Economic conditions in British Guiana, 1914-1918 History This Week No. 29/2004
By Arlene Munro
Stabroek News
July 15, 2004

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By 1914, the economy of British Guiana had a mining sector and an agricultural sector. Gold, diamonds and other minerals were being mined in the interior. It was during the period of the First World War that bauxite mining was introduced. In addition, rice, sugar, and balata were being cultivated. The aim of this paper is to examine economic conditions in British Guiana with special reference to the agricultural industry during the First World War.

In 1911, Mr. H.P.C. Melville, a Land Officer, received from the Amsterdam Balata Compagnie, the offer of the management of its balata collecting tracts in British Guiana under very advantageous terms. He did not want to leave the Public Service of the colony. He stated that he would not accept the appointment of District Commissioner for the Upper Essequibo and Rupununi Districts at a salary less than 400 pounds.

By 1914 the colony had less capital and was dependent on the Crown Agents for financing "any extraordinary outlay." Government assistance was needed to pay 3,000 men who had returned from the balata industry. The Governor, Sir Walter Egerton, stated that if they were not paid it could lead to "serious disturbances." The Consolidated company had done excellent work and was well organised. However, the terrible depreciation of the product due to the war had affected the Company adversely. The chief balata working company was given substantial assistance.

A.F. White of the Consolidated Rubber and Balata Estates Limited informed Mr. King that $80,000 worth of food was needed in September 1918 for the firm. He wanted to be certain that they would get the goods and so incur the necessary preliminary expenditure for 1919. Balata was needed for belting for munitions works, horse traces for gun carriages, harnesses, and machine gun covers, waterproofing canvas and other army purposes and the manufacturers to whom they sold were all Government controlled. If the Imperial Government did not make such arrangements to enable A.F. White to get permission from the American government to allow export from the United States, the Company would not be able to supply the balata. He claimed that the authorities in England did not see the need for immediate action because they did not know local conditions. A.F. White asked Mr King to discuss the issue with the Governor because he felt that immediate action was needed.

In 1914, rice acreage was 47,037 acres. By 1915 this had increased to 50,737 acres. In 1915, 9,058 tons of rice were exported.

By 1917, the Director of Public Works was reporting that rapid progress had been made by East Indian rice-farmers in the Mahaicony-Abary district on Crown Lands which were formerly used for cattle grazing. He claimed that the number of rice factories which had developed along the creek to keep pace with the activity of the small growers had increased from one in 1914 to seven at 1917. He stated that there was a corresponding increase in the demand for firewood which was revealed when the Surveyors inspected eight new wood-cutting tracts for the factory owners.

By 1917, the export of rice and ricemeal was 14,367 tons and 140 tons respectively. 58,090 acres were under rice cultivation. In 1918, 18,000,000 lbs of rice were exported with the value of $354,695. 162,000 lbs were imported worth $9,077.

Eventually, there was a rice shortage in British Guiana in 1918. This was the result of the amount of rice exports required by Trinidad, Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands which was 210,000 bags a year. The governor informed the Secretary of State about the issue. Collett recommended that the governments of Trinidad, Barbados, the Leeward and Windward Islands should guarantee the purchase during the rice season 1918-1919 of at least half of this amount at $10 a bag in Georgetown plus export duty and all expenses of export. He declared that a great impetus would be given to rice-growing and that the colony would be able to meet all requirements of the four colonies.

In February 1918 the Governor of British Guiana had informed the Governor of Trinidad that the colony was unable to supply the order of 10,000 bags of rice requested by Trinidad. He informed him that the export price was $11.70 per bag of 180 lbs plus freight and insurance and 70 cents export duty. With the permission of the Secretary of State, Sir Wilfred Collett persuaded the mercantile community to pay no higher rate than $10 exclusive of export duty and freight on rice exported from the colony.

By September 1918, Trinidad, Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands had agreed to purchase from British Guiana, from the next year's crop, at least half of their requirements, at the price of $10 per bag.

