Relics of Empire: Saint Helena

English: Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, f...
Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, from above (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 1200 miles off the southwest coast of Africa lies the tiny island of Saint Helena. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, yet it has long played an important role as a stopover point for ships sailing to Europe from South Africa and Asia. The island of Saint Helena is perhaps most famous, however, as a place of exile for such dignitaries as Napoleon Bonaparte and Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo.

Today, Saint Helena is distinguished by being Britain’s second oldest colony. It makes up part of the British overseas territory that also includes the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island.

The island of Saint Helena was originally discovered by the Portuguese. Recognizing it as a strategic rendezvous point, the Portuguese furnished the uninhabited island with fruit trees, vegetables and herds of livestock, and built a small chapel and a couple of simple houses. While they chose not to form a permanent settlement, the island became a regular port of call for Portuguese ships.

When Sir Francis Drake located the island and realized that Portuguese ships regularly called there, English war ships began ambushing the heavily-laden Portuguese carracks. Obviously, this quickly discouraged the Spanish and Portuguese, and they soon reverted to new ports along the west coast of Africa.

The Dutch were developing their own trade routes at the time, and soon began frequenting the island. The Dutch officially claimed Saint Helena in 1633; however, nothing came of their claim, as they never colonized or fortified the island.

English: Copper engraving, 'A View of the Town...
‘A View of the Town and Island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the English East India Company’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Saint Helena was largely abandoned, Oliver Cromwell scooped up the opportunity by granting the English East India Company a charter to govern the island. The Company moved quickly, fortifying the island and populating it with planters. In 1659, Captain John Dutton was made the first governor of the island, and the settlement was named Jamestown in honor of the Duke of York.

For a time, the Company faced severe challenges in attracting new immigrants. Ecological problems and social unrest nearly resulted in abandonment of the settlement; however, through continued subsidies, improved fortification, ecological initiatives, and legal reforms, the colony was soon back on track. By 1770, the island was enjoying considerable peace and prosperity, and by 1814, the population had reached 3,507.

In 1815, the British government took control of the island as Saint Helena had been selected as the holding place for Napoleon Bonaparte. While the Saint Helena was still technically under EIC possession, the island was strongly fortified with hundreds of British troops and guarded continuously by naval vessels.

After Napoleon’s death in 1821, control was once again given to the EIC; however, this transition was short-lived. The passing of the 1833 India Act brought Saint Helen back under the jurisdiction of the British Crown as a Crown Colony.

The government immediately implemented a number of cost-cutting measures which initiated a significant population decline. Many who could afford to do so chose to move abroad. The economy and population saw brief spikes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; however living standards were steadily in decline for many years.

In 1989, the British Overseas Territories Act provided the islanders with full and equal status under British law. Since that time, the government has invested significant resources in helping the island to once more reach a point of self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Today, the island has a population of around 4,250 residents. Most are of British origin, descended from planters and soldiers.

Empire Settlement Schemes after WWI

English: A map of the British Empire in 1921 w...
A map of the British Empire in 1921 when it was at its height. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emigration had sharply declined over the course of the First World War. Capitalizing on the potential of Britons wanting to emigrate from post-war England, both Canada and Australia began concerted efforts to encourage renewed immigration. Owing to these efforts, migration gradually increased between 1919 and 1920.

During this time, the British government began implementing schemes of its own – though often in collaboration with the various colonies. A couple of programs were instituted to not only encourage emigration to Australia and Canada, but also to New Zealand, and South Africa as well.

The Overseas Settlement Scheme

The 1919 Overseas Settlement Scheme was passed to assist discharged soldiers returning home from the Great War. The scheme offered free passage to ex-service men and women and their dependents.  This scheme lasted until the end of 1922, and over its duration, over 86,000 migrants were provided assistance. Of this 86,000, 26,560 went to Canada, 34,750 went to Australia, 12,890 went to New Zealand, 5,890 to South Africa, and nearly 3000 ended up in other parts of the Empire.

In Australia, just over 24 million acres was allocated to the settlement scheme. Approximately 23,000 farms were established across the country, and by June of 1924, 23,367 soldiers and sailors had emigrated and settled on the farms. This scheme enabled greater development of land that had been previously uninhabited in territories throughout Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia.

