THE END OF THE JAMAICA AFFAIR.
THE House of Commons "deplores the excessive punish- ments which followed the suppression of the disturb- ances of October last in the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica, and especially the unnecessary frequency with which the punishment of death was inflicted," and therefore declines altogether to prevent the recurrence of the events which it Ileplores. That is the miserable termination of the final appeal to Parliament to judge between the labourers of Jamaica and the officials who put them to death, as the House acknow- ledges, "with unnecessary frequency," flogged them and their wives, as the Commission reported, with " recklessness " and "barbarity," and burnt 1,000 of their houses, as the same Commission admitted, with "wanton cruelty." The case of these unhappy people, who have no appeal save to a Parliament in which they are unrepresented, was put by Mr. C. Buxton on Tuesday with a restrained force which derived addi- tional weight from his own exceptional position. He had de- clined to be a party to the prosecution of Mr. Eyre, had ex- pressed his horror at the idea of inflicting legally upon the ex-Governor the doom which Mr. Eyre had illegally inflicted on Mr. Gordon, and had in the opinion of many friends dis- played almost a weak consideration for a man who in- directly had put to death 350 of Her Majesty's sub- jects, flogged 600 more—with piano-wire usually—and burnt 1,000 houses, say twenty prosperous villages, after a rebellion had by his own admission been entirely sup- pressed. He now rose to move that the House should formally " deplore " these outrages, should vote compensation to the victims, should demand full inquiry into the acts of subordinate agents, and should record its opinion that "all further punishment on account of these disturbances ought to be remitted." The House refused every one of his demands except that which required them to "deplore," that is, weep over the atrocities they decline to punish, or even to visit with a censure sufficient to prevent Mr. Eyre's appointment to " govern " another dependency. The case made out by Mr. Buxton, in the grave, restrained way of a man who felt that he was in reality, though not in form, managing an impeachment, was irresistibly strong. He proved that although the negroes Morant Bay had committed murders, and probably intended to commit them, they had on Governor Eyre's own showing no organization, that they had no arms except a few muskets, which they loaded with gravel, and that on the 20th of October the rebellion, such as it was, was officially reported -" suppressed." From that day forward there was no hour in which Mr. Eyre could not have arrested any negro or party of negroes, imprisoned, tried, and hung them after con- viction, without a chance of resistance. So little was the 'Governor's own fear of further revolt that he left the disturbed district, refused to put the capital under martial law, declined aid from the Island of Cuba, and countermanded reinforce- ments previously ordered from Halifax. Yet Mr. Buxton showed, quoting nothing but official despatches and evidence accepted by a Royal Commission, that after this date, the 20th,—after, that is, all resistance had ceased, and the Governor had reported the restoration of order,—courts-martial were continued all over the district, not to suppress revolt, but to punish sedition ; that the wretched peasantry were Raring, frequently without trial, always with the mere mockery of a trial, by scores, till the total reached 350, the pre- cise number murdered in Judge Jeffrey's Bloody Assize, which cost an English monarch his crown ; that one man was put up as a target and not killed till the seventh shot, and another deliberately put to death because he refused to betray a friend suspected of being concerned in a murder, and another because he was "opposed to the respectability of the parish," and many for language which at the worst was seditious ; that numbers were flogged before they were hanged, and that many condemned to death were carefully brought out to die twice in witness ng the agonies of those who had been sentenced before them. He showed that 600 persons were flogged, usually with whips made like "cats," but with thick brass wire twisted round the cords and then knotted, "for the express purpose of giving the utmost conceivable suffering," these persons being most of them guilty at worst of free speech against a rule the spirit of which may be judged from these incidents themselves, and that negroes were constantly compelled by what would be an unnatural refinement of cruelty, but that it is an heirloom from the slavery period, to flog each other, they "hating that worse than death." Finally, he showed that 1,000 houses -were destroyed, houses which, said Sir Henry Barkly, the former Governor, "reminded him of the villages in Switzer-
land, having a decided air of progressive civilization and comfort about them. ' We are bound to admit that statement almost touched the House. Hanging a few hundred peasants is neither here nor there, and as for flogging them or their wives, what were their hides made so thick for? but burning houses—?
Houses are property, property is sacred,—unless it belongs to a nation—and there might have been wrong done in that, would have been, one can see, had the owners been white men and voters. For this astounding list of crimes there was no political remedy, save in the action of that House to which, as representing an aristocracy whose function and boast was once to stand between throne and people—all this misery having been inflicted by the Governor's agents—Mr. Buxton appealed for justice. Not one tittle of his facts was dis- proved, or attempted to be disproved. The single thing added to them was the statement of Mr. Russell Gurney, member of the Royal Commission, that he did not believe Mr. Gordon justly convicted, for that although his writings— he having been leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in the Assembly—might have justified an indictment for sedition, that "did not justify the sentence passed upon him and unfor- tunately carried into execution," he being carried from a Queen's ship, whence all Jamaica could not have rescued him, to be put to death.
