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

  1. Transcript

    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

  2. Transcript

    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

  3. Transcript

    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

  4. Transcript

    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,

  5. Transcript

    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

  6. Transcript

    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

  7. Transcript

    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

  8. Transcript

    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

  9. Transcript

    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

  10. Transcript

    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

  11. Transcript

    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

  12. Transcript

    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

  13. Transcript

    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

  14. Transcript

    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,

  15. Transcript

    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

  16. Transcript

    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

  17. Transcript

    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

  18. Transcript

    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

  19. Transcript

    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

  20. Transcript

    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

  21. Transcript

    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

  22. Transcript

    [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

  23. Transcript

    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. ~