Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


1816 - 1831 Amelioration, "improve the condition of the lower orders of society"

[With the rising influence of the emancipation movement in England, Parliament attempted to persuade a recalcitrant Assembly in Jamaica towards reform of the harsher aspects of slavery. It was particularly mindful of the danger of sudden change, having endured the upheavals in Europe and abroad of revolution in France. Haiti was an example uncomfortably close to Jamaica.]

Jamaica, 20 th December, 1816

[From Governor Manchester[1] to Bathurst[2]

I am sorry to say that there appears a tenacity of opinion and sentiments on the subject of the Slave Code, and a disinclination to adopt new regulations adapted to the improved state of civilization to which the negroes have arrived, which it is difficult to reconcile to the professions which have been constantly made of their readiness to any practicable mode of improving the condition of the slave population.

[Jamaica. CO 137/142]

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

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

London, 3 rd May, 1823

[From Memorial of the West India Agents to Bathurst]

Your Memorialists have cause to apprehend that those who are now active in forcing this very important subject into discussion do not possess any property in the West India Colonies, and have not had the means of forming an impartial and accurate estimate of the state of the population therein, and that they may not therefore be aware of the extreme danger which must attend an improvident agitation of the subject in public debate, or of the immense value of the property which (together with the lives of every class of the inhabitants of the colonies) would thereby be put to hazard...

The fitness and policy of such measures may be varied by the particular circumstances and existing laws and regulations of each colony; these are matters strictly within the province of the colonial legislatures and concerning which they are most competent to judge...

[Jamaica. CO 137/155]

Jamaica, 11 th August, 1823

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

I shall pay the strictest attention to such instructions as I have or may receive and shall employ any influence which I may possess with the leading gentlemen in the island to induce them to revise the slave code with a view of meliorating the condition of the slave population by all practicable measures and of satisfying the expectations of His Majesty's Government and Parliament upon a question which has excited so great a degree of interest in the public mind.

[Jamaica. CO 137/154]

Jamaica, 13 th October, 1823

[Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

I think it would be most prudent to recommend to them [the Assembly] generally a Revision of the consolidated Slave Law stating to them that the same regard for the welfare of the slaves which had already conferred on them many important benefits would suggest to the Council and the Assembly further means of contributing to their improvement which would naturally strengthen that attachment with which the slaves look to their owners as their natural protectors and to whom they would be exclusively indebted for any further advantages which it may be found practicable to confer upon them...to state that there exists in all parts of the civilized world a strong desire to improve the condition of the lower orders of society and that this feeling is no where more prevalent than in the British Empire. I propose to add an assurance that any effective measures which may be adopted for meliorating the condition of the slave population will be most acceptable to His Majesty's Government.

[Jamaica. CO 137/154]

Jamaica, 10 th November, 1823

[Governor Manchester to Bathurst,]

I considered it a great object that nothing like a direct refusal should be given to the proposition in favour of the slaves. Amongst whom an active spirit of inquiry has very generally extended itself, in consequences of the rumours which had been industriously circulated amongst them of immediate emancipation...


I now think it proper to apprize you that although my communication to the two branches of the legislature was well received, and an expectation held out that the subjects recommended to them would be favourably considered, I am by no means sanguine in my hopes that such expectation will be realized...

It is my intention, with a view of avoiding the danger which would attend any rupture with the Assembly near the Christmas holidays...to pass the bill with such amendments as may be introduced into it: carefully avoiding any expression which may be construed into an approval of their measures. And, should the proceedings of the Assembly disappoint Your Lordship's expectations, sufficient time will be afforded for a renewed application to the House after the Holidays...my apprehension that in their present temper, no very substantial improvement in the condition of the slaves will be accomplished.

[Jamaica. CO 137/154]

Jamaica, 24th December, 1823

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

I am much afraid that the determined opposition to all measures suggested to the House is not solely to be ascribed to bad temper alone, otherwise there might be a hope of their coming to a better and more rational way of thinking and acting, but I am grieved to say that the Assembly is composed of such materials that I fear there is more Creole prejudice remaining than ought to be found amongst them, and a greater reluctance to part with power over the slave than might have been expected in the present age, which makes them view with suspicion and dissatisfaction any measure which is to raise the slave above his present level, and any approach towards civilization a release from that subjection which habit teaches them to think essential to the existence of slavery.

