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. 4: Special Report of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Camp Street, Georgetown, October 23, 1841.


In compliance with your Excellency's desire to be informed upon what grounds I claimed, in Her Britannic Majesty's name, the right of possession of the River Barima, and the eastern bank of the River Amacura as the western boundary between Her Majesty's colony of British Guiana and the Venezuelan territory:

I beg leave to observe in the first instance, that by an additional Article to a convention signed at London on the 13th August, 1814, the colonies Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, were ceded to the British Crown, which therefore acquired the same claim to the frontier as Holland possessed when still in possession of these colonies.

So early as 1580 the Dutch attempted to form small settlements on the banks of the Orinoco and Pomeroon, and the States-General privileged in 1581 certain individuals to trade to their settlements.

In 1621 the States-General granted to some Dutch merchants, who formed a corporation under the name of the Westindische Maatschappye, or West India Company, an exclusive right to all the African and American commerce, and the right of governing and defending any new colonies which it might already possess or acquire, retaining to themselves the power of nominating the Company's Governor-General abroad. This grant comprised the coast from the Orinoco to the eastward; and Hartsinck, the authentic historian of Guiana (or the "Wild Coast" as it then was called), mentions in several places that the limits of the West India Company, to whom the exclusive trade and navigation had been granted, extended to the mouth of the Orinoco (vide Hartsinck, Beschryving, etc., vol. 1, p. 211, 217, 257). By the treaty of Munster, on the 30th January, 1648, Philip the IV of Spain recognised the Netherlands as independent States, and confirmed their possessions in foreign parts.

This treaty included especially the colonies of the Dutch West India Company, and comprised, consequently, Guiana to the mouth of the Orinoco. It was about this time that the Dutch had a post at the mouth of the River Barima; it was at least in existence when the English destroyed, in 1666, the Dutch settlements Niew Zealand, and Nieuw Middelburg, at the Pomeroon. The former existence of this post is not doubted, and it does not appear from Hartsinck that it was merely a military occupation. He observes in his Beschryving van Guiana, vol. I, p. 257, "The first rivers which on coming from the River Orinoco we meet in Netherlands Guiana, are the creeks or rivers of Baryma, about a mile wide, where we formerly had a post, three miles further the Amachora of the same width, which, like the former, has its outlet in the River Orinoco."

It is indisputable, from the records of the Dutch West India Company, that they directed their Governor at Guiana to construct and maintain a post on the Barima, and Colonel Moody, R.A., discovered the remains of this post in 1807 when he was employed as an Engineer officer in Demerara, and when it was in contemplation to send a small force against Angostura, to destroy the privateers which infested the coast of Dutch Guiana. I have already above alluded to the circumstance that, according to Hartsinck, the Dutch West India Company considered the mouth of the Orinoco to be the limit of their possessions; it is further asserted that, there are documents in the archives of the West India Company at Amsterdam, according to which the whole territory from the Morucca to the Barima was granted or sold by that corporation to a Swede, naturalised in Holland, and the Swede, when dying, left the fee simple to the land to the King of Sweden, reserving the Sovereignty to the Government of Holland.

Indeed, a Chamber of Merchants is said to have existed as early as the close of the 16th century, trading to the Barima, where at that period settlemeuts were on both banks of the river; and when, in pursuit of my survey, we ascended the Barima, the Indians pointed out to me, at, a distance of 100 miles from its mouth, a spot which they called "The place of the last white man,"(1) where, as they told me, a Dutchman, about 30 or 40 years ago, cultivated the land and carried on a trade in timber, which, with the produce he raised, he transported in punts and a small schooner to the Dutch Settlements at the Pomeroon.

Rolt, in his "History of South America," published in the middle of the last century, states, page 500, that Dutch Guiana extends along the coast from the mouth of the River Orinoco in 9 north latitude to the River Maravine in 6 20' north latitude.

I have consulted two maps, likewise published in England during the last century, which may be therefore trusted, as Great Britain was not at that time interested in the question.

The first is the coast of Guayana from the Orinoco to the River Amazons, etc., London, published in 1783 by W. Faden, Geographer to the King, in which the Barima is stated as the western boundary of the Dutch according to their claim.

