Barbados Caves And Landslips – Memories Of Richard Goddard

UPDATE: March 25, 2010

This letter from Richard Goddard was first printed in the September 18, 2007 online edition of the Barbados Advocate. We turned it into a blog article on that day because we thought it was valuable, and also because the Barbados Advocate does not maintain online archives – and, as we understand it, not much of a paper archive either.

We’re again putting it as our top article for a few days because Richard Goddard’s message is still important – and very relevant especially as our country considers building a windmill farm over areas that might be riddled with caves and fissures.

Take it away, Mr. Goddard…

Caves And Landslips In Barbados

THE tragic collapse of a section of the apartment building at Arch Cot Terrace, Brittons Cross Road, St. Michael about 5 a.m. on Sunday, 26th August, 2007, and the death of five members of the Codrington family, should serve as a wake-up call to the politicians, the Town Planning Department and the emergency services.

Do not allow construction on any area of Barbados before testing that the foundations are stable by doing bore hole tests to some depth, depending on the building plan for that site. For ordinary two storey houses say to about 25 feet, but six storey apartment blocks would be 150 feet. Ensure the area does not have a history of flooding, of heavy storm rain, as in the area of Sunset Crest, or construct in areas which are endangered by massive landslips or rock falls, i.e. Scotland District.

I have caved in Barbados since 1970 when I was introduced to caving by Ole Sorensen my neighbour and friend in Graeme Hall Terrace since the early 1950s. I caved for over 20 years, between 1970 and 1990, and there are certain basic rules. Never cave alone. A minimum of four persons. Check on the weather, that there is no flash flooding forecast. I caved about once each month over those 20 years.

When Sorensen left Barbados about 1974, he recommended to the Harrison Cave Authority that for cave rescue I would take his place, as I had experience. Over the following five years I carried out rescue exercises in the Harrison Cave with personnel from the Cave, the Barbados Police and the Defence Force, with Boy Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh Award youth. It was assumed that the man-made entrance into Harrison Cave had collapsed and was blocked, and that persons trapped would have to be brought out through the natural entrance, which is about a quarter-of-a-mile away over boulder-strewn surfaces.

I had a Stokes metal stretcher constructed at the Coast Guard, based on the sketch of a stretcher off a British warship. The injured were strapped and could be carried along narrow passages, or passed up steep inclines. Among those who formed our caving group were Arthur Wharton, Winston Cox, Leo Weekes, Robert and Patrick Goddard, and several others.

The geology of Barbados shows the island, which is 115 000 acres of which 6/7ths is coral stone, 300 000 years old, is honeycombed with thousands of caves, ranging in size from small pocket caves, to the massive Bowmanston Cave, which is over one and a half miles long, and 300 feet below ground level.

The Barbados Water Authority has pumped water from this Bowmanston Cave since the 1880s. Entry to the cave is gained at the Bowmanston Pumping Station where 4 persons at a time are lowered by a winch in a bucket three feet by three feet, with persons standing in the bucket, and holding on to the cable for dear life. The winch lowers you 280 feet into the well: a dam flooded with water through a manmade tunnel for 200 feet. The tunnel is about six feet wide and seven feet deep, and it is necessary to swim fully clothed with your light. It is completely dark except for your light. My team, with compass and measure mapped the cave over two separate days. Frank (Froggie) Gibbons, land surveyor, plotted the route on a Barbados topographical map. It disappeared into a hole too small to enter west of Bowmanston Pumping Station at Kendal Plantation, St. John, a distance of about one mile. The cave varied in size from narrow passages of five feet wide and ten feet high, to 20 feet wide and 50 feet high, with water flowing constantly.

It took two 15-hour surveys to complete the distance, going into the bucket at three p.m. and out at 6 a.m. the following day. For food we carried only chocolate bars in a waterproof bag. We always carried three sources of light: Two flashlights with extra batteries and bulbs and a carbide lamp per person, and candles with waterproof matches, and sturdy boots, which invariably were torn to shreds at the end of the day. One had to be particularly careful if there was a sign of a fresh rockfall, as this was an indication of other rockfalls to closely follow. There are several other popular caves around Barbados, with Harrison Cave developed as a tourist attraction in the 1970s, still the main tourist attraction today. Cole’s Cave in St. Thomas is also well known.

In the early 1970s, Sorensen found a man alive, but shaken, who had been lost in this cave for three days. He went in on a Sunday with a kerosene smut bottle, which broke, and he was lost. When Sorensen found him and led him to the cave door, he ran off like a rat jumping out of a coconut shell before the shell hit the ground. He never knew his name. From his dress, he had been to church and decided to go exploring, and no one missed him. The importance of letting others know where you are going, and when you will be back is also important.

