Enigma of Arrival: The Politics and Poetics of Caribbean Migration to Britain

In 2018, upon the 70th anniversary year marking the arrival of the first cohort of 492 West Indian (and some children) at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948, what should have been a major moment of national celebration, and commemoration, descended into deep contestations within community relations and British politics.

By April 2018, deportation threats made to the children of Commonwealth citizens led to more than 160,000 signatories to a petition calling on the British government to grant an amnesty to anyone who had arrived in the UK as a minor between 1948 and the 1971 Immigration Act, which changed their status forever.

This travelling exhibition takes its theme and title from V.S. Naipaul's 1987 novel, The Enigma of Arrival, a commentary of a key moment in Caribbean Migration to the UK and the memory of its impact and aftermath. It charts the story of West Indian migrants to the United Kingdom, how they arrived and settled, the problems they encountered and the solutions they sought. It ends with the build up to the detainments and deportations of some of these migrants, seventy or so years later.

The exhibition has been produced by The University of the West Indies and facilitated by the Barbados Museum & Historical Society. It is the result of contributions by the Diasporic Community on both sides of the Atlantic, and the generous support provided by EULAC Museums Project No. 693669. Its incorporation in the Virtual Museum of Caribbean Migration and Memory is an interactive experience, visitors can navigate the site, view sample footage and share experiences of Caribbean migration providing feedback to foster a community of curatorial practice.

Click here to view the virtual exhibition