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1865 and After:

In Jamaica, in October 1865, a group of small peasant farmers objected to a legal conviction following a charge of trespass laid against them by an estate-owner. The event sparked off an accumulation of grievance and there was a riot. The riot was immediately defined, by the Governor, and by local people of influence, come of them black and coloured, as a “negro rebellion”. It was violently put down and the elected Jamaican Legislative Assembly, after two hundred years of existence, abolished itself in favour of a form of Crown Colony Government. This act reflected both the prejudices of the Governor and the uneasiness of the established elite who feared the growth of popular influence in the electoral process.

Crown Colony government brought its administrative establishment of British officials. The responsible officers of government were no longer ‘locally recruited. Metropolitan control, always distantly acknowledged, now became a clear and visual presence. Benevolent paternalism succeeded local oligarchy. They both have this in common: that those who govern say to those who are governed, “listen and I’ll tell you what is good for you.” The difference is that whereas benevolent paternalism is by definition benevolent, oligarchic government is not.

Crown Colony government, with successive modifications, lasted for 78 years. In a way, it was surprising that it stayed so long. The old Assembly had yielded, in part, because of growing demands for more popular representation in government. Crown Colony government did not answer that demand. The appearance of white British Colonial Service personnel magnified the frustrations of local people already slipping on their way up the social and occupational ladders. With their white skins, comparatively high salaries and perquisites, and their presumably better education, the administrators seemed to support a continuing relevance of the old criteria.

Commenting on the performance of Crown Colony Government, the Report of the Moyne Commission, following further riots in 1938, contained the indictment:

“The efforts of Your Majesty’s Government and of the Colonial Governments concerned have failed to make for radical reform.”

Clear, but irrelevant. The purposes of Crown Colony government had been to introduce order and economy in the administration, to further the economic prospects of the colony as an exporter of agricultural staples, and to advance the general social welfare of what was described as the “labouring” population. These objectives, surely, were intended not to achieve, but to prevent, radical reform. The Moyne Commission Report concluded that what was needed was money to enable spending on economic development and social welfare. But even after 1945, when the Colonial Development and Welfare organisation beg a n to operate, the emphasis was on welfare rather than on development; and it certainly had nothing to do with change, which is, presumably, the aim of any radical reform. The cake would be bigger, it was hoped; but the recipe was not to be much altered, and although it was intended that the slices should be more generous, they were to be cut in the accustomed proportions.

In 1944, after the riots of the late 1930’s and the emergence of political parties based on militant trade union membership, Crown Colony government in Jamaica ended. A new Constitution re-introduced representative government. There was to be a nominated Legislative Council, but a House of 32 Representatives was to be elected by universal adult suffrage.