Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Formation of a colony
 Contours of development
 Belize and the blockade, 1861-...
 Adjustment to agriculture,...
 Crisis and depression, 1885-19...
 Boundary questions
 The Guatemala Road, 1859-84
 The Guatemala Road, 1884-1900
 The Mexican frontier
 A judgment
 Century's end
 Appendix I
 Appendix II
 Back Matter

British Honduras : Colonial Dead End , 1859 - 1900
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099200/00001
 Material Information
Title: British Honduras : Colonial Dead End , 1859 - 1900
Physical Description: vii, 214 p. maps. 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Clegern, Wayne M. ( Editor )
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Place of Publication: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Publication Date: 1967
Subjects / Keywords: History -- Belize
General Note: Louisiana State University social science series number 12
 Record Information
Source Institution: Belize National Library Service and Information System
Holding Location: Belize National Library Service and Information System
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 962772
System ID: UF00099200:00001

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
    Table of Contents
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Formation of a colony
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 13a
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    Contours of development
        Page 17
        Page 18
    Belize and the blockade, 1861-65
        Page 19
        Page 19a
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
    Adjustment to agriculture, 1865-84
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
    Crisis and depression, 1885-1900
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
    Boundary questions
        Page 95
        Page 96
    The Guatemala Road, 1859-84
        Page 97
        Page 97a
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
    The Guatemala Road, 1884-1900
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
    The Mexican frontier
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
    A judgment
        Page 155
        Page 156
    Century's end
        Page 157
        Page 157a
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
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        Page 171
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        Page 173
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        Page 178
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        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
        Page 192
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
        Page 199
        Page 200
    Appendix I
        Page 201
        Page 202
    Appendix II
        Page 203
        Page 204
        Page 205
        Page 206
        Page 207
        Page 208
        Page 209
        Page 210
        Page 211
        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
    Back Matter
        Page 215
Full Text
MAX GOODRICH, General Editor

Social Science Series

Number Twelve
British Honduras: Colonial Dead End, 1859-1900



Wayne M. Clegern


Katharine McLauchlin Clegern


Copyright @ 1967 by Louisiana State University Press
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-11686
Printed in the United States of America. Price $4.00.


BELIZE, OR BRITISH HONDURAS, is one of those places brought from
obscurity by recurrent dispute. The literature which deals with the
colony is surprisingly large, though it is imbalanced in some respects
through emphasis on international legalisms. Its inadequacy arises
not so much from fulsome legal documentation as from a failure to
depict internal political history. Rarely has the idea been pursued
that the history of this tropical community itself merits detailed
study. No period in the colony's history has been more in need of a
political narrative than the late nineteenth century, a time when
boundaries and title were established, when the Settlement at
Belize became the Colony of British Honduras, when traditional
timber industries failed, and when efforts were made to build a
more stable economy and society. That is the period and these
are the topics dealt with in this study, which is derived primarily
from a doctoral dissertation, "The International Role of British
Honduras, 1859-1900" (University of California, Berkeley, 1959).
Portions of the text have appeared in the American Journal of Inter-
national Law (April, 1958) and The Americas (January, 1962). I
wish to thank James F. King and others at the University of
California, officials of the British government, the government of
Guatemala, and the Henry L. and Grace F. Doherty Foundation for
assistance which made this work possible.

Rio Piedras, P.R., 1966


Preface v
1 Formation of a Colony 3
a Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65 19
3 Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 38
4 Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900 68
5 The Guatemala Road, 1859-84 97
6 The Guatemala Road, 1884-1900 117
7 The Mexican Frontier 135
8 Century's End 157
Epilogue 165
Notes 167
Bibliography 193
Appendixes 201
Index 205




IN AN AGE of new nations, and of their problems, special value may
derive from the study of previous attempts to develop backward
areas; and attempts which failed are perhaps as relevant as those
which succeeded. Objectively, nineteenth-century British Hon-
duras was undeveloped. Subjectively, its spokesmen considered it
underdeveloped. Its very form was shaped to the convenience of
empire, and its boundaries overrode the logic of geography. Its
commerce was characteristic of the European imperial system: ex-
tractive industry and a merchandise trade based on exchange of
manufactured goods for raw products. In the late nineteenth
century the basis of both of these economic activities in British
Honduras changed. Efforts to restore the colony's wealth and pro-
ductivity have been its story ever since. This process has been
complicated by British Honduras' international role. The colony's
status has involved the immediate interests of Guatemala and
Mexico, more distantly those of Great Britain, and occasionally
those of the United States.
Belize, capital of British Honduras, has always been the colony's
administrative, cultural, and geographic center. It is a unique
waterfront community characterized by large frame houses with
rambling, screened verandas. At an average elevation of two feet
above sea level the town is vulnerable to any tidal wave, and it
is located on the periphery of the hurricane zone. Hence most
buildings are on stilts, and many others have Spartan furnishings at
the street level. The cooling effect of sea breezes in a community


surrounded on three sides by salt water relieves the otherwise op-
pressive climate. Located on the Caribbean coast of Central America
slightly more than eight hundred miles south of New Orleans and
about the same distance west of Jamaica, Belize town had a popula-
tion of nearly six thousand in 1859, ten thousand in 1900, and
reached thirty thousand in the 196o's.
It straddles the mouth of a river carrying the same name. In
terms of human settlement the Belize River has been probably the
most important stream emptying into the Gulf of Honduras, that
great wedge of the Caribbean lying between Cape Catoche on the
Yucatan peninsula and Cape Cracias a Dios on the Mosquito Shore.
The Hondo River, which separates British Honduras from the
Mexican state of Quintana Roo to the north, is as large a stream, but
the Belize has provided the most important transportation route
across British Honduras-from Benque Viejo near the Pct6n border
to Belize on the sea-and has been the economic outlet for a great
part of the Peten hinterland during its periods of Mayan, Spanish,
and Guatemalan rule. On this river, just beyond Benque Viejo and
just short of the Guatemalan village of Fallabon, Garbutt's Falls
marks the colony's western boundary. This boundary passes almost
due south to Gracias a Dios Falls on the Sarstun River. The Sarsttin
serves as the colony's southern boundary. North from Garbutt's
Falls the colony's boundary follows meridian 87* 28' (W) to its
juncture with the Mexican frontier. In its greatest extent British
Honduras is about 18o miles long and 57 miles wide, bordered on
the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on
the cast by the Gulf of Honduras, known locally as "the Bay."
The northern half of British Honduras is flat and the southern
half mountainous. A proliferation of creeks and rivers drain the
area, most of which receives more than eighty inches of rainfall an-
nually. The colony has an exceptional diversity of vegetation for
an area of less than 9,000 square miles, with tropical forest and
savanna interspersed with "pine ridge" country.
The northern half of the colony, limited roughly by the Sibun
River on the south, is a plain which is covered by pine-palm
savanna, swamp and marsh except for belts of quasi-rainforest
along the streams and rivers. The pine are Pinus caribaea, the same
species found in southern Florida and Cuba. Rainfall in the area
averages less than 65 inches annually, and the quasi-rainforest is the

Formation of a Colony

same type found in southern Campeche, Quintana Roo, and north-
ern Pet6n. It is not virgin forest, having been cut over by ancient
Mayan agriculturists and, in a later epoch, by British timber crews.
The southern half of British Honduras has almost three times the
rainfall of the northern half; Punta Gorda averages 170 inches an-
nually. True rainforest covers much of the southern area and is
similar to that in adjacent mountainous areas of Guatemala. High
.precipitation, varied geological formations, and a mountainous
topography contribute to the rich diversity of vegetation found in
the southern forests.1
The English-speaking Baymen of Belize have a history rich in
adventure and scarred by recurrent disaster. In the sixteenth
century Honduras Bay was considered an excellent base from which
to intercept Spanish ships passing between Panama and Mexico.
In the middle decades of the seventeenth century British adven-
turers who found haven in the numerous river estuaries along the
reef-sheltered and mangrove-infested shoreline established settle-
ments there. The Spanish left the perimeter of the Bay largely un-
occupied, though they erected a fortress at Omoa on its southern
shore as part of a general retrenchment to meet the challenge to
their empire from north'Europeans. During the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries the Spanish launched repeated attacks from
Omoa and Yucatan against English enclaves around the Belize and
Hondo river estuaries. Only when the English had formed
permanent settlements, thus sacrificing mobility, were the Spanish
able to lay hold of them.
The English had become more serious about their establishments
on the Bay of Honduras as they discovered the value of the
mahogany and logwood along its rivers and backwaters. Demands
for mahogany-for ship timber in the seventeenth century and for
stylish English furniture in the eighteenth-increased in the early
nineteenth century. Until the appearance of aniline dyes on the
world market in the twentieth century, logwood was a premium
dyestuff. Timber products have thus been the economic backbone
of the colony throughout its history, but the Belize merchandise
trade developed rapidly toward the close of the Spanish colonial
With the decline of Spain during the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, her empire became ever more unwieldy, and the provin-


cial kingdom of Guatemala reflected its decadence.2 Official import
restrictions frustrated consumers in the isthmian provinces, and
Belize merchants occupied an ideal position from which to ship
contraband through the forest and rivers to Guatemala City,
Comayagua, and Bacalar.
Spanish trade reached Guatemala City via the Golfo Dulce and
its inland port, Izabal. In a sense Izabal symbolized that route. As
an inland port which required extra transshipments, it appeared to
be inadequate for maritime trade purposes. In the colonial period,
however, Dutch, French, and English corsairs along the coast
rendered the deepwater ports of Omoa and Santo TomAs unsafe
most of the time. The British captured and sacked Omoa with ease
in 1780, despite its fortifications. Santo TomAs was more easily
defended than Omoa, and marked a potential land route to Guate-
mala City (the Motagua river valley). Yet, in the wilderness
kingdom of Guatemala, it was far enough off the established route
to hinder its usefulness.' Trading facilities which had developed
gradually in Belize during the eighteenth century were thus left in
a position to exploit the paralysis which came over Spain's trade
system during the Napoleonic period.
The woodcutting establishment at Belize seems to have taken on
the appearance of a town in the 166o's, and thereafter it had to be
dealt with in most Anglo-Spanish treaties. After 1741 the British
government on Jamaica regularly appointed superintendents at
Belize, but its affairs were still controlled by the timber entre-
preneurs and contrabandists. When Spain, as an ally of France,
declared war on England in 1779, the British settlers at Belize were
expelled for about five years. They did not come back in force until
after the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Several hundred settlers from the
Mosquito Shore came to Belize after the Convention of London in
1786 and thereafter British settlement was uninterrupted, though
the settlers had to hold off a Spanish attack in 1798 in the legendary
Battle of St. George's Cay. The Anglo-Spanish treaties of 1783 and
1786 gave the British a right of usufruct-for woodcutting-between
the Belize and Hondo rivers and between the Sib6n and the
Hondo. These rights of exploitation and the question of their
longevity have been the subject of intermittently heated debate
ever since.
From the turn of the century until Mexican and Central American

Formation of a Colony

independence in 1821 the mercantile community in Belize devel-
oped steadily. Indeed the Belize merchants succeeded so well in
that twilight period of Spain's empire that a governor of Spanish
Honduras urged the final destruction of "Belize, warehouse of our
misfortune and sponge of our mines."4 Spain's captive role in
Napoleonic Europe until 18o8 guaranteed her the enmity of the
British fleet and consequent inability to control the empire. During
this period Belize merchants traded European goods for their
Spanish-American neighbors' livestock and agricultural products."
With this preparation, the Belize merchandise trade grew rapidly
until the European peace of 1814-15 reinstated the old Anglo-
Spanish arrangements of 1783 and 1786 which prohibited exports
from Belize to the kingdom of Guatemala. It was too late to block
this trade by fiat, however, for the Spanish were not prepared to
replace it with an adequate substitute. The prohibition did not stop
British trade, and it was repealed in 1819.r
The Belize trade continued to expand after Central American
independence in 1821. Veracruz, the traditional Caribbean outlet,
was now unfeasible, the various Pacific routes out of the question,
and the Bay of Honduras commercially undeveloped-except for
Belize. The direct trade connections between Belize and London
now furnished Central America its most convenient source of
European goods. Predictably, vested mercantile interests in Omoa
and Truxillo fought to maintain themselves.7
When the federal government in Central America allowed the
British importers to sell at retail on the domestic market in 1823,
the Omoa merchants challenged the practice. This challenge
became another encounter in the ubiquitous debate between pro-
tectionism and free trade. The Omoa merchants argued that British
importers had two competitive advantages which would inevitably
ruin local establishments: sheer volume, and freedom from most of
the domestic taxes which weighed on local businessmen. As long as
the British could sell only at wholesale, local merchants could sur-
vive; but British retailing, they held, would destroy them. This
complaint brought temporary relief from provincial levels of gov-
ernment. But when the case reached the federal level it was sharply
reversed to the accompaniment of a textbook lecture on the mani-
fest long-range benefits of free trade despite the difficulties of
temporary readjustments."


A mixed reaction to Central American independence developed
in Belize. The opening of legal trade was certainly welcome, as
was the possibility of obtaining legal woodcutting grants. The
British woodcutters had operated in Pet6n regardless of Spanish
regulations, but it was more convenient to work on a legal basis.
Besides, the entire Central American coastline, including the
mahogany-rich north coast of Honduras, was now available to them.
The mahogany entrepreneurs, however, did not approve some social
consequences of independence. One of the first reforms adopted by
the new government was the abolition of slavery. Negro slaves had
been the numerically dominant racial element of the colony since
commencement of large-scale woodcutting operations, and they
represented an extensive capital investment.9 Given the unmarked
jungle frontier between British Honduras and the Peten, it was not
surprising that many Negro members of the logging crews-slaves-
were soon fleeing to the Pet6n and freedom.
Domestic ramifications of this asylum in Pet6n were interesting,
and there were diplomatic repercussions as well. The Guatemalan
government had great difficulty in enforcing the law, principally
because of collusion between British slave-owners and inhabitants
and officials in Pet6n to send the Negroes back to their masters.
Later, the Central American minister in London claimed that the
slaves allowed to remain in Pet6n were the reason for a Belize
customs duty of 5 per cent on goods deposited there for Central
America. Not a week passed before the minister was alluding to
the same situation as one of the causes of British reluctance to make
a British Honduras boundary treaty. Certainly after 1825 the
Guatemalan government displayed an increasing awareness of the
threat of British territorial encroachment and a strong desire to
contain it."1
British entrance into the Central American retail trade, of which
the Omoa merchants complained, coincided rather closely with the
appearance of commission houses and branches of English com-
mercial companies in Belize. During the late 1820's there was a
sharp internal struggle as the local commercial houses, some of
which dated back to the 1780's, sought to retain their dominant
position in the colony. This merchant "oligarchy" was defeated in
1830 by a coalition of the new branch and commission houses and
the crown-appointed superintendent. Some British merchants estab-

Formation of a Colony

lished themselves in Central America after independence, but they
did not disturb the flow of commerce through Belize for a number
of years. They could not operate efficiently in the midst of the civil
turbulence which characterized the Central American federation.
Great Britain had no commercial treaty with Guatemala and in fact
did not have formal diplomatic relations with Central America until
1849 because she refused to recognize the unstable governments
there. All of these factors enhanced the privileged position of
Belize, located within Central America yet beyond the pale of its
civil violence."
The regime of President Rafael Carrera in Guatemala brought
relative quiet to Central America in the late 1840's, and thereafter
British merchants in Guatemala City could more easily make direct
connections with Europe. This posed a serious threat to the Belize
trading position. The impetus toward Pacific trade which resulted
from the mid-century gold discoveries in California brought a
development even more damaging to the colony's commerce. It
created an urgent demand for rapid isthmian transit. The Panama
Railway opened in 1855 and sharply altered Central American
trade. From that time centers of trade on the Pacific coast
flourished, and cargo ships leaving Panama for New York made few
regular stops in Honduras Bay.?
The late 185o's set the pattern of events in Belize for the last half
of the nineteenth century. The colony was becoming obsolete. The
Panama railroad and strong British merchants elsewhere in Central
America bypassed Belize and destroyed the colony's favored trading
position, quantitatively in terms of trade-tonnage and qualitatively
in terms of imperial interest. The shift of trade from Caribbean to
Pacific ports of the Republic of Honduras illustrates this phenom-
enon. Belize dominated Spanish Honduras' Caribbean commerce
but did not participate in its Pacific trade. Available statistics
indicate, perhaps too dramatically, the decline in volume of the
Republic's Caribbean imports, 1854-56:
Year Vessels Tons Crews Value
1854 202 15,852 1,258 $635,590-50
1855 173 10,950 1,079 474,536.00
1856 142 8,326 765 294,255-51


This decline, along with the rise in Pacific trade, signalized that
Belize traders were no longer the primary agents of British trade in
the Republic, and caused the British consul in Comayagua to assert
that although diversion of commerce to Pacific ports would injure
Belize merchants, "yet the trade with England will suffer no
diminution on this account." The suggestion that Belize interests
might be bypassed without detriment to larger British interests
became a regular feature of the consul's reports. Belize merchants
could not be expected to accept the idea that their best interests
were not those of the empire.13
Complaints about the commercial decline of British Honduras
were reflected in provisions of the Anglo-Guatemalan treaty of 1859
which established the colony's boundary. The treaty called for con-
struction of a road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic which
would encourage the colony's commerce. Yet a bitter argument
developed over whether this road would help the Belize trade or
cause it to decline further. The argument related to the basic com-
petition between Belize merchants and those located in Guatemala
and Honduras. The commercial growth of Belize had depended in
good measure on the disorganization of neighboring governments,
while the growth of commerce in the Central American republics
required effective national organization. If the treaty road were to
cause development of a Guatemalan deepwater port (such as Santo
Tomas), it would bypass Belize; if it terminated at a shallow coast-
ing port (such as Izabal), it would hold the Atlantic trade for
The northern frontier of the colony, the Hondo River, presented
problems of quite a different sort. The Caste War of Yucatan, 1847-
53, turned southern Yucatan into an anarchic Indian domain in
which most of the rudiments of Western civilization were swept
away. This situation caused an exodus of Yucatecan whites and
their sympathizers which in little more than five years increased the
population of British Honduras' northern district by 6,ooo. Such
immigration amounted to an immediate crisis for law and order, but
according to the superintendent in Belize, Frederick R. Seymour,
it created a long-term opportunity:
Surrounded by republics in a state of dissolution where all the evils of tyranny
and anarchy subsist simultaneously, British Honduras has in the last few years
appeared as if it was intended as an experiment to see what can be made of

Formation of a Colony

the Spanish Americans, who, though not useless individually, seem to have
proved their inability to manage successfully their own public affairs. In our
territory several thousands of persons-in Corosal alone three thousand-have
found a home where, under a tolerably strong and abundantly liberal Govern-
ment, they come and go and do as they please. At first political refugees were
the principal Immigrants but when it was found that those who crossed the
frontier, hoping for better times, and a more favorably disposed Government,
did not return when their wishes were fulfilled and the party opposed to them
overthrown; the attractions of Corosal, San Estevan, Puerto Consego and other
villages became known in Yucatan and persons of no particular political bias
began to emigrate to a country where there are no military conscriptions,
arbitrary taxes, revolutions and shootings; but where, on the contrary they
can enjoy personal freedom and the full benefit of the fruits of their industry.15

This stream of refugees furnished the labor and industry for a
small-unit sugar and rum industry which became an important part
of the British Honduras economy. But the immediate question in
1857-58 was how to restrain the rampant barbarism of the Santa
Cruz Indians who ruled southern Yucatan. The Santa Cruz, sup-
ported by a fanatic religion, had defeated all other Indian forces in
southeastern Yucatan and the Mexicans as well. The northern
district of British Honduras lived in constant terror that pillage,
rapine, and massacre perpetrated by the Santa Cruz would spill
over the IIondo. Tiny British constabulary forces on the border
were no match for the Indians' vicious hit and run tactics, and a
number of emergency measures were prepared."1
In September, 1857, the superintendent received authorization to
use army troops on the Hondo and to permit hot pursuit into
Mexican territory. HIe was advised that all caution and wisdom
must be used in exercising this power. The Mexican government
must be informed of any such action, and the action must be so well
justified that they would have no just complaint about it. More
important, the Mexicans must not be given any excuse to arm the
Indians for retaliation against British settlers. The superintendent
was particularly receptive to this last point of instruction, for one of
his main concerns was to keep the northern district "self-reliant"
and thus self-supporting. The vendettas of various Indian and
white groups caused disturbances on both sides of the Hondo and
compromised the endeavor.
Despite Yucatecan malcontents who instigated attempts to destroy
Corozal and other border towns, the basic problem of the northern


district was social rather than political or international in char-
acter. The superintendent believed Yucatccan immigrants' stan-
dard of living had improved so much since their arrival in British
Honduras that in general self-interest should prevent their joining
anti-British conspiracies. The main reason colonial officials had
been unable to gain wholehearted cooperation from the Spanish-
American immigrants was insensitivity. He noted a disposition on
the part of the few Englishmen around Corozal to drill the Spanish
Americans into shape by rigorously prohibiting their cockfights and
bull-baiting even while they allowed Jamaican immigrants in the
area considerable license in other matters.17
Seymour's conciliatory attitude toward refugees contrasted with
his current view of the Santa Cruz. The latter lie held to be the
enemies of everyone, predators spoiling all they touched.1, Yet the
Santa Cruz were the customers in the arms trade, and the British
continued into 1858 their efforts to mediate between the Indians
and the Mexicans. Furthermore British horror at Santa Cruz bar-
barities was tempered by Mexican efforts to hamper British trade
on the lower Hondo.19 At least that was die case before the
Bacalar massacre.
Bacalar was the site of a permanent Mexican garrison on a
lagoon just north of the Hondo, which had long served as an im-
pediment to Yucatecan trade with British Honduras. This citadel
already had a long history of Indian assaults when in 1857 the Santa
Cruz struck again. In the spring of 1858 an Indian force surprised
the town and massacred most of its inhabitants. Bacalar, the last
Mexican stronghold on the Hondo, offered little resistance. Both
private and official commissioners were sent from British Honduras
to treat with the Santa Cruz chief for the lives of the remaining
Mexican prisoners. Nevertheless these unfortunates were sentenced
by the tribe's oracle, the "Santa Cruz." This was a large cross on the
altar of the Bacalar church which appeared to speak, through vari-
ous means of dissimulation. The oracle offered to spare the fifty-
odd captives if the British commissioner would deliver up the
Mexican commandant at Bacalar, who had fled to Corozal. The
British commissioner could not make such an arrangement and
that night the captives, mostly women, were butchered with
machetes within earshot of the commissioners.-0
The commissioner estimated the Indian force to be sixteen


