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Colonial Cases

R. v. Oliver and others [1824]

slave court - rebellion - murder - native religion - witchcraft - unlawful oaths - capital punishment - transportation - flogging - imprisonment

Slave Court

28 January-February 1824

Source: The Morning Chronicle  (London, England) 22 March 1824, issue 17137, all newspapers taken from the British Library's 19th Century Newspapers site [1]


February 4. - We have given in this day's paper, as correctly as we could minute them, the proceedings of a trial of fourteen Negroes at a Slave Court at Montego Bay, which commenced on Monday, and was not finally terminated until Monday last. The Magistrates of St. James's are certainly entitled to great credit for the indefatigable attention and perseverance with which they have inquired into the supposed conspiracy; and we congratulate the public that the result has most satisfactorily shown that nothing like a plot or rebellious conspiracy existed. The utmost criminality of these Negroes appears to have been conversations they at different times held on a subject which was agitated in the British Parliament in the first instance; and to some imperfect intelligence they obtained of what had taken place in the House of Assembly, and probably from the newspapers of this Island, which had been read to them. In support of the indictment, the evidence on the part of the Crown is very vague and unconnected. If we are to presume that it alludes to more than the dances of the 27th September and 18th December, the testimony of each witness stands by itself, unsupported; or if it can be taken to relate to nearly the same periods of time, it is contradictory, and difficult to be reconciled. On the trial, no proof appears to have been given of any act of rebellious conspiracy, or any combination of Negroes from other properties. In fact, it seems to have been altogether made up of idle conversation which took place at these dances. - Cornwall Courier.

Source: Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), 25 March 1824, issue 16008

Fourteen slaves were tried at Montego Bay, on the 28th Jan. (and continued by adjournment to Monday following) on an indictment for combining in a rebellious conspiracy. Thirteen were found guilty and one discharged, the evidence against him having been deemed insufficient. Three of the convicted negroes were sentenced to be transported off the island for life, and the others to confinement in the workhouse for different terms, none of which exceed twelve months, to be kept to hard labour, and to be whipped twice, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes each time. At a Special Slave Court, held at Buff Bay, in the parish of St George, on the 2d February, and continued by adjournment to the 3d, four slaves were tried and found guilty on a similar indictment. There were sentenced to death and one to transportation.

Source: The Morning Chronicle  (London, England), 26 April 1824, issue 17167


Kingston, Feb. 14. - Extract of a letter from Buff Bay, dated the 10th instant:-

"Henry Oliver was executed, pursuant to the second warrant, on Friday last; but our pious Rector did not attend the prisoner on the day of his execution, nor for some days previous. He died a hardened sinner, confessing nothing to the last. Even on the gallows he did not wait the drop, but slid himself off, apparently in a great hurry to meet his fate. Of the four condemned by the last Special Slave Court to death, the sentence of three has been commuted to transportation; and George, of Silver Hill, only to be executed on Friday next. Samedi and George Taylor, who were sentenced by the same Court to transportation, have been pardoned by his Grace the Governor. Obeah Jack acknowledges that he had seen 24 muskets brought up to Balcarras at two distinct periods, on the back of a mule, in Spanish bags, by Henry Oliver; but as yet he will not discover where they are hid, though it is generally believed he knows where they actually are."

Henry Oliver was very obstinate during the whole of his confinement. On the day of the execution he declared he was then as well prepared to die as he ever should be. He expressed a wish to see his overseer, Mr. Learmond, or his wife - neither were by. It was proposed to him to mention what he had to say that it might be related to them, but he declined doing so. The militia appeared at the Court-house according to order, and at the hour of execution fell into line. A guard was sent to the gaol. They escorted Oliver out of it, and attended him to the scaffold; the rest of the militia were formed around the gallows. Oliver mounted the scaffold, assisted by Obeah Jack. He was then bound above the elbows (which he desired should be done tightly). The rope was fixed round his neck by Jack. Oliver desired him, rather impatiently, to be expeditious, and the moment the rope was fastened on the hook, he threw himself backwards with a sort of phrenzy, the drop immediately fell, and he remained suspended by the rope; he breathed very hard for a few minutes, but the vital spark soon became extinct. Only one remarkable convulsion of the body was observed. In twenty minutes his pangs had ceased. While walking from the gaol to the gallows, he called on his Maker and Jesus repeatedly, and with earnestness imploring them to forgive his sins. He would not make any confession.

