March 27, 2017

Historical view of Meadow Bank

Meadow Bank, East Bank Demerara, located some two miles south of Georgetown, has undergone a significant transformation from the village it was some 175 years ago. Around that time, it was mostly populated by the Portuguese and became the centre of the Catholic Church in Guyana.

View of entrance into Meadow Bank from the East Bank public road

View of entrance into Meadow Bank from the East Bank public road

With the abolition of slavery in 1834, many of the African slaves who worked on sugar estates eagerly left the inhuman and barbaric conditions on the estates to seek their fortune and future elsewhere.
Portuguese from Madeira began arriving as indentured immigrants in 1835. By 1882, more than 30,000 Portuguese had immigrated to the-then British colony. Many settled at Meadow Bank. As a result, Meadow Bank became the centre of the Catholic Church.
Far away from home, the Portuguese indentured immigrants, inspired by the religious worship and practices on their former island of Madeira, set about recreating them at Meadow Bank.
Fr Benedict Schembri, who resided in Meadow Bank, built a church in December 1876. The patroness chosen was Our Lady of the Mount, the patroness of Madeira.
It was a devout place of worship for the Portuguese to fulfil their spiritual and religious heritage and zeal. Another aim was to encourage and inspire other Portuguese immigrants to settle at Meadow Bank. Its activities featured some of the customs and ceremonies of the churches they attended in Madeira.

Our Lady of the Mount church located in Meadow Bank

Our Lady of the Mount church located in Meadow Bank

Ritual masses were held at the Church and its activities included jumble sales, bazaars and religious feasts or “festas”.
Among the feasts observed and celebrated by the church at Meadow Bank were the Feast of St John the Baptist; the Feast of St Peter; and the Feast of the Holy Ghost.
For the Feast of St Peter, a Boat of St Peter was built and was lifted from the home of the promoter of the Feast by six persons along a processional path to the church. They walked to music and cheers from crowds who lined the roads.
Near the Church was a bandstand and a band played from it. Bread was distributed at the church.
The biggest ritual, however, according to reports, was the Feast of the Holy Ghost. The event began on Easter Sunday. Two Holy Ghost Flags, red in colour with a white dove in the middle, were taken by four men who were the promoters. Two girls were in the group and they sang. In the group also was a man who played the violin. The group solicited money to feed the poor. A Hymn to the Holy Ghost was sung and collections and donations were placed in a Silver Crown with a dove on top of it.
During the feast itself, beggars were fed at the school in the village. Three altars were placed in the school – one covered with silver, one on which bread was placed and the other was covered with a flag.Each beggar was given an outfit of clothes, a pair of shoes, a basket filled with food and a towel.
On occasions, the Feasts ended in bacchanalian revelry, so much so that the Bishop decided to stop the Feasts.
Passion Sunday, was, however, still observed. Members of the Catholic Guild in Georgetown walked in a procession from Georgetown to Meadow Bank carrying a Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and one of Jesus Christ with the cross on His shoulder.
Meadow Bank today is not the same as it was many, many years ago. (Text by Peter Halder, https://peterhalder.wordpress.com)

Georgetown

By Luke M. Hill, M. Inst. C.E.

High Street, Georgetown circa 1909: Law Courts and Town Hall

High Street, Georgetown circa 1909: Law Courts and Town Hall

Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana, was first established by the Dutch on the Second Island, some miles up the Demerara River, whence it was transferred to Stabroek in 1782.

Stabroek was a government reservation lying between Plantations Vlissengen and Werk-en-Rust, allotted for government offices and residences for the chief officials and leading colonists; and now forms a central ward of the City of Georgetown, which gradually spread itself right and left along the river facades of the adjoining plantations of Vlissengen, La Bourgade and Eve Leary to the north, and Werk-en-Rust and Le Repentir to the south, extending nearly two miles along the river front by a depth of about one mile, the town being symmetrically laid out in wide streets forming rectangular blocks of building lots.

