History of the Republic of Guyana

Back to History Page

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

No. 3: Letter from Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
(Close this window to return to the main contents)

Demerara, September 15, 1841.


I had the honour to receive yesterday, far perusal, the despatches which Her Majesty's Charge d'Affaires at Rio de Janeiro, and Her Majesty's Consul at Caraccas, have addressed to your Excellency with regard to the pending survey of the boundaries of British Guiana. Mr. Ousely's letter is so satisfactory, that l refrain from further allusion to it, but I beg leave respectfully to offer such remarks as Mr. O'Leary's letter may call forth.

Before my departure from London on the execution of the survey, Mr. Vernon Smith, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, enclosed copies of letters to me which, by the desire of Viscount Palmerston, had been addressed to Her Majesty's Charge d'Affaires at Rio de Janeiro and at Venezuela, notifying my appointment to survey and mark out the boundaries of Guiana, and desiring them to inform the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the respective Governments of the issue of this Commission. If, therefore, my instructions had been to the effect, to enter at the present period already into actual negotiations, this preliminary step having been taken by Her Majesty's Government, it appears to me that it would have been the duty of the Venezuelan Authorities at Caraccas to inform the Governor of Angustura of the intentions of Her Majesty' Government, and the intelligence that I had entered upon the execution of my duties could not have created "the utmost surprise and alarm," but my instructions do not authorise me to enter into any negotiations before the execution of the survey, and any communication from up part to the Governor of Angustura would have been unwarranted, or might have forestalled the views of your Excellency or Her Majesty's Home Government.

So far from wishing to be uncourteous towards the authorities of the territories which border on British Guiana, and in absence of any instructions to proceed up to Angustura, which only could have been executed with much delay and expense, I started in the largest of our boats from our camp at the Barima to wait on the Commandant of the Orinoco at Coriabo, but so dangerous proved this undertaking in our small canoes that, without risking our lives, we were obliged to desist, and to return next morning to our camp.

It would be repetition to state the grounds upon which rest the rights its of Her Britannic Majesty to the Barima, and the absolute necessity that the boundaries of British Guiana should be based upon natural divisions, and not upon imaginary lines; but Mr. O'Leary has been erroneously informed that a British vessel cruised off the Barima during my survey, and that the Amacura, the right bank of which I claimed as the limit between British and Venezuelan Guiana, be situated five leagues up the Orinoco, as it is merely four miles from the mouth of the Barima.

I most sincerely wished that there were no existing grounds of apprehension respecting the interference of Venezuelan subjects with the independent Indian tribes; the facts which I have brought to your Excellency's knowledge, and which may be corroborated by any person travelling among the Indians at the contested boundaries, prove that these cruel acts of the inferior authorities have not come to Mr. O'Leary's knowledge.

I can only repeat that while employed on the execution of the service with which I have been honoured, it shall be my constant aim to meet with the greatest courtesy any of the authorities of the territories adjacent to British Guiana, and to use every conciliatory means at my command to produce the desired result of settling the boundaries of this important colony in the most amicable manner.

I have, etc.