Alexander Bustamante

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The Right Excellent
Sir Alexander Bustamante
1st Prime Minister of Jamaica
In office
29 April 1962 – 23 February 1967
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Sir Kenneth Blackburne
Sir Clifford Campbell
Succeeded by Sir Donald Sangster
1st Chief Minister of Jamaica
In office
5 May 1953 – 2 February 1955
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Sir Hugh Foot
Succeeded by Norman Manley
Personal details
Born William Alexander Clarke
(1884-02-24)24 February 1884
Hanover, Jamaica
Died 6 August 1977(1977-08-06) (aged 93)
Irish Town, Jamaica
Nationality Jamaican
Political party Jamaica Labour Party
Spouse(s) Gladys Longbridge (1962–1977; his death)

Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante GBE PC (24 February 1884 – 6 August 1977) was a Jamaican politician and labour leader who in 1962 became the first prime minister of Jamaica. He founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union following the 1938 labour riots, and the Jamaican Labour Party in 1943. Bustamante is honoured in Jamaica with the title National Hero of Jamaica in recognition of his achievements.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born as Alexander Clarke to Mary (née Wilson), a woman of mixed race, and her husband Robert Constantine Clarke, an Irish Catholic planter, in Hanover, Jamaica.[1] He said that he took the surname Bustamante to honour a Spanish sea captain who befriended him in his youth.[2]

Bustamente travelled the world and worked in many different places. His occupations included working as a policeman in Cuba and as a dietician in a New York City hospital. At the age of 48, he returned to Jamaica in 1932.

Entry into politics[edit]

He became a leader in activism against colonial rule. He gained recognition by writing frequent letters on the issues to the Daily Gleaner newspaper. In 1937 he was elected as treasurer of the Jamaica Workers' Union (JWU), which had been founded by labour activist Allan G.S. Coombs. During the 1938 labour rebellion, he quickly became identified as the spokesman for striking workers, who were mostly of African and mixed-race descent. Coombs' JWU became the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) after the revolt, and Bustamante became known as "The Chief".[citation needed]

In 1940, he was imprisoned on charges of subversive activities. The widespread anti-colonial activism finally resulted in Parliament's granting universal suffrage in 1944 to residents in Jamaica.

Released from prison in 1943, Bustamante founded the Jamaica Labour Party the same year. Previously he had belonged to the People's National Party (founded in 1938 by his cousin Norman Manley). Bustamante's party won 22 of 32 seats in the first House of Representatives elected by universal suffrage. He became the unofficial government leader, representing his party as Minister for Communications, until the position of Chief Minister was created in 1953. He held this position until the JLP was defeated in 1954. In 1947 and 1948, he was elected as mayor of Kingston. In 1952 he was arrested by the American authorities while he was on official business in Puerto Rico.[3]

Though initially a supporter of the Federation of the West Indies, during the 1950s, Bustamante gradually opposed the union. He agitated for Jamaica to become independent of Great Britain. He said that the JLP would not contest a by-election to the federal parliament. His rival and cousin, Premier Norman Manley, called a referendum on the issue in 1961. Jamaicans voted for the nation's withdrawal from the Federation.

After Jamaica was granted independence in 1962, Bustamante served as the first Prime Minister until 1967. In 1965, after suffering a stroke, he withdrew from active participation in public life. The true power was held by his deputy, Donald Sangster.[4]

Marriage and family[edit]

Bustamante married Gladys Longbridge on 7 September 1962. She had worked as his personal secretary since 1936, and was effectively a partner in the trade union and political movement.

Legacy and honours[edit]

In 1969, Bustamante was proclaimed a "National Hero of Jamaica", along with Norman Manley, the black liberationist Marcus Garvey, and two leaders of the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon.[5][6] His portrait graces the $1 Jamaican dollar coin.

Bustamante died in 1977 and was buried in the National Heroes Park in Kingston.[7]

Bustamante backbone[edit]

A Jamaican candy, the Bustamante backbone, is named for him.[8] It is a hard, grated coconut and sugar confection "which is said to represent his firmness of character." Bustamante was considered a "buster", "a champion of the common man and tough article."[9] Gizzada is a similar sweet.


  1. ^ "Bustamente's Rise to Prominence", Jamaica , 2 February 2006 Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Gould, Peter (8 April 2005). "Biography". BBC News. 
  3. ^ Parker, Matthew (2014). Goldeneye. London: Hutchinson. pp. 148–49. ISBN 978-0-09-195410-9. 
  4. ^ Harris M. Lentz (ed.), "Jamaica: Heads of Government", Heads of States and Governments Since 1945, Routledge, 2013, p. 450.
  5. ^ "Jamaica's National Heroes: Their Legacy 50 Years Later",
  6. ^ "Heritage: Jamaica's National Heroes", Island Buzz Jamaica, 17 October 2011.
  7. ^ "August 8th funeral for Lady B". Jamaica Observer. 30 July 2009. Archived from the original on 2 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  8. ^ Rebecca Tortello "Sweet & dandy - The history of Jamaican sweets", The Gleaner (Jamaica), 7 February 2009
  9. ^ Frederic Gomes Cassidy, Robert Brock Le Page. Dictionary of Jamaican English

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
None (New Position) or British Governors of Jamaica
Chief Minister of Jamaica
Succeeded by
Norman Manley
Preceded by
Norman Manley
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Succeeded by
Sir Donald Sangster