Our History

First Sighting of the Cayman Islands

Christopher Columbus first sighted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman on 10 May 1503. On his fourth trip to the New World, Columbus was en route to Hispaniola when his ship was thrust westward toward "two very small and low islands, full of tortoises, as was all the sea all about, insomuch that they looked like little rocks, for which reason these islands were called Las Tortugas."

A 1523 map shows all three Islands with the name Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards, but by 1530 the name Caymanas was being used. It is derived from the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile, which is now known to have lived in the Islands. Sir Francis Drake, on his 1585-86 voyage, reported seeing "great serpents called Caymanas, like large lizards, which are edible."

It was the Islands' ample supply of turtle, however, that made them a popular calling place for ships sailing the Caribbean and in need of meat for their crews. This began a trend that eventually decreased the number of turtles in local waters, compelling local turtle fishermen to go further afield to Cuba and the Miskito Cays in search of their catch.

First Recorded Settlements In the Cayman Islands

The first recorded settlements were located on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac during 1661-71. Because of the plundering attacks of Spanish privateers, the governor of Jamaica called the settlers back to Jamaica, though by this time Spain had recognised British possession of the Islands in the 1670 Treaty of Madrid. Often in breach of the treaty, British privateers roamed the area taking their prizes, probably using the Cayman Islands to replenish stocks of food and water and careen their vessels.

The first royal grant of land in Grand Cayman was made by the Governor of Jamaica in 1734. It covered 3,000 acres in the area between Prospect and North Sound. Others followed up to 1742, developing an existing settlement, which included the use of slaves.

On 8 February 1794, an event occurred which grew into one of Cayman's favourite legends -- The Wreck of the Ten Sail. A convoy of more than 58 merchantmen sailing from Jamaica to England found itself dangerously close to the reef on the east end of Grand Cayman. Ten of the ships, including HMS Convert, the navy vessel providing protection, sank on the reef. With the aid of Caymanians, the crews and passengers mostly survived, although some eight lives were lost.

The first census of the Islands was taken in 1802, showing a population on Grand Cayman of 933, of whom 545 were slaves. Before slavery was abolished in 1834, there were over 950 slaves owned by 116 families.

Though Cayman was regarded as a dependency of Jamaica, the reins of government by that colony were loosely held in the early years, and a tradition grew of self-government, with matters of public concern decided at meetings of all free males. In 1831, a decision was made at Pedro Castle, the “Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands,” to form the first elected legislature.

The constitutional relationship between Cayman and Jamaica remained ambiguous until 1863 when an act of the British parliament formally made the Cayman Islands a dependency of Jamaica. When Jamaica achieved independence in 1962, the Islands opted to remain under the British Crown, and an administrator appointed from London assumed the responsibilities previously held by the Governor of Jamaica

The Constitution currently provides for a Crown-appointed Governor, a Parliament and a Cabinet. Unless there are exceptional reasons, the Governor accepts the advice of the Cabinet, which is composed of the Premier, seven other Ministers and two non-voting ex-officio members. The Governor has responsibility for the police, civil service, defence and external affairs but handed over the presidency of the then Legislative Assembly to the Speaker in 1991.

