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100 years ago: The right to murder

09 November 2011

November 10th, 1911.

[In the East African Protectorate, Mr Galbraith Cole, a white settler, charged with murder after shooting a suspected sheep-stealer, had been acquitted after five minutes by a jury of other white settlers. But the Government in London then sought to use its powers to deport him. A leading article commented in part:]

THE most difficult task ever under­taken by Englishmen is that of maintaining even handed justice between white men and black men where they are jointly settled in large numbers, and one of the most difficult tasks imposed on the King’s Government is that of con­trolling the administration of jus­tice by white men in such regions. . . . Our text is a letter addressed to the Times by the noted hunter, Sir Henry Seton-Karr, who maintains the cause of Mr Cole and the jury of settlers, and denounces the arbit­rary interference of the Colonial Secretary. . . The white settlers claim the right to kill black men, for the protection of their property. Sir Henry Seton-Karr thinks this quite natural. He ridicules the notion that such a practice can “excite enmity between the people of East Africa and His Majesty”. As to the white people, of course not; and Sir Henry Seton-Karr can assure us that it is just the same with the black people. “The natives,” he says, “look upon such shooting as an ordinary act of reprisal, which they, one and all, would readily commit if the posi­tions were reversed. They are natural sportsmen.” Indigna­tion gives way to a smile at these last words. They are like nothing ever written since Mr Jorrocks justified hunting on the score that the foxes enjoy it. . . The Government has done well to put aside all pedantic regard for the verdict of this particular jury; it will do still better if it makes sure that the need shall not arise again.

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