History of the Republic of Guyana

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Reports and Letters of Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk with reference to his
Surveys of the Boundaries of British Guiana.

No. 11: Report of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Pirara, August 25, 1842.



I had the honour to address your Excellency on June 15th(1), and to enclose a protest of Captain Leal and Fray Jose against my having established, according to the order of my Commission, certain marks along the River Takutu.

The boats which were sent for supplies to Demerara, in order to enable me to continue the survey, have since returned without meeting with any serious accident, although the journey was undertaken at a period when the rivers of the interior are most dangerous, and I am now making every preparation to leave Pirara for the purpose of ascending the River Cotinga or Xuruma [sic], as far as the mountain Roraima.

The hired paddlers return to-morrow to the coast, and I avail myself of this opportunity to transmit to your Excellency a detailed report or journal of our last expedition to the sources of the Takutu. This river, as your Excellency is no doubt aware from the Parliamentary papers relative to British Guiana (ordered to be printed May 11th, 1840), and the map which accompanies this document, is to form a part of the south-western boundary of Her Majesty's Colony of Guiana, and has been claimed by me in Her Majesty's name accordingly, as I had the honour to inform your Excellency in my letter (No. 3) of the 30th May, 1842.(2)

The Journal(3) which I have the honour to send herewith, without entering the political merit of my mission, gives more details than my former report, and is accompanied by a Sketch Map(4) which although it is as accurate as circumstances permitted me to render it in the wilderness, is merely intended to illustrate the route of the Expedition, without forming a sequel to those maps of the western boundary claim which your Excellency had the goodness to transmit to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies in a former occasion; and upon which Her Majesty's claim to that territory is to be founded. Maps on such an extensive scale could only be executed on our return to the Colony, where the necessary facilities for their construction are offered.

I beg leave to enclose herewith copy of a letter addressed to me by Captain Leal, and my answer thereto. That officer honoured me with a visit on the 9th instant, and informed me at the time Colonel de Matto, the Brazilian Commissioner, were [sic] daily expected in Fort San Joaquim.

Your Excellency's express with a despatch to Lieutenant Bingham, and an inclosure to me, containing an extract of a provisional agreement between Her Majesty's envoy at Rio de Janeiro, and the Brazilian Minister for Foreign Affairs, arrived here on the 22nd instant; and Lieutenant Weiberg has since proceeded with the despatch to Fort San Joaquim. I availed myself of this opportunity to address the Brazilian Commissioner, of which letter I beg leave to enclose likewise a copy.

The good understanding which has existed between the authorities at Fort San Joaquim, and the Boundary Expedition induced me to address this letter to Colonel de Matto; the more since, acquainted with the Brazilian character, I am aware that such a slight proof of civility will not fail to be appreciated.

Rumours of a large force being on its way to San Joaquim have existed for some time among the Indians, who, the other day, flocked to Pirara, considering themselves not safe at the distant settlements. Nor did Captain Leal, in his conversation with me, hide such information. It does not only appear that a large detachment of regular troops have left Para for San Joaquim, but the policiaes, or enlisted militia of the Province Rio Negro, under Captain Bemfico, are said to be likewise on their march to the frontier. I trust, therefore, that the conventional agreement between H.M. Envoy at Rio and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to consider Pirara for the present as neutral, may prevent any further steps from the part of Brazil to possess itself forcibly of Pirara.

It are [sic] meanwhile my intentions [sic] to continue the survey after the arrival of the military boats from Demerara, with which I expect the tent curtains so necessary for the protection of the astronomical instruments.

As it will prove impossible to take the whole baggage and instruments with me, I purpose to leave the canoeman Henry Tietien, a German by birth, and a steady and trustworthy man, in charge of our hut and baggage at Pirara.

I have great hopes that the Expedition under my command reaches Roraima at the end of the month of September, and as these regions are of great importance to the survey, a stay of some time will be required to determine this mountain with great precision. I purpose to leave here the heavy baggage, and proceed in search of the sources of the Cuyuni, which river I purpose to descend as far as its tributary the Acarabisi, at, the confluence of which with the Cuyuni I engraved the mark of the survey in July, 1841.

In the hope to accomplish this successfully, I beg leave to draw your Excellency's attention to the circumstance that, arrived at the Acarabisi, the boundary of British Guiana to the west and southward has been traced, and that it requires merely to explore the regions from the sources of the Essequibo to the sources of the Corentyn, and from thence along that river to its embouchure into the Atlantic, in order to accomplish the aims of my mission.

