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maining untouched. Accordingly, on the 21st February, a select committee was appointed to take into consideration the returns of tolls and customs at sea-ports, fairs, and markets in Ireland, and to in
quire how far the existing laws on the subject were capable of being consolidated and amended, and a remedy afforded for the grievances at present complained of.
Colonies.—Slave Trade—Motion regarding the Trials of Slaves in Jamaica—Resolutions of the Commons on the Slave Trade adopted by the Lords—Motion by Lord Suffield to disqualify Proprietors of Slaves from being public Functionaries—Motion to the same effect made in the Commons by Mr. Smith— Petitions from the Council and House of Assembly of Antigua, and the West-India Merchants—Mr. Brougham's Motion on the Conduct of the Colonies—India.—Jury Bill—Education of Writers—Petition of Mr. Buckingham complaining of the Indian Government referred to a Committee—Canada.— Naturalization Act.—Foreign Relations.— The Alien Act.— Prorogation And Dissolution of Parliament.
THE foreign dependencies of the empire presented little matter to occupy the attention of parliament, with the exception of the repeated discussions connected with the Slave Trade. The House of Commons, on the 15th May, 1823, had passed resolutions expressive of the expediency of adopting effectual measures to ameliorate the condition of the slave population. These resolutions had been immediately transmitted to the colonies by government, accompanied by an urgent exhortation to cause them to be executed, feeling it to be desirable that the colonial assemblies and governments should themselves be the parties to carry them into effect. Disappointed in this hope, government had, in 1824, embodied in an order in council those measures which seemed most immediately necessary for the amelioration of the condition of the negroes; and had sent that order both to the colonies in which, from the absence of local legislatures, the crown had power to command, and also to the other colonies, with
a strong recommendation to their legislatures to adopt its principles. Nearly three years had now elapsed since the sense of parliament, and the wishes of government, had been officially notified to the colonial legislatures; and the supporters of emancipation maintained, that their hopes had been deceived; for that, during those three years, the planters had taken no measures for the improvement of the slave system, but had given a decisive confirmation of what their opponents had always asserted—of the vanity of looking for any thing like amelioration from the very persons who were interested, or thought they were interested, in the continuance of every evil which existed. Now, therefore, they said, that the order of government had been trifled with, and the voice of the House of Commons had been contemned, it wastime forthe authorities at home to interfere; and nothing remained but to introduce into the islands by compulsion, a sense of justice and humanity, which neither good feeling nor common prudence had yet been able to teach the colonists. In conformity with these views, petitions were gotten up in incredible numbers; seldom had the tables of both Houses been covered at one time with so many applications on the same subject. Their general tenor was agreeable to that of the common council of London, which expressed abhorrence at the continuance of the traffic, and regret that its abolition, notwithstanding the declared opinion of parliament, should have experienced resistance in another quarter; and declared the willingness of the petitioners to join in bearing any burthen which might be rendered necessary by indemnifying the slave-proprietors for the losses which they might sustain. At the same time, the meetings which were encouraged, and the publications which were issued, by the Anti-slavery Society and its agents, sought to excite public feeling by details of individual acts of injustice and oppression, not always accompanied with every thing necessary to their proper understanding, and often leading to dangerous generalization, and crude and indefinite propositions. Mr. Hume mentioned, in the House of Commons (1st March), as an instance of the unfair means adopted by the friends of abolition to excite popular prejudice, and obscure the actual state of the question, that a print had been sent to him (and he doubted not to many other members) representing the impalement of a female slave which had taken place in the year 1782.
In the end of 1823, and the earlier part of 1824, a plan for an insurrection among the slaves on certain plantations in Jamaica had teen discovered, and eight negroes
had been executed, having been convicted upon trial of being concerned in the conspiracy. The papers connected with these trials had been laid on the table of the House during the session of 1825, but no motion had hitherto been founded upon them. Mr. Denman now brought the legality and justice of these proceedings under discussion, by moving a resolution to the effect, that the House, having taken into consideration the trials which took place at Jamaica for rebellion, conspiracy, and other offences, in the years 1823 and 1824, deem it their duty to express their sorrow and regret at the violation of law which took place upon the said trials; that they deeply lament the precipitate manner in which the sentence of death was passed and executed; and recommend some alteration in the mode of administering the code of criminal justice, affecting the slaves in the said colony.
