Vagrancy and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation Anglophone Caribbean, 1834-1900

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of History, Classics and Archaeology


This collaborative PhD project will investigate the development of vagrancy law and poor relief in the Anglophone Caribbean in the years after the end

The abolition of slavery in the British Empire coincided exactly with England's adoption of the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), and followed soon after the substantial revision to English Vagrancy law through the Vagrancy Act of 1824. These developments have deep connections as part of a shift towards liberal ideas of the self-sustaining individual within a free market but have not been researched in relation to one another. This project will bring the two fields together by examining the development of and implementation of legislation relating to vagrancy and poor relief in the post-emancipation Caribbean colonies (1834-c. 1900).

The creation of new legal forms of rule was at the heart of the change from slavery to free labour, as it was envisaged by the British government. Laws passed across the Caribbean region in the wake of emancipation included Vagrancy Acts, Poor Laws, and laws that regulated the use of urban space such as Jamaica's Towns and Communities Act, first passed in 1843, and still in force today. This legislation was passed at the same time as law in Britain rapidly developed, through the Vagrancy Act of 1824, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, and related legislation. However, the Caribbean legislation in this period has been relatively little studied, and its relationship to British legislation has hardly been considered at all. This Doctoral Award will allow the successful candidate to undertake significant research in the period during which the critical elements of today's Caribbean states were established.

The research will address important empirical and analytic questions. Empirically, by collating and comparing legislation in the core areas of vagrancy, poor law, and control of public space in the larger British Caribbean colonies (Jamaica, Trinidad [Trinidad and Tobago after 1889], Barbados, and British Guiana); and investigating the implementation of this legislation in two of these colonies chosen as case studies. Analytically, the focus will be on identifying the political and cultural significance of the legislation, the extent to which its implementation and responses to its implementation shaped identities, and its similarities and differences to equivalent legislation in Britain. How much did the Caribbean's colonial and racialized status and its history of slavery affect political and legal understandings of poverty and vagrancy? How did legislation and its implementation develop in relation to other areas of change such as the rise of new economic activities, and the shift in many colonies from legislative to Crown colonies? To what extent did legislation follow British policy, and how far did it respond to local conditions and concerns?


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Title Linden Labs 
Description This is still a work in progress and is not yet ready to be exhibited. It is a 3D virtual exhibition which will allow participants' to experience the results of my research interactively. Hosted on Linden Labs Second Life with content created using Blender, Q-Avimator and Audacity, it will recreate the public institutions of 19th century Barbados, such as the central almshouse. This building will have an authentically designed facade, but the interior will be transformed into an exhibition space with information boards and images. In 2017, Second Life was reported to have approximately 800,000 active users. Therefore, there is great potential to reach a large, international audience by presenting my research in this manner. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact It is not yet possible to measure this. 
Description The impacts are only beginning to emerge. In my new role as Learning and Outreach Officer at Black Cultural Archives (BCA), I am manging the Schools Programme, which covers primary to tertiary education. My research has focused in part on the effects felt in the Caribbean of individual activists' contact with movements based in Britain, such as British feminists, philanthropists and social reformers. At BCA the programme focuses on the experiences and activities of Black people in Britain. My aim is to connect Caribbean History and Black British History, helping students and teachers to see the wider narrative, rather than approaching them as discrete topics. Through my research I am able to introduce a wider range of inspiring individuals and events which inform the subjects of history, welfare, activism and politics. This will hopefully inspire and encourage the current generation of young people to think more broadly about British identity - an essential life skill particularly in policy making in British society.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description National Archives Staff Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The staff seminar series is an opportunity for staff at the National Archives to hear about the work of colleagues in different departments. Myself and another CDP candidate were invited to present informal papers explaining how we were using the archive materials to explore our research questions. Discussions folllowing this event led to my meeting with Dr. Paul Carter who is collaborating with Professor Steven King on a project examining correspondence between Englilsh paupers and the state. This mirrors my topic concerning the letters paupers wrote to the poor law authorities in Barbados, and there is the possibility for some comparative work between the colonial Caribbean and Britain regarding the agency of paupers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Society for Caribbean Studies Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The Annual Conference of the Society for Caribbean Studies brings together participants from across disciplines. It provides a platform for disceminating research to an international academic audience, and enlarging one's network. At the 2016 conference I was nominated to join the committee, and I presented my paper in 2017. My paper presented rare letters written by pauper women in Barbados to the Inspector of Poor asking for relief, between 1880 and 1895. It changed the perceptions of many listeners about the literacy levels of poor black women in the nineteenth century Caribbean, and about the under representation of women in archive materials.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Society for Caribbean Studies Postgraduate Conference 2017, 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The purpose was to provide a supportive platform for postgraduate students to share their research in any area of Caribbean studies. The event included a Careers Panel to offer guidance on academic and non-academic pathways. It also introduced researchers to the collections held at the National Archives and their past projects engaging with Caribbean communities. This was helpful in allowing students to consider ways in which their research can be communicated to non-academic audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018