April 28, 2017

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)

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