TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LIGHT ON JAMAICA.
THE last news from Jamaica is full of graphic and instruc- tive material for estimating the condition of the colony. It tells us pretty plainly what sort of a power the Executive has for a long time been ; what sort of a power the judiciary has for a long time been ; what sort of conception of justice and mercy, innocence and guilt, the English settlers in Jamaica—the ruling class of the colony—entertain, and what deeds they are prepared to justify without hesitation ; finally, what hopes there are for a thorough reform and com- plete recast of our system for the future.
It would seem that Jamaica has at length got a statesman. Sir John Peter Grant, in his first masterly address to his new Council, has brought out in their true relief some very striking facts on the first two heads, and told them in a way that gives us no little foundation for forming an opinion on the last. Whatever different classes of Englishmen may think upon the merits of Mr. Eyre, few with any sagacity or insight can fail to recognize in Sir J. P. Grant's terse and business-like re- commendations to his Council the eye and will for powerful and just administration. He wastes no words on mere blame, he spares no exposure of what needs prompt and
efficient reform. He lays his finger on the sore points, and insists on an immediate application of the proper remedy. He begins with pointing out that the police of the colony is useless. It brings no early information of coming danger. It is helpless to meet that danger when it comes. If there is anything that a well organized police can do and should do, it is to forewarn their superiors of mischief brewing in the country. The outbreak a year ago was anti- cipated, as we now know, by many persons in different parts of the island. The police gave the Government no intelli- gence which could have helped them to prevent it. Instead of conductors of information, they were non-conductors. But this is not all. When wanted for active purposes, they are useless. Sir J. P. Grant tells us that on a recent occasion, when he wanted a police force to send as a precautionary measure to a little distance, he asked the chief of police how many men were available, and the reply was twenty-two, but that of these he should only send eight, as the other fourteen would, if taken, be "worse than useless." Here-is a poor colony, paying, as Sir J. P. Grant remarks, for very nearly two worse than worthless labourers to every efficient labourer,— in short, deliberately buying two obstructions to every agency which it proposes for the removal of obstructions. This is like taking two steps back for every step you take for- ward, a process by which, as is well known, we usually retrograde. Two anti-policemen engaged by the State for every policeman, is surely a wise provision for anarchy and chaos! Sir J. P. Grant wisely enough proposes to begin by reforming the police, and paying men for efficiency, and not for inefficiency. But what a light does this very practical pro- posal throw back on former Governments. No wonder Mr. Eyre threw himself wholly upon men who "hanged like fun," on Captain Hole, and Lieutenant Adcock, and Mr. Ford, and Mr. G. D. Ramsay, when he had the indistinct consciousness, —of course he had no distinct consciousness of the fact, or he would have began a reform like Sir J. P. Grant,—that he had two very efficient anti-policemen at his disposal for every efficient policeman. What could he do but trust to soldiers, who, though murderous and brutal, were at least bent on seeing black men murdered rather than white, when his con- stabulary were of such a kind that nearly two-thirds were a minus quantity, and only one-third of the nature of an order- preserving force? What a feeble and imbecile Executive there has been in Jamaica cannot be more clearly demonstrated, than by Sir J. P. Grant's lucid comment on the obvious impolicy of paying two men to hamper your movements in preserving order and peace, for every one who aids you.
On the difficulty of getting speedy justice in small cases, Sir J. P. Grant is not less instructive and lucid, and here he lays his hand not merely on a terrible blot in the machine of Government, but in the social causes which bring a great and unnatural strain to bear on that machine. Accustomed to the Small Cause Courts of India, Sir J. P. Grant is naturally astonished to find the difficulties interposed in a poor negro's way in enforcing the payment of a small debt, or seeming justice in any other petty matter, civil or criminal. It is impossible for us to put the state of the case in language so graphic and instructive as Sir J. P. Grant himself. Here is his short statement "I have petitions every day—the Hon. Colonial Secretary will bear me out in what I say—from persons who complain of having come from great distances week after week (indeed, one petitioner says, I know not how truly, for months together) on Court days, to petty sessions, and found no Court open. The inspector of prisons has reported to me a case, accidentally discovered by him, of three persons who had been confined three weeks, and one of them, I think, a month, in a lock-up, untried and uncommitted, for want of two justices to hear the accusa- tions. I blame no one. The reason assigned was that there were very few justices of the peace within many miles. Those gentlemen had their own private affairs to attend to. I repeat that I blame no one. I blame the system. Now, in civil cases how is it? Suppose a negro at Green Island has a debt of 11/. owing to him, he has to travel sonic) ma miles to this town, in a country where travelling is very slow, and often for many days together impossible, in order to file his suit. When he gets here he cannot do anything without employing an attorney, and attorneys, who must live by their profession, must charge for their skill and their time. Suppose that the suitor arrived to-day, after paying his attorney, he would be told, Yea, I can file your suit for you, but you must wait for a few months before the defendant need give in any answer.' I speak in the hearing of the learned Attorney-General. This is the case of a poor ignorant negro from Green Island ; and so it must be in any suit for more than 10/. Have I not a right to say that for such cases there is no justice ?"
