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. 6: Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Demerara, November 30, 1841.


I have the honour to forward herewith for transmission to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State of the Colonies the maps of the Guiana Boundary Expedition, exhibiting that part of the limits of the Colony which have been lately surveyed under Her Majesty's Commission, and which are intended to divide British Guiana from the Venezuelan Republic.

I beg leave to refer your Excellency, for the reasons which induced me to select the River Amacura as the western boundary of British Guiana, to my letters(1) dated the 23rd October, 1841; but since an exposition of the principal grounds upon which my proceedings were based might be perhaps of use to Her Majesty's Government in the renegotiations which are likely to ensue with the Venezuelan Government, I have the honour to enclose herewith a memorial in which the grounds are recapitulated, chiefly with regard of Her Majesty's right of possession to the Barima - a point of more importance to Great Britain than I have ventured to make it appear in my memorial.

I have but little to observe with regard to the maps, which must speak for themselves. They were originally intended to be prepared at the conclusion of the survey, as the minute calculations demand more time than the Expedition would have had at present to spare, had not the want of funds to continue the survey detained us in Georgetown.

The large map consists of six sheets, and has been laid down on a scale of half an inch to a mile. It exhibits the ground which has been subjected to our investigations, and the result of such information with regard to the adjacent territory as could be trusted. The map on a large scale has served as groundwork to the general map, which, on a scale of 5 miles to an inch, gives a coup d'ceil of the whole territory which north of the River Cuyuni is disputed by Venezuela, and which comprises 7,000 square miles of the most fertile land.(2)

The reel line shows the claim of Her Britannic Majesty, and notice has been taken where boundary marks have been set up to attest that claim. The yellow line delineates the Venezuelan pretentions to a territory which they never possessed, either by conquest or by tenure.

The importance of Point Barima will become evident from the inspection of the general map, and I have drawn your Excellency's attention (in my confidential letter of 23rd October) to some of the most weighty reasons why Great Britain should assert her right to it. I have to add, that if Great Britain relinquish her right to the territory west of the River Maroco, extending to the River Barima, the Venezuelan Republic may cede that territory, earlier or later (as Spain did the Florida and Louisiana), to a power which might prove a more dangerous neighbour to the British Colony of Guiana than the Republic of Venezuela.

I have, etc.


To Henry Light, Esq., Governor, etc., etc., of British Guiana.

1- No. 4 and No. 5

2- The size of the first of these two maps (eight feet by six feet) makes it unsuitable for publication as a Parliamentary Paper. It includes only the upper portion of the Colony as far as the Acarabisi Creek. The boundary marked upon it is the same as that on the second map, which includes a greater portion of the Colony, and a facsimile of which is annexed.

Inclosure in No. 6.

Memorandum by Mr. Schomburgk

We must premise, before we enter into any actual discussion which point ought to form the western limit of the present Colony of British Guiana, that this territory, which comprises the former colonies of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, was an appurtenance of the States-General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Having been previously conquered by the British in 1781, under Sir George Rodney, and in 1796, under General White, it was restored at the peace of Amiens, in 1802, to their original possessors, the Dutch, who formed the Batavian Republic. On the recommencement of hostilities, in 1803, Demerara and Essequibo surrendered on the 19th September, and Berbice on the 26th September, to the British forces, under General Greenfield and Commodore Sir Samuel Hood; since which time it remained in British possession, and was ultimately ceded to Great Britain by an additional Article to a Convention between that Power and the United Netherlands, signed at London upon the 13th August, 1814. Great Britain, from the moment these colonies were ceded to her, had therefore the same claim to the terminus of the boundary of that part of the American Continent as when it had been under the Dominion of the House of Orange, who were the acknowledged sovereigns for more than two centuries.

So early as 1580 the Dutch navigated the Orinoco, and settlements were attempted on such parts as were not occupied by the Spaniards;(1) and the States-General privileged, in 1581, certain individuals to trade to these settlements exclusively.(2)

It is said that at the close of that century a Chamber of Merchants existed at Middelburg, trading to the River Barima, which river enters the Orinoco at the most eastern point of its great mouth, or Boca de Navios.

In 1621 the States-General granted to some Dutch merchants, who formed a Corporation under the name of the West Indische Maasschappy, or West India Company, an exclusive right to all the African and American commerce, and the right of governing any new colonies which it might 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 extended to the mouth of the Orinoco.(3)

In 1669, the Dutch West India Company granted to Count Frederick Casimir, of Hanau, a piece of land which he might select from their possessions at the wild coast of America for the purpose of settling a German colony, in which document the Orinoco is again alluded to as the western boundary of their possessions.

