Thomas Fowell Buxton
1823 was a year that would prove eventful in many respects. The African Institution was absorbed by the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Wilberforce who was also the forerunner in the fight handed over the reins of the fight to Thomas Fowell Buxton. The movement to free all enslaved people within the British Empire was now fully launched.
They continued to declare that slavery was opposed to the spirit of Christianity and repugnant to every dictate of natural humanity and justice. Buxton emulated the zeal of his mentor and proclaimed that the aim of the society was the extinction of slavery in all British territories. This is the very same point he put forward in the House of Commons.
The debate that followed influenced George Canning on behalf of the British Government to propose a number of changes to improve the quality of a slave’s life. The Bathurst proposals as they were called after the Earl of Bathurst were very similar to those proposed by the planters and merchants in the West Indies:
The proposal included the following:
1: Slaves should be given religious instruction and the British Government should provide financial support for clergy and teachers under the control of the bishop.
2: Sunday markets should be abolished and time should be set aside for slaves to do their business.
3: The whipping of female slaves should be abolished.
4: Floggings should be administered under the supervision of a responsible person. All such punishments exceeding 3 lashes should be required quarterly and submitted to local magistrates.
5: Slaves should work only 9 hour days and the whip was not to be used to stimulate work in the fields
6: The evidence of slaves was to be accepted under certain circumstances.
7: Salves should not be sold for payments of debts and slave families should not be broken up by sales.
8: Marriage should be encouraged and slaves should have the right to purchase their freedom
9: Manumissions should be made easier and less expensive.
10. Savings Banks should be set up to enable slaves to accumulate money and purchase their freedom.
The proposed reforms were met with a mostly unfavourable response in Barbados.
Reports on the way slaves were treated in Barbados varied. Lord Seaforth's reports were that slaves were treated with great inhumanity and that frequent wanton acts were being perpetuated towards them. Governor Warde's view was that slaves were treated with kindness, lenity and liberality. The remarks of the humanitarian Joseph Sturge who visited the Island in 1836 stated that the slave code was hard and probably the harshest in the British West Indies but he was doubtful whether there were more than a few cases of cruelty. He went on to say that managers cared the slaves well keeping them in good condition so they could serve well. He also pointed out that Barbados was the only island in which one could see the increase of the slave population rapidly increase from breeding.
The bill for the Bathurst proposal failed to pass in the court in 1824 and did not become law until 1825 after numerous modifications had been made. Some of the things that they opposed were the call to abolish whipping female slaves and they opposed the end of the Sunday market.
In 1833 Governor Lionel Smith said "The love of power of these planters, over poor Negros, each has little sugar dominion, has found as great an obstacle to freedom as the love of their labour"
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