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THE TROUBLES IN JAMAICA.
EMOSTHENES once compared the policy of the
Athenians to the manner in which a barbarian boxes. When the barbarian receives a blow his attention is at once turned to the part which has got the stroke, and he hastens to defend it. When he receives another blow in another place his hand is there just to late too stop it. But he never seems to have any idea beforehand of what he is to expect or whither his attention ought to be directed. The immense variety of imperial, foreign, and colonial interests that Eng. land has got involved in compels a reader of English history, and indeed often compels an English statesman, to find himself in much the same condition as this barbarian boxer. It is impossible to know from moment to moment whither the attention will next have to be turned. Lord Russell's government had hardly come into power before they found themselves compelled to illustrate this truth. They had scarcely been installed when it was found that some troublesome business awaited them, and that the trouble as usual had arisen in a wholly unthought-of quarter. For some weeks there was hardly anything talked of, we might almost say hardly anything thought of, in England but the story of the rebellion that had taken place in the island of Jamaica, and the manner in which it had been suppressed and punished. The first story came from English officers and soldiers who had themselves helped to crush
or to punish the supposed rebellion. All that the public here could gather from the first narratives that found their way into print was, that a negro insurrection had broken out in Jamaica, and that it had been promptly crushed ; but that its suppression seemed to have been accompanied by a very carnival of cruelty on the part of the soldiers and their volunteer auxiliaries. Some of the letters sent home reeked with blood. Every writer seemed anxious to accredit himself with the most monstrous deeds of cruelty. Accounts were given of battues of negroes as if they had been game. Englishmen told with exulting glee of the number of floggings they had ordered or inflicted; of the huts they had burned down; of the men and women they had hanged. “I visited," wrote an English officer to his superior,“ several estates and villages. I burned seven houses in all, but did not even see a rebel. On returning to Golden Grove in the evening, sixty-seven prisoners had been sent in by the Maroons. I disposed of as many as possible, but was too tired to continue after dark. On the morning of the 24th, I started for Morant Bay, having first flogged four and hung six rebels. I beg to state that I did not meet a single man upon the road up to Keith Hall; there were a few prisoners here, all of whom I flogged, and then proceeded to Johnstown and Beckford. At the latter place I burned seven houses and one meeting house; in the former four houses.” Another officer writes: “We made a raid with thirty men; flogging nine men and burning their negro houses. We held a court-martial on the prisoners, who amounted to about fifty or sixty. Several were flogged with out court-martial, from a simple examination." Then the writer quietly added: “This is a picture of martial law. The soldiers enjoy it; the inhabitants here dread it. If they run on their approach they are shot for running away." It will be seen that in these letters there is no question of contending with or suppressing an insurrection. The insur
rection, such as it was, had been suppressed. The writen only give a description of a sort of hunting expedition among the negro inhabitants for the purpose of hanging and flog, ging. The soldiers are pictured as enjoying the work; the inhabitants, strange to say, are observed to dread it. Their dread would seem to have been unfortunate, although certainly not unnatural; for if they ran away at the approach of the soldiers the soldiers shot them for their want of confidence. It also became known that a colored member of the Jamaica House of Assembly, a man named George William Gordon, who was suspected of inciting the rebel. lion, and had surrendered himself at Kingston, was put on board an English war vessel there, taken to Morant Bay, where martial law had been proclaimed, tried by a sort of drumhead court-martial, and instantly hanged.
Such news naturally created a profound sensation in England. The Aborigines' Protection Soclety, the AntiSlavery Society, and other philanthropic bodies organized a deputation, immense in its numbers, and of great influence as regarded its composition, to wait on Mr. Cardwell, Secretary for the Colonies, at the Colonial Office, and urge on him the necessity of instituting a full inquiry and recalling Governor Eyre. The deputation was so numerous that it had to be received in a great public room, and indeed the whole scene was more like that presented by some large popular meeting than by a deputation to a minister. Mr. Cardwell was so fortunate as to discover a phrase exactly suitable to the occasion. In the course of his reply to the deputation, he laid it down that every one must be careful not to “prejudge" the question. It was pointed out to him that it can hardly be called prejudging if you take men's own formal and official statements of what they have done, and declare that on their own acknowledg. ments you are of opinion they have done wrong. The word“ prejudge" carried thousands of uncertain minds
along with it. All over the country there was one easy form of protest against the proceedings of the philanthropic societies. It was apparently enough to utter the oracular words "we must not prejudge." Mr. Cardwell, however, did so far prejudge the case himself as to suspend Mr. Eyre temporarily from his functions as governor, and to send out a commission of inquiry to investigate the whole history of the rebellion and the repression, and to report to the government. Sir Henry Storks, a man of great ability and high reputation, both as soldier and administrator, who had been Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, was summoned from Malta, where he was then Governor and Commander-in-Chief, to take the governor ship of Jamaica for the time, and to act as president of the commission. He had associated with him Mr. Russell Gurney, Recorder of London, a lawyer of high standing and a distinguished member of Parliament; and Mr. J. B. Maule, Recorder of Leeds. The philanthropic associations which had taken up the question sent out two barristers to act as counsel for the widowed Mrs. Gordon during the investigation; Mr. Gorrie, afterward Chief Justice of the Fiji Islands, and Mr. J. Horne Payne. The commission held a very long and careful inquiry. No one could question either the ability or the impartiality of the commissioners. There was a general disposition to re. ceive any report they might make as authoritative and decisive. Meanwhile, however, it reed hardly be said that there was no disposition to wait for the story of all that had happened until the commission should have got through its patient inquiries and presented its formal report. The English public have long learned to look to the newspaper press as not only the quickest, but on the whole the most accurate source of intelligence in all matters of public interest. In this case, as in most others, the newspapers differed in their judgment as to the conduct of the principal
actors in the drama; but in this case, as in all others of late years, each newspaper endeavored to give a correct representation of the facts. Many wild exaggerations had found their was into some newspapers. These came from private letters. It sometimes happened that men who had been engaged in putting down the insurrection represented themselves as having done deeds of savage vengeance of which they were not rea'y guilty. In some instances it actually turned out that Mr. Cardwell's appeal to the public not to prejudge was warranted even where men deliberately affirmed themselves to have committed the acts which made people at home shudder and exclaim. Such seemed to have been the fervor of repression in Jamaica, that persons were found eager to claim an undue share of its honors by ascribing to themselves detestable excesses which in point of fact they had not committed. It is needless to say that there was exaggeration on the other side, and that affrighted colored people in Jamaica sent forth wild rumors of wholesale massacre which would have been impossible, even in the high fever of repression. As the letters of the accredited correspondents of the newspapers began to arrive the true state of affairs gradually disclosed itself There was no substantial discrepancy as to the facts ; and the report of the commissioners themselves, when it was received, did not add much to the materials for forming a judgment which the public already possessed, nor probably did it alter many opinions of many men. The history of the events in Jamaica, told in whatever way, must form a sad and shocking narrative. The history of this generation has no such tale to tell where any race of civilized and Christian men was concerned. Had the repression been justifiable in all its details; had the fearful vengeance taken on the wretched island been absolutely necessary to its future tranquillity, it still would have been a chapter of history to read with a shudder. It will be seen, however,