West Indies Federation

West Indies Federation

Infobox Former Country
native_name =
conventional_long_name = West Indies Federation
common_name = West Indies
continent = North America
region = Caribbean
status = Federation
event_start =
year_start = 1958
date_start = January 3
year_end = 1962
date_end = May 31
event_end =
p1 = Barbados
flag_p1 = Flag of Barbados 1885.pngp2 = Jamaica
flag_p2 = Flag of Jamaica (1957-1962).svg
p3 = Trinidad and Tobago|Trinidad-Tobago
flag_p3 = Trinidad & Tobago Blue Ensign 1889.pngp4 = British Leeward Islands|Leeward Islands
flag_p4 = Flag of British Leeward Islands.gif
p5 = British Windward Islands|Windward Islands
flag_p5 = Missing Blue Ensign.svg
s1 = Antigua and Barbuda|Antigua
flag_s1 = Antiguaflag.pngs2 = Barbados
flag_s2 = Flag of Barbados 1958.pngs3 = Cayman Islands
flag_s3 = Flag of the Cayman Islands (pre-1999).svg
s4 = Dominica
flag_s4 = Flag of Dominica 1955-1965.pngs5 = Grenada
flag_s5 = Flag of Grenada 1903.gif
s6 = Jamaica
flag_s6 = Flag of Jamaica (1957-1962).svg
s7 = Montserrat
flag_s7 = Flag of Montserrat.svg
s8 = Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla
flag_s8 = St._kitts_nevis_anguilla_flag.gif
s9 = Saint Lucia
flag_s9 = Saint Lucia Flag 1939.gif
s10 = Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|Saint Vincent
flag_s10 = St Vincent colonial flag.pngs11 = Trinidad and Tobago
flag_s11 = Flag of Trinidad and Tobago.svg
s12 = Turks and Caicos Islands
flag_s12 = Flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands.svg

symbol = Coat of arms of the West Indies Federation

national_motto = To dwell together in unity
national_anthem = God Save the Queen
capital = Chaguaramas, Trinidad
currency = BWI dollar (XBWD)
government_type = Constitutional monarchy
common_languages = English
leader1 = Elizabeth II
title_leader = Queen
representative1 = Lord Hailes
title_representative = Governor-General
deputy1 = Grantley Herbert Adams¹
stat_year1 = 1960
stat_area1 = 20253
stat_pop1 = 3117300
footnotes = ¹ West Indies Federal Labour Party
utc_offset = –5 to -4, Summer: UTC –4 to -3
cctld = n/a
calling_code = 1-809 (in 1958)

The West Indies Federation, also known as the Federation of the West Indies, was a short-lived Caribbean federation that existed from January 3, 1958 to May 31, 1962. It consisted of several Caribbean colonies of the United Kingdom. The expressed intention of the Federation was to create a political unit that would become independent from Britain as a single state—possibly similar to the Canadian Confederation, or Australian Federation; however, before that could happen, the Federation collapsed due to internal political conflicts.

Population and geography

The total population of the West Indies Federation was between 3 and 4 million people, with the majority being of African descent. Minorities included Indians from the subcontinent (called East Indians), Europeans, Chinese, and Caribs. There was also a large population of mixed descent (mainly mulattos, but also Afro-Indian, Euro-Indian and mixed-Chinese). In terms of religion, most of the population was Protestant, with significant numbers of Catholics and some Hindus and Muslims (both almost exclusively from the East Indian population).

The West Indies Federation (or just West Indies) consisted of around 24 main inhabited islands and approximately 220-230 minor offshore islands, islets and cays (some inhabited, some uninhabited). The largest island was Jamaica, located in the far northwest of the Federation. To the southeast lay the second largest island, Trinidad, followed by Barbados, located at the eastern extremity of the Federation.

