The author has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web this talk given at Senate House, University of London. Where possible, bibliographical information appears in the form of in-text citations, which refer to items in the bibliography at the end of the document. Superscript numbers link to notes containing more substantial information. Clicking on the number for the note takes you to the document containing the notes; clicking the back button in your browser will return you to your place in the main text — [JB].
mong the oddest titles in West Indian literature is that of John Jacob Thomas's diatribe of 1889 called Froudacity. The suggestive title is a pun, and refers to the work of one of England's leading historians, the elderly James Anthony Froude, onetime fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, former editor of Fraser's Magazine, and chief disciple and biographer of Thomas Carlyle. The target of Thomas's angry riposte, however, is none of these irreproachable activities, but an innocent-seeming travelogue which Froude had published in the previous year called The English in the West Indies.
Subtitled "The Bow of Ulysses," this book was an impressionistic account of a tour made by the author in 1886-7 around the principal English-speaking islands of the Caribbean. A century later, it is difficult to discover what in this gentlemanly peregrination had made Thomas quite so indignant. True, Froude seems woefully ignorant about day to day realities in the islands, and displays a risible tendency to generalize about the lives of the inhabitants whilst sipping cocktails on the Governor's verandah. His rapidly written account is admittedly somewhat stilted, even a little geriatric. Thomas, however, peers beneath this sedateness, where he discovers a purpose of "deterring the home authorities from granting elective local legislature, however restricted in character, to any of the colonies not yet enjoying such an advantage." Thomas goes further. Behind Froude’s mild and suave self-deportment, he claims, lurks an even more sinister intent: "the dark outlines of a scheme to thwart political independence in the Antillese" (5).
Froude's intentions, and Thomas's retort, can best be appreciated if we bear in mind the circumstances in which both men were writing. Both were reacting to the Imperial Conference in London in 1887 called to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, with the purpose of determining future patterns of representation in a fast-growing Empire. Froude had explicitly invoked this background, starting his book by describing the delegates leaving, some by the same boat in which he is himself about to journey to the West Indies. Were these colonial dignitaries better off, he had asked, for resolutions proposing limited self-government for the larger and more important colonies? Were they fit possessors of such additional powers, if granted? He had then pointedly inquired whether such freedom would ever be appropriate to smaller colonies, more especially to struggling Caribbean islands.
Midway through his leisurely tour, Froude had visited Jamaica, where he had stayed in an estate called Cherry Hill, owned by the manager of the Colonial Bank. The estate interested him because it had once belonged to George William Gordon, a businessman and radical politician hanged by court-martial in October, 1865 on a charge of inciting a insurrection in the Parish of St Thomas-in-the-East. The insurrection, known to history as the Morant Bay rebellion or rising, but referred to by Froude as the "Gordon riots," its brutal suppression under Governor Edward John Eyre, and Eyre's subsequent cashierment and disgrace, were vivid in Froude's memory since they once divided his generation bitterly, striking along ideological fault-lines until then invisible to many. At the time of the controversy, Froude had been editor of Fraser's Magazine. Fearful of offending that periodical's proprietors, he had held back from taking too active a role in the dispute, as had his more famous brother-in-law, the novelist and Anglican priest Charles Kingsley, who nonetheless had been vocal in Eyre's support. But in The English in the West Indies Froude airs his persistent conviction on two matters: Eyre's actions, culminating in his suppression of the island's ancient House of Assembly, had been extreme but justified; they had also placed, and continued to place, the restoration of democratic rights in the island in question (Froude 256-63). It is this inference, indeed, that lies at the core of Froude's much-resented book.
Morant Bay: The Roots of a Rising
Even now, any account of the Morant Bay rising, and of the Eyre controversy that followed it, is complicated by the fact that these events are interpreted variously in different places. The rebellion itself occupies a legendary place in Jamaican politics, a role most vividly depicted by the Jamaican novelist V.S. Reid in his novel of 1949 New Day, the narrator of which, the 87-year-old John Campbell, has witnessed the disturbances as a young boy, and counterpoints his still urgent memories of them with an account of the creation in 1944 of a new constitution establishing universal adult suffrage on the island (Reid 1). Campbell's narrative, couched in an irresistible patois, is compelling, as well as beautifully composed. For a slightly earlier generation of readers, the events of 1865 were reviewed in The Myth of Governor Eyre by one of Eyre's successors to the governorship, Lord Olivier, Fabian Socialist, and uncle of a celebrated actor. Olivier had a very low opinion of his predecessor's conduct, a view once shared by many influential Victorians, led by John Stuart Mill.1. Considering the terrible retaliation inflicted on the islanders, it is hard to dissent from their distaste. The question is how did the opposing view once gain credit, not simply with Froude and Kingsley, but with Dickens, with Ruskin, with Tennyson, and a whole host of nineteenth century writers and intellectuals of marked humanitarian concern?
