The Salybia Riot of 1930, Part 2
The version of the disturbances, as told by residents of the Territory differed drastically from that of the Police. Residents painted a picture of terror unleashed against them by the forces of law and order. Chief John would relate three months later that "while I was in prison all the Carib men and women and children all went to hide in bush or forest for about a week." A month earlier the unofficial members of the island's legislature had sent a telegram to the London-based Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society in which the police/marine operation was described as a "punitive expedition" during the course of which the "whole Carib community" was terrified to the extent that they "fled into the woods with their babies". In the circumstances the legislators issued a call for an "independent" inquiry into the "necessity of use of force" by the police and the "subsequent treatment" by them of the Carib people. There was evidence that "in many instances" the police committed "unwarrantable acts of destruction" as well as humiliation. The door of a house was wrenched off; a pot of food was broken and destroyed; beds and personal effects were thrown out of houses and trampled upon; a box containing glassware was smashed; clothing was also trampled upon. The Schoolmaster's house was searched without a warrant for "felons, arms and smuggled goods". Chief Jolly John was subjected to gross humiliation. On his arrest the officer "undressed him and took away his collar and tie and also his shoes." Inspector Branch would later confiscate the Chief's staff of office, the "plan of the Reserve" and private papers and three bottles of medicine, and threaten his life with a revolver.
Needless to say, Administrator Elliott was fully supportive of the measures of pacification. In a confidential memo to Governor Johnstone on 27th September he stated: "…the prompt response of H.M.S. Delhi which resulted in the landing of the marines the day after the disturbance occurred and of a demonstration by the ship with searchlight and star shells off the Carib Reserve… constitutes a lesson which will be remembered." While considering the police to have acted "with restraint" and to have resorted to arms "only when their lives were in danger," he expressed nothing but disdain for the community's Chief. His view was that John "has given considerable trouble since his appointment in 1928". In fact, the Chief would be criminally charged for his role in the confrontation and suspended from his office.
The riot left Kalinagos, Dudley John and Royer Frederick, dead and many of their comrades injured. Both John and Frederick succumbed to bullet wounds. As to those Caribs injured, the precise number is difficult to tell in view of the fact that one only, a man named Alexandre, was examined by the medical officer for the District, Dr. Reginald Armour. There were no fatalities among the police. But all suffered injuries. Corporal Sweeney sustained four gunshot wounds to the legs, an injured thumb and concussions on the face and the back of the neck in the region of the spine. The others were comparatively fortunate. Lance Corporal Greenaway received a superficial gunshot wound to the arm and abrasions to the head and body. Private Jacob was hospitalized for five days as a result of superficial gunshot wounds as well as other wounds to the face, head and arms. Private Lake suffered a scalp wound above the forehead and "two blows to the body". Private Joseph may have been least affected; three teeth were knocked out.
Eleven residents including their Chief were arrested and brought before the High Court for "assaulting the police and in a violent manner rescuing smuggled goods seized, in contravention of Section 61 of the Trade and Reserve Act, 1894". Cecile Rawle provided counsel for the defendants. It was beyond doubt that the police had been attacked and beaten and, further, that the smuggled goods had been violently rescued. Hence, the defence was constructed on two grounds: the first, that those accused had not been conclusively identified; the second that the accuseds had acted either in self-defence or under strong provocation.
All those accused were acquitted. It is certain that discrepancies in the Crown's case created reasonable doubt in the minds of the Court. While, for example, Lance Corporal Greenaway estimated the mob to have been 40 persons at peak, Corporal Sweenie put the figure at 200. Sweenie gave evidence that all the officers carried revolvers except Private Lake. But Greenaway identified Lake as the only officer who obeyed Sweenie's order to "fire in the air". On the vital question "who struck first", Private Lake's testimony was that the order to fire was given before residents shot at the police. The evidence of Private Jacob reversed the sequence. His testimony was that a boy with a gun stood by the Church and aimed and fired at Greenaway, Lake and himself. A bullet hit him. Then, the order to fire was given. Greenaway's version was that the said order was given only because "above the crowd on a bank a man was standing with shot gun pointed at us". On Corporal Sweenie's part, the order was given as the crowd rushed the police with sticks and stones.
Confronted by clear and uncontested evidence of the use of force by residents against the contingent of police officers, a tempting inference to be drawn from their acquittal by the Court must be that the accuseds were believed to have acted in self-defence. Sir Robert Hamilton would make the point before the House of Commons in the following terms: "These legal proceedings have now terminated and the result has been to show that the police… it was their action entirely which led to the fracas; that the Caribs drove them out of the reserve, although the police were firing at them… Their case was properly gone into and they were all acquitted by the judge, who was evidently under the impression that they had acted entirely in self-defence." Of course, the acquittal would have grave implications for the preservation of law and order in the island. In a confidential note written by a Colonial Civil Servant, Mr. Bowyer, it was described as "unsatisfactory" from the Government's standpoint. His opinion further was that "in view of the inferences which will be drawn… if for no other reason" a thorough inquiry was required.
Indeed, a Commission of Inquiry would be set up. It would be chaired by James Stanley Rae, Chief Justice of the Leeward Islands of which Dominica was a part. The inquiry lasted nine days examining 27 witnesses. Thus, the first inhabitants of the island had confronted the establishment and won. But the Commissioners would have the last word.
Copyright © William Para Rivière, 20