History of the Republic of Guyana

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No. 16: Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.

Georgetown, Demerara, October 14, 1843.
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I beg leave to refer to the conversation which I had the honour to have with your Excellency at my arrival in Georgetown on the 13th instant, and in the course of which your Excellency observed that you had not received any decided information from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to his Lordship's approval of connecting the most eastern point of British Guiana with the most western, and from thence with Port of Spain, in Trinidad, by chain of chronometric observations.

In the letter which I had the honour to address to your Excellency on this subject on the 28th of February a.c.,(1) I dwelt fully on the importance of such an operation, and the readiness which the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have come forward to provide me, upon the application of the Colonial Office, with three chronometers for that purpose proves that this importance is fully acknowledged by their Lordships. I beg leave to enclose for this purpose copy of a letter addressed to me by the hydrographer of the Admiralty.(2)

I likewise suggested to your Excellency, in the letter alluded to, that it appeared to me more advantageous to protract [sic] the maps of the late surveys in Georgetown, and I took the liberty to request your Excellency to ascertain the pleasure of the Right Honourable the Secretary of the Colonies for this purpose. Your Excellency observed to have received in this regard no decided information.

The actual survey of the boundaries of British Guiana has been finished in a shorter period than originally planned, but the execution of the maps, and the calculation of such a mass of astronomical and geodesical observations as I possess, to base the construction of the maps upon, would occupy me from two to three months beyond the time (the 21st of January, 1844) to which the survey has been restricted, assisted by a competent officer; but your Excellency is aware that Mr. Glascott's place, who acted as assistant surveyor, has not been filled up again on his resignation in November, 1841.

I now beg leave that your Excellency will be pleased to bring under the consideration of the Right Honourable the Secretary for the Colonies, the advantages and importance of the chronometric survey, which, if no steamer could be procured, might be executed in a fast sailing-vessel; and that farthermore [sic], it may please His Lordship to give me permission to execute the maps in Georgetown, and to extend for that purpose the period of the surveys to the end of the month of March, 1844, which, besides other advantages, would enable me to ascertain the position of Georgetown, now the metropolis of British Guiana, with great precision, but likewise afford to me opportunity to add the sea coast to my general map, and to point out the geographical position of the rural districts and the estates now in cultivation, a point which I trust your excellency will consider of sufficient importance to recommend it to his Lordship for approval.

I have, etc.

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No. 17: Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Lord Stanley.

London, November 1, 1844.
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My Lord,

I have the honour to inform your Lordship that the construction of the general map of the surveys executed under Her Majesty's commission in Guiana is now finished, and requires only the printing-in of the names before I deliver it to your Lordship. This part is now being completed by a person who is better skilled than myself in caligraphy. I have not hesitated to give it into his hands in order to render the document perfect in this respect. He has promised to have it completed towards the end of this month, when I shall deliver the map, accompanied by the report of the last Expedition, which is now being copied.

The drawing of the map being accomplished, I lose no time in addressing your Lordship in order to keep within the period which I mention to your Lordship, when ill-health obliged me to solicit an extended period for its completion.

The special service for which I was engaged is thus finished, and I trust that I may have been fortunate enough to earn the approbation of Her Majesty's Government. I fully appreciated the honour when I was entrusted with the execution of this survey, and I have spared no exertions to render myself worthy of this confidence. Though exposed to the inclemency of the weather, to a humble and often precarious fare, to the dangers of the cataracts, and to the navigation in frail crafts, often only constructed of the bark of trees, a kind Providence protected the Expedition, and thousands of miles never before trodden by the foot of civilised man - nay, many not even by the savage Indian - have been traversed and laid down in the map which is just finished, without that the sad remembrance of any individual being carried off by sickness or accident accompanies the retrospect of the active service of the Boundary Survey.

As far as the more important occupations permitted - which, in consequence of being without an assistant surveyor since November, 1841, rested very heavy upon me - inquiries into the natural history and physical geography of the regions I surveyed have been carried on, and collections of objects of natural history were made, of which, as far as I succeeded in conveying them safely to England, specimens have been presented to the British Museum, the Royal Gardens at Kew, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Zoological Society, etc., and an extensive collection of woods to the model-room of the Admiralty; and it was stated at the delivery of these collections that they had been made during the Boundary Survey in Guiana.