For the latter object the period of a year will be required, but it becomes now a great object to decide whether at present where the respective governments are interested in the decision of the different territorial claims, it would prove more advisable to leave the survey of that portion to a more favourable period, and to probe by actual negotiations in what the objections really consist which Brazil and Venezuela raise against the claim of Her Majesty, and upon what they found their counter-claim to the territory to which the British Crown is entitled.

The decision of the boundary between British Guiana, Brazil, and Venezuela is of much greater importance than between Great Britain and Holland, where it appears it wants only the decision of the question to whom of the two powers belong the small islands in the River Corentyn, as Holland, no doubt, has long ago relinquished her claim to that part of the County of Berbice which lies between the Devil's Creek and the River Corentyn.

The distance from the mouth of the Acarabisi, where I purpose of being at the end of December, to Georgetown, may be accomplished in five or six days.

I have, therefore, planned, in lieu of re-ascending the Cuyuni and to return to Pirara via Roraima, to wait upon your Excellency in Georgetown, in case your Excellency should have to communicate to me any farther [sic] orders from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether the survey is to be discontinued for the time to enter into the more important negotiations with Brazil and Venezuela, or whether I am first to accomplish the survey of the whole territory to which Her Britannic Majesty considers herself entitled.

In the latter case my presence at Georgetown will best enable me to inform your Excellency of the probable amount required for that purpose, and to make the necessary arrangements for transporting the required articles to Pirara.

I have, etc.

1- No. 10.
2- No. 9.
3- The Journal records facts of geography, natural history, etc.; it was printed in 1843 by the Royal Geographical Society.
4- Sketch Map of Takutu River and environs, not reproduced with this paper.

Inclosure 1 in No. 11.

Captain Leal to Mr. Schomburgk.
Fort St. Joaquim, July 19, 1842.

Illustrious Sir,

I have this day received notice that the illustrious Senhor Colonel Joao Henriques de Malta, Commissioner of Boundaries, has arrived at Manoa, and that during the whole of this month he will be in this Fort.

The reason why I give you this information is that you may not continue any aggressions relative to the subject in question.

May God preserve you.

Captain Commandant, Fort St. Joaquim.

(A literal copy.)

Inclosure 2 No. 11.

Mr. Schomburgk to Captain Leal.
Pirara, July 25, 1842,

Illustrious Sir,

I am favoured by your letter of the 19th instant, and have to thank you much for the information respecting the illustrious Colonel Joao Henriques de Malta, Commissioner of Boundaries to His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil, whom you have been expecting during all this month.

I regret much that I have not yet received the necessary instructions from my Government to enable me to treat with the illustrious Colonel. I have, however, dispatched a messenger to Demerara, who will be here in the course of from fifteen to twenty days at farthest; perhaps he will bring with him the requisite information.

I shall not fail sending a messenger to the Fortress the instant the canoes have arrived to inform the illustrious Colonel whether I have received more explanatory instructions.

In the meantime, you will do me the favour to present to him my respectful compliments.

May God protect you.

A true translation from the Portuguese,
Quod attestor,
(Signed) BERNARD RIES, Sworn Translator.

Inclosure 3 in No. 11.

Mr. Schomburgk to Colonel de Malta.
Pirara, August 24, 1842.

Illustrious Colonel,

I hope sincerely that you have arrived in good health at the Fortress of St. Joaquim.

I take this opportunity of congratulating you on the appearance, as it seems to me, of an amicable termination of the boundary question between our respective Governments.

The despatch of his Excellency the Governor of British Guiana, charged to the care of Lieutenant Wieberg, will give you notice that Pirara is to be considered provisionally as neutral ground, and that the detachment of troops of Her Britannic Majesty has orders to return back to Demerara.

Conformably with my instructions I shall depart at the end of two weeks to the source of the River Crestaes or Cotinga. On my arrival at the mouth of the River Xuruma I shall do myself the pleasure of paying my respects to you at Fort St. Joaquim.

In the meantime, and before we cross the Roraima Mountains, I shall be happy to give you a hearty welcome at our poor quarters in Pirara.

I have, etc.

A true translation from the Portuguese,
Quod attestor,
(Signed) BERNARD RIES, Sworn Translator.