The second is a chart of Guayana from the West India Pilot by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, and published London, 1798, in which the Barima River is stated to divide the Dutch and Spanish lands.

It must be generally acknowledged that Alexander de Humboldt, of all others, was best acquainted with the history of the former Spanish Colonies, and his long sojourn in Venezuela, and subsequent study of its history, authorises his opinion to great weight and consideration. In speaking of the limits of Spanish Guayana, such as this province was administered before the revolution by a Governor resident in Angostura, he says: "The north-east frontier, that of the English Guayana, merits the greatest attention on account of the political importance of the mouths of Oroonoko which I have discussed in the 24th Chapter of this work. The sugar and cotton plantations had already reached beyond the Rio Pomaroon under the Dutch Government; they extend further than the mouth of the little River Moroco where a military fort is established. The Dutch, far from recognising the Rio Pomaroon or the Moroco as the limit of their territory, placed the boundary at Rio Barima, consequently near the mouth of the Oroonoko itself, when they draw a line of demarcation from N.N.W. to S.S.E, towards Cuyuni.

"They had even taken military occupation of the eastern bank of the small Rio Barima before the English (in 1666) had destroyed the forts of New Zealand and New Middelburgh on the right bank of Pomeroon. Those forts and that of Kyk-over-al (look everywhere around), at the confluence of the Cuyuni, Masaruni, and Essequebo have not been re-established. Persons who had been on the spot assured me, during my stay in Angustura, that the country west of Pomaroon, of which the possession will one day be contested by England and the Republic of Columbia, is marshy, but exceedingly fertile."

Modern English geographers assume tho Amacura as boundary from whence the line of limit extends to the sources of the Canno Coyunni, and from thence to the River Cuyunni.

I refer your Excellency to the maps published by Mr. Arrowsmith and others in the course of the last 10 years, nor must I omit to mention the able reports Mr. Crihton [sic], the inspector of police, on this subject, when that gentleman was still Superintendent of the Essequibo, and which perfectly agrees with my own memoir, although we never communicated to each other our respective ideas on this subject.

These are the grounds upon which I have formed Her Majesty's right of possession to the River Barima, while the counter-claim of the Venezuelans is neither maintained by treaties nor by primary possession or tenure.

I have now to assert the reason why I claiined the right bank of the Amacura from its embouchure at the mouth of the Orinoco to its source as the western limit of British Guiana.

The example of the difference which has arisen between Her Majesty's Government and the United States with regard to the limits of Canada prove the necessity that to prevent future misunderstandings where limits are to be determined between adjacent territories, permanent or natural boundaries ought to be selected, such as rivers, ridges of hills, etc., which, ascertained with astronomical precision, leave no grounds for dispute. An additional recommendation for such boundaries is, that the illiterate, the savage, and the common population in general will be aware that if on the left bank of the Amacura, they are within the Venezuelan, and if on the right bank, within the British boundary, a point which, if an astronomical meridian had been selected, could only have been ascertained by an astronomer, or would have imposed the necessity upon the Government to cut a tract [sic] through the thick forest representing such a meridian.

This undertaking would not only be connected with heavy expenses, but by the rapid vegetation under the tropics, would have to be repeated from period to period.

The River Amacura enters the Orinoco 4 geographical miles from the eastern point of the River Barima, on both banks of which the Dutch are said to have possessed settlements, and having foregone to claim, according to modern English geographers, the Canno Coyuni as a continuation of the western limit, the Venezuelans, if they recognise the British right of possession to the Barima, will easily reconcile themselves to see a permanent boundary established, by selecting the River Amacura.

Great Britain has been partly actuated by philanthropical motives to see the boundaries of British Guiana determined, in order to afford protection to such of the Indian tribes as live within her boundary, and the comparatively few who remain of that interesting portion of her subjects look with the greatest expectation forward to the moment when they may consider themselves secure against the arbitrary measures of unprincipled men.

If, therefore, the Amacura be fixed upon as boundary, for the reason above stated, and Indian will be fully aware whether he sojourns in the British or in the Venezuelan territory.

I have, etc.

1- (Sic) In his second Report the words are "the last place of the white man."