Matthew James Higgins.

Is cheap sugar the triumph of free trade? A second letter to the Rt. Hon. Lord John Russell, &c. &c. &c online

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Online LibraryMatthew James HigginsIs cheap sugar the triumph of free trade? A second letter to the Rt. Hon. Lord John Russell, &c. &c. &c → online text (page 1 of 5)
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Is Cheap Sugar the Trmmph of Free Trade ?



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. HicjoiNSf MsftliE^ J~fifM'S^J

'' A species of diplomacy which was the only specimen of the kind in

English history ; the only case in which an English minister negotiated in the
spirit of a pettifogging attorney, refusing to fulfil the obligations of a solemn
contract on pleas really so shallow and fallacious, that in private life they would
not have a very high opinion of a gentleman who endeavoured by such pleas
to avoid engagements between man and man."

Earl Grey in answer to Lord Aberdeen. Hansard, Feb. 22, 1848.





ao a second letter,

My Lord,

It is now nearly six months since I had the
honour of addressing to your Lordship a letter,
pointing out the disastrous results which must
o accrue to our sugar colonies, from the admission
into this country of slave grown produce on equal
terms with British plantation free grown sugar.

I had then recently returned from a visit to the
West Indies, and I described to your Lordship as
faithfully as I could, the actual state of affairs, both
in our own colonies and in Cuba.

I took the liberty of telling you that I believed
you were unconscious of the extent of the ruin
which your measures, if persisted in, would inevi-
tably inflict upon the British planters, that what
you probably meant but as a reasonable stimulus
to the wasteful and sluggish, would utterly destroy
the thrifty and enterprising ; that competition
U-, with the foreign slave driver, under the circum-
o stances in which you had placed your own colo-


nists, was simply impossible ; that if you meant to
relieve them, you must do so speedily, or relief
would come too late,* and that procrastination
would only render the task of ultimate assistance
more difficult and costly.

I then detailed to you the prosperity which your
Sugar Bill of 1846 had brought to the Cuban
slave owner, the increase of misery it had entailed
on his negroes, hurried, without regard to infir-
mity, sex, or age, from the lighter work of the
cafetal, and hired out, like cattle, to the deadly
toil of the Ingenio ; and I pointed out to you the
certainty of a resumption, at no distant day, of the
slave trade by Cuba, and of its actual known in-
crease in Brazil.

My statements, which at the time met with the
usual fate of statements made by an interested
party, and were considered, to say the least, highly
coloured, have since been confirmed, on every
point, by the most impartial and unimpeachable

Governor Light of Guiana, Governor Higginson
of Antigua, Lord Harris of Trinidad, and Sir C.
Grey of Jamaica, have all concurred as to the

'" The self-same week that I wrote my first letter to Lord John
Russell, a despatch arrived from Lord Harris, expressing his
opinion as to the inevitable fate which awaited the richest colony
in the West Indies, if the present ministerial course was con-
tinned, in almost the self-same words 1 had myself used. Sinei
the fublicotion nf that letter eightee?i West IndiaJi Jirms have
been declared insolvent, — See Appendix, p. 27.

results, predicted as inevitable by Governor Reid
of Barbadoes* (a gentleman promoted to that com-
mand from Bermuda, by Lord Grey himself), who,
after a tour through the neighbouring islands of
Grenada and St. Lucia, wrote to his Lordship
as follows, on the 28th of February, 1848, in answer
to certain queries propounded to him by the
Colonial Office :t —

"My opinion is, that sugar cultivation by free labour cannot
yet withstand competition on equal terms with slave labour, and
that freedom should be nursed by protection for a considerable
time to come. How long that time should be, you will under-
stand I cannot say.

"If there be no protection, the cultivation of sugar will
dwindle in all the windward islands excepting Barbadoes.

" Whilst travelling in these islands, and amongst estates falling
off in production, I felt a conviction, that without protection the
most serious loss for humanity would not be loss of sugar, but
that the consummation of the greatest act of human legisla-
tion, the abolition of slavery, will be retarded, and perhaps

* Compare the value of this mass of evidence with that relied
upon in preference by Lord Grey in his Speech of February 7th.
— See Appendix, p. 25 to 30.

t 7th Report. Committee on Sugar Planting, p. 282.