Your Lordship is aware that previous to my first exploring expeditions, which were conducted under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society, the geography of the interior of Guiana was perfectly unknown, and it was no doubt in consequence of this uncertainty, and when it became advisable to have the limits of British Guiana settled with the other territories which bounded it, that I received the Commands of Her Majesty's Government to procure the necessary geographical data upon which propositions for the adjustment of the different claims of the Governments interested in this question might be made. These desiderata have been procured, and as I still advance that natural boundaries - as rivers, mountain chains, and such elevations which divide the basin of rivers are preferable to degrees of latitude and longitude determined by astronomical observations, I beg leave to bring this again under your Lordship's consideration.

There is no doubt that the question of the determination of the boundaries between Her Majesty's Colony Guiana, the Brazilian Empire, and the Venezuelan Republic, has produced a state of excitement among the inhabitants, particularly in Venezuela, and the Brazilian province of Para, which would render it perhaps worthy of consideration whether, now that the question is agitated, it might not be better to have it brought to a conclusion. I need not mention to your lordship how desirable this would be for the cause of humanity, and that the sufferings of the poor Indians along the disputed boundary might be terminated by establishing the limits of the British possessions.

The village Pirara, situated at the contested boundary, once a flourishing missionary station of the Protestant Church, is now abandoned, and a heap of ruins.

The timber trade of British Guiana promises to become of greater importance every day; the western part at the colony abounds in some of the finest timber trees for naval architecture, but in consequence of the uncertainty of the limits of British Guiana and Venezuela, the Governor of the former Colony is unable to grant any land, or to give licenses for wood-cutting upon crown lands near the contested boundary. In many of my Reports I have drawn the attention to the cruelties which are practised towards the Indians by the lower classes and the inferior officers of the Venezuelan territory at and near the Orinoco, which certainly must cease towards those who dwell within the British territory as soon as a demarcation is established.

These are the circumstances which make it so highly desirable that Her Majesty's Government should, as far as opportunity permits it, urge the settlement of the boundaries upon the other Governments interested in this question; and if your Lordship should consider that I possess the necessary qualifications for being entrusted with such negotiations, my services are at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government. My acquaintance with the regions which would be best qualified to establish natural boundaries without proving disadvantageous to Great Britain would be perhaps a recommendation; besides, the interest which I must always necessarily feel to see this question arranged would ensure every zeal on my part to accomplish so desirable an object.

If, however, your Lordship should think otherwise, and my services are no longer required for this purpose, I avail myself of this opportunity to bring my former services under your Lordship's favourable consideration. For the last thirteen years my executions have been entirely devoted to Great Britain, during which period I have been exposed to the dangerous climate of the tropics, and subjected to a continuation of hardships and deprivations of no common nature.

My love for botany and natural history, and an ardent desire to travel, led me, in 1830, to the West Indies. In the course of my excursions I visited also, in 1881, Anegada, the most northern of the group of islands under Her Majesty's dominion, which are called the Virgin Isles, and of which Tortola is the seat of Government. The low situation of Anegada, and a continuation of coral reefs which extend many miles in a south-eastern direction, have always rendered that island dangerous to navigation. During the short time I remained there I witnessed the total wreck of three vessels, and all the accompanying misery; but the most vivid and painful impression was left by the intense human suffering connected with the loss of the schooner the "Restanadora," a Spanish slaver, loaded with 185 Africans, the ablest of whom, chained in the hold when she struck and sunk, perished most miserably. Here arose my first desire to contribute, if possible, a share to the prevention of the many shipwrecks, and to search for the causes which I thought must contribute to those frequent occurrences, against which, it appeared, the most able and attentive navigators could not guard. After I had provided myself with the necessary instruments, I returned to Anegada, and for three months executed, at my own expense, the survey of that island and its reefs, and ascertained the existence of a strong current, by which the vessels bound from Europe and America to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc., and from Africa to Cuba, are carried farther to the north-north-westward than they are aware of, which leads to those distressing catastrophes, that formerly occurred so frequently that scarcely a month elapsed without one or two wrecks. The fatigues of the survey were much increased by the difficulties which some of the inhabitants of the island, who made their livelihood at the expense of the unfortunate vessels, and possessed all the bad propensities of wreckers, put in my way to prevent the survey, and one of them went so far as to attempt my life, and no doubt would have been successful had it not been for the interference of the bystanders.

