writer, journalist and doctor Richard Robert Madden (1798-1886)
represents the relationship of an honest Irish intellectual
with Cuba. His contributions can be appreciated in two
areas: culture and politics.
Richard Robert Madden (1798-1886)
by Alfred, Count D'Orsay, 1828
(National Portrait Gallery, London)
in Dublin, he was the son of Edward Madden, a silk merchant,
and his second wife, Elizabeth Forde. He pursued studies
in medicine in Paris, Naples and London. Already at that
time he demonstrated an inclination towards the humanities
as a contributor to the Morning Herald. He exercised
his profession for five years in Mayfair, London. In 1833,
he was appointed special magistrate for Jamaica. He remained
there for two years and undertook laudable work in promoting
the emancipation of slaves. The British Government recognised
his work and sent him to Cuba in 1836 as Superintendant
of Free Africans and Executive Member of the Mixed Commission
of Havana. His mission was to supervise the treatment
of free black people by the Spanish authorities.
he was Catholic, Madden had the cold eloquence of the
Puritans and a narrow yet passionate sense of justice;
he was convinced that his mission was to fight not only
against the trade and slavery in general, but also for
the moral and material wellbeing of all Africans resident
in Cuba, and particularly those who had been emancipated
already enjoyed some renown as a man of letters and an
abolitionist when he arrived in Havana. The success he
had had in actions against the Jamaican slave-owners was
known to the Havana intellectuals. In Cuba he undertook
intense activity above and beyond the bureaucratic duties
assigned to him. The economy of the island was sustained
by slave labour. It is calculated that between 1790 and
1865, 467,288 Africans entered the island, even though
the trade had been illegal since the year 1820.
early on, friendships were formed between the Irishman
and the intellectuals Domingo del Monte (1804-1853), Félix
Manuel Tanco (1796-1871) and José de la Luz y Caballero
(1804-1853). Relations with the latter, a philosopher
and educator of note, were so close that he was godfather
to his son, who was baptised with the suggestive name
of Thomas Moro.
Martí has written that the lawyer, journalist, literary
critic and writer Domingo del Monte was ‘the most real
and useful Cuban of his time’. On the basis of his contributions
he is considered an indispensable figure in the study
of the formation of Cuban nationality and culture. At
the time that Madden settled in Havana, del Monte commenced
his literary gatherings in the capital of the island.
The Cuban ‘[…] lent him books and documents about the
slave trade and he responded with an extensive questionnaire,
useful and rich in responses that were loaded with statistics
and historical data on the trade in Africans and about
the life of slaves on the Island’. (2)
participants in the literary gatherings promoted the abolitionist
literary movement, which was influenced by Madden’s ideas
and principles. When he returned to England, he brought
texts that denounced the slavery regime and illustrated
the thoughts of young Cuban intellectuals. These were
the manuscripts of the autobiography and poems of Juan
Francisco Manzano; the Elegías Cubanas by Rafael
Matamoros; Francisco by Anselmo Suárez and Petrona
y Rosalía by Félix Tanco.
soon as he arrived in London he began looking into publishing
these works. He managed to get Poems by a slave in
the island of Cuba published in Liverpool in 1840.
This contained Manzano’s texts, verses by other poets
and the responses by Domingo del Monte to the questionnaire
that he had undertaken on slavery.
the publication of the autobiography, Madden brought to
light an exceptional testimony: the vision of the victim,
as Manzano (1797-1854) had himself been a slave.
hijacking of the ship La Amistad by a group of
slaves constituted a spectacular feat, and has been the
inspiration of authors and film-makers. Madden’s participation
in the judgement of the hijackers was decisive. We will
see here in summarised form how events transpired.
28 June 1839, a cargo of 53 slaves departed from Havana
on the ship La Amistad, headed for Príncipe Port.
During the transport of the slaves, under the leadership
of the young Sengbe Pieh, popularly known in United States
history as Joseph Cinque, mutinied. They killed the captain
and the cook. They took charge of the ship and attempted
to navigate it towards Africa, but they ended up on the
northern coast of Long Island, New York, where they were
the Africans were accused of murder and piracy. The rigged
judicial process began. Various plaintiffs presented in
favour, claiming possession of the merchandise of the
ship: the Spanish Crown, the North American Secretary
of State, the Cuban traders and a group of abolitionists.
the month of August, the North American press gave much
space to the story of the hijackers and the judgment to
which they were subject. At that time Madden was organising
his return to England. Nevertheless, his love for the
liberty of slaves meant that he postponed the journey.
He embarked immediately for New York and declared that
the accused had been bought at illegal markets and that
the trade documents were false. He also revealed the complicity
of the Spanish Government, which received ten dollars
for each slave imported to Cuba. In the end, the mutineers
were freed and taken to Africa. (3)
attitude at the court case exacerbated his tense relationship
with the Spanish authorities and in 1840 he was, to all
intents and purposes, expelled from the country (4),
but his work had contributed to planting seeds that germinated
on 10 October 1868, the date that marked the beginning
of the first Cuban war of independence.
Island of Cuba
he returned to England, Madden also took with him, together
with the manuscripts of the Cuban authors mentioned above,
his own notes, where he relates his observations on the
reality of the largest of the Antilles. Based on these
testimonies by ‘people without history’ (slaves, farm
managers, factory-owners, etc.) and on data from Cuban
and European historians, he prepared the volume The
Island of Cuba, in which he describes, as the subtitle
sets out, its resources, progress and perspectives.
is a work that, thanks to the economic and demographic
data that it provides – data that are very useful for
anyone interested in colonial history -, presents us with
first-hand information about the daily life of the sugar
producers. In very direct language, the narrator denounces
the abuses that the slaves were subject to: physical punishment,
poor nutrition and excessively long working days.
completed the task given to him by the British Government
as Superintendent of Free Africans and Executive Member
of the Mixed Commission of Havana in an outstanding fashion.
Through reports, legal actions, a book and the stimulation
of the creators of the nascent abolitionist literature,
he influenced anti-slavery ideology and left an enduring
mark on the history of Cuba.
José Antonio Quintana García
Juan Pérez de la Riva, Correspondencia reservada
del capitán general Don Miguel de Tacón.
1834-1836 (Havana: Biblioteca Nacional José
Martí, 1963), 322-3.
Urbano Martínez, Domingo del Monte y su tiempo
(Havana: Ediciones Unión, 1997), 260.
15 November 2007 and Richard R. Madden, Op. cit,
After his departure from Cuba, Madden was Special Commissioner
of the British Government in the British colonies in Africa
and Colonial Secretary of Western Australia. He continued
to cultivate his journalism and wrote literary works.
From 1848, he lived in Ireland, where he retired from
public service in order to dedicate himself to the defence
of poor farmers.