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Declining Importance- Emancipation -Morant Bay Rebellion

The destruction of Napoleon’s fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, and the subsequent defeat of the French off Santo Domingo by Admiral Duckworth (February 6, 1806), resulted in Jamaica ceasing to have to provide largely for her own defence. During the years when Napolean’s ships were moving over the waters of the Caribbean, this Colony sometimes spent as much as $120,000 a year for the support of the soldiers maintained here. This huge expenditure steadily creased after the defeat of Napoleon at sea, and his later downfall.

Jamaica’s importance as a military and naval station declined steadily during the nineteenth century. The wealth which came to this island through its being made, at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a depot for goods to be smuggled or sold to the neighboring Spanish-American countries, diminished also. Twenty years after the battle of Trafalgar the Jamaican planters began to complain bitterly of poverty. The great days of Jamaica’s prosperity were over. Her days of adversity had begun.

The abolition of the slave trade also brought about considerable changes in the treatment of the slaves. It no longer paid to work a slave beyond the limits of his endurance. As no more workers could be imported from Africa, the value of those in the island increased greatly. The slaves were allowed a small piece of land on the plantations on which they worked, and they could cultivate this bit of land one day in every two weeks. What remained of the provisions they grew after had taken enough for their own support, they were allowed to sell. Thus a good many slaves acquired money. These either bought themselves out of slavery, or purchased the freedom of their children, before the abolition took place.

In 1808 The Duke of Manchester, who also held the title of Viscount Mandeville, arrived as Governor. In the same year there was a mutiny among the men of the 2nd West India Regiment, stationed at Fort Augusta. The mutiny was chiefly confined to the recruits, who were Africans. The older soldiers remained faithful, and shot down the mutineers.

In 1809 a conspiracy of the slaves in Kingston to burn down the city and murder the white inhabitants was discovered. The ringleaders were put to death.

In 1814 the Baptist Mission was founded, and the largest coffee crop ever reaped in Jamaica was shipped away.

In 1816 the law which enacted that for giving a slave his liberty the owner should pay £100 to the Government was rescinded. This law had been passed to prevent owners from liberating too many of their slaves.

In 1815, Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Spanish Central America, came to Jamaica as a political refugee and remained for about seven months. The Duke of Manchester entertained him. This was the year of the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1818 Jamaica was visited by two severe hurricanes, one in the month of October and another in November. In the following year the Government made a determined effort to exterminate the dangerous gangs of runaway slaves, numbering nearly 2,600, who infested the country, robbing travellers, stealing cattle and whatever else they could put their hands upon. Many of them were captured or slain.

In 1820 the Duke of Manchester fell from his horse and fractured his skull. He justify the island for a time, and General Conran became Lieutenant-Governor.

In 1823 the House of Assembly refused to accept the British Government’s instructions for making easier the condition of the slaves. The House of Assembly declared that the code under which the slaves were governed was calculated ‘to render the slave population as happy and comfortable, in every respect, as the labouring class in any part of the world.’ The planters objected to any interference on the part of the British Government with themselves or their slaves.

In 1824 the Presbyterian Church of Jamaica was founded. The year after Jamaica was constituted an independent Episcopal See, and the Right Reverend Christopher Lipscombe, D.D., came to Jamaica as the first Bishop of the Anglican Church.

In 1827 the Duke of Manchester retired after having governed Jamaica for nineteen years. The parish of Manchester and the town of Mandeville had both been named for him. Major General Sir John Keen became Lieutenant-Governor.

In 1829 the Earl of Belmore arrived as Governor. The year after hi arrival there was a hurricane.

In 1831 a great insurrection of the slaves broke out in St. James and rapidly spread to the parishes of Trelawny, Hanover, Westmoreland St. Elizabeth and Manchester. For many years the agitation against the treatment of the slaves in Jamaica had been going on in England with increased vigour. The oppression of the slaves by Jamaican planters was violently denounced in England by the abolitionists, and in Jamaica the planters talked loudly of the injustice to which they were subjected in England. The slaves heard of what was taking place in England, and some of them believed that the King had granted them freedom and that they were being wrongly kept in bondage by their owners.

December 28 marked the beginning of the last great slave rebellion, reputed to be instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery. Led by Samuel (‘Daddy’) Sharpe, a Baptist Deacon, this Christmas Rebellion lasted for four months until the rebel leaders were overpowered and hanged in Charles Square, Montego Bay, later renamed Sam Sharpe Square. Samuel Sharpe was hanged on May 23, 1832 and was buried in the sands of the Montego Bay Harbour from which his remains were later recovered and interred beneath the pulpit of the Burchell Baptist Church. The missionaries working among the slaves were accused of having been the indirect cause of this insurrection, and some of them were very harshly treated.