The uprising and its aftermath raised, and continue to pose, moral, legal and constitutional questions, none of which is easy to comprehend without a consideration of its causes. In the 1860s Jamaica’s economy had been in decline for some time: the value of its sugar exports, for example, being a little over a third of what it had been before Emancipation in 1833. Not surprisingly, few liberated slaves had wished to return to work for their former masters as wage-earners, preferring to acquire plots of land and survive precariously as smallholders. Despite widespread absenteeism among longer-established landlords, the amount of available land was limited; persistent causes of discontent were the level of rents demanded, and the reluctance of the Crown to release lands confiscated from tax defaulters, the so-called “back lands”, for general use. As Gad Heuman remarks, the year 1865 in particular had been cursed by drought (44). What is more, the recently concluded American Civil War had disrupted trade in the region, and the price of foodstuffs such as cod-fish had risen in consequence. On the other hand, in 1865 St. Thomas, the site of the rising, was better off than most parishes, and the ringleaders of the rebellion were not among its poorer residents. These economic considerations, however, are meaningless unless viewed against the political circumstances the island. For over 200 years Jamaica had been administered by a constitution granted under Charles II which provided for a two chamber assembly to regulate most matters, apart from defence and the civil law. In fiscal affairs, for example, the legislature had a fairly free hand, its principal brake being the power of the Governor, resident in Spanish Town, appointed by, and answerable to, the British monarch. But in 1853, Britain had come to the rescue with a half million pound loan; as a condition it had demanded a modification of the constitution, strengthening the Governor’s hand by setting up an Executive Council nominated by himself.
Though in theory the interests of the governor and the assembly were identical, in practice little love was lost between them. Membership of the assembly was confined to those with property valued at over £3,OOO. For years this corrupt and vexatious body had acted as the mouthpiece of the old plantocracy, but as the older planters had deserted their estates it had increasingly come to be dominated by a nouveau riche class far more reactionary than those whom they replaced. The assembly had resisted both the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 and Emancipation itself. In the 1840s and 1850s several covert attempts had been made by its members to have Jamaica admitted to the United States, thus re-introducing slavery by the back door. It remained acutely unrepresentative because , although all citizens with incomes over £6 per annum were entitled to vote provided they could raise a registration fee of ten shillings, the property qualification for candidates ensured that few blacks stood for the chamber. As a result, the electoral process was dismissed as an irrelevance: at the election of 1862, only a thousand or so Jamaicans of African descent had participated out of a total of almost a million. The new plantocracy were acutely aware that, should an economic upturn enable more blacks to stand, or should the property threshold to be lowered to bring Jamaica into line with a Britain then on the threshold of a Second Reform Act, the complexion of the assembly would alter radically. The only precedent for such rapid democratization in the region was nearby Haiti, where Touissant L’Overture’s revolution of 1791 had been followed by a widespread slaughter of the planting families. It is no exaggeration to say that the Haitian revolution still figured in the imagination of white Jamaicans much as the French Revolution featured in the minds of middle-class Britons, ensuring caution through fear.
In 1865, one of the few men of African descent who had managed to be elected to the chamber was Gordon.2 He was one of seven illegitimate children of Joseph Gordon, a Scottish plantation owner who had acted as attorney for absentee landlords, and his slave mistress. At emancipation, Joseph had liberated his mistress and offspring, married, and raised a second family. George William had quickly availed himself of the economic opportunities of the new dispensation. By 1843 he was reputedly worth £10,000; three years later he had purchased the Cherry Hill estate from his father and, though its value had recently fallen, he had soon added to it three more substantial land holdings, including Rhine Hill, a few miles from Morant Bay, where for several years he sat as a magistrate. When in the 1850s he was elected to the assembly, he joined the Town party which sat in opposition to the Country Party representative of the planting interest. He continued to take an active part in the debates when re-elected after a short gap in 1862. Both as representative and as magistrate he championed the cause of the black majority with vigour. Such advocacy had soon brought him into conflict with Charles Darling, the Governor. It was to continue a source of contention when in 1862, Darling took leave and was replaced, first temporarily, and then permanently, by Eyre.
Edward John Eyre, Australian Exploration and Aborigine Rights
Eyre is the other chief antagonist in the Morant Bay tragedy. "Bloody Eyre” Reid’s narrator calls him, and Olivier excoriates him as a racist. The problem for any viable reconstruction of events, however, is that, had he been a simple combination of these traits, his conduct and fate would not have divided England so sorely. He was certainly a highly unusual colonial official. Born a mere parson’s son in Yorkshire in 1815, he had emigrated to Australia at seventeen because, as he later admitted in a psychologically telling phrase, you could "be your own man there."3 In his early twenties he had been among the first, perhaps the very first, to discover the possibilities of driving sheep overland from the farms of New South Wales to the recent settlements in South Australia. He owed his rise in the world to an even more dramatic feat of endurance. In June, 1840 he had gained the support of the governor of South Australia, Sir George Grey, for an expedition into the interior north of Adelaide. Setting off with a team of companions, he had found the way blocked off, as he believed, by the salt flats of Lake Torrens. Undaunted, he had dismissed most of his party and, with an overseer called Baxter and three native Australians, had made his way westwards along the Great Australian Bight. On the way, Baxter had been murdered, and two of the aborigines had absconded. Eyre and one remaining aborigine had persevered. Though reduced to killing their horses for meat, and sometimes to collecting dew laboriously drop by drop from the long grass to slake their thirst, they had eventually walked the 1,000 miles to King George's Sound.
Voyages of Discovery in Central Australia, the book of 1845 in which Eyre recounts this journey, demonstrates vividly the streak of stubbornness in his make-up which doubtless made his feat possible, but which a quarter of a century later in the West Indies was to be unleashed to such frightening effect. It also gives evidence of more paradoxical qualities: a level-headedness in crisis, for example, and an ability to detach himself from standard settler attitudes. Eyre had passed through Port Lincoln, in what is now the Eyre Peninsular, when the twelve-year-old son of a missionary was speared to death by marauding aborigines. His reaction to this harrowing episode is to condemn settler expansion in Australia, and to defend aborigine land rights:
Without laying claim to the country by right of conquest, without pleading even the mockery of cession, or the cheatery [sic] of sale, we have unhesitatingly entered upon, occupied, and disposed of its lands, spreading forth a new population over its surface, and driving before us the original inhabitants. To sanction this aggression we have not, in the abstract, the slightest shadow of either right or justice — we have not even the extenuation of endeavoring to compensate those whom we have injured, or the merit of attempting to mitigate the sufferings our presence inflicts (Eyre 158-89)
It is impossible to understand the furor caused by Eyre's disgrace in 1865 after his treatment of the Morant Bay rising, without taking such statements into account. They also make his reaction to protest in Jamaica all the more surprising.