Georgetown was so named in the year 1812, under the Regency; and some 25 years later, with the creation of a Bishopric of Guiana and of the Cathedral of St. George’s, it was constituted a city; the city corporation of Mayor and Town Council being established by Ordinance in 1837 under the Governorship of His Excellency Sir James Carmichael Smyth.

Carmichael Street, Georgetown (no date): Large, central canal filled with water and stocked with fish

Carmichael Street, Georgetown (no date): Large, central canal filled with water and stocked with fish

No census has been taken since 1891 when the population was returned at 53,176; but the present population of the city and environs is estimated to be over 60,000.

The entrance to the Port of Georgetown is commanded by the guns of Fort William Frederick. This Fort mounts 21 muzzle loaders, now used for saluting purposes but also has a few modern quick-firing guns, capable of more effective work.

The Demerara Lightship (which also forms a pilot station) is anchored some ten miles beyond the Fort in five fathoms of water, from which the fairway shallows to 19 feet on the bar at high water of spring tides, the only available channel for large vessels being marked by buoys.

A short distance inside the Fort is the Lighthouse, a brick building painted red and white in vertical stripes, 103 feet high, exhibiting a strong revolving white light, flashing once every minute, and said to be visible on a clear night for a distance of over 20 miles.

A stranger’s first impression of Georgetown as he enters the Port with its fast-running mud-laden current, is not a favourable one; all he sees is an unattractive row of galvanized iron roofs, covering store-buildings projecting out over the mud-flat forming the river foreshore, with wharves or wooden stellings, alongside of which steamers, ships and lighters discharge their cargoes; and it is not until he lands in Water street, the leading business thoroughfare, that he realizes that he is in a real live city, provided with all modern conveniences, attractive shops and business places.

The tropical beauty of Georgetown is revealed as he crosses east into High, Main and other streets of private residences with their glowing wealth of colour and luxuriant growth of vegetation in the surrounding gardens of the detached residences: many of the principal streets have large canals or water reservoirs running down the centre, covered with luxuriant Victoria Regia and Lotus lilies, and flowering trees of several varieties line the sides of the roadways.

The site of the city of Georgetown, in common with all the coast-lands of the colony, is an alluvial flat, the mean level of the surface being four feet under the high water of spring tides, the sea being kept out by a massive sea-wall, forming a breezy esplanade on the sea front, and by river and wharf walls along the river bank.

The buildings of Georgetown with but few exceptions are substantially framed in the celebrated hardwoods of the colony such as greenheart, wallaba, mora, crabwood, bullet- tree, etc., many are handsome structures and not without some architectural pretensions.

As is fitting in a wooden built city, special precautions have to be taken in order to prevent the spread of fire, and therefore spaces are generally allowed between buildings, so that continuous rows of houses are rarely seen on the streets; and almost all private residences stand isolated in their own compounds or gardens. (Source: Handbook of British Guiana, 1909. Pg. 173) Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)

 

Establishment of Demerara

Map of 'Demerary' (Demerara) 1759

Map of ‘Demerary’ (Demerara) 1759

Laurens Storm van Gravesande [regarded as “the doughty founder of the Colony of Demerary, the Dutch Commander-General of the Two Rivers”]made the decision that agricultural development should move towards Demerara. The fertility of the soil and the depth of the river helped him to make this decision.

From 1746, Gravesande began to grant land on the banks of the Demerara River for sugar cultivation and within two years there were 18 plantations which were established. Settlements were growing at such a rapid pace that Gravesande recommended to the directors of the Zeeland Chamber that a separate commander for the Demerara River should be appointed.

Drawing of Laurens Storm van Gravesande found in “Kyk-Over-Al”, Vol. 2, No. 7, December 1948

Drawing of Laurens Storm van Gravesande found in “Kyk-Over-Al”, Vol. 2, No. 7, December 1948

This recommendation was accepted, and in 1752, Gravesande himself was appointed Director-General of Essequibo and Demerara, while his son Johnathan, was appointed Commander of Demerara. Johnathan established the capital of Demerara on the island of Borsselen, located about 25 miles upriver. There, the Secretary’s office, the Commander’s house, a small fort and barracks for soldiers were built.