In 1832 the Earl of Belmore justify Jamaica, and the Earl of Mulgrave arrived as Governor. He urged upon the House of Assembly the necessity of adopting measures looking to the better treatment of the slaves. The House returned a petulant answer. It denied the right of the British House of Commons to assume any power of supremacy over the colonists of Jamaica, and it declined to act on either the suggestions of the Governor or the resolutions of the House of Commons. The British Parliament then determined to act decisively.

Edward Jordon, a light-coloured freeman who had served all liberal causes, was tried for his life for the stand taken by his newspaper, The Watchman. He was acquitted but given a prison term on other trumped-up charges.

In 1833 in May, the English Colonial Secretary stated in the House of Commons that all appeals to the slave-holders had been made in vain, and that the British nation must now, on its own initiative, suppress slavery in all the British Dominions. The Abolition Act was passed on August 28. It enacted that all children under six years of age should be set free. There was to be a six years’ period of ‘apprenticeship’ from 1834 to 1840, after which every slave in the British Empire should receive full freedom. The British Parliament voted £20,000,000 as compensation to the slave-holders in the Empire. Of this amount, £5,853,975 was the share that fell to the Jamaican slave-holders.

In 1834 the Marquis of Sligo arrived as Governor. The apprenticeship system began under him. On the Ist of August, 1834, all the chapels and churches in the island, except one or two churches in Kingston, were opened for Divine Service. These places of worship were attended by thousands of the people. On the following Monday the ‘apprentices’ turned out to work, except in the Parish of St. Ann. In two or three other parishes some minor disturbances occurred later on. On the whole, it was soon found that the apprenticeship system was not working well. The planters, angry that they had been defeated in their struggle to maintain slavery, inflicted numerous punishments on the apprentices. Consequently it was determined, by the British Parliament in 1838, that the period of apprenticeship should cease on the Ist August, 1838.

On September 13, the first issue of The Daily Gleaner was published.

In 1838, on August 1, there were demonstrations throughout the island to celebrate the first day of complete freedom. In Spanish Town, the capital, a hearse containing the chains and shackles that were sometimes put on rebellious slaves was driven through the streets, and these symbols of slavery were solemnly buried. There were bonfires and feasting every-where. Queen Victoria, who had lately ascended the throne, was blessed as the author of the people's freedom.

But the troubles which had begun during the time of the apprenticeship, now became much worse. Many of the free people did not wish to work for the men who had once owned them. There were complaints about the small wage that the planters offered: it was ninepence a day in a great many instances. The planters, on the other hand, were stern and angry. They began to turn the people off their lands. They destroyed the huts the ex-slaves had lived in; they cut down the fruit trees their former labourers had planted. The result of the ill-will on both sides and of the planters’ lack of tact and patience was that the labourers were estranged from the estates. The people began to buy land of their own. They were helped with money that was sent out by sympathetic people in England. Many of them also squatted on land that belonged to absent proprietors. The planters cried out that they could not get labour, and the sugar estates began to go out of cultivation.

In 1839 Sir Charles Metcalfe succeeded Sir Lionel Smith as Governor. In this same year a drought began; and it lasted till the Spring of 1841, causing a great deal of loss and distress.

In 1841 a number of African immigrants arrived to work on the sugar estates. These people were imported to replace the slaves, as the planters contended that it was absolutely necessary to get labour from outside Jamaica. The importation of African labour was not continued.

In 1842 the Earl of Elgin arrived as Governor. In that same year the General Agricultural Society of Jamaica was founded, and the Calabar College was opened.

In 1845 two very important events occurred. The Jamaica Railway, then under a private company, was opened for traffic. The line ran from Kingston to a place called Angels, nearly fifteen miles away.

The first goup of indentured East Indian agricultural workers also arrived in this year. The planters had turned to India for their labourers.

In 1847 Sir Charles Edward Gray became Governor. The financial condition of the colony was bad, and a year later it became much worse.

In 1848, adopted the policy of Free Trade, allowing goods from foreign countries to enter the English market on the same terms as goods from the British colonies. In former days, sugar from Cuba had paid a far heavier duty in the English market than Jamaican sugar. When this advantage was lost, Jamaica could not compete with Cuba and other foreign sugar-producing countries, especially as many of those countries cultivated their estates by means of slave labour. A crisis occurred in Jamaica. The Planters’ Bank which had helped the planters in need of ready money, closed its doors, and the people of the colony declared loudly that the expenses of the Government would have to be reduced. The financial troubles continued for some time, but a still more serious calamity was approaching.