Governor Eyre and Politics in Jamaica
It had been Eyre's supposed capacity for tolerant leadership that had encouraged Grey to appoint him magistrate responsible for the Murray river, where he seems to have been a notable success. He had then served as Deputy Governor in Wellington, where he had finally fallen out with Grey, who had himself been transferred to Auckland and, as Eyre's superior officer, used every means at his disposal to strip his subordinate of effective authority. Eyre's most perceptive biographer, Geoffrey Dutton, ascribes his eventual overreaching of his authority in Jamaica to this earlier setback. Transferred to Antigua, he applied for the coveted governorship of Guyana, but was turned down by the Colonial Secretary of the day, the Duke of Newcastle, who commented in a confidential minute: "He is not strong enough for the place." After eighteen months of unemployment back in England, he had accepting the job as Darling's substitute on half pay, with the ominous explanation that Jamaica would give him a chance to "distinguish" himself.
His first tiff with Gordon was not long in coming. One of Gordon's duties as Magistrate was to inspect the gaols of Morant Bay. He submitted a report to Eyre claiming that the Rector had caused a sick prisoner to be detained for three months in the privy. Eyre checked up with the Custos of St. Thomas, Barclay, who replied that the poor wretch had been permitted to stay in the lavatory all of this time because he had nowhere else to live. Since the integrity of the Rector was at stake, this preposterous explanation was accepted by the devoutly Anglican Eyre, who instantly dismissed Gordon as a magistrate on the grounds that he was a troublemaker.
As a result, Gordon also lost his place on the Parish Vestry and., with it, all vestige of municipal power. In order to regain admission to this useful body, he now stood as churchwarden, and in July, 1863 was duly elected. There was, however, an impediment, since, raised a Presbyterian, Gordon had long ago joined the ranks of the Baptists. Having undergone adult immersion, he had gravitated to the local, black branch of this church where he was now a Deacon, a rank into which he also ordained two other men who were to play a significant role in subsequent events: the brothers Paul and Moses Bogle. His membership of the sect had augmented his local power base: it had not, however, endeared him to the island establishment who regarded the Baptist communion, especially the black variety of it, with scarcely veiled suspicion. The black Baptists had been active on the island since 1815; they had been instrumental in the struggle against slavery and, as Edward Brathwaite remarks in his book on early nineteenth century creolisation, attracted an enthusiastic popular following "because their ideas and their style of preaching contained strong, syncretised African elements" (259). As Heuman asserts, the sect had long been regarded as a channel for political dissent (38,64). In any case, Gordon’s membership of the denomination technically disqualified him from being churchwarden, as the Rector was not slow to inform him.
Religion, which had always played a decisive role in the history of the island, exercised a vital function in the build-up to the rising. The Baptists might be scorned by the establishment, but they could not be ignored. In January 1865, Dr. Underhill, Secretary to the Baptist Society in England dispatched a warmly phrased letter to the colonial secretary Edward Cardwell, complaining that large sectors of the population were near to starvation. Suspecting that Underhill was exaggerating, Cardwell consulted Eyre, who promptly circularized magistrates in every Parish seeking information. Unsurprisingly they replied in numbers discounting Underhill’s claims. Governor Eyre was satisfied. The principal cause of the poverty of which the Baptist secretary complained, he wrote in an official dispatch, was "the idleness, improvidence, and vice of the people."
Undaunted, the people of the Parish of St Anne's decided to contact a colonial secretary directly. They phrased a letter in which they outlined every deprivation: the high taxes, the absentee landlords, the vacant and idle Crown lands. When Cardwell replied, he directed his response as if it had come from the Court of St James'. His communication hence became known as The Queen's Advice, and its words have echoed down Jamaican history. In the words of Reid's elderly narrator, recalling the commonly felt indignation across eighty years:
Hear the QUEEN’S ADVICE; THE MEANS OF SUPPORT OF THE LABOURING CLASSES DEPEND ON THEIR OWN LABOUR. HER MAJESTY WILL REGARD WITH INTEREST AND SATISFACTION THEIR ADVANCEMENT THROUGH THEIR OWN EFFORTS. Wait! plead the good pastors from their pulpits, Her Majesty has been wrongly advised! Wait, says Mr. Gordon at his Underhill meetings, We will take the case to Whitehall ourselves. (Reid 8)
The Governor’s response to "the Queen’s Advice" was characteristically decisive. On July 5, he ordered that 50,000 copies of it be made, and posted as bills on the church door of every parish in Jamaica.
Gordon's reaction to this provocation was equally prompt. He called a meeting at St Elizabeths at St Anne's for July 29, employing in the invitations words that would later be used against him: "This is not the time when such deeds should be perpetrated, but, as they have been, it is your duty to speak out, and act too! We advise you to be up and doing on the 29th." In alarm, the Custos of St. Elizabeth, a Thuringian aristocrat by the name of Baron Maximilian von Ketelrodt, sent a panicky letter to Eyre who, mindful that the anniversary of emancipation fell on August 1, sent round a ship of war. An uneasy peace prevailed.