Johnathan Gravesande had hoped to encourage settlements around Borsselen, but new English settlers, who came in relatively large numbers, opted to settle and cultivate lands the banks of the river near to the Atlantic coast. In 1748, Laurens Gravesande had erected a guard house, or brandwagt, near the mouth of the river on its right bank (where Georgetown is today), and this provided protection to the settlements and plantations there. By 1763, English setters formed the majority of the population of Demerara and they owned roughly one-third of the existing plantations. They were also the first to introduce water-driven sugar mills which helped their plantations to show large profits.

By 1770, development in Demerara had far surpassed that in Essequibo. Four years earlier, a Dutch bank in Amsterdam had started to provide credit finance to sugavr planters who seized the opportunity to increase their investments. The result was that while Essequibo’s sugar plantations increased from 68 to 74, those of Demerara expanded from 93 to 130.

Johnathan Gravesande died in 1761. His brother-in-law, Laurens van Bercheyck, a land surveyor succeeded him to the post. He was credited in 1763, during the Berbice Slave Rebellion, for establishing an alliance with the indigenous people of Demerara to prevent the rebelling Berbice slaves from crossing into Demerara. He died in 1765 and his successor Cornelius van den Heuvel, a planter, proved to be very inefficient. Since he and the elder Gravesande were not on friendly terms, the administration of Demerara suffered. When some of the Demerara planters suggested that the capital of Demerara should be moved from Borsselen Island to the junction of the Hoobaboo Creek and the Demerara River, he opposed it because he owned estates near to the island. Finally, in 1770 he resigned from the post and Paulus van Schuylenburg was appointed to the position. The planters tried to get him to move the capital, but he also refused.

Gravesande himself resigned as Director-General of Essequibo-Demerara in 1772 and was succeeded by George Hendrik Trotz. Three years later, on August 14, 1775,Gravesande died at his plantation, Soesdyke. Though it is believed that he was buried on Fort Island, his grave has not been found. (“The Guyana Story—From Earliest Times to Independence” by Odeen Ishmael)

PLANTATION NAMES

Part I

British historian James Rodway (1848 -1926) wrote regularly about the colony of British Guiana, from which today we are able to learn of many aspects of our early history. One such is the story behind the names of many of the plantations of the day that have now become our towns, villages and neighbourhoods. Here is an edited excerpt of his essay entitled, “The Names of our Plantations”, published in the Timehri: the journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana (1911).

The estates that have been named at different times amount to about two thousand. I shall not attempt to enumerate them all for the majority give no trouble; they are simply old world place-names transferred, as is done in every new country.

Charles Waterton arrived in Georgetown in 1804 to manage the plantations [names shown in red on map] of his father (Walton Hall) and his uncle, Christopher Waterton (La Jalousie and Fellowship), who had returned to England. In The Argosy, published in 1883, Walton Hall is recorded as being part of Hampton Court, the most northerly plantation in the colony. Walton Hall Estate now has a rice mill licensed by the Guyana Rice Development Board (as at 2009) (overtown.org.uk)

Charles Waterton arrived in Georgetown in 1804 to manage the plantations [names shown in red on map] of his father (Walton Hall) and his uncle, Christopher Waterton (La Jalousie and Fellowship), who had returned to England. In The Argosy, published in 1883, Walton Hall is recorded as being part of Hampton Court, the most northerly plantation in the colony. Walton Hall Estate now has a rice mill licensed by the Guyana Rice Development Board (as at 2009) (overtown.org.uk)

