Page images
PDF
EPUB

cannibals, and the great number of them as compared with their masters? But he will look in vain to Mr. Stephen for excuse or apology for them.

dostan.

The leniency of the slavery of Hindostan, is Slavery of Hinproved by an argument very similar to that by which the mild domestic forum of the Roman slavery

is established. It seems that there a person has the same power of chastising with a lash or • a bamboo twig,' his wife, son, pupil, or younger brother, as his male or female slave. After quoting a law to this effect, Mr. S. goes on — Here . we see that the slave of Hindostan is, in point of • corporeal punishment, subject only to the same

domestic authority, which equally extends over • the wife, the son, the pupil, or younger brother • of his master; and other instances of the leniency of this bondage will hereafter appear.

p. 42.

The argument is a strong one: a man must be greatly more humane to his male and female slaves, from having been accustomed to use the lash and the bamboo twig on his wife, his son, his pupil, and younger brother; and the consumers of East India sugar must find its sweetness doubled from such a convincing proof of the leniency of the slavery of Hindostan! How strange, that so simple a method of bettering the condition of the slaves in our colonies should never till now have been suggested.

D

Corporal Panishment.

• RULE V. - These harsh powers of the master may all be ex

ercised, not by himself only in person, but by his representatives and agents of every description, and by every person, whether bond or free, who is clothed in any manner with his authority.' p. 46.

The British public is ever ready to lend an ear to tales of distress, and its indignation is easily roused by the recital of acts of oppression.. This generous feeling, it is not difficult for the artful to work upon; but surely few can attach belief to so extravagant a charge as this, unsupported by proof, and at direct variance with every known principle of human feeling and action. Even an animal dependent on us is regarded with some degree of tenderness: and is it to be believed that a West Indian can be so void of affection for his purchased servant, a fellowcreature so entirely dependent on him, and on whose welfare he himself so much depends, as to authorise his representatives and agents of every description to beat, scourge, wound, and otherwise afflict or injure him at their discretion? I pity the man who has the heart to believe this.

That corporal punishment forms a part of the system of slavery is not denied; for minor offences “it is perhaps the only penal restraint of practical enforcement, in a state of society where every master has a direct interest in screening his slave from criminal prosecutions, which would necessarily occasion expence and a temporary loss of the culprit’s labour. If a servant in England is

negligent, or disobedient, or commits an immoral act, his master has the ready means of punishment by turning him adrift in the world; and if he is guilty of a crime that subjects him to the penalties of the law, his master has but little interest in screening him from its vengeance. Very different is the case of a slave. If he offends by negligence or disobedience, theft, desertion, &c. it is obvious his master cannot punish him in the same manner by turning him adrift, and his punishment by a court of law cannot be accomplished without considerable expence and trouble. To these circumstances we must ascribe the power of punishment entrusted with the masters, wherever slavery has existed in the world. Among the Romans, this power extended to the taking away of life; and in the earlier days of our own colonies, when the slave population consisted of only newly imported lawless Africans, it appears that corporal punishment was altogether unlimited, and even the killing of a slave was punished only by a small fine. But this arbitrary and unlimited power, necessary perhaps then, is not now required, and is not now possessed by the master. In Jamaica, the murder of a slave was long ago made felony, and punished by death: more recently corporal punishment was limited to the infliction of thirty-nine stripes; and only a few years ago, the use of chains, except for the confinement of public criminals, was altogether abolished. These changes are not to be attributed to greater huma

nity in the colonists, so much as to the more improved habits of the slaves; and as they continue to advance in civilization, the laws regarding them will continue to be meliorated accordingly. In the meantime, to diminish the power of the masters below what is necessary to maintain order and subordination, however well meant, would not benefit, but injure the slaves; no one, who has had the means of knowing what the negroes at present are, would even on their account advise that a limited power

of correction should not be possessed by their masters.

But the use of a power does not justify the abuse of it, if such a charge can be established. Mr. Stephen, in considering this question, first assumes that a master and others under him

may commit the most horrid cruelties; concludes, of course, that they do; and proceeds, in his usual style, to execrate the tyrannical oppressors, and invoke commiseration for their victims. We shall not follow him here; neither can it be necessary to ransack old records for obsolete or repealed laws; as the question, in the minds of impartial people, is not what the laws were, but what they are; and what the condition of the slaves in our colonies is at the present day.

By reference to the slave law, passed in 1816, cap. 25, section 27, it will be seen that no subordinate person can, for any offence, punish a negro with more than ten stripes; and that the overseer or owner himself can only go the length of thirty

con

nine; and this, when inflicted, is often the punish-
ment of crimes for which hundreds in England
annually pay the forfeit of their lives. Mr. Stephen
sneers at this law: ‘A man might laugh,' he says,
· if compassion did not inspire a graver emotion,
• at a restriction like this,'p.40; and then proceeds
to prove, in what he no doubt deems a very sa-
tisfactory way, that the restriction amounts to
nothing, or is only calculated to produce a
' tinuity of punishment, as the invention of the
• master must be very barren to be sure, were he
• at any loss to find reasons enough for using his

whip as often as he pleases.' Why, Shylock, raging for his pound of flesh, was a merciful man, compared with Britons in the West Indies, who set their inventions to work to find reasons' to. indulge themselves in the pleasure of whipping innocent men, women, and children, their own dependents, and entitled to look up to them for protection!

nagement.

To give an idea of plantation management, and Plantation Maof the checks there are to prevent an abuse of power, it is proper to mention, that estates in Jamaica are managed by overseers appointed by the proprietors, or their attorneys.

The overseer again employs hook-keepers and tradesmen to attend to the subordinate duties of the plantation, making the number of white people in all, equal to about one for every fifty slaves, which, averaged at three hundred to each sugar

« PreviousContinue »