Updated: View Site Map Site Map

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 represented by Governor-General Lord Hailes
Head of Government Prime Minister Grantley Herbert ADAMS

Established 3 January 1958

Disestablished 31 May 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)
West Indies Federation Map
Map of the territories of the West Indies Federation

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.

West Indian" nations The Bahamas, Bermuda, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, and Guyana opted not to join because they believed that their future lay with association with North America (for both the Bahamas and Bermuda), Central America, and the United States Virgin Islands. Guyana opted not to join at that time due to its ongoing political and internal struggles for independence from the UK, started in the 1950s.

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.

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.

Patrick George Thomas BUCHAN-HEPBURN, 1st Baron Hailes, Governor-General Sir Grantley Herbert ADAMS
Prime Minister

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 (251,776 votes to secede vs 216,371 to remain). 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 federation held all the trappings of nationhood, with a federal flag and coat of arms, parliament, civil service and judiciary. 

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.
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.
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.

Federal Elections

Two Federation-wide parties were organised as confederations of local political parties. Both were organised by Jamaican politicians: the West Indian Federation Labour Party (WIFLP) by Norman Manley, and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) 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.

The platforms for the two major national parties were similar in many respects. Both advocated maintaining and strengthening ties with the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada (countries with which the islands had strong cultural and economic links); encouraging and expanding tourism; working to bring British Guiana and British Honduras into the Federation and to obtain loans, financial aid, and technical assistance. Despite these similarities, there were differences. The WIFLP had advocated the encouragement of agriculture while the DLP had promised a climate favourable to both private industry and labour, development of human and economic resources. The WIFLP promised to encourage the Bahamas (in addition to British Guiana and British Honduras) to join the Federation, whereas the DLP did not. The WIFLP also campaigned to establish a central bank for the extension of credit resources and advocated a democratic socialist society and full internal self-government for all the unit territories, whilst avoiding the issues of freedom of movement and a customs union. The DLP said nothing about full internal self-government, attacked socialism, wished to avoid high taxation (via loans and technical aid) and emphasized West Indian unity, freedom of worship and speech, and encouragement of trade unions.

Federal elections were held on 25 March 1958. Preparation for the election began in 1957. As no Federal Laws were in existence, the laws in force in each constituent territory were used, as was permitted by Sub Section2 of Section 1 of the West Indies (Federation) Order in Council 1957 and Article 107 of the Constitution of the West Indies. Under these, the local legislation was adapted and modified to meet the needs of the Federal General Elction.

The House of Representatives

The WIFLP won the election, winning 26 seats while the DLP carried 19 seats. The bulk of the WIFLP seats came from the smaller islands while the DLP carried the majority in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. 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.

The Senate

In appointing the Senate, Governor-General Lord Hailes realized that only the St Vincent island government was DLP controlled and as a result the Senate was going to be disproportionately pro WIFLP. In a controversial decision, he contacted the opposition DLP groups in Jamaica and Trinidad, and appointed one DLP senator from each of those islands. Thus the Senate consisted of a total of 15 WIFLP members and 4 DLP members.

Territory Senators
Antigua Henry Darrell Carlton MOORE, Esq.
Mrs. Bertha HIGGINS
Barbados Sir Hampden Archibald CUKE, Esq., CBE
Dr. Arnott Samuel CATO
Dominica John Baptiste CHARLES, Esq
George Austin WINSTON, ESq
Grenada Theophilus Albert MARRYSHOW, Esq, CBE
John Byron RENWICK, Esq.
Jamaica Allan George Richard BYFIELD, Esq.
Douglas James JUDAH, Esq.
Montserrat James Henry Arnold MEADE, Esq.
St. Christopher, Nevis, and Anguilla James Winford LIBURD, Esq.
William A. SEATON, Esq.
St. Lucia Allen Montgomery LEWIS, Esq., QC
James Luc CHARLES, Esq.
St. Vincent Edward Alexander Clavier HUGHES, Esq.
Norbert Fitz-Allan Bryan DAVIS, Esq., OBE
Trinidad and Tobago Mrs. Margurite WYKE
Dr. Deonarayan Omah MAHARAJH