In about 1944 a group of teenagers, including the daughter of Prof. Senn, a Swiss geologist, who studied the water wells of Barbados, went into Coles Cave, about ten persons with three torches. The torches failed and they were stranded. Fortunately, they had reported to Mr. Farmer of Walkes Spring, and when they did not return, he sent some plantation labourers with smut lamps, and they were soon found. This could have ended in tragedy if they had not reported where they were going, and when they expected to be back.

In recent months a six storey apartment building in the Paynes Bay area, St. James, under construction, began to crack, as it was about to be completed. Tests showed that it had been built on a cave system, and 180 mini-piles had to be drilled 150 feet deep at great cost, to save the building. I know of similar houses which had been built over caves on the coral cap in many parts of Barbados. Rainwater permeates at six inches per day, and it takes six months to reach through the 300 foot coral cap.

Some caves have been improved and used as vaults for burial on plantations, like the Skeetes of Three Houses, St. Philip, or the Rouses at Haynes Hill, St. John. In the past, foundations were excavated to the surface bedrock. Houses were built either as wooden chattel houses, or one or two-storeyed stone houses. It was customary to dig the toilet well first, so the contractor got an idea of the stone underground. It avoided exploding dynamite, cracking the walls, or flying stone injury to the workmen. Most well diggers had one eye.

The Scotland District, which is 1/7th of Barbados, is of oceanic clay, is 60 million years old and is subject to regular landslips and storm washouts. In the Scotland District we have the 1780 landslip when Walcott’s plantation under Hackleton’s Cliff, at what became Crab Hole, and now St. Elizabeth Village, was completely covered by a massive landslip. Also in 1780 the entire St. Joseph Parish Church and burial ground on what is Frizer’s land was covered by a massive landslip.

Today a small funeral chapel marks the spot. In 1902, a quarter-mile of the cliff at Boscobel broke away after heavy rains, destroying 280 houses. In 1938 the cowpen at Burnt House plantation slipped down the hill 150 yards, still standing, but the clay soil so engulfed the Boiling House that the syrup works had to be abandoned. In 1780, the windmill at Sedgepond was completely covered by a landslip, and in 1938, another landslip revealed the millwall.

Every year one reads of homes in the Scotland District which either collapse or are endangered by land slips. The Government’s decision to site the garbage dump at Greenland with its long history of storm washouts and landslips is an example of wilfully endangering the lives of those who are called upon to work there. The $100 million they have spent on the site today cannot pay for the lives of those who may be killed or maimed when this landslip occurs, particularly as they have dug the toe out of the hill 50 feet lower than it was in 1995. Remember, nature is more powerful than man, and man must learn to live within the physical constraints of nature, be it landslips or storm washouts.

Richard Goddard

Further reading at BFP: The Great Barbados Landslip Of 1901 – Will It Be Repeated At Greenland Dump?


Filed under Barbados, Building Collapse, Disaster, Environment

17 responses to “Barbados Caves And Landslips – Memories Of Richard Goddard


    Wow , thats alot of very interesting information. Sounds like a man who knows his stuff and should be consulted in things of this nature in Barbados even if just for guidance and general info.

  2. Green Monkey

    Wow , thats alot of very interesting information. Sounds like a man who knows his stuff and should be consulted in things of this nature in Barbados even if just for guidance and general info.

    Yeah, I agree. Especially when it comes to pointing out the likely problems that will crop up with the location of new garbage dumps and landfills in the land-slide prone Scotland District.

  3. Thistle

    Very true indeed, ILLUMINATOR. Unfortunately, Mr. Richard Goddard has one thing going against him in this Barbados – he is the wrong colour, so he will NEVER be consulted about anything.

  4. jinx

    Excellent article and very informative.

    I hope “common sense” will prevail as Barbados continues along this building boom path, although i must say i do not think i would be renting any apartment building weakened by an underground cave system, regardless of numerous mini- piles!

  5. blah blah

    thistle i dont think it about his colour but the fact that he dares to challenge the status quo. a black or green or blue person saying the same thing would be similarly ignored, chastised, discredited.

  6. Thistle

    blah blah,

    Maybe you weren’t listening when, some few years ago, Minister Liz Thompson – on national CBC-TV said she was not going to sit and listen to the mouthings (or words to that effect) of a “Caucasian male”. A MINISTER OF GOVERNMENT said that, blah, blah.

  7. Bajan Observer

    I have a question: what kind of equipment do you need to check the earth soil for caves? Is it the same to search for oil pockets. Anybody knows??

  8. Anonymous

    Thank you, Richard, for the dissertation.
    It has added to my knowledge base.

    Thank you.

