The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‘s tour of the Caribbean has been overshadowed by protests focused on the legacy of the British Empire and slavery in the region.
In Jamaica – the second stop on the eight-day visit – demonstrators in the capital Kingston accused the couple of benefiting from the ‘blood, sweat and tears of slaves’ and called for reparations to be paid.
The couple were also forced to cancel a visit to a cacao farm shortly after arriving in Belize following residents’ anger that they weren’t consulted about the football pitch earmarked for the landing of their helicopter.
And in the Bahamas, which William and Kate arrive in tomorrow, the country’s national reparations committee has called on the royal couple to acknowledge that the British economy was ‘built on the backs’ of past Bahamians.
In each nation – all of which were once part of the British Empire and are now Commonwealth countries – there is a complicated history of slavery that has contributed to varying amounts of ill-feeling towards the Royal family and the UK.
In Jamaica alone, hundreds of thousands of African slaves were shipped by Britain from the 17th century onwards and forced to work in brutal conditions on sugar plantations.
That legacy has contributed towards a growing desire to remove the Queen as head of state in the country, which became independent from Britain in 1962.
The shift away from British influence has been hastened by the flooding in of Chinese investment into the region that amounts to at least $7billion since 2005.
At least $450million of Chinese money has been spent in the Bahamas, $490million in Barbados, $1.9billion in Trinidad and Tobago and $2.7billion in Jamaica.
The calls for change were made stronger by the global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of black man George Floyd at the hands of police in the U.S. in May 2020.
Anti-royal sentiment in the Caribbean was most recently demonstrated with the government of Barbados’s decision last November to become a republic by removing the Queen as head of state.
The history of the slave trade and Britain’s role in it in Barbados played a part in that decision.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of the Caribbean has been overshadowed by protests focused on the legacy of the British Empire and slavery in the region. Pictured: Prince William and Kate Middleton in Kingston, Jamaica, on Tuesday
In Jamaica – the second stop on the eight-day visit – demonstrators in the capital Kingston accused the couple of benefiting from the ‘blood, sweat and tears of slaves’ and called for reparations to be paid. Above: The protesters outside the British High Commission
William and Kate’s visit to the Caribbean is the latest in a long line of royal visits. Pictured: The Queen greets a little girl during her visit to Belize in 1985
Jamaica was initially a Spanish colony before it was captured by what was then the English navy in 1665.
After Spanish attempts to regain the island were finally stopped, African slaves began to be imported.
When the sugar trade blossomed in the mid-17th century the number of slaves arriving ballooned.
By 1831 – after Britain had become the first European nation to prohibit the slave trade within its Empire in 1807 – there were around 300,000 slaves in Jamaica.
Overall, the National Library of Jamaica estimates that 600,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica as slaves.
The practice of slavery in the British Empire was formally abolished in 1834.
This also ended slavery in Belize and the Bahamas. In Belize, thousands of slaves were imported and put to work in timber production.
In the Bahamas, slaves worked in cotton production and also as field labourers, domestic servants and as salt collectors.
Slaves were also used in Britain’s other territories in the Caribbean, which included Bermuda, Barbados, Anguilla and Guyana.
To compensate slave owners in Jamaica, the British government took out a £20million loan – the equivalent of around £200billion now – and only finished paying off the ensuing interest payments in 2015.
This legacy prompted Jamaica’s government to announce last July that it was planning to ask for reparations from Britain.
