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Historical Notes St Vincent and the Grenadines

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Memorandum – Caribs at St Vincent (May 1833)

“Sir George Hill’s proposal for improving the Caribs is to locate them upon Crown lands granted to Trustees for their behalf. He makes this proposal ‘with a view of encouraging a more social intercourse among them and promoting some moral and religious instruction of which they are deplorably destitute’.{{more}} The number of the Caribs is, it appears, 232; the number of acres granted in occupancy to the Trustees is 350; and the land is stated to be ‘in every respect adapted to afford the most satisfactory inducement to industrious habits.’

Sir George Hill does not appear to me to have sufficiently explained in what manner this measure is to operate to the improvement of the Caribs, or to their moral and religious instruction. If any teacher were to be provided for them no doubt it would be necessary to the success of his endeavours that they should be gathered together on a settlement, or at least brought within reach of a common rendezvous; but Sir George Hill does not state that any provision exists for a Teacher or from what funds any such provision can be made. With regard to the encouragement of social intercourse which he mentions, the only intercourse which the measure seems to have any tendency to promote, is an intercourse between one lot of Caribs and another and it is not obvious that this barbarous class of the population would derive more benefit from forming a society to themselves, than from being dispersed amongst the classes that are somewhat more civilized.

As a matter of general principle, I am of opinion that the grant of Crown Lands in the West Indies either in occupancy or in fee, is not expedient and that the allocation of free men of the lower classes and of a barbarous race in considerable numbers upon such lands is open to serious objections, unless there be a close superintendence and strict regulations provided for the control of the settlement… With regard to the special case of the Caribs the expediency of the proposed measure depends no doubt mainly upon a comparison of their present condition and habits, with those which it may be expected that this measure might substitute. By the enclosure to Sir George Hill’s despatch it appears that the 232 Caribs are now distributed in four settlements, consisting respectively of 1st thirty, 2nd thirty, 3rd eighty nine, 4th eight three. It is only the last of these settlements which is represented to be in a state of distress; and their want of provisions appeared to have been owing to a casualty, a fall or rain namely, which destroyed their provision ground. Of the others the first settlement appears to be not very well provided either with houses or with provision grounds; but it is not stated that they are exposed to actual want. The second is stated to be still worse provided with houses and grounds, but they hire themselves to ship sugars, at which they are said to be very expert. The third has an unlimited extent of provision ground in return for their labour in supplying the proprietor with fish. Now in regard to these three settlements, there is nothing to show that the Caribs would be the better for removal to the proposed Crown grants. How they are to be provided with habitations when removed is not explained; and yet the want of comfortable habitations is the only particular in which it is specified that the physical condition of any part of them is bad. If they are ill housed from idleness it does not appear that the same effect would not be produced by the same cause on the new location; and with regard to those who employ themselves for hire in shipping sugars, as that is one of the employments in which it is very desirable that free people should feel themselves under the necessity of engaging, there seems to be no reason why they should be diverted from that occupation and exempted as they probably would be by the possession of Crown land from any need of working for hire at all.

Upon the whole it appears to me that before Sir George Hill’s measure could be sanctioned it would be necessary to make the following enquiries; 1. Whether the Caribs who are ill housed or ill fed have not adequate opportunities where they are, or elsewhere, without the assistance of the Crown, of improving their condition by their own labour; 2. Whether if their penury be owing to their indolence, there are any means in prospect by which when located on Crown lands, that indolence might be more effectually stimulated than it has hitherto been by the wants to which they have been exposed; 3. Whether the proposed location would not remove the Caribs or the greater part of them, farther than they now are, from the cognizance of the educated portion of society and from intercourse with portions of the population which are less barbarous than themselves…”

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