June 27, 2017

‘The Father of Trade Unionism’

Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow

Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow [often referred to as the “Father of Trade Unionism”] was born in Georgetown on December 18, 1884. His father, James Nathaniel Critchlow, had emigrated from Barbados and was employed as a wharf foreman by the Booker Group of Companies, while his mother Julia Elizabeth Critchlow, née Daniels, was originally from the Essequibo coast.

Young Hubert Critchlow attended the Bedford Wesleyan Primary School, but left when he was 13 years old, after his father died. He had reached up to Standard 4 (equivalent to Grade 6 in [today’s] schools), but he felt that he had to find a job to help maintain his home.

While attending school, Critchlow excelled in sports and continued to do so as a young man. He soon became a popular sports figure, and during the period 1905-1914 he was the country’s middle-distance athletic champion. He was also a good footballer and cricketer.

Soon after Critchlow left school, he worked as an apprentice at the Demerara Foundry, and at the turn of the century, he obtained employment as a dock labourer on the waterfront. Due to his active representation of his fellow workers during the 1905 strike in Georgetown, his popularity grew. He continued to champion workers’ rights, and was always called upon to represent their case to employers in the years that followed.

During the strikes in 1917, he represented the interest of waterfront workers in collective bargaining, and by then was regarded as the leader of all waterfront workers. He became even more popular when he helped to secure increase wages for them.

Statue of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow on the lawns of the Parliament Building (Photo by Amanda Richards)

In the period of 1917-18, Critchlow led a petition for an 8-hour day. He was pressured by the Chamber of Commerce to withdraw his name from the petition, after all the other petitioners were forced to do so, but he obstinately refused. He was immediately fired from his job and blacklisted from obtaining employment, and he had to depend on assistance from close friends for sustenance.

Being unemployed, he devoted all his time to the campaign for the 8-hour work day. In December 1918, he and a small delegation of workers met with the Governor, Sir Wilfred Colet. It was after this meeting that Critchlow developed the idea of forming a trade union, and he immediately began making the arrangements for its formation. The union, the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), was eventually established on January 11, 1919. The union experienced numerous problems on its establishment. The employers saw it as a force aimed at fomenting industrial unrest, and issued open threats to workers who were union members. Despite this, membership grew and by the end of its first year, it had more than 7,000 financial members comprising waterfront workers, tradesmen, sea defence and road workers, railroad workers, balata bleeders and miners, some Government employees and hundreds of sugar estate labourers. Branches of the union were also set up in various parts of the country.

Critchlow was employed on a full-time basis by the union, and he never stopped being a spokesman for the workers, and publicised their grievances and demanded improved working conditions and better wages for them. But he faced opposition from the more educated members of the union who felt that his limited education should not allow him to have such high responsibilities. These members, who were in the minority, wanted a doctor or a lawyer to lead the union.  In January 1920, at a meeting of the union, a motion was introduced requesting Critchlow to hand over all the union’s funds to Dr. T. T. Nichols, and two lawyers, J. S. Johnson and McClean Ogle.

But the motion was rejected by a huge majority and a vote of confidence in Critchlow was passed.  Today, a statue of Critchlow stands on the lawns of the Parliament Building. (Information from “The Guyana Story – From Earliest Times to Independence” by Dr. Odeen Ishmael)

Lost gems of our built heritage

Time changes everything, and some things are forgotten, some remembered, and new memories made. This week, Times Heritage looks back at Guyanese historical architecture, decayed by neglect, dismantled to make way for modern development, or tragically destroyed and now lost to the passage of time.

Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church in 2004 before it was completely destroyed by fire. In 2015, a rebuilt Sacred Heart Church was officially opened to the public

In 1860, the construction of the Sacred Heart Church commenced to accommodate the vast numbers of Roman Catholics in British Guiana. Once designed in a rectangular shape, the original building measured 30.5m x 9.1m. An eastern façade, which became the main façade, was designed by architect Cesar Castellani and erected in 1872. This church, once situated on Main Street, Georgetown, was destroyed by fire in 2004.