Previously, in 1648, on the 13th January, Philip IV, King of Spain, had recognised, by the Treaty of Munster, the Netherlands as independent States, and by an additional Article, on the 4th February, 1648, confirmed their possessions in foreign parts.

This Treaty included especially the colonies of the Dutch West India Company, and comprised consequently Guiana to the month of the Orinoco.

A confirmation of which offers the document between the Company and the Count of Hanau, where that river is still called their boundary, and which attests that it was recognised as such by Spain at the Treaty of Munster.

In 1674, the West India Company, which was incorporated in 1621, was dissolved, and the "Nieuwe West Indische Compagnie" was chartered by the States-General, the exclusive commerce of which was limited to a certain part of Africa, the Island of Curacoa, and the Colonies of Essequibo and Bouwerona (Pomeroon), the latter of which, as already observed, extended to the mouth of the Orinoco. The rest of the trade monopolised by the Company was thrown open to the subjects of the States-General.

It has been my aim, with the limited resources which I have at my command, to prove that the Orinoco was, at the 17th century, politically recognised as the boundary of the Dutch West India Company. All the claims which during the last century and since have been set up, rest upon the fanaticism of the missionaries settled at the Orinoco and the Caroni, who with fear saw the extension of the Protestant faith which emanated from the Dutch Colonies, and threatened to lose [sic] the religious hold which these missionaries possessed over the Indians.

We find, therefore, that Fathers Gumilla and Caulin, both of them historians of the River Orinoco, proclaims first against the advancement of the Dutch heretics and usurpation of the territory.

But it remains now to be proved whether the Dutch were ever in actual possession of that part which is now in dispute; and here I refer to Hartsinck, who decidedly declared that the Dutch had a post at the mouth of the River Barima: "The first rivers which, on coming from the River Orinoco, we meet in Netherlands Guiana, are the Creeks, or River of Barima, about a mile wide, where we formerly had a post; three miles further, the Amachera, of the same width, which, like the former has its outlet in the River Orinoco.(4)

The want of fresh water, and the great distance from their principal settlements, no doubt induced the Commandant of the Pomeroon to withdraw that post. It is affirmed that it was in existence when the English, under Major John Scott, destroyed the fort New Zealand and plundered New Middelburg,(5) Company in existence, by which the directors desired the Commandant of Pomeroon to keep the fortified post of the Barima in repair. Colonel Moody (Royal Engineers) 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 during the period it was occupied by the British; and when the Boundary Commission, at the commencement of this year, encamped at the site of the old Dutch post, the marks of the former trenches and cultivation were still observable.

It was, however, not only the Dutch, as an interested party, who pretended the Barima to be their western boundary. If we consult geographical works of the last century, we find that their claim was maintained by geographers uninterested in the question.

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

I have consulted two charts of the coast of Guiana which were published in England during the last century, and which deserve confidence, as Great Britain, chiefly during the publication of the first chart, was not an interested party.

I allude firstly to a chart of "the Coast of Guayana, from the Orinoco to the River of Amazons. London: Published in 1783 by W. Faden, Geographer to the King," in which the River Barima is stated as the western boundary of the Dutch according to their claim.

The second is a chart of "Guayana from the West Indian Pilot, by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, published London, 1798," in which the Barima River is stated to "divide the Dutch and Spanish lands." Although under British protection at that period, these colonies were restored to the Batavian Republic in 1802.

France looked always with the most jealous eye upon the extent of the Dutch colonial possessions and their commerce on the South American continent, nor was this jealousy diminished when the Dutch colonies, in 1796, were put under British protection; and as it was asserted that one of the reasons why Napoleon was not satisfied with the Treaty of Badajoz consisted in the boundary of Cayenne not having been extended to the month of the Amazon, I have no doubt that France would prevent the extension of the British Colony of Guiana to the mouth of the Barima - which, with the highly romantic feelings of the descendants of the Spaniards, the present Republic of Venezuela call the Dardanelles of this territory - if it could be done without direct interference.

French geographers, therefore, curtail the extent of the former claim of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and without deteriorating in the slightest degree the excellency in every other respect of their work, I must be still permitted to doubt their impartiality, the more since all modern geographical works respecting Equinoctial France, or Cayenne and the adjacent territories, rest mostly upon Biet,(6) Barrere,(7) and Bellin,(8) the two latter of whom were by no means friendly inclined to their Dutch neighbours; indeed, Bellin wrote only from the documents of the "Depot des Cartes et Plans de la Marine."