"Prominent among those who had attended the meeting on the 29th were the Bogle brothers, who possessed a secluded yet accessible power base at Stony Gut, the 500 acre estate which Paul Bogle farmed in the Blue Mountains above Morant Bay. In mid-September, the brothers journeyed further up into the hills to consult with Major Sterling, leader of the Maroons at Hatfield, as to the possibility of Maroon support in the event of a rising. Paul later claimed that the Maroons, descendants of escaped Spanish slaves, had agreed to support him and later changed sides. At the commission of inquiry, Sterling would claim that he had never promised Bogle assistance, though, bearing in mind the circumstances under which his evidence was given, it is difficult to know how much weight to put on this disclaimer. In any case, Bogle retreated to Stony Gut and was soon levying men. On October 7, he led a party down to the court house, where a routine case of assault was being heard. When the accused was fined with costs, a member of Bogle's party called out that the amounts were excessive; the police made to arrest him for contempt, but Bogle and the others fended them off. Two days later, a group of constables visited Stony Gut, where they attempted to deliver a warrant to Bogle, but were driven back. As soon as Ketelrodt got wind of this incident, he issued a general call-out of the constabulary and immediately wrote to Eyre in Spanish Town, ending his appeal, "I am of the opinion that no time ought to be lost in dispatching a sufficient military force."
In England meanwhile, Eyre was appearing before the reading public in a contrasted, and flattering, light. In the October issue of Macmillan’s Magazine an article had just appeared by Henry Kingsley, younger brother of the Revd. Charles, under the title "Eyre, the South-Australian Explorer." This eulogistic piece drew both on admiring rumour picked up by its author during a sojourn in Australia in the 1850’s, and on an appreciative reading of Eyre's own memoirs. It recounted its subject's travels, and emphasized his self-effacing treatment of native Australians. It praised his work among the inhabitants of the Murray River, and, though conceding that he was "high-strung," went on to commend him as an example of gentlemanly and humane distinction (55). But what was more impressive than the article’s substance was its style: jerky, enthusiastic, abstruse, the very prose of Thomas Carlyle's influential lecture series On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History which, when published in 1841, had so influenced a generation's notions of male virtue. The audible implication was that Eyre had been, and arguably still was, the embodiment of the rugged and sublime ideal extolled in those lectures. Macmillan's was widely read: by Carlyle himself, by Charles Kingsley, by Froude, by virtually everybody that is who subsequently took a prominent part in Eyre's defence. The form which that campaign was to take can best be understood by reference to the vivid transformation, in Henry Kingsley’s sometimes stumbling sentences, of the individual Edward John Eyre into the likeness of a Carlylean hero.4 Thus, a few days before the first shot was fired in anger in the square at Morant Bay, the grounds on which the report of it would be received by a certain section of the English intelligentsia had already been prepared.
October 1865: The Rising Erupts
That week, in Spanish town, the object of Henry Kingsley's fervour received the latest of Ketelrodt's alarmist pleas. He convened the Executive Council, who advised sending the frigate "Wolverene" round to St Thomas's. The following day, Bogle’s men again entered the square with fife and drum. They were met on the steps of the courthouse by the apprehensive Custos who read the riot act and then, upon being pelted with stones, permitted his troops to shoot, killing seven of the protesters. Later that evening the school house was torched, and the fire soon spread to the court house. By nightfall, Ketelrodt, one of the Rector's sons, and sixteen other citizens lay dead.
In Kingston itself , among the first to receive the news was Gordon. He had been spending the say engaged in business, and in the evening returned to Cherry Hill and told his wife about the incident. Eyre heard later that night and instantly convened the Council, who advised him to declare martial law throughout the County of Surrey, with the exception of Kingston. The few regular troops on the island were under the overall command of General L. Smythe O'Connor; Eyre as governor, however, was responsible for specific troop movements. Eyre placed 100 men from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment and the 1st West India Regiment under the command of Captain Lewis Hall, responsible for scouting and subduing the area immediately inland from Morant Bay (Heumann 116). He rapidly appointed a Police-Inspector called Ramsay, who had earned the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War by taking part in the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the post of Provost Martial, responsible for the administration of the emergency provisions in Morant Bay itself, where courts martial were to be convened to try suspects.5 Convinced that Gordon had incited, if not fomented, the disturbance, Eyre determined to bring him to book. There was one problem: Kingston, where Gordon was staying, was specifically excluded from martial law. Undaunted by this technicality, Eyre confronted him in person before personally signing a warrant for his arrest and escorting him by ship to Morant Bay, where he delivered him into the hands of the tribunal. Found guilty, Gordon was hanged beneath the arch of the gutted court house on October 23. On the following day, Bogle, and several of the ring-leaders, were executed at the Wolverene’s yardarm. Ever afterwards, folklore was to give Bogle and his mentor a symbolically identical fate. "Do no' go down, Father," calls out Reid's narrator in his agony of reminiscence, "Mr Gordon and Dean Bogle are hanging by their necks from the court-house steps"6
Anxious to assert his authority, Eyre claimed that the rising was contained after three days. Substantially this was true since, though small detachments of rioters went on the rampage north and west, none strayed beyond the boundaries of the parish. Despite this reassurance, Eyre maintained martial law for another three weeks. Later, a Royal Commission of inquiry would discover the full severity of the measures taken: 439 people were put to death, 354 of them by court martial, the rest shot by soldiers, sailors, or by the Maroons who soon joined in the chase. 1,005 dwellings were razed to the ground. The military commanders, two of them certifiably demented, did nothing to restrain the sadistic impulses of their men. Ramsay stood by while men and women were flogged: on one occasion fifty lashes were meted out to a bystander for not wearing a hat; a witness at one court martial was given twelve for winking at the accused. On finally declaring an amnesty, Eyre addressed a full session of the Assembly. The unusual circumstances of the last few weeks, he argued, rendered the suspension of the constitution necessary. He then persuaded the members to dissolve the house permanently. Jamaica was declared a Crown Colony; it would remain without effective representative institutions for another seventy-nine years.
