Colonial Governors were required to submit extensive reports on the economic and social progress of their respective colonies. They were statistical, un-embroidered, and dispassionate pieces of writing. Governor’s called it as they saw it. For Governor Bayley of the Bahamas, the country was filled with criminals involved in forcing foreign ships onto shallow reefs and those who gave tacit approval to the crime of ‘wrecking’.
Bahamians were branded a lazy people.
Agriculture was largely dying and the country was already importing meat from Florida.
The negro was given short shrift. He was lazy and largely dismissed.
The Bahamian negro creole was ill considered as well, he was a “grumbler and a gossip.”
Interestingly, the most flattering comments, if they can be called so, were given to newly landed Liberated Africans. They were called hard workers who took on the tough labour jobs.
The mulattos were well considered. The educated ones were seen as great contributors.
On Thursday, October 1, 1861, printed in its entirety in The London Evening Standard, an economic article appeared detailing the progress of the British West Indies colonies. The monarch at this time, was Queen Victoria. The article, was called, Report On The Past and Present State of Her Majesty’s Colonies.
Before we turn specifically to the Bahamas, there are very interesting details about what happened after “The Negro Emancipation Act” had been passed, as it concerned all the colonies in general.
It was said that if immigration from India and China had not been encouraged, after Negro Emancipation, most of the colonies would have gone back to weeds and jungle. A general consensus, for all the colonies, was that the newly emancipated negro did not have the necessary skills or the drive.
“This document relates to eighteen of the West Indian islands. In consequence of their difference in area, population, and produce, they are of course of varied and unequal interest, but as we are on willing to be any of them entirely unnoticed, we shall classify them under separate headings, so as to preserve local distinctiveness instead of combining all under one general view; in the execution of this task we commence with Jamaica…”
“…It was the strongly expressed opinion of Governor Darling that, on an average of seasons, the export of sugar will rarely exceed 30,000 tens, unless immigrant contract labour be more largely employed; and this leads to the subject of negro industry. The governor sees no prospect “of an augmentation of the effective strength of that portion of the native population who work for hire on the larger plantations,” because he doubts whether sufficient wages can be given for sugar cultivation to stimulate the negro, who is fonder of his ease than of money…”
“If the African race cannot be roused to activity by high wages, they work diligently when they cultivate the soil on their own account; and these are now rising up as an independent, respectable and trustworthy middle class. They are even becoming employers of hired labour. The gratifying result is that the emancipated race evince a capacity for freedom when they can appropriate to themselves a fair share of the wealth they create…
…Many years have elapsed since Mr. Carey, the American economist, expressed his conviction that what is now witnessed in Jamaica would prove the solution of slavery in the Southern states. He predicts that a time will come when “there will be seen to arise a class of free black men, cultivating for their own use their own land, bought from their old masters, who will find in the price of the land a compensation for the price of the labour.”
“These are an appendage to the government of Jamaica. The chief source of revenue is derived from the salinas, an export duty on salt being levied of one farthing per bushel of 35 imperial quarts. The population is only 3250 souls, and with that fact we may dismiss this little group.”
“…The most interesting part of this report refers to immigration. It is know that most of the colonies must have perished, or returned to a state of weeds and jungle, had not labourers been procured from India and China after the Negro Emancipation Act had been passed. In 1858 the Indian population in Trinidad was 8854; in 1859, it was 13,544, but this was not entirely due to new arrival, but was partly attributable to the registration of many adults committed in the former census, and principally to a more particular registration of children.
…The Bengalee coolies are preferred to those from Madras on account of they superior docility; and the latter are said to be intemperate, idle, and desponding. In Trinidad there are orphan homes and training schools for Indian immigrants, and there isa well balanced proportion between the children of both sexes, which augurs favourable for their social future.”
Bahamas Governor Charles John Bayley (1857 – 1864) wrote in his report on the Bahamas, the following:
“…The staple produce this colony consists of pineapple and oranges; but there is another source of trade which will astonish most of our readers— that is “wrecks,” which is the very words of the report are described as “the great and constant element of our trade and revenue.” Neither agriculture nor manufactures offer any profit compared to that derived from the wrecker’s vocation. But this subject is so curiously instruments and we shall transfer to our columns the language of the report:- “This calling, which distributes prizes among blacks and white alike, puts on a level and gives to both the opportunities of easy self-indulgence. As I have often had to remark, it involves crime and the convenience of crime.”
“The negro in the Bahamas is not so favourably spoken of as equal in Jamaica. The negro creole in the Bahamas is not devoid of ambition, but lacks persistent will and energy, both physical and mental. He is happier with his hominy and plot of ground than he would be if assured of a handsome independence on the condition of eight or ten year’s hard work. He is a grumbler and a gossip. Such are the descendants of the ancient slaves; but the case is very different with those fresh from Africa and just rescued from Spanish slave ships. These are generally useful and energetic, and they perform the rougher work of the colony.
The mulatto and his varied species are the best of this race: they have pride, ambition, and energy, and, when educated, are capable of the success to which the aspire. Such are the distinction is pointed out by Governor Bayley. There is little industry in the Bahamas group.”
“The islands of Eleuthera and Saint Salvador raise fruit for the English and American markets, but in the whole colony the culture of corn is trifling, and that of cotton is wholly neglected while the Nassau market is supplied with meat from the southern district of the United States. It is recommended that steam navigation be established between New Providence and the outer islands.”