Slike stranica

and a monopoly has been the cause of most of the backwardness of the Colony, but it is certain that if there had been fragmentation of the coastal lands the Atlantic and the mangrove swamps would have reclaimed much of the land long ago. The movement to the coast was encouraged by a man who must rank as the greatest in the history of the Colony, whose image has far more claim to appear on its stamp today than that of Sir Walter Raleigh. This was Laurens Storm van's Gravesande. The Hakluyt Society has published two volumes of excerpts from his dispatches during his long governorship, which give a fascinating picture of life on the 'Three Rivers' of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo during the middle years of the eighteenth century.

Laurens Storm van's Gravesande

Gravesande came from an old Delft family and was born in 1704. He entered the army but appears to have been too individualistic to be promoted as he deserved, which may account for his accepting the post of secretary and book-keeper to the West India Company in 1737. His first dispatch to his employers is largely about the condition of the militia who, he says, should be better clothed 'in keeping with the Company's honour, since they now look more like a band of beggars than Your Honours' soldiers'. 'It is also very sad that we have none but Popish men upon whom we cannot depend in the least in time of need.' In 1742 Commandeur Gelskerke died and Gravesande, whose zeal and enthusiasm had been applauded, was made Commandeur in his place. His dispatches now become more outspoken, politely suggesting to the Directors of the Company that their neglect of the welfare of the Colony is scandalous. He clearly did all that any man could have done to improve matters, but men whom he calls 'godless calumniators' were speaking against him. His dispatch of February 11th, 1745 describes the condition in Essequibo.

'there is a general dearth of everything-no victuals, no ammunition, the warehouses already long empty, the smithies at a standstill for want of coal and iron, the Poelwijk mill (which should have commenced crushing in March) not progressing for want of cement ... -all this brings me to my wits end and in despair how to arrange


When Gravesande learnt that the words of the godless calumniators were being considered by the Directors he prepared to resign in anger. 'My conscience is clear before Almighty God', he wrote,

'not only that I am entirely innocent of what is so dishonourably laid to my charge by such men, that I have used all the means in my power in the interest of the Honourable Company and for the welfare of the Colony, have exerted all my strength to turn this Colony, that was so long a burden, into a flourishing and profitable one, have rested neither night nor day, have ever neglected my lawful profits and interests, and have endeavoured to do both for the Honourable Company and for the colonists much more than an honest man is according to his duty bound to do.'

His defence was more than justified and he remained as Commandeur.

It is not necessarily a blot on Gravesande's humane character that he did not question the morality of slavery. He accepted its necessity for the growth of the Colony while demanding humanity towards the slaves. There can have been few men living at that time who recognized the intrinsic inhumanity of slavery. The dearth of slaves in the Colony was due to the monopoly of the slave trade held by the Company, who would allow no importation of slaves into Guiana except their own. Gravesande frequently mentions the matter to the Directors, asking for permission to buy from the English, whose prices for slaves were low.

In 1738 the Dutch tried to encourage settlement by opening their possessions in Guiana to settlers from all nations, giving them immunity from taxation for ten years. French Huguenots came and English from the West Indian islands. In 1745 Gravesande writes, "The English who have already established themselves here spare neither trouble, industry nor cost, and most of the planters are already beginning to follow their example.' He formed a friendship and admiration for a rich English planter on the Demerara named Gedney Clarke, whose aid he received when it seemed likely that a slave insurrection would break out in Demerara.

In the midst of the frustrations of the consolidation of the settled colonies Gravesande never lost sight of the possibilities of the Interior. In the first year of his governorship he com

missioned Nicolas Hortsman to explore the upper reaches of the Essequibo in search of a passage through to the Amazon. Hortsman reached the Rupununi savannas where he appears to have tired of the expedition and settled down with the Portuguese who had claimed part of the territory. He never returned to the coast, but Gravesande had, by sending him, proved Dutch interest in these parts. It was his interest which promoted the first serious mining operations in Guiana in the upper Cuyuni, a tributary of the Mazaruni, himself travelling up the river to the Blue Mountains to inspect the soil and the deposits of the river and the creeks.

