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. 9: Report of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Pirara, May 30, 1842.


I had the honour to address your Excellency on February 24th and 28th (1), and to report the arrival of the Boundary Expedition at Pirara, and the result of a conference with Fray Jose and Captain Leal. I informed your Excellency, furthermore, that in consequence of the dry state of the rivers at this advanced season, I had resolved to proceed by land along the Takutu.

I have now the honour to report the general incidents during the successful execution of this object. Only a few days have elapsed since the return of the Expedition, after an absence of two months from Pirara,, and our accommodations are here in the wilderness of such a description that even with more time at my command, it would prove impossible to construct accurate maps of our route; that desirable object must, therefore, remain until the Expedition returns ultimately to Georgetown.

Our preparations were finished on the 26th March, and we left the village of Pirara that day, and marched about 15 miles over the savannahs to the confluence of the River Pirara with the Mahu where we encamped.

A serious accident occurred the following day. Henry Peterz and Gottlob Stoekel, two canoemen, went out shooting for their own amusement, and without having requested permission to leave the camp. On their return the gun of Peterz got entangled in some withes, and inpatient to free it from it, he dragged it forcibly after him, by which the cock of the percussion lock was partly raised. The gun went off, and the whole charge lodged in his back below the shoulder-blade. We found the man almost weltering in his blood, and I had little hope of his recovery. I gave him under the charge of Mr. Fryer, who accompanies the Expedition upon my own expense, partly for the sake of his surgical knowledge, partly to assist me in the surveying department, neither surgeon nor assistant surveyor being attached to the Expedition.

This unfortunate accident detained us until Saturday, 2nd April, when Mr. Fryer thought that Peterz might be carried upon a stretcher to Pirara. I desired Mr. Fryer to take charge of him, and to remain with him at Pirara until he considered him out of danger. The expedition, however, continued their march to the junction of the Mahu with the Takutu.

During our detention at the mouth of the Pirara we had repaired three small corials, which, although they afforded only room to two or three men in each, were calculated to convey my instruments with more safety than if they were carried on the backs of the Indians. The carriage of the box with the two valuable chronometers was entrusted to the canoeman Reuter.

After a march of nearly five hours over arid savannahs, we arrived at the junction of the Mahu with the Takutu, and it became now my first duty to determine the latitude of the confluence of these rivers by meridian altitudes of stars, and to ascertain the chronometric distance of this point from Pirara.

Having procured the necessary data for this purpose, I claimed the Takutu in the name of Her Most Gracious Majesty, as forming the south-western boundary of British Guiana. The enclosed document will give your Excellency more detailed information of this subject.

The 6th April saw our expedition on march. The corials ascended slowly, as the Takutu, although its bed showed a width of 190 yards, had, at this advanced period of the dry season, places where the water was almost stagnant, or covered merely the sandy bottom. Our progress was, therefore, slow, and connected with great toil and fatigue. We had frequently to unload the canoes, and to drag them by force over shallow places; and a heat which, between 2 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon, reached generally 130 or 132 Fahrenheit, and legions of sandflies, increased the tediousness of our journey materially.

The Takutu would be monotonous if a glance to the Canuku Mountains did not from time to time enliven the scenery. Large sandbanks of heaped-up river sand narrowed the stream to within a few yards. These sandbanks were frequently followed by beds of rounded quartz pebbles, among which I found some very fine agates, and pieces of opal, and Cornelian. Below these beds of pebbles, or sometimes in their vicinity, were masses of black sand, with minute quantities of gold; but whether it will be worth while to wash for it must be left to stricter investigations than I could dedicate to it.

The difficulties which the shallow state of the river opposed to our progress in corials induced me to abandon them on the morning of the 17th of April, and to continue our journey overland. We reached at noon a Wapisiana settlement, called Tenette, situated near the Cursato Mountains, where we found that the party who had proceeded overland had arrived three days before us. It was in the vicinity of this settlement that the Brazilians committed the atrocity in August, 1838, and surprised some Indian settlements, and carried the inhabitants, forty in number, consisting of men, women, and children, into slavery.

The baneful effects of this slave hunt were still felt, and had left the mind of the Indians in this region quite unsettled. Apprehensive of the repetition of similar scenes, and therefore, always prepared for flight, they only cultivated so much ground, as was required for their immediate sustenance. We found, therefore, the place in great stress; and, in lieu of being able to purchase a large stock of provisions for our further journey, I merely secured with difficulty three baskets of farinha, and some cassava bread to supply our most necessary want.

