In labour relations, most planting attorneys and managers were unable to overcome their habitual reliance on force and intimidation. Although the whip was abandoned in some colonies, in others it was still in service. In areas where it was still used, a threat of violence by an apprentice upon his master would likely have earned him fifteen to thirty nine stripes; everywhere it would have been a cause for a brief imprisonment. Even insolence by an apprentice toward his superiors could serve as a sufficient cause for whipping when a presiding magistrate was in collusion with local planters.
Many planters took an exacting rather than conciliatory, approach to their apprentices. They insisted that people who demanded their freedom should be deprived of the 'indulgences of slavery'. Some planters also defied the Emancipation Act, by withholding customary privileges no specifically required by the statute. In slave times, women who had borne six children were universally exempted from field labour. Many of these women were recalled to the field when apprenticeship began.
Additionally, in Jamaica it had been routine for slaves to be granted weekly allowances of herrings and salt fish, and at the end of harvest, and at Christmas they were granted oatmeal, flour, sugar rum, and additional clothing. Although the extent of these allowances had varied from estate to estate, after 1st August 1834, some planters abandoned them altogether. In order to provide food for his family an apprentices had to work on his provision grounds.
Work was usually carried out after the apprentice had served his daily allowance of time on the estate. The planters also attempted to restrict the ability of their apprentices to find more remunerative employment elsewhere in their free time. Some of the planters' actions were designed to reduce the amount of time at the apprentices' disposal. In some cases they were given provision grounds at long distances (approximately eight to ten miles) from their huts, so that much valuable time would be used merely going to and from their work.
Most planters, when they brought charges against their apprentices, preferred such punishments as might be awarded to be given in lashes or in forfeiture of time to the estate; in the one case not diminishing the estate labouring time, and in the other, actually increasing it. In addition, planters gave the apprentices most unfertile and tough grounds for cultivation. The classification of apprentices and the valuation of those who wish to purchase their freedom were dealt with firmly.
This was because apprenticeship for non- praedials (slaves not normally engaged in agricultural labour) was scheduled to end two years before praedials or field workers were to be freed. Planters therefore misinterpreted the status of non-praedials in the hope of retaining their services for the extended period. Insubordinate domestics were threatened with demotion to the field. Tradesmen complained that masters compelled them to perform agricultural labour in order to register them as field hands.
Abolition acts entitled apprentices to buy their freedom at a fair valuation of the unexpired term of their apprenticeship, but planters commonly impeded this procedure by rendering exorbitant appraisements upon their servants. Since appraisement tribunals normally comprised two planters in addition to an independent judge, biased decisions were the rule. Industrious apprentices were penalised by the system of valuation. Value was determined by the apprentices' age, strength, skills, and general worth.
Strong, accomplished, reliable apprentices, the people most likely to seek appraisement were valued much more highly than their idle or unproductive counterparts, and the inflated valuations which the planters placed on them bore no relation to the wages offered for the extra work they performed. Domestics and tradesmen constituted a large percentage of those seeking manumission by purchase. Women were more numerous than men. In all colonies the number of apprentices who appealed for valuation was relatively low, and as the time for freedom approached, the incentive to expend one's savings to purchase a premature release diminished.
The prime fault of the apprenticeship system was that it attempted an impossible compromise between slavery and freedom. It involved the continuation of many features of slavery such as forced labour, the undefined distribution of indulgences and allowances and the restricted mobility of the labour for wages and competition between employers for labour. In addition, apprentices did not work as industriously during their hours of free labour on the plantation as compared to during hours of paid labour. As a result of these occurrences, apprenticeship was not allowed to run its full lease of life.
In March 1838 the Colonial Office, guided by a trinity of humanitarians, Glenelg, Stepen, and Taylor, decided that apprenticeship must go. The planters were informed that artisans (coopers, masons, carpenters and the like) were non-praedials, and so must be set free on August 1st, 1838. To work the estates without theses would be difficult. The next month the Emancipation Act was amended to give the governors and stipendiary magistrates greater powers. The colonies decided one by one to do away altogether with apprenticeship and on August 1st, 1838, 715,000 Negroes were set free.