Park Hotel

The Park Hotel was built during the 1900s and was owned by the Kissoon family. Its colonial architecture, evident in the use of timber, Demerara shutters and its veranda, was common at that time. Once located in Main Street in the heart of the city of Georgetown, this landmark hotel was destroyed by fire in May 2000.

Park Hotel, circa 1900s

St. Barnabas Church

The Anglican Church of St. Barnabas, where it once stood at Regent Street and Orange Walk, Bourda, opened as a rather small building in 1884. It was consecrated in 1938. The St. Barnabas Church with its flying buttresses and massive towers was sold and later demolished in 2011.

Guyana’s historical architecture, indigenous languages and various customs and cultures of our diverse ethnicities are just as susceptible to time since they all need to be maintained or remembered in order to survive over time. Looking back at sites, places and cultures past, whether recently or long ago, could be either a nostalgic experience or a deliberate rejection of a long ago ideal or way of life.

The St. Barnabas’ Church before it was demolished in 2011 (Photo by Amanda Richards)

New Amsterdam Hospital

The old New Amsterdam Hospital, once located in Region Six, Berbice, in the town of New Amsterdam, was one of Guyana’s outstanding historical buildings. It was built in 1844 and designed by renowned architect Cesar Castellani, and described as a “timber architectural masterpiece”. The building was declared unfit to function as the primary hospital of the region and it was left abandoned where it collapsed over time due to constant vandalism and deterioration.

Remains of the old New Amsterdam Hospital (Photo was taken in 2010 by Amanda Richards)


The History of Parliament at Independence

The Parliament of Guyana was created by the 1966 Constitution of Guyana.

The Guyana Independence Act was passed on May 12, 1966 and came into force May 26, 1966. The First sitting of the National Assembly of the First Parliament of the Guyana Parliament was held May 26, 1966.

However, according to parliament.gov.gy, strictly speaking, Guyana’s parliamentary system was not created at Independence.

In 1831, the three colonies of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice were united, and the colony of British Guiana was formed. From the years 1831 to 1928, the law making body of British Guiana was the Court of Policy.

The Court of Policy consisted of the governor, seven official members and eight elected members. The governor presided in the Court of Policy as its president.

In 1928, a new constitution was introduced and British Guiana became a British Crown Colony. A Legislative Council was established and replaced the Dutch created Court of Policy.

In 1953, a new constitution was publicized and a two-tier (bicameral) legislature, consisting of a State Council and a House of Assembly, was introduced. A ministerial system of government and universal adult suffrage were also introduced in 1953.

The Legislature that came into effect in May 1953 last only until October 1953 however, after the British suspended the Constitution and an interim government was established by the British Guiana (Constitutional) (Temporary Provisions) Order in Council.

In 1956, the British Guiana (Constitutional) (Temporary Provisions) Order in Council was amended. The Legislative Council appointed under the British Guiana (Constitution) (Temporary Provisions) Order in Council was dissolved with effect from June 29, 1957. When the 1957 general elections were held, a second Legislative Council was appointed.

Then, in 1961, a new Constitution was established, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a Legislative Assembly and a Senate was created. The Senate consisted of 13 members, who were appointed by the governor. The Legislative Assembly consisted of 35 members elected under the electoral system of First Past the Post.

Remembering the Birth of a Nation

By Horace Walcott

Lowering the British flag (left) to hoist the Golden Arrowhead at the Independence Day ceremony, May 26, 1966

I was one of the pupil leaders selected by my school, Malgre Tout, to attend a rally at the Parade Ground in Georgetown in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.  Her Majesty and Prince Phillip were visiting Guyana in February of 1966. I can recall standing a few yards from Her Majesty as she took the salutes of military and scout bands as they marched pass her.  I was one of the youngest scouts in Guyana and, though pedantic and introverted, was attracted to the military.

There was a platoon of British troops stationed across the street where I lived at Versailles.  Prior to Guyana’s independence, they relocated to Eve Leary in Georgetown.  It must have been a few weeks after the Queen’s visit.  Then there was Independence Day, a few days after my birthday.  The Duke and Duchess of Kent were visiting Guyana and there was a celebration to honour the royals at the West Demerara Secondary School (WDSS) in Pouderoyen, the village adjacent to Versailles.

