British Honduras


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. British Honduras is Number 133 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. British Honduras (present-day Belize) was, along with British Guiana (present-day Guyana), the only British colony on the mainland of South America. It owed its existence to the British woodcutters who began logging on the Caribbean coast of Central America in the middle of the 17th century, and whose right to harvest wood on territory over which Spain claimed sovereignty was recognized in several treaties. In 1798 the Spanish forcibly attempted to end the British settlement at Belize, which prompted the British to put forward their own claim to sovereignty and to formally establish a British colony. The study discusses relations between the colony and the countries of Central America, most of which threw off Spanish rule in 1821, and the negotiations between Great Britain and the United States regarding the construction of a trans-oceanic canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific. In the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, the governments of the United States and Great Britain pledged that they would share responsibility for building and managing such a canal (later abrogated in the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901) and that neither would establish colonies or fortifications in any part of Central America. British Honduras was exempted from this provision of the treaty, however. The section on economics stresses the continued importance of the forestry industry; 83 different kinds of trees were known to exist in the colony, of which the mahogany was commercially the most important. Also valuable was chicle, a natural gum harvested from the sapodilla tree.

Last updated: July 23, 2015