New Zealand saw a dramatic shortage of farm labourers after the loss of 17,000 men in the war. In addition to aiding ex-service men, various private sectors in New Zealand also instituted juvenile immigration schemes. The Flock House Scheme, for example, was initiated in honour of the British Navy and Mercantile Marines, and provided homes for the children of sailors who had been killed during the war. Boys received instruction in agriculture, while the girls were trained in domestic and industrial occupations. Through this scheme and others, approximately 2600 children were brought to New Zealand.

The Empire Settlement Act

King George V with the British and Dominion pr...
King George V with the British and Dominion prime ministers at the 1926 Imperial Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1922, the Overseas Settlement Scheme was expanded to provide assistance to any “suitable persons” from the general public who might want to emigrate. This scheme was dubbed the Empire Settlement Act.

This act allowed the British government to collaborate with its Dominion governments, as well as with private organizations and public authorities, to develop emigration schemes. Under this act, married couples, single farm laborers and teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 were given free passage, and occasionally, training opportunities. In exchange for passage, the emigrants were expected to settle and remain on the land.

A variety of public and private schemes were instituted under this act, including the “3000 Families Scheme” and the “Dominion-Provincial Land Settlement Scheme” in Canada, and various Australian settlement schemes initiated by Dr. Barnardo’s, the Big Brother movement, and others.

Over its duration, the Empire Settlement Act provided assistance to 212,000 immigrants to Australia, and another 130,000 immigrants to Canada.

Singapore: Gibraltar of the East

"Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles"...
“Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles”. Oil on canvas, 1817, 55 in. x 43 in. (1397 mm x 1092 mm). Given by the sitter’s nephew, W.C. Raffles Flint, to the National Portrait Gallery in 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The modern nation of Singapore was established by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1819. The British statesman saw the tiny island off the coast of the Malay Peninsula as an ideal spot to establish a British colony and trading post. As an agent of the British East India Company, Raffles was able to obtain permission from Malay officials to establish a trading post on the island. He named it Singapore, after its ancient name, and promptly opened the port for free trade and free immigration.

When Singapore was first established, there were a mere 1,000 inhabitants scattered across the island. The population grew rapidly, however, as ships passed through the island’s international ports. Singapore became very ethnically diverse, and while Chinese made up the majority of the population, the island was peppered with immigrants arriving from Britain, India and the Dutch East Indies.

In the early 19th century, Britain was a great producer of woollen goods, cotton cloth and glassware. The home market was limited, however, and all of the goods could not be sold. China and Southeast Asia presented a ready market, and Singapore was the perfect trading post. Multitudes of British merchants migrated to Singapore as soon as it was established as a British outpost. They ran a brisk business selling British goods throughout the Orient and buying spices and other Asian products that could be sold in Britain.

English: The charge of the Settlement of Singa...
The charge of the Settlement of Singapore from the coat of arms of the on the gate of , . The airport opened in 1937, when Singapore was one of the three Straits Settlements together with and (Prince of Wales’ Island). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 50 years after Raffles established his free-trade port in Singapore, the country prospered and the population boomed. The Dutch officially acknowledged British sovereignty over Singapore in 1824, and the island (along with two other trading ports and a number of small dependencies) were ruled as the Straits Settlements. When the British government needed a location to station their troops, the Straits Settlements were adopted as a crown colony, and were ruled directly from London.

Singapore continued to grow as a busy seaport, now home to roughly 86,000 inhabitants. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, British influence increased even more, and thousands of workers were brought in from India, China and the Dutch East Indies to work in the tin mines and on rubber plantations.

As Singapore steamed into the 20th century it continued to prosper under British rule; however, Japan soon posed a threat. The British built a large and costly naval base to protect the island, but this “Gibraltar of the East” was only a more attractive target for the Japanese forces. Japan attacked and Singapore’s severely outnumbered forces were quickly defeated and forced to surrender.

After three and a half years of Japanese occupation, they were finally ousted and the British forces were able to return. The Singaporeans gave the returning troops a hero’s welcome. Though many British and Empire soldiers had died due to Japanese brutality, the island of Singapore was returned to peace and stability once more. Though a few Britons remained in Singapore permanently, most returned home after a time.

