Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Echoes Of The 1865 ‘War Dung A Morant Bay’

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM
In commemoration of 150th anniversary of the Morant Bay rebellion, University Singers, of the University of the West Indies, Mona, mounted the first full-length Jamaican opera, for its 2015 season, called 1865. Here, Paul Bogle (Anthony Alexander) leads the march from Stony Gut to Morant Bay.

The following is an abbreviated version of a paper called Echoes Of The 1865 'War Dung A Morant Bay' During The Time of Governor Musgrave by University of the West Indies Professor of Social History Verene A. Shepherd.

October 11, 2015, will mark the 150th anniversary of the 1865 war led by Native

Baptist deacon and social activist Paul Bogle as he and hundreds of Jamaican

people confronted the State in their search for those rights and freedoms they assumed would have accompanied Emancipation in 1838 but which remained elusive decades after.

Most of the attention during this commemorative year will no doubt (and understandably) focus on the martyrs, the more than 400 African-descended people brutally slain through shooting and hanging during and after this war between colonised and coloniser, among them, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, the assemblyman hanged on October 23, 1865, because of suspicion that he was a supporter of Paul Bogle and thus helped to instigate the war.

long prison terms

But in addition to those murdered, there were those who were sentenced to long prison terms and who languished in jail long after 1865. Buried in the correspondence of Sir Anthony Musgrave, governor of Jamaica from 1877-1883, is a request to the Colonial Office (upon the recommendation of Puisne Judge Justice Alan Ker) for the reduction or reversal of the sentences of 11 Jamaicans who were still serving time in 1880 for their part in the Morant Bay War. The 11 comprised eight who had received life sentences and three (two women) who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Governor Musgrave's initial reaction, conveyed through Acting Colonial Secretary E. N. Walker (November 25, 1880), was to ask Justice Ker to review carefully, Sir John Peter Grant's remarks on each prisoner. If after doing so he still felt that clemency was called for, then the request would be forwarded to the secretary of state, the Right Honourable The Earl of Kimberley.

Justice Ker duly reviewed Grant's notes but maintained that while Grant may have had ample justification for his decisions, his opinion "that the clemency of the Crown might be beneficially extended to these prisoners remains unaltered". He went on to review the distressing economic and social conditions and the injustices in St Thomas that had pushed the people to protest. He lamented that the very clergy, which should have "succoured the weak", had sided with the oppression.

no danger to social stability

Ker also considered the 1880 social and political climate unconducive to a similar armed protest ... . In other words, the prisoners posed no danger to social stability and could be sent back to their parish (November 25, 1880).

On December 6, 1880, Governor Musgrave duly wrote to the secretary of state supporting Ker's plea and specifying the details of the request. The request was denied by the Colonial Office. The secretary of state's views were transmitted to Governor Musgrave in a letter dated January 11, 1881.

Let us reflect on this piece of Jamaican history as we remember the contributions of the people of St Thomas and nearby parishes to Jamaica's freedom journey, not just those of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, for they did not struggle alone.

Finally, let us support the Government of Jamaica in its quest for reparation from Britain for colonial atrocities such as those committed in eastern Jamaica in 1865, and let us revisit Governor Edward John Eyre's role in the massacre and imprisonment of Jamaicans and open a public discussion on how modern Jamaica should deal with this memory.