Monday, July 5, 2010
Confederation Crisis and Cholera in Barbados
In the early years of their settlement, the colonies of the British Caribbean were invariably granted the rights and privileges of self governance and representative institutions. This of coarse was subject to certain limitations, to manage their own affairs through elected Assemblies. With the change of Emancipation there was a change in policy on the part of the British Government. The British Government feared that the newly emancipated class of citizens would not be properly represented by the elected Assemblies which were elected on an narrow racial .and property basis. It was felt that the lower classes would be better represented by council of nominated men rather than an elected assembly. This was done in stages in Jamaica, Antigua, St Kits, Nevis, Montserrat, British Honduras, Grenada, St Vincent & Tobago by 1875 only the Bahamas, Bermuda and Barbados still operated under an elected assembly.
On the part of Barbados it was though Barbados was not in good condition to handle the change. The first five years followed by emancipation in 188 were marked with bad weather and an uncertain labour market. The decade that followed saw an increase of sugar even with the increase of sugar production the sugar industry was stagnating. Some farmers did moderately well while many were overwhelmed with the difficulties of this period. Thousands of acres were sold and other planters were not able to meet their commitments and were forced to mortgage their estates.
The most important even during this period was the outbreak of in 1854 was said to have claimed the lives of over 20,000 people. Most of which were blacks, poor whites of the Scotland district and coloured people who were of the lower classes. It is said few of the middle and upper classes were struck down by this terrible epidemic.
The epidemic began in Fairchild Street where a resident died under suspicious circumstances. Within three days there were similar deaths that occurred nearby. On the following May 24th the recently established board of health issues a notice stating the cases which resembles Asiatic Cholera. From this time there was a steady increase in cases in town from 10 cases a week to 60, 90, 120, 140, 180, 200, 220, 230 until it reached 340. It was said that it moved from street to street in an erratic manner omitting one or two in its coarse only to return when when they thought that they had escaped.
By the 6th of August over 15,000 people had died and the final death toll in September was 20,727 one seventh of the population. Over 9,000 of these deaths were in St Michael and Bridgetown.
By 1871 there were 161,594 people living on the Island. 16,560 were white, 39,578 were coloured 105/904 were black with significant numbers migrating to British Guyana, Dutch Guiana, St Croix and Antigua to seek a better life. The worst of the circumstances was faced by the lower classed who where still stuck in the located labour system will poor pay that could be reduced by fines. Fortunately the cost of food, clothing and shelter was low but even with this life was very difficult for the lower classes and little was done by those more fortunate because they feared the uncertain period they were in. The most the Council and Assembly combined would say was that something should be done in terms of relief, but none came.
In 1870 the British Government discontinued its £20,000 to support the cause of Religion in the West Indies they asked the West Indies Legislature to provide for the disestablishment and disindowment of the Anglican Church. In Barbados the opposition was great. They resented the idea that they were being forced to accept that which had been imposed on its neighbours. The grant was withdrawn and in 1872 the Anglican Church was reestablished by an act of legislature. This act was regarded as very remarkable and was seen as an accertation of Independence.
Governor John Pope Hennessy a brilliant but Impetuous Irishman was sent to implement the instructions he had recieved from the colonial office but Barbadians suspected that the plan of the Colonial office was to impose the same policies they had in the other Islands.
Hennessy planned to achieve his goals by using the passage from the Latin poet Virgil, freely translated by Des Voeux to mean " If I can not bend the whites, I shall stir up the blacks". The Defence opposition, being the Assembly saw through his plan and held many meetings stressing the grave perils that would follow if the governor's plans were implemented. The working and poor classes however followed Hennessy and were impressed with his arguments.
Hennessy continued to gain supporters he met with them in Long Bay Castle also known as Sam Lords Castle and had headquarters in St Joseph. He won over the chief inspector of police who also was heard to be telling people of how the worthless white people on the island were opposing the Confederation in order to keep the Negros down.
The defence stepped up their meetings and also resorted to using the press posting such remarks as these.
Let every patriot in his heart
Resolve to do a manly part
To stem the current of the hour
Though lobbied by imperial power
Let every man but firmly stand
Upon the Charter of the land
Nor Britains might shall dare to wrest
The Charter from the Freeman's breast
It is said that the hottest arguments could be heard in the Ice House, one of the most popular restaurants on broad Street in Bridgetown.
The Situation soon worsened and disorder broke out to such a level in the public building yard that business could scarcely conducted. The first outbreak of violence occured on Easter Tuesday April 18th 1876. It started at Byde Mill plantation and extended into St Philip, St John and St George. Two brothers entered the plantation yard one brandishing a sword another a red flag on a piece of sugar cane, an attempt was made to arrest them which failed. A conch shell was blown and the labourers entered and raided the potato fields.
This went on until the 22nd of April. By then 89 estates were attacked. 8 people were killed in suppressing the riots and 30 wounded these included the Chief inspector of police. Though little physical violence was done aside from that in the suppression of the riots, hundreds of whites sought refuge on the ships in Carlisle Bay or in the Garrisons Buildings and other places that they could recieve the protection of British soldiers.
The rioters thought that they were action in accordance to what the Governor said and that they did not burn the plantations, take life or break in any home because the Governor said so.
The claims of the rioters and the statements the Governor's made in his first address to the House of Assembly were shown to be responsible and showed him to be an agitator. While Lord Carnarvon declined to remove him at the request of the House, Hennessy was later transferred to be the Governor of Hong Kong.
All was quiet in Barbados for several months following Hennessys departure. Barbadians recieved the impression that their fate was being settled in London. As tempers cooled they determined that there must be some way out from the impasse between the Colonial Office and The House of Assemble. The man who pointed the way was W.C (Sir Conrad Reeves was the first Barbadian to be knighted and the first gentleman of colour to recieve knighthood by the Queen and to occupy the position of British Chief Justice). Reeves said that if the Executive Council was to have sole control of the expenditure of money raised by taxes levied on the people that the people must have control of the Executive Council. He stated that they must not only share power with the nominees of the Crown sitting in the Council but the real balance should lie in the representatives of the people. It suggested a modified form of responsiable Government and with some amendments and changes, was carried into effect in 1881. this was rightly regarded as a great triumph for the representative principle. As under this new arrangement, members conducting government business were not government officers responsiable to the crown but representatives of the people, responsible to the electors.
At that time out of a population of 160,000 only 1,300 people were entitled to vote. Reeves then set out to change this by persuading the house to lowering its qualifications for voting. Qualifications for freehold was reduced from £12. 16s 4d to £5. The qualification on occupation formerly £32. 1s and applicable only to town dwellers, was reduced to £15 and made applicable to to persons living in any part of the island. ratepayers qualifications were reduced from £3 4s to £2 for people living in Bridgetown and £1 for those living in other parts of the Island. One of the most important clauses of the Franchise Act of 1884 was that which enfranchised employees who earned an income salary of £50 per Annam. The Act was intended to enabled coloured and black people to register as voters however few were in a position advantage of it and it therefore had little impact. There were few free villages and no substantial peasantry. Estates still largely dominated the social and economic life on the Island. It was not until the early 20th century and with the influx of Panama money that the reduced franchise qualifications on freehold on occupation and ratepayers had any real meaning in Barbados.
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