The Morant Bay Rebellion of
Theme: Popular protests and
Topic: Labour Protest
Background to the Morant Bay
• Abolition August 1,1834.
• End of apprenticeship August 1,1838.
• Many ex-slaves were willing to continue
working on plantations but often found
planters were not willing to offer good
wages and conditions .
• Some sources described process as ‘the
flight from the estates”
Background cont’d
• Douglas hall
• “ flight from the estate reconsidered”
… that the majority of ex-slaves •
wished to remove themselves
from the estates on which they
suffered so much in the days
of bondage; that the ex-slaves •
were.apparently, with some
reluctance , forced to leave the
estates because of the harsh
attitudes and demands of their
masters, the ex-slave owners;
and. In either case, that the
movements clearly depended
on availability of land.( Hall,
1978, p.8)
• Pull factors
General desire for
Availability of land
Long-standing antipathy
to plantation due to past
The movement of ex-slaves from the estates
was not a flight from the horrors of slavery. It
was a protest against the inequities of early
freedom. It is possible that, had the exslaves been allowed to continue in the use
of free gardens, houses and grounds, and to
choose their employers without reference to
that accommodation, there would have been
very little movement of agricultural labour at
all from the communities apparently
established on the estate during slavery. (
Hall, 1978,p.23)
• Push factors
Nature of employers’
labour recruitment.
Labour retention policy.
Insecurity of occupancy.
Limited ability to influence
price of labour (low
Exhorbitant rent.
• Regional variation in
labour situation
• Based on population
• Land availability.
• 3 categories of
Old, small, heavily populated
(barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts)
Larger colonies, most fertile land
already in cultivation, less valuable
land still available, ( Jamaica)
Fairly large, thinly populated territories,
possibilities for smallhold settlement,
(Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica)
High, medium and low density
colonies.(William Green)
Woodville Marshall –the post-slavery labour
problem revisited. (1990)
• Abolition demanded the creation of a new labour system.
• To classify the situation as a ‘problem’ signifies that persons had
little or no experience in that area.
• Problems which existed were not “labour problems” rather problem
of labour relations.
• There was variation in labour supply between the different territories.
• In some territories, (Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica, St. Lucia) there
were clear signs of labour shortage before emancipation.
• In other territories, (Barbados, Antiqua, St. Kitts) high population
density, small size and a monoculture suggested the potential for
adequate labour.
• Negroes faced possibility of low wages, limited opportunities for
non-plantation employment, and consequently lower standard of
Negroes’ reponse to labour situation:
Industrial action
Squatting ( esp. Trinidad, Dominica)
Land ownership & formation of “proprietary
villages”-assisted by non-conformist missionaries, planters, & land
MarshallEmployers’ labour recruitment and retention policies
• Policies tried first in
Antigua ( full freedom
• Post slavery labour
• Antigua Contract Act
of 1835
• Rationalisation in labour
use-emancipation offered
opportunity to trim labour
force.Dispensed with
aged, infirm, infants.
• Coercive policy based on
conditional tenancy .
• Selective recruitment
• Ex-slaves
• Ex-slaves wanted
continued access to
provision grounds and
• Opportunity to sell a
portion of their labour.
• Re-allocation of labour
time to include ownaccount activity.
• Legal alienation of land.
• Planters
• Daily labour at stipulated
• Conditional tenancy.
• Labour-rent.
• The existence of ‘pull’ factors can be posited, not on the
remembered horrors of slavery but on those protopeasant activities which are an element in the ‘push’
factors. In other words, while there is probably no simple
linear progression from proto-peasant activity in slavery
to full peasant existence in full emancipation, the
possibility does exist that the desire for economic activity
and life-style, free from constant hassle and conferring
full choice over the allocation of labour timemay have
impelled those who could afford to make conversion to
do precisely that as soon as full emancipation provided
options in residence and employment.(p12)
Jamaica in the 1860’s
• Impact of
emancipation 1834
• Early termination of
apprenticehip 1838
• Sugar duties
equalisation act 1846
(Effective 1854)
• Deteriorating labour
relations between exslaves and planters.
• Immigration.
• Deteriorating relationship
between planters and
• Town party vs. country
Conditions in Jamaica in 1865
source: Black, C. V. (1983) History of Jamaica
• lack of land for small
• High unemployment.
• Low wages.
• Irregular wage payment /
payment in kind rather
than cash.
• Series of droughts.
• Religious revival
• Floods
• Effect of American
civil war on
• Steep rise in price of
foodstuff, esp. salt
fish and grain.
• Increase in taxation.
• Increase in fees to
use local markets.
