`Background to the emergence of the Chinese settlement of Hopetown'
By Tota C. Mangar
April 29, 2004
In early 1862 Francis Hincks assumed duty as Governor of the colony of British Guiana following a stint in St. Lucia. He supported a continuation of Chinese immigrants even though some planters were showing a marked preference for the well-established scheme of East Indian immigration. The administrator inherited a subsidised or state-aided immigration scheme, which he set about to consolidate in earnest. He also adopted a more or less centralised policy of government control of village affairs. It was under his administration that a Central Village Board assumed responsibility for village affairs. According to Alan Young it was Hincks who "caught up the separate thread of village administration....and wove them in a single comprehensive pattern." Under the village policy residents were compelled to pay rates for village maintenance and improvements. While there is a lot of merit in the policy, in reality villagers resisted payment of village rates largely due to their precarious financial situation and the plight of their villages.
It was clear that at the zenith of Chinese immigration very little attempt was made in the area of spiritual or moral upliftment. While it was argued that the Chinese were less submissive than East Indians a growing number of the former were addicted to smoking opium and gambling. Governor Hincks lamented the problem and conceded that "Chinese immigrants were very valuable labourers and when properly managed had given satisfaction" Moreover, the Colonist in an editorial noted that "Chinese do not hoard up their little earnings as the Coolies do...they spend their money where they earn it - in the colony." Hence the economic importance of this segment of society.
The first person to express real concern at the moral or spiritual upliftment of the Chinese was a Chinese missionary O'Tye Kim (Wu Tai Kam). He was born on an island off Singapore and he received his early education at the London Missionary Society School in Singapore. He was subsequently employ-ed as a surveyor before he went to England in 1864. It was while in London he expressed a desire to work in the West Indies and the London Missionary Society promptly identified the colony of British Guiana as his destination. Perhaps it was not a difficult decision to make since the colony was by then the largest recipient of Chinese immigrants in the British Caribbean. O'Tye Kim arrived in the colony on 17 July, 1864 and he immediately set about to establish a Christian Church in George-town for the Chinese community. Many including Gover-nor Hincks were impressed by his sincerity and devotion to duty. The Church of Missionary Society was satisfied that Kim was "a man of undoubted piety, worthy of every assistance."
Within months O Tye Kim had a congregation of 120 persons, many from the outskirts of Georgetown and with weekly services. In addition to his Christianizing zeal he also visited sugar estates and acquainted himself with he problems and concerns of Chinese immigrants. There were complaints about poor wages and some wanted to return home after their periods of industrial residence. He quickly emerged as their unofficial leader or spokesperson.
Not content with his missionary role O Tye Kim petitioned the Court of Policy for the granting of Crown Lands to establish a permanent and exclusive Chinese settlement. Among the reasons he advanced for the scheme were the utilization of a large amount of unused land, an inducement for Chinese immigrants to remain in the colony after the completion of their periods of industrial residence, the retention of valuable agricultural labourers in the colony, greater prospects of an alternative to plantation labour, increased emigration from China, enhanced opportunity to spread Christianity thereby leading to moral and spiritual development and arresting the vices of gambling, alcohol drinking and opium smoking so prevalent on the coast.
Hincks supported the scheme since it was closely linked to his own idea of model villages. At the same time there was initial objection by the elective section of the Court of Policy. They were fearful that Chinese immigrants would abandon the plantations without completing their stint of industrial residence. They also saw an exclusive settlement as a competitor for a valuable section of their available labour force.
In the end largely through the Governor's persistence, press criticism and private discussions with individual members of the Court of Policy on the part of Hincks, the scheme was approved along with a loan of one thousand five pounds for the proposed settlement. On this matter the Court was told "it is expedient to establish a village of Chinese Christians on a suitable tract of Crown Land up the Demerara River. It is desirable that the villagers be entitled to participate in a village loan". Much support for the venture was also given by Stipendiary Magistrate for the district, William Des Voeux.
The actual site identified for the establishment of an exclusive Chinese settlement was a tract of land on the left bank of the Kamuni Creek some thirty miles up the Demerara River. Among the reasons for the settlement location were land fertility, ideal water communication, natural drainage and, because of its remote location, very little perceived threat to the plantation. The plantocracy would almost certainly have objected to the scheme if it were located on the coastland and in close proximity to the sugar estate. At the same time both O Tye Kim and Governor Hincks felt that such a settlement would lure Chinese immigrants from the drinking and gambling dens of the coastland and from easy access to opium.
Following the approval of the scheme Hincks appointed a Board of Trustees comprising the Government Secre-tary, Auditor General, the senior elective member of the Combined Court, the Stipendiary Magistrate for the Demerara river district and O Tye Kim. The title of the land was vested in the Board of Trustees, settlers were "to be regarded tenants and as a grant of long term settlers were to receive individual titles."
It was against the foregoing that the exclusive Chinese settlement of Hopetown emerged.