Unfortunately, due to a failure of the rice crop these orders could not be filled. Collett informed the Secretary of State that the British West Indian colonies would have to import rice from East India.

In 1914, 1,043,827 cwt of sugar were exported with a value of $3,152,502 consigned to Canada which represented over 48 per cent of the total quantity exported and over 41 per cent of the value of the same.

In 1915, 116,223 tons of sugar were exported which was an increase of 9,086 tons over 1914. Rum was a by-product of the sugar industry. 4,698,230 proof gallons were exported in 1915.

Prior to that, a Canadian Reciprocity Agreement had been signed in 1912. The Acting Comptroller of Customs stated that the sugar industry benefited from the Canadian Reciprocity Agreement as it afforded an assured and preferential market for sugar. However, the Sugar Producers felt that the sugar industry had been adversely affected by this Agreement. Before the agreement with Canada was ratified sugar received a preference of 33 cents per 100 lbs of which the planter got 10 cents and for which the sugar industry paid nothing. Under the Agreement the preference was reduced by one half viz. 161/2 cents from which the planter got 10 cents. The sugar industry had to pay 22.36 cents per ton, or 1 cent per 100 lbs for this benefit. They had to pay it as a special tax on the industry to meet the deficit of revenue owing to the operations of the 'Agreements'.

As a result of the First World War, the whole of the sugar crop which had not been previously sold was purchased by the Imperial Government at the price of 17 pounds per ton. The state of war in Europe interrupted the extant trade relations between British Guiana and Britain and was the main cause of its decrease.

In 1917 sugar continued to be exported to Canada in large quantities and shipments of 1916 exceeded those for 1915 by 48,971 cwts. The Reciprocity Agreement did not result in any extension of exports in the minor industries of the colony to Canada.

In 1918, Sandbach Parker and Company submitted to Wilfred Collett a list of machinery which had been ordered from the United Kingdom for the sugar plantations Diamond, Ruimveldt and Leonora. The Governor supported the request because the articles were needed for the cultivation and manufacture of sugar. The inability to obtain new machinery was seriously affecting the colony's production of sugar and the shortage of fertilisers would reduce the yield per acre.

Records reveal that Booker Brothers, McConnell and Company exported their sugar to Havre, France. Sandbach Parker exported sugar to Canada via New York. Curtis Campbell exported sugar to France, New York and Canada.

Approximately, 3,000,000 proof gallons of rum were exported from British Guiana to the United Kingdom in 1915. The duty on imported rum in the United Kingdom was 15/1s per proof gallon on home made spirits. Rum was a by-product of the sugar industry. The colony also exported cocoa, coconuts, coffee, cattle foods, molascuit, ricemeal, sugar and molasses, spirits, lumber and timber. In my next article I will continue to examine the economic conditions in British Guiana, 1914-1918.

By 1914, the economy of British Guiana had a mining sector and an agricultural sector. It was during the period of the First World War that bauxite mining was introduced. The aim of this paper is to examine economic conditions in British Guiana with special reference to the bauxite industry during the First World War.

In 1915, the Director of Science and Agriculture stated that there was a series of bauxite deposits in the foothills from the Essequibo to a creek in French Guiana where it was discovered in 1877. It was then described as 'hydragillite', which hid the fact that it was bauxite.

In 1913 an English expert, Mr. Fiskes, visited Christian-burg in order to investigate from a commercial point of view the possibilities of deposits of bauxite in the soil. The bauxite deposits in Christianburg were first discovered in 1868 by Sawkins, a geologist. At the end of 1914 the government leased an extensive area of land on the Demerara River to a subsidiary company of a big American firm. In April 1915 the government cancelled the transfer of the lease which had been granted by the Colonial government to a foreign controlled corporation on the grounds that the development of such an important industry in a British colony should be vested in the British subjects. The Colonial government and the Imperial government both expressed sympathy.

