Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


1808 - 1810 The House of Assembly, "Unfounded claims...determined ambition"

[Transcription and comments in italics by Pieter Dickson]

See below for 1815-1817 the Registry Bill

[Following the Abolition Act, The House of Assembly continued "an hostility of disposition"[1] to Crown proposals which it considered an erosion of its claimed right, function and power as the sole determiner of legislation for the internal governance of the island. This argument would characterise relations between the Assembly and the Crown in the coming years. Governor Manchester's views on the make up of the Assembly are most interesting - his letter, 27th May 1810 to Castlereagh.]

[1] Governor Manchester to Viscount Castlereagh, 18 December, 1809

London, 25th January, 1808

[Agent Lyon [1] to Castlereagh [2]

I submit to Your Lordship that any measure which may have local operation in the colonies ought not to be a subject of legislation for the parliament of the Mother Country. To maintain a contrary doctrine is to leave to the Colonial legislature only the bare name and mere shadows of authority.

It will not escape Your Lordship's notice that my constituents complain that the Abolition Act deprives them of the trial by jury, as it makes offences against it cognisable in the courts of Vice Admiralty.

[Jamaica. CO137/122]

[1] Edward P Lyon, Agent for the island in Great Britain; also a magistrate in St. Catherine when on the island.

[2] Robert, Viscount Castlereagh, Secretary of State for the Colonies

London, 8th September, 1808

[Castlereagh to Governor Manchester [1]

The representations and resolutions which have been made and passed by the Assembly of Jamaica upon the Act of Abolition of the Slave Trade have been taken into full consideration by His Majesty's Ministers.

From the feelings which had early shown themselves upon the subject by which His Majesty's colonists conceived their interests would be deeply injured, it was not to be expected that the Act could have been received with satisfaction. But it was hoped, when once the Legislature of Great Britain had after repeated and long investigation and after the most solemn and reiterated discussions come to a final determination on the principle of the Slave Trade, and resolved never to permit for the future the exercise of a traffick so contrary to the dictates of humanity, that the white inhabitants and Legislature of Jamaica would not only have acquiesced in the measure, but have assisted in carrying it into effect.

As however a different temper has shown itself and the white inhabitants and Legislature of Jamaica seem disposed to resent as far as it is possible the conduct of the British Parliament in passing the law for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and to raise opposition upon what they term a constitutional principle; it seems adviseable in a certain degree to soothe their prejudices and to allow time for good sense and moderation to return and operate.

It is trusted that the Assembly of Jamaica can by no means wish to bring to issue the point which they have assumed in their Resolutions viz. that there is no authority in the British Parliament to pass laws which have an internal operation within the Island. It can never be their wish, depending as they do for their daily existence upon the force [3000 troops] [2] voted for their protection by the British Parliament, to assume principles which seem incompatible with their receiving that assistance. Nor do I conceive they would wish to assume a principle still more difficult to be maintained, that they have a right to withdraw the aid given for a series of years in contributing to the support of a protecting force and at the same time to demand the continuance and possibly the increase of it... the language adopted in the Resolutions of the Assembly of Jamaica is neither reconcilable to constitutional usage nor to the interest and safety of Jamaica...

Your Grace will use such private occasions as may be in your power to explain to well disposed members the sentiments of His Majesty's Government as they are detailed in this dispatch and you will represent how anxious His Majesty's Government is at all times to avoid all angry discussion upon legislative measures and principles and how reluctant they must ever feel to enter into arguments which by showing the situation of the white inhabitants of Jamaica in its true light must place them in a point of weakness and dependance which would essentially tend to lower those prejudices of superiority upon which they conceive their authority over the coloured inhabitants to rest.

[Jamaica. CO137/122]

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

2] It is worth bearing in mind that, in England, Government had its own internal problems (clandestine political reform groups, banned trades unions, civil commotion...) and, in the absence of a police force, relied on troops and militia to quell unrest just as it did in Jamaica; by 1812 there were more troops ready for this duty in England than first accompanied the Duke of Wellington to fight French armies in Portugal.

London, 20th February, 1809

[Castlereagh to Governor Manchester Secret]

From the circumstances reported by Your Grace and a recollection of the many recent occasions on which the temper of the Assembly of Jamaica has been evinced, I can have no doubt that their conduct upon the late occasion has grown in a great measure out of other considerations than those which are avowed.