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hundred. When he returned to Corozal, he found that it was im-
possible to organize a punitive expedition, or even a satisfactory
local defense. The local militia troop refused to mount guard
during the crisis, and the superintendent at Belize as well as the
governor on Jamaica were now convinced of the need for imperial
troops on the Hondo. There remained the question of how to use
the troops when they arrived. Seymour drew a fearful picture of the
dangers and difficulties of a campaign against the Santa Cruz:
We might easily drive them from the ruins of Bacalar; we might, though
the march through the forest would cost us some lives, take [Chan] Santa
Crux, indeed any of their posts. But what next? We should only be sup-
pressing a Mexican rebellion, and thus making ourselves responsible to a
certain extent for the use which the miserable Yucatecan authorities would
make of power so unexpectedly restored to them. But in the meantime the
Indians, upwards of 20,000 of whom are reported to be in arms, whose troops
march along 30o miles a day in the narrow bush tracks, would be intangible but
ubiquitous on the Hondo. Each mahogany-raft would have to be fortified, and
even the crews of armed vessels would be picked off by unseen marksmen
lurking among the mangrove roots over which no civilized soldier could hope
to overtake the Indian in his flight.21

Reinforcements finally arrived on the Hondo in the spring and
summer of 1858, and British Honduras took on the appearance of a
defense perimeter against the Indians. The colonial government
refused to cooperate with Yucatecan authorities in a punitive ex-
pedition north of the Hondo, and the northern district girded for
any eventuality. There was danger that the Santa Cruz would be
provoked into raids on British territory by the vindictiveness of
Mexican cmigr6s in British border towns.22 Seymour issued a strict
neutrality proclamation, which was ill-received by the exiles, and
refused to grant the Mexican government the use of British territory
(Ambergris Cay) as a landing and staging area for their expedition
against the Santa Cruz. This refusal was based formally on a strict
interpretation of neutrality requirements, and informally on reports
that the Santa Cruz desired a rapprochement. The British refused
to cooperate even when Mexico offered final cession of all Mexican
rights in British Honduras as a quid pro quo for such cooperation.
Colonial officials on the scene agreed that British interests would
best be protected by one or more steamer gunboats stationed on the
Hondo to exercise surveillance and to provide troop mobility.23
Certain suggestions attributed to President Carrera of Guatemala

Formation of a Colony

gave additional cause for concern. Seymour, referring to Carrera as
an "Indian," noted a report that the Guatemalan president had said
that an Indian raid on the city of Belize, launched from the Hondo,
would signal an Indian uprising all over Central America. Seymour
placed enough credence in this theory to conclude his British
Honduras Blue Book for 1858 saying "the tide of Indian rebellion
and devastation in its progress to the southward was checked by
the strong English force in the Hondo and prevented from filling
the channels already dug for it in Guatemala and other states."24
An uneasy quiet settled on the northern district from the autumn
of 1858 well into 1861. Organization of the British system of
defenses continued, hampered by occasional recurrences of in-
cendiarism. British officials' main concerns during that autumn
were the piteous business of ransoming Spanish children who sur-
vived the Bacalar massacre and the attempt to dissuade "adventur-
ous" British traders from putting themselves in the hands of the
Santa Cruz by going into Yucatan to trade. Whatever misgivings
existed about the bitter fighting in the Yucatecan hinterland to the
north, tranquility prevailed on the Hondo by the spring of 1859. It
continued through the spring of 186o, despite the appearance of
Indian troops on the Mexican side of the IIondo. But the Santa
Cruz were now "virtual masters" of southern Yucatan and, thus freed
to roam at will, could turn on British Honduras if antagonized.
Considering this and the rumor of an impending Mexican expedi-
tion of three thousand troops, the superintendent reported that it
would be "difficult to calculate what new phase our Border politics
will shortly enter into." The Foreign Office at any rate believed
that the time was not ripe to negotiate a Mexican boundary treaty
which would parallel the 1859 treaty with Guatemala.2Y
During the years which followed, the Santa Cruz gradually drew
closer to the British, their only possible ally and source of aid
against the Mexicans. Indian violations of British Honduras ter-
ritory continued intermittently throughout the i86o's-many com-
mitted by the Santa Cruz-but a distinct pattern began to emerge.
British horror at the Santa Cruz atrocities of the late 1850's faded
with time and the appearance of a new Indian threat. In answer to
the continuing British arms trade with the Santa Cruz, and Great
Britain's refusal to cooperate with any Mexican punitive expedition,
Mexico had strengthened its already friendly relationship with Indi-


ans hostile to the Santa Cruz. The Chichanha (or Icaich6) Indians
were the Santa Cruz' most notable rivals. They provided Mexico its
only lever against British influence along the Hondo, and the British
enhanced the Mexican position by stopping its boundary-marking
expedition in 1861. Abandonment of these operations encouraged
the Indians to believe that the British had serious doubts about their
right to lands near Blue Creek on the upper Hondo.26
The underpopulated character of the colony was a basic handicap
of the government in Belize from the late i85o's till the end of the
century. The Guatemalan boundary was formalized in 1859, and
the Hondo River boundary had been tacitly recognized by Mexico
in 1826. Delineation of the colony's formal land area underlined
its need for a larger population. Colonial efforts at agricultural
development could not succeed without more people on the land.
The British position in treaty negotiations with Mexico was
weakened practically by an inadequate number of settlers in the
colony's northern district and weakened morally by the continuing
arms trade with rebellious Indians. Ultimately, and with reluctance,
the British met the problem by cooperating with the Mexican gov-
ernment in a general pacification of southern Yucatan. This re-
quired that the government in Belize turn its back on the Santa
Cruz Indians, who saw the British as their last hope for an autono-
mous existence. The Santa Cruz expedition effectively terminated a
half century during which the timber industry of British Honduras
and its maritime position had been weakened and its attempts at
agricultural development had failed to compensate for the loss of




THE ECONOMIC DECLINE which British Honduras suffered in the last
half of the nineteenth century paralleled a general decline of the
British Caribbean colonies. It is tempting to suppose that they
experienced a common phenomenon. All the colonies, from Belize
to Trinidad and Guiana, suffered a relative loss of importance in the
British empire in that period and with one or two exceptions they
were forced to accept Crown government. But an important dis-
tinction should be made. Whereas British Honduras suffered pri-
marily from depletion of her timber resources and loss of a unique
trading position, the islands and British Guiana lost importance
because of the decline of their sugar economy through soil exhaus-
tion, the abolition of slavery, and the rise of the beet sugar industry
in north temperate latitudes.
In 1862 the Settlement of Belize became the Colony of British
Honduras. This occasion had both symbolic and practical signifi-
cance, and it reflected concessions gained for the Belize establish-
ment by British diplomacy during the 1850's. Agreements with the
United States, which had been inscribed in the unratified Dallas-
Clarendon treaty of 1856, were implemented by the British through
a series of Central American treaties, 1859-61. In effect, these
fulfilled obligations which the British would have assumed under
the 1856 treaty. Among these Central American treaties, the one
with Guatemala contained the most tangible concession-an aban-
donment of Guatemalan claims to British Honduras. This cession,


or concession, permitted the delineation of a boundary for three
fourths of the border of the colony.
The administrative promotion of British Honduras serves also to
mark changing conditions in the community around Belize.
Throughout its history this community had been united essentially
as described in its motto sub umbra fioreo. This phrase appeared
with the likeness of a mahogany tree on semiofficial publications,
and was variously translated to signify that British Honduras
flourished in obscurity or that it grew in the shade of the mahogany
tree. Forest products, mahogany and logwood, had always been the
economic raison d'etre of the colony, and merchandizing had devel-
oped only as an adjunct to them. Consensus within the colony had
been dissipated during the 185o's by the gradual failure of prime
timber resources and by dislocation of trade routes. By 1862 it was
apparent to the government, and to informed citizens of the com-
munity, that a prosperous future for the colony depended on the
development of agriculture, which was at that time practically non-
existent. Thereafter the theme of internal development dominated
discussion of the colony's economy, and steps were soon taken to
promote agriculture.
In 1861 however, before this trend could materialize, Belize
traders were diverted by yet another profitable distraction from
the problems of development. Civil war in the United States
provided them a great opportunity. The war was an event which
no one in Belize could ignore and which many enjoyed. This war,
which so stimulated the colonial opportunists, ultimately proved to
be the greatest single influence for the internal development of
British Honduras.
The immediate opportunity for the Belize trading community in
1861 was contraband trade which resulted from the declaration of
a naval blockade of the entire Confederacy by the Federal govern-
ment in Washington. This blockade of 3,500 miles of coastline was
a questionable undertaking from the outset, but vital nonetheless.
The government in Washington saw that the South could be
defeated most certainly by cutting off the sale of cotton, its basic
exchange commodity. The Federal government concentrated its
main blockading forces at four critical points along that immense
shoreline and called this arrangement an effective blockade. The
British government was content to accept the arrangement and the

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

interpretation.' The Belize trading community was an immediate
beneficiary of this situation.
The government at Washington calculated that its blockading
arrangement would effectively reduce the cotton trade. But it was
obvious to all that blockade runners would be able to carry on at
least a minimal contraband trade through a network of this sort.
The most notable center of contraband activities developed around
Matamoros, Mexico, which was situated on the south bank of the
Rio Grande near its mouth. Brownsville, Texas, and Confederate
territory were located on the north bank. In the estuary of the Rio
Grande vast quantities of Southern agricultural commodities were
exchanged for European manufactured goods such as boots, arms,
and gunpowder. Flat-bottomed, shallow-draft vessels were favored
in this trade because they could hug the coastline safe from large
men-of-war all the way south from Louisiana and because they
could proceed directly upstream the several miles-to Matamoros'
wharfs. Such vessels approaching Matamoros from the south could
bypass that port, if they wished, and seek a rendezvous on the Texas
coast or beyond. Deep-draft vessels direct from Europe to Mata-
moros had to cast anchor several miles downriver and have their
cargo transshipped for lightering upriver.2
Belize was the British port nearest to Matamoros. The Belize
merchants had specialized in the Caribbean coasting trade for a
half-century and more. They knew every angle of that complex oc-
cupation and were not slow to exploit the contraband trade which
resulted from the blockade. The government in Washington also
recognized the potential of Belize for contraband activities, and in
1861, for the first time in a decade, appointed a United States com-
mercial agent to that port.3
Unfortunately for the blockade, but fortunately for the Belize
traders who were now scrambling for quick profits, George
Raymond, the man appointed United States agent in Belize, was
not the one for the job. This must have become apparent to the
authorities at Washington very soon. Raymond apprised them
of the serious extent of contraband activities but did so in an
infuriatingly passive and imprecise manner. In his first dispatch he
appeared at least to be grappling with the problem:
I have no special information in relation to the shipment of gunpowder, etc,
as merchandize, on board the ship "Titania" for the port of Belize from I.iver-


pool, as communicated through the United States Vice Consul at Liverpool.
At this port, Belize, a sailing vessel named "Kate," commanded by Capt.
Stevens, I am satisfied, is fitting out to carry munitions of war to the Con-
federate States. She has formerly sailed under American colors, but will leave
here under the British flag. I have used my best exertions to prevent this
being supplied, but it is done clandestinely. A strong secession feeling exists
among the people here. This trade and commerce has been principally with
the Confederate States. It is now cut off by the United States blockade. I
will communicate at the earliest possible moment, all information of importance
to our Government.'

By February, 1862, however, he seemed to have fallen into a defeat-
ist mood, reporting languidly that "from the Port of Belize, British
Honduras, large quantities of shot, powder, and balls are daily
shipped for Yucatan and Vera Cruz; and, also, to the port of
Tobasco, etc. It comes through British agents for the ports I have
Raymond's inefficiency continued until he was replaced at the
end of 1862. He reported an alarming volume of contraband
activity at Belize but seemed absolutely powerless to influence
events. His lack of influence resulted from the fact that he was not
a diplomat, either by training or by instinct. He made himself
vulnerable to a barrage of charges of moral, social, and professional
inadequacy, and was finally declared persona non grata. In fairness
to him it must be remembered that the South was at high tide dur-
ing his tenure, that the British were seriously considering recogniz-
ing the Confederacy, and that the Belize community wished every
possible excuse and camouflage for its continuation of the contra-
band trade. In short, Raymond had a very difficult assignment for
which he was not prepared, and he made a wonderful diplomatic
scapegoat for British officials. He was not even allowed in the
governor's residence. Typical of his undiplomatic responses to this
kind of rebuff was his practice of flying the American flag every day
except British holidays.0
He was replaced by Dr. Charles A. Leas, who came to Belize
after a long tour of consular duty on the Baltic Sea. Leas' most
recent post had been St. Petersburg, Russia, and he had seen special
medical duty in the Crimean War. He was a tough, experienced
professional who was passionately devoted to the Union cause.7
His hatred for "Copperheads" and other traitors was matched only
by his disgust for the faint-hearted and slackers in the hour of crisis.

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65 23

He was not modest, certainly, and from a few months after his ar-
rival until the end of the war he periodically informed the State
Department that he had broken up the contraband trade in Belize,
which in the end he did.
New York merchants who traded in Belize had given Leas
considerable insight into the colonists' pro-Southern views. He
reasoned that every opportunity must be grasped to create a good
working relationship with the colonial government.8 Both Leas and
the colony's governor, Frederick R. Seymour, took great pains to
insure the success of their first meeting. The governor received him
with a warm handclasp, told Leas he could commence to discharge
his duties at once, and added that he would request the government
at London to send the usual exequatur without the usual delay. The
effusive quality of Seymour's goodwill toward Leas stemmed as
much from his desire for immigration from the United States as
from the imperial government's desire to avoid difficulties from the
contraband trade.
Mr. Seymour remarked that the people of this Country are very desirous
of procuring emigrants from America from our coloured population, and that
those who were free before the commencement of our present difficulties
would be preferable to the Contrabands, those freed by the Union Army, as
he thinks they arc more intelligent and thus better capacitated for entering at
once upon the responsible duties of a citizen of the Colony, for I understand
that lands would at once be assigned to them to cultivate on their own account
thus becoming [theirs] once citizens, providing they shall take the necessary
oath of fealty to the British Crown.0

Leas, however, did not allow such questions to distract him from
his immediate purpose in Belize, which was to halt the contraband
trade. Almost as soon as he disembarked in the colony, Leas began
to send Washington concrete suggestions for halting the trade. For
example he noted at once that "the vessels of light draught which
run the blockade or escape from the small harbors on the Gulf, and
are destined for Sisal and Belize, hug the shores of Cape St.
Antonio and Catouche, He suggested that a small steamer
stationed near Cape Catoche, Yucatan, could capture the blockade
runners easily and indeed break up this illicit traffic." Three
vessels belonging to merchants in Belize had been captured by the
Federal blockade before Leas arrived there. He thought at first
that this might have discouraged the trade, but quickly found that


the merchants had merely become more circumspect.10 British
vessels which had previously been engaged in direct contraband
trade with the South now were making frequent round trips to the
Yucatecan port of Sisal. Leas surmised that Belize shipowners were
merely finding indirect methods more suitable for their purposes.
"Some cotton has lately been brought from Yucatan, which is said
to be Yucatan cotton, but which I suspect is or has been brought
from the South to Sisal or some other point in Yucatan and from
thence shipped to this place."" Leas also learned during this
period that one of the principal ports to which Belize merchants
shipped the cotton which they got from Sisal and Matamoros-
almost certainly cotton grown in the Confederacy-was New York.12
At the end of three months in Belize Leas felt that he was ready
to master the situation. He had been thoroughly aroused against
the pro-Southern, secessionist views held by most of the white
population of Belize and by recent news that the schooner Emma,
out of Belize for New Orleans, had reached Mobile safely with
several thousand pounds of gunpowder for the Confederate armies.
She had been allowed to clear Belize even though Leas had
presented copious evidence that her papers were not in order. This
breach of "international courtesy and good faith" by the colonial
officials prompted him to further analysis of the contraband trade in
Belize: Matamoros, he concluded, was now the "point of attraction
for the nest of smugglers and contrabandists that rendezvous at this
place." During the past month several schooners had departed for
Matamoros and two or three more were now ready to depart.
I name among those that have within the last five days departed and are
now ready to leave, the Schooners Carmeta, Nymph, Surprise, Stingray and
Robert Anderson, this last commanded by Captain Lombard. These as well as
the Emma have been placed under the British flag, for the purpose of conduct-
ing an illegitimate intercourse with the South, and avoiding difficulty with the
blockading fleet. Their Registers are in the name of British subjects, but their
commanders, are for the most part if not entirely, residents of Texas, or other
Southern states, with the exception of Captain Lombard of the Robert Ander-
son, who is a Northern man. The pretended sales or transfer of these vessels is
only a blind to deceive or.cover this unholy and unlawful traffic. The Captains
who are generally the real owners carry in their pockets Bills of Sale, or rather
powers of attorney authorizing them to sell and dispose of the cargoes and
vessels at their discretion.13

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

Leas thought that these vessels could be taken as legal prize by the
blockading fleet and hauled into the Admiralty courts not for prob-
able fraud but because, under British law, registry was not de facto
proof of ownership. Still irritated by the Emma case, he added that
the clearances of these vessels at Belize were "subterfuges
decoys to cover up their true designs which are to introduce
through French or other agents, contraband of war into the hands
of our enemies."14
To establish the pattern and significance of the Belize contraband
trade for his government, Leas interrogated the Mexican consul in
Belize, a "Mr. Martinus," and several British Honduras officials.
The Mexican consul asserted that the Mexican government of Presi-
dent Benito Juirez was in possession of Matamoros, and that
he, as Mexican consul, had to certify all invoices of merchan-
dise destined to Matamoros including those laden with gunpowder
and other contraband of war. These items did not show on the ship
manifests, however, since he had earlier refused to certify them.
He understood that these cargos of contraband were destined for
the Confederacy, not for the Juarez government. IHe indicated that
the reason so many of these contraband vessels detoured to Ruatian
in the Bay Islands on their way to Belize was to pick up a partial
cargo of fruit and thus to gain a clear manifest from the Spanish
Honduras authorities which showed only the fruit as cargo. Neither
the Bay Islands nor Cozumel Island off the coast of Yucatan had
supplies of war materials, and the Mexicans believed there was no
gunpowder being shipped from Sisal because it cost o100 per cent
more there than at Belize. Toward the end of the voyage to
Matamoros the contraband portion of the cargo from Belize was
taken off the vessels by "some Frenchman and other parties" and
the Belize vessels would then proceed on their voyage to Mata-
moros. Leas was satisfied from all the evidence that this was indeed
the pattern of the Belize trade with Matamoros-except that he
remained suspicious about the role of Ruatan.15
The colonial registrar was queried about the role of the public
magazine in the contraband trade. By law all bulk ammunition in
Belize had to be stored in the magazine, and when removed from
the magazine it was required to be lightered directly out of the
city limits. Leas knew of a number of cases, however, in which
powder had been repacked in town for contraband. The registrar


indicated that he did not know officially the true destination of
powder which was removed from the magazine, but he had reason
to believe that powder sent to Matamoros did not reach there, being
conveyed instead to Texas. With regard to the grossly illegal
powder repacking, the registrar said he was not aware of it but
would investigate. Leas retorted that if the police were not com-
pletely corrupted the customs officials should have known it long
Leas concluded that the Belize merchants were conspiring to
destroy the government of the United States and that the customs
officials at the port were also culpable. He saw Belize as the most
important contraband port on the mainland south of Matamoros.
To support his contention Leas pointed to yet another clandestine
connection between Belize and the Confederacy. It was nothing
less than a proposal to run a European mail service for the Con-
federate government through Belize.
There resides in New Orleans a Frenchman by the name of Vall&e, who is
I believe a Merchant at that place, and has his principal business house in
Belize, conducted by an Agent, and the cargoes of the Schooner Robert
Anderson, Capt. Lombard, are said to go in the name of this Mr. Lewis Vall6e
in New Orleans. Mr. Vall6e's agent in this place told a gentleman a few days
ago, that all letters left at his Counting room for New Orleans, would go
direct to that place and that all persons in New Orleans desiring to send letters
to Belize, if left at the Counting room of Mr. Vall6e, they would come direct.17

In light of certain remarks by Captain Lombard about the proposed
Confederate mail contract and the information from Vall6e's agent
that he could send New Orleans mail direct, Leas was convinced
"that Mr. New Orleans [Lewis] Vall6e is in some way connected
with this proposition to the Confederate Government to run regular
mail in the Schooner Robert Anderson, particularly since it is said,
that the cargoes of Schooner Robert Anderson go in the name of
Vall6e." Vall6e seemed to fit perfectly into the piratical history of
the Caribbean and Leas suggested that New Orleans officials should
keep a careful eye on his movements. Another story which circu-
lated about him in Belize was that he had been jailed by General
Benjamin Butler for some of his activities in New Orleans and that
he had bought his release by informing Butler that three Belize
vessels were en route to run the blockade at Sabine Pass, Texas. The
vessels were captured as a result."18

