Report on the apprenticeship system in the West Indies by James Williams


After the British abolition of slavery on 1 August 1834 most British colonies imposed an apprenticeship system that required former slaves to work for their masters without compensation for up to six years. Apprentices across the Caribbean refused to work, often provoking severe retaliation and imprisonment.

Here James Williams, aged ‘about eighteen years old’, recounts his experiences as an apprentice in Jamaica. He argues that life became worse under apprenticeship due to the increased role of magistrates and police in meting out punishment, such as the use of treadmills. The illustration at the start of the book depicts men and women being punished in a ‘Jamaica house of correction’. Williams’ account was instrumental in bringing apprenticeship to an end in 1838 – two years earlier than planned.

Full title:
A narrative of events since the 1st of August, 1834. By James Williams, together with the evidence taken under a commission appointed by the Colonial Office to ascertain the truth of the narrative, and the report of the commissioners thereon: the whole exhibiting a correct picture of a large proportion of West Indian society; and the atrocious cruelties perpetrated under the apprenticeship system.
1838, London
Report / Book / Illustration / Image
James Williams, Colonial Office
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Tr. 148(k)

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