The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 49, Issue 2

Article 4
Aged, Decrepit and Destitute: Poor Relief and Health Care in the Bahamas, 1810–1910

Leonard Smith


Health and welfare provision for the poor, developed somewhat differently in the Bahamas to most British Caribbean colonies. Services became concentrated around one Nassau institution, the New Providence Asylum. Beginning as a poorhouse, by the 1840s it also comprised a hospital and dispensary, where outpatients could receive medical advice and prescriptions for medicines. Subsequently, further elements were added including a leper house and behind it a lunatic asylum. The institution’s facilities were all quite basic before 1890, with defective sanitary arrangements a cause of ongoing concern. People experiencing severe deprivation normally had to be admitted to the New Providence Asylum in order to receive assistance. “Outdoor relief was only granted in extreme circumstances, mainly to those in the impoverished “Out- Islands . Poor relief remained a contentious issue for the white ruling elite, arguments reflecting diverse perspectives on poverty, sickness and public responsibility in relation to the largely black population.