Relics of Empire: Montserrat

The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat is part of the Lesser Antilles island chain found in the Leeward Islands. The tiny island is sometimes called The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean because of its keen resemblance to the coasts of Ireland. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the island boasts a significant population with Irish roots.

Montserrat (Photo credit: Sergi Perpiñá)

The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, as he was making his second voyage to the New World. He claimed the island and named it Santa Maria de Montserrat, in honor of the Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia, Spain.

Apparently, little was done to develop the island until it fell under British control in 1632. Settlement began when fierce anti-Catholic sentiments arose on the nearby island of Nevis, and a large group of Irish Catholic slaves were forcibly transplanted to Montserrat.

A sort of neo-feudal colony was built up, largely on the backs of slaves. First Irish slaves arrived, followed by many African slaves, brought in to work on the local plantations. As was the case on many Caribbean islands, the economy of Montserrat was largely based on rum, sugar, cotton, and arrowroot. By the late 18th century, plantations covered much of the island, manned by hundreds of slaves.

At the same time, Oliver Cromwell was sending shiploads of exiled Irish people to the island, along with many political prisoners, orphans, and unemployed poor. Many who were a financial burden to the public purse at home were shipped off to work on the plantations of Montserrat.

While Britain was distracted by the American Revolutionary War in 1782, the French swooped in and briefly captured the island. French rule was fairly short-lived however, and rule of Montserrat was returned to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris.

In 1834, slavery was abolished in Montserrat, and that factor – combined with falling sugar prices – led to a dramatic downturn in the island’s economy. Plantation owners were at a loss until 1857 when British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought up a sugar estate and proved that plantations could be commercially viable even without depending on slave labour.

Before and after: The end result of cleanup wo...
Before and after: The end result of cleanup work on the Joseph Sturge memorial at Five Ways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many members of the Sturge family followed, buying up plots of land all over the island and planting vast groves of lime trees. The Sturges established the Montserrat Company Ltd. and set up a plant for processing lime juice on a commercial level. Eventually, the company sold off small parcels of land to various islanders who in turn began to develop the land further.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Montserrat was included as part of the British Leeward Islands colony. For a brief stint, it was made a province of the West Indies Federation; however, this was dissolved in 1962.

In recent years, Montserrat has been the victim of serious natural disasters, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and the eruption of Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano in 1995. Many portions of the island are now uninhabitable. An estimated 8000 refugees fled the island following these events.

Today’s population of around 5800 is made up of a mix of British, Irish and African descendants. English is widely spoken, along with a creole dialect.

Howick’s Settlement of Old Soldiers in New Zealand

In 1845, the European population of New Zealand hovered around 6,500. While the 1840s saw the first substantial wave of British migration, the British remained in the minority compared to the nearly 200,000 Maori. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi had established British sovereignty; however, there were not nearly enough British citizens for the country to run in a British way.

Howick Historical Village
Howick Historical Village (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertising campaigns throughout England promoted New Zealand as a great place to live, and this did bring in a trickle of immigrants. Nonetheless, there was still not a large enough population to maintain an effective police or military presence. With the ever present threat of Maori attack, the New Zealand settlements were desperate for protection.

To that effect, Lt. Governor George Grey turned to England and petitioned the government for soldiers to supplement his small force of 1,100 fighting men. In response, the Lt. Governor received a contingent of 900 soldiers from New South Wales, and an additional 702 “old soldiers”.

These old soldiers, or “Fencibles” as they were called, were retired soldiers in their upper 30s and 40s, living on government pensions. A fleet of eleven ships brought the old soldiers, along with their wives and children, to New Zealand.

In return for their military duties, the soldiers (along with their families) were offered free passage and a fresh start in a new land. They were each paid a regular pension and given a cottage on an acre of land. This land would become fully theirs after serving for a seven year term. Officers were given large homesteads and a full 50 acres of land.