It is clear from the Resolutions which the Assembly have come to, and which appear in the minutes, that impatience under the laws enacted by the Imperial Parliament for the Abolition of the Slave Trade is the true cause of their discontent, and the governing principle, which, till Time shall reconcile them to so fundamental a change in their internal policy, must be expected to give rise to frequent embarrassments in the administration of the Government...

Your Grace will feel the importance, under the peculiar circumstances above stated, of not committing the authority of Government upon points of inferior importance. Unfounded claims of right must not be admitted, but every endeavour must be made to avoid their being brought unnecessarily to issue, when the true design may be disguised under popular and plausible pretences. Whatever the people of Jamaica may have felt upon the question of the Slave Trade, they cannot suppose it possible that any change can now take place on a point so gravely and deliberately decided upon by the Imperial Parliament with the general concurrence and support of the British Nation. It becomes them therefore in good sense to submit, and to meet the change of system which has taken place with a determination to draw from it all the advantages of which under proper regulation it may be capable.

Your Grace will, I have no doubt, perfectly enter into the views of policy which His Majesty's Ministers deem it necessary to pursue at he present moment towards Jamaica, and I should hope that what has passed will not make it painful to Your Grace to adopt towards the Assembly the same line of conduct, as if nothing had occurred to interrupt your former harmony.

[Jamaica. CO137/124]

London, 20th February, 1809

[Castlereagh to Governor Manchester]

His Majesty sensibly regrets that any point of a collateral and incidental nature should have occurred to disturb the harmony of Your Grace's intercourse with the House of Assembly, and to arrest their progress whilst proceeding to make provision for the exigencies of public service.

It is the more to be regretted as the discussions which have arisen therefrom have led to the assertion on the part of the Assembly of abstract claims to constitutional rights which it is impossible to admit in the extent to which they have been stated in the Minutes of their Proceedings, and which it is equally unnecessary and impolitic to bring into discussion at the present moment, independent of their practical application to any particular measure.

[Jamaica. CO137/124]

Jamaica, 27th May, 1810

[Governor Manchester to Castlereagh [1]

.....The representative body [House of Assembly] is not composed of the principle landed proprietors of the Island, very few of whom, comparatively speaking, are resident in it. But among the leading members are the agents or attornies merely of those proprietors, or of British merchants and mortagees - and although they may themselves also be landholders they are nevertheless indebted for the principal sources both of their incomes and their consequence to the emoluments they acquire professionally, and the control they enjoy over the estates of others. It would be superfluous to point out how much influence may be derived from extensive concerns of this nature, and it will be sufficient to observe as one effect of such influence how little competition can be likely to arise upon the election of an Assembly from any reference to the political sentiments of the voters at large.

The objects I had principally in view when I dissolved the late Assembly were, in the first place, to express in the only manner in which I thought it could properly be expressed the disapprobation with which it seemed to me the conduct of that body towards His Majesty's Government ought to be marked.... In the next place I wished to afford an opportunity for such members as might upon reflection be inclined to adopt a more temperate and less hostile proceeding towards His Majesty's Government, to indulge that disposition, unembarrassed by the Resolutions of the last session which...could not be rescinded by the Assembly which passed them without a seemingly unequivocal and avowed abandonment of their pretensions which I could not but despair of obtaining from them.

I particularly intreat Your Lordship...to contemplate their measures as proceeding from a general and determined ambition to get into their own hands the effective power over this Colony, and to administer it, I may say, without control, to the utmost extent at least which the Legislature of the Mother Country will admit, and at all events, without any dependance in respect to the policy upon His Majesty's Executive Government.

[Jamaica. CO137/128]

[1] The earl of Liverpool had replaced Castlreagh as Secretary of State on 1st Nov. 1809

1815 - 1817 The Registry Bill, "Mere municipal regulation and internal police."

[With the Slave Trade abolished by Act of Parliament, The African Institution, an anti-slavery society in Britain, further proposed "a centralized registry, administered by the British government, which would furnish precise statistics on all slave births, deaths, and sales: any unregistered black would be presumed free...as the only effective means to prevent British colonists from illicitly importing African slaves." Given the 'temper of the Assembly' over its "constitutional and unalienable rights", local opinion and reaction could only be obstructive to such as measure if enacted in Britain.]

Jamaica, 31st October, 1815

[From the Resolutions of the House of Assembly]

To refute the calumnies which have been circulated, with the weight derived from the name of the African Institution, in respect to the wanton oppression said to be exercised over the said population, and the misrepresentations of the condition of the free persons of colour.... The committee have drawn up and annexed to this report certain resolutions, declaratory of what they consider to be the constitutional and unalienable rights of the inhabitants of Jamaica...

