Royal Commissioners Blamed

The Royal Commissioners who in 1872 inquired into the alleged corruption in the police force were bitterly accused of partiality by the sugar magnates

Mauritius Times 60 Years

3rd Year No 85 – Friday 23 March 1956

* No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.  – Abraham Lincoln

The Royal Commissioners who in 1872 inquired into the alleged corruption in the police force, the defect in the law controlling immigration, the harsh treatment meted out to immigrants by estate owners were bitterly accused of partiality by the sugar magnates. No wonder if the Report of the Keith Lucas Commission is found by those it has hit to be a document full of partiality. Even the integrity of the Commissioners is put into doubt.

It demands a good dose of moral courage to be able to accept defeat. To be able to see one’s past errors in the face and try to correct them is not an easy task. Most of us very often attempt to defend our conduct even when we are inwardly convinced of our wrong. That is what the sugar magnates had done whenever in the past they had been accused of ill-treating their labourers.

When the Royal Commissioners of 1872 accused the planting community of callousness and inhumanity, they did not speak in the air. Every accusation, however trivial, that they brought forward, was supported by facts and figures. Their opinions were not lightly formed; they were the result of countless sittings, of innumerable visits to different sugar estates and of the collection of data and information in all possible ways. Yet the magnates rejected the Report as being wholly untrustworthy, being according to them broad generalisations based on isolated facts. They took it in the light being a challenge to their integrity sense of justice.

The Chamber of Agriculture whose president at that time was Dr Icery tempted to defend them before the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Mauritian public. A committee under the chairmanship of Dr Icery was at once appointed to study the question. The Report of this Committee was published in 1875. It tried to analyse one by one the accusations of the Royal Commissioners and to set up a defence. This should not be anything more than trying to save their face. The facts marshalled against them indicted them too heavily to enable them to put forward anything like to be a successful defence.

The planters, for example, looked upon the inspection of estates as a spy system which they openly condemned. Yet in their Report they attempted at a pretence, a mockery of a defence which evidently fails to convince. They condemned the Commissioners for taking « Pour base de leurs appréciations, un article de journal, auquel la chambre était nécessairement tout à fait étrangère, et qui disait que les inspections, telles que l’on se proposait de les organiser constituent un véritable espionnage.”

If a newspaper is not a vehicle of opinion, at least of some section of the people, and we are not convinced of its validity, where should we look for truth? We again read in the Report of the Chamber of Agriculture: “Les témoignages les plus autorisés, et même leurs propres admissions précédents, ont été absolument oubliés par les Commissaires lorsque cela pouvait conduire à des conclusions favorables aux planteurs, tandis de que les données les plus superficielles, les témoignages les plus suspects ont été, au contraire, acceptés, par eux d’emblée sans aucun contrôle, lorsqu’ils pouvaient conduire à des conclusions défavorables aux planteurs.” As if the Commissioners’ sole purpose in coming to Mauritius was to belittle the planters! On reading the Report of the Chamber of Agriculture, one is left with the impression that they are in the right so much they pose as the wronged party. Fortunately for us we know too well the actual facts.

The wounds sustained by the Report of the Royal Commissioners were not healed by the publication of the planters’ own Report. Conservative historians, taking for granted the contents of this Report, have accused the Commissioners, Messrs Williamson and Frere of partiality and injustice. Some have even gone so far as to attribute their conclusions to their being stricken with disease, an opinion first emitted by Sir Virgil Naz who also wrote: “I am compelled to say that it was not always conducted in the proper spirit”. H. Robert, writing in the Mauritius Illustrated says: “The two Commissioners… appear to have been gentlemen of a somewhat suspicious and irritable disposition.” Albert Pitot writes of the Commission of Enquiry among other things: “Every individual failing of a ridiculous minority was represented as the constant criminal habit of the whole body of planters and a series of stringent measures were recommended.”

These criticisms levelled at the Royal Commissioners can convince no other but those upon whom their strictures fell most heavily.

It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that the members of the Chamber of Agriculture have only manufactured evidence to prove their innocence.

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