It was necessary to ascertain here by trigonometrical operations the correct situation of the surrounding mountain groups, and as I was deprived of all assistance, Mr. Fryer being with the wounded man, whose life was still in danger, the whole execution rested upon me.

In order to insure the inhabitants of Tenette in some regard against a repetition of a surprisal by the Brazilians, this village being within the boundary claimed by Her Majesty, I marked a tree on the right bank of the Takutu as a token that this part was claimed by Her Most Gracious Majesty as a part of British Guiana, and that consequently the inhabitants, according to the expression of Lord Palmerston in his letter to Lord John Russell on this subject, would enjoy the protection of Her Majesty's Government.

Scarcity obliged us to continue our journey on the 22nd of April. I had added some local guides from Tenette to our Expedition, which were to lead us over the savannahs to the Tuarutu Mountains. Fortunately for our exhausted stores, we shot the next day seven fine deer in the course of a few hours, and I succeeded to procure a few cakes of cassava bread - a happy circumstance, since we had to march from here three days before we were to find another human habitation.

Our path had hitherto led us over savannahs, but on the morning of the 27th of April we entered the mountains of Tuarutu, which were wooded. I had given orders that those who were unacquainted with an Indian footpath, should keep close together, and lose the Indian guide not out of their eyes. Hamlet Clenan, one of the canoemen, had been especially warned by the coxswain of the Expedition, but without effect. When the hindmost of our Expedition reached the village late in the evening, he was not among them. I sent a strong party next morning in search of him, but they returned in the evening without success. Engaging all the Indians I could procure, and not exempting an individual of our own Expedition, I divided their number in three parties, and having desired Mr. Goodall and Mr. Richard Schomburgk to head respectively one of the parties, I conducted the third, and gave orders to depart in three different directions towards the mountains, and each party was to fire from ten minutes to ten minutes to attract the lost man's attention. The party under my own direction found Clenan in the afternoon at 2 o'clock in almost an exhausted state, and fear and fatigue had so much operated upon him, that I apprehended in the commencement his reason was gone. Being provided with such remedies as I thought would restore him, in case he should be found in an exhausted state, they were used with effect, and having given him under the charge of the coxswain and a canoeman, they were told to follow us next day slowly to the village.

From the information which I had received, it appeared that the sources of the Takutu were from here about four days' journey further to the south. After l had procured a supply of provisions, and engaged some local guides, we continued our journey on the 2nd of May. Hamlet Clenan was still too weak to follow us, and, as we had to return to this settlement, I desired him to attend to his perfect recovery.

Our path led us along the Ossotshuni Mountains. Far in the distance we observed the mountain Vindana, from whence the Takutu receives his first tributary of any consequence.

We reached next day a Macusi settlement, the inhabitants of which, with those of two others in the vicinity, formed the last Indians west of the sources of the Essequibo.

The coxswain, Henry Chessman, had sprained his ankle, and, in the hope that he would be able to continue his march if we delayed our departure a day, we stopped, but as his foot was still much swollen next morning (May 6th) he was ordered to await our return at the settlement.

We left now the savannahs and entered dense wood, and had the satisfaction to reach in the afternoon of the 7th of May the source of the Takutu.

Already in the morning the river, the bed of which was only 10 or 12 feet wide, had ceased to flow, and formed occasionally stagnant pools.

I selected a granitic platform which I estimated five miles northward from its source to mark in its vicinity one of the trees with Her Majesty's initials, and to claim from here to that spot at the headwaters of the Essequibo, where, on the 27th of December, 1837, I hoisted the British Union, and claimed that point as the southern boundary of British Guiana.

The granitic platform was the only eligible place which I found to allow me to take astronomical observations in the vicinity, as the banks of the Takutu, which was here merely a rivulet, were either fringed with high trees or with thickets of bamboo.

The night was tolerably clear, and, having procured myself sufficient data for the geographical determination of this spot, I gave next morning (May 8th) the necessary orders to commence our return, fully satisfied with our success, and thanks to the Almighty for having protected us so far.

I found myself under the disagreeable necessity to leave the coxswain, Henry Chessam, at the Macusi village until he considered himself so far restored as to be able to follow us. Being among friendly Indians, and amidst plenty of provisions, I considered it much more prudent that he should await the perfect cure of his sprained ankle than commence the tedious and fatiguing march which we had before us.