Item 5

That the inhabitants of this island have always acknowledged the power and authority of Parliament to make all laws necessary for the general benefit of the Empire, or affecting the whole subjects thereof, for regulating our external relations, navigation, trade and commerce, and have not been disposed captiously to raise difficulties about the exact limits between this constitutional jurisdiction and the right of internal legislation...

Item 7

That it has been the received opinion that many of these laws originated from causes which existed in the colonies that formerly were subject to Great Britain in North America; but it was hoped that laws, so subversive of constitutional principles, would not be further drawn into precedent, and especially that it would never be proposed to offer greater violence to the constitutional rights of this colony, whose loyalty and attachment to the Mother Country have ever been unimpeachable.

Item 8

The Registry Bill assumes a right of legislation within the island upon a subject of mere municipal regulation and internal police.

[Jamaica. CO 137/143]

Jamaica, 26th January, 1816

[From Governor Manchester to Lord Bathurst [1]

Your Lordship will perceive that the attention of that body [the House of Assembly] has been directed to the subject of a Bill which it appears had been brought into the House of Commons for establishing a Register of slaves in the colonies. A Committee was appointed to take this matter into consideration and a very elaborate Report was made to the House upon the occasion.

I think it proper to apprise Your Lordship that the agitation of this question by the Assembly and the strong Resolutions entered into at the several parochial meetings called for that purpose throughout the Island deprecating the interference of Parliament in the internal concerns of the Colony have certainly created a sensation amongst the slaves and a suspicion that the Registry Bill contemplates some dispositions in their favour which the Assembly here supported by the inhabitants generally are desirous to withhold. A considerable alarm prevailed during the Christmas Holydays, but I have great satisfaction in saying that in no part of the Island did there appear the smallest symptom of disorder or riot amongst the slaves. Still I have no doubt but that the belief amongst them of something being intended for their benefit, which the proprietors are not disposed to accede to, is very general and nocturnal assemblages have been very frequent though difficult of detection. I trust however that a prudent and conciliatory conduct towards them will prevent the ill consequences which an impression on their minds that any rights which Parliament had meditated in their favour were denied them here might otherwise produce.

[Jamaica. CO137/142]

[1] Henry, Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1812 - 1830

Glasgow, 5th March, 1816

[From a General Meeting of Association of West India Merchants and Planters of the City of Glasgow]

The West India Colonies have been productive of great benefit to the country in general and to this city in particular.

This Association are convinced that the colonial interests were satisfied of the wisdom and policy of the grounds on which the importation of slaves was abolished; and they have not the most distant wish to infringe on the execution of those laws by which its observance is enforced.

The plan proposed of the registration of slaves proceeds on the assumption of a contraband trade on the part of the colonies - an assumption without a shadow of proof, without the smallest support from the records of Parliament, and without the evidence of one solitary instance of delinquency before the Courts of Judicature - an assumption founded entirely on abstract theories, hypothetical principles and injurious suspicions - an assumption without the vestige of ground laid for parliamentary enactment even if such legislation was political of constitutional - an assumption which at once proceeds to apply a violent remedy for the cure of an imaginary disease.

Such a proposition is calumnious to the character of the colonists as it presupposes a conviction of their criminality.

Such a proposition is founded on the basis of interference with the internal economy and municipal regulations of the West India Colonies.

The association feel it their duty to unite with the West India interest in other parts of the kingdom to prevent this unnecessary, impolitic, and unconstitutional measure form being passed into a law.

[Jamaica. CO 137/143]

Jamaica, 2nd May, 1816

[From Alexander Aikman Junior[1] to Lord Bathurst]

....the odious Registry Bill, a measure so repugnant and hostile to our feelings as free men - the mere allusion to the question has gone far towards effecting our destruction and renewing the horrors of St. Domingo[3]....such are already the first fruits of the visionary schemes of a few hot-headed philanthropic theorists, ignorant declaimers, and bigoted fanatics, to whom all the weight of guilt of the blood of these unfortunate creatures spilt in rebellion [3] will attach.

I have great hopes that the able, clear, candid and explicit Report of our Assembly will have opened the eyes of the British public to the false representations and calumnious statements of our enemies. If, unfortunately, it has not, and the Registry Bill shall have passed into a law, adieu to those colonies for ever!

[Jamaica. CO 137/143]

[1] Alexander Aikman Jnr. - 'Printer to the House of Assembly' and also the 'King's Printer'.

Alexander Aikman Snr. was a Member of the Assembly for St. George's; property: Birnam Wood.)