The motion was prefaced by a speech analysing the evidence upon which the accused had been convicted, demonstrating its contradictions, its insufficiency, its absurdity, and arriving at the conclusion that such atrocities, perpetrated under the mask of justice, and the law of evidence which permitted them, required the abolition of a system which placed a negro for trial before interested masters for his judges and jury, and, in giving him an appeal to the council, merely gave him an appeal to another body of masters equally prejudiced. The first trials took place in the parish of St. Mary's; and, it appeared, said Mr. Denman, from the papers, that on the 16th of December, 1823, a person of the name of Roberts, who resided in Kingston, where he .carried on the trade of a butcher, had occasion to rebuke his boy Ned, for something that did not please him about the boy's dress, and also for being dirty. Out of the conversation which ensued at that time between the butcher and his fcoy, the whole proceedings had arisen; and op no .other evidence than that conversation, eight individuals had, within four days, namely, on the 20th of December, been condemned to be hanged; and the sentence within four days more, namely, on the 24th of December, had been carried into execution. The conversation between Roberts and the boy was this: the master asked him, in an angry tone, "Why he did not get his crops taken off, in order that he might be in a proper state to follow him at Christmas?" The boy answered, "Ah! Massa, you will have bad Christmas." Mr. Roberts then said, "For what? are the negroes going to rise?" The boy replied, "Yes, his father had told him so." Mr. Roberts then questioned him as to whether he had seen the negroes meeting. He answered that he had, two times. Mr. Roberts asked him, "If they meant to kill all the buckras?" William (the boy's name) replied, that they did, for his father had told him so. His master then asked him what he should do; and the boy told him that he and captain Barton had better go on board ship, for it was the only place in which they would be safe, as the negroes were going to rise, and walk all about and murder every body. He (Mr. Denman) begged the House to observe, that the boy had been almost furnished with the answers by the master, from the manner in which the
questions had been put to him; as it was impossible that the boy, having first, perhaps, from the fear of punishment, told a falsehood, should answer otherwise than he did to the questions which had followed his remark about the bad Christmas. The boy was taken before a magistrate, and repeated his story, with some childish additions; upon which the six negroes, whom he had implicated as having been mentioned by his father, were apprehended. Both these steps were proper and judicious; but it surely was not to be justified that they should be thrown into prison upon such evidence, without having undergone any examination. They ought to have been examined separately, by which the truth or falsehood of the boy's statement would have been clearly proved; at all events, by such a mode of proceeding, the plot, if any had existed, would have been detected. Instead of that, on the l6th of December, they were committed to jail, and, on the 19th they were brought to trial, when only one other person who pretended to know any thing about the meetings was examined. The boy had stated that two negroes, of the names of Ned and Douglas, were there. Of these two, only Ned was called. He stated, "that he had been present at a meeting, ten days ago, at Bridge-house Estate; there were five other negroes with him; they said they would prepare .themselves for Christmas; they were all going to meet at, and set fire to, Frontier Trash-house first, and, when the buckras came out, would kill them; they would then come on Port Maica Bay, and raise a mob, and when the gentlemen came out, they would rise on
them, and kill them, and then they would be free." What man of common sense could believe, that such a meeting could have taken place in an open street, and that the conspirators would talk publicly of murder and arson, under the certainty of being heard by every person who might happen to pass? To every reflecting mind, it must appear to be nothing more than the idle and improbable story of two young boys; and yet, on such a story, six individuals had lost their lives. Douglas, the other negro mentioned by the boy, had not been used as a witness by the accusers at all, undoubtedly, because they had found that his evidence would not serve to convict; and, throughout the whole of these proceedings, neither William nor Ned, the only witnesses, were put upon oath, although so many lives depended on their testimony. Charles Brown, the first of the accused slaves, had, it seemed, been formerly an overseer on Frontier Estate, where he had been guilty of partial and cruel conduct, such as was very likely to render him the object of a conspiracy. Against the next, Charles Watson, there was not the slightest evidence of guilt, but, on the contrary, there were contradictions in the testimony, which ought to have ensured an acquittal; and the only circumstance of identity against Cosley, one of the prisoners, was, that he had the same clothes on at the meeting as he wore on his trial. The last and most afflicting case was that of the boy's own father, James Stirling. The witness Ned, said that he knew the prisoner, whose former name was Joe, and that he saw him at the bridge with five others, and heard
them say that they were going to rise at Christmas. The boy William was next called as evidence against his own father; and, being admonished to speak the truth, said, that he went to his father, the prisoner's, house, who told him that the negroes were going to rise, and that he must take care of himself, and keep out of the way. He said that he did not see his father among the negroes, and in that respect his testimony was at variance with Ned's. Another person was then called, who gave some evidence about a gun, which did not bear at all upon the question; and upon this evidence, unsifted, unsupported, and without any corroborating evidence, this old man was sent to the gibbet. The next case was one of so absurd a nature as scarcely to justify its being noticed, although it had been held sufficient to justify punishment. It was one in which the principal conspirator was half an idiot, who used to walk about the town and talk of king Wilberforce, for which he underwent imprisonment for three months. Such punishments were neither more nor less than a premium for perjury, as those who came forward to make such charges were frequently rewarded with manumission, or with money. Another case was that of the trial at St. George's, where there was a witness named Corberand, who had invented more plots than his prototype Titus Oates, and then, to prevent investigation, had procured the removal of his confederates from the island, to which the House of Assembly consented, instead of prosecuting them for perjury. On the last trial, the most direct perjury had been committed. Two persons had intro«