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This module provides an introduction and overview of the key aspects of the West Indies Federation.
Lesson Snapshot of the West Indies Federation
Lesson Establishment of the West Indies Federation
Lesson Leaders of the West Indies Federation
Lesson Brief History of the West Indies Federation
Lesson Symbols of the West Indies Federation
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Snapshot of the West Indies Federation
Motto To dwell together in unity
Anthem God Save the Queen
Capital Chaguaramas
Language(s) English
Government Constitutional monarchy
Head of State Queen Elizabeth II repreented by Governor-General Lord Hailes
Head of Government Prime Minister Grantley Herbert Adams

Established January 3, 1958; Disestablished May 31, 1962


1960 20,253 km² (7,820 sq mi)

1960 est. 3,117,300; Density 153.9 /km²  (398.6 /sq mi)

Currency BWI dollar (XBWD)
Establishment of the West Indies Federation

As part of its decision to push modified self-government, the British authorities encouraged the experiment in confederation. The idea had been discussed in the Colonial Office since the later nineteenth century, but it was brought to new life with a regional conference held at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1947. The British were interested in administrative efficiency and centralization.

Established in 1958, the West Indies Federation comprised the ten territories of: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, the then St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago. The Federation was established by the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956 with the aim of establishing a political union among its members.

Leaders of the West Indies Federation

The Federal government was headed by an Executive Governor-General, appointed by Britain and included:

  • A Prime Minister, elected from among and by the members of the House of Representatives
  • A Cabinet, comprising the Prime Minister and ten other elected Members chosen by him
  • A Council of State presided over by the Governor General. The Council included the Prime Minister and Members of the Cabinet as well as three senators and three civil servants. The senators and civil servants were chosen by the Governor General. (The Council of State was the principal policy (decision)-making body at the start of the Federation. In 1960 Britain agreed to abolish this Council and allow the Cabinet to take over the powers of the Council)
  • A forty five-member House of Representatives, with Members elected from among the Territories; and
  • A nineteen-member Senate, nominated by the Governor General following consultation with the Prime Minister

The Governor General was Patrick George Thomas Buchan-Hepburn, 1st Baron Hailes, GBE of Britain and the Prime Minister was Sir Grantley Adams, (Premier of Barbados). The Federal capital was located in Trinidad and Tobago.

Two Federation-wide parties were organised as confederations of local political parties. Both were organised by Jamaican politicians: the West Indian Federation Labour Party by Norman Manley, and the Democratic Labour Party by Alexander Bustamante. In broad terms, the WIFLP consisted of the urban-based parties throughout the Federation, while the DLP consisted of the rural-based parties Federal elections were held on March 25, 1958. The WIFLP won the majority of the votes in the Federal Parliament. Since neither Manley nor Bustamante had contested the Federal elections, Sir Grantley Adams became the Federal Prime Minister, while Ashford Sinanan was the (DLP) Leader of the Opposition.

Inauguration of West Indies Legislature
22 April 1958-Port of Spain, Trinidad-General view of the chamber during the Inauguration of the Federal Legislature of the West Indies. The ceremony, officiated by Princess Margaret, brought into formal being the newest member of the British Commonwealth, the West Indies Federation. Seated to the left of the Princess in this photo is Lord Hailes, Governor General of the Federation.
Brief History of the West Indies Federation (1958 - 1962)

During its brief existence (1958-62), a number of fundamental issues were debated with a view to strengthening the Federation. Among these were direct taxation by the Federal Government, Central planning for development, Establishment of a Regional Customs Union and Reform of the Federal Constitution. The issue of direct taxation was particularly controversial. The Federation was not permitted to levy (impose) income tax for at least the first five years of its life. Added to this, were the greatly differing positions among the Territories with respect to how other federal taxes should be levied.

In addition, the Federation began quickly to seek to establish federal institutions and supporting structures. It created a federal civil service; established the West Indies Shipping Service (in 1962) to operate two multipurpose ships - the Federal Maple and the Federal Palm - donated to it by the Government of Canada. It had embarked also on negotiations to acquire the subsidiary of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), namely British West Indies Airways (BWIA).

Cooperation in tertiary education was consolidated and expanded during this period. The West Indian Meteorological Services was established. The then University College of the West Indies (UCWI), which was established in 1948 with one campus at Mona, Jamaica, opened its second campus at St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1960. These new regional organizations joined others already in existence, such as the Caribbean Union of Teachers, established in 1935; the Associated Chambers of Commerce, organized in 1917; and the Caribbean Labour Congress, inaugurated in 1945.

The Federation however faced several problems. These included: the governance and administrative structures imposed by the British; disagreements among the territories over policies, particularly with respect to taxation and central planning; an unwillingness on the part of most Territorial Governments to give up power to the Federal Government; and the location of the Federal Capital.

The decisive development, which led to the demise of the Federation was the withdrawal of Jamaica - the largest member - after conducting a national referendum in 1961 on its continued participation in the arrangement. The results of the referendum showed majority support in favour of withdrawing from the Federation. This was to lead to a movement within Jamaica for national independence from Britain. It also led to the now famous statement of Dr Eric Williams, the then Premier of Trinidad and Tobago that, one from ten leaves nought, referring to the withdrawal of Jamaica and signifying and justifying his decision to withdraw Trinidad and Tobago from the Federal arrangement a short while later.

The Federation collapsed in January 1962.

In 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became the first Anglophone Caribbean countries to achieve independence. Barbados gained its independence in 1966; the Bahamas in 1973; Grenada in 1974; Dominica in 1978; St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979; Antigua and Barbuda in 1981; and St. KittsNevis in 1983. In late 1987, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands remained crown colonies with limited internal self-government. Anguilla, having broken away unilaterally from St. Kitts-Nevis in 1967, became an Associated State of Great Britain in 1976.

Symbols of the West Indies Federation
The Federal Flag
The flag of the West Indies Federation was used between 1958 and 1962. It bore four equally-spaced narrow white stripes with a large orange-gold disc over the middle two lines in the center of the flag, undulating horizontally across a blue field representing the Caribbean Sea and the sun shining upon the waves. The flag was originally designed by Edna Manley.
The Coat of Arms of the Federation
The coat of arms of the West Indies Federation was used between 1958 and 1962. The background of the shield bore four equally-spaced narrow white stripes with a ten orange-gold discs representing each island grouping, undulating horizontally across a blue field representing the Caribbean Sea and the sun shining upon the waves. A triangle is superimposed on the shield, and the shield is topped by a British lion. The scroll beneath proclaims To Dwell Together In Unity. The shield is supported on either side by the country's national bird, the pelican, with wings extended. Above this is a helmet topped with a flaming torch held by an upright arm. The torch signifies a beacon to light a path.
Federation Stamps
During the Federation's existence, each member continued to issue its own postage stamps as before; but on 22 April 1958, the members (except for the Cayman Islands) each issued a set of three commemorative stamps. All of these stamps used a common design depicting a map of the Caribbean and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, with an inscription at the top reading "THE WEST INDIES / FEDERATION 1958" at the top and the name of the member at the bottom.
Learn more about the West Indies Federation
Access resource The West Indies Federal Archives Centre, Cave Hill Campus Archives
Access resource The West Indies Gazette (Unversity of Florida Digital Collection)
Access resource West Indies (Federation) Order in Council, 1957 (in Hansard)
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