« VorigeDoorgaan »
irregular; owing, he thinks, to the rate of wages being fixed too high.
Towards the end of September, the planters became so much alarmed, that an investigation was instituted, and the secret council to whom it was intrusted, after obtaining returns of the working of the system on eighty estates, (half the number in the island,) made a most gloomy report. Gradually, however, the attendance increased; and it is now estimated that there are at work (I do not mean continuously labouring, but giving a fair share of labour for four or five days in the week) about two-thirds of those who worked as slaves. The remaining third consists of young persons sent to school by their parents, and of men and women settled in town in various employments. There are very few, capable of working, who do not work at all; and I have not heard of more than half a dozen who have left the island.'
On returning to Antigua from St. Kitt's, Mr. Innes found that twenty-four labourers had gone to St. Lucia, to work the souffriere there. Here, then, is just the proportion which Mr. Loving anticipated, namely, one-third, who have withdrawn from field labour; but mark the difference between his apprehension of what this one-third would betake themselves to, and the fact. Instead of having recourse to a vagabond life, they are either at school, or 'settled in town in various employments.' There is no vagabondism to suppress; nor has there taken place the slightest civil convulsion. On estates where the planter or attorney has 'the tact to conciliate, and to make the labourers feel that he is ' their friend,' Mr. Innes proceeds to state, the crops are taken ' off without much difficulty; whereas, on plantations where the planter, attorney, or other person in authority is unpopular, there is very great difficulty, and the general business of the estates cannot be kept up; the consequence of which is a sacri'fice of a portion of the present crop, and the certainty of that of a still greater part of next year's. Now we all know what is to be understood by the unpopularity of a person in authority. The cases alluded to are those to which Mr. Loving referred, when he stated, that, from hard treatment and cruel usage', a large proportion of the slaves had become so thoroughly disgusted with agricultural labour, that he anticipated they would at once put down the hoe. It appears that they have not done so, but, even on these estates, continue to labour, though, as might reasonably be expected, with neither the good-will nor the regularity that they manifest where they have been well treated. Can we wish it to be otherwise? Even the popular planters have, it is added, found it necessary to stimulate them by making the industrious 6 of the first class to earn about a dollar a week during crop-time'; (we presume, by introducing task-work;) but, after crop, when there is comparatively little to do, such a stimulus would not, it
is admitted, be necessary; and 'it may rather be expected, that ' even the wages originally fixed will not be maintained.' Desirous of comparing the present expenses of estates, the business of which proceeds satisfactorily, with the expenses during slavery, Mr. Innes went into details with several planters, and he found the expenses under the two systems nearly the same.
The planter has, as formerly, to maintain the old and infirm, but he is relieved from the burden of the children. The expense of medical attendance is generally reduced one-third; there are no Christmas or other extra allowances; and these advantages, added to the saving of food and clothing, are fully equal to the wages paid.' *
Mr. Wildman, an experienced planter, calculated that the cost of his slaves, converted into money, taking aged, and young children, and females into the account, averaged 5l. per head, per annum. Now it can hardly be supposed that, including the aged and children, more than three-fifths could be efficient labourers. If, then, for five slaves costing 251. per annum, the planter had to employ three at the above rate of wages, averaging for the three classes less than 10d. per day, and they worked all the year round five days a week, this would amount to about 31., being 10l. 8s. 4d. per head. But he would not require this amount of labour all the year round; and, except in crop time, this rate of wages, it seems, is not likely to be maintained. It is therefore evident that, by a wise economy of labour, the expense of the new system might be brought far below that of the old one. And Mr. Innes's testimony, confirming our previous calculations, leaves on our minds no doubt of the fact. Absentee proprietors indeed, he says, can have no reliance on their estates being sources of revenue, except by letting them to persons on the spot; and he gives the following instructive illustration of his position.
There is a fine estate here, which, I believe, will not pay its expenses this year from the crop; and it is the general opinion, that next year's crop would, to the proprietor, be unproductive: yet, the gentleman who has charge of it has just taken it on lease, at a rent of 1000l. sterling per annum for the first three years, and 1200l. a year thereafter; considering, no doubt, that when freed from the restricted au
The wages fixed on were 1s. 9d. currency per day for labourers of the first class on sugar estates, and 1s. 6d. currency for the second class. From Mr. Loving's evidence it appears, that the wages of free labourers in the town, as artisans, is about 1s. 6d. sterling per day, or 3s. currency. In Porto Rico, a free labourer will work in the field from sunrise to sunset for about 1s. sterling per day. In Cuba, the rate of wages for working on a sugar-plantation is deemed high at two pisettas (about 1s. 6d.).
thority of an agent, and invested with the power of a principal, he will be able to bring back and retain the labourers who have left the estate. It is supposed that he will realize largely by the lease, and the proprietor has at the same time a certain income, good security being given for the rent. Other estates have been let recently, on terms supposed to be beneficial alike to landlord and tenant. These transactions shew that persons of experience calculate on the eventual success of free labour in this island.'
Surely these facts will open the eyes of absentee proprietors in this country. Another very striking fact is adduced in the Author's report of St. Vincent, which will not be out of place here, as shewing how advantageously the expenses of cultivation might be diminished by the introduction of a better system of husbandry.
