British Guiana

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British Guiana
1831–1966
Motto: Damus petimusque vicissim (Latin)
"We give and take in return"
Anthem:  God Save the King (1831–1837; 1901–1952)
God Save the Queen (1837–1901; 1952–1966)
Guyana (orthographic projection).svg
Status British colony
Capital Georgetown
Common languagesOfficial
English
Vernacular language
Guyanese Creole
Monarch  
 1831–1837
William IV
 1837–1901
Victoria
 1901–1910
Edward VII
 1910–1936
George V
 1936
Edward VIII
 1936–1952
George VI
 1952–1966
Elizabeth II
Legislature Legislative council
Historical era New Imperialism
 Single colony
21 July 1831
 New constitution
1928
 Independence
26 May 1966
Area
1924 [1] 231,800 km2 (89,500 sq mi)
Population
 1924 [1]
307,391
Currency Spanish dollar (to 1876)
British Guiana dollar (to 1940s)
British West Indies dollar (1949–65)
East Caribbean dollar (1965–66)
ISO 3166 code GY
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Demerara-Essequibo
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Berbice
Flag of the Gran Colombia.svg Gran Colombia
Guyana Flag of Guyana.svg
Today part of Guyana

British Guiana was a British colony, part of the mainland British West Indies, which resides on the northern coast of South America. Since 1966 it has been known as the independent nation of Guyana. [2] [ page needed ]

Contents

The first known European to encounter Guiana was Sir Walter Raleigh, an English explorer and his crew. The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle there, starting in the early 17th century, when they founded the colonies of Essequibo and Berbice, adding Demerara in the mid-18th century. In 1796, Great Britain took over these three colonies during hostilities with the French, who had occupied the Netherlands. Britain returned control to the Batavian Republic in 1802 but captured the colonies a year later during the Napoleonic Wars. The colonies were officially ceded to the United Kingdom in 1815 and consolidated into a single colony in 1831. The colony's capital was at Georgetown (known as Stabroek prior to 1812). The economy has become more diversified since the late 19th century but has relied on resource exploitation. Guyana became independent of the United Kingdom on 26 May 1966.

Establishment

Map of British Guiana in 1908 British Guiana - 1908 - WDL.png
Map of British Guiana in 1908

The English made at least two unsuccessful attempts in the 17th century to colonise the lands that would later be known as British Guiana, at which time the Dutch had established two colonies in the area: Essequibo, administered by the Dutch West India Company, and Berbice, administered by the Berbice Association. The Dutch West India Company founded a third colony, Demerara, in the mid-18th century. During the French Revolutionary Wars of the late 18th century, when the Netherlands were occupied by the French, and Great Britain and France were at war, Britain took over the colony in 1796. A British expeditionary force was dispatched from its colony of Barbados to seize the colonies from the French-dominated Batavian Republic. The colonies surrendered without a struggle. Initially very little changed, as the British agreed to allow the long-established laws of the colonies to remain in force.

In 1802 Britain returned the colonies to the Batavian Republic under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens. But, after resuming hostilities with France in the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, Britain seized the colonies again less than a year later. The three colonies were officially ceded to the United Kingdom in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The UK continued separate administration of the individual colonies until 1822 when the administration of Essequibo and Demerara was combined. In 1831, the administration Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice was combined, and the united colony became known as British Guiana. During World War II the United States Navy established NAF British Guiana and NAF Paramaribo in British Guiana. [3]

Economy and politics

The slave economy flourished between the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and emancipation in the 1830s. The wealth largely flowed to a group of absentee slave owners living in Britain, especially in Glasgow and Liverpool. [4] [ page needed ]

Charles Edmonstone plantation in Demerara, 1834. A residence in the West Indies and America with a narrative of the expedition to the Island of Walcheren (1834) (14780654981).jpg
Charles Edmonstone plantation in Demerara, 1834.

The economy of British Guiana was completely based on sugarcane production until the 1880s, when falling cane sugar prices stimulated a shift toward rice farming, mining and forestry. However, sugarcane remained a significant part of the economy (in 1959 sugar still accounted for nearly 50% of exports). Under the Dutch, settlement and economic activity was concentrated around sugarcane plantations lying inland from the coast. Under the British, cane planting expanded to richer coastal lands, with greater coastline protection. Until the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, sugar planters depended almost exclusively on slave labour to produce sugar. Georgetown was the site of a significant slave rebellion in 1823.