The shift away from British influence has been hastened by the flooding in of Chinese investment into the region that amounts to at least $7billion since 2005. The true figure – when taking into account soft loan deals and private investment – is thought to run well into the tens of billions. Showpiece projects have included a cricket stadium in Grenada, a casino and resort in the Bahamas, and acquiring Jamaica’s largest port
Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize were all once part of the British Empire and were home to thousands of slaves sent there by Britain. William and Kate’s royal tour began in Belize and will end in the Bahamas
There are 12 independent nations in the Caribbean that are part of the Commonwealth. A further six are still British Overseas Territories
The Queen and Prince Philip are seen during their 1953 visit to Jamaica. The Queen was wearing a white satin dress, diamond tiara and diamond necklace ahead of a gala reception at King’s House, the official residence of Jamaica’s governor-general
Belize became an independent nation in 1981, four years before the Queen visited the country once more. Above: The monarch is seen in an open top car during the 1981 visit
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh attend the State Opening of Parliament in the Bahamas on October 20, 1977
Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of sports, youth and culture, said the country hoped for ‘reparatory justice in all forms’ to ‘repair the damages that our ancestors experienced’.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were the first Caribbean nations to break free from British rule, with both countries declaring independence in 1962.
The British Caribbean territories with history of slavery
The Caribbean Community, a regional organisation, set out to ask for reparations from Britain, France and the Netherlands in 2013 but no island has yet received any payment.
Here is a list of the islands affected by slavery:
A population census of 1671 of the Bahamas colony counted 443 slaves.
The birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonised by Britain. It ended in 1834. The country was made independent from Britain in 1966. Between 1627 and 1807, approximately 387,000 enslaved Africans were sent to Barbados.
Slaves were imported to help cut logwood on the island. In 1820 there were 2,563 slaves in Belize.
There were never more than 6,000 slaves in Bermuda. The largest Bermudian slaveholder in 1663 owned only seventeen slaves. They were often known as indentures rather than slaves and contracts would run up to 20 years.
British Leeward Islands
Saint Kitts and Nevis
The first census of Saint Kitts, in 1671, recorded 1,739 African slaves. Six years later this grew to 3,849. a year later 1,436 slaves were recorded in Nevis.
In 1819, there were 360 Europeans, 320 free Africans, and 2451 slaves.
Antigua and Barbuda
Most of the saves in Antigua and Barbuda disembarked from the Bight of Biafra (22,000 Africans) and the Gold Coast (16,000 Africans).
British Virgin Islands
Emancipation freed a total of 5,792 slaves in the Territory.
Number of slaves started out as 523 in 1672, and had risen to 10,000 in 1774.
British Windward Islands
Became a British colony in 1763 at the Peace of Paris which ended the Seven Years War with France. At that time the island had a population of 1,718 Frenchmen and 5,872 slaves working on coffee, cocoa and spice production.
By the 1750s, there were 12,000 enslaved people in Grenada.
The 1730 census showed 463 occupants, including just 125 whites, 37 Caribs, 175 slaves, and the rest free blacks or mixed race.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
St Vincent and the Grenadines gained its independence from Britain in 1979.
At the time of abolition in 1834, there were more than 950 slaves owned by 116 Caymanian families.
By the 1660s, the enslaved population numbered about 2,500.
The British took over in 1796 and remained in possession, except for short intervals, until 1814, when they purchased Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo, which were united in 1831 as the colony of British Guiana.
The British Invasion of Jamaica took place in May 1655, during the 1654 to 1660 Anglo-Spanish War, when an English expeditionary force captured the Spanish colony.
Oliver Cromwell increased the island’s European population by sending indentured servants and prisoners. There were 300,000 slaves in Jamaica in 1831.
Trinidad and Tobago
When the island was surrendered to the British in 1797 the population had increased to 17,643: 2,086 whites, 4,466 free people of colour, 1,082 Amerindians, and 10,009 African slaves.
Turks and Caicos Islands
In 1822, the islands reported just more than 1,900 slaves.
Between 1966 and 1983, a further eight nations – including Belize, The Bahamas and Barbados – in the Caribbean became independent, leaving only five as British Overseas Territories.
When they became independent nations, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago also opted to remove the Queen as their head of state.
Four of Britain’s former territories in the Caribbean – Dominica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and most recently Barbados – have also become republics.
Whilst Dominica became a republic when it became independent in 1978, Guyana opted to remove symbolic royal rule in 1970, four years after its independence date.
Trinidad and Tobago became a republic in 1976, 14 years after independence.