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

Armed with these facts, figures, and suppositions and having at
hand a notable case about which he could protest, Leas went on the
offensive in May, 1863. He had solid evidence that gunpowder had
been taken from the public magazine and then clandestinely re-
packed in flour barrels at one of the merchant houses in the center
of town. Repacked in this manner, or in containers marked for
other domestic commodities such as coffee or dry goods, the gun-
powder had been covered by ship manifests and cleared for Mata-
moros and other ports."1
Leas' protest was well timed. Two months previously there had
been a terrible fire in Belize. According to his description, it had
broken out at 3 A.M. on March 10o:
It swept with fearful rapidity, so much so, that in three hours one half of
the entire town was nothing but a mass of ashes. It commenced in a house,
occupied by a Belgian, immediately in the rear of the street that fronts on the
water and about the Center of the side of the River Belize, and swept north,
south, and west, destroying everything before it to the very brush or woods.
Some five hundred houses were destroyed, and about 700 families rendered
homeless, the large majority of whom, are poor. Two or three large business
houses were destroyed, the balance of the stores were small retailing.20

Strengthened by public preoccupation with the recent holocaust,
Leas expressed his indignation about the continuing practice of
powder-packing in terms of the incendiary danger. He spoke first
to the colonial registrar and then to the governor. In his interview
with the governor he noted that half of the town had burned
already and such unsafe, clandestine activities might at any time
reduce the other half to ashes. He based his formal protest, how-
ever, on the solid position that the powder repacking merchants
were engaged in contraband activities.
Leas' strategy was clear enough. His unofficial remarks about the
local dangers of fire made the governor aware that Leas knew the
illegal repacking could be stopped easily by enforcing the magazine
rules and could be justified publicly on the basis of local police
powers to prevent fire and to maintain public safety. The governor
chose to regard the situation from that point of view and told
Leas to inform Washington that local laws relating to the magazine
would be fully enforced. The American agent was convinced that
if the governor kept his promise, the contraband powder trade
from Belize would be at an end. Within a month the governor an-


nounced that all laws prohibiting the repacking of gunpowder
within the city limits of Belize would be strictly enforced..2' About
the same time, news arrived that three vessels which had cleared
Belize from Matamoros two months before had been captured by
the Federal blockade. Leas was convinced that this combination of
external and local pressure on the blockade runners had broken up
the illicit trade in Belize. He reported that some merchants were
now afraid even to make legitimate shipments to Mexico for fear of
the consequences.
All this brought considerable respect for Leas, and he revelled
in it. When the governor asked how he gathered so many details
about the secret activities of merchants and shippers in the com-
munity, Leas indicated expansively that he could not be completely
candid about it. He was not reluctant to inform the State Depart-
ment of his methods, however, insisting that the situation required
constant vigilance:
I had the good fortune some time ago to secure a house in this place for
the use of the Agency, in the most prominent part of town, where I have a
full view of every foot of the Harbor. And as all vessels are obliged to un-
load, and load, by means of lighters, scarcely a movement of any kind is made
without coming under my observation. The movement of all suspected vessels
and parties are kept almost continually within the focus of my Glass, and it
has been a matter of wonderment to all, even from the Governor down, how I
collect such a mass of information in regard to even the hidden midnight move-
mcnts of men.22

He reaffirmed the value of surveillance as a deterrent to contra-
band activities in connection with his suspicions of the trade center
on RuatAn, in the Bay Islands, and requested the United States
minister in Honduras to protest to the government at Comayagua.
Satisfied at last that Ruatan was no more than a way-station where
the contrabandists took on camouflage cargos of fruit, Leas main-
tained that it was nevertheless a very good idea for the island mer-
chants to know that they were being watched.23
He made a continual effort to meet appropriate forms of diplo-
matic courtesy and succeeded in maintaining good relations with
the colonial officials, but Leas was increasingly irritated by the
"secessionist" atmosphere in the merchant community. From time
to time he would turn his ire on individuals who seemed partic-
ularly offensive or dangerous. One such was Christopher Hemp-

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

stead, a former United States commercial agent in Belize who
delighted in giving grief first to Raymond, then to Leas, and succes-
sively to the next three commercial agents who followed Leas.
During the war he was, as Leas put it, "a violent secessionist" of the
hang-Lincoln variety.24 Another who stirred Leas' wrath was a
merchant named James McNab who had been a principal conspira-
tor in the gunpowder packing affair.
This same James McNab has done us more damage than all the other Rebel
sympathizers in Belize. He keeps a Grocery and Croggery. All the Secession
Captains congregate at his place. To him they pretend to sell their vessels, in
order to place them under the English flag, he taking an oath first before the
Register that he has made the purchase in good faith. He then sells them
goods, and what he has not [got in stock he] purchases for them.25

Through these arrangements McNab had become owner pro form.
of more than twenty vessels. Leas believed the way to handle small
operators of this type, who were basically overextended, was to
exert constant pressure and thus allow them no operating margin.
"Whilst of course the Admiralty Court will be governed by the
law, yet I am frank to say that if one or two or three of these vessels
could be legally confiscated it would in my opinion entirely break
up this contraband trade from here. These Contrabandists are not
men of great wealth, so that such a loss would damage them
War news which arrived in the summer of 1863 delighted Leas,
particularly since news of Union victories visibly depressed "these
English secession sympathizers." He served consciously as the
rallying point for a growing number of loyal Unionists in Belize.
This was a real necessity, he said, because "quite a number of
citizens of the United States are now residing here who are from
the North, but who are of the Copperhead complexion, finding fault
with everything done, except a rebel victory.'"' On a single day in
August news arrived of the captures of Vicksburg, Port Hudson,
Jackson, Mississippi, and Rome, Georgia, and the defeat of Lee at
Belize was in a great state of excitement. The United States flag was
displayed from the agency residence, the loyal Americans were loud in their
rejoicings, whilst the English sympathizers for the South sank into great gloom,
and indeed utter despair. Many were the congratulations whispered in my ear
by the humble classes, and indeed some of the warmest secessionists not only


bowed a "good morning" as usual but even raised their hats from their heads
in the most respectful manner.28

The only cheering note for Confederate sympathizers was word
of the notorious New York draft riots which came to Belize simul-
taneously with news of the Union military victories. They clutched
this straw eagerly and professed to see in the New York riots the
internal crumbling of the North. But again Leas had the last word.
In vain did I endeavour to show that riots could occur at any time and at
any place from local and accidental causes, but they could not see it, until
last week, when a furious riot broke out in this place between the African
Soldiers stationed at this post, and the citizens, which lasted three nights. One
life was lost and a large number seriously injured. All the white ladies, or
nearly all, were sent to the fort for safety. Whilst every white man was
notified to prepare to defend his life at a moment's warning. The most terrific
excitement prevailed, and pistols, guns, dirks, and indeed all manner of
weapons were in the greatest demand. The excitement has however now
calmed down, and the secessionists admit freely that a riot can take place for
local and accidental circumstances, and indeed, they even now think that the
riot in New York is not to be counted of any serious importance, and really
does not damage the prospects of the Union.29

The measures taken by Leas against the contraband trade were
effective, despite a pro-Southern atmosphere and such resourceful
combinations as McNab and the secession captains and Valle6-
Lombard. In September, 1863, he reported that no war contraband
had been shipped from Belize to the Southern states or to Mexico
since the powder-packing episode in May. An irregular stream of
blockade runners brought cotton to Belize between October, 1863,
and February, 1864, but for the most part all they could do was sell
the cotton at auction and leave in ballast, or sell their vessels and
follow their shipments of cotton to European markets. On June 23,
1864, Leas reported that since February 11, "not a single vessel of
any kind has arrived at, or departed from this port with contraband
of war, nor has there been any from the rebel states [nor has any]
departed to run the blockade. Therefore I think we can fairly say
that the entire trade between Belize and the South has been broken
up."30 On September 29 he reported that there were still no com-
mercial connections with the Confederacy.31 After this an occasional
fugitive vessel would arrive with cotton from the South, more
interested in asylum than in contraband.:'
In the summer of 1863 the relationship of Belize to the United

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

States had begun to take new directions. Leas had reported during
the preceding spring that Northern businessmen were increasingly
interested in British Honduras. A Mr. Parsons, the one loyal North-
erner who was doing business in Belize when Leas arrived, had
been successful at cutting pine and shipping it to New York.
English timber merchants had traditionally been so disinterested in
pine that Parsons had found a prime stand of timber just thirty
miles up the Belize River. About this time other Northern mer-
chants expressed interest in the colony, and Leas concluded that
"this country is likely to secure an impetus through American
energy and enterprise that the people here have never before
dreamed of or regarded as possible."33
The principal development encouraging such a prediction was
the arrival in Belize of the "Guatemala Company." This was an
engineering team financed by a New York joint-stock company
which had an agreement with the Guatemalan government to dig
a commercial canal from the Bay of Graciosa to the Motagua River.
Belize was the only port in the Gulf of Honduras which could serve
as a depot in which to rendezvous the company's heavy machinery,
When expert survey showed the Motagua River proposition to be
unfeasible the managers of the company, Mr. de Brame and Mr.
Marie, turned to the possibilities of British Honduras. They opened
extensive operations in the colony's southern district, acquiring a
twenty-year lease on ten thousand acres of land between the
Monkey and Deep rivers. The initial objective was to cut pine on
a massive scale for export to New York. A physical survey showed
that both in size and in quantity the pine was inadequate for large-
scale operations, and that the area was a proverbial howling wilder-
ness. It was discovered, however, that Santa Maria timber-even
more valuable than pine-grew abundantly there, and that the rich
soil would be suitable for sugar cane culture after it was cleared.
Mr. de Brame and Mr. Marie made a very good impression and
they were well-financed. Leas noted that "if they fail, it will be
from collateral and outside considerations, and not for the want of
direct appliances, and money, as well as energy."34
The company's fortunes did not work out in quite this way,
though a number of outside and collateral considerations did come
into play. For one thing, de Brame and Marie were not as hard-
headed in business matters as Leas had thought. They were


responsible for the superficial survey which had launched the
Guatemala Company. More practical men had ruled out the Guate-
mala project.
Consequently, instead of going to Guatemala with the great body of their
force and machinery, Mr. de Brame (who is a Frenchman and warm sympathi-
zer with the South) and Mr. Marie (who is a fair representative of the
Copperhead tribe in the North) turned their attention to some operations in
this City. Soon, however, great confusion began to break out between Mr. de
Brame and many of his men, all of whom were loyal Americans-at least as
far as I could ascertain. Quite a number came to me seeking advice, as the
representative of their country-complaining of violations of contract, harsh
usage, etc.35

From duty and inclination Leas freely gave advice to these
American workers and frequently served as their intermediary in
the adjustment of differences with de Brame. The main point of
dissension was that de Brame wanted the men's contracts, which
had been signed in New York, to be adjudicated under British
Honduras law. The colonial law effectively provided for debtor's
prison because a laborer could be jailed for violation of contract.
Also, certain legal remedies available to the employer could easily
be abused and could result in the laborer owing the employer
rather than the reverse.
One of the provisions of the law is, that for every day's sickness the Master
or Employer can charge the employee or laborer some 75 cents, and for every
exhibition of impudence, some three dollars. So that all the employer has to
do if he be cruelly disposed-is, to bring a large bill for sickness, and cases of
impudence, and the amount is deducted from any sum that may be found due
the laborer, and if there be not enough due he must go to jail, or reengage
until he works it out. Hence there are hundreds in this Colony, who can
never recover from their indebtedness to their Master and Employers.30

Leas defeated de Brame in the colonial courts and most of the
American workers went home in disgust, as did Mr. Marie. Dc
Brame stayed on to work the sawmill, now financed by a Belize
merchant, and became involved in a plot to crowd out agents from
another New York firm through collusion with the Crown surveyor
and a couple of Belize merchants. He was again blocked by Leas
who in turn received the complete and unreserved support of
Governor Austin, who offered to fire the surveyor if Leas would
make a formal complaint. The history of the Guatemala Company
in British Honduras, 1863-64, demonstrated how closely colonial

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65

governors could cooperate with agents of the United States govern-
ment to implement the growth of American business in the colony.37
The colonial government wanted immigration from the United
States even more than it wanted American capital. This desire was
indicated almost as soon as the Civil War commenced and remained
a dominant interest of the colonial government as the war pro-
gressed. The first opportunity which appeared to be really promis-
ing resulted from Lincoln's emancipation policy, which had been
revealed by early 1863. Governor Seymour announced his hope that
a large number of Negroes freed by the Union army, called Contra-
bands, could be persuaded to immigrate to British Honduras.38
Leas was not persuaded that such immigration was a good thing.
HIe felt that the colony wanted immigration so badly that it was at
least partially blinded to reality. To set the matter in the proper
perspective, Leas composed a lengthy dissertation on the status of
laborers in the West Indies generally and in British Honduras
specifically. The United States government must be sure that the
conditions of the Negroes would be improved by immigration
before approving it. It was clear that few would agree to leave the
land of Lincoln without such a stamp of approval. He attributed
the recent cry for immigration in the British West Indies to a sharp
rise in the price of agricultural commodities, caused in large mea-
sure by the Civil War. Despite English speeches to the contrary,
the absentee landowners of the West Indies who were pushing for
freedmen's immigration from the United States had no real love for
the Negro. Those from Jamaica provided the preeminent example.
They were complaining of the indolence of Jamaican blacks and
claimed that the better-trained and more energetic American
Negroes would be much better. Leas labored to show the fallacy
of such reasoning.
Do they propose to share the profits of labor with the colored emigrant! Do
they propose that he shall be a co-laborer in the great and glorious work of
subduing and opening up that vast Island, and developing its full agriculture
and commercial capabilities! And afterwards to enjoy in common the great
social, political, and moral reward, that naturally flows from honest and well
directed toill No, by no means, they intend him for quite a different purpose.
le and his posterity are only designed as hewers of wood, and drawers of
These Jamaican landowners even wanted to speculate on the
Negro in the land they would make available to him: "Five dollars


an acre they modestly demand for their wild land, and insist upon
being denominated charitable." They seemed to have forgotten,
continued Leas, that the United States government had for years
been selling the finest land for $1.25 per acre. British Honduras,
too, was filled with wild lands, even wilder than Jamaica, "where no
sound has ever been heard, except the shrill cry of the hungry
panther." The soil of the colony was unquestionably rich and
particularly well suited to the cultivation of cotton, rice, sugar, and
tobacco, with the good possibility of growing any of the cereals on
the inland plateaus. He pointed out that the population of 25,635
was made up largely of "human conglomerates," and estimated that
there were only 88o whites in the colony. Except for the 1858
agricultural refugees from Mexico in the north, human habitation
clung to the coastline.40
The principal legal fact with respect to the pattern of land tenure
in British Honduras was that "the Census returns show but twelve
landed proprietors in the country, these own, by grant from the
Government immense tracts of country the residue of the land
is owned by the government." Leas stated emphatically that in
their cry now for more laborers the landowners of British Honduras
were no more philanthropic than their neighbors on Jamaica. The
land was capable of growing virtually all agricultural commodities,
but the labor force had been trained only at the fugitive arts of
cutting logwood and mahogany. It had become lazy and unenter-
prising, he said, while the American Negro had been trained pre-
cisely in the arts of agriculture. What these landowners were
overlooking, in their desire to bring the American Negro without
preparing a profitable future for the Negro himself, was that in all
too short a time he also would become worthless to progress. The
present laborers in Jamaica and British Honduras could see that the
absentee landlords took their produce and gave nothing in return in
the way of development of a better society. The American Negro
would perceive this soon enough. "Better, therefore, that we retain
in our midst the colored man where he will have the benefit of good
example until such a time as others will present inducements
worthy of his acceptance. If the past be any evidence of the
paternal care and solicitude manifested, on the part of this Colonial
Government, and wealthy citizens for the comfort and wellbeing of

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65 35

the poor laboring masses, then indeed can there be little hope for
the future."41
The Belize leadership's major effort to attract Negro im-
migration from the United States came from its greatest land-
lords, the British Honduras Company. John Hodge, a major stock-
holder and manager of the company's operations, went first to
London and then to Washington to arrange for an orderly coloniza-
tion program. Leas was approached by two other high officials of
the company who asked him to send a letter of introduction to
Seward which would assist Hodge in making emigration arrange-
ments. Leas asked them to put their proposition in writing and he
would then write to the secretary of state with respect to it. When
their proposal reached Leas, he found it inadequate. It presumed
his support and was not specific as to the benefits guaranteed to the
immigrants.42 Leas found it to be so inadequate that in his dispatch
to Seward he drew up a prospectus of the proper contract for im-
migration of the American freedmen. This statement of minimum
requirements provided for transportation to British Honduras at
the expense of the company; a supply of food for the freedman's
entire family until the first crop was harvested; a full supply of
garden seeds; weekly rations suited to their habits; a dwelling house
of specified dimensions containing board floors; five acres of culti-
vated land attached to their respective dwellings; at expiration of
the immigration contract the house and grounds were to belong to
the immigrant and his heirs; a school, a teacher, and a minister
should be provided; the immigrants would be guaranteed equality
before the law with every other citizen.43
Hodge made preliminary arrangements which allowed him to
bring four commissioners to examine the lands and circumstances
in the colony. They were to report to authorities in Washington on
the suitability of the colonization proposals. Leas was of the
opinion that two of the four had sold out to Hodge but that the
other two could be relied on to report truthfully.4 In October of
1863 it still seemed likely that some Negro immigration would take
place. Hodge was promising to build pine houses for immigrants
and there was a rumor that two hundred families of freedmen
would soon arrive.45 The governor's annual speech to the legisla-
tive assembly in January, 1864, also seemed hopeful." But in the
end the Lincoln government turned down the proposal.


Leas approved this refusal of freedmen's immigration to British
Honduras. The occasion for his most forthright statement to this
effect was a strange incident in August and September, 1864, which
gives considerable insight into Belize affairs. In the middle of
August he notified Washington that a Freedmen's Relief Committee
had been organized in Belize to collect used clothes and blankets,
and money to buy more, in order to help relieve the sufferings of the
freed slaves during the coming winter. Considerable enthusiasm
was expressed for the project, and Leas thought it reflected the
growing popularity of the North. A month later he forwarded to
the United States three boxes of clothing and two bales of blankets
for relief purposes, along with a report that things had not turned
out as he had expected. There was now sharp dissatisfaction in
some parts of the community that the gifts had not been larger, and
blame was placed at the door of Lieutenant Governor Austin who
had refused to contribute except to a project which would bring
freedmen to British Honduras. The committee, composed mostly of
Protestant clergy and their wives, revealed also their unhappiness
that "newspapers and magazines in general" had been painfully
silent respecting the sufferings of the freedmen; this complaint
seemed to be directed at the United States press. In his letter of
thanks to the committee, Leas pointed out that the United States
was engaged in a massive war, that there were vast numbers of
wounded soldiers on both sides who had to be cared for, and that
this care already over-taxed the resources of the nation. Leas joined
the critics of Governor Austin, however, agreeing that the contri-
butions would have been much larger if the governor had lent the
prestige of his office to the cause. He asserted that the governor
was now condemned by the whole of the "Christian and Charitable
Public." Leas only mentioned the governor's position in the affair,
he said, "to show to what extent these high English officials love
the Negro." Leas concluded that the United States government had
done well not to send freedmen to British Honduras "to be sub-
jected to a species of slavery and demoralization far worse than
ever existed in our country." He concluded darkly that if several
hundred thousand freedmen had been sent to the British West
Indies it would have allowed Great Britain to become independent
of the United States for cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco. To leave
no doubt about his view of the situation in Belize, Leas reported a

Belize and the Blockade, 1861-65 37

rumor that Governor Austin hoped for a victory by Lee over Grant
to force a negotiated settlement of the war.47
Contemporaneous with the desire for immigration of freedmen,
but reaching a peak of interest shortly afterward, was the desire in
Belize to attract Confederate emigr6s. These passed through Belize
in great numbers after it became obvious that the Confederacy was
doomed; some stayed, but more went to Guatemala or Honduras. As
early as April, 1864, Leas suggested to the state department that
Confederates who wished to escape the South and come to British
Honduras should be allowed to do so. He considered it the humane
thing to do, and he was quite sure they would be welcome. The
leadership of the colony had made it clear to him that the coming of
the Southern planters was the colony's only hope for the future, and
indeed some of the big landowners had asked him to make this sug-
gestion.4 8 These early boatloads of Southerners were the vanguard
of many more to come. At the end of 1864, in another incident
which forecast the future, Leas gave a certificate of good conduct
to a former Confederate army captain who disliked British Hon-
duras after several months of cotton farming there. The man
wanted to work his way to New York as a common sailor in order
to escape the colony.4"
The end of the Civil War brought even more Southerners through
Belize than had come during the last year of the conflict. News of
the surrender of General Hood had arrived in December, 1864, and
Confederate sympathizers in Belize began to seek a rapprochement
with the United States agent.50 Governor Austin became quite
gloomy; he told Leas frankly, and gratuitously, that the only hope
for the future of the colony was Southern immigration and that if
enough Confederates came to the colony Great Britain would grant
it independence.51 He again manifested his concern a few weeks
later when he discussed reports that an "unkindly" attitude in
Washington toward the colony was blocking emigration to it. Leas
assured him the reports were erroneous, but only after reminding
him of the many unkindly acts which the colony's blockade-runners
and contrabandists had committed against the United States gov-
ernment.r- In fact, British Honduras was to experience new
directions in her development as a result of continuing Confederate



