Montserrat was visited in 1493 by Columbus and colonized by the English and Irish in 1632. After changing hands several times between France and Britain, it was ceded to Great Britain in 1783. The island was a member of the former Leeward Islands colony and of the Federation of the West Indies. It has had internal self-government since 1960. In 1995 the Soufrière Hills Volcano, which had not erupted in historical times, began a series of devastating eruptions that destroyed most of S Montserrat, including the capital and the main port. The majority of the population was evacuated, and more than half the island's land area was rendered uninhabitable. Periodic hurricanes can cause extensive damage to the island.
See biography by R. Pullen and S. Taylor (1995).
Montserrat is British overseas territory located in the Leeward Islands, part of the chain of islands called the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. It measures approximately 16 km (10 miles) long and 11 km (7 miles) wide, giving of coastline. Montserrat was given its name by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, after its namesake located in Catalonia. Montserrat is often referred to as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, due both to its resemblance to coastal Ireland and to the Irish descent of most of its early European settlers.
Its Georgian era capital city of Plymouth was destroyed and two-thirds of the island's population forced to flee abroad by an eruption of the previously dormant Soufriere Hills volcano that began on July 18, 1995. The eruption continues today on a much reduced scale, the damage being confined to the areas around Plymouth including its docking facilities and the former W.H. Bramble Airport. An exclusion zone extending from the south coast of the island north to parts of the Belham Valley has been closed because of an increase in the size of the existing volcanic dome. This zone includes St. George's Hill which provided visitors with a spectacular view of the volcano and the destruction it has wrought upon the capital. A new airport at Gerald's in the northern part of the island opened in 2005. The village of Brades currently serves as the de facto centre of government.
In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Montserrat was briefly captured by France. It was returned to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Paris which ended that conflict. A failed slave uprising on 17 March 1798 led to Montserrat later becoming one of only four places in the world that celebrates St Patrick's Day as a public or bank holiday (the others being the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador). Slavery was finally abolished in Montserrat in 1834, presumably as a result of the general emancipation of slaves within the British Empire in that same year.
Falling sugar prices during the nineteenth century had an adverse effect on the island's economy and in 1869 the philanthropist Joseph Sturge of Birmingham formed the Montserrat Company to buy sugar estates that were no longer economically viable. The company planted limes starting production of the island's famous lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island, with the result that much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.
With the completion of Beatles producer George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat in 1979, the island attracted world-famous musicians who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.
The last several years of the 20th century, however, brought two events which devastated the island. In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Montserrat with full force, damaging over 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist trade upon which the island depended was nearly wiped out. Within a few years, however, the island had recovered considerably—only to be struck again by disaster.
In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano, dormant throughout recorded history, rumbled to life and began an eruption which eventually buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern half of the island uninhabitable. This forced more than half of the population to flee the island because they lacked housing. After a period of regular eruptive events during the late 1990s including one on June 25, 1997 in which 19 people lost their lives, the volcano's activity in recent years has been confined mostly to infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south. However, this ash venting does occasionally extend into the populated areas of the northern and western parts of the island. As an example, on May 20, 2006, the lava dome that had been slowly building collapsed, resulting in an ashfall of about an inch (2.5 cm) in Old Towne and parts of Olveston. There were no injuries or significant property damage.
Long referred to as "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" for both its Irish heritage and its resemblance to coastal Ireland, Montserrat today remains lush and green. A new airport, opened officially by the Princess Royal Princess Anne in February 2005, received its first commercial flights on July 11, 2005, and docking facilities are in place at Little Bay where a new capital is being constructed out of reach of any further volcanic activity.
The people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom in 1998, and citizenship was granted in 2002.
Montserrat is divided into three parishes:
The island of Montserrat is located approximately 480 km (300 miles) east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km (30 miles) southwest of Antigua. It comprises only 104 km² (40 square miles) and is increasing gradually owing to volcanic deposits on the southeast coast of the island; it is 16 km (10 miles) long and 11 km (7 miles) wide, with dramatic rock faced cliffs rising 15 to 30 m (50-100 feet) above the sea and smooth bottomed sandy beaches scattered among coves on the west side of the island. Montserrat has been a quiet haven of extraordinary scenic beauty.
Montserrat has two islets: Little Redonda and Virgin.
The Soufrière Hills or Montserrat volcano is an active complex stratovolcano with many lava domes forming its summit on the island. After a long period of dormancy it became active in 1995, and eruptions have continued up to the present. The last major eruption was in July 2003.
Note: an estimated 8,000 refugees left the island following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995; few have returned. Pre-eruption population was 13,000 in 1994.
Population growth rate: 4.5% (2003 est.)
Birth rate: 17.57 births/1,000 population (2003 est.)
Death rate: 7.34 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.)
Net migration rate: 195.35 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
Life expectancy at birth:
Total fertility rate: 1.8 children born/woman (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS—adult prevalence rate: NA%
HIV/AIDS—people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
Ethnic groups: black, white—mainly of mixed Irish and African descent
Religions: Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, other Christian denominations
Cricket is a popular sport in Montserrat. Although not many players from Montserrat have played for West Indies they are in fact eligible to play for the West Indies cricket team. Jim Allen was the first to play for West Indies and he represented the World Series Cricket West Indians. No other player from Montserrat has gone on to represent West Indies.
Montserrat has its own FIFA Affiliated Football Team, and has twice competed in the World Cup qualifiers. A field for the team was built near the airport by FIFA. The Montserrat team are currently tied for 199th place in the FIFA world rankings with eight other teams, including American Samoa and Guam. In 2002, the team competed in a friendly with the second-lowest-ranked team in FIFA at that time, Bhutan, in The Other Final- the same day as the final of the 2002 World Cup. Bhutan won 4-0.