Jamaica in 1865
• In Feb. Dr. Edward underhill, secretary of the baptist
Missionary society of great britain wrote letter to colonial
office, describing conditions in Jamaica, especially for
the ex-slaves.
• Governor, Edward John Eyre contradicted the charges
when the letter was referred to him by the CO.
• Eyre’s actions led to a series of protest meetings been
organised . These were called “ Underhill meetings”
• George William Gordon presided over a large gathering
in Kingston.
Jamaica in 1865
• Some peasants in St. Ann drew up a
petition to the queen complaining of their
poverty which they claimed had increased
due to the high unemployment and
drought conditions. They asked for idle
(crown) land to cultivate.
• They sent the petition to governor Eyre
who attached his own comments and
forwarded the letter to Great Britain.
The Queen’s advice
14 june 1865
• I have received Her Majesty’s command to inform them
• ( the petitioners) that the prosperity of the labouring
classes as well as other classes, depends inJamaica
and in other countries, upon their working for wages, not
uncertainly, or capriciously, but steadily and contnuously,
at the times when their labour is wanted, and for as long
as it is wanted; and that if they would use this industry
and therfore render the plantations productive, they
would enable the planters to pay them higher wages for
the same hours of work than are received by the best
field labourers in this country;
Queen’s Advice
• And as the cost of the necessities of life is much less in
Jamaica than it is here, they would be enabled, by
adding prudence to industry, to lay by an ample provision
for seasons of drought and dearth; and they may be
assured, that it is from their own industry and prudence,
in availing themselves of the means of prospering that
are before them, and not from any such schemes as
have been suggested to them, and they must look for an
improvement in their condition; and that Her Majesty will
regard with interest and satisfaction their advancement
through their own merits and efforts.”
• Source:Augier, F.R. Gordon, S.C. (1962) Sources of
West Indian History. Longman caribbean (p178)
Responses to Queen’s advice
• Governor Eyre felt triumphant. He printed and
distributed 50 thousand copies of document all
over jamaica.
• The blacks felt that their last hope had died and
that no one cared about their plight.
• Others like George William Gordon realised that
the reponse reflected Governor Eyre’s views
more than that of the Queen.
• Anger grew throughout Jamaica.
The road to Morant Bay
• August 1865- after open
air meeting in St. Thomas
a group of persons
including Paul Bogle was
selected to travel to
Spanish Town to bring
their concerns to the
attention of the governor
After the delegation walked
all the way to Spanish
Town, Governor Eyre
refused to see them.
Bogle started to hold secret
meetings and to train his
Bogle secured assurances
of assistance from some
maroon groups.
The chronology of Morant Bay
October 7, 1865-court case involving
one of Bogles’s followers.
Bogle and over 200 other spectators
attended the trial.
An assault case was tried first and the
man was found quilty.
A spectator shouted that the accused
should pay the fine but not the costs.
The police attempted to arrest the
offender but he managed to escape
with the assistance of Bogles’s.
The case involving Bogle’s follower
concluded without any interference.
Upon his return home to Stony Gut, Bogle
learnt that arrest warrants had been
issued for the arrest of himself and 27
The charges were rioting, rsisting arrest
and assaulting the police.
3 days later members of the police arrived
in Stony Gut to arrest these men.
The police tried to hold Bogle but his cries
brought 250 persons to his rescue.
The crowd rescued Bogle, the police tied
up and threatened with death unless
they change their allegiance from
As soon as they were released they
hurried back to Morant bay and
reported what happened to the
Custos- baron Von Ketlehodt
Morant Bay
• The following day the
custos got word that
people of stony gut
intended to air their
concerns at a scheduled
meeting of the vestry.
• Custos Von Ketelholdt
called out the militia as a
Wednesday, October 11 Bogle
and his men went into Morant Bay,
accompanied by men from
neighbouring districts.
They raided the police station and
stole muskets with fixed bayonets.
Later that afternoon Bogle and his
followers went into the town
square before the court house.
The noise they made brought out
the custos and other vestrymen
out unto a porch.
The Custos shouted to the crowd
to keep back and asked them
what they wanted, but they just
shouted “ war! War!”
Morant Bay
Upon the approach of the crowd,
the magistrates encouraged the
custos to read the “Riot Act”.
Someone threw a soda bottle at
the volunteer Captain and cut his
head open.
At this stage the order was given
to the volunteers to open fire on
the crowd.
7 rioters were killed immediately.
Before the volunteers could reload
their weapons, the crowd rushed
among their ranks, killing and
wounding a number of them
• The volunteer who kept the
bag of ammunition was
harpooned with a fish spear
and the bag stolen.
