West India Committee: Official Archives, 1899-1998

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Official archives of the West India Committee, 1899-1998: principally comprising Annual General Meeting and General Meeting minutes, 1899-1998; Executive Committee minutes, 1904-1994 (known as Executive Council from 1994) and papers, 1982-1997; Management Committee minutes, 1961-1989 and papers, 1987-1994; Treasurers' Meeting minutes, 1905-1987 and papers, 1982-1985; West Indian Contingent Committee minutes, 1915-1919; War Services and Ladies' Committees minutes, 1939-1940; Merchants' and Shippers Standing Committee, and Passage Accommodation Sub-Committee minutes, 1949-1954; Committee for Exports to the Caribbean ( known as West Indian Trade Advisory Group from 1972) minutes, 1965-1980; Advisory Council minutes and papers, 1994-1996; Finance Sub-Committee minutes, 1996-1997 and papers 1994-1997; Caribbean Council for Europe Management Committee minutes, 1992-1995; Seal registers, 1923-1956, membership records, 1901-1909, 1942-1954; Annual Reports and Accounts, 1985-1997; Annual Accounts , 1962-1991; Chairman's and Executive Council correspondence, 1988-1997; Carribbean Council for Europe (CCE): general correspondence, 1992-1993, correspondence on the ending of the Lome agreements on trade between the West Indies [and other countries] and Europe, 1995-1998, correspondence relating to the banana trade, 1990-1993, correspondence relating to the rice trade, 1995-1997; correspondence relating to the rum trade, 1993-1998; CCE files on aspects of Caribbean trade, 1993-1999; Conference papers, 1988-1998; reports, articles and papers, 1975-1997; photographs relating to Caribbean countries and personalities, undated; minutes of meetings of Atlantic Airways Ltd, 1929-1933.

Administrative / Biographical History

The West India Committee was formed in the 18th century by a permanent association of London merchants engaged in the West Indian trade, and absentee owners of West Indian estates who lived in London and its environs. The interests of both planters and merchants appear to have been first joined on a permanent basis in 1775; before then, the two groups tended to promote their separate interests except on occasions when their usually different priorities became united. The Committee acted as a pressure group for West Indian interests, principally in the support of the sugar and rum trades and, in the first decades of its existence, in opposition to the abolition of the slave trade and then slavery. Although the campaign against slavery eventually won the day, the West India Committee did manage to secure improved compensation terms for the planters and merchants it represented.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, and a short period of virtual inactivity, the Committee shifted its work firstly towards the encouragement of immigrant labour from India, China and Africa (to replace the emancipated slave labour), and then to opposing the removal of preferential sugar duties for West Indian sugar. Later in the 19th century, although a more diversified range of produce was being developed, cane sugar still remained a significant element of the West Indian economy and there were further moves to support its success against the new threat of beet sugar which was now being grown in Europe. Beet sugar benefited from bounties paid by the Government as it favoured home-produced beet sugars for a variety of reasons. The West India Committee was instrumental in mounting a strong anti-bounty campaign, as well as seeking alternative markets for West Indian cane sugar in the United States. Bounties were eventually abolished throughout Europe in 1902.

Riding on this success, a concerted effort was made to widen the interests of the Committee beyond sugar alone, to the promotion of West Indian trade in general. This resulted in an increase in membership of the Committee which in turn led to a revision of its administrative structure and, in 1904, the award of a charter of incorporation. The enlarged membership included many members residing in the West Indies, and the Committee's overall knowledge of West Indian affairs improved as a result. Its role became very much a representative one, although it was still perceived as an organisation for the support of the sugar trade, reflecting sugar's continuing dominince in the region. At various times in the first half of the 20th century the Committee sought to become agents or trade representatives for individual colonies or the West Indies as a whole, but it did not achieve comprehensive or lasting success.

Later in the 20th century, with the independence of individual West Indian countries, the role of the West India Committee had to further adapt to reflect the changing political and economic scene. With the breakdown of former colonial affiliations, and changes in world trade as a whole, the Committee's traditional role in representing British interests in its West Indian colonies expanded to encompass trade between the Caribbean region as a whole, and the European Community; and in addition, trade between the Caribbean and other parts of the world, particularly the United States and other American countries. This alteration in its sphere of activities resulted in the creation of two significant autonomous bodies within the West India Committee: the Caribbean Council for Europe (CCE), and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group (Caritag). The CCE in particular played an important part in seeking the continuance of trade agreements between the two regions, in the face of conflicts of interest arising as a result of European Union.

For more information, see A brief history of the West India Committee by Douglas Hall (Caribbean University Press, 1971), available in ICS Library.


The material has been classified according to type of record: minutes; meeting papers; official administrative records; financial records; correspondence and general files; files relating to conferences and speeches; reports, articles and papers; photographs; and material not created by the West India Committee.

Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice should be given. Access to individual items may be restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Items less than ten years old are closed, with the exception of published material. Enquiries about access to closed material should be made to Library staff in the first instance; written permission must be obtained by the applicant from the West India Committee.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued to file level (see link to repository catalogue).

Archivist's Note

Compiled 2000, revised by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 project, Sep 2001.

Separated Material

The earlier minute books and other records to c1900 were sold by the West India Committee to the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, and are held there. However copies are available on microfilm at the ICS Library (Ref: M915).

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available, at the discretion of the Library staff. Copies are supplied solely for research or private study. Requests to publish, or to quote from original material should be submitted to the Information Resources Manager.

Custodial History

The archives were donated to ICS by the West India Committee in 1999.

Related Material

An earlier donation of archival material, comprising a small quantity of official records and many items collected by and presented to the Committee, was received by ICS from the Crown Agents in 1977 (ICS 96). This has been described sepaprately beacause of its different provenance.

Geographical Names