« PreviousContinue »
The section of the act which contains these words, compass or imagine the death of any white ' person, and declare the same by some overt act, speaks of rebellion, murder, robbery, &c., and enacts, that a slave who shall be convicted of
of the crimes enumerated, shall suffer death, trans' portation, or such other punishment as the court
shall think proper to direct, according to the na• ture and extent of the offence.' Does this necessarily imply that compassing or imagining the · death of a white person, shall, in every case, be
visited with a capital punishment?' Yet so by Mr. Stephen it is made to appear.
Seventhly. --Slaves are liable still, I believe, by some of these Discretionary insular laws, as they certainly very recently were, to cruel and power of the
Judges iu affixshocking punishments, unknown to the law of England, and equally ing punish
meut, how in so, in respect of free persons, to that of the same colonies. In terpreted. capital cases, they have, in certain islands, been liable to, and cruelly put to death by, the most dreadful modes of execution.'
From the last part of this charge Jamaica is expressly exempted, by such a direct law, indeed, as no sophistry could cast even suspicion upon,
hanging by the neck shall in future be the only ' mode of execution.'
In affixing punishment to crimes, so much depends upon undefinable circumstances in the degrees of atrocity, or otherwise, that some discretionary power must generally be left with the judges, to be used as they may see occasion ;-such has been the case in all countries. That this dis
cretionary power was granted, and is always used, for the purpose of mitigating the severity of the law, as circumstances may render just and expedient, scarcely need be observed; but Mr. Stephen, with his usual ingenuity and candour, reverses its object and application in the colonies, and upon this most palpable perversion founds a charge against the colonists of such horrible atrocity that one absolutely shudders at the perusal of it. I
have already,' says he, ‘ incidentally noticed acts of Barbadoes, St. Vincent's, Jamaica, and other islands, by which slitting the nose, cutting off 'the ears and feet, and other dismemberments, . have been expressly directed or authorized, either as fixed or discretionary punishments, for various crimes, and sometimes for petty misde' meanors ; nay, even for actions in their nature innocent; and other instances of the same kind
might be cited from the printed laws of our co• lonies ; though the more ordinary and prudent course has been to cover such barbarous intentions
by general words; giving a discretionary power 'to the justices of the peace, before whom the
slave is convicted, to sentence him to death, or suck other punishment as they shall think fit.'
Malice and calumny can go no further. The plain English of this is, the colonists dare not avow it; but they slit open the noses, they cut out the tongues, they chop off the ears and the
feet, and the other members of their slaves, for mere pleasure, or for actions in their nature perfectly innocent’! Mr. S. makes this most unchristian accusation, knowing, as he must, that no laws, directing or authorizing mutilation or dismemberment as a punishment, now exist in the colonies, and that mutilations are in fact as much unknown there as in England. To the best of my belief, there is not a single instance of a mutilated person to be found in Jamaica ; at all events, I have never seen nor heard of any such. I blush to think it should be necessary for me to say so in England.
That instances of harsh punishment may sometimes take place in the colonies, will be admitted ; but that there exists any general disposition to severity even, still less to cruelty, is certainly not true ; and when a whole class of men are thus represented as treating their fellow-creatures and humble dependants with an atrocity which the human heart is incapable of exercising even to the brute creation, prejudice, blind prejudice itself, sinks under a representation so utterly incredible.
In reading such charges, we should hope that Character of many would feel inclined to apply to the com- given by Mr.
Stephen, panions of their youth now in the colonies, the lines addressed to Warren Hastings by an old schoolfellow of his :
• HASTINGS! I knew thee young, and of a mind,
Nor can I well believe thee, gentle then,
It seems, indeed, to have occurred to Mr. Stephen himself, that there was some difficulty attending the belief, that educated and humane Englishmen should undergo a transmutation in the colonies as wonderful as that produced by the magician,
whose pleasing poison The visage quite transform’d of him that drank Into the inglorious likeness of a beast.'
But he is not staggered by the difficulty. He goes on to say :
• The fault was highly aggravated in them by the liberal and merciful principles of jurisprudence which had been handed down to them by their ancestors, and by the national spirit of humanity, of which those principles are either the offspring or the parents. They had to vanquish early impressions and habits on the virtuous side, before they could reconcile themselves to such spectacles of horror as these opprobrious laws provided.' p. 315.
Their early impressions and habits, he admits then, were on the side of virtue ; and they must have forgotten the lessons of their fathers; they must have lost the characteristic manners of their country ; they must in fact have ceased to be Englishmen, before they could have imbibed such principles, or been guilty of such atrocious acts as he ascribes to them. To the impartial public they
may, like himself, appeal, and
· Fathers and fellow-countrymen, is this thing possible ?'
• Sect. VII. - Slaves are prosecuted and tried upon criminal Trial of Slaves accusations, in a manner grossly inconsistent with the humanity
accusations. of English laws, and highly dangerous to the safety of the innocent.' p. 315.
The following report of the proceedings of a slave court, taken from the Royal Gazette, Jamaica, will be the best comment on this assertion; and will shew the reader in what manner the slaves are prosecuted and tried upon
criminal accusations, without being guided either by Mr. Stephen's authority or mine :
• Montego Bay, May 2, 1823.
ST. JAMES'S QUARTER SESSIONS. * The Court of Quarter Sessions for this parish commenced on Tuesday last, before Samuel Vaughan, John Coates, Geo. Gordon, and John E. Payne, Esqrs.
At three o'clock the Court of Quarter Sessions was closed, and the Slave Court opened. The following trial took place:
• The King v. Billy, belonging to Childermas estate, for being an incorrigible run-away-acquitted.
The Court adjourned to Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Court met at nine o'clock, when the following trials took place :
• The King v. Nicholas, belonging to Flamstead estate, the property of the heirs of Samuel Vaughan, Esq., deceased, for being an incorrigible run-away. He was found guilty; but being very young, the court, in hope of reclaiming him, sentenced him to twelve months' hard labour in the workhouse.