• The court house and
neighbouring buildings were
attacked and later set on fire.
• 15 persons who fled from the
court house were murdered.
• Custos Von Ketlehodt was
among the persons murdered.
• Morant bay was overrun by
rioters, violence and looting
resulted.The jail was opened
and prisoners released.
Morant Bay
• Paul Bogle returned to Stony
• They had a prayer meeting to
thank God for success so far.
• Rioting broke out throughout
St. Thomas as plantations
were plundered and some
planters murdered.
• The rioters reached as far as
Monklands coffee estate in the
north-west and Elmwood ,
north of manchioneal.
• Martial law was declared in the
county of surrey, except
• Warships – Wolverine & Onyx
were sent to morant bay.
• Troops were sent from
Kingston and Newcastle.
• The maroons joined forces
with the government , instead
of Bogle.
• Governor Eyre immediately
blamed George William
Gordon for the riot.
Governor Eyre about George William Gordon
• He….”.had not only been mixed up with
the matter, but was himself through his
misrepresentations and seditious
language addressed to the ignorant black
people, the chief cause and origin of the
whole rebellion.”
Morant bay
• Custos of Kingston Dr. Louis
Bowerbank had Gordon’s
office searched and when a
map of kingston was found,
marked with certain street
names, he became convinced
that Gordon was the
mastermind behind a scheme
to murder all white people in
Kingston on Sunday October
• The commanding officer for the
troops, General O’Connor
rejected this idea.
• Bowerbank convinced
governor Eyre.
• Governor Eyre issued a
warrant for Gordon’s arrest.
• Gordon turned himself in to
the authorities in Kingston.
• Hw requested permission to
say goodbye to his wife.This
was granted.
• Governor Eyre had him
tranferred to Morant bay where
martial law was declared.
Morant bay
Once in Morant Bay,Eyre
instructed that Gordon be tried
for treason and sedition and
being associated with the
• Gordon was tried on Sunday,
october 21, 1865 , found guilty
and sentenced to be hanged
on the following day.
• His request to be allowed to
see a Weslyan minister at
morant bay was denied. He
was allowed to write to his
• Gordon’s letter to his wife:
• “All I ever did was to
recommend the people who
complained to seek redress in
a legitimate way. I did not
expect that, not being a rebel, I
should have been tried and
disposed of in this way…….”
Morant bay
• Gordon was hanged along with
18 others outside the court
house and their bodies later
thrown into a trench at the
back of the building.
• Bogle was caught by maroons
as he came out of a canepiece
near Stony Gut.
• He was later tried by martial
law and hanged.
• The entire riot lasted about 3
days.and had been completely
crushed within 1 week.
• Martial law continued for a
long time after.
• Over 430 men and women
were either shot ot executed.
• Over 600 persons, including
women were flogged.
• More than 1000 houses and
cottages destroyed.
• Few whites were killed or
Aftermath of Morant Bay.
• Governor Eyre encouraged the
Jamaican assembly to
surrender the constitution and
adopt a new system of
government ( Crown Colony
• He cautioned that there were
plans to make jamaica a
second Haiti, ruled by blacks.
• In January 1866 the british
govt. appointed a Royal
Commission to investigate the
truth about Morant bay.
Aftermath of Morant Bay
• Commission found::
• The disturbance originated in a planned resistance to lawful
• Governor Eyre acted promptly and early to suppress the riot.
• There was excessive severity on the part of the governor, especially
with respect to the trial and hanging of George William Gordon.
• As a result of commision’s report ; Governor Eyre was recalled to
Britain and dismissed from the foreign service.
• In August 1866, Governor Sir John Peter Grant arrived.
Robotham, D “the notorious riot”
:an estimate of damages (p11)
• 354 persons executed Commodore McClintock
by court martial.
“ it is impossible even
to ascertain the total
• 50 shot without trial.
loss of life as great
• 25 shot by the
down by the maroons
• 10 killed “otherwise”.
in the woods: 1500
• 600 people flogged.
lives would perhaps
• 1000 homes and
be a modest
crops burnt.
Involvement of women in Morant BayReport of Royal Commission 1866
• Evidence against Elizabeth Taylor
• Carol Milne: I know Elizebeth; that her. I remember the night of the
trouble. I was in my yard at Church corner. I saw people going into
the Bay before 8 o’clock in the day/ I went to the bridge near the bay
at the west end and I saw her beating Joseph Williams, a volunteer,
with a stick about 3 o’clock in the day after the firing. She was alone.
