Motto: "A people of excellence, moulded by nature, nurtured by God"
Location of Montserrat (circled in red)
in the Caribbean (light yellow)
Topographic map of Montserrat showing the "exclusion zone" due to volcanic activity, and the new airport in the north. The roads and settlements in the exclusion zone have mostly been destroyed.
|Status||British Overseas Territory|
|Government||Parliamentary dependency under constitutional monarchy|
• Responsible Ministerb (UK)
|Baroness Anelay of St Johns|
• English control established
|102 km2 (39 sq mi) (219th)|
• Water (%)
• 2012 estimate
|44/km2 (114.0/sq mi) (153rd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2014 estimate|
|US$63 million  (not ranked)|
• Per capita
|US$12,384 (not ranked)|
|Currency||East Caribbean dollar (XCD)|
|Drives on the||left|
|Calling code||+1 664|
|ISO 3166 code||MS|
Montserrat (//) is a Caribbean island—specifically in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the British West Indies. It is a British Overseas Territory (BOT). Montserrat measures approximately 16 km (10 mi) long and 11 km (7 mi) wide, with approximately 40 km (25 mi) of coastline. Montserrat is nicknamed The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants.
On 18 July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active. Eruptions destroyed Montserrat's Georgian era capital city of Plymouth. Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom. The volcanic activity continues, mostly affecting the vicinity of Plymouth, including its docking facilities, and the eastern side of the island around the former W. H. Bramble Airport, the remnants of which were buried by flows from volcanic activity on 11 February 2010.
An exclusion zone that extends from the south coast of the island north to parts of the Belham Valley was imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity. Visitors are generally not permitted entry into the exclusion zone, but an impressive view of the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay. Relatively quiet since early 2010, the volcano continues to be closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. It is the most studied volcano in the world and Montserrat is regarded as a 'Modern Day Pompeii' in the Caribbean. Montserrat is also home to the Montserrat Yachting Association. In 2016, a well pad became ready for drilling of third geothermal well in Montserrat.
A new town and port is being developed at Little Bay, which is on the northwest coast of the island. While this construction proceeds, the centre of government and businesses rests at Brades.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa Maria de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, on Montserrat mountain, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. "Montserrat" means "serrated mountain" in Catalan.
Archaeological field work in 2012, in Montserrat's Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP. Later coastal sites show the presence of the Saladoid culture.
A number of Irishmen settled in Montserrat in 1642. The preponderance of Irish in the first wave of European settlers led a leading legal scholar to remark that a "nice question" is whether the original settlers took with them the law of the Kingdom of Ireland insofar as it differed from the law of the Kingdom of England. The island was captured by the French in 1666. It was captured shortly afterwards by the English and English control of the island was confirmed under the Treaty of Breda the following year. Despite the interruption to English rule, the island's legal status is that of a colony acquired by settlement.
A neo-feudal colony developed amongst the "redlegs".[better source needed] The colonists began to transport Sub-Saharan African slaves for labour, as was common to most Caribbean islands. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations manned by slave labour. By the late 18th century, numerous plantations had been developed on the island. Many Irish continued to be transported to the island, to work as indentured servants; some were exiled during the English Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom. The people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick's Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. Festivities held that week commemorate the culture of Montserrat in song, dance, food and traditional costumes.
In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, France briefly captured Montserrat after supporting the American rebels. The French returned the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended that conflict.
The Irish constituted the largest proportion of the white population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured labourers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes”.
African slaves and Irish colonists of all classes were in constant contact, with sexual relationships being common and a population of mixed descent appearing as a consequence. The Irish were also prominent in Caribbean commerce, with their merchants importing Irish goods such as beef, pork, butter and herring, and also importing slaves.
There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:
There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the twentieth century.
In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labour rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.
From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962.
In 1979, The Beatles producer George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat opened. The island attracted world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat. The last decade of the twentieth century, however, brought two events that devastated the island.
In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 297 kilometres per hour (185 mph). It damaged more than 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, and even more severely, six years later by volcanic activity that started in 1995.