In early 1915, the government prohibited the export of bauxite during the war period. Before his departure, one of the representatives of the Republic Mining and Manufacturing company. Mr. Mackenzie, informed A.G. King that he and the company were "prepared to comply with any conditions which may be imposed by the Imperial Government in respect of bauxite deposits."

During September 1916 the Colonial government with the approval of the Secretary of State leased 2,500 acres of land at Christianburg, Deme-rara River and on the West Bank to the Demerara Bauxite Company which was registered with a capital of $100,000 in 1,000 shares at $100 each. The Demerara Bauxite Company was established in 1916 as a subsidiary of the Northern Aluminium Company. The Company opened its first mine on Crown lands at Three Friends, Demerara River in 1917. 2,037 tons of ore were shipped to the United States of America on which Royalty at the rate of 10 cents a ton amounting to $203.70 was paid. Large clearings for camp sites were made by this Company at Mackenzie, Fair's Rust, and Cap-a-Star respectively. The ore was conveyed by punts of lighters from Three Friends to the place of shipment at Mackenzie where the river was navigable at all times by ocean-going vessels. A crushing and drying plant was constructed at this place. The Company employed about 800 men exclusive of the supervisory staff. By February 1917, the Demerara Bauxite Company had deposited 500 pounds in the Registrar's Office and one of its ships was heading to the United States bearing 900 tons of bauxite.

In October 1917, an agreement was concluded between the government of British Guiana and the Demerara Bauxite Company. In this agreement it was stipulated that the lessees should pay an annual rent of 20 cents per acre and part of an acre of the conceded lands and in addition a royalty of 10 cents per ton of 2240 lbs for all bauxite obtained from the said lands. It was agreed that the minimum quantity on which royalty should be paid in any year should be 5 tons for each acre of land.

In 1917, Sir Wilfred Collett received from the Governor of Suriname a letter requesting information on the rental per acre of land to the Demerara Bauxite Company and the Royalty paid by them on bauxite shipped under their agreement with the government. The government advised the Secretary of State not to supply the information unless he approved it in view of his recent instructions with regard to the stoppage of telegrams to and from Holland and the Dutch colonies.

It appears that the Colonial government had removed the prohibition on the export of bauxite during wartime for by December 1916, the Aluminium Company of America was producing aluminium in Germany with bauxite from British Guiana. At first it appeared that the German Company was the German branch of the Norton Company in Worcester, Massachusetts. But later it was proved that the two companies were separate companies.

In 1917, the Aluminium Company of America proposed in a letter to the Government Secretary to spend over $1,000,000 in purchasing craft to ship bauxite to America. Joseph A. King asked the Governor to grant permission to the Company to ship bauxite to America. He feared that if permission were not granted the Company would have to shut down.

By 1917 there were several companies which used bauxite to manufacture alum sulphate used for the sizing of paper in water filtration and purification and in the textile industry for dyeing. They were Merrimac Chemical Company of Boston, Massachusetts, General Chemical Company of New York, and the Aluminium Company of America. The Aluminium Company used bauxite for the manufacture of aluminium. Relations between this company and the British government were very good at that time.

In February 1917, the Governor received information from a Mr. Potter of the Demerara Bauxite Company that seven representatives of other bauxite companies were travelling to Guiana from the United States. They were Dietz, Gibbons, Kedy, Schrack, Savage, Anderson and Phillips. Mr Potter added that a Mr. Eckert had visited the colony earlier as the representative of the Deutsche Norton Gesellschaft. C.N. Jenks also went to George-town to obtain land concessions from the government.

In 1917, Carl Dietz, representative of the Norton Company of Worcester, Massachusetts asked the Acting Government Secretary for permission to acquire and operate a reasonable amount of bauxite territory. Dietz claimed that he and the other representatives were empowered to prospect and acquire by lease-purchase bauxite lands.

By April 1917 the Norton company had applied to the Government of British Guiana for bauxite bearing lands in the colony. Carl Dietz was given the Power of Attorney to act on behalf of the Norton Company in British Guiana, and specifically to purchase for the company in its name, or to transfer into the name of the Norton Company, any bauxite, bauxite lands, concessions, or other property, real or personal.

