Description

Richard Robert Madden was an Irish doctor, writer and traveller. He was in Jamaica during the period of so-called  ‘Apprenticeship’ (1834–38) that was supposed to provide a transition from slavery to freedom. 

How did the so-called ‘Apprenticeship’ system work?

At the time, the governor of Jamaica – the man who represented British power on the island – was Howe Peter Browne, who held the title of Marquess of Sligo (spelt ‘Marquis’ in the book). This proclamation set out the terms of apprenticeship, explaining that the black ‘apprentices’, as the former enslaved people were known, would still have to work for their former slaveowners for most of the week. They could face punishment if they did not. The idea was that the apprentices would be able to get used to their freedom and learn that they were still supposed to work on the plantations. At the same time, the former slaveowners would have continued guaranteed access to workers for a few years. It is not surprising that many people in the Caribbean and Britain saw the apprenticeship system as a continuation of slavery in many ways. Their protests helped bring about its end for all in 1838.

What was Richard Robert Madden's involvement in the period of so-called ‘apprenticeship’?

Madden went to Jamaica to serve as a special magistrate; a number of these officials were appointed across the British Caribbean. During this transition period, special magistrates such as Madden were supposed to help resolve disputes between the apprentices and the planters. He was sympathetic towards the apprentices, which often brought him into conflict with the planters. Based on his experiences, he published A Twelve-Month's Residence (1835).

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