BEFORE AND AFTER 1865
However inadequate we judge the explanation that the Assembly gave for its neglect of the interests of the whole society before 1865, there is a connection between the export economy and the public welfare services. Where so much of the revenue came from import duties, the revenues were affected by the decline in imports which followed whenever the value of exports was reduced. When world market conditions for sugar and other products deteriorated, it was bananas and other fruit which prevented a disastrous decline in the revenue.
Eisner calculates that public expenditures between the end of the eighteen-sixties and the beginning of the nineteen-thirties rose seven-fold on health, eight-fold on public works and twenty-four times on education. It may also be appropriate to notice that from Eisner’s calculations it does not seem that the expenditure on education or on health was ever steadily above ten per cent of the expenditure during the crown colony period up to 1930.
We have acknowledged what was done. We must now estimate its worth to the society. First we consider the machinery of administration. The claim that the system would be rationalised and made more efficient was fulfilled. But without wishing to deny what was accomplished, its limits are suggested by two comments. The efficiency of crown colony government, particularly during its first period when it shone by comparison with the inefficiency of representative government, need not overawe us. It was the inability of the Colonial Office to tell exactly where the finances of Jamaica stood in 1882 which led to the appointment of the Royal Commission of that year. Secondly, efficiency was attained by concentrating all power of making decisions in the hands of the Colonial Secretary.
So the price paid for the advance in administration, was centralisation and paternalism. Almost certainly any reforming government would have centralised administration in the capital; but one which had its roots in the country would not have perpetuated the ascendancy of the Colonial Secretary and the Colonial Secretariat. As a device to bring order out of near chaos, the institution may have been necessary in the years after 1866. If the functionaries of crown colony government had taken seriously their professed intention of working towards its death, authority would have been dispersed, at least after 1884.
Equally damaging to the society was the practice of appointing foreigners as heads of departments long after there had been time to train natives for these posts. In most cases it was simply alleged that natives with the qualities required were not available. But for some posts, such as that of Chief Justice and that of Attorney General, it was argued that natives were not desirable in the interest of justice.
In general we may conclude that the price paid for administrative efficiency was high. In 1865 the high posts in the administration were no longer the preserve of white natives. During most of crown colony government such posts were reserved for white foreigners. Paternalism and the social importance of a white skin were still characteristic of the society in 1865. But these values were by then no longer sacrosanct. By restoring whiteness as a necessary quality for jobs at the top of the administration, crown colon government reinforced the racial prejudices inherent in the society.
Secondly, we consider the services provided through the administrative machinery. For most of the period the British adhered to the principle that a Crown Colony could have all the services its revenues could afford. Within these limits it was left to individual governors to divide the cake. The society benefited from the public services in at least three ways. Jamaica became a more orderly and law abiding, a more healthy and less isolated society after 1865.
The administration of justice during crown colony government restored the confidence of the poor in the court as a place where they might expect a fair trial in a dispute between unequal contenders. They preferred to use the District Courts presided over by foreigners rather than go before the native justices in courts of petty sessions. However the weaknesses of crown colony government are apparent. There were not enough trained justices, those in offices were over-worked; the consequent delay in hearing cases increased the cost of seeking justice. Moreover there was no sustained examination of the substance of the law administered, nor of the extent of the punishment inflicted on the guilty. From time to time administrators in the Colonial Office had good intentions, but here as elsewhere these remained on paper. For instance, against its better judgement, the Colonial Office sanctioned flogging as part of the punishment for praedial larceny in response to local demand.
The building of roads and bridges gradually connected isolated communities. For a long time even the coastal towns had depended on communication by sea. The network of roads not only made it easier for some small settlers to market their crops, it also made possible the growth of that feeling of oneness which later served as the basis for nationalism. If less was done to open up the country than was possible, it was because peasant agriculture remained the unattended step-child of crown colony government, land settlements notwithstanding.
The impetus for much that was attempted came from the report of the Royal Commission of 1897. In urging the British Government to establish a department of Economic Botany in the West Indies, they commented that “the cultivator of one product is often quite ignorant of the best means of cultivating any other, and does not know whether his soil and climate might be better adapted for something else. These remarks have special reference to the small cultivators, but they are not wholly inapplicable to persons interested in the larger estates.” The Imperial Department of Agriculture was established and the local department of agriculture was enlarged, but the money spent on the crops of the small cultivator, the time and energy spent on his problems, were as nothing compared to what was lavished on estate agriculture.