I forwarded the elements of this survey to the Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty, where it was published, and copies of it are now to be found on board of every one of Her Majesty's vessels. I took likewise every opportunity of making the existence of this strong current known, in Europe as well as in America, to enable mariners to take the necessary precautions. In order to prove to your Lordship how far I have been successful in preventing the frequent repetition of these misfortunes, so often connected with the loss of human life, I beg leave to refer to the accompanying document(1) with regard to which I must, however, observe that an error has occurred in the date of the year when I commenced the survey, which was in 1831 and not in 1833.

The inhabitants of Tortola, a small mountainous island, with little or no resources, complained that the Danish island of St. Thomas was appointed as the station of the West India mail packets, while they, as British subjects, thought they were more entitled to the advantages which such a station would confer. The harbour of Tortola laboured under the disadvantage of not being surveyed, and as it was considered that this might be one of the reasons of the West India packets not stopping in Tortola, the inhabitants applied to me, and though the survey of Anegada had been executed at my expense, without receiving even any reimbursement for any outlays, I offered my services to the Tortolians to survey that harbour and roadstead if they would merely bear my actual expenses. There being no Legislative Assembly then sitting, the Speaker and other influential members promised this, and, in order to prevent further delay, l commenced the survey in 1835 at my own expense, and, having finished it, forwarded the same to the Hydrographical Office, and the chart was subsequently published by the Admiralty for the use of the Royal Navy. The unsettled state of the island in 1835 prevented the sitting of the Legislature, and as I proceeded that year to Demerara, I likewise in this instance was not reimbursed for my outlays, as your Lordship will observe from the accompanying letter of Mr. Marsh, then Speaker of the House of Assembly, and the notarial document of Mr. Lloyd.(2)

I have now reached a period with which your Lordship is more personally acquainted. The Royal Geographical Society resolved, in 1834, to send an expedition to the interior of Guiana for the twofold purpose of investigating thoroughly the physical and astronomical geography of that vast 'province and of connecting the line of positions which might be ascertained with those of the Baron de Humboldt at the Upper Orinoco.

Her Majesty's Government, desirous that the resources of the colony, which so properly has been styled the "Magnificent," should be developed, on hearing of the enterprise, were pleased to stamp it with their approbation, and to extend to it their patronage and assistance. I received the appointment to command the expedition, with orders to proceed to Demerara, where I was to receive a certain amount of funds, it being understood that the sale of my zoological and botanical collections made during these exploring tours were to contribute towards defraying the expenses of these expeditions, which, in a colony like Demerara, would prove of a considerable amount.

These researches occupied me up to the month of June, 1839, when ill-health obliged me to return to Europe, and they received the approbation of the Royal Geographical Society, in token of which they presented me with their gold medal in 1840.

When Her Majesty's Government determined upon procuring the necessary geographical data to serve as a base for the settlement of the boundaries of British Guiana, your Lordship is aware that I again proceeded, at the latter part of 1840, under the sanction of Her Majesty's Commission, to Guiana to superintend and command the expedition in the interior for that purpose, and which services are now terminated.

A sojourn of nearly thirteen years under the tropics, and a life spent in exposure to the sun and every vicissitude of changeable weather, the precarious and unwholesome food - and even the abstinence for days for want of it - the fatigues of exploring expeditions like those I conducted, where the greater part of the route lay through thick forest, which could only be penetrated on foot, and carrying our baggage on the back - sometimes for months no human dwelling to afford the most common comfort - altogether have combined to exercise their influence upon my health. It is true my companions shared in these vicissitudes, but none of them were for a longer period than two years in the interior of the colony, while I have been engaged in these pursuits for nearly eight years in Guiana alone, not taking into account the time which I spent in the equally unwholesome climate of Tortola and Anegada.

It is therefore my humble request that your Lordship will be pleased to take my services into favourable notice. The King of Prussia, in whose dominions I was born, has, in testimony of the services I have rendered to science during these exploring tours, decorated me with an order, and one of the first Universities on the Continent honoured me with the dignity of Doctor of Philosophy; but my actual services during the best years of my life having been dedicated to England, I can scarcely expect that Prussia will provide for me.

