The Real Jeremie

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By D. Napal

In my first articles on Jeremie I dwelt on his first mission to this island and on the acts of hooliganism of the slave owners who would not brook the British government to ameliorate the conditions of the slaves, still less to emancipate them. From the mass of documents on Jeremie, I brought out a relevant extract from one of the many despatches of the Secretary of State for the colonies on that subject. I made it clear that Jeremie was not as Pierre de Sornay would make us believe, “le malfaisant Jeremie” but, using Remy Ollier’s words, “cette grande victime de la coterie de Maurice.”

Pierre de Sornay writes: “A Londres Jeremie s’empressa d’affirmer que les colons mauriciens étaient de dangereux rebelles.” What else were those who had hounded Jeremie in such a cowardly manner? Remy Ollier called them “les assassins de cet homme de bien.” Some coloured people had taken part in the atrocities committed against Jeremie. Remy Ollier regretted that they had done so, that they had so cheaply become the tools of the slave-owners. He asked his community not to forget that “ce grand homme fut toute sa vie l’ami fervent de leur cause, et que c’est de leurs mains, en surprenant leurs convictions qu’on a voulu crucifier le prophète, le messie envoyé en Afrique pour sauver de la tyrannie les hommes bruns et noirs.”

Of Jeremie’s second mission, Pierre de Sornay writes : “Revenu ici le cœur ulcéré il fit subir à la population bien des vexations”. But Jeremie, as I brought out in my first article, was not destituted from the post of Procureur General. He had been to England to lay down before the British government the conditions of the colony. Nor was Britain prepared to bend before the parti francais. So Jeremie had to come back. The weak Sir Charles Coleville was removed from office and a stronger-willed man Sir William Nicolay was appointed Governor. The Secretary of the State for the colonies gave definite orders to the new Governor not to be lacking in severity towards the rebels.

Soon after arrival in the colony, Governor William Nicolay rose against the ring leaders of the conspiracy against Jeremie. The name of A. d’Epinay was erased from the list of legislative councillors and “Colonel Draper was removed from his oflice as collector of Customs in this island, and from his seat in the Legislative Council.” Other unofficial members of Council, who were also prominent members resigned their seats on the plea that their conduct in Jeremie’s affair was similar to that of Draper and D’Epinay. Nicolay made it clear that “it was natural to expect that every gentleman, placed in the distinguished situation of a member of Council, would jealously aid in carrying into effect the King’s commands with respect to the appointment of a public officer, instead of becoming instrumental in defeating those commands.”

Sir William Nicolay, as was natural enough, incurred the odium of the colons. Adrien d’Epinay voiced their feelings when he wrote that the Governor was governed by Jeremie and that he was “cet homme vieux, faible, infirme, égoïste, sans volonté, s’éloignant des Colons, refusant de les recevoir, les insultant de ses proclamations, les insultant à son lever.” The only crime — it was a heinous one in the eyes of the colons — is that the new Governor, in the interest of law and order, refused to be influenced by the infamous coterie. The colons regretted the palmy days of Sir Charles Coleville’s administration. How could they do otherwise? Had not Sir Charles Coleville allowed them to modify the criminal law in such a way as to make the law cover their misdeeds? Had not Sir Charles Coleville allowed them to raise a force of armed volunteers to serve against a supposed insurrection of slaves which, be it said, never took place? Lord Goderich, Secretary of State for the colonies, wrote on this matter in 1833 in strong terms as is obvious from the following extract:

“The time in which these changes were made is highly worthy of remark. The law bears date of 15th February 1832, a period at which the armed associations, the seditious public notices and the self-constituted society to which I have already adverted were attaining to their full maturity, yet, such was the occasion when it was thought right silently to introduce changes in criminal law, the effect of which was to render the government helpless, and to secure impunity to persons engaged in proceedings little short of traitorous.”

Exactly a year later, Lord Stanley was writing on this matter : “I fear it must be admitted that, long before either of these events, the excitement in the colony, on the subject of legislation of the mother country with reference to slavery, was great and general; that the Order in Council of 1830 had been practically disregarded, that general appointment was offered to the protectors of slaves, that the colons were both openly and secretly combining under the pretext of mutual protection from apprehended insurrections among them, and that the temper and tone of the society generally was such as to require the greatest circumspection in framing any new regulations on subjects connected with the preservation of internal tranquility.”

Adrien d’Epinay was twice delegated to England to put before the British government the views of the colons on the agitation through which the colony was then passing. There is an incident which I believe is fit to record here. While speaking to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Colonies, Adrien D’Epinay spoke of the enemies of the colons, “ces veritables ennemis; le gouverneur, Dick, Jeremie, Reddie, Thomas, le colonel Hunter, I…, Myliers, Bell et autres, tous rivalisant d’infamie et de perversité.” The Assistant Secretary of State replied with obvious irony.

“Il est étonnant que toute l’administration ecrive contre la colonie.”

These documents go a long way to show that Pierre de Sornay’s version of the story of Jeremie is open to question. There is no need to enter into all the ramifications of the Procès de Grand Port. It is enough to say that Jeremie was not moved by hatred for the colons and the desire for vengeance. He believed that a conspiracy was afoot and made honest and legitimate endeavours in using the powers conferred on him as Procureur General to bring that conspiracy to light in the interests of order and government.

Jeremie’s conduct, during his second mission to the island, was free from any reproach. He acted wisely and firmly. Unfortunately for him working in the interests of the British government which at the period indentified itself openly with the cause of the oppressed was in the eyes of the colons tantamount to the persecutions of the privileged. Referring probably to the Procès de Grand Port, Remy Ollier wrote. “S’il appela le glaive de la justice sur les têtes coupables de ceux qui avaient mis un an le pays en état d’insurrection, c’est qu’il savait le respect du et au gouvernement et à la société, qu’il était chargé de représenter et de défendre de l’ambition et des criminelles séducteurs d’une corporation de forceries à robe noire qui s’étaient attribué le droit d’intimider et la société et le gouvernement.”

And who would dare doubt for one Instant that Remy Ollier was the apostle of truth and justice? Whose evidence should we credit with belief, Pierre de Sornay’s or that of Remy Ollier and the Secretaries of State for the colonies?

5th Year – No 212
Friday 29th August, 1958

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