Barbados’s transition last year followed those of Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
The push in Barbados to become a republic came despite well-received visits by the Queen in 1966, 1977, 1985 and 1989.
The idea of removing the Queen as head of state was formally looked at in the 1970s but it was decided that there was still not enough public support.
The next milestone came in 1998, when a Barbados constitutional review commission recommended republican status.
Then, in 2003, the country opted to replace the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice, located in Trinidad and Tobago’s Port of Spain, as its final appeals court.
In 2005, legislation was passed to allow for a referendum on the shift to republicanism, but the actual vote never took place.
In 2015, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said ‘we have to move from a monarchical system to a republican form of government in the very near future’.
In the last two years, republicanism gathered pace further amid the fallout from the Black Lives Matter movement, renewed focus on the horrendous history of the slave trade, and Britain’s catastrophic handling of the Windrush scandal.
This culminated in the move led by Barbados’s prime minister, Mia Amor Mottley to remove the Queen as head of state in November last year.
There were some critics of the move, with opposition politicians saying there was no proper consultation.
Academic Dr Ronnie Yearwood, a lecturer in law at the University of the West Indies, added at the time that there was ‘no clamour on the streets’ for Barbados to become a republic.
However, in Jamaica – which has retained the Queen as head of state – ill-feeling towards Britain and the Royal family is stronger.
Yesterday, protesters gathered outside the British High Commission in Kingston, with one placard held by a little girl reading: ‘Kings, Queens and Princesses and Princes belong in fairytales not in Jamaica!’
Jamaican human rights advocate Opal Adisa, who organised the protest, said: ‘Kate and William are beneficiaries, so they are, in fact, complicit because they are positioned to benefit specifically from our ancestors, and we’re not benefitting from our ancestors.
‘The luxury and the lifestyle that they have had and that they continue to have, traipsing all over the world for free with no expense, that is a result of my great, great grandmother and grandfather, their blood and tears and sweat.’
She joined calls for an apology, saying the monarchy should provide ‘economic social reparation’, such as ‘building us proper hospitals, providing and making sure that our children are educated through college level, and making sure land is equally distributed’.
Ms Adisa said an apology would be the ‘first step towards healing and reconciliation’.
The calls for the country to follow Barbados in becoming a republic have grown stronger in recent years.
Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, has committed to making his country a republic and there is also cross-party support for the move.
Mr Holness said last year that there was ‘no question’ that Jamaica had to become a republic.
He added: ‘Who is arguing that point? We have put together a plan to move towards that in a way that is meaningful and substantial in function and form.
‘That is what we are going to do.’
In Belize, prime minister John Briceño hinted that his country might follow Barbados in becoming a republic.
The Belize Progressive Party (BPP) has also openly talked of a ‘Republic of Belize’.
In the Bahamas, the country’s former attorney general Sean McWeeney said a shift to a republic is ‘inevitable’.
‘Whether it happens in the next 10 years, or the next 20 years, or the next 100 years, I think it depends a lot on what priority the government of the day would attach to it,’ he added in 2020.
After Barbados’s move, the Bahamas’s foreign affairs minister, Fred Mitchell, said he was ‘committed to a republic’.
This week, the Bahamas’s national reparations committee issued a strongly worded document ahead of William and Kate’s arrival there tomorrow.
It said the monarchy had ‘looted and pillaged our land and our people for centuries, leaving us struggling with under development, left to pick up the pieces.’
In 2013 the Bahamas committee was founded to establish the moral, ethical, and legal case for the payment of repatriations by European countries.
In Belize, prime minister John Briceño hinted that his country might follow Barbados in becoming a republic. The Belize Progressive Party (BPP) has also openly talked of a ‘Republic of Belize’. Pictured: The Queen during her visit to the nation in 1985
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh attend the Governor’s General reception at the King’s house February 18, 2002 in Kingston, Jamaica
The Queen during her tour of Jamaica in 2002. She is seen visiting school children. The monarch has made several visits to the nation
The Queen and Prince Philip are pictured in Jamaica in 1983. The couple enjoyed warm welcomes on each visit to the country
It said in the statement: ‘We, the members of the Bahamas National Reparations Committee (BNRC), recognise that the people of the Bahamas have been left holding the bag for much of the cost of this extravagant trip.