BY THE END of 1865 the economic decline of British Honduras
reached a crisis. This decline had been evident for more than a
decade. Depleted mahogany reserves, fugitive markets, the sterility
of absentee landlordship, and the passing of the federal blockade
windfalls combined to make the colony's stark isolation the main
concern in Belize. Immigration from the Southern states was the
great hope for the future, so much so that it was viewed by many as
a panacea. But emigration during the twenty years which followed
the American Civil War demonstrated that something more than a
title deed was required to keep the immigrants. At the same time
Belize merchants learned from bitter experience that their com-
merce around the Gulf of Honduras would receive protection only
within the pattern of international law which the British govern-
ment stood for elsewhere. During this same period the government
of the colony underwent basic changes. The years 1865 to 1884 saw
then a series of major adjustments in the life of the colony, and all
these changes pointed to the development of agriculture as the
hope for the future of British Honduras.
Serious efforts were made before the end of the Civil War to
foster immigration to the colony. Extensive efforts by the British
Honduras Company to bring freedmen from the United States had
failed because of policy considerations in Washington and bitter
criticism from the United States commercial agent in Belize. The
big landowners, however, had just begun their search for im-

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 39

migrants. In 1864 an immigration fund was established through a
loan contracted by the government of British Honduras. Concerted
efforts by the colony's government and its capitalists brought a ship-
load of workers from Barbados in March, 1865, and another from
China in June.' The Chinese were of particular interest to the
public since they were the first group of orientals to come to the
colony. At first it seemed that the Chinese experiment might suc-
ceed if proper care were taken. There had been, after all, good as
well as bad results from the presence of oriental immigrants in the
West Indies. In British Honduras, the planter desperately needed a
guaranteed labor supply in order to secure his crop investment, and
the local press was optimistic that the contract Chinese laborers
could fill that need. Advanced planning and precautions were sup-
posed to render the undertaking successful. In view of the ex-
perience of other British colonies, the house of assembly had passed
an immigration act which protected all parties concerned. Lieuten-
ant Governor Austin, it was noted, had extensive experience in the
management of Chinese immigrant labor.
With the exception of eight Chinese that are now in the Public Hospital of
Belize, on account of ill-health, all the immigrants have been allotted to a few
of the leading and respectable proprietors of estates on the New River and
Corosal district. We may therefore reasonably expect that every attention will
be paid to their proper treatment and management. And we hope soon to be
in a position to report to our readers that they have proved themselves a
valuable acquisition to the planters, and in every way worthy of the great
expense incurred in introducing them into this Colony.2

However, the Chinese did not work out well. The new United
States commercial agent asserted that they had been simply too
vicious to be of much use and that the best policy would be to bring
freedmen from the United States. The Spanish-speaking people
from Yucatan who now lived in the northern district (where most
of the Chinese were taken to work) resented the Chinese. Yuca-
tecans complained in a petition to the legislative assembly in Belize
that they were overlooked or taken for granted. "It might reason-
ably have been supposed that where population and labor were so
necessary for the development of the resources of the country, and
when Chinamen and East Indians were being sent for to distant
parts of the world at an expense of more than $100 per head, a
quiet, industrious, and inoffensive people at the very doors of the


Colony, would have been encouraged in every way to enter and
remain, especially when the cost would have been trifling. "3
This complaint referred to the fact that in recent months the
magistrate in the northern district had been enforcing the public
nuisance laws with particular severity against such Yucatecan pas-
times as cock-fighting and bull-baiting.
Despite adverse publicity and poor results from the Chinese
laborers' first six months in the colony, Lieutenant Governor Austin
took the long view that these were the inevitable difficulties in
inaugurating a program of this type.
Although unable to point to any very beneficial results either to employers or
employed which have as yet attended the Immigration of Chinese, I cannot
pass over in silence an event of so great importance to the future of the colony
as the appearance of the first vessel from China in the middle of last year.
The period at which she arrived was particularly wet and sultry, and as
might have been anticipated great sickness and considerable mortality for
some time prevailed amongst the passengers. This I am happy to say has been
checked and the future usefulness of the people rests mainly with the em-
True it is that evidently many of them have not been previously employed
in Agricultural pursuits; but as in his own country, a Chinaman readily turns
his hand to any kind of occupation when sustenance and gain are the objects in
view, and as in British Cuiana the immigration from China with similar dis-
advantages has proved eminently beneficial, I see no reason why, with a little
patience on the part of the employers, this colony should not derive equal

The editor of the local paper adopted a different philosophy al-
though he too laid the responsibility for success or failure at the
door of the employers. "We have been and still arc in favor of
immigration, for labor is much required to develop the resources of
the colony-but let it be under proper management, for, at present,
there must be some wrong in the system, for our experience of the
Barbadians and Chinese importations have shown that we are only
paying for the introduction of Human Beings to die, or, become a
burthen on the colony."
Confederate immigrants who were prepared to establish planta-
tions in the colony still seemed the prize prospects for British
Honduras. Early arrivals strengthened sugar culture in the north-
ern district and initiated it in the southern district. The principal
obstacle to immediate Confederate immigration at the close of the
Civil War was the colony's immigration policy itself. Subsidized

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84

efforts of the government and landowners to bring Chinese, East
Indians, Barbadians, and Jamaicans were aimed at importation of
labor rather than of managerial or entrepreneurial talent. Leaders
in Belize were aware-certainly the governor was-of the Con-
federates' importance for the future development of the colony, but
few concessions were made to them at first. Either the attractive-
ness of British Honduras or the eagerness of the Southerners was
For more than three years after the Civil War the port of Belize
swarmed with Southerners looking for land upon which to settle.
Little bargaining effort was made to keep them in the colony. The
price of land, five dollars per acre, was the most telling evidence
that the Southerners were taken for granted by the great land-
owners, or perhaps viewed as future competitors. The Belize press
was frantic about the situation, which it viewed as the loss of a
golden opportunity to develop the colony.
As a proof of this we will quote a striking instance which occurred not very
long ago. A gentleman from Louisiana arrived here with several thousand
pounds in cash, with a view to purchase lands for himself and fifty families
who deputed him to do so on their behalf; he applied to an extensive land pro-
prietor who offered to sell some of his acres at five dollars each; finding this
higher than he expected, he went to another who was willing to sell but not
under the same price; not approving of this rate, and anxious to settle in
British Honduras, he thought of securing some Crown lands which are in
almost every case situated in inaccessible parts of the country-the choicest
portions having been long ago granted to the present holders-he accordingly
went to Government House with the belief that it was the Government policy
to sell the lands as cheaply as possible in order to induce an emigration of
intelligent and industrious person to the country, but to his astonishment he
found the same spectre awaiting him-"Fice Dollars, per acre, Sir,"-The
result was that our visitor was frightened away with the conclusion that al-
though British Honduras is a magnificent country with a salubrious and
pleasant climate yet it was no home for the Immigrant.0
The editor recognized that Lieutenant Governor Austin's hands
were tied by policy made in London. There is considerable evi-
dence that the landowners, particularly the British Honduras Com-
pany, which was the largest of them, collaborated in London in the
making of policy for the colony and that the governor was thus tied
to their camp by a policy of their making.7
If monopoly tactics such as those used against the gentleman
from Louisiana were supposed to bring high profits, they were corn-


pletely ineffective, because every Latin American nation from
Mexico to Brazil was bidding eagerly for the Southern immigrants.
After noting that Brazil was giving land free to the immigrants, the
editor went to the heart of the question of developing British Hon-
We hear a great deal said about the opening of roads through the colony, we
highly approve of this, but the making and proper keeping of them will prove
not only a necessary convenience, but a very expensive one. We beg respect-
fully to enquire who are to pay for this luxury? Surely not the present
limited number of planters we have, but the people of Belize, who undoubtedly
consume the largest proportion of the goods imported for this market, and
therefore contribute the greatest share of the revenue raised in the colony.
And this cannot be otherwise if we don't exert ourselves to increase that class
of our population, whose industry will improve the commerce of the country.
It is also simply absurd to talk of Colonial advancement and improvement
without first doing our best to augment our present population.8
A pattern of difficulties was reported with respect to the common
laborers who had been imported, indicating that they were un-
satisfactory; and the Confederates continued to pass through Belize
for other lands. Another trend which increased steadily was the
return of the Southerners from British Honduras to the United
States. By July, 1867, the United States commercial agent in Belize
reported that although Confederate immigration to the colony
continued, so did the exodus of the disappointed. "It is I think, the
general belief in regard to this immigration that its proportions will
be small."O A few months later Lieutenant Governor Austin was
recalled. Hearsay had it that he had offended by granting 300,000
acres of land to "a party of six or seven Americans who have be-
come naturalized citizens of the colony" at only a nominal price.10
There were plenty of other reasons for a change of administration
at that time. Despite the brisk pace of immigration, or perhaps
because traffic was brisk both ways, the economy had not been able
to halt the postwar decline. By late 1867 the financial affairs of the
colony were in a deplorable state. And Austin had to bear responsi-
bility for it, although he had sought actively to prevent the decline
and had gotten the price on Crown lands reduced to $2.50 per
acre." The commercial depression was caused primarily by the
decline of mahogany. The noble wood had been slipping for many
years, wrote the commercial agent, "but I think this has at no time
been so severely felt, as during the last three years." The decline of

Adjustment to Agriculture, z865-84 43

available timber lands had been complicated by a severe drop in
the world market for mahogany caused by the introduction of iron
and steel for ship construction. The British government was re-
ported to have sold off large stockpiles of mahogany as a result.
Another factor was that sugar cultivation, despite the most extrav-
agant expectations and despite large sums invested in it, had not
yet become profitable. "Many years must elapse I think before
sugar can be exported from Belize in any considerable quantity
owing principally I think, to the lack of capital with which to
prosecute the business." A major disappointment for the Confed-
erate exiles was the discovery that cotton did not thrive well in the
colony. Finally, the agent was convinced that resistance among
the great landowners to reasonable land prices had hindered agricul-
tural development, thus far fatally.12
Not long thereafter he reported clear evidence that the land-
owners had at last changed their policy. An ex-Confederate general,
J. C. McRae, arrived on the same ship with the new governor and
set about exploring the colony for an appropriate site to purchase.
McRae was a new type of land purchaser in the colony. He came
with clear assurances from the great landholders that he could ob-
tain a competitive price and had the money to buy a large tract if
the price was right. He brought letters of introduction from C. W.
Diesseldorff, who had made a fortune in British Honduras and now
lived in London; and he contacted Bernard Cramer who was now
one of the "first Merchants of British Honduras."ls McRae seemed
to be completely independent and consulted with John Hodge of
the British Honduras Company, as well as with Cramer and others.
In January, 1868, McRae was still travelling around the colony look-
ing for the proper site. Shortly thereafter he purchased for cash
($3,5oo) a tract of land several miles square which was located a
hundred miles up the Belize River, about forty miles overland from
Belize town.14
During the last half of 1867 the British Honduras landowners sold
a number of large tracts of this sort to speculators who mounted an
extensive advertising campaign in Southern newspapers, and a
flow of embittered Southerners was again directed to Belize. Many
were not prepared for the trials which lay before them, arrived
without means, and thus suffered many privations, even destitution.
The wilderness of British Honduras seemed to have a calming effect


on many, who came to see enough of the good in their old country
to say that they would return to the United States after the "transi-
tion period" of Reconstruction. Such was the keynote of failure of
this second wave of Southern immigration.
By the late i86o's several latifundists, notably Young, Toledo,
and Company, had committed a large part of their lands to the
market for whatever they would bring, and activity was brisk dur-
ing much of 1868. By June, 1869, however, the United States com-
mercial agent reported that Southern immigration to British Hon-
duras, which had averaged fifty immigrants per month for the years
1867-69, had ceased. At this point more were returning to the
United States than were arriving. The agent viewed this trend with
mixed feelings. It did after all reflect creditably on the United
Some of the emigrants return wiser but all of them return sadder and
poorer than when they left their homes. Many of them profess to being quite
reconstructed. Some are but will not admit it. I think a residence of a year
or two on this coast well calculated to produce that effect. Having met and
conversed with most of these people, it appears to me, that to sum it up in the
fewest words possible, they left their homes because the United States having
abolished slavery, it was no longer a free country. They could not ap-
preciate their native land until they missed its beauties and its comforts.15

The traffic between Belize and New Orleans caused by the
Confederate exodus must be examined for its own significance,
regardless of the permanence of Southerners in British Honduras.
Regular trade between the two ports grew considerably in the late
i86o's and had lasting effects on the colony. The direct connection
of British Honduras with the British empire had always been
through Jamaica. The governor of Jamaica had been the superior
official to whom the superintendent of Belize had reported, and
after 1862 this continuing relationship was reflected in the sub-
ordination of the lieutenant governor of British Honduras to the
governor of Jamaica. It was reflected also by the subsidized mail
service between Belize and Jamaica.
Before the end of the Civil War the legislative assembly had peti-
tioned to let the mail contract through New York instead of Jamaica.
Their reasoning was that if public funds were to pay for the service
they wanted it to go to the port which would serve their interests
best, and New York looked much the best to them. The Civil War

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84

had much to do with this by introducing New York merchants-
such as Dollner, Potter, and Company-to the colony and by intro-
ducing the colonial merchants to the variety of steamship con-
nections available in New York. The turbulence of Jamaica in the
i86o's, particularly the notorious riots of Morant Bay, made many
whites in Belize question the value of a connection with that island.
The British government, to whom imperial communications seemed
a compelling requirement, disapproved the change.16 The house of
assembly in Belize responded shortly afterwards by petitioning the
Queen to separate British Honduras entirely from Jamaica and to
raise the lieutenant governor's office to that of governor of British
Honduras.17 This change, which was also disapproved, would have
justified the New York route. Because of this disagreement and of
the fact that Caribbean trade channels were dislocated, Belize had
no regular mail schedules during most of 1865. Havana had been a
traditional Caribbean contact point for North Atlantic shipping,
whether to New York or Europe; and in 1865 goods and mail from
Belize reached Havana by way of various Mexican ports (Tampico,
Vera Cruz, and Sisal principally). The main difficulty with the
Mexican route to Havana was that Liverpool steamers which
stopped first at Belize were frequently unable to take on all the
timber scheduled for shipment because they were already laden
with cargo for Mexico. Thus the most feasible mail route appeared
to be through New Orleans or Jamaica. An intense competition
developed over this question, creating a factionalism which affected
the larger interests of the colony for years.18
With the end of the Civil War and commencement of the full
Confederate exodus, the importance of New York toothe colony was
overshadowed by that of New Orleans. The ships which carried
Confederate exiles also carried trade goods, and the trip to New
York required four times as long as the run to New Orleans. The
latter completely took over the trade in perishable items. A line
of steamers to New Orleans was organized as early as 1866 and by
mid-i867 its successor was receiving a $20,000 annual subsidy which
was maintained through four crucial years and had discernible ef-
fects on the development of the colony.19
Important elements of the Belize community remained cool
toward the Confederate immigrants 'and were positively alarmed at
the manner in which the colony was becoming oriented toward


New Orleans and the United States, and away from British Jamaica.
By 1870-71 the antagonism over this trend was reflected clearly in
the editorial lines of the Belize press. Daly's Advertising Sheet
firmly opposed the New Orleans contract and argued for a return
to the Jamaica subsidy.2" The Colonist, on the other hand, saw the
New Orleans mail service to be cheaper and more effective than
any which the colony had enjoyed, although it admitted that the
New Orleans line did not serve European trade so well as would
the one to Jamaica. The United States commercial agent was
certain, however, that "this coast must continue for an indefinite
length of time to depend on the United States for its flour, pork, salt
beef, salt fish and provisions generally, and as the Spanish Hon-
duras Railway Co. also requires considerable quantities of the same
merchandise, I have but little doubt of the continuance of the
present route."21 But the conflicting opinions and negotiations
continued unresolved through 1871, when the old contract expired.
According to the agent,
the English mail still goes by way of New Orleans, and as expeditiously as
sailing vessels can make the trips. The New Orleans route is favoured by the
weight of the business community of Belize and from present indication I
think that a steamer will put on soon.
During the time that a steamer was running between New Orleans and
Belize (from the year 1867 until a few months since) something of a trade was
established in the provision line, dealers having ascertained, that by reason of
quick transit, etc. the New Orleans market was preferable to that of New
York. The Belize market has also been kept steady during this time, whereas
formerly, prices used, sometimes, to fluctuate excessively. The voyage to New
York is rarely performed under 60 days.22

Despite the agent's predictions, the mail contract was returned to
the Jamaica route. Undesirable effects from this decision appeared
quickly, and the agent had to report for the next quarter that no
United States ships had arrived or departed during that period, the
first blank period in several years. He explained that other than the
mail route no American vessel had run regularly to Belize for a long
time, but that many charter vessels from Boston, New York, or New
Orleans were American. He had to request that departmental dis-
patches to him should now be sent by way of Jamaica.23 The six-
year period ending in 1872 thus appeared to some to end with a
backward step in the field of transportation.
Yet there was also a distinct step forward in the establishment

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 47

of internal order in the colony. In September, 1872, in the last of
a series of bold raids across the colony's northern frontier, the
Icaichd Indians were repelled at Orange Walk, and their notorious
chieftain, Marcos Canul, was killed. First news of the bloody raid
brought gloom to Belize, but the subsequent report of Canul's death
evoked unrestrained joy.2" The basis for these emotions extended
back at least to 1866. In April of that year Canul had raided a
mahogany works at Qualm Hill in the northeast corner of the
colony and had successfully demanded ransom for some seventy
woodcutters. In January, 1867, moving from the headwaters of Blue
Creek, his men had struck into the heart of the colony destroying a
mahogany bank at the junction of the Belize River and Labouring
Creek and had made off with another group of woodcutters. The
Icaich6 had then moved back to a strong position at the British
Honduras village of San Pedro, with whose inhabitants they were
allied, and sent a ransom demand to the city of Belize. Stunned
by the proximity and boldness of the threat, the governor moved
quickly to counter it. Major McKay, commander of the 4th West
India Regiment, moved on San Pedro with a detachment of 150
men, and a detachment of 50 volunteers was sent to the Hondo to
join another company of the regiment. This force proceeded to the
Blue Creek fork of the Hondo to cut off the Icaich6 retreat. The
United States commercial agent in Belize reported the ensuing
Major McKay met the Indians on the alst December on the road to San
Pedro, and gave them battle and after a few rounds had been fired sounded
the retreat which was done in the utmost confusion, leaving some of his men
on the field for dead, and others captured, among whom was Mr. Ed Rhys,
Editor of the Belize Colonist and commissioner on this expedition.
The troops did not stop in their retreat until they reached Belize, although
there are many places in the line of retreat where they could have made a
stand. A few days after, those who had been left on the field for dead made
their appearance in town, two of whom were mortally wounded, and reported
about 50 of the enemy killed and that when the retreat was sounded, the
enemy thinking it a call for reinforcements, retreated as fast as possible so
that each party ran one from the other. The retreat of the troops was so
hasty and they were so terror stricken that they threw away, arms, clothing,
etc. And I have been creditably informed that the Major and one other officer
ran away first and both on one horse without saddle.
This has been one of the most disgraceful retreats ever known. A few days
after the fight a person who passed over the battlefield, found the Major's
sword and other arms which he brought to Belize.25

Governor J. P. Grant of Jamaica came quickly to reconnoitre the
situation. His analysis coincided with much of the United States
agent's version, though the governor was more restrained in his
view of Major McKay's retreat. His view was that Canul, with
increased prestige after the Qualm Hill raid and ransom, had been
able to effect the alliance with Ascensi6n Ek, cacique of San Pcdro,
and the combination of their forces had wreaked mischief on Major
McKay's insufficient unit.26
British Honduras was thus in a state of crisis with its entire north-
west section under martial law and in fact occupied only by the
Indians. Woodcutters had fled the entire area. Governor Grant's
viewpoint differed sharply from the colonists', but he did not crit-
icize them except to note the irresponsible role of woodcutting
firms in bringing on the crisis through their injudicious mixture of
bribes and threats to the Indians. It would be expensive to bring
order to the colony, and he advised that the cost should come from
a special tax laid on the logging firms. Despite the anarchy which
prevailed in Yucatan, and Mexican debility in general, Grant held
British policy responsible for the epidemic of Indian raids. Stop-
page of Captain Henry Wray's survey in 1861, forty miles short of
completion, undoubtedly encouraged the Indians in the idea that
the British lacked good title to the northwestern area of the colony
and that they would not defend it. The British woodcutting agents
who had agreed out of expediency to pay the "rents" demanded by
Canul had aggravated the situation. The Qualm Hill raid had come
after the manager of a mahogany gang had reneged on such a
promise to pay and had accompanied the refusal with a show of
force. The woodcutters from Qualm Hill had then been ransomed
by the colony rather than by the company involved. The wood-
cutting firms' politically irresponsible role had been a major influ-
ence on the Indians' attitude.
A course of action had to be decided upon, as the standing
instructions on the subject which had been handed down by the
Colonial Office in 1857 were now not quite to the point. At the
time the controversy surrounding the Clayton-Bulwcr and Dallas-
Clarendon treaties had been at its height, the main British concern
had been to avoid any extension beyond old boundaries. Now,
however, it was a question of how to prevent Yucatecan Indians
from penetrating deep within the colony and claiming territorial
rights there. The 1857 instructions still provided local British