Sir Wilfred Collett interviewed Mr. Carl Dietz on April 27, 1917. He advised him to visit London and to negotiate terms of interest with the Imperial Government. Collett suggested that the application of the Norton Company be expedited because Norton suggested that bauxite was required to produce munitions for the war. Collett stated that there was enough bauxite in the colony for the Norton Company to acquire some.

400 applications for land for mining bauxite in an area of 652,940 acres were filed in the Lands and Mines Department during the year 1917. Of these, applications for 200,820 acres were abandoned and the remaining applications for 452,120 acres were noted in the Department, but no applications were granted. All applicants were informed by the direction of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that no concessions for mining bauxite would be made or promised until after the war when the whole question would be considered in relation to imperial trade and defence.

A Geological Surveyor, Mr. E.E. Winter, was hired by the colonial government to conduct a preliminary inspection of the deposits of bauxite at Akyma on the Demerara River. In July 1918 he submitted a lengthy report with photographs to the Government Secretary.

It is significant that in 1918 Mr. H.W.G. Gobbs wrote asking for a grant of a concession of the Kaieteur Falls to provide water for the bauxite industry. Sir Wilfred Collett disapproved. He felt that sufficient water power could be obtained much nearer than the Kaieteur Falls. In my next article I will continue to examine economic conditions in British Guiana during the First World War.

By 1914, the economy of British Guiana had a mining sector and an agricultural sector. Gold, diamonds and other minerals were being mined in the interior. Cattle ranching and the felling of timber were other industries in existence. The aim of this paper is to examine economic conditions in British Guiana during the First World War.

Cattle ranching was a thriving industry in British Guiana during the First World War. By 1914, ranchers like Gabriel Da Silva, Manuel Da Silva, M. Luiz and H.P.C Melville had established ranchers in the Rupununi. By 1916 the Officer Administering the Government informed the Secretary of State for the Colonies that the cattle reared in the Rupununi District had increased. He had discussed with Mr. Melville, the possibility of providing communication by establishing a cattle track.

H.P.C Melville made an enquiry into the allegations of an Anglican Missionary, Mr. Walter White, that the Mission cattle were being stolen by Brazilians. The result of that enquiry was that the mission had more cattle than the stock book showed it was entitled to and over 30 head of cattle were found with the Mission brand wrongly placed on them. Mr. Townsend, the Missionary, ordered the return of these cattle to their proper owners.

H.P.C. Melville was asked by the government to lay out a cattle trail to the Rupununi. By the end of January 1918 the track had been laid out through that part of the country that was least known and where unexpected difficulties might be encountered. Sir Wilfred Collett informed the Secretary of State that the opening of the track was important due to the increased demand in the colony for locally raised beef since the imports of beef from the United States had "practically been shut off."

In his progress report to the Government Secretary, H.P.C. Melville stated that by January they had completed 25 miles of track from Annai to beyond Surama, and trial trails had been laid out from Surama to Kurupukari then to the Demerara River. Subsequently, more work was completed when the team met in January. They completed six miles of track from Kurupukari northeast towards the Demerara River, eleven miles from Kurupukari southwest towards Surama, and three miles northwest from Surama towards Kurupukari. These twenty additional miles completed a total of forty-five miles on the whole line.

By August 1918, Wilfred Collett was reporting to the Secretary of State that plans were being made to extend the cattle trail from the Annai Savannah to Malali, the limit of steam navigation on the Demerara River, and as far as Coomacka, the limited of steam navigation on the Berbice River during "next November." It was hoped that that local syndicates would purchase and stock ranches on the Rupununi savannahs.