We reached the settlement at the Tuarutu Mountains on the 9th of May, and found Hamlet Clenan perfectly recovered.

I considered it necessary to ascertain here the position of some of the neighbouring mountain groups by trigonometrical operations, and noon of the 11th of May approached, therefore, before we resumed our march. We had besides this to procure a sufficient stock of provisions to last for our whole return journey, as we knew from sad experience that nothing was to be had at the Wapisianas at the Cursate Mountains. I had to increase our carriers for that purpose, and our party consisted now of 50 individuals. I considered it better to divide so numerous a party, and while it were (sic) my intentions to cross the Takutu, and reach the Rupununi by continuing my march to the north-east, I sent the other party direct to the Cursato Mountains.

Where the path from the Tuarutu mountains to the settlements at the headwaters of the Rupununi crosses the Takutu, a tree was marked on that river's right bank.

We reached a Wapisiana place called Can-urua in the afternoon of the 18th May, from whence the Rupununi, in an east-north-east direction, was a mile and a-half distant. I visited the river and found it dwindled to the size of the Pirara near its mouth. Its water was dark-coloured, and its bed studded with rocks.

Our course was now more to the north-west for the next three days, and we reached Tenette on the morning of the 16th of May. I had the pleasure to meet at the Pinighette Mountains some of the people who had been taken at the slave hunt in August, 1838, and whom I released from Brazilian captivity while passing Santa Maria in 1839. They recognised me as soon as I entered their settlement, and showed me their gratitude by many a friendly token.

I was sorry to learn from one of the men that his wife and five children, who had been taken during that slave hunt, were still retained in slavery at Pedrero on the Rio Negro, and he begged me to use my endeavours to see them restored to him.

It was necessary to give ourselves a day of rest; we had been day for day on march since we left the Tuarutu, and the savannahs, being mostly covered with angular quartz rocks, our path was fatiguing in the extreme, and our feet blistered and injured by the sharp-pointed rocks. The greater part of us Europeans were either without shoes or that article of dress was in such a condition that it did not afford more the desired protection, and while writing this I suffer still from the injuries my feet received during the journey; a day of rest was therefore required, as anxious as we were to reach Pirara.

At our arrival at Tenette I saw the impossibility of returning in our canoes; the river had fallen still more, and I had to abandon them. I succeeded to engage the necessary number of Indians, in addition to our regular crew, for carrying our baggage overland to Pirara, where we arrived in the morning of the 22nd of May, and were sufficiently recovered from our fatigues to do every honour at our command to the birthday of Her Most Gracious Majesty.

This was the third which I celebrated at this village (1838, 1839, and 1842). We had been absent nearly 2 months, and although exposed to the extreme heat and constant fatigues, no serious sickness had taken place among our party, if I except the accident to the canoeman, Henry Peterz. His recovery had been despaired of by the missionary and the officers at New Guinea, and no doubt he has to thank it [sic] in a great measure to Mr. Fryer's attention. I found him still lingering and far from being perfectly recovered from his wound.

The whole direction of the Expedition, from the minutest matter to the most important, having solely devolved upon me since Mr. Fryer had to remain with the wounded man, I hope your Excellency will excuse that I do not send at this short period after our return to Pirara a more detailed report. The season is so far advanced that it is an uncommon circumstance; the tropical winter has not set in as yet, which period I have selected to work out the numerous elements for the construction of my maps, and to send by the next opportunity a fair copy of my journal. I hope to be able to accompany the latter, for the better understanding of our route, by a sketch map, as it will prove impossible, as I have observed already, to procure the necessary means in Pirara, to construct a large map with the required accuracy.

It gives me great pleasure to express my satisfaction with Mr. Goodall's zeal. The accompanying list(2) will give your Excellency an idea what drawings have been executed, besides which Mr. Goodall has given me his assistance in noting the time during my astronomical observations.

With the exception of a thermometer, which was broken by some of the crew while carrying the baggage over the falls, I am not aware that the instruments which I had with me have suffered any injury.

The two chronometers, Arnold, No. 6062, and Frodsham, No. 389, have preserved a good mean rate and performed their task, chiefly the first, to my satisfaction. I found in Nicholas Reuter a careful man, to whom I entrusted their carriage during our pedestrian tours over hill and dale. An accident has happened to the Standard barometer, which for security sake I left in the house or hut of the expedition at Pirara, and which was kept locked up during my absence. Mr. Fryer informed me that, having occasion to enter the house, he found it upset and the glass-tube broken. It is fortunate that I have spare tubes, but as I have no standard for comparison, my future barometrical observations will be problematic.