The Federation spanned across all the island groupings in the Caribbean:
*The Greater Antilles: Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
*The Bahama Islands (sometimes included in the Greater Antilles): the Turks and Caicos Islands
*The Lesser Antilles, both in the:
**Leeward Islands: Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, and Montserrat
**Windward Islands: Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados
**Trinidad and Tobago

At its widest (west to east), from the Cayman Islands to Barbados it spanned some convert|2425|km|nmi|-1 (and across approximately 22 degrees of longitude) and from the Turks and Caicos Islands in the north, to the Icacos Point, Trinidad in the south it extended convert|1700|km|nmi|-1 (and across 12 degrees of latitude). However, most of the area along either of these distances was taken up by open water (with the exception of some of the other islands lying in between). By comparison Great Britain stretches across nearly 10 degrees of latitude and Spain extends across almost 20 degrees of longitude. Even though the West Indies was spread across such a vast area, most of its provinces were mostly contiguous and clustered fairly close together in the Eastern Caribbean, with the obvious exceptions of Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Most of the islands have mountainous interiors surrounded by narrow coastal plains. The exceptions were Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands (which are all fairly flat), and Trinidad (which has a large mountain range in the north and a small central mountain range in the interior of the otherwise flat island). The narrow coastal plains as well as historical trade is the main reason why almost all of the major settlements (cities and towns) of the Federation were located on the coast. Chief towns included Kingston, Port of Spain, Bridgetown, Spanish Town, Montego Bay, Mandeville, Castries, Roseau, St. George’s, Kingstown, St. John’s and Basseterre.

The climate in all the islands is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although inland regions in the larger islands have more temperate climates. Regions falling within the rain shadows (southern coasts of Jamaica and Trinidad and eastern coasts of the Lesser Antilles) are relatively drier. There are two seasons annually: the dry season for the first six months of the year, and the rainy season (also known as the hurricane season) in the second half of the year. All of the islands fall within the traditional hurricane belt, with the exception of Trinidad (although it occasionally experiences low latitude hurricanes) and thus are at risk from potential wind and flood damage.

The Federation was considered to be part of the North American continent as all of its islands are in the Caribbean, even though Trinidad is located just off-shore from South America and lies on the same continental shelf .Fact|date=February 2007 "See Bicontinental countries."


The provinces or unit territories of the West Indies Federation were:
*Antigua and Barbuda
*Jamaica (to which were attached the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands as dependencies)
*Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla (present day Saint Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla)
*Saint Lucia
*Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
*Trinidad and Tobago

Historically "West Indian" nations The Bahamas, Bermuda, Belize, the British Virgin Islands and Guyana opted not to join because they believed that their future lay with association with North America (for both the Bahamas and Bermuda), Central America, the United States Virgin Islands and South America respectively. However, the Bahamas did participate in the 1960 West Indies Federation Games, with a future prime minister of the Bahamas, Perry Christie, as an athlete.

Government and legal status

The Federation was an internally self-governing, federal state made up of ten provinces, all British colonial possessions. The federation was created by the United Kingdom in 1958 from most of the British West Indies. Britain intended that the Federation would shortly become a fully independent state, thus simultaneously satisfying the demands for independence from all the colonies in the region. However, the project was doomed by political squabbling among the provinces, and the Federation never achieved full sovereignty, either as a Commonwealth realm or as a republic within the Commonwealth.

The legal basis for the federation was the British Caribbean Federation Act 1956, and the date of formation — January 3, 1958 — was set by an Order-in-Council proclaimed in 1957.

As with all British colonies of the period, Queen Elizabeth II was the head of state, and the Crown was vested with the legislative authority for matters concerning executive affairs, defence and the financing of the Federation. Her representative, Patrick Buchan-Hepburn, 1st Baron Hailes, was given the title of Governor-General rather than that of Governor more typical for a British colony. The title may have reflected the federal nature of the state, or indicated the expectations that the Federation would soon become independent. The Governor-General also had the full power by the Queen to veto any laws passed by the Federation.