In addition to the royal couple attending the celebration, many important officials including Governor General Sir Richard Luyt and government ministers, were at WDSS.  I remember attending the ceremony, but being there briefly.  I was dressed in my neatly pressed scouts’ uniform: khaki short pants, scouts’ belt, a lanyard around my neck with a scarf having the colours of the Golden Arrow Head.  My black leather shoes were polished and buffed.  I was a scout with the Plantain Walk Boys Scout Troops.

Horace Walcott

Several weeks leading up to independence, we would be transported from the Vreed-en-Hoop Stelling by military trucks of the British Troops to Den Amstel, West Coast Demerara, and undergo joint training sessions with the Den Amstel troops.  My scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster were officers in the Volunteer Force, the precursor of the Guyana Defence Force.  We learned all the flags of the British Empire and, at the end of our training, recited the Scout’s Honour Oath, in which we paid respect to God and the Queen.

On the eve of Guyana’s independence, we camped at Den Amstel in huts of the Public Works Department.  The birth of the nation was ushered in by a camp fire, the lowering of the Union Jack accompanied by the British national anthem.  Then, there was the raising of the Golden Arrow Head accompanied by cheers and the play of the Guyana national anthem.

As one flag was lowered and the other raised to full mast, both fluttering with grace displaying their full colours in the night sky illuminated by a large camp fire, crowds of spectators stood at attention and scouts saluted.  Throughout the country, it seemed that the red, white and blue receded physically and spiritually and was replaced with red, yellow, black, white and green.

As a teen, I felt the people of Guyana had lost and gained.  What was lost and gained?  That question I answered myself, as I witnessed with fellow Guyanese our nation’s struggle for economic and spiritual freedom.

My stint in the Versailles Boys Brigade and Plantain Walk Scout Troops would pay off a decade later. As a Guyana scholar candidate, I was required to undergo ‘guerrilla warfare’ training in the Guyana jungles.  Though in 1976 and 1977, as a budding yogi, I could have refused or objected to the military training.

I didn’t fall in love with the hinterland. However, my stint in Guyana’s jungles inspired me to specialise in zoological medicine. Several years ago, one of my teams of research students deciphered the physics of the blow pipe used by the indigenous people or ‘Red People’.  Part of the research was done at Harvard University. Notably, the team has developed a novel amphibious tranquilising dart rifle.

Now residing in the U.S., I still wear berets in the winter to remind me of my scout days in Guyana, and floppy hats in the summer to remind me of my National Service stint at Papaya and Kimbia.

From 1996 to 1997, with family support, I completed post graduate studies in zoological medicine at the Royal Veterinary College and the London Zoo.  For my thesis research, I conducted toxicological pathology studies in neuroendocrine disruption and biosonar in harbour porpoises in British waters.

For me, Guyana has always been a magical, mystical place tinged with danger.


Amy Peberdy

Amy Peberdy, who died Sept. 2, 2011, aged 100, played a critical supporting role to her husband, the explorer Philip Storer Peberdy, and spent much of the 1940s travelling with him into the far interior of British Guiana

Amy Peberdy with her son John on the summit of Mount Roraima

She was born Amy Annie Barrow on September 29, 1910 in Leicester, and left school at 14. She met her future husband while he was working as an apprentice taxidermist at the Leicester Museum and they married when she was 19.

In 1936 a restlessness and desire for adventure led them to consider a museum post in Malta, only to decide against it because of the risk to their five-year-old son from “Malta fever” (brucellosis).

Yet when Philip Peberdy was offered a six-month contract to reorganise the Carnegie Library and Ethnological Museum in Georgetown, British Guiana, the threat from malaria and yellow fever was somehow overlooked.