X Sir C. Grey has since declared, in reply to a deputation
from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, on the 15th of April, /
1848, that " the present distress which has/alien upon the West
Indie-i, arises in a great measure from the ivithdrarval of capital
from onr colonies, and its investment in more lucrative employ-
ment in the foreif/n colonies, xchcre slavery exists in full force
and unmitigated atrocity." ^

On the other hand, Lord Palmerston,* Mr. Ban-
dinel,t and Captain Birch, R.N.:[; (the latter of
whom has recently returned from a command in
the slave squadron), hore witness to the enormously
increased activity of the slave trade, subsequent
to the passing of the Bill of 1846.

Our Consul General, and our Slave Commis-
sioners in Cuba and Jamaica,^ wrote, first, that
upwards of 100,000 slaves— old people, women, and
children — had been removed from the culture of
coffee to that of the cane ; and, secondly, that vessels
had been despatched from the Havana, and from
Spain, to seek fresh supplies of new negroes on the
coast of Africa.

They further stated, that the culture of sugar in
that colony had become incredibly remunerative,
and that the slaves on the ingenios were habitually
worked during crop time eighteen hours out of the
twenty- four.

Their accounts were corroborated by Captain
Matson, R.N.,|| who, having been for the last two
years cruising oft' the coast of Cuba, declared that
when the news of your measures reached the
Havaiia, the prices of slaves and of sugar instantly
rose from fifteen to twenty per cent., and that

* 1st Report. C. S. P. p. 5.

t 1st Report. Slave Trade Committee. Ques. 3230 to 3459.

:J: 1st Report. S. T. C. Ques. 2229 to 2241.

§ 7tli Report. C. S. P. p. 364 to 3/3.

11 1st Report. S. T. C. Ques. 1491 to 7—1691 to 3.

slavers were at once prepared to resume the slave

I believe, my Lord, I could adduce no more dis-
interested or worthier evidence to prove that the
information I tendered you, in my letter of October
last, was in every respect accurate, and that the
inferences I drew from it have since been fully
borne out by even more distressing results than I
at that time anticipated. f

* " The rumours which reach us of the revival of the slave trade
practices in these seas, are of too vague a nature to enable us to
report on them so specifically as we could wish ; but they are
nevertheless sufficiently definite to have induced Commodore
Lambert to detach two ships of the squadron under his orders
from the routine duties of the station, for the first time since the
establishment of the Court of which we are members, for the
special purpose of cruising against the slave trade.

" Jamaica, Jan. 1, 1848. (Signed) ^- Jurnbull,

^ ° "^ A. B. Hamilton,

" H. M. Slave Commissioners ."

1st Report. S. T. C. Appendix.

" H.M.S. Alarm and Daring, and steamer Vixen, were to sail
from Kingston, Jamaica, on the 7th April, 1848, with orders to
cruise off the ports of Cuba and Porto Rico, for the interception
of slaves. It was said, information had been received of ten
slavers having some time since left Havana for the coast of
Africa, and it was considered probable some of them might be
fallen in with."— Tu/ie.?, Maij 6, 1848.

f The following Circular, sent round by Messrs. Burnley,
Eccles, and Co — to the entire truth of which every merchant ac-
quainted with their affairs, and every creditor of the firm will
bear testimony — stands out in sad contrast to the prosperity of
the Cuban and Brazilian speculators in slaves. In this case,
absenteeism and high mercantile charges cannot be alleged as


I believe, moreover, that I am speaking within
bounds when I say that almost every prediction

having conduced to their ruin, for Messrs. Burnley's estates were
superintended by relatives in the Colonies, and they discharged
the duties of merchants themselves on this side of the Atlantic: —

"Glasgow, 3rd May, 1848.
"Sir, — It is with deep regret we inform you that we are
under the necessity of suspending payments. A sequestration
has been sent for with our concurrence ; and in a few days you
will be requested to attend a meeting of our creditors. For up-
wards of half a century we have steadily followed our business
of "West India merchants, never engaging in speculations of any
kind. Our assets chiefly consist of sugar estates in Trinidad
and Demerara. These estates are in excellent condition, capable
of making large crops ; but they have been rendered worse than
unprofitable, and of no value, by Acts of Parliament — the worst
of which being the Sugar Duty Act of 1846 — whereby slave-
made sugar was admitted to consumption in this country on
terms which the British Colonies are altogether unprepared to
compete with. — We are. Sir,

" Your most obedient servants,

" EccLEs, Burnley, and Co.