Father Gumilla, a worthy missionary, who, however, was endowed with all the bigotry of his age, was the first to raise the cry against the advancement of the Lutheran heretics at the adjacent colony of Dutch Guiana. He published his works on the Orinoco in 1745.(9) Father Caulin followed him, and his ire is frequently raised against the Dutch heretics, who infested the Cuyuni, and traded with the Indians adjacent to the mission of the Capuchins, and instructed the fugitive Christians of the mission silently in their heresy.

The influence which the missionaries possessed over the temporal governors of Spanish Guayana caused the political assertions of claims to a territory which the Spaniards had never possessed, and which at the time the divisional limits were drawn, in which the reverend communities of Observants, Jesuits, and Capuchins were to exercise respectively their apostolic functions, had been consigned, pro forma, to the Capuchins.

We come now to a more recent period, when the former subjects of the Spanish Crown in that part of South America, dissatisfied with the rule of the Mother Country, declared themselves independent.

At the Congress of Angostura in 1811 the boundaries of the New Republic were alluded to, and without any further application to the other Governments who were interested in that question, they were fixed upon as it appeared most advantageous to the Congress of the young republic.

Great Britain was at that time in occupation of the Dutch Colony of Guiana, which was only ceded to her at a later period.

During the war which was then raging on the European Continent, Spain had taken an active part against Great Britain, and a kind of depredatory war was carried on by the Spanish colonists against the Dutch estates, which extended along the Arabian coast between the Essequibo and the Pomeroon.

The chief rendezvous of the Spanish launches and piratical vessels was then the River Barima, from which they made their descent upon the sugar estates of the Dutch colonists, destroying the buildings, and carrying away the slaves and the produce of the estates.

This reached ultimately such a height that the British Colonial Government had under contemplation of sending an expedition against Angostura, and it was at that period, as already observed, that the present Colonel Moody was sent as engineer to Point Barima to report upon its practicability of being fortified.

The same locality served, during the American War, their privateers as a rendezvous, and will for ever be used for similar purposes, as long as the commanding Point Barima is not fortified and garrisoned by Great Britain.

The importance of the Colony of British Guiana after its cession in perpetuity to Great Britain made the necessity apparent that its limits should be established to prevent disputes at a period when a small extent of land would be manifold increased in the value it bears now, and when the arrangements of a boundary question would meet various difficulties.

Great Britain was further influenced by the disinterested exertions in behalf of the oppressed aboriginal tribes, who are the last remnants of the once thickly peopled districts now inhabited by Europeans and their descendants.

Frequent complaints had been laid before the Colonial Government of British Guiana of atrocious cruelties committed by the Brazilians on the Indian tribes at the south-western boundaries, and by the Venezuelans on the western boundaries of British Guiana.

These tribes considered themselves under British protection, and upon British territory, and upon the information that a party had been kidnapped by the Brazilians and carried into slavery, the question was brought before Parliament on the motion of Mr. Emerson Tennent, on the 11th May, 1840.

It was consequently thought that if the limits of British Guiana were properly determined and recognised, that such atrocities could not be committed upon the Indian tribes who resided within these limits, as it would be a direct aggression upon the British territory.

Actuated by these views, Her Majesty's Government constituted an expedition to survey, under Her Majesty's Commission, the boundaries of British Guiana, based upon the right of primary possession, either of the English or their predecessors the Dutch, but recommended as a general principle that whenever natural boundaries, as rivers or chains of mountains, etc., could be fixed upon, to use them in preference of astronomical divisions.

Copies of the maps of such a survey would then be delivered to the Governments interested in the fixation of these limits, and if they considered themselves aggrieved, they were to state their reason to the British Government, who promised maturely to consider the points in dispute, and to settle them in the most amicable way.

The British Ministers accredited at the Hague and the Venezuelan and Brazilian Governments were at the same time informed of the steps which Her Majesty's Government had taken, and desired to make the necessary communication to these Governments.

The Boundary Expedition arrived in Demerara in 1841, and commenced their labours in April of the same year. Upon the strength of the historical data which had been procured, that the mouth of the Orinoco had been always considered to form the western boundary of the former Dutch possessions, and that Point Barima, had been fortified by that nation,

"The right of Her Britannic Majesty to its possession was asserted by the British Commissioner on the 13th May, 1841, and a boundary pole was planted to attest that claim."

