Visitors returning after the hurricane

Once reported in London’s Daily Telegraph and the world’s seventh least known holiday destination, Barbuda has now been put well on the map for all the wrong reasons - Hurricane Irma.

On the night of 6/7th September 2017, Hurricane Irma, a storm six times the diameter of the tiny 62 square mile island and just sizing up to be a Category 5 and one of the strongest ever to form in the Atlantic, made its first landfall on Barbuda.  In the words of the county’s Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Gaston Browne, Barbuda is totally destroyed,” he said. “At least 95% of the properties in Barbuda are either totally destroyed or damaged.” and the island was now “barely habitable,”.  In fact, the island was evacuated soon thereafter due partly to the treat of another hurricane, Jose and partly for safety and health reasons leaving the island uninhabited for the first time in more than 300 years.

Many visitors to Antigua were totally unaware that the country is actually Antigua & Barbuda and that the island of Barbuda, 27 miles north of Antigua, was joined to Antigua on independence from the United Kingdom in 1981.  There is a third, uninhabited island, Redonda, which makes up the nation state of Antigua & Barbuda.  Prior to independence, the U.K. Government had endeavoured to persuade Montserrat to join Antigua & Barbuda but Montserrat preferred to remain a dependent territory.

It had often been said that Barbuda was left to its inhabitants by the Codington family and that only a person born in Barbuda can own land on the island but, of course, that would not have been legally possible as the Codingtons only had a lease which was well expired.  However, previously myth or fact, the Barbuda Land Act of 2007 granted those rights to the residents of Barbuda although, in recent years, there have been discussions of amendments to this Act to allow economic development of the island.

In its history Barbuda has had a variety of names, many similar in style to Barbuda but was called 'Wa'omoni' by the Carib Indians and Dulcina by early English settlers.  There is evidence of occupation as far back as 3,500 years ago but is was sporadic and seasonal.

Early settlers, the Amerindians, were driven out by the more fearsome Caribs who were still in occupation at the time of the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

First English attempts to colonise Barbuda were carried out by Captain Smith and John Littleton from St. Kitts in 1625 under Letters Patent from the Earl of Carlisle but the attempts were resisted by the Carib inhabitants.  At about the time of the ‘Restoration’ in 1660, settlement by the English was finally successful and by 1666 the town of Codington was established and, in its time, boasted some fine houses and a castle (destroyed in an earthquake in 1843).  On 9th January 1685 Christopher Codington (one of several generations to hold that name) was granted a 50 year lease of the island by King Charles II.  It must have been one of the Sovereign’s last acts as he died less than a month later.

The ‘rent’, only payable on demand, was the princely sum of one fatted sheep per annum but, of course, the sheep was never intended to be delivered and was the equivalent of a peppercorn rent.

The lease was extended by Queen Anne only 30 years later on 5th June 1705 and on this occasion the term was 99 years.  It is known that a further lease was granted by George III for 50 years but the date of the lease does not seem to be recorded any where.  Assuming it was at the end of the 99 year lease, the new lease would have expired by 1854.  There does not seem to be any records of later leases.

As well as being land owners in England, the Codington family had substantial land holdings throughout the Caribbean including owning Betty’s Hope in Antigua which, with other holdings, comprised 850 acres, the largest sugar estate in the Caribbean.  During their tenure of Barbuda, the Codringtons bequeathed certain areas of Barbuda to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a slave owning body which was part of the Church of England.  These bequests were almost certainly illegal as the Codringtons only had a lease.

One time quiet getaway for Princess Diana, Barbuda’s K-Club fell into disrepair but plans to rebuild the resort were in place prior to the hurricane headed up by the actor/director Robert de Niro.  Mr de Niro has announced he intends to continue with his plans.

In view of the destruction from Irma, maybe an opportunity now exists to sensitively redevelop Barbuda to bring employment and income together with better infra-structure to the residents of Barbuda.

Although Barbuda has an airport capable of taking small aircraft, most visitors came by sea either by ferry, the Barbuda Express or one of the day trip boats operating out of St. John’s or by yacht anchoring off the west coast.  Barbuda will, as usual, feature in the 2019 RORC Caribbean 600 in February.

Famed for its large collection of wreaks due to the coral reefs to the south and east of the island, any approaches to Barbuda should be undertaken with caution until the affects of Irma on the seabed are better known.

Despite the hurricane which made some changes to the coastline, in particular, breaching the lagoon, Barbuda still retains its unique pink sand beaches.

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