William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) was a Whig politician and Britain’s Prime Minister in 1834 and from 1835-41. He was also Home Secretary from 1830-34. During his term in office no great reforms were passed – he was cautious of change for change’s sake and there were no great issues to be dealt with either at home or abroad. He is most famous for being a favourite of Queen Victoria and instructing the young queen in politics, a relationship which was viewed with great suspicion by the British public and Melbourne’s political rivals. The city of Melbourne in Australia, founded in 1835, was named for him.
Melbourne’s dealing with the Jamaican planters refers to the issues caused in Jamaica by the abolition of slavery. The Abolition Act of 1833 stipulated that all emancipated slaves in the colonies should remain working for their former masters in an ‘apprenticeship’ scheme for six years, thereby allowing a gradual transition from slavery to employment – this was mostly for the benefit of the planters, who received financial compensation for the loss of their slaves. However, after peaceful protests in Trinidad the apprenticeship scheme had to be rethought and in 1838 Trinidad became the first nation to fully emancipate slaves, with Jamaica following close behind. The British landowners in Jamaica were unhappy about this and the Prisons Act which made it illegal to imprison ex-slaves, and the Assembly of Jamaica (a national governing body overseen by the British government) tried to overrule it. The British government passed a bill in 1840 to suspend the constitution of Jamaica for five years which in the end was not implemented due to changes in the political landscape in Britain itself.