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The Commonwealth


Caribbean and Americas

Did you know:

Sir Garfield Sobers, born in Bridgetown in July 1936, was the Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World in 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1970, achieving 8,032 runs and 235 wickets in 93 Test matches.

Austin Ardinel Chesterfield Clarke, born in St James,

Barbados, in July 1934, won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize with his tenth published novel, The Polished Hoe.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1966
Population: 285,000 (2013)
GDP: 0.9% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 59
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 4hr
Currency: Barbados dollar (Bds$)


Area: 431 sq km
Coastline: 97km
Capital city: Bridgetown
Population density (per sq. km): 661

Barbados, the most easterly of the Caribbean islands, lies south of St Lucia, east of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and north of Trinidad and Tobago.

Main towns:

Bridgetown (capital and only seaport, pop. 94,200 in 2010), Speightstown (2,400), Bathsheba (1,600), Holetown (1,500) and Oistins (1,500); extensive spread of hotels and apartments along the coast.


A good road network of 1,600km (virtually all paved) covers the entire island, with a trans-insular highway from Bridgetown to the east coast.

Bridgetown is a deep-water port with a cruiseship terminal and yacht harbour.

Grantley Adams International Airport is 13km east of Bridgetown.

International relations:

Barbados is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


Barbados is a comparatively flat island, rising in a series of terraced tablelands to Mount Hillaby at 336m. The northeast (Scotland area) is broken, eroded and rocky. The rest of the island is coral limestone crossed with deep river-bed gullies which fill with water during heavy rain. There are no permanent rivers. On the east coast, much of the shoreline is rocky, pounded by a strong surf; elsewhere, natural coral reefs surround turquoise seas and beaches of white sand.


Mild subtropical. In the December-June dry season cooling north-east trade winds blow steadily; the wet season is humid and hotter, but the climate is generally pleasant even then, thanks to sea-breezes. The island is on the southern edge of the West Indian hurricane zone.


The most significant environmental issues are pollution of coastal waters from waste disposal by ships; soil erosion; and the threatened contamination of the underground water supply by illegal disposal of solid waste.


Vestiges of indigenous forest cover 19 per cent of the land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2011. Sugar cane and food crops predominate in rural areas. There is a rich diversity of tropical flowers and flowering trees.


Natural wildlife has largely been displaced by sugar cane but the Barbados Wildlife Reserve was established in 1985 in the Scotland district, its 1.6 hectares of mature mahogany trees being the home of the Barbados green monkey and the red-footed Barbados tortoise.


Prehistoric Barbados is believed to have been inhabited by cave-dwellers of the Siboney culture, from Florida. At an unknown later time, Arawaks arrived from South America. The latter were agriculturists, and excellent weavers and potters. They survived invasions and raids by the warlike Caribs (also from South America), which took place before the 1490s. By the early 1500s, Spanish and Portuguese sailors had sighted the island. It was invaded in 1518 by Spanish colonists from Hispaniola. No Spanish settlement was made, as there appeared to be no mineral resources, but the island acquired a Spanish name – Barbados (or ‘bearded’), apparently a reference to local fig trees. By 1536 the island was deserted, either because the slavers had depopulated it or because the remaining inhabitants had fled.

In 1625 it was formally claimed for King James I of England. In 1627 English immigrants settled there and King Charles I granted a Barbados patent to Lord Carlisle; after 1660, this patent was surrendered to the Crown and a 4.5 per cent duty on exports levied, which, bitterly resented, was levied until 1838. Between 1627 and 1640, the island was settled by British colonists, who brought with them indentured labour from Britain and some enslaved Africans, to produce tobacco, cotton and indigo. The introduction of sugar in the 1650s had led to the development of large plantations, and by 1685 the population was around 50,000, consisting mainly of African slaves.

By the end of the 18th century, Barbados had 745 plantations worked by more than 80,000 African and African-descended slaves. Harsh working conditions led to slave revolts in 1702 and 1816. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833–34.

Barbados had a house of assembly since 1639 but, due to the property qualifications for the franchise, this was dominated by

plantation owners until the franchise began to be widened in 1944. Universal adult suffrage followed in 1951, a full ministerial system in 1954, and cabinet government in 1958.

The Barbados Labour Party (BLP), which developed out of the trade unions, was set up under the leadership of Grantley Adams, and began working for economic improvement and the extension of political rights. The BLP, led first by Adams, and after 1958 by Dr Hugh Cummins, gained a majority in the House of Assembly between 1944 and 1961. In 1955 a split in the BLP led to the formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), led by Errol Barrow, who won the 1962 elections.

Thus, by 1957, Barbados had virtual self-government under a democratic system, a status formally recognised in 1961. Barbados had been a member of the Federation of the West Indies, set up in 1958. When the Federation was dissolved in 1962, the Barbados Government announced its intention to seek independence separately. Arrangements were agreed at a constitutional conference in London, and Barbados became an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth on 30 November 1966.

The DLP was in power from 1966 to 1976, and the BLP from 1976 to 1986, led by Tom Adams, Sir Grantley Adams’s son. In 1986 the DLP, still led by Errol Barrow, won a decisive election victory, maintaining its majority in the 1991 elections. This was despite a breakaway movement by DLP dissidents who formed a new National Democratic Party (NDP) but failed to win any seats in the 1991 elections. Erskine Sandiford became Prime Minister in June 1987 after the death of Barrow. Sandiford and the DLP were ousted in September 1994 by the BLP led by Owen Arthur. The BLP won 19 seats (48.3 per cent of the vote), the DLP eight and NDP one.

The Story of Barbados Economic & Social Transformation

From Bussa to Barrow--Barbados History from 1816 to 1966

Learn more about Barbados on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

by Endlich, F. M.

Barbados Handbook
By Central Intelligence Agency (1971) (pdf)

Hints to young Barbados-planters
by Reece, Robert (1857) (pdf)

The History of Barbados
Comprising a Geographical and Statistical Description of the Island by Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1848) (pdf)

Stark's history and guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands
by Stark, James Henry (1893) (pdf)

A true & exact history of the island of Barbados
Illustrated with a map of the island, as also the principall trees and plants there, set forth in their due proportions and shapes, drawne out by their severall and respective scales : together with the ingenio that makes the sugar, with the plots of the severall houses, roomes, and other places, that are used in the whole processe of sugar-making ... : all cut in copper
by Ligon, Richard; Ogilby (1661) (pdf)

Barbados destination guide - Virgin Atlantic

Focus on Barbados

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

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