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In this section * * * * *
Migration to the Caribbean*   Information on Migrant Groups*   
Migration to the UK*   General Sources of Migration Information*   
Migration Outside the UK*   information relating to Overseas Migration*   

With the exception of a minority of indigenous Caribbean *Amerindians, the majority of Caribbean people are immigrants. Caribbean people are also a migratory people and have settled elsewhere such as South, Central and North America as well as Britain.

This section describes records for the study of Caribbean migration both to and from the Caribbean.

*Migration to the Caribbean*top of page

St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica
St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica, before the First World War.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (RGS) S0005181
There were three main categories of migrants:

Merchants, adventurers, economic migrants (e.g. indentured servants, East Indian labourers, Portuguese from Madeira, post-1834 African labourers and discharged soldiers and sailors
African slaves and transported criminals
Displaced Persons
Liberated Africans (freed from illegal slave traders), Fugitive Slaves, refugees (such as American Loyalists. Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal, and French and Spanish monarchists and others caught up in the frequent wars)
Click the link for more Information on Migrant Groups* mentioned above.

*Migration to the UK*top of page

Since the first British settlements in the Caribbean people have returned or migrated to Britain. However, it was not until 1948, with the arrival of the Empire Windrush, that large numbers migrated to the UK.

This can be demonstrated from a Home Office report in 1963, which summarised New Commonwealth Migration and uses census returns, 1891-1951 for people born in the Caribbean:

1891 8,689
1901 8,680
1911 9,189
1921 9,054
1931 8,585 (there was no census in 1941)
1951 15,301
1961 171,800

(source Walvin, Passage to Britain (Penguin Books, 1984))

Passenger List from the Empire Windrush
A section of the passenger list for the Empire Windrush, which departed from Trinidad for Britain in June 1948.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) BT 26/1237/9409
The primary sources to use are:

  • Passenger ListsFrom the Caribbean to the UK. There are very few inwards passenger lists to the UK before 1890 although it is possible that outwards passenger lists or emigration lists may survive in Caribbean archives
  • Passports Until the First World War very few migrants needed passports.
  • Naturalisation Records Until 1962 Britain's colonial subjects were also British subjects and did not need to naturalise. Under the 1948 Nationality Act, people from the self-governing Commonwealth, for example Canada and Australia, could register as Citizens of the UK and Colonies. This was extended to include the colonies under the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act.
Click here for General Sources of Migration Information* regarding the primary sources listed above.

The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act also restricted free migration to the UK from the Commonwealth and colonies, except for students, visitors and dependants. People who did not have a passport issued in the UK or were not registered as Citizens of the UK and Colonies had to first obtain labour vouchers from the Ministry of Labour in order to be granted entry. There were three categories of vouchers:

Receipt for passage to England from Jamaica
Receipt for payment by Thomas Hinds for his journey to England by boat from Jamaica in 1955.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (WM) LDWAN/Loan 4
For those with a definite offer of a job
For those who held certain professional qualifications or skills
A general category of vouchers issued in order of application, with priority given to those with war service
A selection of vouchers issued to Commonwealth subjects, including rejected, returned or unused vouchers are in National Archives series LAB 42 and LAB 48.

The 1962 act also allowed for the first time for colonial subjects to be deported; for example, HO 372/29, 1962-63 contains recommendations for deportations, and HO 344/73, 1962-63, contains cases of colonial deportations.

*Migration Outside the UK*top of page

West Indians have not only migrated to Britain but to other British colonies and Commonwealth countries as well as to foreign countries, especially in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Before the 19th century merchants and adventurers moved with their servants and slaves to settle in new British colonies. For example, people from St Christopher moved to Nevis and the other Leeward Islands and Barbados as they became British, and Barbadians settled in South Carolina and Jamaica in the 17th century.

From 1834 with the abolition of slavery, there were much larger movements of people who migrated for land and work, especially from the more populated countries, such as Barbados and Jamaica, to less populated countries like Guyana and Trinidad. British West Indians also left their countries for non-British countries in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, such as Costa Rica, Cuba and Panama. For example, in the 1850s many West Indians worked on the trans-isthmian railway in Panama, and between the 1880s and 1914 more than 100,000 left to work on the Panama Canal. However, the USA and Canada received the largest numbers of West Indians for education, employment and to buy land.

Information relating to emigration, immigration, recruitment schemes, deportation, welfare, relief, distressed British subjects, West Indian relations, overseas births, marriages and deaths of British subjects, criminal activities and working conditions is to be found in the archives and departments of the countries of emigration and immigration. The following link provides more information relating to Overseas Migration*. However, some information can be found in the records of the Colonial Office (for migrants to British colonies), Commonwealth Office (for migrants to Commonwealth countries) and Foreign Office (for migrants to non-British countries) in the National Archives.

Creators: Guy Grannum

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