She asked if his mother was a black woman. He said yes. She
asked him why he joined the volunteers to kill us, you should come
to stony gut and join us.”
• Elizebeth taylor-sentenced to 20 years penal servitude
Women in Morant Bay
• Charlotte Carter – “ I know Elizebeth Faulkner and
Roseanna Finlayson. I saw her come from the parade to
Barnett’s piazza. She said they must go and get a fire
stick and trash and set the school room on fire. She said
the white people were locked up in the court house and if
they set fire to the school room he whole people would
be burnt up alive.
• Elizebeth faulkner was beating at Bennett’s door and
calling out for the people to take out the buckra in them
and kill them. She had a stick.”
Elizebeth Faulkner and Rosanna Finlayson-sentenced to 20 years
penal servitude
Women in Morant Bay
• Against Nancy Murray” She said” we will kill all the buckra but we
save Dr. Major, and he will come to see the wounded. At 2 o’clock in
the morning when my houekeeper ( Mary Ann Thomas) asked if
many were killed she said : Alexander Brown a volunteer, we rolled
him down Fort Jill. We killed the Baron and rolled him down, the
brain is dashed out. We kill Parson Herschell, we cut his neck, and
we kill Inspector Alberga, Mr. McCormack and Mr. Hitchins, a
captain of volunteers and Mr. McCook’s sons and Mr. Walton and
parson Cook get away and Stephen Cook escaped, but if we could
catch him, we would cut off his head.”
• Nancy Murray sentenced to 20 years penal servitude
Interpretations of Morant bay
• Augier, R. Before and after 1865
• IN
Beckles, H & Shepherd, V. (1996)Caribbean Freedom: Economy and Society
from Emancipation to the present
If we interpret the events at Stony Gut and at the court
house in Morant bay correctly as a statement, uttered in
blood, about the unjust relations between men who
belonged to different economic classes and also to
different ethnic groups then the direct efffects of the riot
must be sought in the subsequent attitudes of social
groups towards one another.
• Robotham, D. (1981) “ The Notorious Riot”
• The socio-economic and political base of Paul Bogle’s Revolt
• Thesis- Paul Bogle was a legitimate leader of the Morant Bay riot
NOT “a minor player “ as described by Dutton in his biographical
account of Edward Eyre. Dutton discusses George William Gordon
at length but dismisses Bogle.
• Douglas Hall in Free Jamaica (1959),wrote “ although he ( Bogle)
certainly does not merit recognition as a leader
• or lieutenant of organised rebellion, he showed himself to be a
dangerous man who could command a large body of followeres,
especially in a time of general hardship in a parish in which local
officials were unpopular. (p.15, 253)
Hall, D, Free Jamaica(1959)
• Hall describes the events in Morant Bay in 1865 as a
series of “unhappy coincidences” including :
• The Great religious revival of 1860-62 led to economic
• The american Civil war resulted in increased prices for
imported goods.
Fall in Sugar prices in Britain .
Hall-(a summary)
• The Morant bay rebellion caused grave
setback for Jamaica’s socio-political
development when the Assembly was
abandoned and Crown Colony
government introduced.
• Bogle and his associates fought to extend
the rights in the Old representative system
to the people and as such was as much to
blame as Governor Eyre.
Robotham- Period 1860-65 period of great
hardship in Jamaica.
• Series of local riots
• 1) against tollgate
taxes in sav-la-mar
• 2)against land
evctions of peasants
in Trelawny.
• In general there was
great pressure on the
jamaican people.
• In St. Thomas workers moved
from estate to estate in search
of jobs. There was none to be
• Overseers sent workers with
letters of recommendation from
estate to estate to see if they
could get work. Very few
succeeded in getting
• Planters limited their labour
force and reduced wages.
Workers were turned away
from estates, many with tears
in their eyes.
Robotham’s thesis
• “The riots of the 1850’s , the struggle
against eviction, the Revival and the
events of 1865 really constitute a single
chain of events whose source lay deep in
the oppressive economic and political
conditions of the people in the postemancipation period.” (p.26a)
Robatham –political and economic
conditions which created crisis.
• Land question –source
of problem.
• Labour
• Reduction in wages.
• Increases in cost of
• Taxes.
• Question of political
• Question of justice.
• Post-emancipation
• Blacks desired lands
which were rent free
• Blacks resented the
existing labourservice system:
Labour-service system
• Underhill, 1862:
• “No labourer likes to live on the estates, nor will he do
so unless necessity constrains it, for fear of being turned
off when any dispute arises, and the whole of his
provision grounds be forfeited. Service must be rendered
to the planter on whose land he resides; and he dare not
choose any other master. The rent paid for provision
gounds is 20s. Per acre; land is rented only for
provisions. The people plant their own land with sugar
cane, or cultivated coffee upon it, or other exportable
articles; for proprietors of estates will not lend land for
those purposes.”