Illustration of the Demerara rebellion of 1823 Plate 2 Retreat of Lt Brady.jpg
Illustration of the Demerara rebellion of 1823

In the 1880s gold and diamond deposits were discovered in British Guiana, including what was thought to be the world's largest diamond in 1922 [5] but they did not produce significant revenue. Bauxite deposits proved more promising and would remain an important part of the economy. The colony did not develop any significant manufacturing industry, other than sugar factories, rice mills, sawmills, and certain small-scale industries (including a brewery, a soap factory, a biscuit factory and an oxygen-acetylene plant, among others).

The London-based Booker Group of companies (Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co., Ltd) dominated the economy of British Guiana. The Bookers had owned sugar plantations in the colony since the early 19th century; by the end of the century they owned a majority of them; and by 1950 owned all but three. With the increasing success and wealth of the Booker Group, they expanded internationally and diversified by investing in rum, pharmaceuticals, publishing, advertising, retail stores, timber, and petroleum, among other industries. The Booker Group became the largest employer in the colony, leading some to refer to it as "Booker's Guiana".

Indentured workers from India 1850 to 1920 were largely locked in place. Nevertheless a minority achieved mobility. Some secretly fled; others waited until their contracts expired. Indian migration involved three phases: desertion from the plantations; movement settlements and later to urban areas; and intra-regional migration from one Caribbean island to another. The traditional rigid Indian caste system largely collapsed in the colonies. [6] [ page needed ]

Guianese served in all British forces during the Second World War, and enjoyed veterans' benefits afterwards. The colony made a small but important financial contribution to the war effort, and it served as a refuge for displaced Jews. [7] [ page needed ]

Railways

British colonists built the first railway system in British Guiana: 98 km (61 mi) of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge , from Georgetown to Rosignol, and 31 km (19 mi) of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) line between Vreeden Hoop and Parika; it opened in 1848. Several narrow-gauge lines were built to serve the sugar industry and others were built to serve the later mines.

In 1948, when the railway in Bermuda was closed down, the locomotives, rolling stock, track, sleepers and virtually all the associated paraphernalia of a railway were shipped to British Guiana to renovate the aged system.

The lines ceased to operate in 1972, but the large Central Station is still standing in Georgetown. Some of the inland mines still operate narrow-gauge lines.

Administration

The British long continued the forms of Dutch colonial government in British Guiana. A Court of Policy exercised both legislative and executive functions under the direction of the colonial Governor (which existed from 1831 to 1966). A group known as the Financial Representatives sat with the Court of Policy in a Combined Court to set tax policies. A majority of the members of the Courts was appointed by the Governor; the rest were selected by a College of Kiezers (Electors). The Kiezers were elected, with the restrictive franchise based on property holdings and limited to the larger landowners of the colony. The Courts were dominated in the early centuries by the sugar planters and their representatives.

In 1891 the College of Kiezers was abolished in favour of direct election of the elective membership of the Courts. Membership of the Court of Policy became half elected and half appointed, and all of the Financial Representatives became elective positions. The executive functions of the Court of Policy were transferred to a new Executive Council under the control of the Governor. Property qualifications were significantly relaxed for voters and for candidates to the Courts.

In 1928 the British Government abolished the Dutch-influenced constitution and replaced it with a Crown colony constitution. A Legislative Council with an appointed majority was established, and the administrative powers of the Governor were strengthened. These constitutional changes were not popular among the Guyanese, who viewed them as a step backward. The franchise was extended to women.

In 1938 the West India Royal Commission ("The Moyne Commission") was appointed to investigate the economic and social condition of all the British colonies in the Caribbean region after a number of civil and labour disturbances. Among other changes, the Commission recommended some constitutional reforms. As a result, in 1943 a majority of the Legislative Council seats became elective, the property qualifications for voters and for candidates for the Council were lowered, and the bar on women and clergy serving on the Council was abolished. The Governor retained control of the Executive Council, which had the power to veto or pass laws against the wishes of the Legislative Council.

The next round of constitutional reforms came in 1953. A bicameral legislature, consisting of a lower House of Assembly and an upper State Council, was established. The voting membership of the House of Assembly was entirely elective. The membership of the State Council was appointed by the Governor and the House of Assembly and possessed limited revisionary powers. A Court of Policy became the executive body, consisting of the Governor and other colonial officials. Universal adult suffrage was instituted, and the property qualifications for office abolished.

The election of 27 April 1953 under the new system provoked a serious constitutional crisis. The People's Progressive Party (PPP) won 18 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly. This result alarmed the British Government, which was surprised by the strong showing of the PPP. It considered the PPP as too friendly with communist organisations.

