“Today I stand here a victim but the truth is I’ll never die.”
PAUL BOGLE, JAMAICA NATIONAL HERO
Paul Bogle (1822–October 24, 1865) was a Jamaican Baptist deacon and is a National Hero of Jamaica. He was a leader of the 1865 Morant Bay Protesters, who agitated for justice and fair treatment for all the people in Jamaica. After leading the Morant Bay rebellion, Paul Bogle was captured and hanged on October 24, 1865 in the Morant Bay Court House by the British authorities.
Morant Bay Rebellion
On October 7, 1865, a black man was put on trial and imprisoned for trespassing on a long-abandoned plantation, angering black Jamaicans. During the proceedings, James Geoghegon, a black spectator, disrupted the trial, and in the police’s attempts to seize him and remove him from the courthouse, a fight broke out between the police and other spectators. While pursuing Geoghegon, the two policeman were beaten with sticks and stones. The following Monday arrest warrants were issued for several men for rioting, resisting arrest, and assaulting the police. Among them was Baptist preacher Paul Bogle. A few days later on October 11, Mr. Paul Bogle marched with a group of protesters to Morant Bay. When the group arrived at the court house they were met by a small and inexperienced volunteer militia. The crowd began pelting the militia with rocks and sticks, and the militia opened fire on the group, killing seven black protesters before retreating.
Governor John Eyre sent government troops, under Brigadier-General Alexander Nelson, to hunt down the poorly armed rebels and bring Paul Bogle back to Morant Bay for trial. The troops met with no organized resistance, but regardless they killed blacks indiscriminately, most of whom had not been involved in the riot or rebellion: according to one soldier, “we slaughtered all before us… man or woman or child”. In the end, 439 black Jamaicans were killed directly by soldiers, and 354 more (including Paul Bogle) were arrested and later executed, some without proper trials. Paul Bogle was executed “either the same evening he was tried or the next morning.” Other punishments included flogging for over 600 men and women (including some pregnant women), and long prison sentences, with thousands of homes belonging to black Jamaicans were burned down without any justifiable reason.
George William Gordon, a Jamaican businessman and politician, who had been critical of Governor John Eyre and his policies, was later arrested by Governor John Eyre who believed he had been behind the rebellion. Despite having very little to do with it, Gordon was eventually executed. Though he was arrested in Kingston, he was transferred by Eyre to Morant Bay, where he could be tried under martial law. The execution and trial of Gordon via martial law raised some constitutional issues back in Britain, where concerns emerged about whether British dependencies should be ruled under the government of law, or through military license. The speedy trial saw Gordon hanged on October 23rd, just two days after his trial had begun. He and William Bogle, Paul’s brother, “were both tried together, and executed at the same time.” The Morant Bay rebellion turned out to be one of the defining points in Jamaica’s struggle for both political and economical enhancement. Bogle’s demonstration ultimately achieved its objectives and paved the way for new attitudes.
In Reggae Culture
The second album of reggae artists Third World featured the title track ‘1865 (96° In The Shade)’, a song that described the events of the Morant Bay rebellion from the point of view of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon: “You caught me on the loose, fighting to be free, now you show me a noose on a cotton tree, entertainment for you, martyrdom for me… Some may suffer and some may burn, but I know that one day my people will learn, as sure as the sun shines, way up in the sky, today I stand here a victim—the truth is I’ll never die.”