Amy Peberdy dimly visible making camp in the shadow of Mount Roraima

Amy Peberdy and the child soon joined her husband, who had been asked to stay and reorganise the Natural History Museum, and entered a colonial life quite alien to her. Although a good bridge player, she forsook clubs and cocktail parties to help him prepare the many habitat displays and papier mâché models which were a feature of his work. More importantly, she also budgeted for, and provisioned, his collecting trips.

In early 1938 she completed most of the pre-departure planning, both financial and practical (preparing boxes and stores to be carried by porters, for example) for the September 1938 to March 1939, so-called Peberdy-Pinkus expedition, which her husband undertook with Albert Pinkus, a collector from New York, to Mount Roraima.

Hauling boats upstream on expedition

Amy Peberdy did not accompany her husband on this trip, but in 1940, to the astonishment of her friends in Georgetown, she joined him on a two-month-long collecting expedition 90 miles up the Abary, a river in the colony’s north. There she learned bush cooking and to keep her toes away from her hammock’s protective netting in case they were nibbled at by vampire bats.

Meanwhile, the governor, Sir Gordon Lethem, asked Philip Peberdy to take on a five-year investigation into the welfare of Guyana’s native Amerindians – assessing their numbers, as well as health problems (notably with malaria and malnutrition) and lack of education. Lethem also asked him to keep an eye on any military activity along the northern border with Venezuela.

This mission required extensive travel in the interior for four to six months at a time. Most travel was arduous, conducted in dugout canoes along rapids and across falls, and depended entirely on the goodwill of the local people. Amy Peberdy’s role was pivotal, organising supplies for the expeditions before departure and afterwards, when far away from potential medical help, acting as an emergency nurse.

For much of the time between 1943 and 1947 she lived away from Georgetown. The couple’s adventures started with a year’s trek to the Pakaraima Mountains, which began inauspiciously when (for the second time) Amy Peberdy was forced to nurse her husband back from life-threatening malaria.

Snakes, spiders and scorpions posed other dangers. But the creatures did not fluster Amy Peberdy, who encouraged her son to collect insects, and she herself collected mosquitoes on behalf of American medical laboratories.

At Imbaimadai, more than 200 miles inland, they established a government station, built a wattle house and an airstrip (occasionally used in emergencies by American warplanes), and discovered rock paintings in the Ayangana mountains. Their Amerindian neighbours gave Amy Peberdy a pet toucan that came and went freely.

The couple then travelled together to Mount Roraima, which she became only the fourth white woman to climb. Looping back to Georgetown, they dropped in on every Amerindian village they passed.

In Georgetown in 1946 Amy Peberdy had a second child, but this did not reduce her travel – when Philip Peberdy was named District Commissioner in Rupununi late that year, she visited local ranches on horseback and carried her baby daughter in a sling to the top of the highest peak in the Kanuku Mountains, 350 miles south of Georgetown. Her adventurous spirit was not always a boon, however, and she once nearly poisoned herself by trying out local mushrooms.

Amy Peberdy encouraged her husband to write a report on the administration and welfare of the Amerindian people, and Peberdy recommended the creation of several areas for exclusive Amerindian use to safeguard their economic future. Measures were to include Amerindian administration of sawmills already established, as well as the purchase on their behalf of large tracts of land which had been taken over by ranchers. In particular, he was determined to improve their health and education.

This last aspect of the report was influenced by the many visitors the couple attracted in the interior, who included CWW Greenidge, of the Anti-Slavery Society, and George Giglioli, the malaria expert.

The report eventually bore fruit in legislation that was passed in 1951 and reserved some areas of land for Amerindians, as well as establishing basic schools and mobile health clinics for their benefit; Giglioli, meanwhile, had launched a highly successful campaign to control malaria.

In 1948, having built up probably the finest Ethnological and Natural History Museums in South America, the Peberdys returned to England and a totally new life in post-war Cheltenham. After a period of readjustment Philip Peberdy became Curator of Southampton Museum; Amy had two more children.