There is more interest in those names which either anticipate or commemorate the struggles and triumphs of the early settlers. The name was not necessarily given at the time of the grant, it follows therefore that some are retrospective and give us a peep into the life of our pioneers.
No doubt they thought a good name might bring good fortune; possibly they invoked the goddess in such names as Lucky Hit, Lucky Spot and Goed Fortuin. Unfortunately however their hopes were often disappointed and the estates went to rack and ruin; to-day most of them are taken over by the forest.
Successes proved failures, Good Hopes ended in despair. Freedom (Vryheid) meant slavery a century ago; Paradise and the Garden of Eden were hardly abodes of happiness; even Arcadia has lost its ideal position as a coffee plantation. El Dorado did not bring its owner gold, and notwithstanding its supposedstrength, Gibraltar became of little consequence.
In looking over a chart where the names are inserted we can see the course of settlement.
Until 1740, no one could get land unless he was a Dutch subject; it follows therefore that the names in the neighbourhood of Kyk-over-al, and on the upper Berbice and Canje, are Dutch.
After 1740, Essequibo was opened to all nations with a consequent influx of English from the West Indies, followed later by a fair number of French.
The upper Demerara was largely English (or Barbadian), the French occupied the West Bank and the sides of the Canals, with a few on the East and West Coasts.
Until the British conquest however, the coast from Mahaica to the Corentyne had been neglected; then came the boom in cotton and a succession of English planters, who, of course, gave British names.
Here we find Albion, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Epsom, Brighton, Clifton, Liverpool, etc. Dunrobin, Fyrish, Auchlyne, Kilmarnock and Tarlogie, as well as Carnarvon; proving that English, Scotch, and at least one Welshman were present.
The Canals and their neighbourhood have Middlesex, Westminster, and Vauxhall —Versailles and Bordeaux — Ostend and Vriesland, indicating that the three nationalities were neighbours.
Although the United Kingdom is most conspicuous on the East Coast, we find Chateau Margot, La Bonne Intention, Mon Repos, etc., French, and Goedverwagting, Sparendaam, etc., Dutch.
The Barbados system of naming estates from the owners, without any addition, is hardly known here (Ogle is an example), but Little England is well to the fore as might be expected, especially in those named Halls.
We have Barbados Hall, Planter’s Hall, Bounty Hall, Tranquillity Hall, Airy Hall, Quaker’s Hall, Harmony Hall, Carlton Hall and Broom Hall. (Walton Hall is named after the Yorkshire family mansion of the Watertons.)
Personal names are represented by Waller’s Delight, Keirfield, and Christianburg, the last from Christian Finet, the original owner, a Swede; Huis’t Couverden is doubtful.
A conspicuous class is named after ladies of the family, e.g., Kitty, Sophia, Cornelia Ida, Eve Leary, Ann’s Grove, Elizabeth Hall, and Susannah’s Rust (rest). A curious name is Amelie’s Waard, probably meaning the house of Amelia’s host, guardian, or landlord.
An affectionate son would perpetuate his love to a father or mother by Le Bon Pére and La Bonne Mere, a kind brother by Sisters or Two Sisters, and a father by De Kinderen (the children). (TO BE CONTINUED)

Chinese doctor, Georgetown, British Guiana. No date

Chinese doctor, Georgetown, British Guiana. No date

Entrance to Botanical Gardens, British Guiana

Entrance to Botanical Gardens, British Guiana

Preserving our heritage through pictures

Lithograph-of-Georgetown British Guiana by William Parrott after a drawing by Edward-Angelo Goodall

Lithograph-of-Georgetown British Guiana by William Parrott after a drawing by Edward-Angelo Goodall

Lithograph of Georgetown Demerara British Guiana by William Parrot after a drawing by E. A. Goodall

Lithograph of Georgetown Demerara British Guiana by William Parrot after a drawing by E. A. Goodall

HOG ISLAND WINDMILL

The Hog Islandwindmill is the only known surviving brick windmill structure once used on sugar estates during colonial rulein Guyana.

Restored Dutch windmill at Hog Island (Photo: National Trust 2013)

Restored Dutch windmill at Hog Island (Photo: National Trust 2013)

The Hog Island windmill ruin is said to be located on a former Dutch plantation called Plantation Lyksburg on the eastern side of the 57 km² island.

Constructed on a six-foot mound, the structure stands some 28 feet high, and is made of granite blocks and red brick; the brick being used primarily as facing for the big windows and archways.

