Letter concerning the loyalty of the West India Regiment soldiers, 24 January 1861


This is a letter from Charles Henry Darling, who was governor of Jamaica from 1857 to 1862. As governor, he was the most powerful person on the island and he represented British interests. In effect, he was Queen Victoria’s representative in Jamaica. 

What is the letter about?

The letter was written to Henry Pelham-Clinton, the Duke of Newcastle, back in Britain. The duke was secretary of state for the colonies, which meant that he was the government official with overall responsibility for Britain’s overseas empire. Governor Darling was answering a request for information from another government official, the secretary of state for war, about the soldiers of the West India Regiments. Some officials in Britain were worried about their loyalty and wanted to know the opinion of Darling and the governors of other Caribbean colonies.

Why were British officials worries about the loyalty of soldiers of the West India Regiments?

Such fears were particularly strong in the early 1860s. One major cause was an event that happened in another part of the British Empire, far from the Caribbean, in 1857. This was a rebellion against British rule in India that had started as a mutiny by Indian soldiers, known as ‘sepoys’. If the Indian sepoys had turned on their British officers, might not the black soldiers of West India Regiments do the same?

Based on previous experience, Darling had little doubt that the soldiers could be trusted. In the past they had identified closely with the king and continued to identify with the queen. Nevertheless, Darling thought it made sense to recruit to the West India Regiments soldiers who had served in Jamaica.

Darling was followed by Edward John Eyre, governor at the time of the Morant Bay Rebellion (11 October 1865).


1302. Jamaica

Jamaica No 16 Military

[at right angle to text]
Copy of War Off: inf: 27th May

[Printed stamp]
Received 14 Feb 1861.

[Main body of text]
Kings House, 
January 24th 1861

My Lord Duke,
I have had the
honor to receive Mr. Fortescue’s
Despatch No 204 of the
6th November last, enclosing
an Extract of a letter from
the Department of the
Secretary of State for War,

His Grace
The Ducke of Newcastle

and requiring my Opinion
upon the trustworthiness
of the men of the West
India Regiments when
employed in repressing
the turbulence or disloyal
Outbreaks of the black

2. In offering this
Opinion, it is desired that
I should discriminate
between a distrust on the
ground of disloyalty or
disaffection to the Mother

country on the part of the
Troops in question, and
a distrust of them as
instruments for the
maintenance of tranquillity and suppression
of violence on the part of
black and white Colonists
towards each other.

3. My experience of the
conduct of these Troops
on three separate occasions
on which they have been
employed by my direction,
in the suppression of riots

and tumults – once in the
Year 1849 in St Lucia, –
and twice in this Island
in the course of the year
1859, has certainly led
me to a different conclusion
from that which I hear
from Sir E. Lugard’s letter
is entertained by the Governors
of Barbados and British

4. I should, from my
personal observation
upon two of these occasions,

and from the Reports which
reached me with reference
to the third; have had
little hesitation in
expressing my belief that
it would be difficult to
find Troops who not only
display a more thorough
and even ardent desire
to execute their duty upon
occasions in which they
are brought in contact
with the population of
their own color, but whom

it is on such occasions, more
necessary to control and
restrain in order to prevent
unnecessary violence
and Bloodshed.

5. At to the period of their
employment in St Lucia
to which I have referred,
the West India Regiments
were I believe recruited
exclusively in Africa or
with Africans just
landed in the West Indies,
and the Troops stationed
in that Island were

therefore not connected with
its population by ties of
kindred; ^ or of a common country but this was not
the case in the instances
that occurred in Jamaica
on both of those occasions
the detachments included
natives of Jamaica; and that sent to Falmouth
contained men who had
been enlisted in the
neighboring Parishes, if
not in the town itself;
but no obstacle to the

discharge of duty or
preservation of discipline
was experienced from
that course.

Indeed, a feeling the
reverse of cordiality and
little likely to lead to
dangerous sympathy
or familiarity with the
Male population of
the Districts in which
these Detachments were
employed soon became
engendered by the facility

with which they succeeded
in corrupting the less virtuous
portion of the female
population, who are said
to regard them, especially in
their present Zouave costume,
with a personal admiration
against the effects of which
in numerous cases, even
the obligations of the marries
state failed to afford a

7. In the City of Kinsgton
and in Spanish Town,
quarrels and affrays

sometimes of a serious nature
between the West Indian
Troops and the Inhabitants
are by no means rare; and
I certainly apprehend more
danger to the peace of
Society from this cause
than I do from any
exhibition of distinction
^ on the part of the soldiers to act
against the Civil population,
when called upon by
Competent Authority. 