On his retirement in 1975, the couple returned to Cheltenham, where Amy Peberdy developed a fine garden. After Philip’s death in 1990 she moved to north Wales. She is survived by her son and three daughters. (Excerpted from Amy Peberdy obituary published Oct 14, 2011 in The Telegraph)

History of State House

State House. (Photo courtesy National Trust of Guyana)

State House, once known as Government House, has been the official residence of several colonial governors and Guyanese presidents over the years.

It is said to have had its origins in the 1820s, when the building was originally owned by William Percy Austin, the first Anglican Bishop of Guyana.

Ordinances were passed in 1852 and 1863 allowing the purchase of the property to establish an official residence for the governor of what was then British Guiana.

After independence, the country’s first president, Arthur Chung chose State House as his official residence in the 1970s.

Detail of decorative ceiling in the State House dining room. (Photo courtesy National Trust of Guyana)

It would be decades later, in the 1990s, that the building was again used by a sitting president when the fourth president, Cheddi Jagan, chose the building for his official residence.

It remains the official presidential residence today.

With a lush, green landscape and tree-lined driveway, State House is located from Main Street at the front to Carmichael Street along New Market Street. It has over the years undergone several additions and changes.

The original building faced Carmichael Street but by 1894, its main entrance was on Main Street.

The building is often described as the house with its 100 windows, and is said to have once been called “The Grande Dame of Main Street” for its graceful interior and exterior wooden architectural elements and design, some of which are credited to Caesar Castellani, an architect known for designing several buildings in Guyana.

State House dining room where meetings are sometimes conducted

Detail showing grand columns in State House. (Photo courtesy National Trust of Guyana)

Putting Guyana on the map

‘The Comuti or Taqulare Rock, on the River Essequibo’. From Schomburgk's "Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana"; a series of views of Guiana by Charles Bentley, executed as illustrations for Robert Schomburgk's magnificent work on the region.

‘The Comuti or Taqulare Rock, on the River Essequibo’. From Schomburgk’s “Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana”; a series of views of Guiana by Charles Bentley, executed as illustrations for Robert Schomburgk’s magnificent work on the region.

The Royal Geographical Society of London entrusted Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk with conducting an expedition of exploration of British Guiana in 1835; his work, it is claimed, led to the successful Venezuela and Brazil boundary arbitrations for Guyana, then British Guiana.

Schomburgk was born June 5, 1804 in the town of Freyburg on the River Unstrut, in Germany. The eldest of five siblings, he showed an early interest in nature, and in the 1820s, while living with his uncle, he learned botany from a professor.

Later, after several years of drifting through several Caribbean islands following his unsuccessful stint as a businessman, he voluntarily funded and took on the task of mapping the unexplored areas of the British Virgin Islands coast of Anegada. Schomburgk’s work so caught the attention of the Royal Geographical Society (London) that the society proposed he should go to South America under its commission.

‘Purumama / The Great Cataract of the River Parima’.  A magnificent view from Schomburgk's "Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana" from a series of views of Guiana by Charles Bentley, executed as illustrations for Robert Schomburgk's work in the region.

‘Purumama / The Great Cataract of the River Parima’. A magnificent view from Schomburgk’s “Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana” from a series of views of Guiana by Charles Bentley, executed as illustrations for Robert Schomburgk’s work in the region.

Arriving in British Guiana in 1835, he made three trips for the RGS, the first to the Rupununi, including the Kanukus in search of the plant used to make curare; the second up the Corentyne and Berbice River was made in 1837 where he discovered the Victoria regia water lily. On his last trip for the RGS, Schomburgk travelled to the source of the Essequibo River, the upper Orinoco, the Rio Branco basin and Mount Roraima where he came across slavers who regularly raided indigenous villages; it was here that he realized the need to define boundaries to help prevent such raids.

The demand for border definitions for the protection of the indigenous tribes stepped up pressure on the British government to establish the borders in the south-west and the west. The British government then commissioned Schomburgk in April 1841 to survey and mark the boundaries of British Guiana.

Along with his brother Richard, Schomburgk set off west, along the Barima, Barama, Waini, Amakura and Cuyuni Rivers. The second expedition took him to the Brazilian frontier, including Pirara. After Pirara, the team mapped the Takutu and Ireng Rivers then returned to the Kanuku Mountains. The region around Roraima followed, and Schomburgk’s last journey was to the upper Corentyne and the Kutari River.

