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From the Westminster Journal, Nov. 10
Of the detention of the Jamaica fleet, consisting both of merchant ships and transports, which has been kept at Portsmouth ever since April last for the want of a convoy.
The present age is do far unacquainted with the cause of increase of our riches (by our plantations) that they rather interrupt than encourage it, and instead of enlarging, lay hold of some trifling things which they think may touch their private interest, rather than promote the general good. If they think any commodity from thence interferes with something we have at home, some hasty step is taken to prevent it; so that for the sake of having a penny, we often debar ourselves of things of a thousand times the value.
This misfortune will happen to any trading nation, if the persons who have the regulation of the commerce do not understand it well enough to distinguish nicely between the channels by which their riches flow in upon them, and those that carry them away
If we examine into the circumstances of the inhabitants of our plantations, and our own, it will appear that not one fourth part of their produce redounds to their own profit: for out of all that comes here, they only carry back cloathing, and other accommodations for their families, all of which is the manufacture and merchandise of this kingdom.
If anything is to spare, it is laid out here, where their children are sent to be educated. If there is enough to support the family, they come here, only an overseer is left upon the plantation to direct, and the whole produce is remitted home; and if enough to purchase an estate, then it is laid out in old England.
All these advantages we receive by the plantations, besides the mortgages on the planters estates, and the high interest they pay us, which is very considerable. Therefore very great care ought to be taken in regulating the affairs of our colonies, that the planters be not put under too many difficulties, but encouraged to go on cheerfully. They are born with us, or the descendants from such as were, and we know nothing but the want of means to live at home keeps them abroad. Thee are very few trading or manufacturing towns in the kingdom, but have some dependance on the plantation trade.
Let us now consider what peculiar hardships the trade of Jamaica, one of the principal of those colonies, is put under by this seven months detention of the outward bound fleet, after it was ready for sailing.
First, it is well known that the wages of seamen at a time when they are so much wanted for the service of the government, run very high to the merchants. Must it not greatly affect these gentlemen, therefore, almost to the ruin of beggars, or those who have not yet acquired large fortunes, to lose more than the time of a whole voyage, at the same expence that it might have been made; and still to remain in a state of uncertainty when those fruitless expenses will terminate? The men's wages and allowances have daily gone on, as if they had been in actual service.
Secondly, the provisions themselves, by being thus kept beyond their due time, will be greatly damaged. The meats, before they arrive at Jamaica, will have been in salt ten or eleven months; and the juices been exhausted, the flesh rendered both less palatable and less nutrimental: As to the biscuit, it must be half eaten with worms.
Thirdly, since the danger of making a West India voyage at this inclement season of the year, more than in April or May, is evident. Who shall answer for the loss that may attend the attempting it now, either from hence thither or from thence hither where the homeward bound fleet might have arrived at least before this time, if it had not been prevented from hence by this improper, and seemingly unnatural delay?
For, Fourthly, it is most reasonable to think that Sir Chaloner Ogle, who must have daily expected a fleet form hence, has been prevented from sending away the merchants fleet at Prot Royal harbour, whch must have been ready to sail three or four months past at least. Here then is a double interruption of the trade, not only form England to Jamaica only, but from Jamaica to England.
And, Fifthly, what effect this must have on the markets in both places, it is not difficult to guess. European commodities are always dear enough in Jamaica, and the price of them must be now enhanced in proportion to the scarcity. And should this yet farther advance, for the want of protection to our navigation, who could say that commerce is one of the principal cares of the administration? That it has already been sufficiently burthened, the decrease of our exports of those commodities, and the increase of the exports of France to other countries are but too infallible testimonies. What shall we say then if a new duty upon sugars be proposed.
Lastly, the case of the passengers that have been detained by this procrastination, ought in some measure to be considered. Perhaps some of them will have small fortunes, which they were going to venture together with their persons, al at once: Others may be youths set out by their parents, who, not being able to give, drove themselves to hard shifts to put them in a way of getting a little money; which, with full protection might now be expected in Jamaica. But if these are suffered to waste, the self-adventurer his small stock, and the young cadet all that can possibly be supplied, how many sprouting branches are here lop'd off from the community, that might have flourished by this transplantation?