Significant Dates

  • 1503 - Columbus sights the Sister Islands and names them Las Tortugas. Over the next 100 years, the name Caymanas or Cayman becomes common.
  • 1586 - Sir Francis Drake's fleet of 23 ships stops for two days at Grand Cayman. The island is not inhabited, but crocodiles, alligators, iguanas and numerous turtles are recorded.
  • 1655 - England captures Jamaica from the Spanish.
  • 1670 - Under the Treaty of Madrid, Spain recognises England's sovereignty over Jamaica and various other Caribbean islands, including Cayman.
  • 1700 - Permanent settlement has probably begun by this time with a few families, notably Boddens, living on Grand Cayman.
  • 1734-42 - Five land grants in Grand Cayman are made by the Governor of Jamaica. Mahogany and logwood are being exported to Jamaica. Population perhaps 100-150.
  • 1773 - First survey or "map" of Cayman made by the Royal Navy. The population is 400, approximately half of which are slaves.
  • 1798 - First record of a magistrate in Cayman being appointed by the Governor of Jamaica.
  • 1820s - Local laws are passed by a self-appointed group of "principal inhabitants."
  • 1831 - Decision to form an elected assembly taken at Pedro Castle on 5 December. Elections follow five days later and the new Assembly passes first legislation on 31 December. The population is approximately 2,000.
  • 1835 - Governor Sligo of Jamaica lands in Cayman to declare all slaves free in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1833
  • 1863 - Act of the Imperial Parliament in London makes Cayman a dependency of Jamaica (although Cayman had been loosely "governed" as such from 1670).
  • 1898 - Frederick Sanguinetti, an official in the Jamaican Government, is appointed as the first Commissioner of the Cayman Islands. Cayman will be governed by Commissioners until 1962.
  • 1920 - A major Education Act provides for government schools in all districts.
  • 1953 - An airfield is opened in Grand Cayman, eventually replacing the seaplane service which had operated since the 1940s. The George Town Hospital is opened. Cayman’s first commercial bank, Barclays, opens.
  • 1959 - Cayman receives its first written constitution, which grants the vote to women. Cayman ceases to be a dependency of Jamaica.
  • 1961- Hon. Annie Huldah Bodden, OBE became the first female nominated as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The following year, National Hero Hon. Mary Evelyn Wood, Cert Hon was the first female elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.
  • 1962 - Following Jamaica's independence from Great Britain, Cayman chooses to remain a Crown Colony, governed by an administrator who reports directly to Westminster.
  • 1965 - The Mosquito Research Control Unit begins operating. The Chamber of Commerce is formed.
  • 1966 - Landmark legislation is introduced to encourage the banking industry.
  • 1968 - Cayman Airways starts flying.
  • 1970 - The population of the Cayman Islands is 10,249, with only 403 visitors.
  • 1972 - A new Constitution is introduced under which Cayman is governed by a Legislative Assembly, Executive Council and a Governor. Cayman introduces its own currency. The census reports the population of the Cayman Islands is 16,677.
  • 1981 - Northward Prison opens.
  • 1982 - The Islands celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Parliamentary Government.
  • 1983 - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visits the Cayman Islands for the first time. The Cayman Islands Audit Office is established. The Auditor-General is appointed by the Governor and is independent of the Executive and Legislative branches.
  • 1987 - The National Trust for the Cayman Islands Law is passed and the Trust begins operation the next year.
  • 1989 - The census reports the population of the Cayman Islands is 25,355.
  • 1991 - Mrs Sybil McLaughlin, who became the first Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and woman to hold that post in the entire Commonwealth in 1959, becomes the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
  • 1991-1995 - The “Cuban Crisis” sees a trickle become hundreds, and then become thousands, of asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Government resources (Immigration, Social Services, Police, Public Works and Health) are stretched thin. Almost 1,100 Cubans arrive between 1 August and 16 September 1994. A residential camp, later known as Tent City, allows for long-term management. Groups from the UN, UK and USA visit and are involved in resolving the problem. Most of the refugees eventually are allowed into the US; some go to other Latin American countries; a few qualify for, and are granted, political asylum in Cayman. Tent City closes in June 1995.
  • 1992 - Membership in the Legislative Assembly increases from 12 elected members to 15 elected members, with the districts of George Town, Bodden Town and West Bay each gaining a seat.
  • 1993 - The National Heroes Law is passed and the next year Mr. James Manoah Bodden (d. 1988) becomes the country’s first National Hero. The Cayman Islands Coat of Arms, Flag and National Song Law is passed. The Department of Environment is created, incorporating the environmental health section from Public Health, the MRCU, and the Natural Resources Unit from the Ministry. The Financial Services Supervision Department is formed by amalgamating the Banking Supervision and Insurance departments.
  • 1994 - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II pays her second visit, knights the former Financial Secretary, Sir Vassel Johnson; and opens the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. After several years of operation, the National Archive officially opens. Constitutional amendments come into force including Executive Council (ExCo) members now to be called ‘ministers’ and a fifth minister to be added to ExCo; provisions to be made for paying public service pensions, holding referenda, establishing a register of interests for LA members, appointing a speaker and deputy speaker for the LA, adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, and appointing a complaints commissioner.
  • 1996 - Residents of all ages are polled and the National Symbols Law made their choices official: the Cayman Parrot is the National Bird, the Banana Orchid is the National Flower, and the Silver Thatch is the National Tree. Mrs Sybil McLaughlin, the first Caymanian speaker of the Legislative Assembly, is designated the country’s second National Hero. Split from the Department of Environment, Environmental Health becomes a separate department.
  • 1997 - The Cayman Islands Monetary Authority begins operating. The Cayman Islands Stock Exchange opens. Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly becomes the first female Minister appointed to Executive Council.  The Women’s Resource Centre was opened.  
  • 1998 - National Health Insurance Law comes into effect. National Pensions Law is passed.
  • 1999 - Government establishes a Financial Services Secretariat under the Portfolio of Finance and Economic Development. A Memorandum of Understanding is signed with Cuba for the repatriation of illegal Cuban migrants. The census reports the population of the Cayman Islands is 39,410.
  • 2001 - The United Democratic Party (UDP) is formed. The UDP brings and wins a vote of no confidence against Leader of Government Business, the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts. Mr Tibbetts and the Hon. Edna Moyle are removed from Executive Council.
  • 2002 - The People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) is formed.
  • 2003 - A yearlong celebration marks the country’s Quincentennial. The Constitution is amended to provide for the appointment of a Leader of Government Business, a Leader of the Opposition, and an Electoral Boundary Commission; and Executive Council is renamed Cabinet. The Complaints Commissioner Law is passed. Cabinet grants Caymanian status to 2,850 residents.
  • 2004 - A new Immigration Law goes into effect; the Immigration Board is replaced with three boards: the Work Permit Board, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, and the Business Staffing Plan Board. Hurricane Ivan hits Grand Cayman in September. There are two deaths and CI$2.8 billion in damage.
  • 2006 - The Turtle Farm is redeveloped and turned into a major tourism attraction dubbed Boatswain Bay.
  • 2009 – The current Constitution came into effect.  The Hon. McKeeva Bush was appointed as the first Premier of the Cayman Islands and the Hon. Donovan Ebanks was appointed as the first Deputy Governor of the Cayman Islands.
  • 2012 – The Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly was appointed the first female Premier of the Cayman Islands.
  • 2020 – Following amendments to the 2009 Constitution, the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands was renamed the Parliament of the Cayman Islands.

(Prepared and produced courtesy of the Cayman Islands National Archive and Government Information Services with updates from the Cabinet Office.)