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. 8: Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Pirara, February 28, 1842.



In the evening of the 25th February, after I had already dispatched my letter (1) to your Excellency, we received information that Fray Jose had arrived at the portage near the mouth of the Pirara, and would be at the village next day, and as he entered it in his full clerical ornate, I received him as Aide-de-camp of your Excellency, and assured him of your Excellency's sincere wish that the same friendship which now prevailed between Brazil and Great Britain might be maintained for a lengthened period, in which he concurred.

Fray Jose made his apologies for the time which it had required before he could reach Pirara, as at the arrival of your Excellency's despatch in Fort San Joaquim, the Commandant had been absent at the Canuku Mountains, where the letter was sent to, and from thence back to Fort San Joaquim, and to Fray Jose's residence, a journey of two days from the Fort, as Captain Leal could only act with him conjointly. Captain Leal, he said, would likely arrive next day. He desired me to conduct him to Lieutenant Bingham, the Commandant of Pirara, whom [sic] he was anxious to pay his respects. Fray Jose mentioned then in conversation that the general tenour of the orders which he had received from his Government were to meet any expedition which might be sent by Her Majesty's Government with every respect, but that he could only communicate the details of these orders after the arrival of Captain Leal. He was only at the receipt of your Excellency's letter aware that British troops had arrived to occupy Pirara, which to him was an unexpected measure.

It appeared from his conversation that, previous to the military occupation of Pirara, a general wish had prevailed that the question might be settled peaceably, Demerara being much nearer to the province of Rio Negro than Pirara [sic Para]. It promises its inhabitants a lively commerce, and while it requires from four to five months to communicate with Pirara [sic Para], from whence they have hitherto received their articles of British and European manufactures in general, only from six weeks to two months are necessary to communicate with Demerara.

He mentioned further, in conversation, that the Brazilian Government had appointed D. Bernardo de Souza Franco, late President of Para, as Boundary Commissioner, and that this gentleman was shortly expected at Fort San Joaquim.

Captain Leal arrived in the evening of the 27th of February, accompanied by a strong mounted escort, but not armed, and desired, conjointly with Fray Jose, to have next day, at one o'clock, a conference with Mr. Bingham and myself. They produced at this conference the instructions which they said had been communicated to your Excellency in the letter which was brought to Pirara a few days ago, and according to which they were not permitted to evacuate [:] it would cost as much as their life, if they were to do it voluntarily, but Captain Leal proposed that he would remain in Pirara, unarmed, and only with two or three soldiers and some cattle-minders, and give his parole that he would not interfere in any way with the occupation of the British troops until the orders of his Government had arrived to evacuate Pirara, which he had no doubt would be the ultimate result. Fray Jose concurred in this, Lieutenant Bingham and Mr. Bush having retired from the conference to consult on this proposal. Mr. Bingham communicated to Captain Leal and Fray Jose that, his orders being decisive, he must insist upon their withdrawing, or he would be under the necessity to use force, and as their evacuation was consequently not voluntarily they submitted to do it, but not without protesting to the violent measure, and considering it an insult to the nation which they represented.

I communicated then that, according to my orders, I should be under the necessity to ascend the Cotinga or Xuruma, which river the British Government claimed as their boundary, and I inquired whether it were their intentions [sic] to prevent me from doing so. I was answered in the negative, as in that case they would act against their instructions, but they could not recognize any boundary mark which I might erect or engrave as decisive; on the contrary, protest against such boundary line, unless it have the sanction of the Brazilian Government. The conference separated, and, as I understand, Captain Leal intends to leave tomorrow.

I have now the honour to draw your Excellency's attention to the expected arrival of the Brazilian Commissioner, and that, without instructions from Her Majesty's Government, I cannot enter into any negotiations, whether preliminary or decisive, regarding the boundary, even if he agreed to consider the Takutu and Xuruma as boundary. By aid of the rapid communication which at present exists between London and Demerara, it would prove easy to ascertain the sentiments of Her Majesty's Government if I am to enter into preliminary negotiations with the Brazilian Commissioner.

It appears to me evident that, previous to the military occupation, the Brazilian Government had partly relinquished Pirara. Whether this measure will cause a change remains to be ascertained.

In the meanwhile, it are [sic] my intentions [sic] to proceed by land along the Takutu, and to trace this river to its sources. The state of that river is at present so that it cannot be ascended in canoes.

I have made it my duty to show to the Reverend Fray Jose and to Captain Leal every civility and attention, and I shall continue to do so until they depart.

I have, etc.

1- No. 7.