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History of Montserrat

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History of Montserrat

This article is about the British territory on the Caribbean. For other uses, see Montserrat (disambiguation).

Overseas territory of the United Kingdom

Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Each Endeavouring, All Achieving"
Anthem: God Save the Queen
Official languages English
Ethnic groups ([1])
Demonym Montserratian
Government British Overseas Territoryb
 -  Monarch Elizabeth II
 -  Governor Adrian Davis
 -  Premier Reuben Meade
 -  Responsible Ministerc (UK) Mark Simmonds MP
 -  English control established 1632 
 -  Total 102 km2 (219th)
39 sq mi
 -  Water (%) negligible
 -  2012 estimate 5,164 (218th)
 -  Density 44/km2 (153rd)
114/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2006 estimate
 -  Total $43.500 million (not ranked)
 -  Per capita $8,500 (not ranked)
Currency East Caribbean dollar (XCD)
Time zone (UTC−4)
Calling code +1 664
ISO 3166 code MS
Internet TLD .ms
a. Abandoned in 1997 following a volcanic eruption. Government buildings are currently located in Brades, making it the de facto capital.
b. Representative democratic parliamentary dependency under constitutional monarchy.
c. For the Overseas Territories.

Montserrat /mɒntsəˈræt/ is a British Overseas Territory located in the Caribbean. The island is located in the Leeward Islands, part of the chain of islands known as the Lesser Antilles, in the West Indies. Montserrat measures approximately 16 km (9.9 mi) long and 11 km (6.8 mi) wide, with approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) of coastline.[2] Montserrat is nicknamed The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of some of its inhabitants.

On 18 July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active. Eruptions destroyed Montserrat's Georgian era capital city of Plymouth and two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee.[3] The volcanic activity continues, currently mostly affecting the vicinity of Plymouth, including its docking facilities, and the eastern side of the island around the former W. H. Bramble Airport, the remnants of which were buried by flows from volcanic activity on 11 February 2010.

An "exclusion zone" extending from the south coast of the island north to parts of the Belham Valley has been imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity. Visitors are generally not permitted entry into the exclusion zone, but an impressive view of the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay. Relatively quiet since early 2010, the volcano continues to be closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

A new town and port is currently being developed at Little Bay, which is on the northwest coast of the island. While this construction proceeds, the centre of government and businesses rests at Brades.


Archaeological field work in 2012 in Montserrat's Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP.[4] Later coastal sites show the presence of the Saladoid culture.[5] In November 1493 Christopher Columbus passed Montserrat in his second voyage, after being told that the island was unoccupied due to raids by the Caribs.[6] Columbus named the island Santa María de Montserrat, after the Monastery of Montserrat in the Crown of Aragon (today a part of Spain). The island came under English control in 1632[7] when anti-Catholic violence in Nevis forced a group of Irish transported from Ireland as slaves, to settle in Montserrat. A neo-feudal colony developed.[8]

The colonists began to import African slaves for labour, as was common to most Caribbean islands. The settlers built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and Sea Island Cotton, cultivated on large plantations manned by slave labor. By the late 1700s, numerous plantations had been developed on the island. Many Irish people were also transported to the island, to work as slaves, indentured servants or exiled prisoners; some were exiled by Oliver Cromwell.[9] The victims of Cromwellian transportation ranged from political and military prisoners to anyone who might burden the public purse: orphans, widows and the unemployed.

18th century

On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom.[10] The people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick's Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. Festivities held that week commemorate the culture of Montserrat in song, dance, food and traditional costumes.

In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, France briefly captured Montserrat after supporting the American rebels. The French returned the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended that conflict.

New crops and politics

Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other Caribbean territories effective August 1834.

During the nineteenth century, falling sugar-prices had an adverse effect on the island's economy, as Brazil and other nations competed in the trade.

In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labour rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.[9][11]

From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962.

In 1979, The Beatles producer George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat opened. The island attracted world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.[12] The last decade of the twentieth century, however, brought two events which devastated the island.

In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. It damaged more than 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, 6 years later by volcanic activity which started in 1995.


The island of Montserrat is located approximately 480 km (300 mi) east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km (30 mi) southwest of Antigua. It comprises 104 km2 (40 sq mi) but is currently gradually increasing in size owing to the buildup of volcanic deposits on the southeast coast. The island is 16 km (9.9 mi) long and 11 km (6.8 mi) wide, with rock cliffs rising 15 to 30 m (50–100 feet) above the sea and a number of smooth bottomed sandy beaches scattered among coves on the western (Caribbean) side of the island.

Montserrat has two islets, Little Redonda and Virgin, and Statue Rock.


The island has a population of 5,879 (2008 estimate). An estimated 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995; the population was 13,000 in 1994.

Age structure

  • 0–14 years: 23.4% (male 1,062; female 1,041)
  • 15–64 years: 65.3% (male 2,805; female 3,066)
  • 65 years and over: 11.3% (male 537; female 484) (2003 est.)

