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1821-1822, Slaves & The Courts, Justice & Injustice

[Transcription and notes in italics by Pieter Dickson]

See below for 1824 - Slave revolt in Hanover, Aftermath

[This letter refers to the proceedings of a recent Slave Court hearing in Clarendon. A slave had been sentenced to transportation but was then pardoned following a petition from a representative of his owner.]

Jamaica, 1st September, 1821

[From Governor Conran to Lord Bathurst, Private]

In transmitting to Your Lordship these proceedings, I have avoided making any of them the subject of a publick despatch because I have reason to believe that the marked disapprobation I have shown at the irregularity and illegality of the late trial will render the Magistrates generally more attentive to their duty. Your Lordship may be satisfied that the protection of the slave population and a vigilant attention to the due administration of justice will be objects of my constant solicitude.

[Colonial Office Note: In expressing my entire approbation of the course which you have pursued I have only to add my hope that the measures which you have taken may effectually ensure the regularity of all future trials before Slave Courts and may excite an increased attention on the part of the magistrates to the important duties which under the Consolidated Slave Law devolve upon them.]

[Jamaica. CO137/152]

Jamaica, December, 1821

[From Governor Conran to Lord Bathurst]

A most melancholy event in Hanover, where, through the gross and unpardonable ignorance of the magistrates, a slave has been illegally executed.

A slave of very bad character, having been tried at a Slave Court for horse stealing and absenting himself from his master, was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to transportation for life. The Custos, Mr. Vassall [1] made an addition to the sentence --- "and if found at large at any time thereafter in the island he be hanged".

By this unfortunate addition to a sentence in other respects conformable to law the magistrates who sentenced the slave to be executed were misled.

The slave returned to the island and according to the Consolidated Slave Act, he should have been brought before another Slave Court, identified before a Jury, his return voluntarily established, he would have been again transported. This is the most punishment which the slave could legally have suffered, had the fact been proved of his having voluntarily returned from transportation.

I am extremely unwilling to say anything that can aggravate an offence of such enormous magnitude, but, had these magistrates not acted with the most blameable precipitation ... the Cornwall Assize Court was sitting only twenty miles away and the Acting Attorney General could have been consulted.

I am unable to describe to you the general feeling of horror which this event has excited throughout the island .... Bill passed by the Council and Assembly forbidding slave executions in the future except by warrant under the hand of the Governor, with one exception, that of a slave being found guilty of rebellion or rebellious conspiracy where the policy of the island seems to require that no delay should intervene between the conviction and execution of the offender.

However grossly ignorant the magistrates who are involved in this affair were of their duty and the law of the land, they are persons of a respectable character; and who in the first instance acted in mildness; as the slave had by horse stealing incurred the punishment of death.

Looking at the possibility of their being convicted of murder at the next Assize Court in March I recommend to His Majesty's great goodness these unhappy gentlemen in such a manner as to prevent their suffering the long and grievous imprisonment which must take place, were they to remain in prison until their sentence may be communicated to Your Lordship and His Majesty's pleasure received here.

[Jamaica. CO137/152]

[1] Custos - Robert Oliver Vassall, Abingdon Estate, Hanover was also a member of The Council.

Jamaica, 20th February, 1822

[From Attorney General to Governor's Secretary]

If the ends of justice should not be defeated and Mr. Newman [1] should be apprehended, the conduct of the Coroner and Magistrates is nevertheless so reprehensible that I consider it my duty to submit it to His Honor's consideration.

Knowing His Honor's solicitude on such an occasion and impressed as I am with the great necessity of enforcing on the local magistracy the utmost vigilance in the discharge of that part of their duty which respects the slave population, I cannot refrain from also submitting to His Honor's consideration whether in addition to such criminal prosecution as may be sustainable against the coroner and two magistrates, it may be salutary and expedient to give them the earliest intimation of His Honor's displeasure and of the severe censure to which they have subjected themselves.

[Jamaica CO 137/153]

[1] Charles Newman, Hartham Estate, Manchester. (For case particulars see the following letter)

Jamaica, 8th March, 1822

[From Governor Conran to Lord Bathurst]

I lament exceedingly that it should become necessary for me to trouble Your Lordship with a detail of atrocious cruelty which has been inflicted on a slave in the parish of Manchester by a person called Charles Newman.

It appears the slave was confined in the stocks: and of course incapable of any means of defending himself from the brutal violence of Newman, and, whilst in that situation, he was beaten with a large stick by Newman in such a manner as to occasion his death, although Newman was cautioned by a person who was present, that if he did not desist from beating the slave, he would kill him.

It is unnecessary for me to make any other observation in the present stage of this matter than to call Your Lordship's attention to the scandalous neglect and ignorance of the magistrates; and to remark that, at this early period of my administration, three instances have occurred of the misconduct of the local magistrates - one referred to in my letter of 1st September last,[1] the second that of the Hanover magistrates, on which occasion the slave was illegally executed; and that which forms the subject of this communication.

If the result of the trial of Newman should confirm the Attorney General's statement, I shall feel it my duty to dismiss all those magistrates who may be found to have been guilty of a dereliction of their duty.

[Jamaica. CO137/153]

[1] See above

Jamaica, 20th March, 1822

[From Attorney General to Governor Conran]

A great and important benefit will I trust and hope result from this trial [1]. The solicitude manifested by His Majesty's Government of this island that this case should receive the most solemn investigation, further evinced as that solicitude was by the personal attendance of the Attorney General at court where he is not in the habit of attending, and the extreme jeopardy in which the lives of these magistrates were placed, increased by the lengthened deliberation of the jury, cannot fail to excite in the whole magistracy of the island a more anxious sense of the great responsibility under which they enter on the discharge of their duties to encrease their caution and humane attention in dispensing to the slave population that code of laws with the execution of which they are entrusted, and to convince all classes of persons in this island that the most ample protection of that part of the population is the object of the unremitting vigilance on the part of His Majesty's Government.