• “There can be little doubt that if the
process of securing legal title had been
simplified and an agrarian reform had
been carried out, it would have resulted in
greater economic prosperity and a more
rapid rate of economic development in
Jamaica in the 19th century.”
• “The people were freed in 1838 but the
material basis of real freedom were denied
• Legislation post – 1834 created
landlessness and the labour-service
• “It should also not be forgotten
should that this question of
land was closely related to the
question of political power. In
the period with which we are
dealing, the right to vote was
directly related to the
possession of land.
• (p.41)
• Because they controlled both
the central and local
government systems, the
planters were able to use their
power not only to impose
grave economic hardship on
the people but also to take the
burden of taxation off their own
backs, off the backs most able
to bear it and put it on the
backs of the poor.”
• (p.46)
• Between 1840-1865
• Tax on clothes worn by people
increased by 1,150%
• Tax on salt fish increased by
• Tax on mackeral went up
• Tax on herrings increased by
• Tax on donkeys went up by
• Tax on horses increased by
• Boats and canoes were
required to pay 20s each
unless used for plantation
• Carts usedfor non-plantaion
purposes were charged 18s
each annually.
• In contrast:
• Duties were removed from plantation supplies.
• Wood and lumbar used on plantations had tax reduced
by 52 %
• Taxes on plantation horses and mules was reduced.
• Tax on rice was reduced by 14 %.
• Only roads leading to grat houses and plantations were
repaired from tax revenue.-The Main Road Law.
• Large amount of taxes used to import immigrants and to
pay salaries of Anglican clergy.
Robatham-economic decline in
• Decline in sugar prices by 3s.5d. Per cwt.
• Rum prices fell from 4s. Per gallon to about 3s.
Per gallon.
• Logwood and pimento prices declined steadily.
• Coffee suffered a 20% drop in export.
• By 1865 total earnings from sugar, coffee, rum,
logwood and pimento decline by 22%.
• Increase in number of children seeking
employment “picanny gangs”
Robatham-other factors affecting
Jamaican society in 1865
• American civil war caused sharp increase in
wholesale prices.(e.g. cornmeal, flour,peas
• Flood followed by drought -1864-1865.
• Decline in estates in production. ( from 600 after
emancipation to 300 in 1865)
• Population increase ( from 350,000 at
emancipation to 450,000 in 1864)
• Widespread job layoffs –irregular employment.
Robatham-the jamaican justice
system in 1860’s
• “Thus as the economic crisis deepened and the planters
sought every means to preserve their income by the
harshest exploitiation of the people, the judiciary
became a vital link in the whole chain of oppression
binding the people. Docking of wages, fines, trespass,
larcency, evictions, became crucial issues and the
planters made sure that state power was as fully
mobilised as possible to enforce their economic
extortions. Thus it was no accident that the issue which
sparked the riot occurred at a court house, nor that this
institution became the focus for the anger of the people.”
• (p.67)
• Increase in number of
cases against
peasants especially
for larcency. &
trespassing .
• Increase in
• Rise in crimes
committed by
• Decline in church
• Rise in petty larcency,
assault and abuse.
• Desturction of family
• Nakedness,
• “Thus , the working people the entire post
emancipation economy, the social and
political system, remained bound to
slavery, even in freedom….by the end of
the first decade it was obvious that a
profound crisis was accumulating……”
• (p.98)
Past paper questions
• “With reference to the
Morant Bay rebellion
of 1865, comment on
the claim that the
workers of the
caribbean were
determined to
promote their own
interests.” 30 marks
• Discuss the
consequences of the
Morant bay Rebellion
of 1865.
Past paper questions cont’d
• “ A conflict between the old order and new
circumstances” Discuss this view with
reference to ONE of the following workers’
• -Labour protest, St. Vincent, 1862
• -Morant Bay rebellion, Jamaica, 1865
• -Confederation Riots, Barbados, 1876
• (CXC 2005)
Past Paper questions, cont’d
• “Social, economic and political factors were at
the root of the labour protests in the caribbean in
the second half of the nineteenth century.”
• -with reference to this statement, explain the
causes and consequences of ONE of the
following labour protests:
• -1862 labour Protest ( St. Vincent)
• -1865 Borant bay Rebellion(Jamaica)
• -1876Confederation Riots(Barbados)
• (CXC 2008)

The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865