Abstract: “Degrading the Civilising Mission”: The Operation of the Plantation System in Barbados, 1838 to 1876

Henderson Carter


In the four decades after emancipation in Barbados (1838 to 1876), missionaries harboured notions of the “backwardness” of the newly emancipated persons and sought to “civilise” the negro. While their main goal was the Christianisation of the freed persons, they also envisaged the advancement of the society.  The paper applies the “civilising” mission, not to the moral condition of the labourers, but to the plantation society which contained many “brutish” and coercive aspects that retarded its development. It is argued that in the period 1838 to 1876, missionaries and liberal planter groups sought the removal of the punitive aspects of the plantation system such as child labour and evictions from estate houses. However, the general planter body in Barbados denounced the liberal reformist groups and adopted initiatives which prevented social improvements, thereby “degrading the civilising mission”. This was done, not because of economic difficulties, but to maintain plantation profitability and control over labour.