentions of the insurgents were not confined to those portions—they embraced the whole Colony. As will be seen, scattered amongst the voluminous evidence of the Commission, the Bogles and their followers spoke of driving the whites, not out of St. Thomas's in the East, but out of Jamaica. And we know that persons of position, both lay and clerical, received warning to be on their guard about the time at which the outbreak began. Mr. Harrison, for instance, was emphatically warned, so far back as July, to leave Jamaica, and not return till after Christmas. In Vere, Metcalfe, and St. Ann's, seditious threats were used before the outbreak in St. Thomas's in the East. Proprietors were coolly told that if they did not choose to rent their lands out, they would be deprived of them by force ; that “the people would soon be free, and the lands divided among them ;' that all the coloured and white men's days would
soon be over; they should not rule the country any longer. No ?, one after reading the Blue Books can doubt the diffusion of the bad
feeling among the blacks of different districts. Had, then, the soldiers contented themselves with a military promenade to Bath, or along the Blue Mountain Valley, it is clear to us what must have been the impression made on the negro mind. It would have been that the negro soldiers were friendly, or the white officers timid, or the local Government incapable. Things would have remained quiet, so long as the soldiers were in the district; and, as soon as they had been removed, fresh plans for a rising would have been concerted, fresh aggressions on authority undertaken, fresh murders and rapine committed. And a second rising, after the lenient treatment of the first, would have been more audacious in its designs, stronger in its numbers, more complete in its organization, and more expansive in its extent, than the first had been. The design avowed by some of the negroes would have been executed, of breaking down the bridges and cutting off all communication with the camp and all chance of rescue for the besieged and isolated whites. This would have happened in the mountain districts, where the rebels were unapproachable by troops. But, if the rising had been deferred till the military force in the colony was considerably reduced, the rioters might have wrought fearful havoc in Kingston and Spanish Town before any body of troops could be collected to meet them, and then they might have retired to the mountains, whence it would have taken years, perhaps, to dislodge them.
When we recollect that, in the interval between the years 1732 and 1834, there were five or six formidable risings of negroes ; that on some of these occasions plantations were fired and proprietors killed by the score ; that one portion of the negroes (the
Maroons) were once strong enough to extort both a distinct settlement and a treaty ; that other islands, especially Antigua and Barbadoes—and recently again Antigua and St. Vincents—had witnessed conspiracies of the negroes to get possession of them and exterminate the whites ; that in Jamaica the negroes had been increasing in numbers, while the white population had decreased ; that the example of Hayti's independence was a subject of common talk and reference, while the boasting braggadocio of Haytian sojourners was familiar to certain influential negroes ; that the latest form of dissenting discipline had been found too tight for the negro Baptists, who had substituted for it a discipline and teachers of their own, both singularly tolerant of political insubordination; when we recollect these facts, we cannot wonder that the first indications of a seditious organization among the negroes were sufficient to inspire the local Government with the most ardent resolution to prevent by all means the possibility of a second outbreak after the first had been put down. It was absolutely necessary that the rebels should be impressed with a conviction not only of the strength of the Government, but of the terrible dangers that they would incur by resisting it. The details of the evidence show that in this, as in every other similar contest, ' waiters upon Providence' abounded-men who waited to see which side would be successful; who were not disaffected themselves, and had no cause of disaffection, but who could not have withstood the violent current of sedition, if it had been allowed to run its course and been arrested by no signal force. The evidence in the Blue Books is clear on this point. Well-affected and kindly-disposed negroes, when asked what side they would take in the event of a general rising, replied in these terms: 'I could not fight against my own colour; under such circumstances we would all be obliged to submit;' and 'If any of the negroes wished to help you, they dare not do it;' and • They would go with the strongest side.' On negroes of this kind one or two executions would have made no impression. They could have been known only to a few persons in the districts in which they took place. In other even contiguous districts they would have been discredited. Men would have been found to deny that they bad ever been carried into effect, and to assert that the report of them was only a buckra's lie.' Indeed, we have a remarkable instance of this incredulity in a letter written by one Roman Catholic priest to another, after the affair at Morant's Bay, and published in one of the earliest Blue Books, wherein this paragraph occurs :
' It is quite remarkable how common is the idea amongst the poor blacks that the accounts in the papers of the affair at St. Thomas in
the East are written merely to frighten them. They evidently believe that the white men have been successfully attacked and opposed, and are now frightened throughout the island. . . . At the Moneaque the police told me the people are fully persuaded that the rebels have not been punished; and that the reports are merely to frighten them.'
And so it would have been if measures of only partial severity had been adopted. But, as yet, with such evidence as we have before us, and removed as we are far away from the scene of awful strife, we see no reason for discrediting the judgment of the Royal Commissioners that the number of 450 was 'excessive.' It is much to be deplored that a single drop of blood should have been shed without necessity. At the same time we do say that, considering what was the object proposed by any punishment, the safety of the white population and the loyal negroes would not have been secured by meteing out death to forty or fifty rebels as retribution for the deaths of the fifty volunteers and justices slain and wounded at and after the affair of Morant Bay. Yet this is the suggestion which has been made by philanthropic critics reading the Reports from Jamaica in the rooms.of London clubs, or by professional spouters on religious platforms.