04By this time, both the Brazilians and the Venezuelans had complained officially to the British government about Schomburgk’s placement of boundary markers, which subsequently had to be removed.

The “Schomburgk line”, as it was called, came to form the basis of the British claim at the arbitral tribunal in Paris in 1899 that settled the boundary with Venezuela. Guyana was awarded a large portion, but not the whole of that claim. The Brazil boundary was settled after arbitration by the King of Italy in 1904 where the Schomburgk line also played a role.

Schomburgk was to play a posthumous role in fixing the tri-junction point of the Suriname, Brazil and Guyana boundaries in 1936.

Throughout his travels, the explorer also collected numerous plant and animal specimens and accumulated many maps. Bird specimens were given to museums; fishes, animals and animal skulls preserved by the explorer were also donated, as were many dried plants, fruits, seeds and living orchids.

Robert Schomburgk, c1840 (from ‘The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk 1835-1844’)

Robert Schomburgk, c1840 (from ‘The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk 1835-1844’)

Schomburgk was knighted in 1844 and sent to Barbados as a diplomat in 1846. In 1857, he was sent to Santo Domingo as British Consul then to Bangkok, Thailand. He returned to London in ill health and retired in 1864, dying March 11 of 1865 in Germany.


British Guiana in 1913

By Peter Halder

Lombard Street, British Guiana

Lombard Street, British Guiana

The year 1913 was propitious for British Guiana. Sir Walter Egerton was the British governor. For the first time, the head of the British sovereign appeared on British Guiana postage stamps.

The first map showing the Corentyne River as the boundary between British Guiana and Dutch Guiana (Suriname) was published.

The population of the colony reached some 300,000 and the population of Georgetown was 58,000. The Amerindian population was 13,000. Sugar, known as ‘Demerara Crystal’, continued to be the major export.

In 1913, the first airplane flight was launched by George Schmidt.

But the year was also one of mystery. In that year alone, there were two major, mysterious fires in Georgetown. On March 7, the Brickdam Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the premier Catholic Church in the colony, was burnt to the ground. At the time, the Cathedral was highly regarded for its structural beauty and fine edifice.

Postcard showing R. C. Cathedral Tower on fire on March 7, 1913

Postcard showing R. C. Cathedral Tower on fire on March 7, 1913

There were two versions about the cause of the fire. One was that a plumber was using a blowtorch near the top of the great tower of the church when something went wrong and the building went up in flames. Another version was that a workman, a Frenchman named Bencher Cornelle, innocently left a coal pot burning in the tower while repairing it and the result was an inferno.

The fire was a great shock to the people of Georgetown since the Cathedral was regarded as a national landmark. It was also the main place of worship for Catholics. The Church was packed to capacity on Sundays.

The other fire occurred in December at a time when the people were deeply engaged in preparations for the Christmas season. On Monday, December 22, just three days before Christmas, at around 8:25 hours, there was a loud and violent explosion in the western section of Georgetown. The “thunderous and deafening noise,” so it was related, was heard not only in the capital but on the East Coast, East Bank and West Bank Demarara.

The explosion took place at Chin-A-Yong’s shop on Lombard Street. There, according to reports, fireworks were being manufactured in a vault. The “little bombs” were a delight for little boys to throw around on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The explosion blew Chin-A-Yong’s business place sky high and was followed by a massive conflagration. It also killed 20 persons and injured many others. The raging fire also almost destroyed all of Lombard Street. A swift breeze from the northeast turned the raging fire into a firestorm. News reports stated that valiant work was done by the fire brigade, the police, the artillery, the militia and volunteers, but their efforts were retarded by low water pressure. By the time the fire had vented its rage, Bugle Sawmill was no more. Psaila’s Store, Hope Sawmill, Bugle Building, Bettencourt’s Sawmill and the Demarara Company warehouse with 67,000 bags of sugar were all burnt.

