‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean
View of the botanic garden in St Vincent, from: Lansdown Guilding. An account of the botanic garden in the island of St Vincent, from its first establishment to the present time. Glasgow: Richard Griffin & Company, 1825 [FCO Historical Collection QK73. S2 GUI]The contrast between the lush natural beauty of the Caribbean region and the story of human conflict and misery that has formed so much of its history is one that cannot fail to strike observers.
Edmund Hickeringill, in his 1705 work, Jamaica viewed, echoes Sir Walter Raleigh in speaking of the Caribbean islands as ‘the paradise of the world’, yet when his book was published Jamaica was Britain’s largest slave-owning colony. More recently the poet Derek Walcott, in his 1992 speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature, suggested that in the face of the natural beauty of the Antilles the ‘sigh of history dissolves.’
In this exhibition, drawing largely on the holdings of the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, transferred to King’s College London in 2007, we explore the history of the Caribbean region from the sixteenth century to 1900. Because of their strategic position as gateposts to the untold riches of mainland America the islands were coveted by European powers, and early Spanish dominance soon gave way to fierce rivalry, as France, Britain and Holland competed with Spain for ownership of these often tiny territories.
Throughout the early modern period the Caribbean islands changed hands with bewildering frequency. The introduction of sugar production and the importation of huge numbers of African slaves to work the plantations only increased the region’s importance to the European powers. We look at the dark days of slavery, the long struggle for emancipation and the development of Caribbean society in the nineteenth century. All items in this exhibition are from the collections of the Foyle Special Collections Library and, when not on display, are available for consultation there.
Exhibition curators: Hugh Cahill and Katie Sambrook
PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition originally ran from 31 January –14 May 2011 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library, King’s College London, and is now available to view as an online exhibition only.
In this exhibition
- The challenge to Spain
- International rivalry
- Indigenous peoples
- Revolts and revolution
- The road to emancipation in the British colonies
- The 'mighty experiment': Britain's Caribbean colonies after emancipation
- Natural history
- Nineteenth century Caribbean colonial life
- Select bibliography