After years of obscurity and neglect, the National Trust of Guyana conducted several trips and some field research to restore the structure as a historic heritage site and, in 2010, the Trust restored the windmill; italso erected a fence and constructed a footpath at the site.

Windmills were important for sugar production and widely used in British Guiana and across the Caribbean region to crush cane to extract the juice.The cut cane was brought to the mill by slaves, donkey or cart. Inside, more slaves fed the cane through rollers to extract the juice.

Workers from the National Trust examine the interior of the Hog Island windmill before restoration (National Trust photo)

Workers from the National Trust examine the interior of the Hog Island windmill before restoration (National Trust photo)

Map showing Hog Island on the Essequibo River

Map showing Hog Island on the Essequibo River

While there is no record of the date when windmills were introduced into British Guiana, windmills were in use in the Caribbean by the latter half of the 17th century. There is no record of the age of the Hog Island windmill.

When the Dutch settled on the island, they named it Varken Eiland, for the numerous wild hogs found on the island. (Varken  means “hog” or “pig” in Dutch, while eiland means “island”)After the colony came under British rule in 1803, the English translation to “Hog Island” was adopted.

A brief history of the balata industry

Bleeding a balata tree in British Guiana (No Date)

Bleeding a balata tree in British Guiana (No Date)

British Guiana was the earliest and longest commercial producer of balata among the Guianas.According to “Tropical Forests of the Guiana Shield: Ancient Forests in a Modern World”, edited by D. S. Hammond, almost 28,000 t was produced between 1893 and 1988,though commercial production of balata ceased in 1982.

While indigenous populations had long used balata to make balls for playing games, temporary tooth fillings and for carving decorative art work such as figurines, the discovery of a“rubber tree” boosted the economic activity in British Guiana as worldwide demand for rubber intensified for machinery belting; to cover submarine telegraph cables, as well as for the newly invented motor industry.

Balata is obtained from the latex of the South American tree  manilkara bidentate, known popularly as the bulletwood tree. Balata is also known as wild rubber or natural latex. Incisions are made on the trees and the trees are then “bled” or “milked” for the sap. This is known as balata bleeding. The persons who carry out this activity are commonly called “balata bleeders”.

According to some accounts, early balata bleeding was carried out in Pomeroon in the North West District but this quickly declined as the trees were illicitly cut down rather than bled by incisions.

Most of the balata bleeding in Guyana took place in the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains in the Rupununi. It is estimated that nearly half of the indigenous male population of the Rupununi district was employed in balata bleeding by 1930.

Karanambu (Karanambo) in Rupununi, is said to have been founded as a balata gum collection station in 1927 by Edward “Tiny” McTurk.

A Mr D. Melville of Berbice, in his correspondence with the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana, stated that in Berbice balata is found in abundance on the low, swampy reefs of Canje.

According to Melville’s correspondence, the Berbice “Bully – tree”, from which the gum was obtained, produces a greater amount of sap during the rainy season; the best time to “tap” for the milk was early morning or a day or two after the full moon.

From 1863 – 1865, balata shipments in Berbice amounted to just over 40,000 lbs.

At the peak of the industry’s earnings from 1890 – 1920, balata revenues accounted for some 80 per cent of total annual government forest product revenue between 1900 and 1925. After 1925, as world demand dropped, this was reduced to 43 per cent; by the 1950s it had amounted to just 2 -3 per cent.

As commercial wireless telegraphy and eventually phone services became widespread, demand for the rubber was curbed, leading to the beginning of the end of the rubber boom. By the 1950s, as synthetic rubber was developed cheaper than natural latex, natural rubber from golf balls to shoes was replaced and the rubber industry buckled.

In British Guiana,by 1919, balata companies were already feeling the squeeze of the drastic depreciation of rubber prices. A.F. White, of Consolidated Rubber and Balata Estates Limited operating on the colony, once requested substantial assistance from the Crown to aid the industry.