My constitution has much suffered, and I have not enjoyed good health since my return to England. The close application, in consequence of my desire to finish the general map, embodying all the geographical data procured in Guiana since 1835, has not permitted me to turn the necessary attention to its restoration, or to leave London for a longer period than ten days.

Still I have every desire to be again actively employed abroad, and should not hesitate to proceed to any part of Her Majesty's dominions if my services in Guiana are not further required. Indeed, it is the opinion of Sir James Clark and Dr. Hodgkin, who have attended me during my indisposition, that I shall have to select a warmer climate than the northern part of Europe affords to re-establish my health.


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No. 18: Letter of Mr. Schomburgk to Lord Stanley.

London, December 26, 1844.
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My Lord,

I have now the honour to place before your Lordship the general map of British Guiana based upon my surveys from 1835 to 1843, executed in part, as Her Majesty's Commissioner, and during my explorations under the direction of the Royal Geographical Society of London.(1)

Though I delivered the complete drawing at the end of October to Mr. Arrowsmith, for the purpose of having the names of places, rivers, etc., written into the map by a competent person, it has been a work of such labour that only now it has been finished. I considered it my duty to remain in London until it was completed, to prevent the occurrence of any mistake in this otherwise merely mechanical part of the construction of the map.

I thought it of advantage to insert the names of the estates at present in cultivation of sugar or coffee, and to point out their situation by numbering The lots in each parish from east to west. The number prefixed to the name of the estate will assist to find out its situation. Every village possessing fifty or more cottages, and every house of worship, including parish churches, and chapels of all denominations alike, have been likewise inserted by means of topographical signs.

The small scale, speaking comparatively, as the general map comprises about 90 square feet, has not permitted me to attach the number to every estate, still, it will enable your Lordship to refer to the map for information, if any occurrence in the colony should cause your Lordship to desire becoming acquainted with its approximate locality.

In conclusion, I beg to submit the accompanying memoranda referring to the boundary, with every deference to your Lordship's kind attention, if that question should be taken up again by Her Majesty's Government.

I am on the eve of my departure to the Continent. Mr. Under-Secretary Hope and the Chevalier Bunsen, Prussian Minister at the Court of St. James, have been kind enough to communicate to me the high honour, which your Lordship intends to recommend Her Most Gracious Majesty to bestow upon me on being presented at the next levee; and I beg again to express to your Lordship my feelings of gratitude.

I fully appreciate this gracious act which is intended for me. I trust, therefore, your Lordship may not consider me unreasonable if I combine with my expressions of thanks the request of your Lordship's kind consideration, if an opportunity should offer itself, for the active employment of my services. If they could not find employment in any of the territorial questions now at issue, as per example in the Oregon territory, I take the liberty to solicit your Lordship's kind patronage, if a Consulship should offer itself along the coast of China, where Great Britain maintains consulates, or any colonial employment in Hong Kong, Ceylon, or Mauritius. The acquired experience of nature and man in the West would afford me opportunity (as far as my other duties would permit it) to make comparisons with the natural productions and mankind as offered in the East, and science might further profit, under such an employment. I have reason to assert, my Lord, that if in order to be intrusted with such an office it became requisite to become naturalized, my Sovereign, the King of Prussia, would give his assent to my application for that purpose.

I have, etc.

1- No boundary lines are indicated upon this map.

Inclosure in No. 18.

Memoranda [sic] referring to the Limits of British Guiana;
addressed to the Right Honourable Lord Stanley, etc.,

Secretary of the Colonies.
London, 26th December, 1844.

My Lord,

As it is most likely that earlier or later the determination of the limits between British Guiana and Brazil will be taken up again by Her Majesty's Government, I beg leave to draw your Lordship's attention to the advantage which the line, as proposed by your Lordship, and communicated by Mr. Under-Secretary Stephen in his letter of November 14, 1843, to Viscount Canning, would confer upon the British Colony in political respect, as it preserves the command over the portages, existing between the tributaries of the Amazon and those of the Essequibo. Only I beg leave to observe that the boundary line, in lieu of being traced to the eastward, or parallel to the equator from the sources of the Takutu (which at the time of your Lordship's proposition was assumed to be in the second degree of latitude, but which, on actual survey of the river, was found to be in 1 46' north latitude), should continue south-south-eastward to the sources of the Essequibo, and from thence to the sources of the Corentyne, following the division of the watershed between the Essequibo and the Rivers Caphiwuin or Apiniau and Wanamu, until this line reaches the sources of the River Cutari. That river is the western source of the Corentyne; the Curuni is the eastern. Such a line of demarcation would preserve to British Guiana the whole course of the noblest river of that Colony, which otherwise falls in its upper course to Brazil. Neither European nor Brazilian has ever visited the upper Essequibo previous or since my explorations, and I cannot think upon what feasible grounds Brazil lays claim to it.

