In the Bahamas, we know next to nothing about the British colonial governors, who oversaw and administered, the public affairs of the colony. Truth is, we care little today for the names and personalities of these white men, who were appointed by Parliament in London. It’s a shame, because the actions and personalities of these men, helped to shape the Bahamas, during for all of its existence, under British rule. This really only ended in 1973. These colonial governors, such as they were, are a part of the island’s collective history, whether we like it or not. Bahamians should be able to name governors, the same way some can so easily mumble off names of past United States Presidents.
1835 – In the months and few years following the end of slavery, there were many disputes between former slaves and their masters.
In 1835, Bahamas Governor, William MacBean George Colebrooke, wrote a letter to a stipendiary magistrate which could only be described as a colonial slap. The magistrate had conducted court in the Bluff, Eleuthera to settle a dispute between a former slave master and his former slave. Governor Colebrooke was clearly angry that the magistrate, had taken it upon himself, to rewrite the provisions contained in the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1834.
Slave emancipation, in 1834, didn’t end enforced servitude for the negro and mulatto. What the Abolition Act did, was to move the definition of servitude labour, from master and slave, to employer and apprentice. Provisions within the 1834 Act provided more protection and rights to the Apprentice; more than they ever had as slave. It also legally provided something the negro did not have before. There was now a definitive time limit in which forced labour could be extracted from the former slave. Apprenticeships were to last for seven years, and not one minute longer.
Stipendiary Magistrates and Special Judges were hired from England, Ireland and Scotland to visit the various inhabited Out Islands, by boat, to conduct local court. They heard complaints, disputes and issued writs. This was entirely more prudent than having those involved, in some sort of minor legal dispute, having to make the lengthy journey to Nassau to receive satisfaction.
After Emancipation, many disputes were occurring between former slavemasters and former slaves now called employers and apprentices. Masters were unaccustomed to the new abolition laws. This was especially prevalent on the Out Islands. Negroes and Mulattoes fully aware of the idea of freedom, balked against being treated like a slave and not as the quasi-free, indentured apprentices they now were.
In 1835, a local court took place in the Bluff, Eleuthera, before Thomas Robert Winder, Esquire, Special Justice and Edward Eustace Hill, Special Justice.
Sam, an apprentice was charged with being absent from service to his master for 10 months, despite prodding by constables and another Mr. Smith Special Justice, to go back to service. Sam also flouted the law by working the King’s land, without permission. Sam also was harbouring another runaway apprentice, by the name of, Tulip.
Trial was heard at the Bluff, Eleuthera. Sam begged for the mercy of the court after admitting all charges.
Sentence was passed in Nassau.
Sam was given one month hard labour, 30 lashes of the whip, and had his apprenticeship extended by 10 months.
Response by Governor Colebrooke to the addition of 10 months to Sam’s apprenticeship period.
“I have received your Dispatch dated the 9th of October, No. 95 including the Returns required in my circular, Dispatch of the 12 of July, of the Punishments inflicted on the apprenticed labourers, in the Bahama Islands.
In the list of those Punishments, I perceive an entry made of a case, in which the offender, was condemned to an extension of the term of apprenticeship, for the term of ten months.
I do not at present perceive how such a sentence can be reconciled with the 20th clause is the Act of Parliament, for the Abolition of Slavery, which forbids in the most express terms, the infliction of any such punishments under the authority of any Act of Assembly.
That clause, it is true, provides that during the period of 7 years after apprenticeship, a labourer, may be compelled to atone to his employers for the time which he may have subtracted from his service, by an illegal absence, and for which he may not have made up, by labour performed during his own leisure; but between the future adjustment of this final account between Parties, and the imposition of a prolonged apprenticeship as a penalty for a crime, there is a essential distinction and unless you are in possession of some conclusive argument, in favour of the lawfulness of such punishments, you will immediately rescind all such as have been already imposed and admonish the special magistrates, to abstain from repetition of the practice.
I need hardly observe, that no such argument, can be drawn from language contained in the Colonial Statute, which of course cannot supersede or contravene the provisions of the Act of Parliament.
I have the honour to be …”