However, in the London Gazette of July 1922 notice was published of an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Consolidated Rubber and Balata Estates Ltd. to be held for the purpose of officially liquidating the company which could not, “by reasons of its liabilities… continue its business…”

In “Tropical Forests of the Guiana Shield: Ancient Forests in a Modern World” it is noted that commercial bleeding of the balata tree led to some 900,000 to 4.8 million trees being killed across the major producing regions of the country during its 125-year-old history of balata production.

Preserving our heritage through pictures

A Certificate for 50 shares of 1£ (London 1920) for the Consolidated Rubber and Balata Estates Ltd.

A Certificate for 50 shares of 1£ (London 1920) for the Consolidated Rubber and Balata Estates Ltd.

Balata bleeders leaving Sprostons’ stelling at Rockstone, British Guiana (No date)

Balata bleeders leaving Sprostons’ stelling at Rockstone, British Guiana (No date)

Main Road, South New Amsterdam (No date)

Main Road, South New Amsterdam (No date)

Roman Catholic Cathedral 1870-1931

Roman Catholic Cathedral 1870-1931

 

Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage

The Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage. The cast iron pot sits at bottom far right  (National Trust photo)

The Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage. The cast iron pot sits at bottom far right (National Trust photo)

The Linden Museum of Industrial and Socio-Cultural Heritage on Co-op Crescent in Mackenzie, is located in one of Linden’s most historic buildings, according to the National Trust of Guyana.

The building was constructed in 1925 and was known as the Recreational Hall where it was used for dances, indoor games; as a cinema and general meeting place. Later, in the 1970s, it served as the Linden Consumer Goods Complex; today, after much negotiations, it houses the “Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage”, its official name, according to  lindentourism.com

The museum was established by the Region 10 Tourism Development Association and launched April 25, during the 2006 Linden Town Week, which is reported to have coincided with the town’s 36th anniversary.

Photography showing workers on their way to the mining areas. According to the museum, up to the 1960s carriages (in the background) took them to work

Photography showing workers on their way to the mining areas. According to the museum, up to the 1960s carriages (in the background) took them to work

The museum is dedicated mainly towards showcasing the history of Linden as an industrial town, and as such, exhibits include historical mining artefacts, documents, including newspapers, maps and journals; photographs and models of historic industrial machinery, as well as miniature replicas of the mining town.

The museum also has on display indigenous artefacts from the pre-history of Linden, fossils, as well as products derived from its bauxite. In addition, a large cast-iron pot, said to have been used during earlier times for cooking or boiling sugar cane, rests outside on the front porch, one of the first things to notice upon visiting the museum.

October 2016 marks 100 years of bauxite mining in Linden, and the Linden Museum will be part of the planning and preparations for the occasion.

Museum’s model of the town of Linden and its environs

Museum’s model of the town of Linden and its environs

Replica of bauxite train car at the museum

Replica of bauxite train car at the museum

African emigration to British Guiana

Loading steamer at Georgetown docks (ND)

Loading steamer at Georgetown docks (ND)

According to a March 31, 1851 census there were some 7,168 African immigrants residing in Demerara, Essequibo and Berbiceon the colony of British Guiana. Of these, 2,728 were living in Berbice, including in New Amsterdam. Two thousand, four hundred and five resided in Demerara, including Georgetown, and 2,035 lived in Essequibo.

While many are said to have voluntarily arrived on the colony from Sierra Leone and the Kroo (Kru) Coast, now in modern day Liberia and Ivory Coast, many others arrived after being rescued from the slave ships of other regions still involved in the slave trade. These “Liberated Africans” were principally young people and children.

In 1840, labour demand was high after emancipation, and British authorities sought to also encourage African immigration to British Guiana. It was also a way for the British government avoiding indefinite upkeep of the Liberated Africans when they arrived on the colony, freed from slave ships.

Immigration Depot circa 19th century

Immigration Depot circa 19th century

African migrants began legally migrating to the West Indies, where, by 1841, new rules and systems were subsequently put in place to ensure the African slave trade could not resume. Not long afterhowever, migration declined, partly as news reached Africa of the depressing conditions of life on the colony; partly as a result of few African women being encouraged to migrate, which discouraged male migrants, and partly due to discouragement by resident African missionaries and employers.

