I’ve long sort of vaguely wondered where the name Belize comes from. One explanation, which is so jolly that it ought to be true even if it’s not, is that it derives from the Spanish pronunciation of the name of Peter Wallace, a Scottish buccaneer who, so the traditional story goes, used to operate in these parts.
Anyway, whatever the origin of the name it does seem to have been British buccaneers who were the first Brits to arrive in what is now Belize. They came in the early seventeenth century, looking for a base to carry on their buccaneering operations against Spanish shipping, but eventually found by the late seventeenth century that they could make a better and more secure living chopping down trees than chopping up sailors. They were called Baymen (seems reasonable since they were living on a bay). The Spanish, viewing this area as very much their patch, were less than keen on the British log-choppers and there was plenty of tension and conflict, as well as some log chopping. Somehow the Baymen seemed to hang on in there or come back after the Spanish had withdrawn. By the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the Brits got the right to cut logwood even though the Spanish still had the right to sovereignty.
But the Spanish still didn’t love the Baymen. In 1779, the Spanish captured St George’s Caye and we didn’t get back into the area until after the 1783 Treaty of Paris (another Treaty of Paris). Things came to a head again in 1798, when the Spanish invaded from Mexico.
A naval confrontation was to ensue and it’s worth listing the names of our key ships: Merlin and Mermaid, Towser and Tickler, Swinger and Teazer. I particularly like the trio, Tickler, Teazer and Swinger. It sounds like some Georgian sex party.
The Spanish were approaching with significant forces and the Baymen decided to arm slaves to help fight the attackers. On 10 September the two forces clashed in the Battle of St George’s Caye. It went on for two hours, and by the end of it the Spanish had had enough and retreated. The victory is still celebrated in Belize as an annual holiday. This was the final Spanish attempt to take control of the area.
In 1862 we formally declared it a Crown colony called British Honduras.
Relations with the neighbours haven’t always been too friendly. In February 1948, there were fears of a Guatemalan invasion and a company from the Gloucestershire Regiment was rushed to the border. In 1958, the Hampshires intercepted a group from the Belize Liberation Army that had crossed the border. While in 1975 the Guatemalans moved troops to the border and we, of course, responded again. Belize gained full independence in 1981.