Gravesande's insistence on the importance of exploration was part of his policy of consolidation. He conceived the whole area of what is now British Guiana as a productive land, and his foresight included a constructive policy towards the Amerindians of the coast and the Interior. He arranged for the building of a primitive trading road which would open up the area of the Cuyuni river and set up an armed fort there with the intention of guarding the new territory from Spanish encroachments. It was under Gravesande's governorship that the long boundary disputes with Spain and Portugal began, but when the boundary question was put to arbitration at the end of the nineteenth century, the confines of the Colony as laid down by Gravesande were only slightly departed from.

Although Gravesande's seat of Government was in Essequibo he knew that the economic centre of the Three Rivers would one day be on the Demerara, and he made frequent tours of inspection there, reporting each time his pleasure in the progress of the Colony. ... my amazement was great', he writes in 1763 after a visit to Demerara, ‘to see such a change and such progress in a year's time, and that in spite of the critical circumstances which threw the work back a good deal. That river is not only equal to this but far excels it'. In 1768 he writes, after another visit,

"This pleasure and satisfaction I have, however, in all my worries— that my efforts on behalf of Demerara have not been fruitless and that that river now not only far surpasses Essequibo but apparently is about to become, under the Lord's blessing, and through the great and daily increasing afflux thither, a mighty and flourishing colony; to secure this, however, the scum will have to be removed and the obstacles cleared away, which labour I will leave to my successor.'

The Last Years of the Dutch

Gravesande's recall from Guiana did not come for another four years, in 1772, and his successor, Hendrik Trotz, was a small man who did his best to continue the great work of his predecessor while criticizing him at every opportunity. Under Trotz Demerara was treated as a unit on its own rather than a part of the Essequibo Colony, and the anxiety of the Dutch, French and English planters there to import slaves and horses indicates the great activity of the new Colony. All ships coming to the Demerara had to bring six horses with them for the planters and if one horse should die on board its salted head had to be produced as proof of good intentions before the captain could unload his cargo. The successful English planters were clamant at this time for an improvement in the organization of Demerara affairs, particularly in question of law and order. Violent crimes were frequent and Dutch law permitted punishments as atrocious as the crimes themselves. The treatment of the slaves by the planters was in general cruel and in places sadistic. After the slave insurrection in Berbice in 1763 Gravesande had made every effort to palliate the cruelty to the slaves, but it was not a matter which could easily be controlled. Berbice had a sinister reputation for its cruelty to slaves and the phrase 'Hij is naar de Berbiesjes' meant in Guiana an equivalent to ‘He's gone to the dogs'.

In 1781 war broke out between England and Holland, and Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice were taken by the English. Some months later the French, who were now at war with England, took the Three Rivers under the command of the Marquis de Lusignan, whose name is perpetuated in one of the Demerara plantations. The French, whose two years' rule was a disagreeable occupation for all, built Fort Dauphin at the mouth of the Demerara and nearby began to build a new town, Longchamps; when the Colony was restored to Holland in 1783 the Dutch chose Longchamps as the site of the new colonial capital, to be called Stabroek. Georgetown was a later name for Stabroek.

The Colony was in a poor way at the restoration. The planters had grown to resent rule by a handful of Dutch merchants who decided the fate of the Colony on the reports of their Com

mandeurs and officials. In 1792 the Charter to the West India Company expired and the Colony came under the control of a Council appointed by the States-General. There was rejoicing in the Colony but considerable disorganization followed, during which many slaves escaped.

The new broom began to sweep; roads and bridges were put in order, Essequibo was definitely placed second in importance to Demerara and the Council took strong measures to ensure

Stabroek Market (Georgetown)

that 'French ideas' of freedom should not spread among either the planters or the slaves. Even so the slaves began to learn the ideas of revolution and drastic suppression followed. In 1796 war between Holland and England broke out again and Britain took the colonies for the second time.

The British

Dr. George Pinckard was surgeon to the expeditionary force under Sir Ralph Abercromby, and in his book Notes on the West Indies and the Coast of Guiana he has left an interesting

« PrethodnaNastavi »