"Wm. and Jas. Eccles and Co.

"Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 9th, 1848.

" My Lord, — I have the honour to inform your Lordship,
that, according to the best estimation I have been able to make,
60,000 Africans have been imported as slaves into Brazil during
the year 1847.

" There is no doubt that this frightful number has been greatly
occasioned by the concentration of the English naval force in
the waters of the Plate ; at the same time I learn that never
have the slave dealers so perfected all the appurtenances and
appliances of their vile trade as at present ; never have they or-
ganized the whole range of shore signals from St. Katherine's to
Bahia, nor established such facilities for landing their cargoes as

made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord
Grey in February last has been already disap-

now, and I am afraid I may now add with perfect truth, that
never was the toleration, not to say co-operation of this Govern-
ment, more open than at the present moment.

'' It is a well-known fact, that a vessel belonging to this port
made five voyages to the coast during the last year, and landed
in safety all her cargoes ; at a moderate computation this single
ship must have brought from 2000 to 3000 slaves.

" I have, &c.

(Signed) "Howden.

"To Viscount Palmerston, &c."

Mr. Acting Consul Westwood to Lord Palmerston.

"Rio de Janeiro, Dec. 20th, 1847.
" In conformity to instructions from Her Majesty's Minister
at this Court, I have the honour to inform your Lordship that
there are now two steam vessels regularly employed in the slave
trade between this port and the African coast, namely, the
' Providencia,' and the ' Theresa,' both under the Brazilian flag."

Mr. Consul Porter to the same.

"Bahia, Dec. Slst, 1847.

" It appears from the slave returns which I have had the
honour to transmit to your Lordship that 3,500 slaves have been
landed in the vicinity of this city during the quarter ending this
day, being the largest importation that has taken place during a
like period for the last eight years. * * *

It appears that the slave trade is increasing in a great degree,
which may be accounted for by the great temptation now held
out to individuals to embark in this traffic, as small shares can
be obtained in the companies established here for that purpose.

"The American brig ' George,' which sailed hence for Africa,
on the 29th of August last, returned hither on the 16th inst.,
under Brazilian colours, landing a cargo of 726 slaves in a miser-




pointed, and that the foundations on which they
condescended to base their arguments and assertions
have been shewn to be of the sandiest and most
unworthy description.

I think you will not be able to avoid admitting,
when the subject next comes before Parliament,
although you have hitherto shrunk from doing so,
that the question really at issue is, whether the cul-
tivation of the sugar-cane shall pass from the hand»
of the free-labour farmers of the British Colonies
into those of the slave-drivers of Cuba and Brazil
— whether the vast capital which you have so
strenuously urged our commercial adventurers to
invest in our colonies since 1833, shall be utterly
annihilated ; and whether England shall in future
depend for her saccharine supplies on the labour of
the free man or the slave.

able state of starvation, 1 1 1 poor creatures having perished on
the passage from deficiency of water and provisions." — 1st Re-
port, S. T. A. Appendix.

"Falmouth, May 9th, 1848*
" H.M. Packet Swift, Lieut. Lory, R.N., arrived this morning
about ten o'clock, with mails from the Brazils.

"The Firebrand steamer, was expected at Rio within a week.
By her. Lord liowden returns to this countiy, having failed in
effecting a treaty with Brazil. The slave trade is carried on to
an enormous extent, about 5000 slaves having been landed in
Bahia in two months, from thirteen vessels, and about 7000 more
in the neighbourhood of Campos, Rio Grande, and Rio Janeiro.
There are several steamers employed in that inhuman and de^
moralizing tva,ffi.c." —Times, May 23, 1848.


