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.
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 Lord Hailes of Britain and the Prime Minister was Sir Grantley Adams, (Premier of Barbados). The Federal capital was located in Trinidad and Tobago.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
|The West Indies Federal Archives Centre, Cave Hill Campus Archives|
|The West Indies Gazette (Unversity of Florida Digital Collection)|
|West Indies (Federation) Order in Council, 1957 (in Hansard)|