A BASKET TO CARRY WATER : THE MISSION OF THE EARL OF SLIGO, GOVERNOR OF JAMAICA AT THE TIME OF EMANCIPATION

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A BASKET TO CARRY WATER : THE MISSION OF THE EARL OF SLIGO, GOVERNOR OF JAMAICA AT THE TIME OF EMANCIPATION
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   1 “ A BASKET TO CARRY WATER  ”: THE MISSION OF THE EARL OF SLIGO, GOVERNOR OF JAMAICA AT THE  TIME OF EMANCIPATION Veronica Salter One of the most misunderstood Irishmen who spent time In Jamaica, in my opinion, was the Earl of Sligo Peter Howe Browne, the Incumbent Governor at Emancipation. He came from an ‘ Old English ’ 1 . family that arrived In Ireland with the Normans. The name ‘ Browne ’ , is not a reference to the colour brown, but is a derivative of the Norman word de Bruin, meaning ‘ of the Bear ’ . The Isolation of the Browne family in Mayo, one of the counties of Connacht  2  in the western region of Ireland ensured that they had close contact with the town and took an active part in local activities. They were far ‘beyond the pale! 3  In the family the Irish context was strong, as indeed was common amongst the Norman settlers, (who arrived in the 12 th  Century) six of the eight wives of Sli go’s  ancestors were local women from West of Ireland, though his own mother was not Irish. Family background, and especially the strong socializing of the mother always affects attitude, and like so many other Irish aristocrats this meant that the Browne family supported Ireland In Anglo Irish questions. “For three centur ies their love of Westport and a belief In Ireland had persisted “ 4 In   2 outlook –  the Brownes had a built in Irish dimension, and their house was their family home, not a hunting lodge, as was the case with landed gentry in Ireland. In Mayo it is significant that there were no Cromwellian plantatIons 5  due to not only the poverty of the land but also its remoteness –  In fact the war cry of Cromwellian forces was to banish the people ‘to Hell  or to Connacht ( “Hell” was a reference to the Caribbean, in particular the ‘ Barbadoes ’  and also to Jamaica after the conquest). Connacht, the remote Westernmost part –  bounded by the River Shannon, and the Atlantic Ocean comprised the rockiest and poorest land, often bog, and contained the counties of Mayo, Galway, Claire, Sligo and Roscommon. Many Irish aristocrats were exiled there from their fertile properties for showing loyalty to Ireland over the Crown. There was no ambivalence in the Browne family as to where they belonged as there was with so many other landlords who were both absentee and very English. It was in the Nineteenth Century that basic Irishness took on a new significance, as it distinguished the integrated Old English who stayed from the aliens who left. In the 18 th  Century, the Browne family members (male), like so many others who held seats in the House of Lords had become Protestant in order to retain their seats and have at least some say or be informed about what decisions were made in the House of Lords about Ireland. Their wives often remained Catholic, thus in the West, relations with the Catholic majority, were free from religious bigotry 6  One could argue, that this gave the Marquis a greater grasp of the fractious situation that he observed in Jamaica, as there are merely different labels to distinguish the various obscenities of prejudices, be they based on religious, racial, ethnic, or gender differences. The famine 7 which occurred the year after The Earl returned from Jamaica brought people in Westport even closer together, the tenanted villagers were did not face eviction and the family stayed on, closing the house and renting a small house in town. The Early Years Howe Peter Browne  was the only child, of a non-Irish mother, the daughter of Admiral Howe and owner of properties in Jamaica, which he inherited at his father’s death . She was well known in Court Circles, this meant that from an early age he was introduced to the life style of   3 the British nobility. There being no schools in Ireland for either aristocrats or peasants, he followed in his father’s footsteps, to Eton College Public School and then continued his education at Christ Church College, Cambridge University. From this early introduction, as a young man, he lived a somewhat indulged and enchanted life of extravagance, He travelled and was larger than life, both in physical appearance and also in character, counting Lord Byron (the poet), and the future George IV (the King) amongst his associates. He was a Patron of Fine Arts. It is said that a ballet dancer had a child for him. His  passions were horses and Irish Wolfhounds which he bred. He appeared to be an intriguing mixture of adventurer and charmer and his letters home recount many of his adventures and escapades. 8  These globetrotting adventures were no doubt funded by the estates in Jamaica. Some of these adventures brought him into serious opposition with Britain. In 1814 Howe Peter set sail on a chartered ship to Greece seeking archeological treasures. He unearthed two columns from the Treasury of Artem’s  over 3000 years old and fearing his crew could not get him back safely to Ireland, especially around the treacherous South West coast which had already laid claim to many a vessel including a Spanish Armada off the Galway coastline (which I just learnt brought the famous and beautiful Connemara ponies to Galway as they swam to shore). Howe bribed two seamen from a British Navy warship to navigate him home. Britain was at war at the time with France, and for such an act, considered treason, he could have been hanged but his mother, now widowed, befriended the Judge and instead he was fined 5000 pounds (a huge sum in those days) and got 4 months in Newgate Jail, which he did serve. His mother ended up marrying the judge,  but it was not a very happy affair they separated shortly after, but his life was the prize for this marriage. The pillars were found over a hundred years later in the basement and sent to the British museum. Today, replicas remain at Westport House. Howe Peter’s adventures did not end there.   