The Case of Governor Eyre: The Victorian Debate
News of the severity of the executions was now slow to reach England, where opinion was quickly divided between those who believed that Eyre had exceeded his legitimate functions, and those who thought that he had behaved with necessary and commendable dispatch. Scandals concerning governors of Caribbean islands who had overstepped their authority were not, of course, entirely new in the metropolis. Perhaps the most notorious case had been the legal proceedings in 1801 following the torture, on the signature of the irascible Welshman Thomas Picton, first British governor of Trinidad, of the fourteen year old mulatto girl, Luisa Calderon, vividly recreated for our generation by V.S. Naipaul in his history The Loss of El Dorado (see especially Ch.26, 182-221). Picton's prosecution through the English courts by Colonel William Fullarton, former First Commissioner of Trinidad, had smacked of a personal vendetta, however. Besides, there is no evidence that Fullarton had ever enjoyed much popular support, and Picton had ended his life in glory, as a hero of the Peninsular War. What was relatively new about the case of Edward John Eyre was the groundswell of public revulsion that promptly succeeded news of his acts, a surge of feeling that had much to do with the pervasive influence, among certain quarters of British opinion, of a philanthropically inclined Evangelical Movement, then at its height. The first anti-Eyre demonstration was held in Manchester on 27 November.7. The following month, a coalition of non-conformists and liberal intellectuals formed themselves into the Jamaica Committee, headed initially by Charles Buxton, son of the eminent anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Fowell Buxton. Other Members of Parliament soon joined the movement, notably the liberal economist John Bright, the lawyer Tom Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays and longtime associate of the Kingsleys, and the philosopher John Stuart Mill. It was Mill who was to assume the leadership of the movement to indict Eyre before the courts. Largely as a result of pressures brought by such men, the Commission of Enquiry was sent out to Jamaica the following January. After hearing the evidence of 730 witnesses, including Eyre himself, soldiers and victims of various outrages, they submitted an equivocal report, praising Eyre for his "skill, promptitude and valour," but criticizing the severity of the punitive measures. In March, Eyre published a letter in The Times, justifying his conduct dictated as he saw it, by a dire and widespread emergency.8 Despite this appeal, the Commission relieved him of his responsibilities, and on 24 July he set sail for England. He arrived on August 12 to find the country divided into two camps; one vociferous in his favour, the other determined to prosecute him by every legal means.
Uncertain what to do next, Eyre hung around Southampton for several days, though the town was as divided as the rest of the country.9 Soon a delegation from the Jamaica Committee arrived and started leafleting the populace. For his part the mayor met Eyre's ship as it docked, and had soon organized an official banquet, at which the ex-Governor was praised in lavish terms by Lord Cardigan, another Crimean hero. In the newspaper reports that followed, however, Cardigan's speech was eclipsed by the rhetorical efforts of the orator who addressed the company next: the Revd. Charles Kingsley.
Kingsley had attended the banquet by chance, since he had been spending the holiday period at the house of his friend Lord Hardwicke, who invited him along. The invitation placed him in an awkward position: Kingsley was well known as an activist and social reformer whose opinion on matters of current concern was likely to be quoted. Before going, he wrote to his wife Fanny promising discretion: "I quite agree with you about not speaking, and shall avoid it if possible, and if not, only compliment him on his Australian exploits."10 In the event, he avoided making one of the main speeches for the evening, but was prevailed upon to propose the last of the formal toasts rounding off the proceedings: a toast to the two Houses of Parliament. Starting with a resume of Henry’s article in Macmillans, he went on to laud the guest of honour as the epitome of that "English spirit of indomitable perseverance, courage and adventure" and "of good nature, or temper, of the understanding of human beings, of knowing how to manage men." He finished by converting his comments into a graceful tribute to the parliamentary institutions which were the subject of the toast. The Times paraphrased his concluding remarks thus:
By what that noble man [Eyre] did in Australia, by his walk of 700 miles round The Cape of Carpentaria, he showed he possessed in a very high degree that spirit carried the anglo-saxon tongue around the world, and which has made us the Fathers of the United States and the conquerors of India. Of his proceedings in Jamaica he would say nothing except that knowing what he did of the West Indies and Mr Eyre, he took him and his conduct upon trust. If we refused to take men upon trust, especially rulers and official men, there would be nothing except anarchy, which would be followed by despotism, and in due time by a big tyrant who would not take the people upon trust. If Mr Eyre should be blessed with health during the next 25 years, he should not be surprised to see him attain to a seat in the House of Lords, an assembly in which he would not be the least noble man among the peers of England.11
The correspondent from The Times, however, was not the only journalist in the hall. There was also a sprinkling of reporters from the liberal press, and from the highbrow fortnightlies and monthlies. Amongst this sector of opinion Kinglsey held an ambiguous reputation. Radical and advocate of democratic causes Kingsley indubitably was; he was, for all that, an ordained representative of an Established Church, the natural political allies of which were Tories. The ardour of Kinglsey’s expostulation took these liberal-minded scribes aback. Some of them found his comments so gratuitous that, in reporting them, they went out of their way to exaggerate, almost to lampoon, the speaker’s obsequiousness. A liberal monthly quoted by Bernard Semmel, for example, gave quite a different, and apparently verbatim, version of the climax to the speech, without mentioning that it had been delivered as a formal toast. As a result, Kingsley’s eulogy to the House of Lords, a body which was already an object of suspicion in radical quarters , appeared not as the conventional flourish for which it was intended, but as the expression of deep-seated, reactionary principles:
Mr Eyre is so noble, brave and chivalric a man, so undaunted a servant of the crown, so illustrious as an explorer in Australia and a saviour of society in the West Indies that Peers — actual Peers — my soul sinks with awe as I repeat Peers — members of the sacred order, which represents chivalry, which adopts into its ranks all genius, all talents, all virtue, and all learning, condescend, not indeed to give him dinner — that would be too much — but to dine in the same room with him. (qtd. in Semmel 94).