The median age of the population was 28.1 as of 2002 and the sex ratio was 0.96 males/female as of 2000.

The population growth rate is 6.9% (2008 est.), with a birth rate of 17.57 births/1,000 population, death rate of 7.34 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.), and net migration rate of 195.35/1,000 population (2000 est.) There is an infant mortality rate of 7.77 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.). The life expectancy at birth is 78.36 years: 76.24 for males and 80.59 for females (2003 est.). The total fertility rate is 1.8 children born/woman (2003 est.).

Residents of Montserrat are known as Montserratians. The population consists of a number of ethnic groups: Black (88.4%), White, Dual Heritage, Creole. The island's population is mainly a mix of British, Irish and Africans with other minorities.

Volcano, exclusion zone, transport

In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufrière Hills volcano, dormant for centuries, erupted and soon buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than 12 metres (39 ft) of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern part of the island (the "exclusion zone") uninhabitable and not safe for travel. The southern part of the island was evacuated and visits are severely restricted.[13] The exclusion zone also includes two sea areas adjacent to the land areas of most volcanic activity.[14]

After the destruction of Plymouth and disruption of the economy, more than half of the population left the island, which also lacked housing. During the late 1990s, additional eruptions occurred. On 25 June 1997 a pyroclastic flow travelled down Mosquito Ghaut. This pyroclastic surge could not be restrained by the ghaut and spilled out of it, killing 19 people who were in the (officially evacuated) Streatham village area. Several others in the area suffered severe burns. For a number of years in the early 2000s, the volcano's activity consisted mostly of infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south. The ash falls occasionally extended into the northern and western parts of the island. In the most recent period of increased activity at the Soufrière Hills volcano, from November 2009 through February 2010, ash vented and there was a vulcanian explosion which sent pyroclastic flows down several sides of the mountain. Travel into parts of the exclusion zone is occasionally allowed, only by a licence from the Royal Montserrat Police Force.[15]

The northern part of Montserrat has barely been affected by volcanic activity, and remains lush and green. In February 2005, The Princess Royal officially opened what is now called the John A. Osborne Airport in the north. As of 2011, it handles several flights daily operated by Fly Montserrat Airways. Docking facilities are in place at Little Bay, where the new capital town is being constructed; the new government centre is at Brades, a short distance away.

In recognition of the disaster, in 1998 the people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom, allowing them to migrate if they chose. British citizenship was granted in 2002.

A Fly Montserrat Airways crash occurred on 7 October 2012, killing the pilot and two passengers. A preliminary report revealed that a combination of engine failure and tainted fuel are thought to be the causes.[16]


Main article: Economy of Montserrat

From 1979 to 1989, Montserrat was home to a branch of George Martin's AIR Studios, making the island popular with musicians who often went there to record while taking advantage of the island's climate and beautiful surroundings; the studio closed as a result of Hurricane Hugo.[17]

Since the devastations of Hurricane Hugo and the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, the Montserratian economy has been effectively halted. Export businesses currently based in Montserrat deal primarily in the selling and shipping of aggregate for construction. Imports include virtually everything available for sale on the island.

The island's operating budget is largely supplied by the British government and administered through the Department for International Development (DFID) amounting to approximately £25 million per year. Additional amounts are secured through income and property taxes, licence and other fees as well as customs duties levied on imported goods.


As a British Overseas Territory (BOT), defence of Montserrat remains the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Montserrat is one of four of the remaining fourteen BOTs that maintains its own military unit, the Royal Montserrat Defence Force. There is also a cadet corps for secondary school students.


Further information: Wildlife of Montserrat

Montserrat, like many isolated islands, is home to some exceptionally rare plant and animal species. Work undertaken by the Montserrat National Trust in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has centred on the conservation of pribby (Rondeletia buxifolia) in the Centre Hills region. Until 2006, this species was known only from one book about the vegetation of Montserrat.[18] In 2006, conservationists also rescued several plants of the endangered Montserrat orchid (Epidendrum montserratense) from dead trees on the island and installed them in the security of the island's botanic garden.

Montserrat is also home to the critically endangered Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax), known locally as the Mountain Chicken, found only in Montserrat and Dominica. The species has undergone catastrophic declines due to the amphibian disease Chytridiomycosis and the volcanic eruption in 1997. Experts from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have been working with the Montserrat Department of Environment to conserve the frog in-situ in a project called "Saving the Mountain Chicken",[19] and an ex-situ captive breeding population has been set up in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Zoological Society of London, North of England Zoological Society, Parken Zoo and the Governments of Montserrat and Dominica. Releases from this programme have already taken place in a hope to increase the numbers of the frog and reduce extinction risk from Chytridiomycosis.

Montserrat is known for its coral reefs and its caves along the shore. These caves house many species of bats, and efforts are underway to monitor and protect the ten species of bats from extinction.[20][21]


Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in Montserrat and is the only country aside from Ireland in which it is a public holiday.