‘Why are we footing the bill for the benefit of a regime whose rise to ‘greatness’ was fuelled by the extinction, enslavement, colonisation, and degradation of the people of this land? Why are we being made to pay again?
‘The visit to commemorates 70 years since Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne of imperialism – more years than the Bahamas has been a sovereign nation.
‘The BNRC asserts that we as Bahamians must have a clear understanding of what this trip truly means. We are not beholden to the British monarchy in any way and we do not owe them a debt of gratitude for anything – not for our culture, religion, or system of governance.
‘Instead the monarchy has looted and pillaged our land and our people for centuries, leaving us struggling with under development, left to pick up the pieces.’
The Chinese government has used its investment in the Caribbean to build roads, ports and resorts, including the five-star Baha Mar casino and resort in the Bahamas.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (L) attends the Governor General’s Garden Fair February 20, 2002 while on a visit to Montego Bay, Jamaica
Local school children wave to Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as she walks by them at a local stadium hours after her arrival on February 18, 1994
Queen Elizabeth ll smiles during a walkabout in Nassau, Bahamas on October 1, 1977. The monarch made several visits to the country
Her Majesty and Prince Philip were greeted by rapturous crowds (pictured left) as they touched down in Bridgetown, Barbados’s capital, for the start of a five-week tour of the Caribbean in 1966. Right: The Queen in Barbados during her Silver Jubilee tour in 1977
The Queen in Barbados during her five-week tour of the Caribbean in 1966. The nation’s government removed her as head of state last November
Much of the money has been offered in ‘soft loans’ for infrastructure projects that typically come with requirements to use Chinese contractors for the work.
The loans also give Beijing long-term leverage over the cash-strapped Caribbean nations.
Eight countries in the Caribbean have also signed on to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
In 2005, China rewarded the island of Grenada, which has an annual turnover of just $1.8billion, with a brand new $55million cricket stadium after it cut relations with Taiwan.
Similarly, in 2018, the Dominican Republic received Chinese investments and loans thought to have topped $3billion after it also cut ties with Taipei.
Prince William runs with a football as he participates in a game with local players in Trench Town on the first day of a tour of Jamaica, where he was joined by England star Raheem Sterling
The Cambridges’ pose next to a statue at Bob Marley during the visit on Tuesday – the first day of their tour of Jamaica
People calling for slavery reparations protest outside the entrance of the British High Commission during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Kingston, Jamaica
More recently, a Chinese firm took full control of Jamaica Kingston Freeport in April 2020, the island’s largest container port and one of the largest in the Caribbean.
In Barbados, Chinese money has gone on projects that construction of a Confucius Institute at the University of the West Indies’s campus, the refurbishment of the national stadium in Bridgetown, the upgrade of the sewage system, the rebuilding of roads and the construction of a spa resort at the famous Sam Lord’s Castle.
China has also donated a coastal patrol vessel to Barbados’s navy, given 30,000 doses of its Sinovac vaccine to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and sold 30 electric buses to the country.
When Barbados made the shift to becoming a republic, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the UK’s foreign affairs committee, accused Beijing of ‘playing a large role’ in the decision.
What was Britain’s role in the Atlantic slave trade in Jamaica?
The former British colony of Jamaica was at the centre of the transatlantic slave trade, with Africans transported to the island and forced to work on banana and sugar cane plantations.
The island was discovered as part of an expedition led by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492 and brought under Spanish control. Other West Indies islands were then used as outposts by English pirates and privateers involved in raiding Spanish treasure fleets.
Some 200 years later, in 1655, Jamaica was seized by the British and would go on to become integral in Britain’s supply of sugar – a highly sought after commodity in the eighteen century.
The Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Antigua, St Kitts, Nevis and Barbados, which were under British control, connected Britain to Western Africa and the Americas and formed a key part of the triangular slave trade between the countries and Britain.
They grew in population from a few thousand in the mid-17th Century to 18,000 in the 1680s – with slaves making up more than half of the total.
Jamaica was discovered as part of an expedition led by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492 and brought under Spanish control. Pictured, a British map shows sugar producing areas and trade restrictions
Slaves are pictured in this illustration of a slave ship in 1857
The transatlantic slave trade was a triangular route from Europe to Africa, to the Americas and back to Europe.
Firstly, merchants exported goods to Africa in return for enslaved Africans, gold, ivory and spices. The ships then headed across to the American colonies where the slaves were sold for sugar, tobacco, cotton and other produce.
Once in the colonies the slaves worked on plantations and inside the homes of Europeans as cleaners, cooks or other household domestics.
The products were then brought back to Europe, benefiting British citizens and producing profit for businesses based in Britain.
Slaves were victim to an oppressive regime that exploited labour to make profit for wealthy landowners. They were bought and sold as property and often lived under horrendous conditions.
In 1672 the Royal Africa Company was formed and held the monopoly on the British slave trade. Jamaica became one of the busiest markets and African slaves soon outnumbered Europeans five to one.
The gold it supplied to the Royal Mint was named the guinea, after the West African country from which the gold was taken.
Slaves are pictured loading coal onto a ship in Morant Bay, Jamaica, in the 18th century
A slave is whipped by a settler in Jamaica in this illustration by George Cruikshank from Teatro universale, drawn in 1845
In 1689 Bristol and Liverpool merchants began to get more involved in the trade and Glasgow soon became the centre of the tobacco industry.
The British Army and Royal Navy owned and hired slaves as labourers and soldiers, most of whom went to the Corps of Military Labourers and the West India Regiments.
And the Crown benefited from the trade whenever estates were passed on in lieu of government taxes or following court cases. Greenwich Hospital, which was managed by a government department for a number of years, took over Golden Vale plantation in Portland Parish, Jamaica in 1793.
Dozens of processing centres were formed for sugar, indigo, and cacao – the source of cocoa beans. Jamaica’s slave population swelled to 300,000 despite civil unrest and unstable food supplies. Some 15,000 starved to death between 1780 and 1787.
Britain and Portugal were responsible for 70 per cent of Africans transported to the Americas, with Britain most dominant between 1640 and 1807.
Nigerian historian Joseph Inikori has previously suggested it was the slave trade which prompted and funded the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
Estimates suggest Britain was responsible for transporting 3.1million Africans – of which only 2.7million arrived – to the British colonies of the Caribbean, North and South America and other countries.
In the 1740s the West India Interest saw British merchants join West Indian sugar planters to become the first sugar trading organisation to have a voice in Parliament
A 19th Century cartoon satirising colonial rule in Jamaica
Profits went back into British industry, with banks and insurance companies benefiting by offering services to slave merchants.
The British ports involved in the slave trade experienced periods of rapid growth during the 18th century, when traders made £60 million – around £8 billion today – from slave sales.
In the 1740s the West India Interest saw British merchants join West Indian sugar planters to become the first sugar trading organisation to have a voice in Parliament.
An assembly of planters from Jamaica lobbied MPs in support of the slave trade in 1789.
British Parliament abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, resulting in increased costs for planters in Jamaica.
It was declared ‘all manner of dealing and reading in the purchase, sale, barter, or transfer of slaves or of persons intending to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as slaves, practiced or carried in, at, or from any part of the coast or countries of Africa shall be abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful’.
Revolts were held between 1831 and 1832 as slavery continued, and these were put down by British troops.
Parliament went on to approve an emancipatory act that gave all enslaved people in British colonies their freedom by 1838. Many former slaves moved to nearby hills to live on small landholdings and planters were compensated £19 per slave.