Several days after, when the police and fire brigade inspected what was left of Chin-A-Yong’s place of business, they found a secret underground cellar. The authorities believed it was an opium den. Opium smoking was a serious problem in British Guiana at that time.The year 1913 turned out to be propitious, mysterious and maybe just another instance of misfortune for the unlucky number 13. (https://guyanathenandnow.wordpress.com)

History of street lighting, tree planting in Georgetown

Utility poles on Lombard Street, British Guiana circa 1903

Utility poles on Lombard Street, British Guiana circa 1903

Have you ever looked at the towering trees on Main Street or around Georgetown and thought of when tree planting in the capital city began? Or thought of the history of the installation of street lights?

Gas lighting

According to the book “The story of Georgetown” by James Rodway, Stabroek was lighted in early times with lanterns fastened to wallaba posts. The oil used was probably train oil. In 1860 kerosene was introduced and iron lamp posts erected. Rodway also said in his book that gas lighting had been mentioned many times before it was seriously considered; it was proposed in 1838.

The Town Council back then seriously considered the introduction of gas in 1860. It was spoken of as likely to be a great improvement, but there were doubts as to whether people generally would adopt it. It was not to be supposed that the town lighting alone could support a gas company. However, several persons came forward with projects: the first being T. C. Jenkins, an American Consul. This offer was withdrawn after news of the impending war of secession.

The impressive Rain Tree on Main Street

The impressive Rain Tree on Main Street

Then came James Appleby, who offered to get up a company in London; his estimate was £4 4s. per street lamp, and 12 shillings per thousand feet for the public. The most serious offer was by S. R. Dickson, who, in 1861, proposed to establish the Demerara Gas Light Company. He asked for a lot of land for the works and offered to light 300 street lamps at $25 per annum and to supply light to private persons at $5 per 1,000 feet. He also stipulated that half the shares should be subscribed in the colony. The result of his action was a petition to the court and an ordinance dated August 2, 1862, which stated that the establishment of gas works in Georgetown would be of public advantage. The petitioners were S. R. Dickson, H. I. de Jonge, Jos. Kaufmann and Jas. Brady.

Nothing appears to have been actually done, and in 1864 a new ordinance was passed on the petition of A. W. Perot, F. A. R. Winter, J. S. Hill, J. Kaufmann and others. This also failed or at least did not get into working order in the time given by the ordinance and a new charter was granted in 1870. The preamble stated that the Demerara Company ordinance having ceased, A. W. Perot and G. H. Oliver, directors of that company, agreed with G. W. Harris, A. Williams, and others in England, to apply for a new ordinance to establish the Georgetown Gas Company.

At last, in March 1873 gas lighting became an accomplished fact. The Georgetown Gas Company did fairly well, and although there were complaints of the high price, still there was small ground for anything like dissatisfaction.

Electric lighting

Early in 1889, Julius Conrad, R. Allan, W. S. Turner and R. Dodds applied to the Town Council for a conditional promise to support an electric light company, and as they wanted a monopoly they were referred to the government. Their request for a monopoly for 30 years and for permission to use the streets were considered by the court and referred to the Town Council. Nothing was actually done until the following year, when a meeting was held at the house of Jacob Conrad on March 25, at which it was agreed to form a company.

On May 5 the town council agreed to refer a motion of Mr. Gibson that a test of 50 electric street lamps should be made to the lighting committee, which ultimately arranged for such a test. At the first general meeting of the company, on August 6, it was reported that 650 private lamps and 50 street lamps had been ordered and works expected to start on January 1, followed by lighting the greater part of High Street from Brickdam to Kingston.

On January 17, 1891, crowds of people filled the street to look at the new lights being turned on. Since that time, electric slowly, but surely, replaced gas, until the gas company was compelled to discontinue its operations and gas lighting came to an end.

Tree planting

The first attempt at tree planting in the streets was a short line of Fiddlewood trees, with here and there a bat-seed, Andirainermis, in Commerce Street. These were planted before 1870. A great impetus was given to ornamental planting by the laying out of the Promenade Gardens in 1853, when many trees and shrubs were imported from the Trinidad Botanical Gardens and elsewhere.