If a definite Treaty be founded upon your Lordship's proposition, to acknowledge the Takutu and Malui as boundary rivers between Brazil and British Guiana, the village Pirara, and a portion of the Savannahs, are within the limits of the British Colony; and one of the desirable objects is realised, not only in political respects, but likewise for the benefit of the Indians. But there is another reason which emboldens me to recommend, with every submission to your Lordship's decision, not to deviate from that line to the eastward, namely, the geological structure of that territory resembles so closely that of Villa Rica in Minas Geraes, which is considered the richest district in precious metals in Brazil, that from analogy one might consider these regions of interest. Among the geological specimens which I brought with me from the Rivers Takutu and Cotinga, is Itakolumit, which affords the richest mines in Minas Geraes; and I found near the River Cotinga a conglomerate, closely resembling the diamond matrix of Brazil, I will not pretend that it could be said with certainty these regions contain gold in quantities, or diamonds in consequence of the presence of a rock similar to the one which contains these precious stones in Minas Geraes; but since your Lordship has proposed already of [sic] taking the Rivers Takutu and Mahu as a provisional line, the geological structure of the district, adjacent to their banks, might be an additional ground not to deviate to the eastward of these rivers, if the adjustment of this question should come again under consideration.

The proposition which has been made to the Republic of Venezuela with regard to the respective limits deprives the British colony of 125 miles of rich coast land, to which the Dutch laid not only claim, but which they had in actual possession.

The boundary line, as far as at present proposed, mentions (if I recollect right from the mere perusal of the document at the Foreign Office) that a straight line should be draw from the source of the Maroco, to the junction of the River Barama with the Guainia or Waini; from thence that river upwards to where the Aunama falls into it. From thence, that small river upwards, to where it approaches nearest the Rivulet Acarabisi, which the line would follow to its junction with the river Cuyuni; from the mouth of the Acarabisi; upwards the River Cuyuni, to its source, and from thence to Mount Roraima.

I am aware that the Venezuelan Government, in answer to this proposition, intend to throw out a question with regard to the identity of the River Maroco; rather wishing to substitute its tributary, the Manawarima, for it, which would increase their territory; but colonists, and natives alike, name the river which is designated in the accompanying map as the Maroco. The colony of British Guiana has maintained for years a mission on its left bank, and a chapel has been erected at the expense of the colony. The ground upon which this mission stands will fall to Venezuela, if the proposed line be established.

Whenever a definite treaty in this respect be concluded with Venezuela, the line from the Maroco to the Barama will have to be surveyed by a joint Commission of both Governments.

I expect likewise that the Venezuelan Government will oppose the right bank of the River Cuyuni being taken as a boundary line from where that river receives the Acarabisi to its source, and from thence to Mount Roraima, in consequence of the Spaniards having had a fortified post, called Cadiva, opposite the mouth of the River Curumu.(1) Her Majesty's Government may easily meet such an opposition by drawing their attention to the circumstance that the Dutch possessed a fortified post where the River Barima falls into the Orinoco; nevertheless Her Majesty's Government has resolved to forego the claim to the possession of that territory, between the former Dutch post and the Maroco, in order to facilitate the negotiations for an adjustment of the limits.

There exists no treaty between Great Britain and Holland with respect to the limits of Surinam and Berbice. The River Corentyne is tacitly acknowledged as boundary, but it is not determined whether the right or the left bank forms the divisional line. The Corentyne divides in its upper course (on ascending) in two branches; the eastern is called Curuni, the western Cutari. I consider the Cutari merely a tributary, and the Curuni the true source of the Corentyne,

I have, etc.

1- This was a mistake. Subsequent investigations have shown that no such post was ever established by the Spaniards.

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