The male Kru Coast migrants however, known as the Kru, were accustomed to working overseas if necessary, as it was a way of accumulating wealth, especially for marriage. Kru women remained behind to tend to crops and family.

By the time the 19th century had arrived, Kru traditional economic activities had declined and it became a custom to migrate to find work, usuallyas stevedores, returning to their families or to begin a family when they felt they had enough money.

In Kru society, after puberty a male may be apprenticed to what was called a headman who was responsible for finding him work abroad and to whom the migrant would have to give some of his earnings when he returned to Africa. He also had to give a portion to his village chief and his father.

03Arriving in British Guiana the Kru were sent to West Bank Demerara and other Demerara plantations as well as plantations on the East Coast of Berbice. There they mainly worked on the sugar cane punts, moving around the plantation as needed.

British Guiana had the most Kru migrants in the West Indies. One of the reasons many are said to have chosen to remain in British Guiana was that they did not stagnate working on punts but found the opportunity for advancement in other arenas; so much so that Kru authorities back in Africa became concerned about their non-return.

The Kru migrants saved their earnings to purchase land in the villages and had children with Guianese women; although some eventually returned to Kru Coast, it was often only for their sons’ initiation ceremony.

This caused even more concern among their native villagers so that two African princes arrived in British Guiana in 1845 and 1853 respectively to see first-hand their living conditions,after which one prince expressed the fear that the Kru would not want to return.

Among the Liberated Africans,many were considered “uncivilized” so the colonial authorities would put them in the care of elderly black “matrons” who would be responsible for ensuring they learnt the ways of the colony and the Christian religion. Many of these chaperones still retained enough knowledge of their native language to communicate with their charges.

The Liberated Africans were indentured for a year, or until they turned 18, working in the plantation fields alongside the Creoles and other indentured immigrants of the colony.

According to “Demerara after fifteen years of slavery” (1853), by the mid-1800s most of the “old Africans” (those who had arrived during the British slave trade) were at least 50 -60 years old – even if they had arrived as children – since the slave trade had been abolished in 1807. They were dying fast: from more than 15,000 in 1841 to just over 7,000 by the 1851 census.

 

The Hopetown Chinese settlement

A Chinese immigrant family (no date). The Chinese immigrants are said to have originated mainly from areas such as Hong Kong, Canton, Amoy and Whampoa

A Chinese immigrant family (no date). The Chinese immigrants are said to have originated mainly from areas such as Hong Kong, Canton, Amoy and Whampoa

The Hopetown settlement at Kamuni Creek (a creek more well-known for the present-day Santa Mission and Santa Aratak villages) began in 1865 as an effort by colonial authorities to induce Chinese indentured labourers to remain in British Guiana after their contracts were up.

With the meagre salaries of the sugar plantations and limited economic opportunities after their indentureship period came to an end, a large number of Chinese workers were thinking of leaving the colony.

Many had heard of the Chinese in Trinidad accumulating wealth from engaging in rice cultivation and commerce there, and saw no prospects for this in British Guiana.

A Christian missionary in British Guiana known as O Tye Kim (Wu-Tai-Kam), recognised the dissatisfaction among them and devised a plan to encourage them to stay.

According to F.O. Low, a “barrister-at-law” writing in the 1911 Timehri Journal, there were two reasons the Chinese migration would have been disastrous for the planters and the colony.

One was that the planters would “have lost a floating supply of free and trained labour, which on account of their being practically no other channels of employment, could be obtained at a nominal rate”; two was that news reaching China of the dissatisfied labour market on the colony would gravely affect labour arriving from that country.

O Tye Kim’s solution was to establish a “Christian Chinese settlement” not only to spread Christianity but also to create a place where the former indentured labourers could work and live independently to accumulate their wealth and improve their future prospects.