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 49

officials sufficient authority for strong retaliation against the Indian
raids, and Grant believed this was the right thing to do.27
Strong, deliberate action was required. All the time needed
should be allowed for preparation of the counter-stroke, but, said
Grant, "of paramount importance now is that when the blow is
struck, it shall be struck home and surely." Lieutenant Colonel
Robert Harley should lead a punitive expedition to San Pedro and
its environs to crush resistance. Yucatecan Indians should be
treated as foreign aggressors, and the rebel Indians of British Hon-
duras as insurgents. A military post should be established on the
Belize River, farther inland than the one at Orange Walk, and
another on Blue Creek. The extent of boundary between Blue
Creek and the Garbutt's Falls meridian was still undetermined. A
survey party with Harley's military escort should be sent to mark
that stretch. Support for this expedition and future defense of the
frontier could be provided best by an armed steamer on the
Hondo. This would afford great mobility, and a system of block-
house supply-points defensible by small details of men would
allow unencumbered marches by the frontier posts.
The extra troops recently sent from Jamaica could not be spared
long for duty in British Honduras, and two factors should allow
their early departure. Belize town, he felt, needed no troops, and if
friendly relations with the Santa Cruz were nurtured there would
be little need for troops in Corozal. "With any distribution of the
Troops, I am of the opinion that the Colony will not be secure from
petty annoyances, and frequent fears from internal and external
causes unless a small body of Military Police, who might be called a
frontier patrol, are formed; whose duty it should be to be frequently
on the move." A specialized force of this kind, properly armed,
thoroughly disciplined, and well drilled, would provide a feasible
defense on the long and vulnerable Hondo frontier. And it would
be within the financial resources of the colony. The taxation by
which to support this military establishment should be laid on the
woodcutters because their exposed situation in the frontier forests
made them its prime beneficiaries.8
The frequent annoyances and fears continued, as Grant had
predicted. During the next three years there came alternate (some-
times conjoint) reports of Santa Cruz and Icaich6 raids and demon-
strations along the border, as the Santa Cruz drove Mexican


outposts in Yucatan still further to the northward. A typical
sequence occurred in the summer of 1868. In July the lieutenant
governor announced that the colony was tranquil and completely
free from Indian aggressions such as those which had occurred
during the previous May. Ten days later he reported new raids by
both the Santa Cruz and the Icaich6. And by mid-August the
Belize press was expressing sharp dissatisfaction with niggardly
imperial aid to the colony's defenses. Yet in the space of another
week the same paper tended to contradict itself with a much calmer
version of the situation.29
More hopeful, if vague, rationalizations of the status of British
Honduras were forthcoming during quiet moments:
England will not abandon this Colony to its own military defence and
resources, because there are at this moment great questions involved in the
maintenance by her of a strong and permnnanent foothold in Central America,
questions in which her Australasian and Eastern Colonies and dependencies
are interested to an extent greater than many persons imagine, and which
may at a very early period become of the utmost importance and interest,
especially if the Panama railway is to become an American 'concern', and the
Bay on the Pacific a harbour of refuge and monopoly for American ships and
commerce. But this Colony must prepare for its own defence so far as its
means and ability extend, especially against semi-barbarian and robber raids;
and we have no fear whatever that our gallant volunteers and militia, if
judiciously invoked and prudently regulated, will be equal to the task and
ready at all times to do their duty to the Colony when danger threatens, or the
integrity of the Country is assailed.30

This kind of public statement did more to obscure than to inform.
Its substance had already been contradicted in London by the
secretary for colonies. For in agreeing to Grant's proposed plan of
defense in March, 1867, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos had
entered a crushing proviso: his assumption that the colony would
bear the expenses of these operations and establishments. Through
its legislative assembly in Belize the colony controlled its own
finances, both taxing and spending. The assembly had consistently
blocked expenditures for frontier defense. The colonial assembly
had wielded the authority, so it must bear the responsibility. The
London government would not.31
This proved to be the crux of the problem. The legislative as-
sembly was dominated by the city of Belize which was relatively
safe from attack and resisted appropriations for defense of the

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84

frontier. By 1869 an attempt was made in the legislature to convert
British Honduras into a Crown colony. The imperial government
could then do what was necessary in respect to frontier defense and
get the money back from the colony at its leisure. There was strong
opposition to such a surrender of self-government, but the burdens
of self-government were not solved by rhetoric and in 1870 the
change was finally voted. The house of assembly voted to abolish
itself and to establish a legislative council of five official members
and not less than four unofficial members. An executive council
included all of these.
This constitution, inaugurated in 1871, became a storm center of
British Honduras politics for the next twenty years.3 It was very
difficult for this community, which had evolved through more than
a century of local self-government, to accept despotism-however
practicable it might appear to be-as the proper political solution
to its problems. The disorder which resulted from the Indian raids
provided the immediate background for this major constitutional
change in 1870-71, just as the economic decline of the colony
during the preceding ten years had created the underlying need for
reform. In April, 1871, two years of hesitation and fumbling on the
part of the old house of assembly and of careful prodding by Crown
officials ended in formal ceremonies inaugurating the colony's new
Reporting this occasion the United States commercial agent con-
cluded that things might go better for British Honduras now:
Retrenchment and economy is determined upon, and if resuscitation of
the fallen fortunes of the Colony is possible, I have no doubt that it has recom-
menced and will be ultimately brought about. A more hopeful feeling
exists ....
I am quite of opinion that British Honduras has seen its lowest ebb. The
process of recuperation no doubt will be very slow, and the colony may never
again see such palmy days as when in times of old the mahogany lords lived
here and Belize was the entrepot of this whole coast, and nearly all of North-
ern Central America-But I think there is a fair measure of prosperity in

It appears that the landed interest prevailed over the trading
interest in the constitutional change of 1871 which implemented a
stable policy directed by the Crown rather than the comparatively
laissez faire policy favored by the merchants. The antagonism
between these two interests was veiled by the fact that they did


not form two distinct groups. Some of the landowning, wood-
exporting firms were deeply involved in the merchandising trade.
But the antagonism existed. Usually it was expressed through the
Belize press in statements favoring the merchant viewpoint. On
rare occasions, however, when some advantage could be obtained
by abandoning silence, the landowner's point of view was ex-
pounded in print. Such an exposition occurred one month after
adoption of the new constitution, at a time of considerable public
disorientation as to the significance and propriety of the new consti-
tution. It was a lengthy letter to the editor, under the pseudonym
"Argus," which was evidently designed to defend the colony's
landed interests. It asserted that there were actually three classes
to be considered in British Honduras:
the exporters [i.e., landowners] of the produce of the Country; the importers
of goods for sale in the Country; and the population engaged in manual labor
whether of Town or Country. I exclude from the calculation those who use
Belize as a station whence their operations with other Countries may be
conveniently carried on. So far as these operations are concerned they are only
by comparison slightly interested in the Colony, and might experience but a
temporary inconvenience, if it were to disappear. Their interests from their
connexion with other parts may even become antagonistic to those of the
Colony generally. No doubt they benefit the Colony in a variety of ways, but
they cannot be considered interested in its welfare in the same way and to the
same extent as the three classes I have mentioned, most of the members of
which are vitally concerned in its well-being, and have all their eggs in that
one basket. I also exclude squatters. Worthy men no doubt. They are en-
titled to all the happiness they can get out of their mode of life. But they
are not members of the Colonial Society. They are beyond the pale of
civilization, they contribute nothing to the common fund, and are not entitled
to consideration at our hands. Now I maintain that the interest of all these
three classes are bound up together, and that the constant rivalry between them
which exists in Honduras, as in so many other places, is injurious to the
interests of all. I allude more particularly to the hostility always shewn by
the retailers to the exporters. The struggle between labour and capital is a
subject I do not intend to touch upon. It presents the same general features in
Honduras as elsewhere, with some characteristics peculiar to our Colony, but
the perpetual endeavour on the part of the retailer to throw all the public
burdens on the producer, is unjust and unwise even from the retailer's point
of view. I hold that the retailer depends for his success entirely on the
exporter: that if the latter falls, he falls. .3a

"Argus," possessor of a disciplined mind, went on to demonstrate
the awful fate of the colony if the logwood trade should cease. He
made an interesting analysis of the good and bad points of the new

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 53

government, which he freely admitted was despotic, but indicated
that it must be judged in comparison with the old house of assembly
which had failed finally through its bitter factionalism. He insisted
that it was impossible to justify heavy land taxes when there was
inadequate police protection, as had been demonstrated in the
Indian raids of recent years. This was of course a perfect involu-
tion of Governor Grant's 1867 argument that frontier police should
be supported by taxes on the lands which were to be protected.37
A month later the legislative council raised import duties from 4
to 10 per cent. Although the schedule of duties provided for draw-
backs on a number of commodities, this was another victory for
the landowners, or exporters, not for the merchants, or importers.3s
Another evidence that the political advantage lay with the land-
owners was to be found in the appointment of the four unofficial
members of the legislative council. The editor of the New Era,
who was willing to accept the new constitution even though he dis-
liked it and who was willing to withhold criticism temporarily,
could not refrain from pointing out with disapproval that three
of the appointees represented the landed interests and only one
the merchant interests."9
Two international incidents in the early 1870's place in sharp
relief the advantage of landed interests over commercial interests,
and indicate at the same time the ties which connected these inter-
ests. After Canul's last raid, September 1, 1872, the major land-
owners with interests in the northern district addressed a complaint
to the Colonial Office which forecast dire economic consequences
if this adverse situation were allowed to continue. The British gov-
ernment was made to feel pressure from English investors in the
colony's land companies. Thus although no diplomatic relations
existed with Mexico, a formal complaint and demand for damages
was sent indirectly to the Mexican government.40 The chairman of
the British Honduras Company subsequently sent another request
for protection on the border area which included a demand for
compensation. He repeated this demand a year later. The British
Honduras Company had assured its stockholders that the govern-
ment would protect business interests in the northern district, and
it now assured the government that there was a strong parlia-
mentary support for such protection.41
The lack of direct communication with the Mexican government,


combined with Mexican irritation at the British colonists' continuing
sale of arms to the Yucatan Indians, made negotiations with Mexico
difficult, But the British Honduras Company and its colleagues
were interested in effective protection, not diplomatic chess. Their
investors were demanding action, and this provoked the chairman
of the British Honduras Company to assert that what was good for
the company was good for the colony. "We feel," said the chair-
man, "we could not be justified in longer forbearing to urge the
claims of our company and of the Colony of British Honduras, the
interests of both being nearly identical."42 The readiness with
which the British government responded to the demands of the
landowners tends to validate this assertion.
Across the Gulf of Honduras another incident illuminated the
economic and political situation in Belize. Through the afternoon
of August 19, 1873, and into the early hours of the following morn-
ing, the H.M.S. Niobe, Sir Lambton Loraine commanding, inter-
mittently bombarded Fort San Fernando at Omoa, Honduras. This
bombardment climaxed a tumultuous drama, or comic opera, which
had unfolded along the north coast of Honduras during the summer
of 1873. A force of Conservative party insurgents led by a Guate-
malan, Enrique Palacios, had scourged the coastline since early
June. It was intent on ousting the Liberal administration in Hon-
duras as a step toward overthrowing the Liberal revolution in
Guatemala. Commanding a United States-built steamship, the
General Sherman, Palacios could operate with impunity. The
steamer easily out-distanced sailing vessels available to the incum-
bent Honduran government.43
During the last week of May news of the General Sherman's
departure from Col6n, Panama, had reached Belize and Guatemala
City. The Guatemalan government at once labeled it a "filibuster-
ing" expedition and requested British aid against it. The steamer
touched at Belize on June 1, and British officials, forewarned to
maintain neutrality, embargoed munitions which had been cached
there for the expedition.4" Nevertheless, according to Guatemalan
reports, the Conservatives succeeded in establishing liaison in
British waters. The General Sherman anchored first at Culebra
Cay, an islet near Belize, leaving part of her crew and war supplies.
She then put in at Belize, was denied the arms stored there, and

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 55

returned to the cay. There the ship was boarded by collaborators
from British Honduras who had left Belize separately.45
The General Sherman steamed up and down the coast during
June and July, as the Conservatives organized, probed, and pro-
pagandized for their cause. The steamer almost ran a circuit from
the Bay Islands to Truxillo, Puerto Cort6s, and Omoa in Honduras
and to Santo Tomas in Guatemala. Puerto Cortes, terminus of the
Honduras railway, was most attractive to the insurgents, and about
twenty miles across Cort6s Bay lay Omoa. Since colonial times
Omoa's Fort San Fernando had been the most important Spanish
fortification on the Gulf of Honduras. In late June, after the
General Sherman tried unsuccessfully to bombard the fort, the
insurgents bribed the commandant to deliver it over to them.46 The
Conservatives' command of the area around the rail terminus was
thus strengthened briefly. But by the end of June, General Ricardo
Streber, leading forces of the Liberal government, had completely
routed both the Conservatives and the fort's turncoat commandant.
This abortive occupation of Puerto Cort6s and Omoa led to the
involvement of Great Britain in the affair. The foreign merchants
living in Omoa were sympathetic to the defunct regime of Conser-
vative ex-President Jos6 Maria Medina who had cooperated with
British interests. From the merchants' viewpoint the incumbent
Liberals were inefficient at best.47 Thus the merchants were openly
enthusiastic when the Conservatives returned under Palacios, a
disastrous indiscretion because Streber promptly routed the insur-
gents. There were now two steamers in the area, the Niobe having
arrived from Belize to look after British interests along the coast.
Commander Loraine offered to serve as intermediary between
Streber and Palacios, but Streber insisted that Loraine's duty was
to arrest the General Sherman as a filibuster ship.
Palacios then made his major effort, declaring a blockade of
Omoa, recapturing Puerto Cort6s, and sending his forces inland on
the railroad to San Pedro Sula. He gave ample consideration to
mercantile interests by declaring Puerto Cort6s a port of entry for
the area "in order that commercial interests might not suffer
through the blockade."'8s
The stalemate at Cort6s Bay-that is, the situation which found
Palacios' Conservatives at Puerto Cort6s and the Liberals' General
Streber firmly in control at Omoa's Fort San Fernando-made for
extreme tension. In Omoa public resentment turned against the


foreign merchants who were the apparent beneficiaries of the
invasion. Streber, instead of protecting these aliens from mob
violence, allowed a general looting of their stores and goods. There
is some evidence that Streber himself benefited.49 It is not sur-
prising, mobs being what they are, that when foreigners and their
property became targets for attack, so did the foreign consulates so
closely associated with them.
Reports indicated that all consular residences in Omoa were
violated, but the British consulate was singled out for special
abuse.50 The British were the greatest creditors in the area. The
long dispute between Great Britain and Honduras over the Bay
Islands and the lands of the Mosquito Indians had not been con-
ducive to good feeling. The British vice-consul at Omoa, Frederic
Debrot, sometimes referred to as "the Merchant Prince of Spanish
Honduras," was an ostentatiously wealthy man who probably ap-
peared to Hondurans to be overbearing. In March, 1872, a con-
certed attack of incendiarism had almost destroyed his wealth.
During one night fifteen buildings owned by Debrot had been
burned to the ground. But it was well known that he still kept a
valuable collection of jewels in the consular safe. Looting of the
consulate in August, 1873, saw the British flag torn down and
defiled by the mob, consular files scattered and destroyed, and the
safe blasted open as well. This thorough violation of the consulate
was the immediate cause of British intervention and the bombard-
ment of Fort San Fernando.51
Loraine felt that he must act immediately if protection were to
be afforded, and on August 19 he demanded that Streber explain
his conduct, apologize fully for the outrage against the British flag
and consulate, release certain British citizens from confinement,
honor the British flag with a 21-gun salute from the fort, and deposit
$100,000 guaranteeing compensation for the losses of British
After lengthy parleying and Streber's adamant refusal to comply
with any of Loraine's demands, the 24-hour bombardment com-
menced. On August 21 the British prisoners were handed over to
the Niobe, as was Streber's signed statement obligating Honduras
to compensate British aliens for losses incurred through the pillage
of Omoa. The apologetic 21-gun salute, cash deposit, and formal
explanation were not required. Shortly after noon the same day,
the Niobe sailed for Belize.

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 57

The Omoa affair of 1873 had important political ramifications for
all of Central America. For British Honduras, however, the
consequences were primarily economic, deriving from earlier politi-
cal decisions reflected in the colony's new constitution of 1871. A
narrative of the Palacios imbroglio reveals a pattern of commercial
activity focused in Belize and fanning south over the full extent of
the Gulf of Honduras." North coast merchants involved in this
British trading activity ranged from large operators like Debrot to
petty traders none of whom could have engaged in business opera-
tions in Honduras without long-term credit which they obtained
from such Belize firms as William Guild and Company and
Johnston and Company. It resulted that if the Omoa merchants
were ruined, the British firms stood to lose their entire investment."4
It is difficult to determine just how far Belize merchants sup-
ported the Palacios expedition, though it is known that Guild and
Company held the cache of arms which the General Sherman tried
to obtain at Belize. What should be noted is that the governor
firmly blocked delivery of the arms and subsequently embargoed
export of all materials of war for a period of six weeks. This action
implemented official policy of the colony, traceable at least back to
1859, of preventing delivery of arms intended for war against any
friendly neighboring state. This was the extent of practical British
cooperation however. Governor Cairns maintained that his hands
were tied by a number of circumstances: the British vice-consuls at
Omoa (Debrot) and at Truxillo had avoided their posts through
most of the summer of 1873; the Spanish Honduras consul at Belize
(John E. Mutrie), who was a partner in Guild and Company and
sympathetic to the Conservatives, had not pressed the case against
the General Sherman when the vessel touched at Belize; the Jesuits
in British Honduras gave no appearance of plotting against Guate-
mala, as had been charged by the Guatemalan consul in Belize, and
certainly they were not poised at the Guatemalan frontier as the
consul had charged. Asked repeatedly by the Central American
countries to pursue and arrest the General Sherman, the British
government declined, always on the basis of some authority in
international law."5
The important aspect of this situation with respect to the devel-
opment of British Honduras is the outcome of the claims for
damages suffered in the pillaging of Omoa in 1873. General Streber
had signed a guarantee binding the government of Honduras to


compensate "British citizens" for such losses, and the three signifi-
cant claims were those of vice-consul Dcbrot, Johnston and Com-
pany, and Guild and Company. Debrot's claim was restricted to
losses suffered in the disturbances of the summer of 1873-notably
his jewel collection. He did not make claim for the incendiarism of
the previous year. The British investigating officer found his claim
fully justified. The British government abandoned it, nevertheless,
because Debrot (a native of Curagao and British vice-consul in
Omoa for fourteen years) could not prove that he was a "British
citizen." The investigating officer found the claims of Guild and of
Johnston to be faulty. These two Belize firms had included in their
claims the losses of their non-British debtors in Omoa. In light of
all the evidence pertaining to these claims, the Foreign Office
refused in 1875 to support any of them.50
This refusal of diplomatic support to Belize credit-sales in Central
America provides tangential evidence of the changing character of
commercial development in British Honduras. The coming of the
transoceanic steamship and the Panama railroad had raised the
odds against the Belize traders long before the Omoa incident.
They had made extensive efforts to maintain the volume of their
Central American trade during the 186o's and were acutely con-
scious of the problem in the early 1870's. The Central American
Telegraph, self-styled "Organ of the interests of British and Spanish
Honduras," had boasted just before the Omoa incident that ship-
ping statistics were the best index to prove that Belize was a great
center of Central American trade: large quantities of goods and
wares from England and the United States were imported at Belize
and there "through a liberal system of duties" were exchanged for
British Honduras and Central American products. The editors
added to this rosy picture their belief that foreign capital was at
last recognizing and seeking the potential domestic wealth of
British Honduras. The dangers of accepting an analysis of this sort
from a "booster" organ are obvious. Yet in the twenty years follow-
ing the Panama transit, Belize traders had succeeded in holding
their position well enough that an official observer described the
city and its trade in 1875 in vigorous terms.
Belize is purely a mercantile town, and some of its Firms are first class
houses, doing a very extensive business. The principal among these are those
of Messrs. Johnston & Co., Messr. Guild & Co., and Mr. Cramer's, many other
also exist. . The Colony of British Honduras, is itself far too sparsely

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 59

populated to absorb the large trade negotiations of all these Firms, which are
almost exclusively occupied in what may be called foreign trade. In fact, the
importance of Belize and its flourishing mercantile community, depends en-
tirely on its being, and continuing to be, the entrepot of British merchandise to
the adjacent Republics of Guatemala, Costa Rica and Spanish Honduras. In
this respect, Belize is of considerable importance to the Home Manufacturers,
and it is through the enterprise of its merchants, that England monopolizes all
the very valuable Dry Goods, and Hardware trade of the above countries.'17

