Montserrat’s landscape is of mysterious and startling contrasts. Zoom in and discover the people, history and wildlife that make this island hum.
500 BC - 500 AD
The first Montserratians, "Tainos", lived in village settlements at Trants, Little Bay, Windward Bluff, Old Fort Point and Dagenham Beach. The pottery and tools of the Tainos can be found in Montserrat’s museum.
Columbus came across Montserrat after stops in Guadeloupe. He named it Montserrat in honour of the abbey of Montserrat in Spain. The Tainos however called it Alliougana which means "land of the prickly bush."
Thomas Warner, who had made a settlement in St Kitts in 1624, started the Montserrat settlement. He and his followers left St Kitts to freely practise Catholicism. At the time, the main religion in England was Anglican.
The first governor, Anthony Brisket, an Irishman, went to England to get money to build an Anglican church to emphasize that Montserrat was British. It is believed that Governor Brisket gave his name to the island's first church St. Anthony's since there is no saint called Anthony. St. Anthony's ruins are in the hidden town of Plymouth.
Slaves first came to Montserrat, brought by an Irish trader with the English Guinea Company. Africans did not become the largest group until around the beginning of the 18th century, when the island’s economy depended upon sugar.
Battle of Runaway Ghaut. At Runaway Ghaut, with about 400 men, George Wyke and Edward Parson defended the island against 3,500 Frenchmen, while residents ran to the hills for safety.
Olaudah Equiano was born in Nigeria. He was sold into slavery at age 11, and renamed Gustavus Vassa. His last master Robert King of Philadelphia had him work from Montserrat as a sailor and trader between the Caribbean and North America. Equiano saved enough money to buy his freedom in 1766. He returned to England and helped the abolition movement through his book "The Interesting Narrative". The book detailed to British citizens for the first time the cruelty under which slaves were forced to live in the British colonies.
Irishmen formed the majority of the white population in the days of sugar and slavery. However, it was the slaves who made the day famous for Montserrat. They planned a rebellion for that day, expecting their Celtic and English masters to be holding a big celebration. It was thwarted when overheard by a white seamstress. Nine leaders were put to death.
Emancipation was declared for the 6,401 slaves on island. The number of slaves on the island had started out as 523 in 1672, and had risen to 10,000 in 1774. These numbers decreased as the sugar industry declined.
Total freedom was granted to the slaves. After the Emancipation law passed in 1834, apprenticeship was put in place where ex-slaves continued to work but for little pay. Because planters continued to mistreat workers, apprenticeship ended in 1838 instead of 1840 as intended.
Englishmen Francis Burke and Edmund Sturge introduced limes as a crop on Woodlands Estate.
What would become Montserrat’s largest landowner and enterprise, the Montserrat Company, was formed by investment partners and descendants of Joseph Sturge IV. Sturge, a Quaker, purchased the Bransby sugar estate with the intention of demonstrating sugar production using free, wage-earning labour. At its peak, the company owned over 4,000 acres across various estates.
Sea Island Cotton was the largest economic driver for the island. Grown on 2,000 acres, it produced 402,000 pounds of lint. Peak production happened in 1941, when 5,395 acres yielded 1.2 million pounds of lint. However, the back-breaking labour required to grow it, the inability for small growers to make a profit from it and pests eventually led to the demise of the industry in the 1950s.
Robert William "Marse Bob" Griffith was elected as Deputy Commissioner and official delegate to Britain, the first leadership position assigned to a black Montserratian. He formed the island's first trade union, organised 39 estates and 1,800 weekly-paid estate labourers and share-croppers.
Black Montserratians without land and wealth were allowed to vote, as long as they were over the age of 21. Sixteen years earlier, Montserratians were allowed to vote but had to be literate, earn an income of 30 pounds a year, and own property worth a minimum of 100 pounds.
William Henry Bramble won leadership from Griffith. Through strikes and argument, he obtained better wages for cotton workers. Bramble formed Montserrat's first political party - the Montserrat Labour Party - and was the first Chief Minister of the country. He served from January 1960 to December 1970. .
John Alfred Osborne won elections and went on to win two consecutive terms before being defeated in 1991. He re-entered and won elections in 2001, serving as Chief Minister until 2006. He remains the island's longest serving politician.
Sir George Martin built the ultimate get-away-from-it-all recording studio. AIR Studios Montserrat offered all of the technical facilities of its London predecessor, but with the advantages of an exotic location. For more than a decade, AIR Studios played host to classic recording sessions by famous rock musicians, including Dire Straits, The Police, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. Only ruins of the studio remain following the island-wide destruction by Hurricane Hugo.
Arrow's Hot Hot Hot recording was the signature song of the Notting Hill carnival in west London. The song, which repeatedly played on sound systems and pirate radio stations, became a mainstay of dance clubs all over the world. It reached its greatest audience when it was chosen as the official anthem of the 1986 World Cup, held in Mexico. Hot Hot Hot is estimated to have sold more than four million copies in various versions. Arrow recorded more than 20 albums and in 2000 was awarded the MBE for services to Caribbean music. He died in 2009.
Hurricane Hugo was the strongest hurricane to hit Montserrat. At 165 mph, it destroyed nearly all buildings on the island. Twenty-foot waves in the harbor of Plymouth destroyed the 180-foot stone jetty, and heavy rains of up to seven inches created mudslides. Ten people were killed on Montserrat, 89 injured, and 3,000 rendered homeless. Electric, water, and telephone service were disrupted for weeks, necessitating massive relief efforts from the U.S. and British governments, as well as from the Montserratian Diaspora.
After more than 300 years of quiet, the Soufrière Hills Volcano came back to life on 18 July 1995. The initial activity consisted of steam coming from a vent on the flank of an old lava dome, which was audible in nearby villages. As time passed, more vents became active and explosions generated ashfall in Plymouth. By November 1995, it was clear that a new lava dome was being built.
Pyroclastic flows from an explosion on 25 June 1997 resulted in the deaths of 19 people. A further 75 explosions occurred between 22 September and 21 October. A lateral blast occurred on 26 December 1997. About 60 million cubic meters of dome and crater wall travelled to the south as debris avalanches and pyroclastic flows.
Minister Bertrand Osborne resigned. Royal Navy Vessel, the HMS Liverpool, evacuated Montserratians to other islands, including Antigua and Guadeloupe. In the end, about 7,000 people, or two-thirds of the population left the island; 4,000 of them to the UK.
Prince William was part of a hurricane disaster rescue exercise during his attachment with the Royal Navy. The rehearsal's aim was to test the Navy's preparedness should a category five storm hit Montserrat. Prince Willian was involved in the planning and was a member of the forward command team.
The most recent activity occurred on 11 February 2010 when a series of explosions and pyroclastic flows culminated in a partial collapse of the lava dome. This left a horseshoe-shaped crater on the north flank of the Soufrière Hills Volcano. There were at least two explosions and several pyroclastic flows causing extensive damage to buildings in Harris and Cork Hill. Since then, there have been only fumaroles and some ash venting.
The MVO lowered the hazard level of the volcano, re-opening unlimited access to Cork Hill, Delvins, Weekes, Foxes Bay and Richmond Hill. The Plymouth and St George's area however are still restricted. Police permission is required for entrance.
For additional information on Montserrat's History, visit Montserrat National Trust.