The island of Montserrat is approximately 480 km (300 mi) east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km (30 mi) southwest of Antigua. The island lies north-northwest of Suriname and French Guiana (France). It comprises 104 km2 (40 sq mi) and is gradually increasing owing to the buildup of volcanic deposits on the southeast coast. The island is 16 km (9.9 mi) long and 11 km (6.8 mi) wide, with rock cliffs rising 15 to 30 m (49 to 98 ft) above the sea and a number of smooth bottomed sandy beaches scattered among coves on the western (Caribbean) side of the island.
In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufrière Hills volcano, dormant for centuries, erupted and soon buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than 12 metres (39 ft) of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern part of the island, now termed the exclusion zone, uninhabitable and not safe for travel. The southern part of the island was evacuated and visits are severely restricted. The exclusion zone also includes two sea areas adjacent to the land areas of most volcanic activity.
After the destruction of Plymouth and disruption of the economy, more than half of the population left the island, which also lacked housing. During the late 1990s, additional eruptions occurred. On 25 June 1997, a pyroclastic flow travelled down Mosquito Ghaut. This pyroclastic surge could not be restrained by the ghaut and spilled out of it, killing 19 people who were in the (officially evacuated) Streatham village area. Several others in the area suffered severe burns.
For a number of years in the early 2000s, the volcano's activity consisted mostly of infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south. The ash falls occasionally extended into the northern and western parts of the island. In the most recent period of increased activity at the Soufrière Hills volcano, from November 2009 through February 2010, ash vented and there was a vulcanian explosion that sent pyroclastic flows down several sides of the mountain. Travel into parts of the exclusion zone is occasionally allowed, though only by a licence from the Royal Montserrat Police Force.
The northern part of Montserrat has barely been affected by volcanic activity, and remains lush and green. In February 2005, The Princess Royal officially opened what is now called the John A. Osborne Airport in the north. Since 2011, it handles several flights daily operated by Fly Montserrat Airways. Docking facilities are in place at Little Bay, where the new capital town is being constructed; the new government centre is at Brades, a short distance away.
In recognition of the disaster, in 1998, the people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom, allowing them to migrate if they chose. British citizenship was granted in 2002.
Montserrat, like many isolated islands, is home to some exceptionally rare plant and animal species. Work undertaken by the Montserrat National Trust in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has centred on the conservation of pribby (Rondeletia buxifolia) in the Centre Hills region. Until 2006, this species was known only from one book about the vegetation of Montserrat. In 2006, conservationists also rescued several plants of the endangered Montserrat orchid (Epidendrum montserratense) from dead trees on the island and installed them in the security of the island's botanic garden.
Montserrat is also home to the critically endangered Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax), known locally as the Mountain Chicken, found only in Montserrat and Dominica. The species has undergone catastrophic declines due to the amphibian disease Chytridiomycosis and the volcanic eruption in 1997. Experts from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have been working with the Montserrat Department of Environment to conserve the frog in-situ in a project called "Saving the Mountain Chicken", and an ex-situ captive breeding population has been set up in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Zoological Society of London, North of England Zoological Society, Parken Zoo and the Governments of Montserrat and Dominica. Releases from this programme have already taken place in a hope to increase the numbers of the frog and reduce extinction risk from Chytridiomycosis.
The national bird is the endemic Montserrat oriole (Icterus oberi),. The IUCN Red List classifies it as Critically Endangered. Captive populations are held in several zoos in the UK including: Chester Zoo, Zoological Society of London, Jersey Zoo and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
The Montserrat galliwasp, (Diploglossus montisserrati), a type of lizard, is endemic to Montserrat and is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. A species action plan has been developed for this species.
In 2005, a biodiversity assessment for the Centre Hills was conducted. To support the work of local conservationists, a team of international partners including: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Montana State University, carried out extensive surveys and collected biological data. Researchers from Montana State University found that the invertebrate fauna was particularly rich on the island. The report found that the number of invertebrate species known to occur in Montserrat is 1,241. The number of known beetle species is 718 species from 63 families. It is estimated that 120 invertebrates are endemic to Montserrat.