In support of this opinion I may quote the experience of a gentleman in the island (St. Vincent), who in a few years has rendered most important services to the colony. Although not brought up to farming, he had attended to the cultivation of a piece of land near his residence in Yorkshire. Being a man of research, he sought information from agricultural publications and practical farmers, and soon acquired considerable knowledge. Finding his estate in this island managed at great expense in proportion to its crops, he determined to visit it, and endeavour to discover the cause and apply a remedy. After residing a short time on his plantation, he took the management into his own hands. Ruin was universally predicted. Instead of the verification of this prediction, he is now admitted to be one of the most enlightened as well as successful planters in the island. He has greatly reduced expenses; (in some departments more than one half;) and he has almost doubled the crops. He is more fortunate than his neighbours in having abundance of land, which enables him, without diminution of cane-cultivation, to allow rest to one-fourth; he has taught his apprentices the best way of cultivating their provision ground: without allowing any of it to rest, he has so arranged the succession of crops, that the same article will only be raised from the same ground at intervals of six years, which prevents its impoverishment; he has thus given them an interest in what was formerly only a labour; and he has no apprehension that his apprentices will desert him on the termination of the apprenticeship. Should any leave him, he doubts not that there will be competition for the vacant cottages and grounds, instead of his having to seek for occupants.'
So strong is the attachment of the negroes, indeed, to their cottages and grounds, that, in this same island, several non-prædial apprentices, who are entitled to freedom in 1838, have, for the sake of retaining them, applied to be classed as prædials, that they may not be free till 1840. Under such circumstances, what room can there be to fear a withdrawment of labourers from the soil? Nothing but cruel treatment could drive them away.
But we have yet to notice the operation of the free labour system in Antigua upon the interests of the negroes themselves. The change, Mr. Innes remarks, has operated unequally.
The man who has merely to labour for himself, has benefited largely, whilst the mother of young children has had to submit to a great increase of labour and care. The mothers generally are so anxious for the education of their children, that many are kept at school after they are capable of working for subsistence. This deprives the planter of many of those on whom he had calculated to form his third class or gang..... As marriages increase, (and they are increasing rapidly,) the custom of throwing the whole support of children on the mother will diminish; and as domestic comforts advance, females will be progressively withdrawn from field labour. This is a necessary consequence, to which the planters must not shut their eyes: they must endeavour to counterbalance such loss of labour by taking advantage of discoveries and inventions for abridging it.'
This caution, except so far as regards the wisdom of economizing labour, can scarcely be necessary, since any withdrawment of hands arising from the advance of civilization is sure to be counterbalanced by the natural increase of the labouring population; and both together, by at once increasing the competition for employment and for local settlement, and by creating fresh motives to industry, cannot fail to give the planters, before long, an amply sufficient command of labour: so that wages will speedily be reduced to their minimum. Even now, wherever task-work is had recourse to, the labourers perform it expeditiously; and Mr. Innes admits that it might be introduced much more extensively with advantage.
We now leave it to the verdict of our readers, to decide whether the experiment of substituting wages for the whip has not succeeded in Antigua to as great an extent as the most sanguine Abolitionist ever ventured to anticipate. That the transition has been made without any disturbance, with scarcely any temporary inconvenience, without, so far as appears, any loss to the planters in this Island, is, we admit, greatly owing to the laudable attention which had previously been given to the moral and religious instruction of the slaves. That fact, however, leaves without excuse the slave-holders of other colonies, who have discountenanced and even vehemently opposed any similar efforts to prepare the negroes groaning under their tyranny for emancipation; nor can they be allowed to take advantage of their own wrong, by detaining the slaves in bondage, because they have kept them in ignorance and degradation so as to disqualify them morally for a state of freedom. That, under such circumstances, no inconvenience should result from the liberation of the slaves, could not be reasonably expected. But it is evident, from the Antigua experiment, that the causes which rendered a transition
from slave labour to free labour at all hazardous, are to be resolved into the vicious economy which had become identified with the old system,-viz. absenteeism, bad husbandry, exclusive reliance upon manual labour, and the sacrifice of capital to produce immediate returns in the shape of sugar-crops, which, like the gold mines of Brazil, have proved ruinous riches to most of their possessors. We shall see presently, that the only doubt that remains as to the safety and expediency of an immediate adoption of free labour throughout the colonies, in the mind of Mr. Innes, or indeed of any competent witness, relates exclusively to the cultivation of that precious bane,'-the staple of the sugar colonies.
Let us now see how the apprenticeship scheme is reported to be succeeding in some of the colonies. The island in which Mr. Innes found it working more to the satisfaction of the planters 'than in any other colony,' is St. Christopher's, commonly called St. Kitt's.
Planters who had anticipated difficulty in taking off their crops, admit that they have experienced none, and that the work for the ensuing crop is further advanced than usual. Even the termination of the apprenticeship is now looked forward to with diminished apprehension, and there are persons of property in the island desirous of increasing their stake in land. This happy state of affairs is accounted for by the negroes having discovered, on the outbreaking in August, that insubordination would be promptly suppressed and severely punished; while the stipendiary magistrates, by their firmness, taught the apprentices that good conduct alone could avail them.'
These circumstances have, no doubt, had a beneficial influence; but they will not, of themselves, account for the good conduct of the labourers. Mr. Innes does not advert to the influence which education or religious instruction may have had upon the negroes of this colony, further than is indicated by the significant remark, that the schools are numerous and well attended.' The Wesleyan Missionary Society has five missionaries in this island, who occupy seven stations; and there are, according to the last Report, 2,495 members in society. The Moravians have also long had a mission here. It is evident that the instruction of the people has been better attended to than in most of the colonies; and we infer from Mr. Innes's report, that agriculture is in a much more improved state. The plough is in extensive use; there are about five steam-engines, and the same number of water-mills; and an Agricultural Society was formed in 1831, with a view to encourage free labour. That it has not succeeded in inducing free persons to work on sugar-estates, is not surprising, considering the idea of degradation connected with what has hitherto been slave labour. On one estate, the proprietor has adopted a system of free labour without relinquishing the ap