We wish to do justice to all the parties implicated in this unhappy business—to the Governor, to the military, to the negro. We know generally what a terrible state of things prevailed in Jamaica ; but we do not realise all the features of the crisis. We may, therefore, make insufficient allowance not only for the actual exigencies of the case, but for the impressions of it made upon the minds of those who were suddenly called on to act under their influence. But we hold that it is the duty of an English Governor to rise superior to the passions and prejudices of those by whom he is surrounded, especially when these passions tend to
acts of cruel retaliation; and to discourage and reprove all threats | and expressions of wild vengeance. We think that Mr. Eyre has not completely cleared himself in respect of the duration of martial law, which was the real cause of the executions mounting up so high; nor in respect of his silent acquiescence in the reckless levity with which Colonel Hobbs and other officers spoke of their dealings with the negro. There is a third point which regards the execution of Gordon: of this we shall speak later.
With regard to the first point, there are two lines of defence, quite different in character. One of these Mr. Eyre takes; the other may be gathered incidentally from the proceedings before the Royal Commissioners. Mr. Eyre had proclaimed an amnesty at the end of October, a fortnight after the proclamation of martial law; but this did not affect the continuance of martial
law, which lasted till the full statutable month from the date of its proclamation. This Mr. Eyre justifies in his despatch to Mr. Cardwell of December 23rd, and in his evidence before the Royal Commissioners, on the following grounds : There was a disturbed district, comprising more than 500 square miles, with a population of 40,000 inhabitants, tainted with disaffection; there were no gaols in the district; there were only 458 regular troops and 287 Maroons in the field. Mr. Eyre considered that the continuance of martial law was necessary to guard rebel prisoners and awe those who were disposed to sympathise with them, so that sedition should not spread into other districts. That there is a certain force in this plea we do not deny ; but still the inevitable laxity of proceeding by military tribunals—the misapprehension of evidence by junior military officers—and the proneness of common soldiers to rush into acts of wild violence, during the abeyance of civil authority—all lead us to deplore the extension which Mr. Eyre gave to martial law. When, for instance, we read that one solitary soldier was proved to have taken four prisoners out of the custody of three constables, who offered no resistance—to have shot them on the spot, and to have shot six others the same day—we cannot feel assured that there was no alternative but the prolongation of a system which left the lives and properties of even innocent people for four weeks at the disposal of any lawless and undisciplined soldiers, roaming away from their stations. But although Mr. Eyre—who evades no responsibility-urges this plea, we infer from the papers before us that there was another reason, which Mr. Eyre would naturally hesitate to adduce. From his own evidence and that of Mr. Attorney-General Heslop it seems that Jamaica at this crisis suffered under a difficulty which other colonies have frequently experienced-viz., the difficulty of defining exactly the limits of the respective jurisdictions of the Governor and the officer in command of the troops. Nothing ought to be more explicitly defined, or more clearly known ; but the one or two vague sentences in the Queen's Regulations and the Colonial Instructions leave it open to either of the two authorities concerned to put his own interpretation on the rules laid down. In the case of Jamaica, the Governor himself and his legal adviser seem to have thought that, martial law having once been proclaimed, the Governor had no authority to terminate it before the expiration of the full thirty days allowed by a local statute ; and that, during its continuance, the Major-General in command, or the Brigadier, had absolute jurisdiction over every military proceeding.
The difficulty of solving this very important question would Vol. 120.-No. 239.
seem to have been increased by the peculiar relation then subsisting between the Governor of the Colony and the MajorGeneral on the Staff. The despatches written by Mr. Eyre towards the end of 1865 inclose a correspondence which ought never to have arisen, at such a crisis, between any Governor and any General. While Mr. Eyre was working night and day at the suppression of a rebellion, in addition to the normal business of his office, he found himself teased by the General about some petty trifles of official etiquette. Thus he was probably induced to avoid further occasions of disagreement with an officer on whose military cooperation he relied, and so left open a question which was of the highest moment not only at that time, but at all times. A similar delicacy may have withheld him from expressing his disgust at the shameful levity which characterised some of the military letters transmitted to him through General O'Connor; if he read them at the time. To us nothing in the whole affair is so painful and revolting as the tone in which some British officers thought fit to write regarding shooting or punishing negroes. But the most unaccountable thing is how ever these letters came to be sent to Mr. Eyre. Mr. Eyre probably had no leisure to peruse them at such a time and under such circumstances. His hands were full, and he would naturally content himself with the purport of the General's despatch in which the documents were enclosed, and would take for granted that reports submitted to the General officer were correct in all respects. But how could Major-General O'Connorwho had served forty years in Africa and the West Indies —think of transmitting letters which reflected such deep discredit on their authors? It was the General's duty on reading them to return them at once with the sternest reproof to the writers, and save them and the profession of which he and they were members, from the reproach which their publication has brought on both. We forbear to pursue this part of the subject further. The melancholy death of one of the officers against whom public indignation in England was once directed, makes it too painful for comment. We dismiss it, with a feeling of satisfaction that some of the worst cruelties attributed to the personal instigation of British officers receive the indignant denial of Brigadier Nelson. As to the flogging; we have no doubt that in some cases it was applied both with justice and with good effects. There is hardly anything that the negro dreads so much; and no punishment was better earned than this by negroes who were known to have sacked and plundered planters' houses and who were caught with plunder in their possession. But 600 seems to be an excessive' number, and women—bad as they were