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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

The Queen's empire

Black and white photograph of Kingston, JamaicaKingston, Jamaica, from: The Queen’s empire: a pictorial and descriptive record, illustrated from photographs. Volume 2. London: Cassell, 1899 [FCDO Historical Collection FOL. DA11 QUE]The Queen’s empire was published by Cassell in two volumes between 1897 and 1899 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Through photographs documenting the scenes and daily life of the British Empire – cities, countryside, worship, work, schools, markets, pastimes, criminal justice, transport and communications – the compilers aimed to demonstrate the unity through diversity which they held to be its greatest strength:

... the same yet different, one and yet many, united yet divided ... the thread of interest, the clue to which the reader should attach himself, is the existence of the difference side by side with the resemblance.

Photographs depicting scenes from different parts of the world were deliberately juxtaposed on facing pages to underline this theme: a market in Dominica is shown next to Smithfield market in London, a church parade in the Bahamas next to a Hindu ceremony in India.

The plate here shows the city of Kingston, Jamaica. The factory chimneys visible in the photograph are evidence of the growth of light industry in the city; elsewhere in the book the compilers comment on the excellence of the island’s roads. To the present-day reader the caption may smack of complacency; the compilers cannot resist a jibe at the neighbouring countries of Cuba (then under American military government following a terrible civil war), the Dominican Republic (which had suffered decades of chaos and tyranny since throwing off Spanish rule in 1865) and Haiti, a victim then, as now, of grinding poverty and political instability:

Jamaica has been a British colony since 1655. It is needless to say, therefore, that Kingston is a well-ordered, well-governed city, setting an example which the principal cities of some of the neighbouring islands might imitate with advantage.

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