Bahamas (Lucayos), an archipelago of the British West Indies. It is estimated to consist of 29 islands, 661 cays and 2387 rocks, and extends along a line from Florida on the northwest to Haiti on the south-east, between Cuba and the open Atlantic, over a distance of about 630 m., from 80° 50′ to 72° 50′ W., and 22° 25′ to 26° 40′ N. The total land area is estimated at 5450 sq. m., of which the main islands occupy 4424 sq. m., and the population was 43,521 in 1881 and 53,735 in 1901. Some 12,000 of these are whites, the remainder coloured. The main islands and groups, beginning from the north-west, are as follows: Little and Great Abaco, with Great Bahama to the west; Eleuthera (a name probably corrupted from the Spanish Isla de Tierra), Cat, Watling, or Guanahani, and Rum Cay on the outer line towards the open ocean, with New Providence, the Exuma chain and Long Island forming an inner line to the west, and still farther west Andros (named from Sir Edmund Andros, governor of Massachusetts, etc., at the close of the 17th century; often spoken of as one island, but actually divided into several by narrow straits); and finally the Crooked Islands, Mayaguana and Inagua. The Turks and Caicos islands continue the outer line, and belong geographically to the archipelago, but not politically.
The surrounding seas are shallow for the most part, but there are three well-defined channels - the Florida or New Bahama channel, between the north-western islands and Florida, followed by the Gulf Stream, the Providence channels (north-east and north-west) from which a depression known as the Tongue of Ocean extends southward along the east side of Andros, and the Old Bahama channel, between the archipelago and Cuba. The Andros islands have a length of 95 m. and an area of 1600 sq. m.; Great Abaco is 70 m. long and its area is 680 sq. m.; Great Inagua is 34 m. long with an area of 530 sq. m., and Grand Bahama 66 m., with an area of 430 sq. m. But the most important island, as containing the capital, Nassau, is New Providence, which is only 19⅜ m. in length, with an area of 85 sq. m. This island supported a population in 1901 of 12,534. In point of population the next most important island is Eleuthera (8733), followed by the Andros Islands (5347) and Cat Island (4658). The Abaco and Exuma groups and Long Island each support populations exceeding 3000, and there are smaller populations on Grand Bahama, the Crooked Islands, Inagua, Mayaguana, Watling, Rum Cay and the Biminis, though these last, which are two very small north-western islands, are relatively densely populated with 545 persons.
The islands are of coral formation and low-lying. The rock on the surface is as hard as flint, but underneath it gradually softens and furnishes an admirable stone for building which can be sawn into blocks of any size, hardening on exposure to the atmosphere. The highest hill in the whole range of the islands (in Cat Island) is only 400 ft. high. It is a remarkable fact that, except in the island of Andros, no streams of running water are to be found in the whole group. The inhabitants derive their water supply from wells. As a result of the porosity of the rock, many of the wells feel the influence of the sea and exhibit an ebb and flow. There is an extensive swampy lagoon in Eleuthera, the water of which is fresh or nearly so; and brackish lagoons also occur, as in Watling Island. An artificial lake in New Providence, constructed for the use of the turtle-catchers, is noted as exhibiting an extraordinary degree of phosphorescence. A remarkable natural phenomenon is that of the so-called "banana holes," which frequently occur in the limestone. Their formation has been attributed to the effect of rotting vegetation on the rock, but without certainty. These holes are of various depths up to about 40 ft., and of curiously regular form.
The Mermaid's Pool in New Providence, which is deeper still, is partly filled with water.