The Federal Parliament was bicameral, consisting of a nominated Senate and a popularly elected House of Representatives. The Senate consisted of 19 members appointed by the Governor General after consulting the respective state governments- one from Montserrat and 2 each from other units. The House of Representatives had 45 elected members - Jamaica had 17 seats, Trinidad and Tobago 10 seats, Barbados 5 seats, Montserrat 1 seat and the other Islands 2 seats each .

However the government (executive) would be a Council of State, not a Cabinet. It would be presided over by the Governor-General and consist of the Prime Minister and 10 other officials.

There would also be a Federal Supreme Court consisting of a Chief Justice and three (later five) other Justices.

The proposed site for the capital city was Chaguaramas, a few miles west of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, but the site was part of a United States naval base. In practice, Port of Spain served as the federal capital for the duration of the Federation's existence.

The first elections

In preparation for the first federal elections, two Federation-wide parties were organised as confederations of local political parties. Both were organised by Jamaican politicians: the West Indies Federal Labour Party by Norman Manley, and the Democratic Labour Party by Alexander Bustamante. In broad terms, the WIFLP consisted of the urban-based parties throughout the Federation, while the DLP consisted of the rural-based parties.A small third party, the Federal Democratic Party was founded in November 1957 by a group of Trinidadians, although it did not win any seats.

The platforms for the two major national parties were similar in many respects. Both advocated maintaining and strengthening ties with the United Kingdom, United States and Canada (countries with which the islands had strong cultural and economic links); encouraging and expanding tourism; working to bring British Guiana and British Honduras into the Federation and to obtain loans, financial aid and technical assistance. Despite these similarities, there were differences. The WIFLP had advocated the encouragement of agriculture while the DLP had promised a climate favourable to both private industry and labour, development of human and economic resources. The WIFLP promised to encourage the Bahamas (in addition to British Guiana and British Honduras) to join the Federation, whereas the DLP did not. The WIFLP also campaigned to establish a central bank for the extension of credit resources and advocated a democratic socialist society and full internal self-government for all the unit territories, whilst avoiding the issues of freedom of movement and a customs union. The DLP said nothing about full internal self-government, attacked socialism, wished to avoid high taxation (via loans and technical aid) and emphasized West Indian unity, freedom of worship and speech and encouragement of trade unions.

Federal elections were held on March 25, 1958. The WIFLP won the election, winning 26 seats while the DLP carried 19 seats. The bulk of the WIFLP seats came from the smaller islands while the DLP carried the majority in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. The DLP won 11 of the Jamaican seats and 6 of the Trinidadian seats. In appointing the Senate, Governor General Lord Hailes realized that only the St Vincent island government was DLP controlled and as a result the Senate was going to be disproportionately pro WIFLP. In a controversial decision, he contacted the opposition DLP groups in Jamaica and Trinidad, and appointed one DLP senator from each of those islands. Thus the Senate consisted of a total of 15 WIFLP members and 4 DLP members.

WIFLP leader Sir Grantley Adams of Barbados became Prime Minister. The selection of Adams as Prime Minister was indicative of the problems the Federation would face. The expected leader of the WIFLP was Norman Manley, Premier of Jamaica, and the next logical choice was Dr. Eric Williams, Premier of Trinidad and Tobago. However, neither had contested the Federal elections, preferring to remain in control of their respective island power bases. This suggested that the leaders of the two most important provinces did not see the Federation as viable. Similarly, Alexander Bustamante, the Jamaican founder of the DLP, also declined to contest the Federal election, leaving the party leadership to the Trinidadian Ashford Sinanan. The absence of the leading Jamaican politicians from any role at the federal level was to undermine the Federation's unity.

Other members of the Council of State included:
*Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry: The Hon. Dr. C.G.D. La Corbiniere
*Minister of Finance: The Hon. Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw (St. Kitts)
*Minister of Communications and Works: The Hon. W. A. Rose
*Minister of Natural Resources and Agriculture: The Hon. F.B. Ricketts
*Minister of Labour and Social Affairs: The Hon. Mrs. Phyllis Byam Shand Allfrey (Dominca)
*Ministers without Portfolio: The Hon. N.H. Richards, The Hon. Mr. V.B Vaughn, Senator A.G.R. Byfield (Jamaica), Senator J.W. Liburd, and Senator J.L. Charles

Federal problems

The politics of the embryonic Federation were wracked by struggles between the federal government and the provincial governments, and between the two largest provinces (Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) and the smaller provinces.

