Montserrat

Montserrat (mŏntsərătˈ) [key], British dependency and island (2011 pop. 4,922), 38 sq mi (98 sq km), West Indies, one of the Leeward Islands. It is a rugged, scenic island of volcanic origin. Chance's Peak (3,002 ft/915 m) in the Soufrière Hills volcanic complex in S Montserrat was long the highest point, but the lava dome in English's Crater in the same complex has been estimated to be higher (3,050 ft/930 m). Plymouth was the capital and chief port, but it was destroyed in the volcanic eruptions that began in 1995, and subsequently an exclusion zone was established in the southern two thirds of the island. An interim capital was constructed at Brades Estate in N Montserrat. Of African and European ancestry, the English-speaking inhabitants are predominantly Christian. Prior to 1995, tourism was the economic mainstay, and Montserrat's exports included electronic components and agricultural products. As a result of the Soufrière Hills eruptions, however, the economy has been severely disrupted and is dependent on aid from Great Britain. Montserrat has a unicameral 11-seat Legislative Assembly consisting of nine members elected for five-year terms, plus the attorney general and the finance secretary. The premier serves as head of government. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the head of state and is represented by a governor. Administratively, Montserrat is divided into three parishes, but because of the eruption and exclusion zone, only one parish is now inhabited.

Montserrat was visited in 1493 by Columbus and colonized by the English and Irish in 1632. After changing hands several times between France and Britain, it was ceded to Great Britain in 1783. The island was a member of the former Leeward Islands colony and of the Federation of the West Indies. It has had internal self-government since 1960. In 1995 the Soufrière Hills Volcano, which had not erupted in historical times, began a series of devastating eruptions that destroyed most of S Montserrat, including the capital and the main port. The majority of the population was evacuated, more than half the island's land area was rendered uninhabitable, and residents were excluded from the southern portion of the island. Periodic hurricanes can cause extensive damage to the island.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Caribbean Political Geography