On this day in history, October 21, 1865, Jamaican national hero George William Gordon is unfairly arrested and sentenced to death. George William Gordon was a wealthy Jamaican businessman, magistrate and politician, one of two representatives to the Assembly from St. Thomas-in-the-East Parish.
After the start of the Morant Bay rebellion in October 1865, Eyre declared martial law, directed troops to suppress the rebellion, and ordered the arrest of Gordon in Kingston. He had him returned to Morant Bay to stand trial under martial law. Gordon was quickly convicted of conspiracy and executed, on suspicion of having planned the rebellion. Gordon’s quick execution on flimsy charges during the crisis and the death toll and violence of the suppression resulted in a huge controversy in Britain.
Opponents of Eyre and his actions attempted to have him prosecuted for murder, but the case never went to trial; he was forced to resign. The government made Jamaica a Crown Colony, governing it directly for decades. In 1969, Gordon was proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica. Gordon’s death and the brutality of Eyre’s suppression of the revolt, with hundreds of Jamaicans killed by soldiers and more executed after trials, made the affair a cause célèbre in Britain. John Stuart Mill and other liberals sought unsuccessfully to have Eyre (and others) prosecuted. When they were unable to get the cases to trial, the liberals worked to bring civil proceedings against Eyre. He was forced to resign from office but never went to trial.