The Grey River, Mount Grey, Greytown, Greymout...
The Grey River, Mount Grey, Greytown, Greymouth and Grey Lynn all derive their name from Sir George Grey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Howick Settlement

The Howick settlement was originally part of a claim established by William Thomas Fairburn. Fairburn had purchased 40,000 acres of land at the insistence of local Maori tribes, and had established a mission station at Maraetai.

After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, the government took back 36,000 acres from the Fairburn claim. Some of the land was sold off to settlers and some was returned to the Maori; however, a substantial portion was used to establish Fencible settlements of Howick and Otahuhu.

The Howick settlement was named after Lt. Governor Grey, who was the 3rd Earl Grey and Viscount Howick, as he was largely responsible for the Fencible immigration scheme. Each old soldier was given land with the understanding that they would be called up as a defense force in wartime. Their name “Fencibles” was in fact derived from the word “Defencible”, meaning capable of defense.

While the old soldiers never were called upon to honour that defense contract, they did establish a thriving permanent settlement – some of which can still be seen today in the Howick Historical Village. Many of the old soldiers became successful farmers, and a large number of their descendants still live in the area today. In fact, it is estimated that over 600,000 New Zealanders can trace their roots back to this first group of old soldiers and their families.

Immigrants Made Good – Sir Montague Maurice Burton

Sir Montague Maurice Burton was born on August 13th, 1885, in the tiny town of Kukel in Russian Lithuania. From his humble beginnings, he would go on to found the enormously successful Burton Company, responsible for outfitting so many British men throughout the 1900s.

English: Burton's menswear factory Leeds (now ...
English: Burton’s menswear factory Leeds (now owned by Arcadia) viewed from Brown Hill Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burton was notoriously cagey about his early life. We do know, however, that he was born Meshe David Osinsky to Hyman Jehuda and Rachel Elky Osinsky. His father was a bookseller; however, he passed away shortly after Meshe’s birth. Following his mother’s remarriage, Meshe was sent to live with his uncle, Soliman Osinsky.

Throughout his childhood, Meshe received a strong religious education and was well instructed in the Talmud. His uncle was a leader in the community and Meshe was well cared for; however, at 15, Meshe struck out on his own with the goal of starting a business in England.

He arrived in England in 1900 with little more than £100 in his pocket, but his keen business intellect more than made up for the money he lacked. He began his business career as a peddler selling accessories from door to door. After just a few years, however, he managed to set up as a general outfitter selling ready-made suits for the working man.

He purchased the ready-made suits from the Zimmerman Bros wholesale clothiers in Leeds and marked the price up by 30% in his retail business. By 1906, Burton was ready to expand, establishing a branch in Mansfield and then another in Sheffield. By this point, his stores offered both ready-made and bespoke (custom-tailored) suits.

In 1909, Burton met and married Sophie Marks. Shortly after his marriage, he changed the name of his stores from M. Burton to Burton & Burton. Children soon arrived in the Burton home. A girl was born in 1910, followed by a boy in 1914, followed by twin boys in 1917. It’s unclear when Burton began going by Montague Burton – and up until this point, he had not changed it legally; however, in the birth records of his twin boys he gave his name as Montague Maurice Burton.

By 1914, Burton had increased his number of stores to 14. The stores were scattered mainly throughout the industrial Midlands, and catered largely to the middle class. They offered a large variety of men’s wear, and soon grew to become the world’s largest wholesale made-to-measure tailoring service.

English: Shop Ventilator, High Street, Hunting...
Shop Ventilator, High Street, Huntingdon The script reads “Montague Burton The Tailor of Taste” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the First World War broke out, business boomed for Burton. He won a lucrative uniform contract, leading him to rapidly expand his workforce and the number of shops. Sales nearly tripled between 1915 and 1917.

Though he was a driven businessman, Burton was an outstanding employer for his time. He was committed to providing healthy working conditions for his employees, providing meals and low-cost dentistry. He even contracted the services of an eye specialist for his tailors, recognizing the strain caused by focused needle-work.

His efforts and business acumen were publicly recognized when, in 1931, he was knighted “for services to industrial relations.” He was a Justice of the Peace from 1930 onward, and was a prominent supporter of the League of Nations.

Burton passed away on September 21st, 1952, at a dinner party for his executives and managers at the Great Northern Hotel in Leeds. His funeral was held at the Chapeltown Synagogue.