I have much to regret, for the sake of absolute observations, that Mr. Assistant-Commissary-General Cowan found it impossible to admit a case in the military boats, which arrived after my departure from Demerara, and which contained a telescope for observing occultations and Jupiter's satellites. The longitude of Pirara is not yet properly determined, and I had flattered myself that I might do so (if the telescope had arrived) during my present stay in Pirara. I have much to regret that there was no place for admitting the case.

The tracing of the River Takutu, which is to form the south-western boundary of British Guiana having been accomplished from its junction with the Mahu to its source, it remains now to trace the Cotinga or Xurumu from its mouth to its source at Mount Roraima, and to discover from thence the unknown sources of the Cuyuni, and to descend that river to the mouth of the Acarabisi. For more details I beg leave to refer your Excellency to the plan which I had the honour to submit before I commenced the present expedition, and which received your Excellency's approbation.

It is of the utmost importance for the speedy execution of that plan that I should leave Pirara in August to enable me to ascend the Cotinga, while that river, which is otherwise shallow and full of rocks, is still swollen from the rain, but as our supplies at our departure from Demerara in December, 1841, were only calculated for 6 months, I beg leave to enclose herewith an estimate of such articles as are almost indispensably required.(3)

It has been my aim to economise as much as I can with prudence for the object of the journey, in order to cover, during this year, the surplus of the last year's expedition.

For the purpose of the more effectually carrying into effect this object, I have dismissed the canoeman, Hamlet Clenan, who, by his conduct and by having committed the crime of theft, as your Excellency will observe from the inclosures,(4) is a disgrace and a burden to the Expedition. His character I have since been told is well known at the High Sheriff's Office. Although his services end only in December, his having committed a theft releases me from any liabilities to continue him in the service of the Expedition. I have otherwise to express may satisfaction with the conduct of the remainder of the men.

Henry Peterz, to whom the accident occurred, and who is still lingering from his wound, prefers to return to the colony to see whether surgical aid may there restore him in a shorter period than it can be expected here.

It is true the accident did not occur while the man was employed in the service of the Expedition, and he committed himself against discipline by leaving the camp without permission, nevertheless, the pains which he has suffered, and his former exemplary conduct and active services embolden me to recommend him to your Excellency's kind consideration.

Nicholas Reuter, in whom I have every confidence, proceeds by this opportunity to Georgetown to take charge of the supplies which the expedition requires before it can leave Pirara. I have taken the liberty to address the Honourable the Government Secretary about more detailed arrangements in this regard.

I beg leave to inclose some additional rules(5) to those which were approved of by your Excellency.

I have, etc.

1- No. 7 and No. 8.

2- Not Printed.

3- Not Printed.

4- Not Printed.

5- Not Printed.

Inclosure in No. 9.

To all to whom these presents do, may, or shall come greeting! Be it known:

That I, the undersigned, Her Majesty's Commissioner for surveying and marking out the Boundaries of British Guiana, claimed this day in the name of Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and in the presence of the undersigned witnesses, the right bank of the River Takutu, to form the south-western boundary of Her Majesty's Colony of Guiana, preserving at the same time to Her Majesty and loyal subjects the right of navigation, fishing, and other uses of the said river as may seem proper.

In witness whereof I marked a tree, at the confluence of the River Mahu with the Takutu, with Her Most Gracious Majesty's initials and three broad arrows; and marked in a similar manner two other trees on the opposite northern bank, bearing from the former N.W.W. distant 880 yards.

And as a testimonial that Her Majesty's claim of the right bank of the Takutu as the south-western boundary of British Guiana does not merely confine itself from the source of the Takutu to the junction of the Mahu, I branded a tree near the mouth of the small River Virua, which flows into the Takutu 3 miles W.N.W. below the mouth of the Mahu, with three broad arrows, leaving the terminus of the line of limits along the Takutu to future investigation.

This done, witness my hand and seal, at the confluence of the Mahu with the Takutu, this 5th day of April, 1842, and in Her Majesty's fifth year of reign.

Knight of the Royal Prussian Order of the Red Eagle.


Indian Witnesses
YAMA MACUSI [X - His Mark]

Witnesses to the above signatures,