My Friend, the Governor

(a Colonial Incident, 1859.)

MY friend was Governor of a known British dependency; and, as his colony was not of the highest class, it involved on his part the performance of miscellaneous functions towards a limited but mixed population.

Inter alia, he had occasionally to act as Chief Justice, with the obligation of dealing with the iniquities of certain gentlemen of colour, as well as with those of his white compatriots. Had Quashee, according to Mr. Carlyle’s theory, been a mere indolent pumpkin-eater, the function in question might have been despatched with the assistance of a little cowhide. But Quashee, to the confutation of Jean Jacques Rousseau, occasionally broke out in more violent fashion; and in one case where this amounted to arson, rape, or murder, my friend was obliged to sentence Quashee to be executed.

Quashee was, however, condemned to be hung before it was discovered that there was no official hangman in the colony; and my friend the Governor therefore found himself in an executive difficulty, and was obliged to solicit unprofessional assistance. Notwithstanding he exerted all his influence to procure the required functionary, nobody in all the colony, white or black, would hang Quashee.

In his perplexity, my friend wrote to the then Secretary of State for the Colonial Department, detailing the circumstances and the difficulty which had arisen, and asking for instructions in a matter so important. The Colonial Secretary, confined himself to an acknowledgment of the despatch and to an intimation, conveyed in complimentary terms, that the Colonial Office had so high an opinion of the Governor himself, that they left the matter to his sole discretion.

In this dilemma, the Governor inquired into the culprit’s antecedents, and ascertained that he was the subject of a certain king in the interior, with whom it was considered desirable that we should go on terms of amity; so naturally the thought suggested itself of getting rid of the difficulty and conciliating a native by a stroke of diplomacy. The Governor wrote a letter to the sable potentate, intimating confidentially that if his majesty desired a remission of the sentence, and would be pleased to make his desire known to the Governor, he himself, on the part of the British Government, would not only forego its execution, but to oblige his Majesty, would set the prisoner at liberty and send him home.

His Majesty in reply acknowledged the receipt of the Governor’s courteous communication, but declined to avail himself of the offer, because, as he substantially put it, the prisoner was the greatest scoundrel in his dominions; and, therefore, it would better please his Majesty that he should be hanged to save trouble. Again the Governor was reduced to the extreme of perplexity, and, as a last resort, he resolved to confer with the criminal himself.

Walking down to the jail in the dusk of the evening, he explained to the prisoner that he was a very violent and wicked person, that he had now been confined a long time, as was hoped, to the reformation of his wicked ways; and therefore, if he would promise to conduct himself properly for the future, he (the Governor) was disposed to show him mercy, and grant him life and liberty.

To his surprise Quashee replied, in a tone of surly objection, that liberty was Of no use to him; that if he were let out of prison he expected nothing but insult and misery; while on the other hand, as he was now heartily sick of confinement, and had been sentenced to be hanged, he expected to be hanged accordingly. At this last rebuff the Governor felt there was but one alternative; so he returned to the Government House, gave some private directions, and that same night the prisoner was turned out of prison, and the prison-doors were locked against his re-entry.

But so far from the Governor’s difficulty being removed by this course, it now took the shape of a regular persecution. On the following morning Quashee watched the Governor from his house, and with loud cries demanded summary justice; and from this time, whenever the Governor went in or out, or to or from his court — whether he was alone or in company — there was Quashee at his heels, insisting on his right to be hanged.

So completely was the Governor wearied by this pertinacity, that in the end he resolved to quit the colony, and to return to his practice at the English Bar. Here he has happily succeeded in obtaining professional equivalents for the loss of his official position, and he can now take a pleasant retrospect of his former colonial difficulty.

Author: R. S. W.


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