[2] The slave rebellion on Hispaniola over 20 years ago.

[3] A reference to the recent slave rebellion in Barbados.

Aikman echoes views in John Shand's* letter to George Watson Taylor** of 13th April 1816:

".... the registration of the slaves as an abstract question is of minor importance, involving little more than unnecessary trouble, and wasteful expense. Its importance arises altogether from the effect it would have on the minds of the negroes. An opinion has gained ground amongst them that they are to be liberated by a power greater than their masters, whose intentions in their favour have hitherto been defeated or delayed by the House of Assembly and the resident planters. If the register bill were to be acted upon here the slave classed new named, personally inspected, and artificially arranged, nothing would afterwards induce them to believe but that these measures were the prelude to manumission if not the actual deed declaratory of the royal intentions of which they had heard. If they were not immediately afterwards permitted to do what they pleased there can be no doubt that an insurrection and massacre would be attempted...."

Taylor Letters, VIII B 5, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London]

Hon. John Shand, 'Kellits' & 'Mammee Gully', Assembly member

*George Watson Taylor, MP for Newport in Hampshire, Eng.1816-1818. Jamaica property: 'Holland']

Jamaica, 17th August, 1816

[From Governor Manchester to Lord Bathurst]

...it is impossible that I can furnish Your Lordship with more conclusive evidence on this subject [contraventions of the Abolition Act] than was produced before a committee of the late House of Assembly in their last session, when the Admiral, the principal officers of the Customs, and the Judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty were solemnly examined, and their concurrent testimony proved that no violation of the laws passed for the Abolition of the Slave Trade had taken place here, and as I arrived here soon after those laws were passed, and have travelled much in different parts of the island, and had the best possible means of knowing the sentiments of the inhabitants on this head; if my opinion can add any weight to the respectable evidence which has been brought forward, I feel that I should do them an injustice were I not to express my confident opinion and belief that not only no violation of the Abolition laws has taken place here, but that there is no desire on the part of the planters to increase the number of their slaves by such means. And whatever difference of opinion may have prevailed as to the question of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, whilst that measure was in agitation, I have reason to believe the good consequences of it are now generally felt and acknowledged in the improved habits and civilization of the black population...

Although the tax on slaves usually forms here the principal source of revenue, the disposition to evade this tax, and the great number of persons who are possessed of only a few negroes, and who have been until lately entirely overlooked (particularly in the city of Kingston) afford no means of estimating the real number of slaves with any degree of certainty.

[Jamaica. CO 137/142]

Jamaica, 6th September, 1816

[From Governor Manchester to Lord Bathurst]

I immediately issued a proclamation declaring His Royal Highness's entire acquiescence in the sentiments contained in those addresses and I am persuaded that this publick declaration of the Prince Regent's command will be attended with very beneficial effects, and remove form the minds of the slaves any impression which they may have received that the bill for registering them was connected with the question of their emancipation.

[Jamaica. CO 137/142]

London, 10th September, 1816

[From Beeston Long [1] to Graham [2]

The question relative to the Register Bill has been put off the last session of Parliament on an understanding that measures to prevent the illicit introduction of slaves form Africa would be recommended to be adopted by the Legislatures of the different sugar colonies, and likewise some mode devised to obtain a general return of the Negro population annually, their increase and decrease.

The Committee of the West India Planters and Merchants have had repeated meetings on this subject, and have agreed to recommend to their Friends in the different islands to take into consideration the enclosed heads of Bills, to form the basis of future proceedings in the several Legislatures.

It is by no means intended to dictate to those who may think it right to take a lead on this most important occasion, but it is essential that some measure should be adopted immediately in the islands, where they can best judge how far it may interfere with the local authorities, or the necessary legal securities on negroes.

[Jamaica. CO137/145]

[1] Beeston Long, Chairman, Society of West India Merchants.

[2] Nicol Graham, former agent in Kingston for the late Simon Taylor.

Jamaica, 12 June 1817

[From Office of Correspondence of House of Assembly to Agent Hibbert [1]

We have observed that, at a late meeting of the African Institution, Mr Stephen [2] still threatens us with his General Registry Bill; but we confidently rely on the determination of His Majesty's ministers to resist any attempt which the unyielding spirit of that institution may meditate for any parliamentary interference at any time with this colony.

[Jamaica. CO 137/145]

[1] George Hibbert, a West India merchant, Agent for the Island in Great Britain.

2] James Stephen an MP & Director of the African Institution; related by marriage to William Wilberforce.

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