British Guiana

Plantation Houses & Equipment
Geography, Climate, Natural History

1872 Sugar Mill, from Fullarton's map
Text from "The Missionary Guide-book" 1846 (Seeley, Burnside, & Seeley)

"Guiana is bordered towards the sea-coast by a sandy flat in many parts covered with mangrove bushes, which appear an inaccessible barrier at low water, but are completely hidden at full tide. Behind these mangroves, the low and level savannahs commence, extending irregularly inland, and every where intersected by rivers and creeks, with a dense luxuriant and magnificent vegetation.

The sugar and coffee plantations are regularly ranged on either side of the great rivers, or along the coast, in allotments of from 500 to 1000 acres each. The dwelling-houses of the colonists, elevated on piles of timber, are generally close to the river's brink, with a wharf, or landing-place opposite, for the convenience of shipping produce; many of the sugar mills are driven by wind, but the greater number have steam-engines. In 1834, there were 216 sugar estates in the colony, each having a steam-engine, and many two.

The three great rivers in British Guiana, are the Essequibo, Demarara, and Berbice.

The mouth of the Essequibo, is from fifteen to twenty miles wide, and adorned with many beautiful and bushy islands, the largest of which is Leguan Island, which contains twenty-four sugar estates. There are many falls in the Guiana rivers, which render their navigation difficult and troublesome.

The chief town of British Guiana, now called George town, is situated at the mouth of the Demarara river, sixteen miles south east of the mouth of the Essequibo. George town has much the appearance of a Dutch town, having been built when British Guiana belonged to that nation.

The Demerara is navigable for nearly 100 miles, as far as the rapids; but a bar of sand at its entrance prevents any ships drawing more than eighteen feet of water, from ascending the river. Fifty miles up the Berbice river is the town of New Amsterdam.

The coffee and sugar plantations extend for sixty miles along the sea coast in the Berbice district, and the roads communicating with the Demarara district are excellent. Besides the above mentioned, there are in British Guiana numberless small rivers and creeks, intersecting wild and almost impenetrable forests. The river Corantyne forms the boundary between British and Dutch Guiana.

The climate of Guiana is extremely hot, like that of most countries within the torrid zone; before the country was cleared, the heat, acting upon a moist soil and luxuriant vegetation, was very detrimental to the health of Europeans; but since the lands have been cleared and cultivated, the climate has been found to be rather healthy than otherwise. A vast quantity of rain falls in Guiana during the year, particularly in the high and woody interior. In the hot season, the thermometer ranges from eight-four to ninety degrees on the coast, and twenty miles inland, seldom exceeds eighty, and falls in the night, as low as sixty degrees. The banks of the rivers are only unhealthy near the sea-coast, and this quite ceases to be the case, beyond the influence of the tides.

On the table land 300 miles inland, the climate is described as being delicious, and the late surveyor of Demerara gave it as his opinion, that if the hand of culivation reaches to the hills of the interior, the climate of British Guiana would be the most healthy and agreeable of any within the tropics, with fish, flesh, fowl, and vegetables in abundance, pure water, no fevers, no hurricanes, no mosquitoes.

The soil is perhaps the most fruitful in the world; it is never manured, and an acre has been known to produce 800 pounds of sugar, and 20,000 pounds of the farinaceous food produced from the plaintain, in one year.

The chief productions of the British Colony of Guiana, are sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, and cotton. The exportation of these articles, and a few others, in small quantities, as wine, fruit, and timber, amounted in value during the year 1832, to 1,386,104.

The silk cotton-tree grows to the height of 100 feet, and is twelve or fourteen feet in diameter, and is much prized by the Indians for constructing their largest canoes. A great variety of trees are found in Guiana, useful either for their timber or their gum. Several kinds of palm, and the Cassava, a plant four feet high, whose root the Indians make into bread, and from which our tapioca is manufactured."

George Town, the Demerara, from Fullarton's 1872 map

Maps and lithographs of scenes from 19th century British Guiana

Images courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection

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