13 NOVEMBER

THE TIMES ON THE UNGRATEFUL ‘SAVAGENESS’ OF BLACK JAMAICANS

A statue of Paul Bogle (Dubdem sound system via Wikimedia) stands outside the rebuilt Morant Bay Court House (Michael L Dorn via Wikimedia.)

[ 13 November 1865 ]

On this day in 1865, an editorial in The Times blamed the ‘savageness’ of Africans for a riot, provoked by the shooting of black protesters at Morant Bay in Jamaica. Eighteen white settlers had been killed, but, within days up to a thousand black Jamaicans had been slaughtered by disciplined British troops, following orders to impose a bloody retribution that would never be forgotten.

A month earlier, the forced eviction of a landless Jamaican, who had been farming a tiny plot on an abandoned plantation, had led to a minor scuffle in Morant Bay Court House and the subsequent attempted arrest of a local black preacher, Paul Bogle. As officials arrived to seize the man, a crowd blocked their route and when an even larger gathering obstructed a column of militia the following day, the soldiers opened fire killing seven. The demonstrators,  enraged by the slaughter, then turned on the Court House, burning it along with eighteen white settlers trapped inside.

Although the violence was initially confined to a small part of the island, the British governor, Edward Eyre, presumed it was a prelude to a planned general uprising, and ordered his troops to round up and dole out punitive justice to all those suspected of any role in the unrest.  Officially 439 black Jamaicans were shot or hung. Many of them had taken no part in the initial protests or riot, and it is suspected the real figure of deaths, including extrajudicial executions, may have been as high as one and a half thousand. The soldiers also employed wire whips to lash many of the six hundred men and women, who were flogged on the slightest suspicion of sympathy for the rebels.

The Times was naturally outraged by the original crime of black Jamaicans rioting to defend a preacher from arrest. The newspaper claimed that they ought to be ‘the happiest and most contented peasantry in the world.’ but then added, ‘It seems, however, impossible to eradicate the original savageness of the African blood.’ The gravest danger’, the editorial cautioned, lay in allowing the black man too much freedom.  ‘Wherever he attains a certain degree of independence’ there was always the risk he would ‘resume the barbarous life and fierce habits of his African ancestors’ and this, it noted,  was ’eminently the case in Jamaica.’1

FOOTNOTE

  1. Editorial, The Times, 13 November 1865, issue 25341 accessed online at The Times Digital Archives.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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