Undoubtedly Sir J. P. Grant has a right to say so, and till such monstrous wrongs are removed there cannot by any possi- bility be any loyalty to the Government amongst the poor of Jamaica. What is the family of a man likely to feel towards a Government that has allowed him to be locked up for a month without being even committed for trial, and possibly, therefore, on no evidence worthy of a moment's consideration ? What should we feel in England towards a Government that permitted respectable citizens to be locked up for thirty days in gaol, without even inquiring whether there was anything against them worth investigation? Could anybody who had suffered from such proceedings be expected to look with any- thing but satisfaction on a rising which held out any chance of getting rid of such a Government? The worst laws in tha world, speedily and honestly administered, are better than the best with a dilatory and feeble administration. It would 'be better to hang for small thefts than to let wholly innocent people habitually languish in prison simply because some one has accused them of something, and there has been no time to find out whether there was any show of evidence for the charge or not. And, again, as to the law of debt. How can that acquisitiveness which everybody reproaches the negro for not possessing become general, if thrifty negroes, who do acquire, know that it is useless to attempt to recover small debts at all, because the cost of recover- ing them will far exceed the value of the debt Without speedy justice in these matters there is no security for pro- perty, and without security for property it is idle to blame any people for want of industry in acquiring it. Stipendiary magis- trates wisely selected, as Sir J. P. Grant will doubtless select them, 'Will do more to pacify Jamaica than regiments of soldiers.
In the new Governor's pungent criticisms on the police system and the petty-justice system, we have pretty clear indi- cations of causes tending to foster anarchy. But the account of the proceedings of the grand jury which has, for the second time we believe, ignored the bill against Provost-Marshal G. D. Ramsay and others of like genius for slaughter, is the most striking light thrown upon the meaning of recent events in Jamaica, and the moral value of the addresses • voted in that colony to Governor Eyre. The grand jury consisted wholly, we are informed, of white men, planters—or persons moving in the same circle. Mr. Justice Ker, in instructing them as to their duty, explicitly directed them to find a true bill against Ramsay. He observed, of course, that the Indemnity Act only covered actions done for the proper objects of martial law, actions deemed needful to suppress violence and restore order, and actions so deemed by a man of ordinary sense and ordinary moderation. He pointed out that if the evidence given in the case of the brown man Marshall was true,—the man to whom Ramsay is said to have ordered fifty lashes without any proof of dis- affection at all, and to have hanged at the forty-seventh lash because Marshall, in his pain, put on an expression supposed to be insolent, and ejaculated, "0 Lord —a clearer case of murder could not be imagined, the Indemnity Act not- withstanding. He reminded the grand jury that the question before them was not as to the truth of that evidence, which would have to be narrowly sifted on the trial, but only as to whether it was evidence of a nature that deserved close sifting, and of this the Judge expressed his own conviction in the strongest terms. Yet, in spite of this clear and admirable charge, the grand jury ignored the bill, after consulting for less than three-quarters of an hour. Now, who can wonder at outbreaks in a colony the ruling class of which furnish grand juries who have a positive party-feeling in favour of the worst class of murderers, so long as the murderers are white and the murdered persons black ? We do not say that lir. Ramsay is of this class. He has never been tried, and no man is condemned before he has been tried. But he is accused on very strong evidence of being of this class, and his twelve admirers decline even to have the question examined whether he is of this class or not. We feel the sincerest horror and detestation for the negro murderers who attacked the Court House at Morant Bay, but we say advisedly that they did not commit a moral crime so great as these twelve pseudo- Englishmen, who decline even to examine the truth of allega- tions against a man charged with an act of hideous and deliberate murder. The negroes who attacked Morant Bay Court House fancied they had a grievance against the Custos. Their blood was up. They were, moreover, ignorant and barbarous men. These twelve persons who have ignored the bill against Mr. G. D. Ramsay can have no grievance at all against Marshall, whom he is accused of havingmurdered. Theyhave had a year to cool down since the outbreak. They are educated men, calling themselves civilized. And yet, in spite of the Judge's deliberate and well weighed words, they decline to hear of any investiga- tion into an act which, if proved, would be one of the most cowardly and bloody murders of our time. Is not this genuine sympathy with murder? Is it not a hearty preference for a man who is credited with torture and murder because he is credited with torture and murder ? And with such a ruling class as that, what can be hoped for Jamaica? Can white men with wicked passions such as few negroes possess, civilize anybody ? Sir J. P. Grant is evidently a strong-handed man, who sees where strength is needful. He will not let the negroes rise. He will not let the whites give them good cause for rising. And we should recommend those planters of Jamaica who appear to consider torture and murder as practised by one of their own caste upon coloured persons, an accomplishment which needs encouragement and protection, to beware of their new ruler.