1805: British MPs take offence at suggestion those who murder slaves should be punished

1805: British MPs take offence at suggestion those who murder slaves should be punished

4 July 2020 0 By leeh

In 1802, the House of Commons took ‘great offence’ at the suggestion it be made a felony to murder slaves in Barbados. The penalty for the crime stood at £11 4s (approx £495 which would have also bought you one horse or two cows) as noted in a letter from Lord Seaforth, Governor of the slave colony, to  Lord Hobart, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

Francis Mackenzie, 1st Baron Seaforth (c) The Highlanders’ Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A continuation of this correspondence showed ‘in what a deplorable state of unprotected wretchedness the hapless negro race are place in Barbadoes, the oldest and most civilised of our slave colonies’.

In 1805, ‘a militia man of the name of Halls, of the St Michael’s regiment’ ‘cooly and deliberately plunged his bayonet several times’ into a pregnant woman, the mother of ‘five of six children’ ‘without the slightest provocation’.

Although brought before a magistrate, he official could do nothing but say he ‘regretted the deficiency of our law, but that there was a penalty due to the King in such cases.’

Halls was imprisoned until he paid the fine of £11 4s because they were unable to imprison him for the murder of the pregnant black woman. It was not normal to be jailed in such circumstances and Halls only spent any time locked away at all because the witness, a ‘gentleman’ named Mr Harding, had described how horrific the event had been, declaring himself that Halls ‘ought to be hanged’.

He wasn’t although the President of the Council said how ‘Lamentable indeed it is, that our Assembly should look upon such things with cold indifference.”

Lord Seaworth seems to have tried all he could to implore the British givernment to change their views, writing to Earl Camden in 1904 “I inclose four papers containng, from different quarters, reports on the horrid murders I mentioned in some former letters. They are selected from a great number, among which there is not one contracdiction of the horible facts, though severl of the letters are very concise nd defective.

“The truth is, that nothing has given me more trouble than to get to the bottom of these businesses, so horribly absurd are the prejuduces of the people. Owever, a great part of my object is answered, by the alarm my interference has excited. Bills are already prepared to makde muder feliny, but I fear they will be through out for the present in the Assembly. The Council are unaimous on the side of humanity”.

The letters he refers to are written by some of the ‘most respectable individuals in the Island of Barbadoes’ including the President of the Council, Mr. Ince, the Advocate-General Mr. Coolthurst, the Attorney-General, Mr. Beccles and the Rev. Mr. Pilgrim.

The name of the woman Halls killed was never mentioned.