The West Indies Federation had an unusually weak federal structure. For instance, its provinces were not contained in a single customs union. Thus, each province functioned as a separate economy, complete with tariffs, largely because the smaller provinces were afraid of being overwhelmed by the large islands' economies. Also, complete freedom of movement within the Federation was not implemented, as the larger provinces were worried about mass migration from the smaller islands. In this sense, the current European Union can be said to have implemented a more unified economic space than the West Indian attempt.

Nor could the federal government take its component states to task. The initial federal budget was quite small, limiting the federal government's ability to use its financial largesse as a carrot. It was dependent upon grants from the United Kingdom and from its member states. The provincial budgets of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were both larger than the federal budget. This led to repeated requests for those states to provide greater financing to the federal government. These requests were not well received, as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago together already contributed 85 percent of the federal revenue, in roughly equal portions.

Furthermore, the post of prime minister was a weak one. Unlike other Westminster system prime ministers, the West Indian PM could not dissolve Parliament.

Relationship with Canada

The Federation maintained a particularly close relationship with the nation of Canada, which had a similar past in that it was a confederation of several former British colonies. In the early years, several Caribbean leaders suggested that the West Indies Federation should investigate the possibility of becoming a Canadian province, though this was never more than a fleeting interest.

Despite the break down in talks, in May 1961, Canada presented the West Indies Federation with two of the region's most important gifts: two merchant ships, named "The Federal Palm" and "The Federal Maple". These two vessels visited every island in the federation twice monthly and were a crucial sea-link between the islands.


Many reasons have been put forward to explain the demise of the federation, some of them detailed in "Problems" above. These include the utter lack of local popular support, competing island nationalisms, the weakness of the federal government, prohibitions on federal taxation and freedom of movement, inadequacies in the Federal constitution, fundamental changes made to the constitution very early in its existence, political feuds between the influential leaders, the decision of the three most influential politicians not to contest Federal elections, friction between these leaders and the Federal government, the overwhelming concentration of population and resources in the two largest units, geographic and cultural distance between the units, the lack of a history of common administration, and the impact of the period of self-government that followed the promotion from Crown Colony system.

However, the immediate catalyst for the dissolution of the Federation was Jamaican discontent. By 1961, there were a number of reasons for Jamaica's dissatisfaction with the state of affairs:
*Jamaica was fairly remote from most of the other islands in the Federation, lying several hundred miles to the west.
*Jamaica's share of the seats in the federal parliament was smaller than its share of the total population of the Federation.
*It was believed that the smaller islands were draining Jamaica's wealth.
*Many in Jamaica were upset that Kingston had not been chosen as the federal capital.

The most important reason for Jamaican dissatisfaction was the Federation's continuing colonial status. Jamaica had joined the Federation because its leaders had believed that the West Indies would quickly be granted independence. Nearly three years after the formation of the Federation, this had not occurred; meanwhile, smaller British colonies, like Cyprus and Sierra Leone, had gained independence. Thus, many Jamaicans believed that the island could and should seek independence in its own right. Also there were problems with the Federation's proposed capital in Chaguramas. Chaguramas was at that time still in the hands of the United States (US) which had leased it as a naval base from the United Kingdom (UK) during World War 2. Many of the Caribbean provincial leaders wanted Chaguramas to be the Federation's capital. Provincial leaders such as Norman Manley of Jamaica and Dr Eric Williams pushed for handing over of Chaguramas to the Federation from the US. However the US and the UK disagreed and the Federation's prime minister Grantley Adams denied the provincial leaders from obtaining Chaguramas. For many Jamaicans it appeared that the Federation would then just hamper their development and movement towards independence.

