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. 5: Confidential Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Demerara, October 23, 1841.


In my letter of this day's date(1), I informed your Excellency upon what grounds I founded the right of possession of Her Majesty to the Barima, and I have now to point out the importance which is attached to this position, should the British Government establish the Amacura as the boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela.

The River Orinoco may be termed the high-road to the .interior of the territories of Venezuela and New Granada. It has at its mouth the appearance of an ocean, and articles of commerce may be transported on this stream for 400 or 500 leagues. Nearly three hundred tributary streams, of more or less importance, flow into it, which may serve as additional canals and facilitate the commerce of the interior. Santa Fe de Bogota may be reached within a distance of eight miles by one of its tributary streams, the Meta, and operations of commerce or war, combined, with others from the Pacific, could be carried on by means of the vast plains or llanos. A small fleet may go up the Orinoco and the Meta within fifteen or twenty leagues of Santa Fe, and the flour of New Grenada may be conveyed down the same way.

And the only access to this vast inland communication for sailing vessels of more than ten feet draft of water is by means of the Boca de Navios, which is commanded from Point Barima.

The River Barima falls into the south side of the Orinoco near the most eastern point of its mouth and in a direction almost parallel to the coast. Point Barima is, therefore, bounded to the west by the river of that name, to the north by the Orinoco, to the east by the Atlantic, and to the south by impenetrable forests. Colonel Moody considers this position "susceptible of being fortified so as to resist almost any attack on the sea-side - the small depth of water, the nature of the tides, and its muddy shores, defend it. The Barima, and the uncultivated forests on marshy ground, present an impenetrable barrier against the interior, and debarkation from the Orinoco might be put under the fire of any number of guns - and the land-reproaches [sic] on that soil could be easily rendered inaccessible to an invading force."

This is the importance which Colonel Moody in a military respect has attached to this point, and which, so far as my knowledge goes in this matter, is fully borne out by personal inspection during my late survey of the entrance to the Barima.

The Venezuelan Government, as at present organised, tottering in their interior relations, and embarrassed by a number of slaves who would hail the opportunity to shake off their fetters, hated and despised by the aborigines, whom maltreatment and cruelties have alienated, would be an insignificant enemy - but in the hands of any of the maritime European powers, matters would assume another aspect.

France has attempted to establish a fortified position at the mouth of the Amazon near Macapa, which she claims as the eastern boundary of Cayenne. A settlement at this spot commands the commerce of the Amazon, and this, no doubt, is the reason why this Power puts such importance upon its possession. Supposing that unforeseen circumstances should put France in occupation of Point Barima at the Orinoco, and that Macapa at the Amazon is ceded to her, she will then command the commerce of the two first rivers of South America and hold the military keys of the northern provinces of Brazil and of the former Spanish provinces of South America, north of the equator, which territories will be always at the mercy of that power which commands the channels to their commerce.

Finally, trusting to the prospects of prosperity and a continued emigration to British Guiana, there could not be a more favourable position for a commercial settlement than Point Barima. The capital of Spanish Guayana is Angostura, situated a distance of 85 leagues from the mouth of the Orinoco, and the intricate navigate of that river presents numerous difficulties to foreign vessels going up the Orinoco as far as Angostura.

A commercial settlement established at the extreme point of Barima where one part of the town will front the River Barima, and the other the Orinoco, would soon induce foreign vessels to dispose of their cargoes at the new settlement, and leave the further transport to the interior to smaller craft; naturally this premises the supposition that amicable relations and commercial treaties exist between Great Britain and Venezuela. The bar at the Barima admits vessels of' sixteen feet draft of water, which if once entered, may safely anchor in from four to five fathoms of water. The peculiar formation of the fluvial system of the coastland between the Barima and the Essequibo admits an inland navigation, in punts and barges, to Richmond Estate, on the Arabisi Coast of the Essequibo, which with a few improvements might vie with any of the interior canals of England.

I have, etc.

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