British Honduras, Or Balize, a British colony occupying the extreme N. E. corner of Central America, and lying between lat. 15° 54' and 18° 30' N., and Ion. 88° and 90° 30' W. It is bounded N. W. and N. by Yucatan, E. by the bay of Honduras, and S. and S. W. by Guatemala; area, about 13,500 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, 24,710. The people are mainly negroes, the descendants of slaves, with some Caribs springing from refugees from San Vicente, who first established themselves on the northern coast of Honduras, and after the independence of that republic settled in Balize. There are some other Indians in the colony, originally from Yucatan; but of the aboriginal tribes, traces of whose handiwork still exist in the tumuli called by the mahogany cutters "Indian hills," none are now to be found anywhere E. of the Chama range of mountains. Balize, the capital and the only town of importance, has a population of about 6,000, which at Christmas time, however, owing to the mahogany trade, increases to about 15,000. The surface of the country is very irregular, though none of the mountains attain a greater elevation than 4,000 ft. The coast is generally low and swampy, and the shore is studded with islets or keys, clothed with a dense arboreal vegetation.
These keys, while they serve as a natural breakwater and so afford secure refuge for ships save when northers prevail, render the approach difficult. The country on receding from the coast completely changes its aspect, rising into low hills separated by delightful valleys; and in the south are several parallel ridges, the highest of which are the Cockscomb mountains. The rocks are principally primary and calcareous. Gold has been discovered in the streams; valuable specimens of crystals have been found; and strata of fine marble and alabaster formations are known to exist. - Of the rivers, the Hondo, forming the northern boundary with Yucatan, is the longest; it rises in or near Lake Gumustan in Vera Paz, and has a generally N. E. course of perhaps 250 m. to its mouth on the Caribbean shore. The Balize rises in the same region, holds a N. E. by E. course of about 200 m., and discharges into the Caribbean sea by one mouth at the town of the same name, which it divides into two portions, and by another 3 1/2 m. N. Laboring creek, a branch of this river, about 100 m. inland, is remarkable for the petrifying properties of its waters, which have a cathartic effect upon strangers, and a healing property when applied to ulcers.
New river, between and parallel to the two first mentioned, is also a fine stream, issuing from an extensive lagoon. About 85 m. S. of Balize is the river Manatee, which one mile from its mouth spreads into a magnificent sheet of water, several leagues in extent; the pictu-resqueness of the scenery surrounding this lagoon is greatly enhanced by the mountains of the same name, rising on its southern margin to a height of 1,000 ft. The Sibun, a short distance N. of the Manatee, is like that remarkable for rapids of considerable acclivity, as also for a series of singular and beautiful caves excavated by the waters. Still further S. a half dozen other streams of minor proportions hurry by short courses to the sea. The climate, though generally mild, is said to be unfavorable to Europeans; the heat rarely exceeds 83° F., and the annual mean is considerably less than this at Balize and along the whole coast, where tempering eastern breezes prevail nine months in the year. During the wet season from June to October heavy rains are frequent, and the malaria arising from the decomposition of organic matter in the lowlands renders this period unhealthy. The soil in most parts is very fertile. In this respect the country is distinguished into two divisions, the pine and the Cahoum ridges.
The subsoil in the first is composed of a loose reddish sand, peculiarly genial to the pine from which it takes its name, and similar productions; and extensive prairies also cover this soil. In the Cahoum ridge the soil consists of a rich deep loam, suitable for every species of European and many species of tropical food plants; brushwood grows thickly here, and the wild cotton and other large trees abound. Bice and arrowroot are cultivated to a limited extent, maize thrives well, yams and manioc are largely produced, and there is a great variety of spontaneous tropical fruits. Sugar, coffee, cotton, and indigo are comparatively neglected, in spite of the suitableness of the soil for their culture. Tobacco culture has proved remunerative, and the quality of the plant is little inferior to that of the finest Cuban. The want of adequate capital and labor prevents the extension of agricultural industry. A company was formed about 18G5, with a considerable capital, for the production of sugar; but their efforts have not been very successful. The great staple of export is mahogany, the felling of which constitutes the main industry of the inhabitants, who float the logs down the rivers, and bring them for sale to Balize at Christmas time.
As many as 10,000,000 ft. of the wood have been exported in a single year. Logwood, next in importance after mahogany, is found in immense quantities; and the cahoum palm, from the nut of which is extracted an excellent oil for exportation, likewise abounds, especially in the Cahoum ridge. The pinus occidentalis, growing to a height of 60 ft., is valuable for its tar and turpentine. The fauna of this territory is exactly similar to that of Honduras. - The articles exported are mainly mahogany, logwood, and other dyestuffs, sugar unrefined, coffee, raw cotton, and India rubber. The value of exports to Great Britain for five years was: 1868, $703,600; 1869, $946,050; 1870, $480,110; 1871, $780,185; 1872, $879,-090. The imports from the same country in the same period were as follows: 1868, $668,-775; 1869, $634,130; 1870, $801,280; 1871, $829,385; 1872, $737,960. A curious article of export is the queen conch shell, abundant on the coral reefs which fringe the coast; 12,000 of these were sent in one year to Paris, to be worked into cameo brooches, shirt studs, etc. The total value of the exports and imports in 1871 was $1,856,845. Internal communication is here hindered by the same difficutties as in the neighboring states.
The revenue in 1872 amounted to $193,595; and the public debt in the same year was reduced to $112,050. The colony contributes about 825,000 toward defraying an expense of $66,820 incurred annually by the mother country for maintaining a military station here. Education is little attended to, and the few schools have but a small attendance. The government of British Honduras has been administered by a lieutenant governor since May, 1862, when the settlement was raised to the rank of a colony. The governor is appointed by the crown. The legislative power is vested in a council composed of seven magistrates elected annually by the people. - Little is known of the early settlement of this coast. It seems to have been resorted to occasionally by wood cutters in the 16th century. Some British subjects, attracted by the abundance and excellence of the mahogany and logwood, came from Jamaica and made the first permanent settlement; and this throve so rapidly that the immigrants were soon followed by a large number of others, who extended their explorations as far W. as Campeachy, in the vicinity of which town they established some colonies. After many unsuccessful efforts by the Spaniards to drive out the intruders, these were at last compelled to retreat within the present limits of the territory.
In 1754 an invading expedition of 1,500 Spaniards was defeated by a small body of English settlers; another attack was made in 1779, and the inhabitants were obliged to flee to Merida and Havana, where many of them died in captivity. By 1783 the settlement was again prospering, and the people, after repeated altercations with their Spanish neighbors, on July 10, 1798, repulsed a formidable attack made by a fleet of vessels and a land force of 2,000 men. Since that time the country has remained in tranquillity as a British possession, having been specially excepted from the treaty between England and the United States, June 29, 1850, by which the two powers mutually agreed "not to occupy, fortify, or colonize any part of Central America."