Howe Peter in 1815, siding with one of Ireland’s most faithful  allies, France, he attempted a rescue by sea of  Napoleon’s Cavalry General Murat, a personal friend of his who was imprisoned on Sardegna (Sardinia). He failed. Murat was subsequently court-martialed and shot.   4 Ireland and France have shared for centuries a close relationship. During the Penal years, France offered schooling and military training to the Irish. Catholic bibles were printed in Douay 9  and smuggled into Ireland together with Irish priests and teachers who were trained there. The Irish , known as ‘the wild geese’ 10 , in turn fought alongside the French against their common enemy, Britain whenever they got the chance to do so. In the West Indies, Irishmen sent to the islands were moved from St. Kitts to Montserrat as they were leaving in boatloads to  join the French troops fighting close to St. Kitts. Records in Jamaica of prisoners of war treated or buried in Jamaica during the Napoleonic wars contain the names of many Irishmen. With these two negative marks to his name he would not have been considered a good marriage prospect by the British aristocracy but the next year, Howe Peter married Hester de Burgh. She had Irish connections and her family had properties in Ireland and the West Indies. Marriage settled him down and he set about rebuilding Westport. He helped set up the linen industry in Westport and like his father before him, he thought Ireland would benefit from Unionism with Britain. He was mistaken, the Linen Industry which was thriving in Mayo was not allowed to compete with Britain who sought to control the industry. Westport was finished. At home he also indulged his passion for horses by breeding them, and even took some of them to Jamaica with him when he went to take up the post of Governor. He also bred a distinct strain of Irish Wolfhounds. Howe Peter  –  The Governor H owe Peter’s life took another twist in 1834 when he was appointed Governor of Jamaica. This post usually went to someone who had interests in Jamaica, (the Browne’s had never held any land in Jamaica, but he qualified having acquired two large properties at his father’s death, from his mother’s side of the family.  However, there were so many strikes against his name that I believe he was selected and given, in Jamaican parlance, a ‘basket to carry water  11 ’  because the situation in Jamaica, leading up to Emancipation. would not be an easy one to manage, let alone govern! The incidents in his youth involving the French were serious and tantamount to treason against the Crown and should have mitigated against his suitability for the post. He had also supported Ireland in all matters where she was pitted against Britain, such as Catholic   5 Emancipation (when few were so enlightened). He also supported the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and Emancipation of Transported Africans. However, the issue of Apprenticeship was not raised. Evidence has come to light that this was an ‘under the table agreement’ 12 , as without it the Act would have never been passed by England. The view has been perpetuated in Jamaica that Apprenticeship was The Marquis of Sligo’s idea . He himself stated that it is difficult to  believe that an Irishman could aspire to the view that Freedom had to be learnt! By means of letters and journals, The Marquis of Sligo kept very detailed accounts of his sojourn in Jamaica. I will allow his writings to recount his impressions and his own story. 13   The Marquis’  of Sligo ’s  Arrival The Marquis of Sligo arrived with his family in early April 1834 “ with enthusiasm and delight. ”  He thought the climate suited him well as he was very prone to rheumatism and” had  been sickly with it since childhood. ”  I do not remember feeling so well in many years, than at present.” He spoke of an enthusiastic welcome after he landed. “ People lined the streets and kept up with the entourage, women waving boughs and dancing ” . After formalities, he decided to take two weeks to go around the island and acquaint himself with it. This was a formidable journey by boat and carriage. From the beginning he voiced concerns about governance .   He had not heard favorably of the Governing even in Ireland. Being fair – minded, he writes : “ It maybe prejudice, I will not therefore have any one decided opinion until I shall have further opportunities of judgi ng.”  About Council, he wrote :”  This is a sad set indeed with some exceptions, would that I could find an opportunity to get ri d of them” He was aware immediately of the cruelty and inhumanities often meted out to the slaves. In his first month of office he wrote about the flogging of three girls in the field, “ on bare posteri ors”. Sl igo attended the Hearing with the Magistrates but he is certain that had he not been there the driver would not have been fi ned. “He was just within the letter of the law as to cruelty”.   He was from the outset aware that the behavior of the whites would be the cause of any disturbances. “ If anything occasions a disturbance it will be the abominable, I may term i t, conduct of some of these managers and overseers”. He goes on to c ite how the little
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