He petitioned then Governor Hincks for a free land grant at Camoonie (Kamuni) Creek, and a small loan to establish the settlement on the left bank of the creek, a tributary of the Demerara River.

Enthusiastic about the idea, Governor Hincks granted the request and the petition was carried in 1865.

Immediately, some 25 settlers were taken to the area, and by the end of the year there were about 70 Chinese settlers. Some historians put the original settlers at 12, with about 170 by year end.

The settlement was named Hopetown in honour of Vice Admiral Sir James Hope who had visited the settlement after he had arrived on the colony just a few days earlier (some historians say he visited in October that year).

The settlers began to cultivate rice, plantains, eddoes and other cash crops, establish poultry and pig farms, while charcoal soon became a major industry, eclipsing agriculture. Soon the settlement was producing charcoal and shingles to be sold in Georgetown shops. By the following year (1866) it is said that Hopetown was producing about 1700 barrels of charcoal per month.

Reflecting the partial aims of O Tye Kim, a large church was built soon after and was described in 1915 as “a monument to attest the evidence of a once thriving Chinese town”. Little else is known of the church.

The decline of the settlement came soon after.  In 1866, just a year after the settlement was created, allegations of improprieties by O Tye Kim arose with regard to the settlement’s accounts and his own financial enterprises. Then in 1867, an inappropriate relationship further reduced his reputation and he is said to have secretly departed the settlement and eventually the colony.

Nothing is known of him since and Hopetown is considered to have degenerated after he left, due to what some historians call a lack of effective administration, as well as the exhaustion of wood from the immediate area for charcoal production; periodic plundering of crops by wild animals and birds, along with flooding.

F.O. Low writes of several (other) reasons for its decline, after speaking with some of its older residents as well as former settlers.

He states that after settlers had accumulated wealth, they moved to the city of Georgetown where work was “less arduous and the profits greater”.

Additionally, he points out, younger generations of Chinese were reluctant to work long and hard in the fields when it was more lucrative to work in the city and eventually “be the owner of his own shop”.

He also points to the fact that the lack of females among the settlers meant that many of the settlement’s males died childless, further reducing the population.

According to “Mission Life; Or Home and Foreign Church Work, Volume 5” of the 170 persons in 1866, 40 were women and 20 were children.

Low states that he considered the failure to plant permanent crops as “one of the principle reasons for the decline of the settlement”.

According to him, that failure stemmed from the lack of knowledge of the crops suitable for the lands, the unwillingness to wait for the returns from the crop, along with the lack of individual land titles to encourage a motivation of inheritance.

Finally, Low suggests, the Boeraserie Scheme, which began around 1867 to create a reservoir for the agricultural lands of the West Coast and West Bank Demerara, “was also largely instrumental in bringing about the decline of the settlement” because it would during the rainy season allow for flooding of the settlement’s agricultural lands.

In 1903, according to one source, title to the land at Hopetown was given to the Trustees of the Anglican Church at Hopetown, for the Chinese immigrants then settled at Hopetown and such other Chinese as may settle there, and their descendants.

This land was subsequently entrusted in 1954 to the Incorporated Trustees of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Guyana.

Then, in 1972, it was agreed by Dr. Alan John Knight, then Bishop of Guyana, who was also the Archbishop of the West Indies, that the land should be leased for 99 years to the Chinese Association.

At its peak in 1874, Hopetown is said to have a population of about 800 Chinese. By 1891 that number was reduced to 240; by 1901 it had dwindled to 198, mostly the old and infirm.

By the time the 1911 census came around, the settlement was not mentioned, only the fact that among the settlers along Kamuni Creek, there were 73 Chinese.

In 1914, blacks, East Indians and mixed races began appearing in Hopetown to make up about one-third of the population, among 46 pure Chinese.

Cecil Clementi, author of “The Chinese in British Guiana” (1915) proved prophetic when he writes at the end of his chapter on Hopetown settlement: “Two villages of Aboriginal Settlement Indians—Aritak and Santa, eight and a quarter and nine miles respectively from the mouth of the creek—appear today to have better prospects of success.”