As a result the Bustamante-led Jamaica Labour Party (the local component of the West Indian DLP) successfully forced Manley to hold a referendum in September 1961 on political secession from the Federation. It passed, with 54 percent of the vote, despite the opposition of Manley, the province's Premier at the time. Manley himself lost the subsequent island elections in April 1962, and Bustamante became the first Prime Minister of an independent Jamaica on August 6, 1962.

After Jamaica left, there was an attempt to salvage a new federation from the wreckage of the old. Much depended on Premier Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, who had stated previously that he wanted a "strong federation." Premier Vere Bird of Antigua responded that his province would only be in a federation with Trinidad as an equal partner, not as "a little Tobago." He did indicate that a strong federation was acceptable provided that no attempt was made to create a unitary state.

Negotiations on this new federation began in September 1961; however, they indicated that Trinidad would have to provide 75 to 80 percent of the new Federation's revenue. Also, even though Trinidad would now represent 60 percent of the new Federation's population, the proposals under consideration would give it less than half of the seats in parliament.

By November, Williams indicated that he was now in favour of the idea of a unitary state. Failing that, he resolved to take Trinidad and Tobago into independence. In this, he was buoyed by his re-election as Trinidadian leader on December 4, 1961. Later that December, Premier Errol Barrow of Barbados met with Williams, but failed to persuade him to keep Trinidad in the Federation.

On January 14, 1962, the People's National Movement (the Williams-led Trinidad component of the WIFLP) passed a resolution rejecting any further involvement with the Federation. Williams himself stated that "one from ten leaves nought" — in other words, without Jamaica, no Federation was possible. Trinidad and Tobago became independent on August 31, 1962.

Without Trinidad and Jamaica, the remaining "Little Eight" attempted to salvage some form of a West Indian Federation, this time centred on Barbados. However, these negotiations ultimately proved fruitless. Without its two largest states, the Federation was doomed to financial insolvency. Barbados now refused to shoulder the financial burden, and Antigua and Grenada began toying with the idea of merging with Jamaica and Trinidad, respectively.

The West Indies Federation was legally dissolved with the Parliament of the United Kingdom's West Indies Act 1962. The remaining "Little Eight" provinces once again became separate colonies supervised directly from London, most of which became independent later on, as follows:
*Barbados - 1966
*Grenada - 1974
*Dominica - 1978
*Saint Lucia - 1979
*St Vincent and the Grenadines - 1979
*Antigua and Barbuda - 1981
*Saint Kitts and Nevis - 1983

Montserrat remains an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands had been separated from Jamaica upon the latter's independence in 1962; Anguilla was separated from Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1980. All three remain UK territories as well.


The federation's currency was the West Indies dollar (though Jamaica continued to use the pound), which was later succeeded by the East Caribbean dollar, the Barbadian dollar, and the Trinidad and Tobago dollar. Successor organisations included the West Indies Associated States and CARICOM.

Some see the West Indian cricket team as a legacy of the Federation, although the side was actually organised thirty years prior to the birth of the federation.

Another lasting regional fixture, officially created before the Federation, is the University of the West Indies. During the Federation, the University pursued a policy of regional expansion beyond the main Jamaica campus. Two other campuses were established: one in Trinidad and Tobago, established in 1960, and one in Barbados, established a short time after the Federation dissolved in 1963.


During the Federation's existence, each member continued to issue its own postage stamps as before; but on April 22, 1958, each of the members (except for the Cayman Islands) issued a set of three commemorative stamps. All of these stamps used a common design depicting a map of the Caribbean and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, with an inscription at the top reading "THE WEST INDIES / FEDERATION 1958" at the top and the name of the member at the bottom. All of these stamps are quite common in both mint and used condition.

Prior attempts at federation

The Federation of the West Indies was not the first attempt at a British Caribbean federation (nor would it be the last). The history of the previous attempts at federations and unions, in part, explains the failure of the 1958 Federation.