The investigator made a detailed examination of the relationship
between Belize merchants and northern coast operators, and he
concluded that technically this trade involved a buyer-seller rela-
tionship rather than an agency relationship. Thus the Belize firms
could obtain no remedy from Honduran courts; their only hope for
relief was through an international claim prosecuted by the Foreign
Office. Despite this careful analysis by the investigating officer and
the major reduction he made in the claims allowable, the Foreign
Office, as noted above, refused to support any of the claims. They
represented the major component of Belize trade with Spanish
Honduras. As early as 1858 the Belize traders had memorialized
the need for diplomatic protection of this trade, and after the 1873
fracas even foreign observers agreed that the need was imperative.
Nevertheless such protection was now clearly and finally denied.58
Things were changing in British Honduras in the 1870's. Lieu-
tenant Governor Cairns, who saw the colony through the consti-
tutional change of 1870-71 and established stem neutrality during
the Omoa affair, departed in 1874 to become governor of Trinidad
and was replaced in Belize by Major R. M. Mundy. The latter, with
his colonial administrator, Captain C. B. H. Mitchell, completed the
arrangement for the military defense system which had been begun
by Grant and Austin after the debacle in 1866.50 They seemed un-
able to quicken the colony's commerce, however. The only bright
spot was trade with the United States which continued to increase
even though the mail subsidy went to Jamaica and in spite of a
general decline in the colony's trade after 1873. The United States
agent noted "the handsome increase in the number of American
vessels that have arrived at this port during [1874], and the
general increase of the business of the agency during the same
period."60 In 1875 total imports fell off by $306,000, and exports by
$72,000. Yet imports from the United States increased in 1875 by
$40,0oo.01 General trade continued to fall off in 1876, though the


administrator tried to put the best face on it. "The general stagna-
tion of trade," he said, "has been severely felt in the colony, never-
theless I am happy to be able to tell you that the aggregate of
exports and imports for the year (1876) will not fall far short of
that of the more prosperous one preceding it."62
Into the doldrums of the late 1870's came the outstanding gov-
ernor of British Honduras Sir Frederick P. Barlee, who served from
1877 to 1882. IHe was a strong-willed man and extremely contro-
versial. Immediately upon his arrival, Barlee commenced an un-
precedented tour of inspection of different parts of the colony. In
April and May, 1877, he visited the entire coastline of the colony,
first stopping at the towns and villages south of Belize, then
proceeding to the northern district of the Hondo.63 In April, 1878,
he proceeded up the Belize River valley to Garbutt's Falls. This
journey constituted the first visitation of the border area by a high
British official in many years. Barlee believed it to be the first
since Wray had surveyed the boundary in 1861.64 The tours of
inspection, combined with his twenty-two years experience as
colonial secretary for Western Australia, gave the new governor
unique insight into the problems of the colony.
Barlee launched a program to develop the entire colony. Aside
from the precedent of gaining personal knowledge of conditions
in the interior of the colony, Barlee instituted five basic changes in
the status quo. HIe changed the mail route permanently from
Jamaica to New Orleans, abolished the excise tax on sugar while
enforcing the collection of taxes on the operation of rum-stills,
lowered the price of Crown lands to $1.oo per acre in some cases
and set a standard $6.oo fee for the survey and title of them,
reduced the tariff on imports, and established a fairly thorough
system for the audit of public accounts.65 These reforms do not ap-
pear to be revolutionary, but the reaction to them was explosive,
and their combined effect was considerable.
The Central American banana trade with New Orleans, which
grew steadily from the late 186o's, largely bypassed British Hon-
duras until 188o. The colony's favorable climate and soil could not
be utilized for banana and plantain cultivation because the colony
had established no regular transport facility to New Orleans. This
extremely perishable fruit demanded a distribution system which
was almost flawlessly punctual. Thus it was argued that if the

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84

European and New York mail could be gotten approximately as
fast through New Orleans as through Jamaica there could be
nothing but gain from the change.
In the late 1870's the mail route was still determined by the
mail subsidy. Since British Honduras did not have sufficient com-
mercial activity and passenger traffic to make regularly scheduled,
frequent steamer runs profitable, a governmental subsidy was
mandatory. It was now argued that giving the subsidy to a New
Orleans fruit steamer would not only pay for the mail service but
would also stimulate agricultural development. The feasibility of
such a quick-cash crop which required a fairly small capital outlay
would in turn serve as an inducement to European immigrants of
modest circumstances.
These predictions proved to be at least partly justified. Barlee
gave the mail subsidy to the New Orleans route, despite a variety
of objections from Jamaica and in Belize.60 British Honduras
invested heavily in banana cultivation, and by the end of 1883 it
could be said that the colony's trade had hardly ever been so active,
seven steamers being observed in Belize harbor in one day.67 This
was the high point of success, however, for in another year the fruit
trade fell into doldrums.
This state of things is due to over-production, the whole Bay of Honduras
from the neighbourhood of Truxillo to Manatee having been converted into
an immense fruit plantation. In former days prior to the advent of the steamers
in the trade, the greater part of the Atlantic seaboard of Spanish Honduras,
being an unsheltered coast, could not enjoy the privileges of the fruit trade,
for the risk of shipwreck was too great to permit their going thither in search
of cheap fruit. The Bay Islands-possessed as they are of numerous excellent
harbours-in those days enjoyed a practical monopoly of this trade. But with
the advent of fruit steamers the scene has changed and the whole coast is now
covered with a succession of banana plantations. As the banana is not a neces-
sary of life the demand for it is limited and the result of such activity in culti-
vation is the present overstocked state of the market.68

Establishment of the banana trade in British Honduras was, then,
something less than an automatic process. It entailed one of the
bitterest political fights the colony had experienced. The so-called
"Scotch clique" of the Belize trading community was much involved
but seems to have been far too factious to be considered a true unit.
Despite the fact that Barlee had lowered land prices, the merchants
accused him of being in alliance with the great landowners against


the traders. They memorialized the Colonial Office that it disallow
Barlee's program and abolish Crown government. They even
established a newspaper in Belize, the Belize Advertiser, to expound
their point of view.69 Those interested in extensive agricultural
development and the New Orleans mail route sent counter-
memorials defending Barlee, and shortly founded their own paper,
the Colonial Guardian. Barlee was confirmed ultimately, and the
confirmation supported the other facets of his program.70
Barlee's wisdom in abolishing the sugar tax and enforcing the
distillery tax must be judged by the circumstances which prevailed
in the northern district of the colony. Its commerce had been
alternately weakened and strengthened by Indian disturbances in
Yucatan during the preceding thirty years. The disturbances had
brought roughly twelve thousand Spanish-speaking residents to the
northern district, but they had also created a chronic lack of
confidence in the area's commerce. This had been remedied only in
part by the maintenance of an expensive constabulary on the
Hondo. Yet the protection was worthwhile. This relatively large
Spanish-speaking population-which made Corozal equal to Belize
in numbers-was dominantly agricultural. With some encourage-
ment from immigrant Confederate planters and some of the major
land-holders,71 the Yucatan immigrants, as tenant farmers, formed
the backbone of the colony's sugar industry. This was particularly
true after a number of large sugar plantations were ruined by the
bounty system which protected beet sugar in Europe. To under-
stand the relative importance of the colony's sugar industry it must
be recognized that, in terms of British Honduras' exports, sugar was
many times more valuable than bananas throughout the late nine-
teenth century.72
The Yucatecans cultivated relatively small cane plots. Barlee
saw that the excise duty on sugar tended to discourage production
and that it was thus inadequate as a revenue measure. The excise
duty on rum was inadequate also because it was not properly en-
forced. Thus Barlee abolished the sugar excise which, by encourag-
ing cane production, encouraged rum production. At the same time
he appointed special officers to enforce rigidly the distillery tax on
rum. The combined effect of these measures caused revenues from
the rum excise to increase at once from $z,500 to $13,500 annually.
This revenue kept rising through 1884, but it should be noted that

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 63

the tax was determined by proof-volume rather than by gross-
volume. This allowed the low-proof northern district rum to com-
pete favorably with the high-proof West Indian rum. When at a
later date the tax was applied by straight volume, it had a very
damaging effect on the domestic rum industry.'3
The reduced price of Crown lands served a double purpose. It of
course served as an inducement to immigration, but it also served
as a deterrent to emigration from the colony to the neighboring
Republic of Honduras. That country had for some time offered
cheap lands and in some cases free land. The result had been not
only a luring away of prospective immigrants but of much of the
unemployed woodcutter class in the colony. Now cheap land in
the colony, along with a standard fee of six dollars for the survey
and issuance of title, materially helped the poorer classes to get a
start in agriculture.74
Barlee's action in lowering import duties and revising the public
audit straightened out messy procedures. The tariff revision was
described thus: "the duty on imported goods was 12 per cent ad
valorem on the invoice price, and the charges added thereto. But
he has reduced that duty to io per cent on the first cost only, there-
by making an abatement of over 8 per cent from the former duty;
and along with this abatement he has established the bonded
system." Barlee arrived in the colony to find that auditing of public
accounts "was of the loosest possible description," and his revised
system immediately brought many defalcations to light and was
credited with preventing others.75
When Barlee retired from the colony in 1882 he was succeeded
by a series of interim executives, notably Colonel Robert Harley
and Mr. Henry Fowler. They came at a high tide in the colony's
economic affairs, but their administrations, which together spanned
less than two years, were less than satisfactory. Harley, who had
gained a military reputation of sorts by conquering the rebellious
San Pedro Indians in 1867, ruled nominally for this entire period,
first as administrator and then as lieutenant governor. But shortly
after his promotion to the higher rank he returned to England on
sick leave, In his absence General Robert S. Turton held the reins
as administrator from May to July, 1883. In the latter month
Fowler was reappointed administrator (he had served as colonial
secretary under Barlee). The Colonial Guardian commented with a


show of restraint on Harley's resignation in April, 1884, yet it did
not conceal its dissatisfaction with him."7 The paper also became
involved in a dispute with the Belize Advertiser about Harley's
Fowler's administration was not found to be any more satisfactory.
The principal complaint against him was that by trying to feather
his own nest, he had prevented the colony from getting a railroad.78
Well-informed colonists had expected nothing better from him, said
the Guardian, for they knew that contrary to regulations he had
personal holdings in local banana-planting, stock-raising and
mahogany enterprises. Beyond these dangers to his impartial
stewardship of the common welfare, he might try to wreck Barlee's
program because of his ill feeling for the late governor.79
It was widely believed that a railroad was required to open the
colony for development. Evidence was presented in the press to
show that by devious manipulations Fowler had blocked any rail-
road which would not open his private holdings in the interior.
"We, (critics) had some time ago laboured under the belief that
it was impossible for an Administration to be worse than that of Sir
Robert IHarley, but we must confess that Mr. Fowler's has been far
more damaging to the interests of the Colony. The sins of the
Administration of the former were mostly those of omissions, whilst
those of the latter have been those of commission."'0
What the colony needed was some benevolent impetus to keep it
on the road to material progress which it had travelled so briefly.
The interim administrations, it was suggested, had allowed a dan-
gerous drift in community affairs. In 1885 a simple observation of
the colony's recent progress under Barlee served as an effective
argument for the need to avoid retrogression.
Nine years ago we sailed along the southern coast of the Colony and ob-
served nothing but what we had seen in childhood, a few dirty little huts at
Mullins River and ten miles off the larger, but not more flourishing town of
Stann Creek. Not until last year did we again revisit those shores and the
change-for such a sleepy place as British Honduras-was marvellous. Every
three or four miles decent houses and plantations were to be seen; and filthy
Mullins River had become a clean, bustling and thriving little town. These
changes are going on every day, slowly but surely, and in a few years the
coast of the whole Southern District will become a vast belt of plantations
with a prosperous and contented population.81

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84

The Guardian was not blindly adulatory of Barlee, although
he was probably the governor of whom it most fully approved. At
the time of his departure in 1882 the Guardian had suggested that
a "wise despotism" was impossible in the long run because it was
self-corrupting. The theory was then applied to British Honduras
and its eleven years of Crown government. The Guardian struck
hard at the argument that representative government had been
given up with the consent of the people of the colony. Under the
old constitution only Belize, with one fifth of the population, was
represented-and a very small part of the literate citizens of Belize
were consulted in the constitutional decision of 1870. The editor
concluded that to develop the whole colony an unofficial majority
should be granted to the British Honduras legislative cotmcil, a
majority of which would be elected by the whole colony."s
Thus at the conclusion of the colony's most successful administra-
tion in the late nineteenth century there was sharp dissatisfaction
with the rate of its development. The landlords had won their
struggle in the early 1870's to continue their domination of govern-
mental policy-if indeed that domination had ever been seriously
threatened. The land tenure system which they defended, and
which Barlce had attempted to change in the northern district,
remained a prime target for critics who favored rapid internal
development of the colony.
In a colony such as this is-where there exist no roads and cultivation is the
exception, and boundless forests untouched by the hand of man, where a hut
is not to be found within miles of another is the rule-to preserve the laws
regulating the relations of landlord and tenant, which have been handed down
from the times of the feudal system, is absurd, unjust, and well-calculated to
retard the progress of a nascent commonwealth.
A struggling cultivator in British Honduras is, particularly if he inhabit the
Northern District of the Colony, very much at the mercy of a grasping and
unscrupulous landlord; for the whole of that District is in the hands of a few
landlords who as a rule will not sell, and will not lease save for very limited
periods, and who carefully exclude from such leases anything that may bind
the landlord to compensate the tenant for his improvements. So that should the
landlord on the termination of the lease desire to take possession of everything
which the tenant has at his own expense erected on what was once nothing
but a gloomy forest, there is none to say him nay.83
The writer was so incensed at the unjust and unprogressive char-
acter of this system of land tenure that he was provoked to compare
the colony with its neighbors in a most direct way:


British Honduras is as regards its land laws far behind the Republics of
Spanish America. Even the Central American ones have laws for the
encouragement of agriculture, which in spite of revolution and misrule, have
attracted immigrants when this Colony has repelled them. The poorest of them
all, [the Republic of] Honduras has had her seaboard quietly settled by
laborers from British Honduras, who, despairing of ever acquiring a planta-
tion in the land of their birth, have settled in a country which notwithstanding
its strange laws, customs and language receives the agriculturist with open
arms. And these are the settlers who at Puerto Cortez have established a
fruit trade and are raising fruit which is the despair of our Southern District
It is interesting to note that according to this writer's description,
the "progressive" land tenure system in Spanish Honduras was al-
most a replica of the ejido system or Indian village commons which
had existed under the old Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain.
The two decades which followed the civil wars in the United
States and Mexico saw widespread agreement in British Honduras
that the development of agriculture was the road to progress.
There were sharply differing opinions as to the method by which it
could be developed. Despite elaborate rationalization, the vital
question seemed always to be simply "Whose ox is gored?" The
Indian raids which bedeviled the colony from 1866 to 1872 caused
border defense costs to rise beyond the ability or the willingness of
the old house of assembly to pay. Yet land values and agricultural
development depended on the maintenance of order. Thus the
landed interests, dominant in the colony's political setting, were
brought to accept Crown colony status in the constitutional change
of 1870-71. This change abandoned the tradition of self-govern-
ment. Denial of support for the Omoa claims of 1873 made clear
once more that the international trade of Belize merchants would
receive formal protection only within strict limits of international
law and imperial convenience. The stagnation of trade from 1874-
77 prepared the ground for an iron-willed executive, Barlee, who
was willing to offend any interest to attain necessary reorganization.
Perhaps British Honduras most resembled a feudal march during
these years when the local barons, landed or merchant, struggled
to influence the representatives of a distant and distracted monarch.
Such struggles could not obscure the general knowledge that for
any of the developmental schemes to flourish immigration in
quantity and of the appropriate quality was necessary. Despite
many attempts such immigration did not occur. In 1886 the United

Adjustment to Agriculture, 1865-84 67

States commercial agent, asserting that there was at that time no
significant immigration into British Honduras, noted that in the
decade 1871-81 the rise in population in the colony from 24,701
to 27,452 did not reach even a normal reproductive increase.85 Thus
in a sense British Honduras had lost ground even while a significant
number of agricultural settlements were established in the colony
by the Confederate exiles and the landowners who imported con-
tract laborers from the orient and the West Indies.



IN EARLY 1885 Belize commerce was dull beyond the usual lethargy
of its post-holiday season. The logwood and mahogany markets
were slow, the banana and sugar markets were firmly depressed,
and a number of changes were impending in Belize commercial
partnerships. The Belize press saw no reason for gloom, however,
because British Honduras seemed to be poised for another surge of
prosperity. It had received full colonial status and separation from
Jamaica the previous year. Local commerce expected great ad-
vantages to accrue from British Honduras' exhibit in the 1884
New Orleans Cotton Centennial Exposition. Trade routes which
had swung away from Belize after 1855, and which had been missed
so bitterly in the i86o's and 187o's, had now returned on a regular
basis. In addition to the mail packet from New Orleans, Belize was
served by the London Line of steamships which offered bills of
lading through Liverpool, Bristol, Hamburg, Le Havre, Copen-
hagen, and Barcelona, and by the Harrison Line which offered
competitive arrangements through Liverpool.' It seemed to many
that the only element needed now for the progressive development
of the colony was intelligent and effective government.
There were surface indications in 1885 that close cooperation
would develop between the new government and the community.
The lull in commerce caused the business leadership of the colony
to seek a new impulse for trade, and those who promoted agricul-
tural development still sought immigrants. This dual need for com-

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

merce and agriculture, the encouragement derived from recent prog-
ress, and the enthusiasm of Crown officials, brought consensus that
the colony should advertise itself in international fairs and ex-
positions. In successive years, 1885 and 1886, the colony sent
exhibitions to the New Orleans Exposition and the London Colonial
and Indian Exposition, and there can be little doubt that British
Honduras became better known through these efforts.
The New Orleans exhibit was particularly impressive. The
colony had begun preparations in advance and the legislative
council had voted the unprecedented sum of $10,000 in support of
the colony's representation at the exposition. Sir Roger T. Golds-
worthy, who had come to British Honduras as lieutenant governor
early in 1884, had been promoted to governor (thus cutting the last
administrative tie with Jamaica) in the autumn of that year, just
in time to represent the colony in full executive regalia at the New
Orleans exposition, where he rode with the governor of Louisiana
in the first carriage of the inaugural procession. Timely prepara-
tions made the British Honduras exhibit presentable on opening
day, whereas many other exhibits required another month of prep-
aration. The feature of the British Honduras exhibit was an
extensive collection of wood samples and products, some of which
involved spectacular carvings.2
The specific advantage which the colony sought to gain through
the New Orleans exhibit was increased Southern immigration.
There was agreement (evidenced by the unusually generous ap-
propriation for the exhibit) that agriculture must be developed
without further delay and that the sugar planters in Louisiana were
probably the best prospects. At the same time there was real con-
cern lest the unrevised land tenure system repel any good im-
migrants and thus leave the colony's reputation even worse than
before. If frustrated immigrants were to "depart cursing a colony
where land is a drug, but where it can not be obtained by industri-
ous immigration,"3 it would do the colony no good.
The exhibition in New Orleans confirmed two decades of
quickening relations between British Honduras and the Southern
states. The Confederate exodus and the Belize mail packets had
gained for the colony a peripheral position on the New Orleans
economic and cultural scene. The 1885 exhibit sharpened the city's
interest in the colony. For a moment in time the colonists could


believe that they were gaining the kind of international notice
which was their due. Interviews with various gentlemen from
British Honduras were printed in the New Orleans press. These
provided the New Orleans reader with interesting views and
details of this Scottish community in the tropics which seemed
almost next door. J. H. Phillips, a member of the legislative council
and a commissioner of the colony to the exposition, visited the office
of the Times-Democrat months before opening day to explain the
interest of the colony in the exposition and its wish for closer rela-
tions with New Orleans. The curator of the British Honduras
exhibit, a Mr. Agar, was an immense, bronzed individual who was
pictured by the press as representative of a civilized island in the
wilderness-in a manner vaguely reminiscent of the Parisian view
of Americans a century before.
Toward the close of the exposition John E. Mutrie, one of the
foremost Scottish merchants in Belize, rounded out the colony's
publicity with a lengthy analysis of the past, present, and future
position of the colony. He pointed to the unique stability which
the British flag lent to Belize in the wild environment of Central
America. This stable community was wide open for settlement by
Southern agriculturists, and the trend of recent decades indicated
that it would continue to be: "British Honduras was at one time the
central depot for Guatemala, San Salvador and Honduras, and a
great deal of the trade of Nicaragua passed through it. Since the
opening of the Panama Canal (Railroad) the trade has generally
left Honduras, that is, the Republic trade with Central America,
Yucatan and Campeachy, there has been much greater energy dis-
played within the colony of British Honduras."4 On the other hand,
Mutrie explained, the small population of British Honduras con-
tained such a high proportion of illiterate laborers (80 per cent)
that representative government was not yet feasible. A later and
better-educated generation, he believed, would demand and receive
representative government. The process seemed smooth and in-
evitable as he described it.
But the political situation in Belize had worsened during the
six months between Goldsworthy's triumphal carriage-ride and
Mutrie's bland interview. In fact, by the time of that interview
there was a growing demand for immediate return to representative
government. Antagonism centered on the new governor, the same