Relics of Empire: Bermuda

Saint Peter's Church, in St. George's, Bermuda...
Saint Peter’s Church, in St. George’s, Bermuda. Although the church, the oldest of the Church of England (now Anglican Communion) outside of Britain and Ireland, dates to 1612, the current structure dates only to 1620. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Bermuda was originally discovered by Spanish navigator Juan Bermudez around 1511, the island went untended and unclaimed for nearly a century. The beginnings of English settlement were established almost by accident when a shipwreck left the flagship of English Admiral Sir George Somers shattered on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609.

Somers’ expedition had set out with the intention of colonizing the New World for Britain. He saw the New World as a potential fresh start for many citizens of Britain’s overcrowded cities. He had engineered the initiative, and the voyage had gone smoothly for the first few days.

The crew of the Sea Venture was en route to Jamestown, Virginia when they met their misfortune of the coast of Bermuda. On July 25, 1609, the ship was caught in a hurricane and tossed hundreds of miles off course, until she wrecked on the reefs of Bermuda’s Discovery Bay.

Fortunately, no lives were lost, and Somers took the opportunity to explore and map the islands. The men built makeshift boats and spent months charting the mainland and its surrounding islands.

Eventually, the crew of 150 survivors was able to build a couple of ships, and in these Bermuda-built ships, the survivors carried on with their voyage to the Jamestown colony. Three sailors were so enchanted by the island, however, that they volunteered to be left behind. These three British sailors became the first European settlers on Bermuda.

Intentional settlement began a few years later, when Bermuda was incorporated into the Virginia Company charter. In 1612, around 60 colonists arrived from England, and they soon established St. George Town as the first official settlement. St. George’s became Bermuda’s first capital, and remains today as the oldest continually inhabited English town in the Americas.

Cover of "The Generall Historie of Virgin...
Cover of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New=England, and the Summer Isles” (The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Somers Isles), by Captain John Smith, 1624. ‘Graven’ by John Barra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1615, Bermuda was handed over to the Somers Isles Company. Shortly thereafter, Bermuda officially gained status as a British colony, when the first parliament convened in 1620. In 1684, King Charles II appointed Sir Robert Robertson as the colony’s first governor and designated Bermuda as British Crown Colony.

Colonization continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, bolstered in part by the slave trade. Most slaves were brought in from Africa, though quite a number of Scots were sent for their part in fighting against Cromwell, and many more Irish slaves followed in 1651. Fortunately, all slaves on Bermuda were freed under the British Emancipation Act of 1834.

Bermuda gained particular prominence during the American Revolution. Since Britain lost its colonial ports, strong naval bases were established in Bermuda.  The island also went on to play a key role during WWII as a base for refueling and a hotbed of espionage.

As the island gained prominence over the years, its relationship with England gradually shifted. After nearly two hundred years of occupation, the British government decided to grant the colony self-government. In 1957, Britain withdrew its armies.

Bermuda has long held status as Britain’s oldest colony. Today, Bermuda is not officially a country, and while it is self-governing, it forms part of the Commonwealth. As such, the island’s Governor is appointed by the Crown and Britain directly manages internal security and police systems. As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is represented by Britain in all foreign affairs.

Early Welsh Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania

William Penn Deutsch: William Penn († 1718) ??...
William Penn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welsh Quakers were some of the earliest emigrants to Pennsylvania. Through their industrious habits, they made significant contributions to the colony’s development and played a key role in its political, social and economic formation.

Religion was the primary push factor for most of these early Welsh emigrants. The Quakers had been harshly persecuted in their homeland. Parliament had passed stringent laws forbidding their public worship, and enforcing fines and imprisonment on any who disobeyed.

William Penn, an English Quaker with Welsh roots, had recently been granted a charter from King Charles II to establish a colony in the New World. This colony was to be called Penn Sylvania, or “Penn’s Woods”.  In establishing this colony, Penn’s goal was to provide a safe religious haven for the persecuted peoples of Europe.

Faced with trying circumstances in England, the Welsh Quakers saw Pennsylvania as a secure haven from English religious oppression. Penn’s Welsh ancestry and Quaker heritage gave the Welsh Quakers the resolve and confidence needed to emigrate to his colony.