Your Lordship may reasonably suppose that there are persons in the Assembly with whom I could confidentially communicate, and whom I might induce to bring forward measures recommended by Government. There have been such persons, and there are still, but most of them who are possessed of either talent or influence have left the island, and the very few who remain find it vain to oppose the violence and indiscretion of the great majority of their colleagues.

[Jamaica. CO137/154]

Vere, Jamaica, 1823

[From G.T. Gilbert [1] to Bathurst]

Your Lordship's dispatches...have created sentiments the most hostile to His Majesty's Government, and as such create the greatest uneasiness in the minds of all loyal subjects...Your Lordship's dispatches breathes the sentiment of a benevolent heart, but they bear no analogy to the wretched negroe, and ill suited to allay the present irritation and discontents of the West India Colonists. I have resided nearly four years in the humble capacity of a book keeper in this isle, and am all day in the midst of the negroes, and during crop four or five months in the year half the night, I have had every means of studying their character and dispositions...

They are a race of beings who cannot bear prosperity and they already (nearly) enjoy all the benefits of your Lordship's humane and philanthropic resolutions. Any interference of His Majesty's Government they always construe, "it leads to emancipation" they have no other ideas of other intentions. It misguides the ignorant, and is a dangerous weapon to the cause of the ill-disposed; you find...how cautious the question should be agitated in anything related to their amelioration.

It will be a lapse of ages before the negroes can even participate of the blessings of freedom, the very name African must cease to exist in their memories before their customs are obliterated.

[Jamaica. CO 137/155]

Jamaica, 4 th March, 1823

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

...the attempt which was made in the House to consider the paper which I had confidentially placed in the hands of the chairman of the committee appointed to revise the Slave Code in the form of suggestions to assist the judgement of the committee...proved that an opportunity was sought to come to some intemperate Resolutions on the subject.

[Jamaica. CO 137/156]

Jamaica, 24th December, 1824

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

When I consider the various objects comprised in His Majesty's Order in Council for the improvement of the condition of the slaves in Trinidad, I am afraid Your Lordship will be dissatisfied with the proceedings of the Assembly...

...still I am convinced that there is a very sincere desire to do from time to time what may appear to be practicable. And if the Assembly has not done more now it has arisen form the general belief that the Negro mind is still unsettled and their designs of mischief not yet abandoned - an impression which has acquired much force from the Report of a Secret Committee appointed to enquire into the rise, progress and means used to suppress the late disturbances in this island, and to report their opinions thereon and also to enquire if any and what negroes behaved themselves faithfully and meritoriously to their owners and the public during such disturbances and if any of them deserve rewards for the same.

[Jamaica. CO 137/156]

Jamaica, 18 th October, 1825

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

I shall take particular care in my speech to the two branches of the Legislature...and use my best endeavours to convince them of the serious evils which may be produced by any further hesitation in adopting substantial measures for the relief of the slave population.

In regard to the act of the last session to prevent levies on slaves on Saturdays...I certainly regard it as a measure of protection to the slave which enables him to carry his provisions to market on the Saturday, whereas before the passing of this Act the slaves of indebted persons could not venture to go to market on any day other than Sunday...without fear of being molested for the debts of their owners.

[Jamaica. CO 137/160]

Jamaica, 31 st December, 1825

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

It is impossible to deny that the progress of reform has been slow in Jamaica, nor that there is an unaccountable jealousy of every proposition even supposed to emanate from His Majesty' Government. The great proportion of the inhabitants being overseers and persons in an inferior condition of life, the view of those whose fortune and consequence entitle their opinions to more deference and respect is unattended to.