[Note: The preferential tariffs for the import of West Indian sugar to Britain were abolished in 1846. Sugar produced, at almost half the cost, by slave labour on plantations in Cuba and Brazil, undercut the price of Jamaican sugar, with particular consequences. The following extracts from Jamaican papers were reproduced in Scotland several months after they were written]
The Jamaica Times, 8th October, 1847 [an article]
Though it may be an act of supererogation to accumulate arguments in support of the proposition that an equalisation of the sugar duties must necessarily give an impetus to the slave trade, it may not be amiss to point out such instances which may come before us of an illustrative tendency. In a communication recently addressed by Dr. Lang to the British public, it is stated as unquestionable fact, that a great stimulus to the cultivation of sugar in Brazil had been afforded by the late change in duties; and consequently that the slave trade, which had been rapidly declining for some time past, had revived as briskly as ever, especially at Pernambuco, which is by far the most conveniently situated port in the empire for this traffic - being so far to the northward and eastward, and consequently so favourably situated for taking advantage of the south east trade wind, that a vessel from that port may often run across to Africa in half the time she would take either form Bahio or Rio Janeiro. A schooner of one hundred and twenty tons, the Gallant Mary of Baltimore, he added, had arrived at Pernambuco a day or two before his arrival, and was then lying in harbour for sale; and during the short period of his stay, she was purchased for seven hundred and fifty pounds by a slave merchant in that place and was to be despatched to The Coast [of Africa].
This is one instance in which the increased consumption of slave grown sugar is acting as a premium to the slave trader. We offer a second in the fact, recently communicated from Africa itself, that the slave trade on the west coast was never more brisk than it is at present; that thirteen hundred and fifteen slaves had been landed from vessels at Sierra Leone from May 4th to June 28th of this year; that the last slaver taken was a Brazilian brig, although for deception called the Beulah of Portland, U.S. - she was sent in by the Waterwitch: this vessel had five hundred and ten slaves aboard.
Nor is this all; for we have just learned, from an authentic source, that Crab Island (a small tributary island lying to the east of Porto Rico) is now in the course of being settled for the first time, for the cultivation of sugar; and that very recently, one of the proprietors - not content with the customary mode of obtaining slaves - had succeeding in removing a number from one of the French islands adjacent. We have unquestionable evidence of the increased importance of slave cultivation, at the very moment when the free labour colonies are struggling to maintain their existence. We only beseech ministers to look upon these two pictures - on the one hand slavery triumphant; on the other, freedom struggling in the dust - and then persist, if they can, in the line of policy which has produced such results.
'Coming events cast their shadows before'
I have just returned from Lucea, where I have witnessed a sight anything but gratifying to my feelings. A vessel arrived form Trinidad de Cuba to load with the mill and machinery, coppers, and other apparatus from Williamsfield Estate in this parish, later the property of Mr. Alexander Grant. The estate has, since Mr. Grant's death, been, from the difficulty of the times, abandoned; and Mr. D'Castro, the owner of the vessel now at Lucea, has purchased the fixtures for an estate settling in Cuba.
Is not the fate of Jamaica estates foreshadowed in this circumstance? Is it not a melancholy reflection that we are being wantonly sacrificed by our fellow countrymen solely for the aggrandisement of foreigners?
It does not require, Mr. Editor, a prophet to foretell the fate of Jamaica sugar properties, and that for every man's property destroyed here half a dozen will flourish in Cuba. A new branch of trade is open to us, and for a few months, no doubt, it will be a brisk one. I would strongly recommend gentlemen who are advertising properties for sale to send the advertisement to Cuba; an estate now is not worth more then the cattle and machinery on it, and our neighbours in Cuba might obtain all the machinery necessary for the settlement of their sugar plantations on very easy terms; and it will be, no doubt, exceedingly agreeable at some future time, when necessity compels us to quit our own country, to seek a living in Cuba, to see our late still, steam engine or coppers, and if we are particularly fortunate, obtain the superintendence of any one of them.
Your obedient servant,
Hanover, Oct. 23, 1847
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