Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879

In my last post I discussed the forthcoming Channel 4 drama, The Mill, set amongst the child labourers of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. I mentioned that similar conditions still exist in the Third World today, and that it is the world to which the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained look back, a world of misery, starvation, overwork and exploitation. I also mentioned that due to longer working hours being introduced in Britain and other parts of the West, the working days of the Developing World was also lengthening to inhuman proportions.
I found this speech by Lord Shaftesbury to the House of Lords from 1879 advocating the introduction of an Indian Factory Act, like that he had campaigned for in England thirty years earlier. It makes clear the horrific working conditions in both England and her Indian colonies, and the way industrialisation in both nations had similarly affected their workers. Here it is.

‘On what principle, or what theory, is India to be exempted from the duties and obligations of civilised society? Creed and colour, latitude and longitude, make no difference in the essential nature of man. No climate can enable infants to do the work of adults, or turn suffering women into mere steam-engines … But what say you, my lords, to a continuity of toil, in a standing posture, in a poisonous atmosphere, during thirteen hours, with fifteen minutes to rest? Why, the stoutest man in England, were he made, in such a condition of things, to do nothing during the whole of that time but be erect on his feet and stick pins in a pincushion, would sink under the burden. What say you, then, of children – children of the tenderest years? Why, they become stunted, crippled, deformed, useless. I speak what I know; I state what I have seen …

In Bradford, in 1838, I asked for a collection of cripples and deformities. In a short time more than eighty were gathered in a large courtyard. They were mere samples of the entire mass. I assert without exaggeration that no power of language could describe the varieties, and I may say the cruelties, in all those degradations of the human form. They stood or squatted before me in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet. This was the effect of prolonged toil on the tender frames of children at early ages. When I visited Bradford under the limitation of hours, some years afterwards, I called for a similar exhibition of cripples; but, God be praised, there was not one to be found in that vast city …

Forty-six years ago I addressed the House of Commons in a kindred appeal and they heard me; I now turn to your Lordships and I implore you in the same spirit, for God’s sake and in His name, to have mercy on the children of India.’

The Act was passed, but never enforced.

Nevertheless, it shows the acute social consciousness and relative lack of racial prejudice, at least in this issue, of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury himself was an aristocrat, and an evangelical Christian at the time when that branch of Christianity stood for progressive social reform. He believed in a static society, with the aristocracy holding their natural place at its top. He also believed that people have a Christian duty to ameliorate the conditions of others during the time on Earth, and would have to answer for their lack of charity before the Lord after their death. It was this deep religious faith that prompted his campaigns against long working days for women and children.

I thought the speech was worth repeating because, as I said, it is all too contemporary with Conservatives, particularly the authors of Britannia Unchained, recommending lengthening working hours here to match the Third World. Shaftesbury’s speech describes the world we left. It also describes the world the authors of Britannia Unchained would have us return.

Source

Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (New York: Franklin Watts 1985)

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One Response to “Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879”

  1. Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879 | ChristianBookBarn.com Says:

    […] Recommended Article FROM https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/lord-shaftesbury-on-the-need-for-an-indian-factory-act-1… […]

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