Montserrat is known for its coral reefs and its caves along the shore. These caves house many species of bats, and efforts are underway to monitor and protect the ten species of bats from extinction.
From 1979 to 1989, Montserrat was home to a branch of George Martin's AIR Studios, making the island popular with musicians who often went there to record while taking advantage of the island's climate and beautiful surroundings; the studio closed as a result of Hurricane Hugo.
Since the devastations of Hurricane Hugo and the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, the Montserratian economy has been effectively halted. Export businesses based in Montserrat deal primarily in the selling and shipping of aggregate for construction. Imports include virtually everything available for sale on the island.
The island's operating budget is largely supplied by the British government and administered through the Department for International Development (DFID) amounting to approximately £25 million per year. Additional amounts are secured through income and property taxes, licence and other fees as well as customs duties levied on imported goods.
The electricity sector of Montserrat supplies 1.7 MW of power, produced by five diesel generators. Two exploratory geothermal wells have found good resources and a third well and geothermal plant are planned to begin construction in 2016. Together the wells by themselves will produce more power than the island consumes.
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As a British Overseas Territory (BOT), defence of Montserrat remains the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Montserrat is one of four of the remaining fourteen BOTs that maintains its own military unit, the Royal Montserrat Defence Force. There is also a cadet corps for secondary school students.
The island had a population of 5,879 (according to a 2008 estimate). An estimated 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995; the population was 13,000 in 1994. The 2011 Montserrat census indicated a population of 4,922. In early 2016, the estimated population had reached nearly 5000 primarily due to immigration from other islands.
The median age of the population was 28.1 as of 2002 and the sex ratio was 0.96 males/female as of 2000.
The population growth rate is 6.9% (2008 est.), with a birth rate of 17.57 births/1,000 population, death rate of 7.34 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.), and net migration rate of 195.35/1,000 population (2000 est.) There is an infant mortality rate of 7.77 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.). The life expectancy at birth is 78.36 years: 76.24 for males and 80.59 for females (2003 est.). The total fertility rate is 1.8 children born/woman (2003 est.).
Residents of Montserrat are known as Montserratians. The population consists of a number of ethnic groups, including Black (88.4%), White, Dual Heritage and Creole. The island's population is mainly a mix of Irish and Africans with other minorities.
The population is predominantly, but not exclusively, of mixed African-Irish descent. It is not known with certainty how many African slaves and indentured Irish labourers were brought to the West Indies, though according to one estimate some 60,000 Irish were "Barbadosed" by Oliver Cromwell, some of whom would have arrived in Montserrat.
Education in Montserrat is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 14, and free up to the age of 17.
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In 1977, Sir George Martin fell in love with Montserrat and decided to build the ultimate get-away-from-it-all recording studio. Opened in 1979, AIR Studios Montserrat offered all of the technical facilities of its London predecessor, but with the advantages of an exotic location.
For more than a decade, AIR Montserrat played host to classic recording sessions by a who’s who of rock, including Dire Straits, Phil Collins, The Police, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sheena Easton, Ultravox, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath and Eric Clapton.
Then, in 1989, disaster struck when Montserrat was dealt a devastating blow by Hurricane Hugo which destroyed 90% of the island’s structures and brought the studio’s glittering story to an abrupt end.
After the eruption, until his death in 2016, George Martin raised funds to help the victims and families on the island. The first event was a star-studded event at London’s Royal Albert Hall featuring many artists who had previously recorded on the island including Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Sting, Eric Clapton and Midge Ure. All the proceeds from the show went towards short-term relief for the islanders. Martin’s second major initiative was to release five hundred limited edition lithographs of his score for the Beatles song "Yesterday". Complete with mistakes and tea stains the lithographs are numbered and signed by Paul McCartney and Martin.
