« EelmineJätka »
should not have been flogged. As to the burning of houses, we regret that the Commissioners did not think fit to append to their Report a comment, in order to remove from the minds of English readers an impression which their language must make on all who are not acquainted with the West Indies. The burning of one thousand houses sounds a cruel and terrible thing. But the majority of houses of which the Report speaks cannot have been stone or brick houses, but erections of wattle plastered over with mud, and roofed with palmetto-leaves or other fibrous substance. A hovel of this kind might be built up in less than a week by a couple of men. It is a sad thing to have to destroy property in this way; but war unhappily necessitates proceedings of this nature. So long as a disaffected population hold their houses undisturbed, they offer a standing nucleus of sedition and annoyance to the authorities; and the destruction of the houses is often a necessary step towards the reduction of the population. In Jamaica the destruction fell mainly upon those houses in which plunder was stored.
In these observations we have assumed that there was a rebellion, and that it was a deliberate and preconcerted rebellion. In both these assumptions we have the support of the Commissioners, who place on record their opinion that the disturbances originated in 'a planned resistance to lawful authority,' and was equivalent to 'a design for the overthrow of constituted authority.' This is rebellion. And that no term short of this can be applied to the lawlessness of the rioters, the occurrences previous to the outbreak are sufficient to show. Concert and deliberation are relative. They are shown in different degrees by different people. The power of combination is very weak in the Negro, compared to the same power in Europeans. He has great difficulty in expressing his intention. If concert and conspiracy among negroes were to be measured by the same standard of definiteness that is applied to them in England, they could never be said to exist among negroes, because they never are indicated as they would be indicated by English or Irish plotters. A very few words, repeated over and over again-with marked emphasis on one phrase, and a reply of 'All right, all right!' often constitute the whole external communication of negro purpose. When numbers of negroes have brooded for some time over a grievance a suggestion or menace, very elliptically and obscurely expressed, and bandied from one to the other, is the only intimation given that any action is meditated. Conspiracy among the negroes can never be proved with the same completeness that conspiracies among Italians or Celts could be proved: yet conspiracies among the negroes have been proved to exist at different times since the settlement of the West Indies.
Indies. In the present case, we believe that there was-not indeed among all the negroes or the majority of negroes in Jamaica-but among many negroes in different districts-as much conspiracy as the negro mind was capable of organising. The opinion of the Commissioners on this point is curious. They say: On the assumption that if in fact there was a widespread conspiracy, Mr. G. W. Gordon must have been a party to it, the conclusion at which we have arrived in his case is decisive as to its non-existence.' It is difficult to see the reasonableness either of this assumption or its conclusion. Surely it is contrary to all principles of reasoning to assume that if there was a conspiracy, any given person must be implicated in it: and equally so to infer that the absence of that person is decisive of the absence of all conspiracy. It would be just as logical to say that, had Gordon been present, his presence would have proved the conspiracy. Would the Commissioners have adopted this proposition? Or, would they have argued in the days of the Popish plot, that, if there was a plot, Guy Faux must be in it; andif he were not—there could be no plot at all? To us it appears that Gordon was just the man to keep from appearing in any conspiracy, however active he might have been in originating or furthering one. He was intelligent, educated, nominally the proprietor of several landed estates, and altogether a man likely to evade the dangers into which his ignorant and duped followers might fall. He knew enough of law to avoid the technical meshes of an indictment for conspiracy. He knew how far to go; and, as he said himself, he had gone just as far as he could. He had by letters and speeches done all in his power to irritate the minds of the coloured people, first against the Baron Ketelhodt, Rector Herschel and others, and, secondly, against the Governor and the Government. But he was astute enough to keep clear of any overt act which could implicate himself in any conspiracy. We believe he did not conspire. And we are not sure that he had formed the definite project of making others conspire; but we believe that the Bogles and others did conspire, and that Gordon knew that they did; for they always spoke of Gordon as the 'back' of their project. He himself spoke to his own wife at Kingston of the massacre at Morant Bay on the very day of its occurrence, and the day before it was generally known in the city. This looks very like privity. In his own defence, too, he said he had been asked several times to head a Rebellion. If so, it is not too much to assume that he had been asked by the Bogles and others who took part in the affray at St. Thomas's. A prisoner going to execution cried out, 'See what Massa Gordon bring me to!' Combine with these
statements the following expressions in his letters, that the reign of their oppressors would be short, and that the Lord was about to destroy them,' and read them in conjunction with extracts from anonymous letters like the following, addressed to managers of estates before and at the time of the outbreak ::
'When I come down I not going too burn task-house alone, for I going to burn from still-house, boiling-house, and your house and self too; for I means to cool all of you St. George's fellows, for all of the solders in the camp can't cool me, for my troops are solders too.' And,
'I sent to inform all gentlemen in town that, if we don't get justices in this October Court, that we will burn down the town; and we have 1500 man consent to raise a riot at the Court House. . . Lif for Lif will be taken that day. . . . Powder we have plenty, as much as to kill hold turn.'
'Beware of what you are about, beware; if the hair of the head of one of those that are taken be singed. . . . Hell and scissors-if these men be flogged, Kinston will be fired from east to west. If a stripe be put on Kelly Smith and Vaz, you can tell the Governor that from him downwards shall be shot like a fowl, unless he is going to walk or ride with a strong body guard.'
