The Misfortunes of the Queen

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This expansion of the British Empire in the Caribbean became a threat to the continued prosperity of Nevis. Sugar production had become more profitable in the virgin soil of some of Britain’s new possessions, especially Jamaica and Trinidad and Nevis soon became a high cost producer of sugar.

The gradual collapse of the Nevis Sugar Industry in had a domino effect on the society and economy of Nevis. The progressive loss of profits resulted in a substantial reduction in public revenue, which was reflected in the quality of the administrative services provided by the Government of Nevis.

This affected the general quality of life in the island and led to the migration of the upper-class population. The eventual migration of these substantial people further reduced the circulation of money and seriously impaired the general spending power of the poorer islanders.

In the flourishing mercantilist era of the sugar industry, the British-appointed governor and his staff were paid from a 4% export duty on sugar. When the market declined, this fund evaporated and the colony had to seek direct aid from Britain to maintain its administrative structure. The British Government was no mood to pay money to buttress these small island administrations which had now outlived their usefulness as contributors to British wealth.

In the eyes of the British these tiny islands in the Caribbean with their nostalgia for the past and their grand government apparatus, which had now grown top heavy, was a wasteful extravagance. The trappings of power, consisting of a governor, an assembly and a council were now, irrelevant in the context of the island’s usefulness to Britain’s economy.

The official policy of the British Government was to keep the islands afloat, sheared of their political pretensions. In 1882, Nevis was appended to St. Kitts.

The process of constitutional change had begun in a panic after 1865, the year of the Morant Bay uprising in Jamaica. Although the uprising was sparked by a violent agitation for land reform, the upper classes of Jamaica knew that land ownership by the working class would give them access to seats in the island’s legislative assembly. Apprehensive of this development, the Jamaica Assembly voted itself out of existence and turned to Britain to administer their island as a Crown Colony.

In 1866, both St Kitts and Nevis, urged by the British government, voted to abolish their elected Legislative Assemblies and replace them with nominated councils. In 1868, the Nevis Council debated the option to unite with St. Kitts and voted against the measure. In 1871, the British Government, persistent in its intention to rationalize the administration of these little islands, created the Leeward Islands colony.

The Leeward Islands colony was designed for the small neighboring islands, each of which became a presidency. Both St Kitts and Nevis became separate presidencies along with Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica, and the British Virgin Islands.

The rock, Redondo, was latched on to by Antigua while Anguilla, 79 miles away, was connected to St Kitts. In 1878, the British imposed crown colony status on both St. Kitts and Nevis, In 1881, St Kitts Nevis Anguilla were forced together into a single presidency to the utter annoyance of the Nevisians who protested vigorously against this imposition.

The British arrangement made sense. The islands were poor and except for St. Kitts could not raise sufficient revenue to finance the old colonial administration. All except St. Kitts had to rely on grants–in–aid from Britain who quite naturally had the right to see that its money was not wasted.

This does not, of course, excuse Britain’s very marginal attention which she paid to these colonies which had laid the foundation of her great industrial wealth.

True the British took certain initiatives in the areas of citrus and bananas and in establishing the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. But each development carried the distinct message that it was being tried for the ultimate benefit of the Mother Country.

Value could be added to bananas and citrus so that some mercantile interest in Britain could be enhanced. In the larger islands, the sugar industries were modernized to exploit the modern technology of turning wet sugar into crystals for the refineries of Tate and Lyle.

The British imperial mind could not yet comprehend that it was a British duty to care for the islands, which she once exploited.

This attitude of benign neglect lasted through the post emancipation period, right into the twentieth century. For the large majority of the islands’ population, the working classes bore the brunt of this neglect. They lived in slums, they were vulnerable to a variety of tropical epidemics, and the infant mortality rate was high.

They had limited opportunities to escape from the slums because only a small number completed their elementary education each year, and even with this distinction, they could find non-agrarian employment only as low paid store clerks, messengers, policemen, and porters.

This was the state of neglect which prevailed in Nevis when Simeon Daniel was born in 1934, one hundred years after emancipation. The potholed roads were unpaved, there was no electricity. In Charlestown, the street lamps were lit at night by a government worker; water was scarce since most of the old wells had become dysfunctional. The health services were undeveloped, with a single doctor serving the entire population. Surgeries had to be performed in St Kitts. Nevisians crossed the channel to shop and to collect their birth certificates.

There was still a rudimentary sugar industry in which peasant farmers cultivated their small plots of cane, which they sold to the New River mill to be made into muscovado (wet) sugar. Other cane farmers shipped their cane to St Kitts to the modern sugar factory. These farmers rotated their sugar cane crops with cotton, which became the main agricultural pursuit of many Nevisians.

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