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

official who had been viewed so proudly six months before. The
colonists discovered that Goldsworthy was not an able executive,
and by the summer of 1885 he had alienated most of the previous
goodwill. Thus when Mutrie's slighting remarks about the colony's
capacity for self-government were reprinted in the Belize Observer,
the editor of the Guardian rebutted them sharply with the observa-
tion, "It is natural for one who helped destroy our representative
system-[and] Mr. Mutrie was one of those who without consulting
their constituents coolly gave up the old Constitution of the Colony
-to attempt to justify his action by saying they were not fit for
representative government."5
Whether or not Mutric was disingenuous about politics, his brief
comments on the Central American trade were quite to the point.
There was no dissent from the view that new trading opportunities
available to British Honduras would be fugitive in character and
would require nimble maneuvers by Belize merchants. The new
trade was characterized by a great increase in direct long-distance
shipping from producers to Central American wholesalers. The
commercial crisis of Belize hinged on this point because Belize was
always an intermediate distribution point in the Central American
trade. Her role was now reduced to that of a port of deposit for
goods in transit, and a great deal was said in the local press about
the techniques necessary to profit from this reduced position.
The advantages of Belize derived from its proximity to other
Central American ports. Because of this proximity, the mongrel cur-
rency common to these countries circulated also in Belize. Belize
merchants were intimately familiar with the fluctuations of this
currency, and thus they could accept it at a higher value than could
United States and European firms. The establishment of a coast-
wise steamer, the strong credit connections of Belize merchants in
Europe, and the difficulties of Spanish Honduras merchants in
placing funds in European or United States banks could cause a
great deal of business to revert to Belize. The emphasis must rest
upon a quick turnover of business and modest charge for services.6
Business maneuvers of this sort were merely variations on a game
the merchants had played for decades. Something different was
needed now. Some positive approach to internal development was
required if British Honduras were really to progress. It was agreed
rather generally that a railroad was the key which would finally


open up the colony to agriculture. There had been many proposals
for a railroad in the colony since the U.S. Civil War, and all had
come to naught. The idea of a British Honduras railway appears to
have stemmed from the ferment of isthmian canal and railroad pro-
motions during the 185o's. The 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan boundary
treaty also offered arguments in favor of a railroad. It provided for
establishment of a transport route to link British Honduras and
Guatemala-a hypothetical route known in the British government
as "the Guatemala Road." A new series of Central American rail-
way projects around 1870 stimulated ambitions for a British Hon-
duras interoceanic railway. Among the Central American railway
projects, the Costa Rican railroad of Minor Keith was best known
and most successful. Less known but a subject of intense interest
in Belize was the Honduras Interoceanic Railroad, begun in the
Republic of Honduras in 1869, put into operation in 1871, but never
completed. In 1871 and the years which followed there had been
many discussions of ways and means to establish an interoceanic
railroad, which would pass from Belize through Guatemala to the
Pacific.7 But not until the i88o's did it become a real political issue.
In 1884 there gathered in Belize the largest meeting (estimated at
eight hundred persons) in the memory of those who attended it. It
had been called by a group of merchants to manifest support for an
especially promising railroad proposal by Mr. Walter Regan, a pro-
moter from the United States. Regan argued that Belize had a com-
manding geographical position in Middle America. Ile found that
it was much healthier than any of the Mexican ports in Campeche
and Yucatan and that it had deep water "where all sized vessels
could be safely sheltered from the most violent storms." Regan
was reported to say that these two factors-deep water and sanita-
tion-made the port of Belize attractive even without a rail terminal.
But the larger and more important advantages lay in the [rail] connection
with Guatemala; linking the Pacific shores of that republic with the coast of
British Honduras. Such a road, if built, would cross in its course the great
Passion and Usumacinta Rivers, which for hundreds of miles were navigable
for large craft, and flowed through the most extensive and richest vallies of
Central America, the trade of which alone would it seemed likely, afford em-
ployment to a railway and ensure a dividend on its stock. What the effect of
roads as here sketched would be upon the trade of Belize did not lie with him
to say, yet he would venture the opinion that its increase would be great.8

Crisis and Depression, 1885-900oo

In February, 1883, Regan had proposed to Sir Robert IIarley,
then a lieutenant governor of British Honduras, "that if he should
make a survey for a railroad and concluded to construct one, that
the Local Government should recommend the Secretary of State to
grant such concessions of land as would be commensurate with the
cost of constructing such railway. The Lieutenant Governor
replied accepting his terms." Regan calculated from the survey that
the railroad was feasible but would cost three million dollars. In
order to cover this cost through territory virtually unpopulated,
grants of alternate blocks of land of 12,800 acres each would be re-
quired. He pointed out that this sort of grant was not at all
uncommon and that the colony of Newfoundland had recently
granted much more. Regan laid before the meeting a seven-point
ist. To construct a railroad starting from Yarborough Bridge taking a S.W.
direction to the Republic of Guatemala.
2nd. For which he asked for a grant of 12800 acres per mile, along with suf-
ficient crown land and in or near the town of Belize for depots, sidings, etc.
3rd. The right to construct a lateral line from the main line (without any more
concessions) to the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers.
4th. That the title to the conceded lands be granted on the completion of each
o10 miles of road.
5th. That property of the Railroad Company be free from taxation for 35 years.
6th. That if the construction of the road be not commenced within one year of
the making of the concessions, these shall be forfeited.
7th. That the work be completed within 4 years after the making of the con-
cession under a penalty of $10,000 per annum for each and every year in
excess of that period.0

He obviously had felt some concern about whether the colonial
government would accept the proposal and thus sought the support
of the community leaders, whom he knew to be enthusiastic for the
railroad. To put pressure on the government a meeting of mer-
chants had been held in the home of John Mutric; it was decided
that public meetings should be held at which Regan could ventilate
his proposal. The merchants believed this might be the best op-
portunity Belize would have to obtain the railroad which was so
desperately required for internal development. So they took
desperate measures. Mr. A. S. Kindred, manager of the Belize
Estate and Produce Company (which was corporate successor to
the British Honduras Company and the largest landholding firm in
the colony), rose in the public meeting to tell the colored classes,


crcoles, assembled at the meeting that the time had come when they
must become politically active. A political action committee (of
merchants) was delegated to follow through resolutions passed by
the meeting in favor of the Regan proposal, but the really significant
development was the appeal to the lower classes by the merchants.
The Guardian viewed this development dramatically:
The evident desire that the meanest person present should freely express his
opinion, produced a most excellent effect, and Mr. Kindred struck the right
chord when he said "The people should not leave it to a few merchants, for
they (the people) are the ones most interested in the Colony; they not only
could but should express their opinions," and thus revealed to them their
importance in the commonwealth. Mr. Kindred's words are significant, for
they usher in a NEW ERA in the political history of the colony. Hitherto the
people had been content to allow a few of the principal inhabitants to think
and act for them, and to shape-as far as they could-the policy of the
The people of this Colony have always been characterized by ready
obedience to the laws and reverence for authority, and have been peculiarly
backward in political manifestations; therefore, when so large and respectable
a meeting assembles, brimful of enthusiasm, the fact is significant; and we call
on the Government to note, and inwardly digest its great importance. This
flame once lit, it will not be . permitted to die out. The Committee, if we
are not greatly mistaken, will do its utmost to keep it ablaze; and the Press,
will only too joyfully co-operate in the good work. The people too, will .
now that they are awake, keep sleepless watch o'er their birthright; if not, they
will well deserve to become the political serfs of a narrowminded autocracy.10

The enthusiasm of the people of Belize for a railroad, and the
near desperation of the business community for one, was offset by
the diplomatic and imperial complexities of the question. Within
the British government the question of a railroad for British Hon-
duras was tied to the 1859 treaty with Guatemala which had estab-
lished boundaries for the colony. There was a strong opinion in
London that any railroad built should be recognized by Guatemala
as a fulfillment of the British treaty commitment. At least this was
the diplomatic frame of reference into which the colonists' desire
for a railroad had to be fitted. Governor Goldsworthy bypassed the
Regan proposal, apparently, because it did not meet diplomatic
necessities. Almost a year after the public meeting Coldsworthy
noted in an official trade report that a Belize-Pct6n railroad would
be of "incalculable value" to the colony and that British Honduras
would have developed into a strong, rich community "had [it] been
in anyone's hands than our own."'1 He referred to the high degree

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900 75

of selectivity required in the Colonial Office's developmental efforts,
a selectivity dictated by the sheer number of colonies in the British
empire. Obscure British Honduras was not among the select.
Internal politics of the colony also had an effect on the Regan
proposal. During the i88o's there were two schools of thought
regarding railroad construction in British Honduras. One believed
the best route ran southwesterly from Belize to Coban in the Guate-
malan province of Alta Vera Paz. The Colonial Guardian supported
this route on the ground that the railroad would pass through
Crown lands and open the healthy uplands of southwestern British
Honduras and that it would eventually become an international
route passing through Guatemala City to San Jos6 on the Pacific.
The other school held that the westerly route through El Cayo was
best, straight into the rich forests of Pct6n. This latter group argued
that the timber and dye-wood industries, always basic to the British
Honduras economy, would be thus revived. These, along with the
proven agricultural land along the Belize River, would guarantee
the solvency of a road until settlers could be drawn to the hinter-
land or, perhaps, until the inter-American railroad could be built
and the Belize line tied to it.12
The Guardian charged that Mr. Henry Fowler, the colonial secre-
tary and interim administrator of the colony until Goldsworthy's
arrival, personally blocked the Regan proposal when a preliminary
survey convinced Regan that the southwesterly route was more
promising than the other. Fowler held large tracts of land around
El Cayo the value of which would increase several times over if
the railroad passed near them. This very point indicated that the
Regan proposal would be carried out more easily by the south-
western route. It would be much less complicated to grant the
alternating blocks of land called for by the Regan proposal in an
area which consisted almost entirely of Crown lands than to become
involved in extensive expropriation of private holdings. The conflict-
of-interest charges against Fowler appear to have been well
founded because the Guardian documented them in such a way that
it would have been vulnerable to a libel action had they not been
largely true. Regan's was the last serious railroad proposal until the
end of the stormy Goldsworthy administration.a3 It was a time
when routine matters seemed to become alternately heroic and
When Goldsworthy had first arrived in 1884 the principal inter-


nal business to be transacted was implementation of the 188o plan
of Baron Siccama for municipal improvements in Belize. Briefly
stated, Siccama's plan was to improve the sanitary condition of the
city by filling low town lots and dredging the south side and north
side canals (clogged as they were with the sewage of twenty-two
years), to increase water storage, and to construct a pier. A local
committee had been formed in the early i88o's to seek ways and
means to implement the Siccama plan, and its recommendations
were available to the new governor. The governor, however, vir-
tually ignored those recommendations and laid himself open to
serious charges of carelessness and favoritism when he awarded all
the contracts implementing the plan to a local man, Mr. C. T.
Hunter. He appointed Hunter's brother, Dr. Alexander Hunter, to
the post of colonial surgeon, making the post at once more lucrative
by raising certain fees. The Guardian concluded that "when the
governor arrived in British Honduras one of his first steps was to,
metaphorically take the Hunters to his bosom-more particularly
Mr. C. T. Hunter and he did this in spite of having before him
the despatches of Governor Barlee in which ample proof of the un-
scrupulous hatred and opposition, to him, of Mr. C. T. Hunter was
to be found." It struck the editor as singular that the man whom
one governor chose above all others to honor, immediately upon his
arrival, had been the bitterest enemy of his strong predecessor. The
governor's contract awards to Mr. C. T. Hunter were even more
questionable in view of the allegation that "Mr. Hunter had notori-
ously failed in almost every, if not every, scheme which he has
ever undertaken in this Colony."14
The fact that C. T. Hunter was permitted by the government
to deviate from contract requirements in several important respects
was doubly significant where sanitary requirements were concerned.
The colonial surgeon, Dr. Hunter, had previously been a member of
the Siccama committee which had recommended those require-
ments. The committee had insisted that the sewage canals must be
dredged late in the year and specifically in rainy, cool weather-not
in the heat of summer.
the best time for cleaning the canals and the best method of getting rid
of the poisonous dredgings which such cleaning would produce, were fully
discussed, by the committee and no one was more emphatic than Dr. Hunter in
urging that no cleaning should take place during the hot months of the year
and Mr. Siccama's recommendation of sinking deleterious dredgings out at sea.

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

In accordance with the unanimous recommendations of the medical members
of the committee, therefore, the Government entered into a special contract
with Mr. C. T. Hunter to dig the North Side canal under water, to a depth of
3 feet, and to sink the dredging at sea in the month of October 1884. This
was accordingly done. But no sooner was Mr. C. T. Hunter made contractor
for the whole Siccama scheme and he had as part of his contract to treat the
South Side canal in the same manner as the North Side one, than his brother,
by a mysterious process became an advocate for what he had before denounced
as unsanitary and as nothing less than madness.15

The colonial surgeon's change of view saved his contractor
brother a considerable amount of money by allowing him to dredge
the canal in hot weather and to pile the sewage on the banks of the
canal instead of taking it to sea to be sunk. The governor acqui-
esced in these proceedings even though he had specifically agreed
in conversation with the previous colonial surgeon that such an
exposure of sewage on the canal banks would endanger the health
of the community.
Local physicians, despite their ignorance of the true cause of
yellow fever, were properly alarmed at the danger inherent in the
contractor's proceedings. "In vain it was pointed out to the Gover-
nor that almost all the independent medical practitioners strongly
condemned this proceeding as likely to spread yellow fever or some
other septic disease and in vain was it for them to point out that
yellow fever broke out on a similar cleaning of the same canal in
186o-he would not see save with Hunterian eyes and allowed the
contractor to proceed with the poisoning of the town." Soon there-
after both yellow fever and a disease identified only as "canal fever"
broke out in epidemic proportion.6
The sequel was not attractive. C. T. IIunter was allowed to hire
prisoners at one-third the wage of regular laborers (who would not
go near the canal). They were issued boots for the work at public
expense rather than the contractor's. Dr. Hunter later retired as
colonial surgeon with a pension such as no other holder of that office
received. Before and after the epidemic Governor Goldsworthy
seemed to go out of his way to earn the haired of colonists, high and
low. On leave in London in the autumn of 1885 he was reported
drunk and disorderly. This resulted in a memorial to the Colonial
Office to determine if indeed it was their governor who had com-
mitted the misdemeanor.17 When a couple of months later the
governor stated soberly in the legislative council that he did not


wish to hoard the money in the public chest, the Guardian com-
mented dryly that the governor should be reassured that it had
never occurred to anyone to accuse him of such a crime. The
governor had, however, left himself vulnerable to charges that he
applied the law with severity against his opponents and mere
bystanders, while he waived it in favor of his favorites.18
By October, 1886, after two years of Goldsworthy's administration
of the colony, the treasury had gone from a $90,000 surplus to an
even greater amount of indebtedness, and it appeared that most
of the money had been squandered. This led the editor of the
Guardian to write an article entitled "Bankruptcy at Last" which ex-
claimed: "Let us try to find out for what grievous sins the Colonists
have been afflicted with so destructive an administration and try
to atone for them. The sins must have been heinous which required
so severe an expiation."19 Two weeks later he reported as good
news that "Mr. Goldsworthy is going. Those few words mean
relief from the most oppressive administration that British Honduras
has ever suffered a hideous nightmare. He leaves behind
him an empty treasury and some desolate homes as the sole result
of more than two years of government." The relief must indeed
have been great for a festive atmosphere seemed to envelop Belize
at this news, reaching greatest intensity on Tuesday, November 2,
when the governor sailed for England.
Tuesday was a great gala day and rivalled Christmas Day. All the stores
were closed, the schools empty and large crowds of people, out for a holiday
were to be seen parading the streets in joyful anticipation of the departure of
the Governor at 3 o'clock. Their joy was not always displayed in the best taste
and the loud references to Mr. Goldsworthy were anything but complimentary.
As the time for Mr. Goldsworthy's departure approached, a large crowd con-
gregated on the street at the breakwater and there awaited the joyful event;
whilst a large number of pleasure boats, lighters and schooners, many of them
having mottoes-not complimentary-assembled in the harbour. A large
schooner with a brass band, and a sloop yacht with a smaller band on board
cruised about and played by turns the Dead March in Saul, and the Rogue's

When the time of departure arrived the governor embarked from
the government house wharf, receiving a military salute from the
honor guard. But as his barge came past the crowd on the break-
water, the governor was hissed and jeered, "and one or two small
boys threw pebbles at him." When he replied with a sardonic ges-

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900 79

ture, some of the children and creole women hurled a shower of
stones after him.
A policeman prevented them from taking stones from the roadside, but not
to be [deterred], they rushed into the sea-where the police did not follow-
and taking stones from the sea bottom, sent another shower after the retreating
barge. The crew of the barge grew alarmed and pulled with might and main
to got out of reach of the pugnacious viragoes and gamins.
As the barge reached the mail steamer's side a lighter-with a large white
flag having Catfish Still Uneaten, in red letters, in reference to a threat made
by the Governor that 'he'd make the people eat catfish before he had done
with them'-passed by and dipped her flag.

The steamer required an hour before leaving her anchorage, and
during the delay the two boats with musicians on board and a large
number of smaller craft repeatedly circled and passed "playing
tunes and their crews giving loud utterance to their joy." But
the townspeople were not through yet. "As the time for the
steamer's departure drew near the fleet of boats and vessels sailed
off and drew up in a line alongside the deep channel-through
which the steamer had to pass and she was again saluted with
music and with loud shouts, and the whole fleet turned and at-
tempted to accompany her." Only the sloop yacht and schooner
could keep the pace with the steamer as it proceeded at reduced
speed through the channel, and to the tunes of "Good Riddance and
Rogue's March . kept company with the steamer, until they
had gone over three miles from the anchorage. ." The rest of the
day and throughout the night the townspeople gave themselves to
festivity, with every class and caste joining the celebration.21
For reasons best known within the Colonial Office, it was decided
to return Goldsworthy to the post in Belize. Whether it was simply
a matter of his completing a routine tour of duty or whether it was
to teach the townspeople some proper respect, it was surely a
crushing blow to the colonists. On January lo, 1887, at one of the
largest public meetings ever held in British Honduras-pitiably im-
potent in retrospect-two resolutions were passed. One expressed
dismay at the news that Goldsworthy would return and indicated
that if this were true it would be a disaster for the colony. The
other stated simply that Goldsworthy's moral character had been
open to censure during his term in the colony. The meeting ap-
pointed a committee to draw up the memorial which accompanied


the resolutions and which listed Goldsworthy's administrative sins
during his two years' residence in the colony.22
Goldsworthy returned then despite the colonists' protests. The
alienation was so great that three exceedingly uneasy years followed
as Goldsworthy established a record for the longest administration
(1884-91) in the history of the colony. During these years the
impetus to internal economic development of the early 188o's was
dissipated. Although Goldsworthy must bear responsibility for this,
he was in a sense the formal victim of the system he represented. If
a modicum of intelligence and goodwill is assumed on the part of
Goldsworthy, the leadership elite among the colonists must bear
some of the responsibility also for failing to devise some means to
influence him in a more constructive direction. A passage from his
arch critic, the Guardian, suggests the degree to which Goldsworthy
was made a pariah by the colonial leadership, 1887-90o: "After the
1887 memorial-the charges of which the Colonists offered and were
prepared to prove-the Governor for a short time put some restraint
on his despotic temper and wasteful propensities, but he never for
one moment ceased to be the friend of the least reputable portion
of the more intelligent colonists, honest men, as a rule, keeping
aloof from him; so that he has been all along surrounded by a dense
atmosphere of scandal."23 No doubt the Governor's isolation con-
tributed to the culminating scandal of his administration, the
Hunter arbitration. After Goldsworthy's incredible departure in
November, 1886, the colonial secretary, Henry Fowler, was sworn
in as administrator once more. A polished individual of consider-
able charm, Fowler could bask in the climate of good feeling which
arose from Goldsworthy's absence, and he carried through a num-
ber of popular measures. Among these was the seizure of C. T.
Hunter's equipment and cancellation of one of his contracts in order
to complete the sanitary dredging. Hunter eventually used these
actions as the basis of claims for damages against the colonial gov-
ernment. Goldsworthy considered himself free to act as agent of
the public interest, disclaiming any personal involvement in the
case because he had not been in the colony at the time of the
seizure. Goldsworthy's action in the Hunter case was held to be the
worst of his administrative acts, even "monstrous," because it was
so deliberate.
The Hunter case consisted of three arbitrations, the first and
second in Belize and the third in London. Hunter received an

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

award of $20,000 in the first arbitration for the value of his dredging
plant. The second award was inconsequential, some points being
decided in favor of Hunter and some for the government. The
third arbitration was critical, arising from claims which were not
introduced until completion of the second. The site of this final
arbitration was shifted to the Colonial Office in London when it
proved impossible to find in Belize a law member for the panel who
was acceptable to Hunter. In London, one arbitrator was chosen to
represent Hunter's interests (Sir Benjamin Pine), and another to
represent the interest of the colony (Mr. John Gentle). The latter
was a resident of Belize. These arbitrators awarded Hunter nearly
$30,000 for damages.24
The award was challenged in Belize on many grounds. The press
pointed to a mortgage which Gentle held on the Belize property of
Dr. Alexander Hunter. A review of the history of the Hunter
brothers' relationship to the contracts which implemented the Sic-
cama plan showed that the doctor's interests were related closely
to those which his brother now had under arbitration. Thus Gentle
could not be considered to represent an adversary position, or even
one which was properly neutral, in relation to Hunter. Golds-
worthy's notorious bias in favor of the Hunter brothers and Gentle's
mortgage on Dr. Hunter's property made it clear that the interests
of the taxpayers, as opposed to those of Hunter, could not have
been properly represented. No good reason had been established
for transferring the case from law to equity and the site from Belize
to London. Hunter's allegation that he could not get a fair trial in
Belize was countered by the reminder that the chief justice could
have sat without a jury if Hunter wished, that the colonists had no
fair chance to present evidence in London, and that Lord Knuts-
ford had admitted this last point in 1888. "It will be seen," asserted
the Guardian, "that this arbitration is in every respect in direct vio-
lation of the first principles of English law, and the award therefore
should be resisted by the Colonists by every lawful means within
their powers."2'5 In this manner the fight for constitutional reform
began, a struggle in which the colonists demanded an unofficial
majority in the legislative council as their minimum requirement.
Only the legislative council of the colony could appropriate funds
with which to pay the Hunter arbitral award. In March, 189go, the
governor held a private meeting in which he requested suggestions
for a new tax to meet the cost of the award; at the same time he


asserted that the award itself was beyond discussion. The business
leaders who attended the meeting were so far opposed to the award
that they refused outright to suggest a tax for that purpose. In May
the question came before the legislative council. Because the un-
official members formed a minority and thus could not prevent an
appropriation, they resigned and henceforth refused to retake their
Protests against Crown government in the colony thus reached a
crisis twenty years after its establishment and following a decade of
desultory agitation for representative government. A political unity
which the colony had not previously experienced was now achieved
in British Honduras.27
There were ample grounds for such unity, but able political
strategy and leadership contributed to it also. As noted above, the
antiadministration press commenced attacks on the award as soon
as it was known. During April of 1890o this became a systematic
discussion of all aspects of the affair which amounted to political
agitation. In May when the appropriation to pay the award came
up for vote in the legislative council it precipitated the boycott by
unofficial members. A deadlock ensued and in June a public meet-
ing was held to organize demands for an unofficial majority in the
legislative council and resistance to the award. A public committee
was appointed to lead the movement.28
Many believed, and with considerable justification, that this was
the best opportunity the colony would have in the foreseeable
future to obtain the long-desired constitutional reform. The short-
comings of Crown government had long been apparent to those
who cared to look, but now the overwhelming majority was aroused
to its evils. During the summer the public committee and the
Colonial Guardian did everything possible to keep it aroused. The
legislators were encouraged in their boycott. The executives' at-
tempts to threaten or bribe them to return to their seats were made
notorious. Those who might be tempted to take the vacant seats
were forewarned that social ostracism would inevitably follow.
Representatives bearing a public petition for rectification of the
bungled Siccama scheme went to London, and soon the opposition
in Parliament was asking the government embarrassing questions
about the situation in British Honduras.2"
By the end of the summer Baron Siccama himself was sent to
Belize to investigate the fate of his ten-year-old project. It soon