The liberal press had a field day with this version, which was all the more surprising considering the man who was supposed to have delivered it.12 That Kingsley was a clergyman was not itself felt to be incongruous, since the Established Church had been quick to leap to the defence of the devoutly Anglican Eyre. But since the late 1840s the Revd. Kingsley had identified himself with a series of humanitarian causes: conditions in the tailoring industry; sanitation in Bermondsey; the rights of farm labourers. He had been closely connected with the Christian Socialist Movement, in whose periodical he had published a column championing the cause of the oppressed. He had played a minor but much publicized role in the celebrated Chartist meeting on Kennington Common of April 1848, and his novels on behalf of such causes had done much to damage his ecclesiastical career. All of this he had borne willingly: why, his allies now wished to know, was he taking the stand in support of the butcher of Morant Bay? The general amazement was trenchantly expressed in verse by the historian and humourist George Otto Trevelyan, who asserted his astonishment
That he, whose brave old English tales, set all our hearts aglow, Should teach that “modern chivalry” has forced its noblest egress By burning Baptist villages, and stringing up a negress. (qtd. in Semmel 100)
Kingsley, Carlyle, Newman and the Cult of the Hero
Kingsley also received short shrift from former associates in the Christian Socialist movement such as Tom Hughes and the radical barrister J. M. Ludlow, who were soon refusing to speak to him.13 Their indignation intensified when Kingsley gave his tacit support to the Eyre Defence Fund, set up under the chairmanship of Carlyle at a meeting on August 30 which Henry and Froude attended.14 What especially worried these activists was Kingsley’s alliance over this matter with Carlyle, the so-called “sage of Chelsea”, whose racialist views had been bluntly expressed in an earlier disquisition on the condition of Jamaica, "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question," published in Frazer's in December 1849 (670-79). Carlyle had made no bones about his opinion of the black population of Jamaica, whom he had regarded as work shy and in need of a strong hand.
Considering the biased reporting of the Southampton speech in certain periodicals, the reaction of Frazer’s socialist friends may at first sight seem extreme. It seems less so in the light of Kingsley’s own subsequent statements. As the weeks passed by, Kingsley reacted as he so often did when placed in the wrong: he dug his heels in. That winter he received a letter from one of his working-class admirers congratulating him in veiled terms for his support for one “sorely tried”. Kingsley wrote back:
I have followed the sage of Chelsea's teaching about my noble friend, ex-Governor of Jamaica. I have been cursed for it, as if I had been a dog, who had never stood up for the working man when all the world was hounding him (the working man) down in 1848-9, and imperiled my own prospects in life on behalf of freedom and justice. Now, men insult me because I stand up for a man whom I believe ill-treated, calumniated, and hounded to death by fanatics. If you mean Mr Eyre in what you say, you will indeed give me pleasure, because I shall see that one more "Man of the people" has commonsense enough to appreciate a brave and good man, doing his best under terrible difficulties: but, if not, I know that I am right.15
Kingsley took no active role in the administration of the defence fund — "Charles hanging back afraid," Carlyle noted sardonically in a letter.16 Eventually, the bureaucratic burden fell on the shoulders of Ruskin, who clearly though that Kingsley had become half-hearted because he feared calumny: "I never," he complained much later in life, "thought much of Muscular Christianity after that"(qtd. in Semmell17). The relatively passive role that Kingsley took in the controversy, however, is far less interesting than the fact that someone with his views should have subscribed to the case for Eyre at all.