As a result of its fears of communist influence in the colony, the British Government suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency, and militarily occupied British Guiana on 9 October 1953. Under the direction of the British Colonial Office, the Governor assumed direct rule of the colony under an Interim Government, which continued until 1957. On 12 August 1957, elections were held and the PPP won nine of fourteen elective seats in a new legislature.

A constitutional convention convened in London in March 1960 reached agreement on another new legislature, to consist of an elected House of Assembly (35 seats) and a nominated Senate (13 seats). In the ensuing election of 21 August 1961, the PPP won 20 seats in the House of Assembly, entitling it as the majority party to appoint eight senators. Upon the 1961 election, British Guiana also became self-governing, except as to defence and external matters. The leader of the majority party became Prime Minister, who then named a Council of Ministers, replacing the former Executive Council.

From 1962 to 1964, riots, strikes and other disturbances stemming from racial, social and economic conflicts delayed full independence for British Guiana. The leaders of the political parties reported to the British Colonial Secretary that they were unable to reach agreement on the remaining details of forming an independent government. The British Colonial Office intervened by imposing its own independence plan, in part requiring another election under a new proportional representation system. Britain expected that this system would reduce the number of seats won by the PPP and prevent it from obtaining a majority.

The December 1964 elections for the new legislature gave the PPP 45.8% (24 seats), the People's National Congress (PNC) 40.5% (22 seats) and the United Force (UF) 12.4% (7 seats). The UF agreed to form a coalition government with the PNC, and accordingly, the PNC leader became the new Prime Minister. In November 1965 an independence conference in London quickly reached agreement on an independent constitution; it set the date for independence as 26 May 1966. On that date, at 12 midnight, British Guiana became the new nation of Guyana.

Territorial disputes

British Guiana and its boundary lines, 1896 Boundary lines of British Guiana 1896.jpg
British Guiana and its boundary lines, 1896

Western boundary with Venezuela

In 1840, the British Government assigned the German-born explorer Robert Hermann Schomburgk to survey and mark out the western boundary of British Guiana with newly independent Venezuela. Venezuela did not accept the Schomburgk Line, which placed the entire Cuyuni River basin within the colony. Venezuela claimed all lands west of the Essequibo River as its territory (see map in this section).

The dispute continued on and off for half a century, culminating in the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, in which Venezuela sought to use the United States' Monroe Doctrine to win support for its position. US President Grover Cleveland used diplomatic pressure to get the British to agree to arbitration of the issue, ultimately agreeing terms for the arbitration that suited Britain. An arbitration tribunal convened in Paris in 1898, and issued its award in 1899. The tribunal awarded about 94% of the disputed territory to British Guiana. A commission surveyed a new border according to the award, and the parties accepted the boundary in 1905.

There the matter rested until 1962, when Venezuela renewed its 19th-century claim, alleging that the arbitral award was invalid. After his death, Severo Mallet-Prevost, legal counsel for Venezuela and a named partner in the New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle published a letter alleging that the judges on the tribunal acted improperly as a result of a back-room deal between Russia and Great Britain. The British Government rejected this claim, asserting the validity of the 1899 award. The British Guiana Government, then under the leadership of the PPP, also strongly rejected this claim. Efforts by all parties to resolve the matter on the eve of Guyana's independence in 1966 failed; as of today, the dispute remains unresolved.

Eastern boundary with Suriname

Robert Schomburgk's 1840 commission also included a survey of the colony's eastern boundary with the Dutch colony of Surinam, now the independent nation of Suriname. The 1899 arbitration award settling the British Guiana–Venezuela border made reference to the border with Suriname as continuing to the source of the Courantyne River, which it named as the Kutari River. The Netherlands raised a diplomatic protest, claiming that the New River, and not the Kutari, was to be regarded as the source of the Courantyne and the boundary. The British government in 1900 replied that the issue was already settled by the longstanding acceptance of the Kutari as the boundary.

In 1962, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on behalf of its then-constituent country of Suriname, finally made formal claim to the "New River Triangle", the triangular-shaped region between the New and Kutari rivers that was in dispute. The then Surinamese colonial government and, after 1975, the independent Surinamese government, maintained the Dutch position, while the British Guiana Government, and later the independent Guyanese government, maintained the British position.

