The Bahamas consist almost entirely of aeolian deposits (cf. Bermudas) and coral reefs. The aeolian deposits, which form the greater part of the islands, frequently rise in rounded hills and ridges to a height of 100 or 200 ft., and in Cat Island nearly 400 ft. They vary in texture from a fine-grained compact oolite to a coarse-grained rock composed of angular or rounded fragments, and they commonly exhibit strongly marked false bedding. The material is largely calcareous, and has probably been derived from the disintegration of the reefs, and from the shells of animals living in the shallows. When freshly exposed the rock is soft, but by the action of rain and sea it becomes covered with a hard crust. The surface is often remarkably honeycombed, and the rock weathers into pinnacles, pillars and arches of extraordinary shapes. On the island of Andros there is an extremely fine white marl almost resembling a chalky ooze. The coral reefs are of especial interest from their bearing on the general question of the formation of coral reefs.
The scenery of the islands is picturesque, gaining beauty from the fine colouring of the sea and the rich vegetation. Nassau is a winter health-resort for many visitors from the United States and Canada. The town lies on a safe harbour on the north shore of New Providence, sheltered by the small Hog Island. There is a depth of 14 ft. at low-water spring-tide on the bar. The town extends along the shore, and up a slightly elevated ridge behind it. It contains the principal public buildings, and some interesting old forts, dating from the middle and close of the 18th century, though the subterranean works below Fort Charlotte are attributed to an earlier period. From the same century dates the octagonal building which, formerly a gaol, now contains a good public library. The sea-bathing is excellent. The months of February and March are the principal season for visitors. There is direct connexion with New York by steamers, which make the journey in about four days; and there is also connexion with Miami in Florida.
The climate of the Bahamas adds to their attractions. The mean temperature of the hottest months (June to September) is 88° F., and that of the coldest (January to March) 66°. In a series of observations of winds about one half have been found to indicate a direction from north-east or east. Hurricanes occur from July to October, and May to October are reckoned as the rainy months. The rainfall recorded in 1901 at Nassau amounted to 63.32 in. Where a mantle of soil covers the rock it is generally thin but very fertile. A well-defined area in New Providence is known as the "pine barrens," from the tree which principally grows in this rocky soil. Elsewhere three types of soil are distinguished - a black soil, of decayed vegetable matter, where the land is under forest, a reddish clay, and a white soil occurring along the shores. Andros Island and the Abaco Islands may be specially noted for their profusion of large timber, including mahogany, mastic, lignum vitae, iron and bullet woods, and many others. Unfortunately the want both of labour and of roads renders it impossible to turn much of this valuable timber to useful account, although attempts have been made to work it in Abaco. The fruits and spices of the Bahamas are very numerous, the fruit equalling any in the world.
The produce of the islands includes tamarinds, olives, oranges, lemons, limes, citrons, pomegranates, pine-apples, figs, sapodillas, bananas, sour-sops, melons, yams, potatoes, gourds, cucumbers, pepper, cassava, prickly pears, sugar-cane, ginger, coffee, indigo, Guinea corn and pease. Tobacco and cascarilla bark also flourish; and cotton is indigenous and was woven into cloth by the aborigines. But although oranges, pine-apples and some other fruits form important articles of commerce, it is only rarely that systematic and thorough methods of cultivation are prosecuted. Cotton has been found to suffer much from insect pests. Sisal is grown in increasing quantity. The Bahamas are far poorer in their fauna than in their flora. It is said that the aborigines had a breed of dogs which did not bark, and a small coney is also mentioned. The guana also is indigenous to the islands. Oxen, sheep, horses and other live-stock introduced from Europe thrive well, but little attention is paid to stock-rearing. There are many varieties of birds to be found in the woods of the Bahamas; they include flamingoes and the beautiful hummingbird, as well as wild geese, ducks, pigeons, hawks, green parrots and doves.
The waters of the Bahamas swarm with fish; the turtle procured here is particularly fine, and the sponge fishery is of importance. In some islands there are rich salt ponds, but their working has decreased. The portion of Nassau harbour known as the Sea Gardens exhibits an extraordinarily beautiful development of marine organisms.
Government, Trade, &c. - The colony of the Bahamas is under a British governor, who is assisted by an executive council of nine members, partly official, partly unofficial; and by a legislative council of nine members nominated by the crown. There is also a legislative assembly of 29 members, representing 15 electoral districts; the franchise being extended to white and coloured men of 21 years of age at least, resident in the colony for not less than twelve months, and possessing land of a value of £5 or more, or being householders for six months at a rental not less than £2:18s. in New Providence, or £1:4s. in other islands. The members' qualification is the possession of real or personal estate to the value of £200. The average annual revenue and expenditure may be set down at about £75,000, expenditure somewhat exceeding revenue. There is a public debt of about £105,000. The average annual value of imports is somewhat over £300,000, and of exports £200,000. The average annual tonnage of shipping, entering and clearing, exceeds 1,000,000. The government supports elementary free schools, controlled by a nominated board of education, while committees partly elected exercise local supervision.
There are higher schools and a Queen's College in Nassau. Nassau is the seat of a bishopric of the Church of England created in 1861. The Bahamas are without railways, but there are good roads in New Providence, and a few elsewhere. A cable connects Nassau with West Jupiter in Florida.