Council of State

The Council of State was 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). The Council of State included:

Post Office Holder
Prime Minister The Hon. Sir Grantley ADAMS, CMG, QC
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industries The Hon. Dr. Carl Donald George La CORBINIERE
Minister of Finance The Hon. Robert Llewellyn BRADSHAW
Minister of Communications and Works The Hon. Wilfred Andrew ROSE
Minister of Natural Resources and Agriculture The Hon. Frank Barrington RICKETTS
Minister of Labour Social Affairs The Hon. Mrs. Phyllis Byam Shand ALLFREY
Minister without Portfolio The Hon. Novelle Hamilton RICHARDS
Minister without Portfolio The Hon. Mr. Victor Bovell VAUGHAN
Minister without Portfolio Senator the Hon. Allan George Richard BYFIELD
Minister without Portfolio Senator the Hon. James Luc CHARLES
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Senator the Hon. James Winford LIBURD
Cabinet Secretary Fred PHILLIPS
Federal Cabinet
The Federal Cabinet
(Standing l-r: Victor Vaughan, Allan Byfield, James Liburd, Fred Phillips, Novelle Richards, James Charles. Seated l-r: Frank Ricketts, Phyllis Allfrey, Robert Bradshaw, Grantley Adams, Carl LaCorbiniere, Andrew Rose)

Federal Supreme Court

There was also a Federal Supreme Court consisting of a Chief Justice and three (later five) other Justices. The Federal Supreme Court itself was the successor to the West Indian Court of Appeal (established in 1919) and had jurisdiction over the same territories (Barbados, British Guiana, the Leeward Islands (including the British Virgin Islands), Trinidad & Tobago and the Windward Islands) in addition to Jamaica and its dependencies. Under the 1956 British Caribbean Federation Act though, the Federal Supreme Court did not have any jurisdiction over British Honduras, as the British Honduras (Court of Appeal) Act, 1881, (which allowed for appeals from the British Honduras Supreme Court to go the Privy Council or the Supreme Court of Jamaica) was repealed under it.


The federation's currency was the West Indies dollar (though Jamaica continued to use the pound), which was later succeeded by the East Caribbean dollar, the Barbadian dollar, and the Trinidad and Tobago dollar. Successor organisations included the West Indies Associated States and CARICOM.

The Federal Supreme Court would also be succeed by a British Caribbean Court of Appeal (1962–1966) and then a West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Court of Appeal and High Court) (1967–1980) and ultimately by an Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in 1981 for the OECS. More recently a Caribbean Court of Justice has been established which would also fulfill the role of the original Supreme Court if all members accede to the court's appellate jurisdiction.

Some see the West Indies cricket team as a legacy of the Federation, although the side was actually organised thirty years prior to the birth of the federation.

Another lasting regional fixture, officially created before the Federation, is the University of the West Indies. During the Federation, the University pursued a policy of regional expansion beyond the main Jamaica campus. Two other campuses were established: one in Trinidad and Tobago, established in 1960, and one in Barbados, established a short time after the Federation dissolved in 1963. Since 2004, the West Indies Federal Archives Centre has been located on the University's Cave Hill campus in Barbados.