In 1850 Asiatic cholera made its appearance in Jamaica. There was little or no sanitation in the towns of Jamaica at that time. Dwelling houses were crowded; the yards were kept in a filthy condition; the streets were neglected, and refuse of every description was allowed to rot in them. The water for use in the city and towns was often very impure. Cholera therefore found this country an easy victim and 32,000 people died during the epidemic.

In 1852 smallpox broke out in Jamaica. It also claimed a large number of victims.

In 1853 Sir Henry Barkly arrived as Governor. He inaugurated a change in the Constitution under which Jamaicans, including Edward Jordan, were appointed to an executive committee. Population had decreased, many estates had gone out of cultivation, the people were poverty-stricken, revenue could not easily be raised and there was no money in the Treasury. The British Government was compelled to lend Jamaica £500,000 to pay off the debts that had accumulated.

In 1857 Captain Charles Darling was appointed Governor of Jamaica. By this time the colony had somewhat recovered from its recent deplorable condition.

In 1858 Jamaican postage stamps were first issued.

In 1859 the telegraph system was introduced into the colony. There were two local riots during this year.

In 1861 a great religious revival occurred in Jamaica. It soon degenerated into superstitious practices.

In 1862 Mr. Edward John Eyre became Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and in 1864 he was made Governor. The disputes between the planters and the labouring population had grown more bitter and more intense every year since the emancipation. The labourers and their leaders objected to the bringing of cookies to the country. Since 1861 the American Civil War had been raging, with the result that food imported from America was very dear. The Revival had also unsettled the minds of the people, and from 1863 a severe drought had begun to afflict the country.

Governor Eyre was not popular. He openly flouted the House of Assembly. While he was still Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony a large number of the Jamaican politicians had asked for his recall. Under his administration, taxes were increased and he himself, early in 1865, described the colony as in a state of degeneration.

In 1865 the Reverend Dr. Underhill, a Baptist minister in England, sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies a letter on the condition of Jamaica. Dr. Underhill had been in Jamaica and knew the country well. In his letter he complained of the treatment which the lower classes received at the hands of the planters, and urged that certain reforms should be instituted. His letter was sent to General Eyre for the latter’s comments. Eyre circulated the letter among the clergymen and Custodes of Jamaica, and nearly all of these denied the assertions of Dr. Underhill.

A copy of the letter found its way into the newspapers. Public meetings, called ‘Underhill Meetings’, were held in different towns, and many of these were presided over by Mr. George William Gordon who was a Member of the House of Assembly. He had once been a Justice of the Peace, but had been deprived of his commission by Eyre who showed an aversion to him because he had exposed certain abuses in the parish of St. Thomas-in-the-East and, in particular, the conduct of the Anglican Rector. Eyre was a strong Anglican and Gordon had become a Baptist.

Gordon made fiery speeches inside and outside the House of Assembly, where from 1864 he represented St. Thomas-in-the-East. He had in St. Thomas a political supporter and religious follower called Paul Bogle who exercised considerable local influence. There were many grievances of which the peasants and labourers of the parish complained; but the Custos, Baron von Kettleholdt, lived in St. Andrew and did not understand what the St. Thomas people felt. He too came to have a strong dislike for Gordon.

On October 11, when the Vestry was meeting in the Court House at Morant Bay, Paul Bogle and his followers marched into the town and demonstrated in front of the Court House. The volunteer militia, who had been called out by the Custos, fired on the crowd, and Bogle thereupon rushed the volunteers and besieged the Vestry and volunteers in the Court House. Eventually Bogle’s men set fire to the building, and the Custos and a number of others were killed while trying to escape. Bogle was for a short time master of the parish. But Erye sent a warship to Morant Bay and poured troops and Maroons into St. Thomas. The resistance was ineffective. Martial Law had been proclaimed and the revolt was put down with terrible severity. Over 1,000 huts were burnt; nearly 600 people were shot or hanged and a large number of men and women were flogged. Gordon was arrested as the instigator of this rebellion, but there was no evidence whatever that he had deliberately instigated it. He was illegally transferred from Kingston, tried by court martial at Morant Bay, found guilty and hanged.

Bogle was captured and hanged. Attempts were made to persuade him to state that Gordon had instigated the revolt, but he persisted in stating that Gordon knew nothing about it.

In 1866 early in January, a Royal Commission arrived from England to enquire into the origin and suppression of the rebellion.

Governor Eyre was suspended, and the head of the Com-mission, Sir Henry Stokes, became temporary Governor. After thoroughly going into the matter, the Commission found that ‘the disturbances had their immediate origin in a planned resistance to lawful authority; but that the punishments inflicted during Martial Law were excessive; that the punishment of death was unnecessarily frequent; that the floggings were reckless, and at Bath positively barbarous; and that the burning of 1,000 houses was wanton and cruel.’ Eyre was then recalled and dismissed from the Imperial Service.


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