Certainly the Carlylean idea of the explorer as hero had swayed him, and he was not slow to place Eyre in that mould. Justifying his indiscretion to Fanny after the Southampton dinner, he explained "Eyre is one of the most noble and interesting men I ever saw — I had to speak to propose Lds & commons, & in all my allusions to him I stuck to his Australian work."18 His protestations of impartiality, however, do not ring entirely true: what comes across instead is his rapt admiration for a particular kind of overseas or imperial swashbuckling. Kingsley had always cherished his own pantheon of adventurer- idols, such as Rajah Brooke of Sarawak, the renegade British administrator and trader who had set himself up as a chieftain in the wilds of Borneo, and whose rough-and-ready methods had also brought him into disrepute with the authorities. Kingsley had sprung to Brooke’s defence, and had part-dedicated his buccaneering novel Westward Ho! to him. He was also convinced that Eyre was a scapegoat, commenting, again to his wife "I still believe . . . that the man has been sacrificed to a paltry and weak government." Moreover, together with Dickens, Ruskin and others who had taken a strong line on working class rights, Kingsley almost certainly felt that a double standard was being applied by Eyre's detractors: demanding justice overseas when so many abuses persisted at home. His position in the controversy, however, only really makes sense if viewed against a general backdrop of political and philosophical principles. By November, the Jamaica committee had won the support of perhaps its most persuasive advocate: the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who wrote to Kingsley putting the matter in a nutshell:
In point of fact, men take sides on this question, not so much by looking at the mere facts of the case but rather as their deepest political convictions lead them. And the great use of the prosecution and one of my reasons for joining it, is that it will help a great many people find out what their profound political beliefs are. (qtd. in Semmell 122-2319)
Kingsley’s mixed reaction to the Eyre dispute - his vocal advocacy, his reluctance to become practically embroiled - may partly be explained by the fact that he had recently been traumatized by a controversy almost as bitter, in which he had also found himself on the same side as Froude. The subject of this contretemps had been remote from West Indian affairs, yet it affords an interesting, sideways clue to the deep-seating attitudes of some of Eyre’s supporters. In 1864 Froude had published the seventh and last volume of his History of England from the Fall of Wolsely to the Death of Queen Elizabeth, a study of the English Reformation on which he had been engaged for several years.20 It had been candid in its distrust of Roman Catholicism, and especially of the casuistic tendencies of the Papacy and of a succession of Spanish ambassadors in London, whom it had implicitly accused of a deeply-ingrained tendency to lie. The following month, Kingsley had reviewed the book for Macmillans Magazine where he had gone to some length to emphasize and endorse his brother-in-law’s anti-Papist stance. "Truth for its own sake," Kingsley had declared in a soon notorious sentence, "has never been a virtue with the Roman clergy."21 He had reckoned without Rome’s most eminent English convert John Henry Newman who, stung to the quick by this aspersion cast at his adopted Church, had replied at exhaustive, and virtually unanswerable, length in his autobiographical justification Apologia pro Vita Sua.
Kingsley was widely though to have been worsted in this battle of words. As on the later occasion, he had seemed unrepentant, with Froude still faithful at his side. All this would be of purely personal or theological significance, were it not for the fact that in England in 1865 Catholicism was still a politically charged issue. Since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1829, the influence of the Catholic Church had grown to an extent worrying to broad church Anglicans : the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 had been a turning point, and even within the Church of England, Catholic tendencies had not ceased to grow.
In Kingsley’s mind, there seems to have been a strong psychological connection between Romanism and the West Indies. His most successful novel Westward Ho! , written in Devon in the early months of the Crimean War, describes the exploits of the Elizabethan worthy Amyas Leigh. Early in the book Leigh’s fiance, the symbolically named Rose, is seduced by a Spaniard sea captain called Don Guzman, who elopes with her to the Caribbean, where Amyas hunts them down. Rose is taken to South America, where she perishes under the Inquisition. Meanwhile, Amyas returns to Europe, where he eventually commands a battle ship against the Armada. In the climactic scene he sights his erstwhile rival driving his own boat up the West coast of England; Amyas intercepts the vessel, and is about to crush it and its captain against the rocks when storm and lightning sink the ship, depriving him of his moment of revenge, and blind him. The blinding, as many of Kingsley’s readers will attest, is probably the most effective moment in his fiction, since it appears to reprove the protagonist and, by extension the author, for their own ethical purblindness, their deliberate and sustained pursuits of prejudice. The novel‘s commercial success which , as John Sutherland reminds us (117-32), more or less launched Macmillan as a general publisher, was the result of its pandering to the patriotic fervour during the early months of the war. In the novel, Spain and the Catholic church are the enemies rather than Russia; yet, if for the audience the xenophobia worked on the level of analogy, for the author the anti-Romanism was real enough, and its playground, seemingly free from the political embarrassments of Britain, was the West Indies.
Kingsley, Jamaica and Ireland
Roman Catholicism , in any case, was far from an isolated issue, since in English protestant eyes at the time it could not be separated from the problem that was to dominate the political horizon more and more: the nagging, the seemingly unsolvable conundrum of Ireland. The Eyre controversy coincided in time with a crisis in Irish affairs. Fenian outrages, which had been increasing over the previous few months, culminated in the murder of a police sergeant in Manchester. In 1868 several bystanders were killed when part of the wall of the Clerkenwell House of Detention was mined by Fenians attempting to release their comrades (Forster 394, 478). When the suspected bomber, Michael Barrett, came to court, the prosecuting council was the very lawyer employed to defend Eyre: the Tory barrister Hardinge Giffard, later Lord Halsbury. In both the Fenian and the Eyre trials Giffard stressed the imperative need to impose order on volatile populations. The argument proved so persuasive when used in the Shropshire Magistrates’ Court before which Eyre was arraigned on a charge of murder, that the case was thrown out amid loud rejoicing.
As the Eyre campaign proceeded, its relevance to the Irish problem became increasingly apparent. Baulked in their attempt to have the ex-governor tried for murder, the Committee hauled two of the more bloodthirsty militiamen before a Middlesex Grand Jury. The charge was read by Lord Cockburn, Lord Chief Justice of England, whose opinion it was that the issue boiled down to the validity of martial law. After six hours, Cockburn gave his opinion that "the law of English knows no such thing as martial law." His opinion was rejected by the jury, but the sub-text of the trial became apparent in the House of Commons the following day when an Irish member, M. W. O'Reilly, stood up and asked whether "this house would regard as utterly void and illegal any commission or proclamation purporting or pretending to proclaim Martial Law in any part of the Kingdom" (qtd. in Semmel 156). The intervention spelled out the wider implications of the Jamaica dispute, clarifying the unspoken considerations that had motivated the juries in both of the recent trials. Confronted by the implied application of the Cockburn opinion to law-keeping in Ireland, the Secretary for War Edward Cardwell who, as Colonial Secretary, had appointed and then supported Eyre in Jamaica, urged O’Reilly to withdraw his remark.