Delegates of the West Indies Standing Federation Committee meet in Trinidad, 1957
Sitting (l-r): Hon. V.C. Bird (Antigua), Hon G.H. Adams (Barbados), HOn. F.A. BAron (Dominica), Hon. E.M. Gairy (Grenada), Hon. N.W Manley (Jamaica), Sir Stephen Luke (Chairman), Hon. W.H. Bramble (Montserrat), Hon. R.L. Bradshaw (St. Kitts), Hon. C.G.D. LaCorbinaire (St. Lucia), Hon. H.F. Young (St. Vincent), Hon. Dr. E. Williams (Trinidad)
Standing (l-r): Hon. E.H. Lake (Antigua), Hon. P.A. Cummings (British Guiana), Hon. J. Bully (Dominica), Hon. Dr. A.S. Cato (Barbados), Hon. F.A. Glasspole (Jamaica), Mr. J.S. Mordecai (Federal Secretary), Hon. R.B. Gajraj (British Guiana), Mr. L.N. Blanche-Fraser (Federal Financial Secretary), Hon. J. Alexander (Trinidad), Hon. R. Mapp (Barbados), Hon. J.L. Cundall (Jamaica), Mr. J.B. REnwick (Grenada), Hon. E.L.Allen (Jamaica), Hon. O.E. Henry (Montserrat), Mr. E.S.S. Burrowes (Barbados), Mr. W.P. D' Andrade (British Guiana), Mr. T. Hinkson (St. Lucia), Mr. S.s. Ramphal (British Guiana), Mr. V.H. McFarlans (Jamaica)

Lord Hailes takes the oath of office as Governor-General of the Federation of the West Indies. Handing over of the British flag, the Union Jack, after the opening of Federal Parliament - 1958 (Phot, UWI)
Federal Prime Minister Sir Grantley Adams, Dr. Eric Williams and Norman Manley. (Photo: UWI) Federation leaders after Hoisting of Federal flag after opening of Federal Parliament, 1956 (Photo, UWI)
British Caribbean Federation Conference. Lancaster House, London, 1956 (British Pathé) No sound Princess Opens New Parliament, 1958 (British Pathé)
The New Confederation Celebrates, 1958 (British Pathé)  
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)
Access resource West Indies Act, 1962
Access resource West Indies Act, 1967
Access resource West Indies Federation at the 1960 Roma Summer Games
West Indies Gazette. Vol 1. No. 16. Saturday, 12th April 1958. Retrieved from: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00076857/00018
West Indies Gazette. Vol 1. No. 18. Wednesday, 23rd April 1958. Retrieved from: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00076857/00016/1x?vo=12&vp=296,1536
Fact Check
We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, or if you would like to share additional information on the topic, kindly contact us!
How to Reference Our Site
To reference our site, please use the following as a general guideline.
APA: KnowledgeWalk Institute. (Date Published).Title of Web Page. Retrieved from (URL)
MLA: "Title of Web Page." caribbeanelections.com. KnowledgeWalk Institute, (date published). Web. Date Accessed.
Chicago: "Title of Web Page," KnowledgeWalk Institute, last modified (date), URL.
 TOPICS learn more
 Democracy and Citizenship
 Right to Vote
 Understanding Government
 Heads of Government
 Politics and the Electoral Process
 Democratic Electoral Systems
 Politics: The Basics
 Caribbean Political Parties
 Cost of an Election
 Choosing a Candidate
 Women in Politics
 Independence and Regional Integration
 Understanding Regional Integration
 West Indies Federation
 Independence in the Caribbean
 Caribbean Free Trade Area
 Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
 Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
 CARICOM Single Market and Economy
 Caribbean Court of Justice
 Heads of Government Conference
 Country Browser
 Reading Room
 Glossary of Election Terms
 Glossary of Budget Terms
 GENERAL TOPICS learn more
 Caribbean Constitutions
 Caribbean Studies
 Citizenship Education
 Free Trade Agreements
 Green Economy
 Global Election Sites
 Human Development Reports
 Human Rights
 International Development Reports
 International Politics
 Multilateral Agencies
 National Budgets
 National Heroes
 National Strategies & Policies
 Political Party Manifestos
 Regional and International Integration
 Throne Speeches
 Trade and Investment
Caribbean Elections
Caribbean Elections provides comprehensive information on the electoral process, politics, and citizenship in the Caribbean. The portal includes election data and resources for the public, teachers, students, and researchers.
Learn more about CE»
Visit KnowledgeWalk Institute © 2008-2018 KnowledgeWalk Institute. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Statement | Terms of Use  | Advertise With Us | About Us | Contact Us