Stamps and postal history of British Guiana

Stamp with a portrait of King George VI, 1938 British Guiana 1938 Victoria Regia.jpg
Stamp with a portrait of King George VI, 1938

British Guiana is famous among philatelists for its early postage stamps, which were first issued in 1850. These stamps include some of the rarest, most expensive stamps in the world, such as the unique British Guiana 1c magenta from 1856, which was sold in 2014 for US$9.5 million. [8]

See also

Wikivoyage-Logo-v3-icon.svg British Guiana travel guide from Wikivoyage 5°0′0″N58°45′0″W / 5.00000°N 58.75000°W / 5.00000; -58.75000

Related Research Articles

The history of Guyana begins about 35,000 years ago with the arrival of humans coming from Eurasia. These migrants became the Carib and Arawak tribes, who met Alonso de Ojeda's first expedition from Spain in 1499 at the Essequibo River. In the ensuing colonial era, Guyana's government was defined by the successive policies of the French, Dutch, and British settlers. During the colonial period, Guyana's economy was focused on plantation agriculture, which initially depended on slave labor. Guyana saw major slave rebellions in 1763 and 1823. Following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa were freed, resulting in plantations contracting indentured workers, mainly from India. Eventually, these Indians joined forces with Afro-Guyanese descendants of slaves to demand equal rights in government and society. After the Second World War, the British Empire pursued policy decolonization of its overseas territories, with independence granted to British Guiana on May 26, 1966. Following independence, Forbes Burnham rose to power, quickly becoming an authoritarian leader, pledging to bring socialism to Guyana. His power began to weaken following international attention brought to Guyana in wake of the Jonestown mass murder suicide in 1978.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dutch colonisation of the Guianas</span> 1581–1975 colonisation in South America

The Dutch began their colonisation of the Guianas, the coastal region between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers in South America, in the late 16th century. The Dutch originally claimed all of Guiana but—following attempts to sell it first to Bavaria and then to Hanau and the loss of sections to Portugal, Britain, and France—the section actually settled and controlled by the Netherlands became known as Dutch Guiana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Demerara</span> 1745–1803 Dutch colony in South America

Demerara is a historical region in the Guianas, on the north coast of South America, now part of the country of Guyana. It was a colony of the Dutch West India Company between 1745 and 1792 and a colony of the Dutch state from 1792 until 1815. It was merged with Essequibo in 1812 by the British who took control. It formally became a British colony in 1815 until Demerara-Essequibo was merged with Berbice to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. In 1838, it became a county of British Guiana until 1958. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana and in 1970 it became a republic as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. It was located around the lower course of the Demerara River, and its main settlement was Georgetown.

The music of Guyana encompasses a range of musical styles and genres that draw from various influences including: Indian, Latino-Hispanic, European, African, Chinese, and Amerindian music. Popular Guyanese performers include: Terry Gajraj, Eddy Grant, Dave Martins & the Tradewinds, Aubrey Cummings, Colle´ Kharis and Nicky Porter. Eddie Hooper The Guyana Music Festival has proven to be influential on the Guyana music scene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elections in Guyana</span> Overview of elections in Guyana

Elections in Guyana take place within the framework of a multi-party representative democracy and a presidential system. The National Assembly is directly elected, with the nominee of the party or alliance that receives the most votes becoming President.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Guianas</span> Region in north-central South America

The Guianas, also spelled Guyanas or Guayanas, is a region in north-eastern South America. Strictly, the term refers to the three Guyanas: Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, formerly British, Dutch and French Guyana. Broadly it refers to the South American coast from the mouth of the Oronoco to the mouth of the Amazon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Berbice</span> 1627–1815 Dutch colony in South America

Berbice is a region along the Berbice River in Guyana, which was between 1627 and 1792 a colony of the Dutch West India Company and between 1792 and 1815 a colony of the Dutch state. After having been ceded to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the latter year, it was merged with Demerara-Essequibo to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. It became a county of British Guiana in 1838 till 1958. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana and in 1970 it became a republic as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Essequibo (colony)</span> 1616–1803 Dutch colony in South America

Essequibo was a Dutch colony in the Guianas and later a county on the Essequibo River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America. It was a colony of the Dutch West India Company between 1616 and 1792 and a colony of the Dutch state from 1792 until 1815. It was merged with Demerara in 1812 by the British who took control. It formally became a British colony in 1815 until Demerara-Essequibo was merged with Berbice to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. In 1838, it became a county of British Guiana till 1958. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana and in 1970 it became a republic as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. It was located around the lower course of the Essequibo River.

