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The West India Regiments at Play: Sport, Soldiers and Spectators in Caribbean Society, 1806-c.1880

This component focuses on the public role of the WIR in the Caribbean through its participation in organised sport. While Components 1 and 2 are concerned with the Regiment’s military role as assessed by medical staff and perceived by a wider public, the focus here is on the WIR as a social institution associated with specific sites, especially garrisons and parade groups, which were significant public places for players and spectators alike. Organised sport also served as a significant way in which racialised and gendered identities were articulated (Lockley, 2003). The main focus of this component is cricket, the most popular organised sport in the 19th-century Caribbean, although other sports – such as horse racing and boxing – will also be considered.

  • In what ways did WIR personnel participate in organised sporting activities in the Caribbean?
  • How were such activities implicated in the articulation of cultural authority and racial difference in the pre- and post-emancipation Caribbean? What was the role of the garrison as a space in this regard?
  • Did organised sport permit social and cultural mixing in the Caribbean? For example, the adoption of cricket in the Caribbean is usually understood in terms of local whites West Indians copying white soldiers, who in turn inspired local non-white West Indies. Did black WIR soldiers serve as intermediaries in the adoption of this new game?

This component enhances understanding of the relationship between sport and the military, both in terms of how garrisons served to introduce new sporting forms to the colonies, including associated ideas about athleticism (Day, 1982) and how organised sport could serve as proxy for warfare (Campbell, 2000). More specifically, it contributes to work on cricket, which provides an insight into the local adoption and adaptation of British cultural forms, as well as how racial exclusion could be articulated – and contested – through sport (Beckles, 1998; Stoddart, 1998). While the key role of the military in the spread of cricket has been acknowledged, this is usually understood in terms of the actions of ‘British’ (i.e. white, metropolitan) soldiers, raising questions about the role of non-white, rank-and-file WIR soldiers (Malcolm, 2012).

This component focuses on the island of Barbados, home of the 2nd Battalion of the WIR and the site of the ‘incubator’ of Caribbean cricket – the St. Ann’s Garrison Cricket Club. Chronologically, this component is defined by the first public game of cricket played in the Caribbean in 1806 (involving the WIR) to the establishment of a West Indian regional side. Key sources are at the BL, including local newspapers (e.g. Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, Barbados Globe and Colonial Advocate) at the Colindale Newspaper Library; papers and correspondence by Governors Stapleton Cotton and William Colebrooke; almanacs of local social events; and Colonial Office Papers relating to Barbados at the National Archives. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society has a significant collection of material relating to the history of cricket on the island.