[Jamaica. CO 137/160]

London, 4 th March, 1826

[From Agent Hibbert [1] to Horton [2]

You can perhaps resolve the doubts which some part of the debates in the House of Commons have raised in my mind. Am I to conclude that a Bill will be drawn up and transmitted to Jamaica to be there, by His Grace the Governor, introduced to the Legislature and that should this Bill not pass...or be so modified there as not to be satisfactory to the Governor, the Island is to expect a Bill to the same effect will be offered to the Imperial Parliament to be enforced by its supreme authority upon the Legislature of Jamaica?...if I here state the matter correctly I tremble at the probable result.

[Jamaica. CO 137/164]

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

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

London, 11 th May, 1826

[From Bathurst to Governor Manchester]

[This letter accompanies proposals in eight bills, based on an Order in Council for Trinidad, to be put before the House of Assembly as follows:

1 Office of Protector and Guardian of Slaves.

2 Admission of Evidence of Slaves in Civil and Criminal Cases.

3 Manumission of Slaves.

4 Intermarriage of Slaves.

5 Observance of Sunday and Abolition of Sunday Markets.

6 Acquisition of Property by Slaves and Establishment of Savings Banks for better protection of it.

7 Separation of Families under Judicial Process.

8 Punishment of Slaves with record to be kept when inflicted by Authority of Owner.]

I am perfectly aware of the difficulty if not impossibility of framing in this country on so comprehensive a subject of enactments which are to have their operation in Jamaica...I do not propose them as drafts which could be passed without a careful revision...my object has been to explain...the measures which His Majesty's Government desire to introduce; and I have for this purpose adopted the form and language of legislative acts because in no other way could those views be explained without equal accuracy and precision. His Majesty will however be ready to confirm any law in which the Legislature of Jamaica may effectually embody these principles and give effect to those intentions...

It is almost superfluous to remind Your Grace of the necessity of proceeding on this occasion with such discretion...and regard to the constitutional privileges of the Council and Assembly as to afford no reasonable complaint on the part of those bodies.

[Jamaica. CO 137/163]

Jamaica, 28 th August, 1826

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst - Private & Confidential]

I am unable to give Your Lordship any satisfactory opinion as to what may be the probable result of the proceedings of the new Assembly. There are many new members whose political opinions are not known and there are many others who are not to be depended upon. But the public feeling on the most important point and on which most of the others hang, viz. the admission of slave evidence, has undergone a material alteration, and the directions sent from England by the absent proprietors to their agents here have tended much to remove their scruples and apprehensions. I feel no difficulty therefore in anticipating with some degree of certainty the success of a Slave Evidence Bill. And if it be passed on a comprehensive principle...it will remove a great many difficulties in regard to the other measures.

[Jamaica. CO 137/163]

Jamaica, 9 th October, 1826

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst - Private]

...a fit and proper person to be appointed a member of the council, Martin Williams,[1] a gentleman of large fortune, who lately lost his election in the parish of Hanover on account of the support he gave in the late House of Assembly to the Bill for admitting the evidence of slaves.

[Jamaica. CO 137/165]

[1] Martin Williams, proprietor of Seven Rivers Estate, St. James

Jamaica, 16 th October, 1826

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst - Private]

...if I were to judge from the Address of the House of Assembly and the jealousy which is very generally manifested to any supposed interference with their rights of legislation for themselves I can form no very sanguine hope of the substance of the eight bills being adopted.

[Jamaica. CO 137/163]

Jamaica, 13 th November, 1826

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

The House have since appointed a committee of thirteen to revise the Consolidated Slave Law and a Sub-Committee of seven has been nominated who have gone through the Slave Law and made, as I understand, many alterations in it embracing in the proposed act several of the propositions of His Majesty's Government. But the labours of the Sub-Committee are subject to the approbation of the Grand Committee, and as afterwards the bill will be discussed in the House of Assembly, I cannot venture to anticipate what may be the result of the proceedings...on this important subject.

There seems no disposition to adopt the proposition which relates to the appointment of Protector and Guardian of Slaves nor to the regulation of punishments. The establishment of Savings Banks the Assembly seemed to consider a measure which requires great deliberation and disposed to postpone the consideration until a future session.

[Jamaica. CO 137/163]

Jamaica, 23 rd December, 1826

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst - Private]

I never witnessed a more tedious and unpleasant session or more disposition to violence and trick and when Your Lordship considers how interesting a question was before the House and how very important it was to obtain the New Slave Law even in its present form...