A reward of one hundred pounds has been offered by the Common Council of this city and parish, for the apprehension of the brigand Baptiste, who was concerned with the conspirators in St. George's. In his last visit to that parish, he wore a round jacket of black cloth, jean york -stripe pantaloons, black neckcloth, & a small tortoiseshell suspended from his neck.


Kingston, Feb. 21. - Extract of a letter from St. George's, dated Feb. 15: - "The negro George, belonging to Lamothe, was executed on the 13th instant. Though repeatedly pressed to make a confession, he refused to do so, denying that he had any knowledge of the conspiracy. His greatest offence, he said, had been running away. Previous to quitting his cell, he took his last leave of his mother, sister, and two of his nieces, when all were much affected. He was conducted to the gallows by the Maroons, no Militia having appeared on duty. While on the platform, he spoke a few sentences to the spectators around, and one in particular was remarkable, holding up his head boldly, and advancing his chest, he desired all to look on his countenance, and to say whether he appeared to be a bad negro. Immediately after he sprung off the platform, and the fall was so violent that he met his death instantly. His carriage was manly and intrepid."

St George's. - A Special Slave Court was held at Buff Bay, on Thursday, the 19th instant, before Robert Gray Kirkland, W.A. Morse, and Adam Gray, Esqrs. and the following slaves were tried, charged with a rebellious conspiracy and practising Obeah: - Jack, to Mrs Lyon, a free person of colour, and Prince, to Paul Lamothe de Carrier, Esq. the evidence was nearly the same as the trial of Oliver and others, implicated in the conspiracy, and some of the implements used by Jack, which were taken with him, were brought into Court and identified. When called upon for his defence he entered into a detail of the business from its commencement, and, although repeatedly cautioned by the Court not to criminate himself, he persisted in his narrative, fully confirming the testimony of the witnesses, particularly Charles Mack's, every word of which he said was true. He appeared inveterate against Jean Baptiste, whom he represented as a dangerous character, and said, "when we are dead and gone, Jean Baptiste will know where to find the guns." The evidence against Prince only connected him with the conspiracy as a servant of Jack's; he took the oath, and was to join in the general massacre. The Jury found Jack guilty of all the charges, and Prince of the first in the indictment, acquitting him of the practice of Obeah. Sentence of death was then passed upon the former, and of transportation for life upon the latter. ...

January 14. ... On Saturday last the negro Sandy, who was concerned in the late insurrection, and who was also tried on a separate count, viz. - the murder of another negro, and found guilty, was hung in chains, on the back-dam of plantation Annandale, upon the spot where the murder was committed. Previously to suffering the awful sentence of the law, he acknowledged the justice of his fate, and prayed for the happiness of all around him. -   Guiana Chronicle.

January 16. - Since our last seven more of the rebel negroes have been flogged, according to their respective sentences, viz. Louis, of Porter's Hope, 1000 lashes; Field, of Clonbrook, ditto; Mercury, of Enmore, 700; Austin, of Cove, 600; Jessamin, of Success, 1000; John F.C. Otto, 200; and August, of Success, 300. They were all punished at the New Barracks, and we have no doubt that Jack Gladstone had a full view of the suffering he has assisted to bring upon his fellow-slaves - balancing the account against him without the comforting consciousness of his own reprieve.


[1]  The Liverpool Mercury (Liverpool, England) 30 April 1824, issue 675 repeats some of the Morning Chronicle's report immediately above, and also refers to rebellions in other colonies. There was an intended conspiracy at Trinidad. Martial law was declared in Demerara, where a meeting of inhabitants blamed the rebellions on the discussions in England about the contemplated abolition of slavery. TheMercury also reported the following:

"On the 14th of January, the troops were brought out to witness the flogging of the three convicted insurgents, who had been some time under sentence, viz. Cobino, Sammy, and Cudjo, - the first to receive one thousand lashes, and to be worked in chains for life; the second, the same number of lashes, and to be worked in chains for seven years; and the third, one thousand lashes, and to be worked in chains for life. Cobino received the whole amount of the number of lashes awarded, Sammy only nine hundred, and Cudjo only eight hundred.

See also The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England) 3 May 1824, issue 1779.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School