There can be no doubt but that you are now
alive to the cruel errors of which you have been
guilt}-, and that you would not be unwilling to
assist us in any way which would not infringe upon
the integrity of the Sugar Bill of 1846, and declare
the ignorant rashness of your legislation with regard
to the Sugar Colonies since your assumption of

If your measures had been passed deliberately,
after due information had been collected respecting
the social condition of our various sugar growing
colonies,* — after a system of prompt and regular
immigration had been matured, and full preparation
made for immediately conceding to the colonies the
advantages as well as the disadvantages of Free-
trade — it would have been easier to account for the
morbid affection with which you so obstinately cling
to that premature and abortive measure.

But, subsequent events have shewn that none of
these precautions had been taken.

When you decided that the country should pay a
diminished price for our produce, you proposed, by
repealing the Navigation Laws,t by equalizing the

* Two years afterwards. Sir C. Wood declared that labour in
Jamaica was to be obtained at a much less cost than during
slavery ; and Lord Grey refuted statements respecting the high
wages required by the labourers in that island in 1848, by shew-
ing, "from an official authority," that a year before, wages had
been low in Tobago, which is exactly as distant and as differently
circumstanced from Jamaica, as Corsica is from the Isle of Dogs.

t The late Vice-President of the Board of Trade informed a
witness before Lord George Bentinck's Committee, that the ope-


spirit duties,* and above all, by giving us an imme-
diate command of" labour, to enable us, nevertheless,
to realize a fair and reasonable profitfrom ourestates.

The assurances which you at the same time held
out to English capitalists, that our West Indian
colonies still offered a most favourable field for
investment, and the indignant manner in which you
disclaimed the possibility of a revival of the slave
trade being caused by any act of yours, clearly
prove that you did not anticipate the disastrous
results which have since ensued from your hasty

Your bill passed. The price of British colonial
sugar fell one-half, that of slave gj'own produce
fully maintained the standard at which it had
ranged prior to 1846.

It then transpired that no arrangements whatever
had been matured by the Colonial Office for obtaining
immigration from Africa — no conclusive information
had been collected as to the points from whence it was
to be procured; it was then, and is, 1 believe, still,
a moot point, whether the Kroo Coast or Cape Castle,
could supply us with many or with any labourers.

ration of the Navigation Laws mulcted our West Indian colonies
jn the annual sum of 36500,000. If Mr. Milner Gibson's statis-
tics are to be relied upon, it was surely unjust to expose us to this
tax, in addition to the high duties already levied on our produce
for two years, before any attempt was made to revise those Laws ;
but I beg to add, that I hold myself in no way responsible for the
accuracy of the above calculation of that able Whig Minister.

* The duties on British and colonial spirits remain still uiie-


The Navigation Laws remained intact, the spirit
duties unequalized, whilst the slave trade instantly
doubled in amount. Not even a quarter of the
slaves captured by our cruisers since 184-6 have
been conveyed to the West Indian colonies.* And
when, after the lapse of nearly a year and a half.
Lord Grey had at length collected materials for his
famous immigration manifesto of November 2, that
statesman -like but tardy conception fell to the
"ground still-born.

Not only the colonists of Guiana and Trinidad
and Jamaica had been ruined in the interval, and
the mercantile houses connected with them in this
country driven into the Gazette, by the fatal delay
which had occurred, but no other adventurers
appeared anxious to take their places, in spite of
the tempting solicitations of Lord Grey, and the

* According to Sir C. Wood, 40,000 free immigrants have been
imported into Guiana, and 20,000 into Trinidad during the last
fifteen years, entirely at the expense of the colonists.

According to Lord Palmerston, 64,000 slaves were imported
into Brazil during 1846, and a like number in 1847, whilst from
1840 to 184.5 the number annually exported from Africa had
averaged but ;:{2,600.

The moment a slave lauds in Brazil his energies are concen-
trated in the cultivation and manufacture of sugar, until death
releases him. The immigrants into Guiana and Trinidad work
where, when, and as little as they please, their labour has thus
been of little value, and they have in many cases found the
meddling humanity of the Colonial Office as fatal to them as
the lash of the Mayoral has proved to the negro.—

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Online LibraryMatthew James HigginsIs cheap sugar the triumph of free trade? A second letter to the Rt. Hon. Lord John Russell, &c. &c. &c → online text (page 1 of 5)