And the following, taken from a house at Stoney Gut:
'Mr. Graham and other gentlemen, it is time now for us to help ourselves, skin for skin. . . . war is at us; my black skin is at hand from to-day to to-morrow. Every black man must turn at once, for the oppression is too great.'
Compare these with this language, sworn to have been used by Gordon in one of his speeches at Vere in the month of September:
The notice that is said to be the Queen's advice is trash. . . . I was told by some that your overseers said if you attended this meeting, they would tear down your houses. They dare not do it. It is tyranny. You must do what Hayti does. You have a bad name now; but you will have a worse name then.'
Read, we say, these extracts in conjunction with the meeting at Paul Bogle's on the 10th of October, the selection of the countersign, Colour for colour,' the repeated declarations of the insurgents that they meant to drive out, or kill, the buckras, and get the back lands' into their own possession; and bear in mind Gordon's striking observation to Mr. Ford, that in the event of a rebellion, white troops would fail in contest with the negroes of Jamaica, as the French troops had failed against the negroes
of St. Domingo, no less than his observation to Mr. Sawkins, that there would be no whites in Jamaica after 1872, and there can, we think, be little doubt that there was a treasonable conspiracy among the disaffected blacks; that this had been fomented (either through pique or premeditation) by Gordon; and that he had a tolerably clear notion of the progress which it had made, though he adroitly contrived not to mix himself up in any incidents that bore directly upon its execution.
Under these circumstances, the moral certainty of Gordon's guilty knowledge and guilty purpose may have induced Mr. Eyre to override considerations of strict law, and to consign Gordon to the jurisdiction of the military tribunals which were to try his less cautious followers on the theatre of the outbreak. Great allowance must be made for the perplexing and harassing position in which Mr. Eyre found himself. It is to be remembered that the illegality which is patent to those who critically examine a proceeding after it is over, is not necessarily so clear to an anxious and over-burdened public officer in the midst of a fearful crisis. And it is not improbable that a mistaken conscientiousness may have suggested to Mr. Eyre that it would be both cowardly and unjust not to subject the prime mover of these disturbances to the same fate as the instruments of his agitation.
Mr. Eyre's successor, Sir John Grant, has a very difficult task before him; one sufficient to try both the distinguished abilities and the firmness of character which are justly ascribed to him. We do not doubt that he will judge of things fairly as he finds them. Such was the conduct of his most honoured predecessor, Lord Metcalfe, who saw occasion to retract some previous opinions, and re-cast several favourite prepossessions. For instance, as is well known, Lord Metcalfe carried to Jamaica his Indian predilection for Baptist missionaries, from which body he received a most cordial and grateful address on quitting India. But free from vulgar prejudices as was Lord Metcalfe's mind, benevolent as was his heart, his head was cool and his eye discerning. He was too clear-sighted not to view things as they were, and too honest not to report them as he saw them. It was not long before he found himself constrained to write as follows to the Secretary of State, after a serious collision between the people and the police, which the tactics of the missionaries had contributed to bring about.
I am bound by my duty,' he wrote, 'to inform your Lordship that in my opinion the worst evil which hangs with a menacing aspect over the destinies of this island is the influence exercised with baneful effect by the majority of Baptist missionaries. It is the worst, because it is the most irremediable. Other evils and difficulties may yield to
time, which may also diminish the 'influence of the Baptist missionaries, or produce successors of a more Christian character; but long after their influence has ceased, its pernicious effect on the disposition of the people will remain. I entirely renounce the opinion which I at one time entertained, that they had done more good than harm. The good which they have done would have been done without them. The evil is exclusively their own.'
When Lord Metcalfe wrote these pointed words, he had not lived to see a class of Baptist missionaries which now has waxed strong in numbers and power; native Baptists, wholly illiterate, wholly fanatical, and inspired with the most thorough feeling of race. How much a class like this can try the temper and embitter the life of any administrator, or distract the peace of any community, it is needless for us to point out.
We turn from the sad history of the events against which Mr. Eyre has so bravely struggled, and from the contemplation of some of the troubles which await his successor, to the consideration of a question which now will absorb the attention and tax the genius of the abiest and boldest administrators.
What is to be the future state of Jamaica? What is it to be? For beauty and fertility, it is an Eden. Is it to become a desert?
The evils under which Jamaica labours are many and serious; but they are not precisely the evils which Mr. Underhill enumerates. Some of them, indeed, are of a character entirely different from those to which this gentleman ascribes the retrogression of the colony. In that letter, which has derived a melancholy notoriety from the consequences to which it ultimately led, the following are the grievances to which the greatest importance is attached, viz.:
1. The poverty of the people; which Mr. Underhill ascribes to the dearth of employment; and this again to the density of population. The labouring class,' he says, 'is too numerous for
the work to be done.'
2. Mr. Underhill, by implication, ascribes the poverty of the people in part to over-taxation, and in part to immigration. As he vouches another person for his former charge, and speaks allusively only of the second, it is difficult to say how much weight he attaches to either of these. But as at the meetings convened under the auspices of Baptist ministers and Mr. Underhill's followers great stress was laid both on the import duties and on the immigration of Coolies, it is not unfair to infer that Mr. Underhill classes both among the causes of the colony's depression. By a parity of reasoning he may also be inferred to suggest