An early attempt to decorate Main Street was by a double line of Oleanders on either side of the canal, but these bushes never looked well due to them being damaged by the public.

An avenue of Mahogany trees in Le Repentir Cemetery dates from about 1870, and the coconut palms near the seawall were planted about the same time.

Rodway in his book stated, “All these were but poor attempts at street decoration, and we must thank the Botanic Gardens for almost everything [regarding trees] we have today.”

A sign on one of the trees, obliquely to Walter Roth Museum on Main Street, reads: “Rain Tree, scientific name: Samaneasaman. Interesting facts: Native to Tropical America, grows up to 50m tall and spreads as wide as 200 human steps, seeds are chewed for sore throat.” (Information from “The story of Georgetown” by James Rodway)


British Guiana Tramcars

A tramcar at the seawall, perhaps the area Aspinall called the ‘Platform’ in his guide

A tramcar at the seawall, perhaps the area Aspinall called the ‘Platform’ in his guide

Algernon E. Aspinall in the 1914 edition of “The Pocket Guide to the British West Indies”, describes the “admirable” Georgetown service of electric tramcars provided by the Demerara Electric Company as plying four routes daily, through the city, at 15-minute intervals. They stopped, he noted, along the route at places marked by white poles, to pick up and drop off passengers.

The trams traversed along lines named the (1) Belt Line, which went from the company’s office, Water and Coal streets, crossing Camp Street, the cricket ground on New Garden Street, Middle Street and crossing Camp Street and Main Street  into Water Street. (2) Sea Wall Line: From the sea wall (a place called the Platform) to Main Street, Bentinck Street, Water Street, Lombard and Broad streets, Croal and Camp streets and Camp Road. (3) La Penitence and Church Street Line: La Penitence, Stabroek Market, the company’s office, Church Street, Water Works, New North Road and New Garden Street before returning along the same route. The East Bank Line(4) went along Main Street through Water Street; Lombard Street, Albouystown and La Penitence along the public road, running through the Ruimveldt and Houston plantations to the terminus at Peter’s Hall.

The Brush Electrical Engineering Company tram

The Brush Electrical Engineering Company tram

According to Allen Morrison in his article “The Tramways of Georgetown, British Guiana”, on tramz.com website, a street railway began ferrying passengers in the city in 1877, which was acquired in 1880 by the Georgetown Tramways Company. In 1899, the Georgetown Tramways Company was itself acquired by the Demerara Electric Company, which had also purchased the British Guiana Electric Light and Power Company.

Demerara Electric Company then ordered 14 open electric trams from the St. Louis Car Company in Missouri, a tram maker in the US. The previous vehicles were provided for the Georgetown Tramways Company by the John Stephenson Company in New York.

The new tramway in Georgetown was declared opened February 25, 1901, and in the following year, two more trams were ordered and installed along the city’s streets. Another two more were added in 1909 though this time purchased from a British company. The East Bank line was established by the Demerara Electric Company when it built a line south of the city to Peter’s Hall.

Single fare was 5 cents while tickets purchased in strips of three, were 12 cents. There was also a children’s fare and a special fare for cars to be used for “trolley parties”. Transfer tickets from one line to another were free.

However, the July 2, 1929 Jamaica Gleaner newspaper would later report the Demerara Electric Company as informing the Georgetown Town Council in June the same year that due to the reduction in passengers on its tramcars, the company would cease its service at the expiration of its licence in January 1930.

According to the report, in an interview with company manager G.B. Lomer, he stated that the company had performed its own investigations earlier in the year to determine the feasibility of keeping the lines running, and had concluded that the tramways “could only be operated with heavy annual deficit”.

The manager noted that the increase in the use of motor cars and bicycles – what he called modern conditions – had led to passenger decline. The tram service was discontinued in February 1930 and the lines dug up.  They were taken out of the city and used to ferry wood and fuel, while the rest was sold to an overseas buyer. (Photos from tramz.com)