The Railways of Guyana comprised two public railways, the Demerara-Berbice Railway and the Demerara-Essequibo Railway. There are also several industrial railways mainly for the bauxite industry. The Demerara-Berbice Railway is the oldest in South America. None of the railways are in operation in the 21st century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Demerara-Essequibo</span> Former British colony in South America

The Colony of Demerara-Essequibo was created on 28 April 1812, when the British combined the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo into the colony of Demerara-Essequibo. They were officially ceded to Britain on 13 August 1814. On 20 November 1815 the agreement was ratified by the Netherlands. On 21 July 1831 Demerara-Esequibo united with Berbice as British Guiana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guyana–Venezuela territorial dispute</span> Territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela

The Guyana–Venezuela territorial dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela over the Essequibo region, also known as Esequibo or Guayana Esequiba in Spanish, a 159,500 km2 (61,600 sq mi) area west of the Essequibo River. The territory, excluding the Venezuelan-controlled Ankoko Island, is controlled by Guyana as part of six of its regions, based on the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award, but is also claimed by Venezuela as the Guayana Esequiba State. The boundary dispute was inherited from the colonial powers and has persisted following the independence of Venezuela and Guyana.

The Indian indenture system was a system of indentured servitude, by which more than 1.6 million workers from British India were transported to labour in European colonies, as a substitute for slave labor, following the abolition of the trade in the early 19th century. The system expanded after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, in the French colonies in 1848, and in the Dutch Empire in 1863. British Indian indentureship lasted till the 1920s. This resulted in the development of a large South Asian diaspora in the Caribbean, Natal, East Africa, Réunion, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Fiji, as well as the growth of Indo-Caribbean, Indo-African, Indo-Mauritian, Indo-Fijian, Indo-Malaysian, and Indo-Singaporean populations.

This article describes the history of West Indies cricket to 1918.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guyana</span> Caribbean country in South America

Guyana, officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is a country on the northern coast of South America, part of the historic mainland British West Indies. Guyana is an indigenous word which means "Land of Many Waters". Georgetown is the capital of Guyana with the largest population. Guyana is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Venezuela to the west, and Suriname to the east. With a land area of 214,969 km2 (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third-smallest sovereign state by area in mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname, and is the second-least populous sovereign state in South America after Suriname; it is also one of the least densely populated countries on Earth. It has a wide variety of natural habitats and very high biodiversity. The country also hosts one part of the Amazon rainforest, the largest tropical rainforest in the world.

The Guyana Cricket Board is the ruling body for cricket in Guyana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pomeroon (colony)</span> Dutch colony in Guyana

Pomeroon is the name of a former Dutch plantation colony on the Pomeroon River in the Guyana region on the north coast of South America. After early colonization attempts in the late 16th century were attacked by Spaniards and local Indians, the original inhabitants fled the interior of Guyana, founding the colony of Essequibo around Fort Kyk-Over-Al shortly after. A second, and more serious attempt at colonization started in 1650, but was ultimately unsuccessful, as French privateers destroyed the colony in 1689. In the late 18th century, a third attempt of colonization was started, this time under the jurisdiction of the Essequibo colony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Surinam (Dutch colony)</span> Dutch plantation colony in the Guianas

Surinam, also unofficially known as Dutch Guiana, was a Dutch plantation colony in the Guianas, bordered by the equally Dutch colony of Berbice to the west, and the French colony of Cayenne to the east. It later bordered British Guiana from 1831 to 1966.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Combined Court</span> Legislature of British Guiana

The Combined Court was the legislature of British Guiana until 1928. In its final form, it consisted of a sitting of the Court of Policy together with the elected Financial Representatives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Court of Policy</span>

The Court of Policy was a legislative body in Dutch and British Guiana until 1928. For most of its existence it formed the Combined Court together with the six Financial Representatives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande</span>

Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande was a Dutch governor of the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara from 1743 to 1772. He turned Demerara in a successful plantation colony, and the borders of Guyana are mainly based on his expeditions into the interior. He is also noted for his treatment of the Amerindians.

References

  1. 1 2 "The British Empire in 1924". The British Empire. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  2. Thomas J. Spinner, A political and social history of Guyana, 1945-1983 (1984).
  3. "2)ZANDERY AIRFIELD - THE GUYANAS AND TRINIDAD AIRFIELDS - U.S. NAVY BASES IN GUYANAS AND TRINIDAD - Articles - Sixtant - War II in the South Atlantic". www.sixtant.net.
  4. Drape, 2012.
  5. Popular Science Monthly. McClure, Phillips and Company. 1922. Archived from the original on 6 July 2022. Retrieved 15 June 2022.
  6. Roopnarine, 2011.
  7. Munro, 2005.
  8. "Rare British Guiana stamp sets record at New York auction". BBC News. 18 June 2014. Archived from the original on 18 June 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2018.

Further reading

Primary sources