[Jamaica. CO137/153]

1] Trial of the Hanover magistrates who sanctioned the unlawful sentence (execution) on the slave who returned to the island while still serving the lawful sentence of transportation.

Jamaica, 23rd March, 1822

[From Governor Conran to Lord Bathurst]

I trust you will be of the opinion that nothing has been left undone to bring these persons to justice and although the Attorney General seems to think that the jury were influenced by considerations which did not properly belong to them I am willing to hope that the jeopardy in which these gentlemens lives have been placed and the solemnity with which the trial was conducted will lead to a more strict observance on the part of the magistrates of the laws which they are appointed to administer and that the frequent and just complaints which have been made of their negligence and disregard of their duty will not be repeated.

[Jamaica. CO 137/153]

Principal correspondents:

Attorney General: William Burge

Bathurst, Earl of: Secretary of State for The Colonies 1812-1827

onran, Edward, (Major-General): Acting Governor, 1821 (for Duke of Manchester who was

onvalescing from a serious head injury following a fall.

Governor's secretary: William Bullock

1824 - Slave revolt in Hanover, Aftermath

Jamaica, 1st July, 1824

[From Governor Manchester [1] to Lord Bathurst]

I cannot conceal from your Lordship that the delusion which the negroes throughout the Island have generally participated in that they are entitled to their freedom, has not been removed by the publication of His Majesty's proclamation. They have been heard to declare in various parts of the island that the proclamation is a forgery and has been fabricated in this country by their owners. Whether this impression will ever be removed it is difficult to say but I am extremely apprehensive that some time will elapse before this colony is again restored to a state of perfect tranquillity.

[1] Duke of Manchester, Governor, 1808-1826

[Jamaica. CO 137/156]

Lucea Court House, 11th July, 1824

[Statement of Alexander Campbell, Colonel - Hanover Militia]

I received a despatch from Mr. Malcolm on Friday about half past ten o'clock I the day upon which I ordered out the whole regiment. I despatched three of my own servants and my book-keeper ordering them to muster at Argyle. I kept all the regiment that had assembled on guard that night; not more than 40 had assembled. I never diminished the guard for the three days as at first I did not know where to send them.

I cannot correctly say how many were brought in, I can only corroborate Mr. Malcolm's evidence. The most of the negroes were armed with machetes. The last man that was taken had been frequently seen with a gun; I know all but one of the prisoners. Dugald Campbell, William Moodie and William Wright were in the act of finishing huts in the wood. Most of them came in the dress of Dugald Campbell viz. blue cotton jacket and trousers; I saw the fire at Alexandria and sent a detachment the next morning to ascertain the extent of the damage done there.

Lucea Court House, 17th July, 1824

[Sentence of the Argyle rebels]

...on the unanimous finding of the jurors the said Negro men slaves-be taken from this place and on Friday the sixteenth day of July...to the Argyle Estate and on the forenoon of Saturday the seventeenth instant be there hanged by the neck until they be dead on a gallows erected in the Mill Yard of the estate.

[Jamaica. CO 137/156]

Jamaica, 31st July, 1824

[From Governor Manchester to Lord Bathurst]

...the Negroes belonging to the property Golden Grove[1] were with difficulty restrained from interfering with the execution of the convicts.

All those executed were fully impressed with the belief that they were entitled to their freedom and that the cause they had embraced was just and in vindication of their own rights.

One of the Golden Grove ringleaders declared at the place of execution that the revolt was not subdued, "the war had only begun". One of the Argyle Negroes who destroyed himself, said on his death bed, that though it was in vain to contend against the power of the whites, he was satisfied that he was at that moment a free man, and that freedom was withheld only by his master, who was yet most kind and indulgent.

Although the promptitude with which a large police force [2] was brought against the insurgents on Argyle Estate [3] confined the manifestation of a disposition to revolt to that estate Golden Grove and Alexandria,[4] still there is no doubt that the same spirit had extended itself not only to other properties in Hanover but also the parish of St. Elizabeth - a spirit which was only suppressed by the sudden appearance of the Major General commanding with a strong detachment of the 92nd regiment.[5]

[Jamaica. CO137/156]

[1] Proprietor - William H. Heaven, (also Ramble Pen & Silver Grove)

[2] The Hanover Militia -Regimental Colonel, Alexander Campbell Lieut. Colonel William Carr Walker

[3] Proprietor - John Malcolm

[4] Proprietor - Heirs of Donald Malcolm

[5] Major-General Sir John Keane, with four companies of the Regiment, appeared at Savannna-la-Mar on board H.M.S. Hussar, frigate.


Jamaica, 19th December, 1825

[From Governor Manchester to Wilmot-Horton, Private[2]

[The Governor here refers to copy of an Anti-Slavery Society pamphlet which he received together with a private letter from Robert Wilmot-Horton in London]

I shall by the next mail forward to you such observations as that production calls for. The statements are in some instances untrue - in all exaggerated - the accounts of the trials [1] are garbled, and some of the most material evidence omitted.

[Jamaica. CO137/160]

[1] Trials of the rebel slaves in Hanover

[2] Robert Wilmot-Horton, Colonial Office, Parliamentary Under Secretary 1821-1825

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