The parallels between colonial affairs, Irish politics and religious division were not merely coincidental.22 As both Kingsley and Froude’s statements make clear in a number of contexts, such connections were deep-seated and structural. Indeed, Froude would later betray the existence of such conscious or unconscious links by referring to the Morant Bay rising in The English in the West Indies as “the Gordon riots”, a phrase which could not but remind those aware of England’s religious history, and readers of Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, of the anti-popery riots in London in 1780. Both Froude and Kingsley regarded the Irish as mendacious and ungovernable. Kingsley’s mother’s family had been planters in Barbados; he always revelled in a personal mythology of the Caribbean based on his childhood reading in which Elizabethan admirals such as Drake and Grenville — both of whom appear in Westward Ho! — lord it over dastardly Catholic sailors, and unruly blacks.
These streams of prejudice were to continued to co-mingle long after Eyre’s final acquittal in 1868, and Kingsley’s death in 1875. The Morant Bay rebellion, and the case that followed it, had bitten deep into the psyche of Victorian England, from which they had a tendency to well up at times of surface tension. Such a moment, for example, was the political crisis of 1886/7 caused by Gladstone’s conversion to the principle of Home Rule for Ireland. Though Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill was defeated, bad feeling continued to seeth through the year of the Jubilee, and Colonial Conference convened to mark it. Prominent among lobby opposed to Home Rule were Froude, Tennyson, Kingsley’s former pupil John Martineau, and a number of others who had once defended Eyre (Magnus 346).
Froude and Counter-Froude
Froude’s response to that crisis was the book with which I began this essay, The English in the West Indies. Running through it is a double theme: a lament for the author’s cherished brother-in-law - priest, novelist, and political ally — and a sustained consideration of democratic representation in the colonies. The text begins with a discussion of the extension of self-government mooted at the recent imperial conference. Such proposals have their merits when applied to the older dominions, Froude argues, but
When we think of India, when we think of Ireland, prudence tells us to hesitate. Steps once taken in this direction cannot be undone, even if they lead to the wrong place . . . The danger now is that [self government] will be tried in haste in . . . countries either as yet unripe for it or from the nature of things unripe for it. The liberty which is granted freely to those whom we trust and who do not require to be restrained, we bring into disrepute if we concede them as readily to perversity or disaffection or to those who, like most Asiatics, do not desire liberty, and prosper best when they are led and guided. (Froude, West Indies, 4)
The severity and bigotry of this judgment shed light in a number of areas: Froude’s otherwise inexplicable decision to illustrate his divisive theme by writing about the West Indies, the importance of the Morant Bay rising in his account, and Thomas’s anger at his froudacity. Manifestly Gordon, Bogle and their supporters had been among those who, in Froude’s eyes, did "require to be constrained" if not "led and guided." And, inadvisable as Eyre's more draconian measures may have been, his abolition of the Assembly had been justified as forestalling any extension of representation among those "from the nature of things unripe for it." Froude's sinister conclusion, correctly inferred by Thomas, was that there existed two standards of political responsiveness, one applicable to Anglo-Saxon populations, and another to Irish Catholics or Jamaican Baptists. This invidious distinction had been enunciated all too clearly in the Parliamentary election of 1886 in which Lord Salisbury, the jingoistic leader of the Conservatives had argued, in a reviled phrase combining exclusivity of religion and of race, that certain peoples, "Hindoos and Hottentots" among them, were incapable of self-governmen (Magnus 358). In the apologetics of burgeoning imperialism in the 1890s, this was precisely the lesson that Morant Bay was employed to drive home.
The Morant Bay rising continued to linger in the national consciousness as a kind of bogie event. Without doubt, it drew on deep-set fears which emerged elsewhere in rumour, in folklore and in popular culture. An interesting side-light may help to bring this fact out. At Rugby Public School in the 1840’s a shadowy figure would appear in the dormitories at night. No pupil was every known to have seen him. He was the shoe-black and, his job once done, he would disappear in the thin light of dawn. He was known to the boys as the "bogle."23 The appearance of this fleeting, feared figure in Tom Hughes’s enduringly popular Tom Brown's Schooldays, which went through dozens of editions in the mid to late Victorian period, in amply suggestive of the communal phobia on which such fictional episodes drew.
Indeed, the noun "Bogle," common in Scotland since at least 1500, is cognate with the equivalent English term "bogie."24 Like the despised, nocturnal shoe black whose name he shared, Paul Bogle — leader if not instigator of the Morant Bay insurrection — soon became a bogie figure in the minds of respectable British folk. No doubt such neurotic transformations of personalities connected with the insurrection were rife in the minds of many a middle class Englishman at the time, and doubtless too they underlay Froude's book, where their presence was sensed by Thomas. Thomas's gut reaction to such phobic over reaction was topical and polemical, but, bearing in mind the history of the Morant Bay rising and its aftermath, a more lasting verdict is voiced by John Campbell, the octogenarian narrator of New Day, who, remembering the dreadful events of 1865 long after, exclaims, with a fine mixture of horror and incredulity, "But God O! Look what my eyes ha' lived to see!" (Reid 2).
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Last modified 8 April 2011.