The lithograph sale raised more than US$1.4 million which helped fund the building of a new cultural and community centre for Montserrat and provided a much needed focal point to help the re-generation of the island. Many albums of note were recorded at AIR Studios, including Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms; Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the Police's Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity (the video for "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" was filmed in Montserrat, but the song ironically was the only one on Ghost in the Machine not recorded there), and Jimmy Buffett's Volcano (named for Soufrière Hills). After sustaining severe damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the studio is now a ruin. Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) recorded the song "Montserrat" off "The Secret Language of Birds" in tribute to the volcanic difficulties and feeling among residents of being abandoned by the UK government.
Montserrat has one national radio station, ZJB. The station offers a wide selection of music and news within the island and also on the internet for Montserratians living overseas.
Notable shows include the Morning Show with Basil Chambers and the Sadie Mac show on Saturday afternoons. DJ Sadie Mac is also famous for presenting 'Sadie's Fit Tips' on the Morning Show which open with "Good Morning Basil, Good Morning Montserrat...".
Montserrat’s national dish is Goat water, a thick goat meat stew served with crusty bread rolls. Montserrat cuisine resembles the general British and Caribbean cuisines, as it is situated in the Caribbean zone and it is a British territory. The cuisine includes a wide range of light meats, like fish, seafood and chicken, which are mostly grilled or roasted. Being a fusion of numerous cultures, such as Spanish, French, African, Indian and Amerindian, the Caribbean cuisine is unique and complex. More sophisticated meals include the Montserrat jerk shrimp, with rum, cinnamon bananas and cranberry. In other more rural areas, people prefer to eat homemade food, like the traditional mahi mahi and local breads.
Cricket is a popular sport in Montserrat. Players from Montserrat are 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 had gone on to represent West Indies until Lionel Baker made his One Day International debut against Pakistan in November 2008.
The Montserrat cricket team forms a part of the Leeward Islands cricket team in regional domestic cricket, however it plays as a separate entity in minor regional matches, as well having previously played Twenty20 cricket in the Stanford 20/20. Two grounds on the island have held first-class matches for the Leeward Islands, the first and most historic was Sturge Park in Plymouth, which had been in use since the 1920s. This was destroyed in 1997, by the volcanic eruption. A new ground, the Salem Oval, was constructed and opened in 2000. This has also held first-class cricket. A second ground has been constructed at Little Bay.
Surfing was introduced by two American brothers in 1980, Carrll and Gary Robilotta. They were also responsible for naming the surfing spots on the island. Carrll wrote for the surfing newsletter The Surf Report, which was used by surfers around the globe. They both made Montserrat their home for 12 years.
Montserrat has its own FIFA affiliated football team, and has competed in the World Cup qualifiers five times but failed to advance to the finals from 2002 to 2018. A field for the team was built near the airport by FIFA. In 2002, the team competed in a friendly match 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. Montserrat has failed to qualify for any FIFA World Cup. They have also failed to ever qualify for the Gold Cup and Caribbean Cup. The current national team relies mostly on the diaspora in England and in the last WCQ against Curaçao nearly all their squad played and lived in England.
Basketball is growing in popularity in Montserrat with Montserrat now setting up their own basketball league. The league contains six teams these are the Look-Out Shooters, Davy Hill Ras Valley, Cudjoe Head Renegades, St. Peters Hilltop, Salem Jammers and MSS School Warriors. They have also built a new 800 seater complex which cost 1.5 million
Montserrat is divided into three parishes:
The locations of settlements on the island have been vastly changed since the volcanic activity began. Only Saint Peter Parish in the northwest of the island is now inhabited, with a population of between 4,000 and 6,000. The other two parishes are still too dangerous to inhabit; the volcano is still active in 2013.
Villages and towns that are within the safe zone are shown in boldface. Settlements known to be within the exclusion zone are shown in italics, since they cannot be accessed and are no longer habitable. See also List of settlements abandoned after the 1997 Soufrière Hills eruption.
a. De facto capital and centre of government
b. Includes the new airport
c. New seaport and town
d. Official capital, now abandoned
However, archaeological investigations of the very large site of Trants in Montserrat ... [suggest that Trants was] one of the largest Saladoid sites in the Caribbean
Montserrat’s population has grown to nearly 5,000 people since the eruption — mostly due to an influx of immigrants from other Caribbean nations