M. J. Breckin (1978)
Colonial Office Policy towards the Economic Development of the Leeward and Windward Islands, Barbados and British Guiana 1897-1921.
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The West India Royal Commission of 1897 advanced a number of recommendations intended to lift the West Indies out of their depressed condition and to shape their future economic development. This thesis examines the efforts made to implement those recommendations and the extent to which they influenced economic progress in the colonies of Barbadoes, British Guiana, The Windward and Leeward Islands. Particular attention is directed towards the recommendation that the labouring populations be encouraged to settle on the land as small proprietors. This proposal provided for the welfare of the largely Negro populations of the colonies, but it also threatened to upset the plantation dominated nature of the agriculture economy. The Royal Commission believed that peasant land ownership could be extended only through the introduction of government schemes of land settlement. The considerations which underlay the success or failure of such schemes and of peasant proproetorship in gneral constitute the central theme of the thesis. Other aspects of the economu which are examined affected planter and peasant alike. Freight connections, choice of crops, methods of cultivation, availability of markets, and access to expert advice were considerations which determined the success of both plantation and peasant proprietary.
The Colonial Office role in the development of these colonies was limited and for the most part initiative rested with the colonies themselves. Questions of crop selection, or of the location for a settlement scheme, could only be decided by local experts. Furthermore, Joseph Chamberlain, the most influential Colonial Secretary of the period, as far as the West Indies were concerned, clearly believed in delegating responsibility to the local official. Nevertheless, when appropriate, the Colonial Office did play an active part. Its influence over shipping contracts was considerable, whilst the survival of the valuable Imperial Department of Agriculture, established in consequence of a recommendation of the Royal Commission, was entirely due to Colonial Office determination in the face of Treasury resistance.
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