The River Amacura ,about four miles further west, was claimed by the Commissioner to form the provisional boundary, as it is no doubt the most natural limit west of the former possessions of the Dutch.

These proceedings raised a good deal of unnecessary alarm at Angostura, the chief town of the Orinoco, and at Caraccas, the seat of Government of the Republic of Venezuela.

The former Spanish claim(s), when these parts belonged still to the Capitania of Caraccas, were renewed - claims which for their absurdity, very likely, would have been forgotten had they not been renewed in an "Atlas de la Republica de Venezuela, by Colonel Codazzi, Caraccas, 1840," in which the River Moroco is asserted to form the eastern boundary of Venezuela.

I have too little local knowledge of the territory which these maps represent, to judge generally; but I can positively assert that the "Boca del Orinoco de Navios" which comprises Point Barima, and in which disembogues the river of the same name, and the River Amacura is not correct.

Were we justified to apprehend that where there are small faults there may be larger, I would note that the Capital of British Guiana, which since 1812 is called Georgetown, and not Stabroek, is placed in Colonel Codazzi's map (Carta del Canton de Upata) on the left bank of the River Demerara, while it ought to have been known to a Geographer that it is situated on the right bank.

The most startling information, however, contains (Colonel Codazzi's "Resumen de la Geografica de Venezuela." Paris, 1841), in which he states that "the eastern boundary of the republic extends from the mouth of the Rupunni [sic], near the vicinity of the Macarapen Mountains, along the left bank of the Essequibo to the confluence of the Cuyuni, which river the line of limit ascends until it meets the mouth of the River Tupuru; from thence it continues the Tupuru upwards to the sources of the Moroco, terminating ultimately at the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Nassau."

This boundary, formed according to Venezuelan dictation, includes Cartabo Point, and the island Kyk-over-all, where, as it is conversant to every one acquainted with the early history of these Colonies, the Dutch had their first settlements at the Mazaruni.

It includes old estates, and a recent missionary institution, Bartika Grove, at the left bank of the Essequibo, and to crown the whole of their pretended claim, they call the west coast and Arabian or Arabisi coast of the Essequibo "usurped."

What with the claims of the Brazilians on the south-western territory, and the Venezuelans on the west, it appears the Governments of the adjacent territories intend to reduce British Guiana to the tenth part of its rightful possessions.

The territory which the Venezuelan Government disputes amounts only, north of the River Cuyuni, to 7,000 square miles, and while it is incontrovertibly proved that the States-General, or rather their subjects, the Dutch West India Company, had actual possession of Point Barima, no fact can be adduced that either the Spanish or the present Venezuelan Governments were ever in possession of the smallest extent of ground east of Point Barima.

It is true the Spaniards attempted once or twice to attack the Dutch at their settlements, but they were always repulsed, even as late as 1797, when their attack upon Fort New Zealand was not only warmly received by the English and Dutch garrison, but they were totally defeated, many killed or driven into the river, and only a few escaped in their boats.

Great Britain has not undertaken the question of determinating the boundaries of British Guiana upon the principles of aggrandizement. She does not wish more than belongs to her by justness, but with the example of the United States before her, where, if the question of the Canadian limits had been settled at the close of the last century, it would have met no difficulties, she is naturally anxious to settle the boundaries of a colony of such vast importance as Guiana promises to be (as well out of political as philanthropical motives), at a period when there are comparatively few difficulties.

I have, etc.

Demerara, November 30, 1841.

1- J. de Laat Beschryvingen van West Indian, p. 591 (Note in MS.)

2- Resol. Holl 10-14 Jun y 7 en 22 July, 1581. (Note in MS.)

3- Hartsinck Beschryving van Guiana, vol. 1, p. 211, 217, 257. (Note in MS.)

4- Hartsinck Beschryving, vol. 1, p. 257. (Note in MS.)

5- Compare Hartsinck, vol. 1, p. 223. Humboldt's personal narrative, vol. 6, p. 163. Bolingbroke's voyage to Demerara, p. 202. (This and the following notes in MS.)

6- Voyage de la France Equinoxiale enterpris par les Francois in 1652. Paris, 1664.

7- Nouvelle de la France Equinoxiale. Paris, 1743.

8- Description Geographique de la Guiane. Paris, 1763.

9- El Orinoco Illustrado y defendido por el padre Joseph Gumilla, de la Companea de Jesus de Madrid, 1745.