The Sharpest Thorn in Britain’s Caribbean Colonies
A review of Pamela Gayle’s book
There are around 400,000 Jamaicans living in the UK. Of course they have been treated poorly, Windrush is just one example. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, we (those of us who were educated in the UK, whether English, Welsh, Jamaican, or otherwise) were not taught about what Britain did in the Caribbean. I left school in 1981, I don’t know if education has improved in this respect since then. Apart from the Windrush scandal we regularly see racist and bigoted attitudes from leading British politicians, whether these are their attitudes or what they think the British electorate want them to display. Racism never went away, though the British government denies that there is structural racism, it is all too evident. Admitting that there is structural racism means admitting that one is either racist or racist-enabling.
As with other countries, such as Poland, India, Pakistan, etc, we should actually have a special relationship with Jamaica due to the size of the British Jamaican population, the Commonwealth and all the other connections between our countries, both good and bad.
This is not a proper review but a highlight of the most disturbing or informative aspects of Jamaican history at the hands of the British, or other imperialist colonial powers. mainly quoted from Pamela Gayle’s book.
‘[There is] no encounter in this [western] hemisphere where the Europeans simply traded with the indigenous people on equal terms without invasion, war, conquest, grand theft of land and labour.’ Professor George E. Tinker
- Jamaica is a prime example of the impact of colonialism — all its counties are named after British locations or saints with English names. This was to ‘control the enslaved, [and] for slavers’ security.’ Yes, this history is largely about slavery.
- Not surprisingly, Jamaica did not want any colour from the Union Jack to appear on its flag when it became independent in 1962.
- The racist ‘Doctrine of Christian Discovery’ (Pope Nicholas V, 1455) gave permission to seize non-Catholic lands and enslave original peoples. This was in the background, or foreground, of Cristobal Colon (Columbus) being given a ‘blessing’ for his voyages/conquests. More about ‘colon’isation from Trevor Noah here. Of course Colon became a hero in eurocentric modern societies … George Tinker says about him, ‘If Cristobal Colon were alive today, he and his marauding mercenaries would be tried for crimes against humanity.’
- In 1660 The Royal Adventurers (sounds romantic doesn’t it!) Trading to Africa Company was founded by the Duke of York, and invested in by the British royal family. It trafficked 5,000 enslaved people each year. It is no surprise that British royalty is historically wealthy … In 1672 the Royal Africa Company (no I hadn’t heard of it before reading Pamela Gayle’s book) hunted for gold and African peoples, who were branded with RAC initials. An estimated 150,000 captives were abducted from Africa. In 1689 the RAC governor was English slaver, Edward Colston from Bristol, ‘whose prominent statue was “removed” in June 2020. You may have heard of the South Sea Company, it was granted a contract to supply 4,800 Africans to Spanish colonies. Between 1600 and 1750 about 450,000 Africans were forcibly taken to Spanish America by the British. These days we worry about 200 people crossing the English Channel … (it’s not English by the way).
- Slavery made Britain wealthy — ‘The Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without the wealth generated by slave labour. Britain’s major ports, cities and canals were built on invested slave money. Several banks can trace their origins to the financing of the slave trade. Apart from the Barclays Brothers, who were slave traders, we also know of Barings and HSBC … The Bank of England also had close connections to the trade. Hundreds of Britain’s great houses were built with the wealth of slavery and the Church of England also acknowledges its pecuniary gains from slavery … The freed slaves, of course, never received … compensation and their families inherited, instead, the poverty and landlessness which blights them to this day. Capitalism itself, along with cheap beach holidays, would have been impossible without slavery.’ (‘Much of Britain’s wealth is built on slavery. So why shouldn’t it pay reparations?’)
- Jamaica was: ‘Founded in blood when an undisciplined gang of soldiers seized the island from Spain in 1655,’ (Professor Richard S. Dunn). Thus, it was European conflict exported, as usual, overseas. Europe has been a blight on much of the world. The first ruling body, set up by the British, was The Jamaican Assembly (no, it didn’t include any Jamaicans), it was elected for and by elite white males who were slavers, politicians, merchants and professionals. There was no real difference between any of them.
- In 1807, The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed, this made trading in enslaved people illegal, while slavery itself remained legal. Britain continued to prosper from slavery. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in August 1833, taking effect in August 1834, there was no hurry of course … £20 million was paid by the British government to white Jamaican slavers for the loss of their ‘properties’. However, this was not actually the end of slavery. ‘Apprenticeships’ were introduced which forced those who had been enslaved to continue to work for the slavers on the same plantations, without payment, for another four years. Pamela Gayle writes that this was ‘so they could get used to “freedom”.’ Only children and those over 70 were immediately freed. Those whose slavery continued via ‘apprenticeships’ were paying for their own emancipation!
- Britain still owes huge reparations to Jamaica and the descendants of those who were enslaved, none of whom received anything, unlike those who enslaved them. Most British Jamaicans will have contributed to the original payments to the slavers through taxation, the British government only finished paying off the loans needed to compensate slavers in 2015. You can read this incredible history, in part, here Britain’s Slave Owner Compensation Loan, reparations and tax havenry.
Buy a copy of Pamela Gayle’s book here The Black History Truth — Jamaica: The Sharpest Thorn in Britain’s Caribbean Colonies.
Make a donation to the Windrush Foundation here.