[Jamaica. CO 137/163]

Jamaica, 7 th March, 1827

[From Governor Manchester to Horton -Private]

It will not escape Mr. Horton's observation that throughout the whole [1] there is a constant attempt to distort all information received from the colonies in a most unfair manner, to quote garbled extracts of Dispatches, for the purpose of answering particular purposes - in short to do anything but speak the truth.

[Jamaica. CO 137/165]

[1] Reference to Anti-Slavery Monthly Report of 30th December, 1826.

London, 2 nd April, 1827

[From Agent Hibbert to Horton]

Whether right or wrong I have not concealed from you my conviction that compulsory emancipation, if enforced, is full of danger to every interest in the Colonies - and therefore altho' I must welcome the justice and expediency of providing a fund for compensation, yet so far as holding a necessary connection with the projected compulsion...it would not be consistent with the sincere respect I feel for you, were I not, without reserve, to express to you what I deliberately think on important subjects which you are pleased to communicate with me.

The cause of the Colonies, but especially that part of it which touches upon property or slaves, is so unattractive to florid orators and so unpopular with the public that we have and must have very little Parliamentary speaking, yet our chairman Lord Seaford has uniformly declared his protest against compulsory emancipation, and I confess it appears to me no more than just that upon such questions...H.M. ministers should rather form their judgement upon deliberate representations made to the personally or in written memorials, than upon what could be argued in Parliament on a topic so unwelcome.

Jamaica, 14 th December, 1827

[From Report of Committee of House of Assembly]

This proceeding on the part of the King's ministers [1] must shake the confidence of the Island in their wisdom and justice, inasmuch as for several years, successively, plans of melioration have been pressed upon the House, and it has been urgently suggested to the House that the Imperial Parliament, and Great Britain generally, anxiously desired the amendment of the Slave Law.

The House conceive this important error to have been committed by His Majesty's Government. Instead of comparing the new act with the institutions of Jamaica the advisers of the Crown have kept in sight the laws and customs of the Mother Country, and have passed sentence on a law designed for the regulation of slaves as if it were an act to fetter the minds and persons of a free people.

[Jamaica. CO 137/165]

[1] The rejection by the Crown of the Slave Law passed by the Assembly

Jamaica, 22 nd November, 1828

[From Governor Keane [1] to Murray[2]

The Slave Law of 1826 was last night presented to the Assembly for a first reading to serve as a ground work on which a modified Bill might be constructed. The introduction of the Bill was violently opposed, and although it as urged that reading a bill was, out of courtesy to the member who introduced it, never refused, the first reading was carried only by a majority of one: and there is the greatest reason to fear that the House will either pass no bill or again pass the law of 1826 without any amendment.

[Jamaica. CO 137 / 167]

[1] Major General Sir John Keane, Governor, 1827-1828

[2] Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1828-1830

Jamaica, 10 th December, 1830

[From Governor Belmore [1] to Murray]

It is with deep regret I am to acquaint you that the Slave Bill which had been introduced into The House was thrown out on the second reading by a majority of 24 to 16.

An attempt was made yesterday to bring this subject again under consideration of the House in the form of a Bill for the admission of slave evidence. But it was decided to be contrary to the rule of the House to revive a question once disposed of during the same session, and the bill was lost.

[Jamaica. CO 137/172]

[1] Earl of Belmore, Governor, 1829-1832

Jamaica, 8 th March, 1831

[From Governor Belmore to Goderich [1]

Your Lordship will observe that the answer I returned to the House of Assembly in reply to their address has been ineffectual to prevent a pertinacious adherence to their declaration "that any further amelioration in the condition of our slave population must emanate form ourselves."

Such a resolution cannot be too strongly deprecated, especially when the measures proposed for the consideration of the Assembly came sanctioned under the authority of the King's name, but the feelings of excitement which now agitate the mind in this island and the intemperate discussions which distract the proceedings of the Assembly admit no hope of their obtaining consideration at least during the present session.

[Jamaica. CO 137/181]

[1] Lord Goderich, Secretary of State for The Colonies

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