With the promise of great economic opportunity and the assurance of complete religious liberty, a committee of Welsh Quakers met with William Penn in London to negotiate the purchase of a tract of land. The Welsh committee, headed by John ap John, approached Penn with their desire to buy a piece of land where they could form a distinct Welsh settlement where they could maintain their own language and customs. They proposed a self-governed settlement in which they would handle any quarrels or crimes in their own way and their own language.

An agreement was reached between Penn and the Welsh committee; however, it was a fully verbal agreement (which would later lead to some controversy). Nonetheless, the committee was satisfied at the time, and arrangements were made to purchase forty thousand acres.

Thirty thousand acres were put in the names of select Welsh leaders who acted as “company heads”. Some of these men purchased the land for themselves, while others acted merely as trustees and eventually parted the land out to settlers. The other ten thousand acres of the Welsh Barony were to be distributed by Penn himself to additional settlers.

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon ...
The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King’s breakfast chamber at Whitehall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Settlement took off rapidly, and the Welsh Barony was quickly populated by numerous Quaker families. Estimates show that between 1662 and 1700, the Welsh made up the largest immigrant body in the state. The original townships of Merion and Haverford soon overflowed into new townships in Radnor and Goshen. Soon Tredyffrin and Uwchlan were established, and before long, the rest of the barony was settled.

The Welsh Quakers were typically well-to-do, industrious folks. They built up and developed their land quickly, and lived fairly luxurious lives for early pioneers.

For some time, they did indeed govern themselves as the Welsh Barony; however, the system soon disappeared as the Welsh merged into the general population. Over the next few generations, the Welsh language died out as the Quakers took to speaking English. Nonetheless, the relatively small group of Quakers gained surprising eminence in the region, and to this day, their influence can be felt.

Relics of Empire: The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands can be found in the Caribbean, and constitute a portion of the Virgin Islands Archipelago. While the whole territory is generally referred to as the “Virgin Islands”, ownership of the chain is divided between Britain, America, and Spain. Thus, most use the term “British Virgin Islands” or “BVI” to distinguish the British Overseas Territory from the other territories.

Road Town, Tortola, BVI - 2005
Road Town, Tortola, BVI – 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The islands were first sighted by Christopher Columbus as he was making his second voyage to the New World. He dubbed the islands Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes (Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins). Obviously, the unwieldy name was quickly shortened to The Virgins.

As with many islands in the Caribbean, the Spanish initially laid claim to the Virgin Islands in the early 16th century; however, no attempt was made at settlement. Throughout the next few decades, the powers of Europe all struggled over ownership and control over the islands. The English, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, and French all laid claim to the islands at one point or another, but for many years, the Virgins were little more than a popular pirate haunt.

The first official settlement was established by the Dutch in 1648 on the island of Tortola. English forces were able to capture Tortola in 1672 at the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The British were able to use Tortola as a strategic base from which they were able to annex Virgin Gorda, Anegada and the rest of the British Virgin Islands in 1680.

Though the British now held full control over the Territory, immigration was slow and few cared to stay long. Many settlers feared the instability of the region, and anticipated attacks by the Spanish or the Dutch. By 1685, the population was reduced to two: an undaunted Mr. Jonathan Turner and his wife. After 1690, however, the British Virgin Islands saw a dramatic upswing in population growth and by 1696, the total number was up to fifty.

With a steadily growing population on the islands, the British appointed a deputy-governor to manage the territory. The role was little more than nominal, with no real power behind the title. People on the islands lived however they wanted, without a law or government. The islands continued this way for over 100 years.

The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands.
The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As sugar was a major industry on the island, much of the BVI economy was built on the back of slave labour. Tortola and Virgin Gorda in particular were settled primarily by plantation owners who brought in massive numbers of African slaves. By 1756, the slave population on the islands was at 6,121.

While the emancipation of 1834 released all slaves on the islands, evidence of the massive slave population is still very clearly seen in the modern demographics. The population of the BVI today is around 21,730, and approximately 83.4% are of African descent. Roughly 7% of the population is of British or European origin, while the remaining 9.6% is Carib, Indian and mixed-race Hispanic.

