Imperial Delusions

Fara Dabhoiwala

In the summer of 1932 Eric Williams arrived in England from the British colony of Trinidad. Like most of the island’s population, his family was so poor that he and his eleven siblings had rarely tasted milk. But from his earliest youth his father, a disillusioned postal clerk, obsessively pressured him to achieve academic success. There were no universities in the West Indies; few Trinidadians progressed beyond primary school, and almost all professions were reserved for whites. Yet Williams won a coveted government scholarship that enabled him to continue studying beyond the age of eleven, then an even rarer bursary to complete his secondary schooling, and finally, after three years of trying, one of the island’s two annual scholarships to a British university. He sailed for Oxford to take an undergraduate degree in history.