Many albums of note were recorded at AIR Studios, including Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms; Duran Duran's Rio, the Police's Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity (the video for Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic was filmed in Montserrat, but the song ironically was the only one on Ghost in the Machine not recorded there), and Jimmy Buffett's Volcano (named for Soufrière Hills). After sustaining severe damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the studio is now a ruin.[22] Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) recorded the song "Montserrat" off "The Secret Language of Birds" in tribute to the volcanic difficulties and feeling among residents of being abandoned by the U.K. government.


Cricket is a popular sport in Montserrat. Players from Montserrat are eligible to play for the West Indies cricket team. Jim Allen was the first to play for West Indies and he represented the World Series Cricket West Indians. No other player from Montserrat had gone on to represent West Indies until Lionel Baker made his One Day International debut against Pakistan in November 2008.[23] The Montserrat cricket team forms a part of the Leeward Islands cricket team in regional domestic cricket, however it plays as a separate entity in minor regional matches,[24] as well having previously played Twenty20 cricket in the Stanford 20/20.[25] Two grounds on the island have held first-class matches for the Leeward Islands, the first and most historic was Sturge Park in Plymouth, which had been in use since the 1920s. This was destroyed in 1997 by the volcanic eruption. A new ground, the Salem Oval, was constructed and opened in 2000. This has also held first-class cricket. A second ground has been constructed at Little Bay.[26]

Montserrat has its own FIFA affiliated football team, and has twice competed in the World Cup qualifiers. A field for the team was built near the airport by FIFA. The Montserrat team are currently tied for 181 place in the FIFA world rankings with other team – Bahamas. In 2002, the team competed in a friendly match with the second-lowest-ranked team in FIFA at that time, Bhutan, in The Other Final—the same day as the final of the 2002 World Cup. Bhutan won 4–0.


Montserrat is divided into three parishes:

  • Saint Peter Parish
  • Saint Anthony Parish
  • Saint Georges Parish

The locations of settlements on the island have been vastly changed since the volcanic activity began. Only Saint Peter Parish in the northwest of the island is now inhabited, with a population of between 4,000 and 6,000.[27][28] The other two parishes are still too dangerous to inhabit; the volcano is still active in 2013.


Villages and towns that are within the safe zone are shown in boldface. The settlements that are known to be within the exclusion zone are shown in italics, since they cannot be accessed and are no longer habitable. See also List of settlements abandoned after the 1997 Soufrière Hills eruption.

  • Baker Hill
  • Banks
  • Bradesa
  • Bramble
  • Bethel
  • Bugby Hole
  • Cavalla Hill
  • Cheap End
  • Cork Hill
  • Cudjoe Head
  • Davy Hill
  • Dick Hill
  • Drummonds
  • Dyers
  • Elberton
  • Fairfield
  • Fairy Walk
  • Farm
  • Frith
  • Farrells
  • Farells Yard
  • Flemmings
  • Fogarty
  • Gages
  • Garibaldi Hill
  • Geraldsb
  • Happy Hill
  • Harris
  • Hermitage
  • Hope
  • Jack Boy Hill
  • Judy Piece
  • Katy Hill
  • Kinsale
  • Lawyers Mountain
  • Lees
  • Little Bayc
  • Locust Valley
  • Long Ground
  • Lookout
  • Molyneux
  • Morris
  • Mongo Hill
  • New Windward Estate
  • Old Towne
  • Olveston
  • Plymouth d
  • Richmond
  • Salem
  • Spanish Point
  • St. George's Hill
  • St. John's
  • St. Patrick's
  • St. Peter's
  • Streatham
  • Sweeney's
  • Trants
  • Trials
  • Tuitts
  • Weekes
  • Windy Hill
  • Woodlands
  • Upper Blakes

a. De facto capital and centre of government.
b. Includes the new airport.
c. New seaport and town.
d. Official capital, now abandoned.


See also


  • To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland by Sean O'Callaghan, Brandon (2000), an imprint of Mt Eagle Publications, Dingle Co. Kerry, Ireland.

External links

  • Government of Montserrat
  • Montserrat National Trust
  • Montserrat Hospitality Association
  • Premier of Montserrat
General information
  • The World Factbook
  • Montserrat from UCB Libraries GovPubs.
  • DMOZ
  • Montserrat Webdirectory
  • Atlas of Montserrat
News media
  • Montserrat Reporter news site
  • Radio Montserrrat—ZJB Listen live online
  • Montserrat Tourist Board
Health reports
  • Institute of Occupational Medicine Research Report TM/02/01.
  • Institute of Occupational Medicine Research Report TM/02/02.
  • Institute of Occupational Medicine Research Report TM/01/07.
  • Montserrat Volcano Observatory
  • Official release archive
  • Digital Library of the Caribbean.

Coordinates: 16°45′N 62°12′W / 16.750°N 62.200°W / 16.750; -62.200

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