After emancipation, the islands struggled economically for many years. Plantations were no longer economically viable, and many owners simply picked up and went home to England. Decline and disorder followed, and emigration was high until local community leaders stood up and insisted on change.

Conditions in the territory have since improved drastically, thanks to better government and the advent of the offshore financial services industry. Today, the BVI is in the lead as one of the top global offshore financial centres.

Guernsey evacuees and kind Canadians during the Second World War

For 5 years Gill Mawson has been interviewing evacuees who fled Guernsey, in the Channel Islands,  to England, just before the Germans occupied the islands in June 1940. 17,000 children and adults left Guernsey, which was British territory, with the majority arriving in England with just the clothes on their backs. Whole schools were evacuated with their teachers, and some reopened in England during the war as ‘Guernsey schools’ so that the evacuated teachers and pupils could remain together. One school was financially supported by Americans, with one child being sponsored by the President’s wife, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. The only communication between England and Guernsey was through 25 word Red Cross letters. The evacuees remained in England for five years until the war ended. Some evacuees chose not return to Guernsey but to remain in England where they had settled into their local communities.

Interviews with the evacuees, together with surviving wartime records, show there were certain individuals and organisations that made a huge difference to the lives of these penniless evacuees, not just financially, but  also emotionally. Amongst these were the Canadian Channel Islander‘s Societies.When news of the Channel Islands evacuation and occupation reached the 500 Channel Islanders living in the Vancouver area, a sense of shock swept through the community. They quickly realised that the evacuees would need clothing, shoes, cash and medical supplies, and a writer, Philippe William Luce, formed the Vancouver Channel Islanders Society. Some of their newsletters have survived, and the society noted at one meeting,

“Thousands of old folks, women and children urgently need help, and every dollar counts. It costs about $1000 a week for shoe repairs and dental attention alone. Every letter from the kiddies to their parents in the Islands costs one shilling and families building homes in England need stoves, furniture, bedding etc.” [i]

The society’s newsletters give details of the fund raising efforts they made. They sold Christmas cards and Jersey seed potatoes, and held raffles – with one prize being a prize Jersey calf which raised $3,000.  Local people donated clothing, shoes, socks, quilts and books to the society, which were sent to Victory Hall, 535 Homer Street, Vancouver, for packaging on Thursday afternoons. The society organised lunches for which admission was $25 per person, together with musical evenings, concerts, film shows and picnics. In October 1941 the Vancouver Lion’s Club donated all the proceeds of its annual charity concert to the society, which featured an appearance by Lansing Hatfield, a star of the New York Opera.  By February 1942, the Vancouver society had sent $3,254 to London for the evacuees together with 119 crates of clothing, and letters of thanks began to arrive from Channel Island evacuees in England,

“More and more letters of thanks are coming from the recipients;some exceedingly touching scribblings from little children.”

Some of the Canadians who donated clothing to the society placed little notes in the pockets of coats and jackets.  A Guernsey evacuee at the Forest School in Cheshire found the following note in the pocket of his coat,

“To the little boy who receives this parcel. Please write to me at the above address and let me know how you like it. May God Bless you, and keep you safe from harm. Sincerely yours, Mrs C J Collett.”

Canadian note found in pocket  Martel

Another society was established in Victoria,Vancouver Island, containing around 100 members. At their first meeting in August 1941, the committee decided to arrange a Channel Islands Arts and Crafts event, to arouse interest in the islands, and between 1941 and 1945, the Victoria society raised $4,992 for the evacuees. They used the Women’s Institute rooms on Fort Street for the collection and packaging of clothing, before sending the crates to the Vancouver society, or directly to London.4

It is not known exactly how many more Channel Islanders in Canada carried out this wonderful work, but their efforts clearly went a long way in helping hundreds of  unfortunate evacuees in England who had been torn from their homes.

Guest post by Gillian Mawsom. For more information on Guernsey Evacuees, please visit

[i]      Martel, Diary, Vancouver Channel Islanders Society Minutes, February 1942

4     The Daily Colonist, Channel Islanders in Victoria, 3 May 1979, p.4



Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.