All would not do. Mr. Adderley, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, rose to " deplore " the events which followed the suppression of the revolt, and in five minutes, giving way to the instinct of a true Tory, was extenuating or justifying them. We do not wonder at his calling the judicial murder of Mr. Gordon "practical justice," for he would probably call Mr. Bright's imprisonment for unwisely claiming Hyde Park for the people who keep it up also "practical justice," but we do wonder that he, a politician of so many years' standing, should assert that "nothing done under martial law could be illegal "—a doctrine which we venture to assert Tories, if their character has not greatly changed for the worse, would be the first to resist, which is repudiated by every decent lawyer in England, and which if it were correct would enable the Government on the occurrence of any riot in London to hang Mr. Adderley for having provoked it by denouncing workmen as rowdies. We quite admit that Mr. Eyre's posi- tion in respect to martial law was in some respects excep- tional. The Jamaica Act authorizing that mode of suspend- ing the Sixth Commandment is as strict as the prerogative will allow, so strict as almost to compel the Governor to proclaim it, so strict as to fetter in some degree his discretion in abolishing it. But it was open to Mr. Eyre to have had the law worked in an entirely different spirit, to have prohibited sentences of death or flogging, or to cause the General in command to have every sentence passed suspended until confirmed. It was open to him to have asked the Assembly to suspend the law, and the Assembly, in which a few weeks after he was so absolute that he made it first vote a new constitution and then sentence itself to death, could not have refused. Mr. Adderley, however, could see none of these things, could only see that certain sub- ordinates ought to be tried, and that Mr. Buxton had " unfairly " omitted to ask the House to stultify itself by "praising Governor Eyre," could only assert repeatedly that the Commissioners were "firmly convinced of the guilt and complicity of Gordon "—a statement which the only Commissioner present promptly and blankly denied—could only condemn the negroes who might have rebelled,—every- body who did rebel being safely hanged—as "atrocious and bloody scoundrels," and those who put negroes to death "with unnecessary frequency," or murdered them, as the English tongue has it, as "guilty of excesses." He concluded a speech in which every line breathes a belief that the acts done in Jamaica were worthy of praise by moving the previous ques- tion, in order to reject even the appearance of deploring official slaughter.
Mr. Cardwell soon after rose to protest that Mr. Eyre was a very brave man, which is true, and deprives him of the moral excuse of panic ; to say that he felt very deeply the censure passed on him, which will not comfort the widow or compen- sate the homeless ; and to state his conviction that the ex- Governor believed he was doing his duty, which is very pro- bable, for Marshal Haynau never could understand to his dying day what people blamed him for. No other consider- able speech was made except by Mr. Forster, who had of course to defend his chief, but who nevertheless heartily condemned both the atrocities and the colonial martial law which made them possible ; and one by Mr. Mill, which was an argument for prosecution rather than censure ; and then, seeing the temper of the House, which, had it spoken its secret view, would have said that negroes were not entitled to white men's justice, and of the representative of the Colonial Office, who at heart thought Mr. Eyre ought to be promoted, Mr. Buxton withdrew the last three of his resolutions, thus wisely saving the House from the discredit of refusing compensation and amnesty to men whose sufferings it professes, with tears in its eyes, formally to "deplore." Mr: Eyre is not even censured, may be to-morrow appointed Governor of Madras or Bombay, to govern a score or so millions of persons with dark skins, and will in all probability receive some acknowledgment of his zeal. The House, it will be remembered, defends a limited suffrage, very justly, on the ground that it represents not only the kingdom, but the Empire, and would angrily deny that it changed its measure of justice within that Empire for any consideration of race, creed, or colour. Consequently, if London is placed under martial law, and Hyde Park rioters shot in batches under sentences passed by ensigns, and women flogged by the score for slanging the police, and Whitechapel burned to the ground because some rioters came from thence, and Mr. Bright hanged by mock trial for having been a "troublesome agitator," the House will pass a resolution " deploring " those events. The mere statement of such an absurdity is sufficient to convict the majority, it may be even to convince them, of the offence they unquestionably have committed. They have refused to do to one, and a weak, section of Her Majesty's subjects the justice they unques- tionably would have done to another and stronger one.
We have said little of Mr. Gordon's case, designedly, for Mr. Eyre is on that case to be brought to trial, and have only to remark that the Commission reported Mr. Gordon unjustly put to death, that Mr. Russell Gurney in his place formally reiterated and justified that verdict, and that on such unjust putting to death the House of Commons, which accepts the Commissioners' report as final, has no comment to make, while Mr. Adderley, who calls the Commission a "judicial tribunal," declares its verdict unjust, and the offence it condemns merely an "act of practical justice." And House and Minister alike represent that "aristocracy which has stood for ages between the throne and the people."