JAMAICA–EMPEROR SOULOUQUE

We all remember the day when Mr. Smith landed at Newhaven and took up
his abode quietly at the inn there. Poor Mr. Smith! In the ripeness
of time he has betaken himself a stage further on his long journey,
travelling now probably without disguise, either that of a citizen
King or of a citizen Smith.

And now, following his illustrious example, the ex-Emperor Soulouque
has sought the safety always to be found on English territories by
sovereigns out of place. In January, 1859, his Highness landed at
Kingston, Jamaica, having made his town of Port au Prince and his
kingdom of Hayti somewhat too hot to hold him.

All the world probably knows that King Soulouque is a black man. One
blacker never endured the meridian heat of a tropical sun.

The island, which was christened Hispaniola by Columbus, has
resumed its ancient name of Hayti. It is, however, divided into
two kingdoms–two republics one may now say. That to the east is
generally called St. Domingo, having borrowed the name given by
Columbus to a town. This is by far the larger, but at the same
time the poorer division of the island. That to the west is now
called Hayti, and over this territory Soulouque reigned as emperor.
He reigned as emperor, and was so styled, having been elected as
President; in which little change in his state he has been imitated
by a neighbour of ours with a success almost equal to his own.

For some dozen years the success of Soulouque was very considerable.
He has had a dominion which has been almost despotic; and has, so
rumour says, invested some three or four hundred thousand pounds in
European funds. In this latter point his imitator has, I fear, hardly
equalled him.

But a higher ambition fired the bosom of Soulouque, and he sighed
after the territories of his neighbours–not generously to bestow
them on other kings, but that he might keep them on his own behoof.
Soulouque desired to be emperor of the whole island, and he sounded
his trumpet and prepared his arms. He called together his army, and
put on the boots of Bombastes. He put on the boots of Bombastes and
bade his men meet him–at the Barleymow or elsewhere.

But it seems that his men were slow in coming to the rendezvous.
Nothing that Soulouque could say, nothing that he could do, no
admonitions through his sternest government ministers, no reading
of the mutiny act by his commanders and generals, would induce them
actually to make an assault at arms. Then Soulouque was angry, and in
his anger he maltreated his army. He put his men into pits, and kept
them there without food; left them to be eaten by vermin–to be fed
upon while they could not feed; and played, upon the whole, such
a melodrama of autocratic tricks and fantasies as might have done
honour to a white Nero. Then at last black human nature could endure
no more, and Soulouque, dreading a pit for his own majesty, was
forced to run.

In one respect he was more fortunate than Mr. Smith. In his dire
necessity an English troop-ship was found to be at hand. The
‘Melbourne’ was steaming home from Jamaica, and the officer in
command having been appealed to for assistance, consented to return
to Kingston with the royal suite. This she did, and on the 22nd of
January, Soulouque, with his wife and daughter, his prime minister,
and certain coal-black maids of honour, was landed at the quays.

When under the ægis of British protection, the ex-emperor was of
course safe. But he had not exactly chosen a bed of roses for himself
in coming to Jamaica. It might be probable that a bed of roses
was not easily to be found at the moment. At Kingston there were
collected many Haytians, who had either been banished by Soulouque in
the plenitude of his power, or had run from him as he was now running
from his subjects. There were many whose brothers and fathers had
been destroyed in Hayti, whose friends had perished under the hands
of the tyrant’s executioner, for whom pits would have been prepared
had they not vanished speedily. These refugees had sought safety also
in Jamaica, and for them a day of triumph had now arrived. They were
not the men to allow an opportunity for triumph to pass without
enjoying it.

These were mostly brown men–men of a mixed race; men, and indeed
women also. With Soulouque and his government such had found no
favour. He had been glad to welcome white residents in his kingdom,
and of course had rejoiced in having black men as his subjects.
But of the coloured people he had endeavoured in every way to rid
himself. He had done so to a great extent, and many of them were now
ready to welcome him at Kingston.

Kingston does not rejoice in public equipages of much pretensions;
nor are there to be hired many carriages fit for the conveyance of
royalty, even in its decadence. Two small, wretched vehicles were
however procured, such as ply in the streets there, and carry
passengers to the Spanish Town railway at sixpence a head. In one
of these sat Soulouque and his wife, with a British officer on the
box beside the driver, and with two black policemen hanging behind.
In another, similarly guarded, were packed the Countess Olive–that
being the name of the ex-emperor’s daughter–and her attendants. And
thus travelling by different streets they made their way to their
hotel.

One would certainly have wished, in despite of those wretched pits,
that they had been allowed to do so without annoyance; but such was
not the case. The banished Haytians had it not in their philosophy
to abstain from triumphing on a fallen enemy. They surrounded the
carriages with a dusky cloud, and received the fugitives with howls
of self-congratulation at their abasement. Nor was this all. When the
royal party was duly lodged at the Date-Tree tavern, the ex-Haytians
lodged themselves opposite. There they held a dignity ball in token
of their joy; and for three days maintained their position in order
that poor Soulouque might witness their rejoicings.

“They have said a mass over him, the wretched being!” said the
landlady of my hotel to me, triumphantly.

“Said a mass over him?”

“Yes, the black nigger–king, indeed! said a mass over him ’cause
he’s down. Thank God for that! And pray God keep him so. Him king
indeed, the black nigger!” All which could not have been comfortable
for poor Soulouque.

The royal party had endeavoured in the first instance to take up
their quarters at this lady’s hotel, or lodging-house, as they are
usually called. But the patriotic sister of Mrs. Seacole would listen
to no such proposition. “I won’t keep a house for black men,” she
said to me. “As for kings, I would despise myself to have a black
king. As for that black beast and his black women–Bah!” Now this
was certainly magnanimous, for Soulouque would have been prepared
to pay well for his accommodation. But the ordinary contempt which
the coloured people have for negroes was heightened in this case by
the presumption of black royalty–perhaps also by loyalty. “Queen
Victoria is my king,” said Mrs. Seacole’s sister.

I must confess that I endeavoured to excite her loyalty rather than
her compassion. A few friends were to dine with me that day; and
where would have been my turtle soup had Soulouque and his suite
taken possession of the house?

The deposed tyrant, when he left Hayti, published a short manifesto,
in which he set forth that he, Faustin the First, having been elected
by the free suffrages of his fellow countrymen, had endeavoured to
govern them well, actuated by a pure love of his country; that he had
remained at his post as long as his doing so had been pleasing to his
countrymen; but that now, having discovered by sure symptoms that his
countrymen desired to see him no longer on the throne, he voluntarily
and immediately abdicated his seat. From henceforth he could only
wish well to the prosperity of Hayti.

Free suffrages of his people! Ah, me! Such farces strike us but as
farces when Hayti and such like lands are concerned. But when they
come nearer to us they are very sad.

Soulouque is a stout, hale man, apparently of sixty-five or
sixty-eight years of age. It is difficult to judge of the expression
of a black man’s face unless it be very plainly seen; but it appeared
to me to be by no means repulsive. He has been, I believe, some
twelve years Emperor of Hayti, and as he has escaped with wealth he
cannot be said to have been unfortunate.