Professor Henry FraserArchitecural Historian / Heritage Consultant
Chairman, Sentinel Committee, Barbados National Trust
Writer, TV Presenter, National Orator & Motivational Speaker
Professor Emertius, Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.
Immediate Past Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences.
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.


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Barbados has always enjoyed a great reputation as a healthy destination, and thought of by many over the last two centuries as the health resort of the West Indies.  Our first really famous tourists were health tourists - they were the young, 19 year old George Washington and his 31 year old half-brother Lawrence, who was ill with tuberculosis. They were advised by their physician to come to a warmer, healthier place, and their decision was possibly influenced by having family connections in Barbados, because until the American war of Independence and much later, Barbados was virtually the post office for the Eastern colonies of North America, and movement of families, settlers and traders between the two was intense.  In October 1751, George and Lawrence came to Barbados and spent seven weeks at the now George Washington House, overlooking Carlisle Bay. (The house is restored as a magnificent, five star House Museum, where you can sit next to “George” and listen to him read from his diary!) 

Unfortunately, George returned home to Virginia and Lawrence moved onto Bermuda, without improvement in his condition, and died six months later.  Meanwhile Lawrence, having wined and dined with high society and becoming intrigued with our military defences, went home and joined the militia, rising rapidly to Colonel, and was eventually given command of the Revolutionary forces.  The rest is history, and much of it due to his stay in Paradise.

The famous historian Sir Robert Schomburgk wrote in his great book The History of Barbados (1848): “It is much to be wondered at that European physicians, who are acquainted with the even temperature and absence of chilling blasts, do not recommend Barbados as a sojourn for invalids labouring under pulmonary diseases.  The splendid steam-packets, which now touch at Barbados every fortnight from Southampton, render an expeditious intercourse with England quite certain … the dwellings combine so many English comforts … that if it were not for the palm trees which surround them and the balmy air in January and February, when we know that nature at home lies in the icy grasp of winter, we should be inclined to ask “Are we in England or in a foreign clime?”  And as a result of those “splendid steam packets” we developed a range of hotels on the South and East coasts in the 1880s, especially the famous Atlantis, Crane, Marine (the “grand dame” long demolished) and the other Hastings hotels, for visitors wanting to “recuperate” by the sea.

Writer after writer in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wrote in praise of healthy Barbados.   Luckily these writers did not visit during the yellow fever or cholera epidemics of the 1850s, when the masses of the population lived in squalor, with no sanitation and died in thousands!  But for the well-heeled visitor, who could come in reasonable comfort on the new steam ships of the nineteenth century, and be accommodated with well-to-do planters or merchants, or in the new hotels like the Marine or the Crane, it was as salubrious as anyone could imagine.  In the Barbados Handbook of 1912, E. Goulburn Sinckler boasts: “Barbados is, in an especial degree, the most healthy spot in the West Indies.  Its history from 1627 to date proves its salubrity.”

And one of my favourite quotes comes from Raymond Savage, in his book of 1936 titled simply Barbados, on the Crane: “The air is incomparable … and its beneficial, ozone-laden wind soon produces a feeling of intense exhilaration and peace to even the most brain-weary or physically ill of mortals.”  

While Jamaica relied on the reputation of its several Spas, at Black River, Milk River and Bath, Barbados relied on its sea, even temperatures and “trade winds”. And thousands of “snow birds” spend winters in Barbados to avoid the rigours of the frozen north.

But it was the late, great Barbadian physician Dr. Harry Bayley who developed the first significant reputation for medical tourism in modern Barbados, much in advance of his time.  He built his famous Diagnostic Clinic, known to all as Bayley’s Clinic, in the late 1930s and by the 1950s he had an international clientele, particularly from Venezuela, Trinidad and Guyana, with patients coming here specifically for his diagnostic skills and tests in his modern laboratory. (And Dr. Bayley’s widow, Iris Bannochie, created a magical botanical garden – Andromeda, near Bathsheba – that can perhaps cure body, mind and soul!)

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in its “Golden Era” of the 1980s has attracted some 300 - 500 medical visitors a year from neighbouring Caribbean islands – an important source of revenue, while providing an obvious medical centre for the region, especially for cancer treatment, cardiac and neurological investigation and other specialist care.  But it’s been argued for years by members of the local medical profession that Barbados is ideally located to be a state-of-the-art centre for medical tourism.  Some 2 million patients travel from North America and Europe to the far east each year for elective surgery – a tiring 24 – 36 hour journey – when they could quickly fly to Barbados, hub of the Caribbean, for first rate facilities in an English speaking country, have their surgery, and recuperate in this heavenly paradise!

It seems, at last, that such wisdom will soon prevail. American World Clinics has been awarded the tender to develop an old, small private hospital site of 14 acres north of Bridgetown and close to our second town Speightstown and the Platinum Coast (West Coast).  This former St. Joseph Hospital site is a beautiful spot on undulating higher ground with a view over the sea, a history old plantation house and an ancient coral stone mill wall.  The original, now derelict hospital buildings will be replaced by an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art hospital. Staff will comprise a mixture of US and local specialists – a genuine partnership, according to the partners of American World Clinics, and as many local health workers as possible.

When the new hospital opens, that huge waiting list of hip and knee replacements, etc. should be happily treated in beautiful Barbados, with recuperation at any of our many rejuvenating resorts – the splendid refurbished Atlantis at Bathsheba, the magnificent Crane Resort or scores of others along the South Coast, Platinum Coast or at possible new spas, health resorts or historic country inns! The stage is set for Barbados to become truly the Mayo Clinic of the Caribbean, renowned not only for its medical tourism but as a “historic and heavenly health resort” – perhaps “Barbados - The 3H Resort” could become one of our best-selling catch-phrases!

Henry Fraser Historic Houses Of Barbados Book CoverHistoric Houses of Barbados
Written by Henry Fraser & Ronnie Huges.
Available at all book leading book stores in Barbados.

Henry Fraser Treasures Of Barbados Book CoverTreasures of Barbados
Written by Sir George Alleyne and edited by Henry Fraser.
Available at the UWI Bookshop the publishers.

Henry Fraser Chattle House Book CoverBarbados Chattel Houses
Written by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss.
Available at all leading book stores.

Henry Fraser A-Z Barbados Book CoverA-Z of Barbados Heritage
Written by Sean Carrington, Henry Fraser, John Gilmore and Addington Forde.
Available at Days Bookstore Barbados and

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