8. As to their loyalty

to the Sovereign and to the
State, I have never heard
it questioned, and I believe
that the pride which the
former African Recruits
proverbially exhibited in
becoming “King George’s
Soldiers” equally animates
the present Generation
whether African or Creole
while employed in the
Service of Queen Victoria.

9. It would be unjust to
our native population

not to ad that the spirit
of genuine loyalty is
strong amongst them,
it has indeed been always
implanted and nurtured
by their religious teachers
of all Denominations.
The outbreaks against law
and Authority of which
they are sometimes guilty,
are devoid of the slightest
tinge of premeditated
disloyalty, but the impulses
and passions which

characterizes the African Race
are far too powerful for the
moment to be restrained even
by higher obligations than
that of loyalty towards
any Human Authority –

10. Upon general principles
applying to all classes of
Regular Troops, it is
doubtless, inexpedient to
employ Soldiers against
the population of their
nature locally; and indeed
the ordinary dictates of
humanity and a regard

for natural feelings forbid
the practice if it can be
avoided, without incurring
the greater evil of leaving
resistance to the Law

11. One obvious mode of
avoiding the possibility
of this Contingency, would
be to recruit in the
Windward and Leeward
Islands Command, for
Service in the Jamaica
Command; and vice versa,

instead of making Enlistments
specially for any one of the
West India Regiments
and when a Regiment’s
period of service in either
Command shall have
expired, to transfer to the
relieving Regiment all
those Men, whose engage=
=ment for Service would
not terminate within a
very limited period, and
who would be restored to the
Command in which they

were recruited, of not thus

12. I am not aware how
far this plan would
involved an alleviation of
the existing principles
which regulate the
Military Service. This
however, the only effectual
suggestion connected
with the “recruitment”
and “organisation” of the West India Regiments
which occurs to me in

relation to the subject of
Mr Fortescue's Despatch
and with regard to their
“treatment”, no one I think
who has had any personal
experience of them in
Garrison will question
the conclusion that in
their case, probably more
than in that of any other
Troops in Her Majesty's
Service, their efficiency as
soldiers and the             
of Society of immunity from
the licentious and even

savage outbreaks to which
throughout the West Indies
it has been occasionally
exposed at their hands,
depends upon their being
Commanded with firmness
and great strictness in
all matters of discipline
and subordinated; but
yet with good temper
and an ample allowance
for their almost juvenile
minds and excitable

13. Although my own

confidence in these Troops
when well commanded
is strengthened by the opinion
of the most experienced
Field Officer now serving
in the three Battalions:
it is right I should
acquaint your Grace that
the apprehension enter-
=tained by other Governors
of ^other West Indian Colonies
is shared in by most of
the upper classes in
Jamaica whether of the

European or of the mixed
Race; who at this time, as
has ever been the case,
prefer to see European
Troops employed against
the African Population.
That population however,
I am strongly inclined
to believe, hold a Military
Force of their own Race
in greater head than
an European Force, (which
in Jamaica is now always
unacclimatized for lowland
Service/ especially in

cases where pursuit [in] this
wooded and difficult Country
and exposed to the sun
give advantages to the
former which the natives
are not slow to understand
and appreciate.

I have the honor to be
my Lord Duke
your Grace's obedient
humble servant
C H Darling

[In a different hands]
Sir F. Rogers 14 Feb
All the paper on this subject are
in circulation with the replied of the other Govs

This is a very important
addition [to these?].

Keep with
the other papers
15 Feb

Jamaica No.16
Kings House
24th January 1861
Governor Darling
The Duke of Newcastle

In reply to No. 204 of
the 6th. November last
relative to the trust =
= worthiness of the
West India Regiments
when employed in 
quelling disturbances
among the Black
populartion of the
West Indies. ~

Full title:
'Charles Henry Darling, governor of Jamaica, to the Duke of Newcastle, secretary of state for the colonies, 24 January 1861'. Despatches. Described at item level
24 Jan 1861
Charles Henry Darling
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