The initial federal attempts never went so far as to try to encompass all of the British West Indies (BWI), but were more regional in scope. The historical regional groupings included the British Leeward Islands, British Windward Islands and Jamaica with nearby colonies. See History of the British West Indies.

ee also

*History of the Caribbean
*Canada-Caribbean relations
*Pakistan-Carribbean relations
*Cricket in the West Indies


* Carmichael, Dr. Trevor A. 2001. "Passport to the Heart: Reflections on Canada Caribbean Relations". Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston 6, Jamaica. ISBN 976-637-028-1 [http://www.david-kilgour.com/secstate/passport.htm The book's Forward passage] , [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4000/is_200207/ai_n9131167 synopsis]
* Fraser, Cary. 1994. "Ambivalent anti-colonialism : the United States and the genesis of West Indian independence, 1940-1964". Greenwood Press
* Ghany, Dr Hamid 1996. "Kamal: a Lifetime of Politics Religion and Culture" Multimedia Production Centre, University of the West Indies.
* Gonsalves, Ralph E. 1994. "History and the Future: A Caribbean Perspective". Quik-Print, Kingstown, St. Vincent.
* Hoyes, F. A. 1963. "The Rise of West Indian Democracy: The Life and Times of Sir Grantley Adams". Advocate Press.
* Mahabir, Dr Winston 1978 "In and Out of Politics" Inprint Caribbean.
* Mordecai, John, Sir. 1968. "Federation of the West Indies" Evanston, Northwestern University Press
* Wickham, P.W. 1997 "Factors in the Integration and Disintegration of the Caribbean" published as part of "Issues in the Government an Politics of the West Indies", edited by JG LaGuerre ,Multimedia Production Centre, University of the West Indies.
* Williams, Eric. 1964. "British Historians and the West Indies". P.N.M. Publishing Company, Port of Spain.

External links

* [http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page4928.asp The British Monarch's website] - On the Caribbean region
* [http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_news?id=161038821 Why 'Federation' really fell apart] - Sunday, October 22, 2006: Trinidad and Tobago Express

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • West Indies Federation — geographical name see West Indies 2 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Democratic Labour Party (West Indies Federation) — The Democratic Labour Party was one of the two Federal parties in the short lived West Indies Federation. The party was organised by Sir Alexander Bustamante to counter the West Indies Federal Labour Party led by his cousin Norman Manley. It was… …   Wikipedia

  • Coat of arms of the West Indies Federation — The coat of arms of the West Indies Federation was used between 1958 and 1962. The background of the shield bore four equally spaced narrow white stripes with a ten orange gold discs representing each island grouping, undulating horizontally… …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies — West Indian. 1. Also called the Indies. an archipelago in the N Atlantic between North and South America, comprising the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas. 2. Federation of. Also called West Indies Federation. a former… …   Universalium

  • West Indies Federal Labour Party — The West Indies Federal Labour Party (or WIFLP) was one of the two main Federal parties in the short lived West Indies Federation. The party was the first national party of the planned West Indies Federation. It was organised by Norman Manley,… …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies cricket team — The West Indian cricket team, also known colloquially as The Windies or The West Indies , is a multi national cricket team representing a sporting confederation of a dozen English speaking Caribbean countries and British dependencies that form… …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies (disambiguation) — The West Indies may mean:*the Caribbean *the West Indies Federation, a short lived Caribbean federation *the British West Indies, the island(s)and Guyana currently associated with the United Kingdom *the Dutch West Indies, the island(s) currently …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies Associated States — The West Indies Associated States was the collective name for a number of islands in the Eastern Caribbean whose status changed from being British colonies to states in free association with the United Kingdom in 1967. These states included… …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies A cricket team — The West Indies A cricket team is a cricket team representing a sporting confederation of the Caribbean countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint… …   Wikipedia

  • West Indies — geographical name 1. the islands lying between SE North America & N South America bordering the Caribbean & comprising the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, & Bahamas 2. (or West Indies Federation) former country including all of the British… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”