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

became apparent that his mission was to whitewash the Golds-
worthy administration and thus to relieve somewhat the parliamen-
tary pressure on the Colonial Office, since British Honduras was far
from being the only disgruntled colony in the summer of 1890.
The agitation for West Indian confederation was at that time con-
centrated against the colonial secretary, Lord Knutsford, and the
British Honduras case appeared to be potentially a cause celebre.30
This provides one explanation for British Honduras' sloganized
insistence that they would rather have an open despotism than a
sham of representative government. The government in London
could not admit to an "open despotism" over Englishmen. Yet it
was difficult for Lord Knutsford to back down on the Belize matter
in the face of agitation by the league for West Indian federation.
Such a concession could only give them aid and comfort, and thus
the struggle continued in Belize.Y
In October, 189o, Goldsworthy left the colony for the last time,
but the colonists did not relent. They insisted that the boycott of
the government would continue at least until they received an un-
official majority. Knutsford retaliated by refusing to consider the
current railroad scheme until there had been a public survey of the
route. The survey would require funds voted by the legislative
council. The populace had long been sensitized to the need for a
railroad and to its potential benefits, and Knutsford's maneuver
provided a severe test of their political convictions. Its severity was
relieved, however, by the Guardian's reminder that Regan's com-
pany had been willing to make a survey at its own expense and
had then been refused by the government. Another test of the
colonists' convictions came when the mail subsidy was allowed a
lapse. Still they resisted.3
Such stubborn resistance gained wide attention around the Carib-
bean. The depressed British West Indies were quick to applaud
such an encouraging example. The legislature on St. Kitts had
walked out for a single session. The St. Kitts editor held that only
a permanent strike such as that in British Honduras could be ef-
fective. An editor in British Guiana observed that "the deadlock
existing in the proceedings of the Legislative Council of British
Honduras is not without special interests to legislators in other West
Indian Colonies involving as it does the important question
whether the Secretary of State may settle the domestic affairs of


the colony in his own way, although that way may be in direct
antagonism to the people of the colony."3'
As noted, the British Honduras case held particular interest be-
cause of the economic depression and political agitation for imperial
reform in the Caribbean colonies. A considerable part of this
hostility centered on Knutsford, sometimes called "the Autocrat of
the Colonial Office." The Port-of-Spain Gazette (Trinidad) sug-
gested that all editorials in colonial newspapers should conclude
with a paraphrase from Cato: "and besides, I think Lord Knutsford
should resign."34
Yet in another sense the British Honduras situation was unique.
The editor of the Colonial Guardian never tired of pointing out that
the British Honduras constitution, in contrast to that of almost every
other colony, was not granted by the Crown but rather had devel-
oped while British Honduras was a mere settlement. Only later
had British Honduras asked to become a colony. Thus the Crown
could not say representative government had been granted by it,35
rather it had been given up by decision of the colony's faithless
representatives in 1870. Also, while the British Hondurans took
some pleasure in being one of Great Britain's Caribbean colonies,
they thought of themselves as being distinct from the West Indies."
British Honduras' stubborn, shrewd resistance was rewarded. In
July, 1891, the supreme court of the colony ruled that the acts of the
boycotted legislative council (containing four colonial officials who
had been ordered to act as unofficial members) were not legally
binding. This was duly advertised as "The People's Victory," but
the boycott continued until the announcement in January, 1892,
that the colony was to have a majority of unofficial members.37 In
the hour of victory, as congratulations were expressed around the
Caribbean, the separateness of British Honduras was again demon-
strated. Because British Honduras had not demanded complete
removal of Crown government the Voice of St. Lucia concluded
that it had given up the game "after holding all the trumps." To
the editor of the Colonial Guardian this was merely further proof of
the differences between British Honduras and the West Indies.
British Honduras had had the sophistication to be satisfied with
limited objectives: "We know exactly what we have been fighting
for and the Voice apparently does not.""s
The constitutional crisis in Belize could not obscure a variety of
economic problems which the colony continued to face. Stabiliza-

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

tion of the currency and the obvious need for a railroad were two
issues which came insistently to the fore. The need to develop agri-
culture underlay all else.
Currency stabilization could be achieved in British Honduras
only by firm adoption of one of the recognized world standards.
Thus thdie colony would have to adopt a form of currency which
related closely to the market price for silver or gold. Such an adop-
tion was long delayed in British Honduras. It seems that the delay
resulted from the fact that the colonial merchants found consider-
able advantage in the anomalous currency of the Central American
trade. The absence of any banking institution in the colony was
also an important factor. Although short-term trading with the
Central American states had benefited particularly from the old,
mixed currency,3" a number of warning voices called for standardi-
zation during the late i88o's and early 89go's. It was observed that
wages and other basic economic indicators were drifting away from
true value and that the longer standardization was postponed the
more severe would be economic adjustment to it.
So Belize had its own "battle of the standards" and there was
some fierce debate. Finally, however, the gold standard was
adopted in November, 1894, and the resulting adjustment was
indeed severe. The Times of Central America claimed that the
impending adoption would be a change welcomed by 29,950 of the
30,000 inhabitants of the colony and that banking would at last be
introduced as a result of it. Nevertheless, serious difficulties
resulted even as the new standard was being put into effect. In the
first week of November the constabulary at Orange Walk mutinied
when the men refused to receive their pay because it was devalued
by the new standard. Some hysteria resulted in Belize and the
Times hinted that an inflammatory editorial in the Guardian which
favored the silver standard had been responsible for the mutiny.
There was no bloodshed, but the Times claimed that there could
easily have been a massacre of the citizenry and that the incident
placed the isolation of the colony in sharp relief. There was not
even a telegraph by which to send for help.40
Perhaps the most significant analysis of this mutiny was that of
F. M. Maxwell, sometime attorney general of the colony. Maxwell
argued that the government had badly mishandled the currency
conversion. He expanded this criticism to assert that the governor,
Sir Alfred Moloney, had talked a great deal about progress during


his three and a half years in the colony, but that basically Sir
Alfred's had been a do-nothing administration. He went on to a
biting criticism of the people of British Honduras for their failure
to demand self-government when Crown government could be
counted upon to perform so poorly.
One thing I do maintain and that is that, if the majority of the inhabitants
of this Colony in a constitutional manner demand a Representative government,
and if they go the right way about it, they cannot he kept out of it. If on the
other hand, the majority are blind enough to be content to allow Crown
Government to go on taxing their labour, wasting their resources, and squan-
dering their revenues, then it is time for the more enlightened to be looking
elsewhere for a home.41

The editor of the Times, after printing Maxwell's blast, mounted
a full-scale campaign for self-government in the colony. The paper
argued that now was the time to demand self-government, while
Crown government stood naked in its incompetence.42 To empha-
size the need for change the Times analyzed the high food prices in
Belize, a basic source of irritation, and concluded that the city was
prevented from developing a food supply on the interior lands of
the colony by the lack of roads. He pointed out also that there
were very heavy import duties on foodstuffs-much heavier for
example, than those of the English community of Bluefields, Nicara-
gua. It appeared to the editor that the consumer carried most of
the colony's tax burden:
Either the government of a Crown Colony is a much more expensive matter
than that of a Central American Republic, which it is not the custom of the
Anglo-Saxon race exactly to regard as a model government, or else the un-
fortunate consumers of imported foods in British Honduras have to pay the
piper with a vengeance. It may be that the explanation of the facts is
furnished by both these causes, that the government of a Crown Colony is not
only more expensive, but that its cost is entirely levied on the consumer of
imported goods.43

The campaign moved on smoothly with the circulation, publica-
tion, and discussion of a petition for self-government. The Times
noted darkly that any man who refused to sign the petition would
thereby declare himself a friend of Crown government despite the
ruin which it was slowly but surely working on the colony. It was
alleged that experience had shown the utter uselessness of official
nominees to the legislative council as representatives of the

Crisis and Depression, 1885-I900

This campaign for self-government collapsed on its premises.
The mutiny of the constabulary had provided a convenient incident
from which to initiate the campaign. But early in December there
occurred a serious riot of the mahogany and logwood cutters, ap-
parently in protest also against the low wages caused by the con-
version to gold, as well as against a scarcity of jobs for the coming
year. The illiterate woodcutters had not been prepared in any way
for such a devaluation of their wages. They took their revenge by
wrecking the stores of merchant-contractors who seemed to be
shortchanging them. The Times had little sympathy for the mer-
chants: "There is no blinking the fact that the Colony has been
governed entirely in the interests of the mahogany and logwood
merchants, and no attempt whatever has been made to develop its
resources or turn its natural advantages to account.""4 Why not
keep the woodcutters busy by having the government hire them to
build a hard-surface road to the Cayo? The road was desperately
needed and the mahogany market was so bad that there was little
hope for adequate work for the cutters. Almost as an afterthought
the rioters were admonished to cease their illegal activities and to
seek legal redress. The riot itself was put down rather easily by
marines from a British man-of-war in the harbor. The ship had
been sent for after the constabulary mutiny and kept on hand for
the holiday influx of woodcutters."4
The occurrence of two dangerous disorders in one month resulted
in another dose of bad publicity for British Honduras abroad and
dissipated the Times' self-government campaign. The editor still
believed that good would come from the evil of the riots because
they showed not only the rottenness of the entire Crown colony
government, but that Belize town was isolated and decaying.47
When the Colonial Office claimed that the McKinley tariff of the
United States was ultimately to blame for the British Honduras dis-
orders, the editor of the Times replied that the heart of the matter
was that the colonial government had failed to revise tariff sched-
ules at the time of conversion, causing food prices to rise sharply at
the same time wages were devalued. The collapse of the mahogany
market was also basic to the disturbances because it had seriously
weakened the colony's economy. Prophetically the editor said that
the colony's situation would become desperate if the logwood
market were to fall also. Internal improvements seemed the only
solution, both in the short and in the long view.48


In the currency matter the Times represented the opposition to
the government while the Guardian had more nearly supported the
government despite its preference for the silver standard instead of
the gold. Both papers agreed that the disorders resulting from the
conversion of the currency derived from an underdeveloped eco-
It had long been asserted that the lack of a railroad was the most
important physical obstacle to the development of agriculture, and
that agricultural development was the surest road to progress in the
colony. The agitation of this question continued through the 18go's
much as it had in the 188o's. The old argument, however, between
the Bclize-Cayo route and the route southwest from the Sibun had
become more complicated. In May, 1892, Governor Moloney had
inaugurated the Stann Creek-Melinda tramway (light railway)
which had been built by a British Honduras syndicate intent on
developing the fruit industry in that area. This rail line, which was
extended later to Middlesex, was not considered by the colonists
(or the Colonial Office) to be a railroad in the developmental sense;
yet in the small area affected, it did lead to notable development of
the fruit industry in later years. It thrust into the colony's railroad
dialogue a third route: Stann Creek to El Cayo.50
In 1898, the editor of the Guardian was provoked to say, with
respect to the variety of proposals, that there was nothing mystical
about a railroad that would inevitably make it a paying proposition,
or that would cause a blanket of settlers to follow it. It had to be
placed with great circumspection. To illustrate the problem he
commented on the Canadian railroad: "For one immigrant that
British Honduras attracts the Dominion of Canada attracts more
than a hundred, yet the Grand Trunk on the Canadian railroad
existed for about 40 years without paying a dividend to its pro-
prietors, and there are some railways in the United States, to-day,
not making anything like substantial profits." He went on to say
that an unpopulated country like British Honduras must offer a
source of natural production along the route of a railroad which
would make it pay until agricultural settlement became productive
-a process which would take years.61 The editor always supported
the route southwest from the Sib6n through the southern Pet6n to
the Rio Pasi6n. This route would open extensive Crown lands to
settlement and would save the logwood industry which in the late
189o's appeared to be on its last legs. To build a railroad merely to

Crisis and Depression, 1885-19oo 89

the Cayo would not help the logwood industry and might indeed
push the colony into bankruptcy.52
The Guardian faced the fact, at last, that British Honduras could
not expect much immigration from Europe and the United States,
even though it was a great age of immigration. The tropical climate
precluded a white man making his fortune through his own agricul-
tural labor. What had to be done therefore was to attract men of
capital who would go in for large-unit venture, and to bring West
Indian labor to work those large plantations.
Although railroad negotiations with Guatemala had been difficult,
he was convinced that a railway from Belize was in Guatemala's
interest and that that country would come to an agreement if ap-
proached properly.
Guatemala has far more to gain by a railway from the sea into the heart
of the Department of Pcten than British Honduras has. Peten is so far and is
so separated by mountain ranges from the more thickly populated portions of
Guatemala and from the sea coast of that Republic, that the development of
the vast resources of that tract of country is practically impossible save through
a railway, and a railway that shall pass through British Honduras, to the sea.
So isolated indeed is Peten from the rest of the Republic that, on one occasion
when the rapid arrival of troops to that Department was urgently necessary to
prevent anarchy, the Government of Guatemala had to get permission to send
a detachment of soldiers through British Honduras, their arms being taken
through the Colony packed in boxes till the frontier was reached. This isola-
tion not only prevents the development of the natural resources of that Depart-
ment but renders its administration a pecuniary burden to the Government of
A railroad from Belize would end the isolation of Pet6n and
would convert that department's annual deficit into an increasing
surplus. One reason for Guatemalan caution with respect to a
Petdn railroad was the tremendous amount of money already spent
on the Puerto Barrios railway. It was a sensitive subject in Guate-
mala because of the heavy tax burdens the public had been forced
to carry for that still unfinished route to the Atlantic. Under an
1898 proposal for financing a Bclize-Pet6n railway, however, Guate-
mala would have to pay less bonus for her section than would be
paid for the British Honduras section, and Guatemalan receipts for
mahogany and logwood would make up for the bonus in a very few
years. The editor believed that: "Besides this, there arc 50,000
still owing Guatemala by the British Government in accordance
with the treaty defining the boundaries between Guatemala and this


Colony. Therefore the Government of Guatemala will not have to
impose any tax-as has been done in the case of the Puerto Barrios
railway-to enable her to have a railway from our frontier to Pet6n;
With such inducements for the construction of a railway placed
before them, the Government of Guatemala can not hesitate in
coming to an understanding with the Imperial Government on the
subject; and we believe in a few months the whole question will be
Still there were a number of matters which must be settled with
Guatemala in advance, with precision, and at the government level.
Each side must be protected against arbitrary action by the other.
"For instance it will be absolutely necessary beforehand to get a
pledge from the Guatemala Government that no exorbitant duties
will be charged on pork, flour, axes and labourers' clothing without
which wood-cutting cannot be carried on." Guatemala should also
guarantee that a fair royalty would be fixed for logwood and
mahogany, so that the capital operations of the woodcutters would
be protected from arbitrary exactions. The Guatemala government
would require for its part "an understanding as to the rate of bond
dues to be charged on goods warehoused, to be forwarded to the
Peten." There would be occasions, undoubtedly, when such goods
would have to be left in Belize warehouses for an unusually long
time, thus necessitating some reduction of the ordinary charges.55
It was suggested that the government of the colony could do a
number of things to promote railroad construction, things which
had nothing to do with Guatemala. For instance, development of
mining in the colony conceivably could support a railway. The
proposed Stann Creek-Cayo route was one which hinged on this
possibility. It appeared to be quite unfeasible otherwise because of
a series of transverse valleys which it would have to cross north of
the Coxcomb mountains. Geological signs of valuable minerals
(notably gold) had been reported, but the colonial government
could not be induced to perform a geological and mineralogical
survey of the colony. The legislative council had authorized ex-
penditure of 13,ooo for this purpose in 1895, but nothing had
been done about it by 1900. A mining industry would require a
"wise and liberal code of mining laws" also. A number of colonies
already had such a code, notably British Columbia and Australia,
which needed only to be copied. But mining was not nurtured in
British Honduras in the late nineteenth century, and those colonists

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900

who fed their dreams of material development with visions of
benefits to be derived from current events were irritated by the
Reaction in Belize to the Spanish-American War provided a final
revealing demonstration of this tendency toward pipedreams. The
prospect of approaching hostilities over Cuba left the colony un-
disturbed. Some concern was felt that trade with the United States
would be disturbed initially by Spanish privateers. But it appeared
that this could occur only in the brief interval before American
naval might found and smashed the Spanish fleet.57
The colony's main interest in the war derived from its perennial
need for immigration. A year before this conflict commenced,
Spanish oppression in Cuba became so terrible that thousands of
islanders were forced to flee. They went mostly to Florida and
Mexico, the majority settling in Yucatan. Many of these emigres
were tobacco planters who had managed to retain a portion of
their wealth, and the government of British Honduras hoped to lure
some of them to the colony to establish that crop there. Some
believed tobacco could be the quick-cash crop which would aid the
colony in "traversing" the current depression, despite the difficult
techniques which it required. Governor Moloney believed so firmly
in the value to the colony of these prospective immigrants that he
had offered them a free grant of 1oo,ooo acres of crown lands. The
offer went begging as Cubans continued to pass through Belize on
their way to Yucatan."8
But the Belizeans were farsighted in this matter. If the colony
had not won on the first chance, why not wager on the next?
As we have failed to secure a portion of the tide of Cuban emigration, we
ought the more earnestly to try to secure an influx of such Spanish sympathisers
as the triumph of the Cuban cause will drive away from Cuba, which will
then become an undesirable place of residence for them. If we but secure even
a few immigrants and if these succeed in raising a good crop of excellent
tobacco, a steady stream of immigrants would set in toward British Honduras.
The question is, can Cuban tobacco be grown in this Colony? To this the only
reply is, try it. There is no reason why British Honduras, being contiguous
to Mexico, should not grow the same class of tobacco Cubans are now
cultivating there. To the south of the Colony we have the same succession of
hills and valleys as are to be found in Mexico and to the north we have a
portion of country which is topographically and geologically a part of Yucatan.
What had been successfully done in the one country, therefore, ought to be as
successfully done in the other.69


An agent for these prospective immigrants was in Belize at that
time. He gave assurances that if indeed a few planters came and
were successful a large number would follow. Apparently those
first few did not come.60
The fact was that the British Honduras economy continued to
depend heavily on logwood and mahogany exports until the end of
the nineteenth century. Despite the endless talk about internal
development, the economy remained basically extractive and
narrow. The mahogany market suffered many reverses after 1865,
and one of the worst prevailed in the 189o's, seriously weakening
the colony's commerce. It was predicted in the Belize press in 1895
that if the logwood market should fail also, the colony's situation
would be desperate and a full-scale depression would ensue.1 By
1897 the logwood market had indeed failed, and the consequences
for British Honduras were as awful as predicted. The Guardian
argued that the time had passed when the colonial office and its
minions could view conditions in the colony passively. Laissez
fair must give way to moral obligation.
The Colony has now begun to traverse an industrial crisis such as British
Honduras has never faced before, and the Government appear to be the only
ones that do not realise its gravity. It may be said, "But it is not the function
of government to provide against such crises." As a general rule such a maxim
is correct, particularly when applied to self-governing and well developed and
organised communities; but such a maxim is not as applicable to an un-
developed community governed by the Crown. Paternal rule is as unlimited
in its duties as it is in its absolutism; and as fathers of children under age are
expected to provide for their well being, so Crown Government is bound to
make strenuous efforts to provide for the industrial well-being of the com-
munity whose interests are under its control. No government would-much less
Crown Government-be justified in sitting with folded hands whilst industrial
misery is approaching the governed with, perhaps, proletarian discontent and
the troubles that spring therefrom.02
To make the area of British Honduras a real colony instead of a
mere timber reserve surrounding the trading center called Belize, it
was necessary to develop agriculture. The basic requirements of
such development were capital investment and people living on
the land. Only a pioneering agricultural population could construct
the rudimentary transportation and communication facilities and
establish the township nuclei which would attract a greater
European immigration (after the Confederate emigrants had large-
ly passed on by) and more extensive capital investment. A govern-

Crisis and Depression, 1885-1900 93

ment-subsidized railroad was seen as the one possible shortcut to
transportation, communication, revenue, and attractiveness. Unable
to obtain a railroad, the colonial government made repeated efforts,
186o--1900, to attract immigrants, from as near as Guatemala and
as far as China. These efforts were generally unsatisfactory, the
most significant numerical group of immigrants coming unsought
from Yucatan.
Politically, the disastrous administration of Sir Roger Golds-
worthy was ineffective in developing the colony, and this failure
brought a political crisis. The alienation between government
house and the business community which resulted from Golds-
worthy's ineptitude reached a complete impasse during the consti-
tutional crisis from 1890 to 1892. The ostensible desire of Belize
leadership for representative government seemed to be genuine,
but it overlay a deeper desire that the colony should achieve eco-
nomic progress. Thus the colonists accepted an unofficial majority;
and as they slid into the pit of depression in the later 189o's, the cry
for self-government changed into a plaintive demand that if indeed
the colonists must endure paternalistic government, that govern-
ment should do for them what it would not let them do for them-
selves. The Colonial Office under Joseph Chamberlain tried to
meet this challenge with a new railroad proposal but had to face
the fact that British Honduras remained obscure and unimportant
in London.

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