Religion And Education

The churches represented are Roman Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan, Baptist and Presbyterian; but none of them receives assistance from public funds. The bishopric of British Honduras is part of the West Indian province of the Church of England. Almost all the schools, secondary as well as primary, are denominational. School fees are charged, and grants-in-aid are made to elementary schools. Most of these, since 1894, have been under the control of a board, on which the religious bodies managing the schools are represented.


The Belize volunteer light infantry corps, raised in 1897, consists of about 200 officers and men; a mounted section, numbering about 40, was created in 1904. For the whole colony, the police Dumber about 120. There is also a volunteer fire brigade of 335 officers and men.


"His Majesty's Settlement in the Bay of Honduras," as the territory was formerly styled in official documents, owes, its origin, in 1638, to log-wood cutters who had formerly been buccaneers. These were afterwards joined by agents of the Chartered Company which exploited the pearl fisheries of the Mosquito coast. Although thus industriously occupied, the settlers so far retained their old habits as to make frequent descents on the logwood establishments of the Spaniards, whose attempts to expel them were generally successfully resisted. The most formidable of these was made by the Spaniards in April 1754, when, in consequence of the difficulty of approaching the position from the sea, an expedition, consisting of 1500 men, was organized inland at the town of Peten. As it neared the coast, it was met by 250 British, and completely routed. The log-wood cutters were not again disturbed for a number of years, and their position had become so well established that, in the treaty of 1763 with Spain, Great Britain, while agreeing to demolish "all fortifications which English subjects had erected in the Bay of Honduras," insisted on a clause in favour of the cutters of logwood, that "they or their Workmen were not to be disturbed or molested, under any pretext whatever, in their said places of cutting and loading logwood." Strengthened by the recognition of the crown, the British settlers made fresh encroachments on Spanish territory.

The Spaniards, asserting that they were engaged in smuggling and other illicit practices, organized a large force, and on the 15th of September 1779, suddenly attacked and destroyed the establishment at Belize, taking the inhabitants prisoners to Mérida in Yucatan, and afterwards to Havana, where most of them died, The survivors were liberated in 1782, and allowed to go to Jamaica. In 1783 they returned with many new adventurers, and were soon engaged in cutting woods. On the 3rd of September in that year a new treaty was signed between Great Britain and Spain, in which it was expressly agreed that his Britannic Majesty's subjects should have "the right of cutting, loading, and carrying away logwood in the district lying between the river Wallis or Belize and Rio Hondo, taking the course of these two rivers for unalterable boundaries." These concessions "were not to be considered as derogating from the rights of sovereignty of the king of Spain" over the district in question, where all the English dispersed in the Spanish territories were to concentrate themselves within eighteen months.

This did not prove a satisfactory arrangement; for in 1786 a new treaty was concluded, in which the king of Spain made an additional grant of territory, embracing the area between the rivers Sibun or Jabon and Belize. But these extended limits were coupled with still more rigid restrictions. It is not to be supposed that a population composed of so lawless a set of men was remarkably exact in its observance of the treaty. They seem to have greatly annoyed their Spanish neighbours, who eagerly availed themselves of the breaking out of war between the two countries in 1796 to concert a formidable attack on Belize. They concentrated a force of 2000 men at Campeachy, which, under the command of General O'Neill, set sail in thirteen vessels for Belize, and arrived on the 10th of July, 1798. The settlers, aided by the British sloop of war "Merlin," had strongly fortified a small island in the harbour, called St George's Cay. They maintained a determined resistance against the Spanish forces, which were obliged to retire to Campeachy. This was the last attempt to dislodge the British.

The defeat of the Spanish attempt of 1798 has been adduced as an act of conquest, thereby permanently establishing British sovereignty. But those who take this view overlook the important fact that, in 1814, by a new treaty with Spain, the provisions of the earlier treaty were revived. They forget also that for many years the British government never laid claim to any rights acquired in virtue of the successful defence; for so late as 1817-1819 the acts of parliament relating to Belize always refer to it as "a settlement, for certain purposes, under the protection of His Majesty." After Central America had attained its independence (1819-1822) Great Britain secured its position by incorporating the provisions of the treaty of 1786 in a new treaty with Mexico (1826), and in the drafts of treaties with New Granada (1825) and the United States of Central America (1831). The territories between the Belize and Sarstoon rivers were claimed by the British in 1836. The subsequent peaceful progress of the country under British rule; the exception of Belize from that provision of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (q.v.) of 1850 which forbade Great Britain and the United States to fortify or colonize any point on the Central American mainland; and the settlement of the boundary disputes with Guatemala in 1859, finally confirmed the legal sovereignty of Great Britain over the whole colony, including the territories claimed in 1836. The Bay Islands were recognized as part of the republic of Honduras in 1859. Between 1849, when the Indians beyond the Hondo rose against their Mexican rulers, and 1901, when they were finally subjugated, rebel bands occasionally attacked the northern and north-western marches of the colony.

The last serious raid was foiled in 1872.


For all statistical matter relating to the colony, see the annual reports to the British Colonial Office (London). For the progress of exploration, see A Narrative of a Journey across the unexplored Portion of British Honduras, by H. Fowler (Belize, 1879); and "An Expedition to the Cockscomb Mountains," by J. Bellamy, in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. xi. (London, 1889). A good general description is given in the Handbook of British Honduras, by L.W. Bristowe and P.B. Wright (Edinburgh, 1892); and the local history is recounted in the History of British Honduras, by A.R. Gibbs (London, 1883); in Notes on Central America, by E.J. Squier (New York, 1855); and in Belize or British Honduras, a paper read before the Society of Arts by Chief Justice Temple (London, 1847).

(K. G. J.)