It was Christopher Columbus in 1493 who came across the whole string of Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the New World, and named the many isles and cays after the 11,000 virgin followers of Saint Ursula.  The Spanish arrived and left pretty swiftly after they were unable to find gold. 


The more resourceful pirates however, soon found a way to become rich off the numerous tiny islands, and they would hide among the many hidden coves making the most of shallow waters and complex reef systems to ravage passing ships carrying riches from the New World back to Europe. Many famous scoundrels such as Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Sir Francis Drake used these Islands as their favourite hangout. 


During the 17th century, the Dutch and the British developed an interest in the Virgin Islands, with the British establishing control and remaining in power there for almost three centuries. While under the British rein, they cultivated a profitable sugar industry with sprawling plantations and imported African slaves to work on the island. When slavery was abolished in 1838 the plantation economy fell into decline and as a result, many European settlers returned home. 


Things remained very quiet on the British Virgin Islands until the 1960s, when Laurance Rockefeller and Charlie Cary – two wealthy Americans, essentially started the tourism industry there. They recognised the potential of the serene islands and set about making it happen; Rockefeller developed the Little Dix resort on Virgin Gorda and Cary established a marina complex on Tortola. Despite their no doubt big plans, the islands remained a charming and quiet destination, unspoiled by the overdevelopment which has taken place on the neighbouring U.S. Virgin Islands. Within the BVI, buildings cannot rise above the palm trees and as such- most properties are only two stories high. 


During the 1960s, the British Virgin Islands were given greater autonomy within the British Commonwealth meaning the islands have their own constitution and a local legislative council which handles affairs on the island. The governor, who is selected by the Queen, deals in external affairs and island security.