Premier's Office
Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports
Release Date:
Monday, 25 November 2019 - 4:28pm


70th Anniversary of the Great March 1949: Time to Recommit to its Principles

Sunday, 24th November marked 70 years since the people of the Virgin Islands, our fore-parents marched through the streets of Road Town, in what we now refer to as THE GREAT MARCH OF 1949.

This historic march demanded a change to the way matters affected the lives of Virgin Islanders then, now and this will continue well into the future.

This mass demonstration was the catalyst for political development in our Territory, leading to the evolution of the Modern Virgin Islands.

The historic demonstration was led by one of this Territory’s heroes Theodolph Faulkner of Anegada. He was joined by other national heroes of the day, Isaac “Glanny” Fonseca and Carlton deCastro, and over 1,500 British Virgin Islanders as they marched through the streets of Road Town to the Commissioner’s Office in protest of issues adversely impacting the Territory.

The march was precipitated by conditions occurring in the community that significantly affected the quality of their lives, but over which they had no control and no say.

They presented the Commissioner with a petition outlining their grievances against the political system which at the time was administered from Antigua under a structure called the Presidency of the Leeward Islands.

I take this moment to recall that we stand on the shoulders of those Virgin Islanders who have gone before, our fore-parents, who presented a petition to the Commissioner and I will quote the first portion of the document which reads:

“We the people of the British Virgin Islands, theoretically a free people by reasons of the fact that we are supposed to be British subjects and citizens of the British empire, are today in numbers assembled as a Demonstration of Protest against certain conditions under which we have witherto been forced to live...One of the purposes of this Demonstration today is for us to achieve a measure of political freedom for ourselves and the generation of the future.”

The Great March of 1949 ignited the spirit of self-determination in the hearts of Virgin Islanders and was the catalyst that led to the constitutional, political, economic and social development of the Territory up to today.

As a direct result of the Great March and other community activities of groups such as the Civic League and individuals such as Hope Stevens of Tortola who had previously petitioned the United Kingdom Government on the matter of political change, the Legislative Council of the Virgin Islands was restored in 1950 after having been abolished in 1901.

General elections followed and the stage was set for Virgin Islanders to make key political decisions such as remaining outside the West Indian Federation in 1958 and introducing the Ministerial System of Government in 1967.

Today, the Virgin Islands face a new set of challenges with its political development. These have been compounded by the Great Hurricanes of 2017 which created adverse conditions that diminished the quality of life for Virgin Islanders.

Whilst recovery is in full progress and much has been done since 2017 to restore a sense of normalcy, we have not reached the development plateau we enjoyed before the hurricanes. These challenges are not unlike the ones which precipitated the Great March of 1949.

At that time the Virgin Islands had created a thriving agriculture and fishing economy following the collapse of the cotton industry in 1923 and the great Gale (hurricane) of 1924.

However, they were hampered by external forces impacting their ability to master their political destiny and create the future they wanted for future generations.

In this anniversary month of the Great March of 1949, the Virgin Islands will initiate the process that will lead to the overdue Constitutional Review which was scheduled for 2017 based on the practice of a review every 10 years, the last being 2007.

Perhaps it is coincidence that the Great Hurricanes of 2017 have pushed the initiation of this review to the 70th anniversary of the Great March of 1949.

Whatever the reason, be assured that Virgin Islanders will once again lift their voices in unison to create a path to greater political autonomy and self-determination to honour the spirit and legacy of our ancestors and create a future that will recognise the fulfillment of our obligation to future generations in the same way we recognise Falkner, Fonseca and deCastro for the fulfillment of theirs to us.

People of the BVI, let us continue to acknowledge the desire of our forefathers that we would be able, today, to govern our internal affairs. 

Hence provisions are made in the Territory’s 2020 Budget Address to request the commissioning of a Constitutional Review. I delivered this Address on 19th November, 2019 titled Transformation for Resilience and Sustainability: SMART strategies, Empowered People, and Green Development

As we move forward, walking in the line with our own history and not those stories retold by others in their way, let us continue to rise as a Territory.

Let us continue to rule our destiny in a modern way without interference or any form of orchestrated force that seeks to consume any sector of our economy.

Let us continue to rise in the spirit of genuine partnership where we all work together for only one motive and that is to strengthen BVI to make it even greater than before.

Let us always share the story of the Great March 1949 so that those of us who are here today and those yet unborn understand that the Virgin Islands earned its place to lead its own destiny without external interference.

It is time to recommit to its principles, principles of internal freedom for national and international growth.

The eyes of the future are looking back at us hoping we get it right and the eyes of the past are looking ahead at us hoping that we do not get it wrong.

I thank you.

Note: Historical references from:“Faulkner at the Front - The Demonstration of 1949: Its Beginning, Golden Jubilee and Implications” by Quincy F. Lettsome, Ph. D.