  9. Bussa Goddard

    Pretty impressive article by RG, but, Thistle you are the one that is now making racist swipes. Liz may have been undermined by her lack of knowledge on the subject she was trying to defend, but my recollection is that Liz’s swipe came after what she may have considered a racist swipe by Mr. Goddard. I recall that he made a comment like [not verbatim]: “you people have been misgoverning the country since the 1950’s. ” I recall being, like Liz, pretty outraged as I presumed that he was denigrating the black political leadership which had emerged since the 1950s, including by extension, national heroes like
    Errol Barrow and Sir Grantley Adams. Only Mr.Goddard can say what he was implying, but on reflection, I would acknowledge that it is sad that we let perceptions of racial jibes detract from important messages.

    For the record though, this government appears to have several white advisers that it listens to – often to this country’s detriment. As Blah Blah says, they will listen as long as the adviser is saying what they want to hear – hence they don’t want to hear from some highly qualified black civil engineers on the flyovers, not while Bizzy, the electrical engineer, is saying the right things.



    Mis-information ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bussa says “I recall that he (Richard Goddard) made a comment like [not verbatim]: “you people have been misgoverning the country since the 1950’s.”


    We have a tape of the entire broadcast and will attempt to get the entire thing put up on YouTube as soon as we can. No such statement was made by Richard Goddard. Again… you can’t beat the internet and YouTube for cutting through the BS.

    Liz Thompson’s racist attack against Richard Goddard was totally unprovoked and uncalled for. She also still uses “Caucasian” as a pejorative racial term.

  10. Bussa Goddard


    I will then have to be doubly apologetic to Mr. Goddard for not only letting the off-colour comments cloud my perspective of him, but also for allow my warped imagination that created the very comments. BFP, is it possible that the comments pre-dated the debate between the two, perhaps some panel discussion on the Greenland topic – his words are quite vivid in my mind. I don’t want to detract from his important perspectives on the Scotland District, but I don’t like being accused of misinformation either.

  11. Crusty

    On September 18th, 2007 at 12:17 pm, Bajan Observer asks:

    I have a question: what kind of equipment do you need to check the earth soil for caves?

    Is it the same to search for oil pockets?

    No. seismic methods are used because the oil pockets are usually MUCH deeper.

    Anybody knows??


    Try google before you ask such questions. The wikipedia entries are usually reliable.

  12. Wishing in Vain

    Maybe you weren’t listening when, some few years ago, Minister Liz Thompson – on national CBC-TV said she was not going to sit and listen to the mouthings (or words to that effect) of a “Caucasian male”. A MINISTER OF GOVERNMENT said that, blah, blah.

    The general public needs to be reminded about this encounter, you should really have a copy posted on here for all to listen to.

  13. Thistle

    Wishing in Vain:

    You’re practising a bit of plagiarism. “Maybe you weren’t listening …” were my words in an earlier post. Naughty, naughty!

  14. Wishing in Vain

    Thistle, I was quoting your comments thats all. and bottom line was agreeing with you sorry for any cause for concern.

  15. Wishing in Vain

    Unlike popular belief, I am not a party person but my position is one that has been formed as a result of the gross mismanagement of this island affairs and the high levels of uncontrolled corruption.
    I honestly think that were this party a little less in your face with their corruption and were managing the islands affairs well, I would still be voting for them and who knows they may never have had the need for blogs such as BFP, BU and the others who have been forced to come to life to put some balance back to the affairs of this nation I say heart felt thanks to those at BFP and BU for committing their time and effort to this very worthy cause.

    With this background it sends me into a tail spin when I as citizen can witness corruption permeating all thru gov’t offices and departments as is the case at present led by none other than our PM and his cohorts, Nicholls, Bannister, Hobson, Clarke Liz Thompson, Rommel Marshall, dale Marshall they are all guilty of fraud and corruption in the 1st degree.

    Can we not follow the trend these people the blp seek out all of those with shady backgrounds because they know and understand how to do business with people like the PM who is grossly corrupt and then proceed to award them contracts at levels that as we have seen three times higher than the real cost these contractors then skim the money off to be sent to people like Bannister and Nicholls who have been acting as the go between persons to secure the money and they in turn arrange the payments to the offshore accounts.

    Nothing more nothing less a very simple operation conducted by ones who are very comfortable in deals such as these just another day at the office scamming the Barbadians taxpayers for another $ 50 or $ 100 million, why should any of us worry? it is only our money not theirs.

  16. thank you it will be more to come for barbados soon with the world climate changing,everyone digging up the land to built more hotels, golf courses and houses all over the place, people of bim did you forgot the little island is only 166sq ft and is makeup of gullies ,limestones,and little hills living fast,getting money fast donot pay off in the long run what will we leave for the next genertions to come

  17. KB

    Great work Richard!! Perhaps someone can continue with photographic evidents in the future.