Norman Washington Manley was born at Roxburgh, Manchester, Jamaica, on 4 July 1893, the eldest son of Thomas Albert Samuel Manley, planter and produce dealer, and his wife, Margaret Ann, daughter of Alexander Shearer, penkeeper. His father was of partly African and partly English descent and his mother of partly Irish descent. He was educated at elementary schools and at Jamaica College where he excelled both as a scholar and as an athlete. In 1914 he became a Rhodes scholar and entered Jesus College, Oxford, to read law.
In 1915 Manley enlisted as a private in the Royal Field Artillery, became a first-class gunner sergeant, and won the MM. He declined a commission. He returned to Oxford in 1919, where he graduated BA in 1921 and obtained his BCL with second-class honours, and was called to the bar by Gray's Inn. On 25 June 1921 in England he married his cousin Edna Swithenbank.
After spending a year as a pupil in chambers in London, Manley was admitted to practise in Jamaica, where he showed brilliance immediately and soon became the foremost lawyer of the day. By the time he had given up active practice in 1955 he had appeared in every important or sensational case both civil and criminal in Jamaica. He was not only the leader of the Jamaica bar but of that of the British West Indies as well. He added to his reputation by appearances in England, successfully defending a Jamaican charged with murder, and became the first Jamaican counsel to appear before the judicial committee of the privy council in the Karsote trade mark case which he won
In May 1938 labour disturbances plagued Jamaica as well as others of Britain's colonies in the Caribbean. There was deadlock between employers and labour; Manley offered his services as mediator and helped in restoring industrial peace. Later that year he founded Jamaica's first political party, the People's National Party (PNP), with the chief aims of securing universal adult suffrage and self-government for Jamaica. In the first elections, in 1944, having won adult suffrage, both he and his party were defeated. In 1949 the PNP again suffered defeat, but Manley won a seat at least. It was not until his third try (1955) that the party succeeded and Manley became chief minister of Jamaica.
In the elections of 1959, under the new constitution which gave Jamaica internal self-government, Manley's party won twenty-nine seats against the sixteen which went to the Jamaica Labour Party of Sir Alexander Bustamante. But in 1961 Manley called a referendum to decide whether or not Jamaica should remain in the federation of the West Indies which had been established in 1958. The electorate voted ‘No’ and Manley, who was a pro-federationist, had to call new elections in 1962 to decide which party should lead the country into full independence. His party lost.
It was ironic that Manley who had done more than anybody else to win self-government for Jamaica was denied the honour of leading the country into independence; it was given to his cousin and arch political rival Bustamante to become Jamaica's first prime minister, although for most of his political life Bustamante had opposed self-government.
Image courtesy of fishafoto
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