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H.M.S. Experiment 1757 by Benjamin E. Palacio, Seine Bight Village WebMaster and Garifuna Historian

Caribs were loaded aboard The H.M.S. EXPERIMENT, by Benjamin Palacio,

Caribs were first taken from St. Vincent to the
small island of Balliceaux, then to that of Bequia, both in
the Grenadines.  At Bequia they were loaded aboard H.M.S. EXPERIMENT
under the command of Captain Barrett, and then shipped to Roatan.  They were
landed on Roatan on a stormy day of February 25, 1797 )


The Great story of the Caribs to Garinagu begins in the early 1600's on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves floundered and sank off the coast of St. Vincent. The slaves that survived and swam ashore found shelter in the existing Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, the two peoples intermixed, intermarried and eventually fused into a single culture, the Black Caribs or Garinagu.

By 1773, the Black Carib was the dominant population of St. Vincent. But, European politics began to exert its influence throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars between the French and British on St. Vincent culminated in a final battle on June 10th, 1796, where the French and their Carib allies where forced to surrender and leave the island. Thus would start a journey by the exiled Caribs in search of a home. The British deposited the Caribs on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Shortly after, the entire marooned population migrated to the mainland of Honduras and allied with the Spanish in the fortress town of Trujillo. Unfortunately, a brief civil war in 1832 found the Caribs on the wrong side and once again many were forced to flee to neighboring British Honduras.

The archives at Belize record a Major Caulfield in command of Roatan as early as 1745.  On August 2nd of that year, the Major wrote a letter to a Mr. Trelawry, Govenor of Jamaica, describing Spanish harassment of English settlements (Archives, vol. I: 15).  These settlements appear to have been well established on the island of Roatan by 1775.  A map of that year, drawn by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to His Majesty, Clearly shows essentially all of the present older settlements, bearing their current names, with the exception of Calkett's Hole (now Coxen's Hole) and Falmouth Harbour (now Oak Ridge).

The Spanish, as soon as the early dawn provided enough light, directed a well-coordinated attack against the English at Port Royal on the early morning of March, 2nd 1782. "After a heavy cannonade, detachments of the troops landed and opened regular trenches against the forts, which were so closely invested and hotly pressed that on the 16th of the month they surrendered at discretion. The lives of the defenders were spared, but all their dwellings, to the number of 500, were destroyed" ( quoted by Squier in 1858: 616-617).


Six years later, in 1788, England completely evacuated all of her settlements in the Bay Islands as well as on the Miskito Shore.  The islands then lay deserted of Europeans for almost fifteen years until 1797, when the English removed by force some 5,000 "Black Caribs" (a mixture of African Negro and Carib and Arawak Indians) from the Windward Island of St. Vincent, and marooned them on the then empty beaches of Port Royal on Roatan (Squier 1858:172 and Taylor 1951: 36).   Conzemius tells us that these unhappy GARINAGU people were first taken from St. Vincent to the small island of Balliceaux, then to that of Bequia, both in the Grenadines.  At Bequia they were loaded aboard H.M.S. EXPERIMENT under the command of Captain Barrett, and then shipped to Roatan.  They were landed on Roatan on a stormy day of February 25, 1797 (Conzemius 1928: 189). 

According to the Honduran historian, Duran, the British employed two men-of-war and a brigantine, landing the deportees in April, not February, in 1797 (Dur?n 1927:99).  Research both in Belize and in Berkeley indicates that this landing was indeed in the winter months, and most likely February.   The History of the Garifuna, as well as the history of their most famous dance, "La Punta", seems to spiral outward from this day, whatever month it was in.


Except for these "Black Carib" now known as the Garifuna, and a few Spanish attempts to settle colonists from Spain and exiles native to the Canary Islands, the Bay Islands remained unoccupied for almost thirty more years (Parsons 1956: 9), until in 1821, the newly-founded Central American Federation claimed the Bay Islands, and declared the independent of Spain.  No serious attempts were made to settle them, however, or to protect them from encroachment by other powers.


We next hear of British interest in 1825, when a Mr. Marshall Bennett, on a visit from Honduras to England, wrote a letter to the Colonial Office.   He stressed the great strategic importance of possible

British settlements on Roatan, at that time being claimed by Guatemala. Bennett felt the latter, not being a maritime nation, presumably did not regard the islands of any great importance.  No immediate action followed this letter, and we know the Bay Islands were still unoccupied by Europeans when visited by Roberts in 1827 (Roberts 1827: 276).


At some time between 1827 and 1834, English settlers began arriving on the island of Roatan.  A memorandum, drafted in Belize, dated November 24th, 1834, noted that at this time the islands of Roatan and Bonacca (Guanaja) were inhabited by 50 people only, mostly English (Archivesm, Vol. II: 361).

HMSexperiment1757

According to tradition, the first Garinagu arrived in then British Honduras on November 19th, 1802. This day is now a national holiday in Belize celebrated with drums, dancing and pageantry. Today, there is one town in Toledo - Punta Gorda - that is considered a Garifuna town, and two Garifuna villages - Barranco (the oldest Garifuna settlement in Belize) and tiny Punta Negra.

1997 the Black Carib culture known, as the Garifuna were reminded of their ancestors? resilient struggle to overcome the brutal racism put forth by the European settlers in the New World.  This day marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Garifuna on the shores of Central America after being forcibly removed by the British from the island of St. Vincent located in the Caribbean.  Though this culpable relocation of their entire culture by the British was meant to circumscribe the Garifuna, they have survived like members of their ancestry did when they were enslaved and brought from Africa during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Today the Garifuna populations can be found in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and many have migrated to the United States.  The Garifuna, also known as the Garinagu, are direct descendants of the ?Island Caribs? and a group of African slaves who escaped two ship-wrecked Spanish slave ships near St. Vincent in 1635(Garinagu Early History, 1).


At a convention held in Guatemala on April 30th, 1859, England, under a great deal of pressure from the United States, agreed to surrender the Bay Islands and the Miskito Coast of both Honduras and

Nicaragua, if allowed complete freedom of action in the territory known at that time and until recently as British Honduras, now independent since 1974 and known as Belize.  On July 9, 1860, in a message to the Superintendent at Belize, the British Consul at Comayagua (Honduras), acknowledged receipt of a dispatch informing him that the Colony of the Bay Islands were to be ceded to the Republic of Honduras.  In this same letter, however, he asks that this be delayed on the request of the Honduran government, because General William Walker, the American Filibuster, intended to take possession of the islands and use them for operations against the mainland.  [ The islanders were alarmed about this, and one can read a copy of the letter they themselves wrote to Queen Victoria at the Museum at Anthony's Key in the IMS building, Roatan.  Many of the names of families still on the island were attached to this letter.  Its worth your while to drop into the museum and read it].   {see Roatan Activities for details}

On July 14th, 1860, the Government Gazette of Belize ran a notice that the Colony of the Bay Islands had been ceded to the Republic of Honduras, and noted that an offer was included to island inhabitants of free grants of Crown Land, as well as transport of any movable property to any of Her Majesty's Colonies in the British West Indies.  There is no evidence that any Bay Islanders took up the Queen's offer.


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