Goldmining was another major industry in British Guiana. From 1914 to 1915 64,982 ozs of gold were produced. Subsequently, between April 1915 and December 1915, 39,798 ozs were produced. Production declined to 37,129 ozs in 1916 and 29,538 ozs by 1917. During the First World War, the higher cost of imported food and increased freight and insurance charges greatly retarded gold mining. The gold mining companies in existence in 1917 were British Guiana Dredging Syndicate, Omai Gold Mining Company, Guiana Oil Company Ltd. and Minneha Development Company.

From 1914-1915 diamond production was 100,522 ozs and 13,716 carats. This declined drastically between April and December 1915 to 19,461 ozs and 3,678 carats. As a consequence of the First World War, diamonds became unsaleable and diamond mining ceased temporarily. Subsequently, diamond production increased to 93,782 ozs and 16,409 carats. This figure was surpassed in 1917 when 102,957 ozs and 17,908 carats were produced.

In 1914 the Royal Bank stopped giving any advances on diamonds and the claim holders were unable to raise money on the stones they received from their claims. S and E Trefus were the chief buyers of diamonds in this colony in 1914.

In 1916 the importation of unset diamonds into this country was prohibited. The Governor informed the Secretary of State that the exportation from British Guiana of rough diamonds suitable for industrial purposes was prohibited to all destinations other than the United Kingdom and British possessions and protectorates by proclamation of the 20 January 1916.

In 1918, the government granted permission to Mr. Evan Wong to explore for mica and other minerals over a tract of 3.710 acres on both sides of the Kartabo-Puruni Road. Permission was also granted to M. Vieira to explore for mica over tracts of Crown land on the right bank of the Greete Creek, left bank of the Essequibo River. Permission was also granted to Annie Smellie, Helen McCowan, M.J. De Freitas, E.F McDavid, Evan Wong., A.A. Thorne, A. McL. Ogle and SS Van Sluytman to explore for mica over the tracts of Crown land. All were given one year in which to explore for this mineral.

Mr. A. A. Thorne, Headmaster and future trade union leader, also applied for an exploration licence under the Mineral Oil Regulation 1912 for Block 1 on the Official Exploration map containing an area of 40 square miles. The result of his application is unknown.

Timber was another industry which contributed to the economy of British Guiana. In 1916 the Secretary of State prohibited the importation into the United Kingdom of certain goods of a bulky character such as furniture woods and hardwoods. This would have affected the timber industry in British Guiana. Therefore, the Governor asked the Secretary of State if British Guiana's greenheart could still be admitted into the United Kingdom as there was a considerable amount of greenheart cut and lying on the licensed timber tracts on the Demerara and Essequibo rivers. He argued that the greenheart would be useful in naval and military works. Collett informed the Secretary of State that he had had a clause inserted in all wood-cutting licences giving the colonial government the power to take over such timber at current market prices if required for the use of the Imperial government. During the war the heavy freights and scarcity of tonnage were additional weights on the export timber trade.

In 1915 the Secretary of State authorised the raising of money required for loan expenditure. Subsequently, an ordinance was drafted by the Combined Court authorising the raising of loans locally in spite of the extant Ordinance No. 13 of 1913 which authorised the raising of loans on the London market. This ordinance authorising the raising of local loans i.e. $2,000,000 was sent to the Secretary of State for approval. The Governor added that the 'exceptional prosperity' of the sugar and rice industries due to the high prices of sugar, rum and rice was exceptionally favourable for the raising of local loans.

The government attempted to offer loans that would develop the country economically. For example, the village councils of Golden Grove and Nabaclis sent a petition to the Combined Court asking for a loan of $12,000 for the empoldering of new lands and the extension of the cultivation of ground provisions and other products.

The Governor informed the Court that the matter was one entirely dependent on funds being available.

An application was received for the development of the Canals Nos. 1 and 2 Polder for a government loan of $50,000 to carry out certain works. The Canal Polder Scheme was started by Government in 1884 and was by August 1918 indebted to the sum of $14,600 outstanding from loans granted in 1910 and 1912 which were being repaid by annual installments of $1,200 plus interest at 4 per cent. The Combined Court made a resolution stating that it authorised a charge against the Loan Account, a new loan to the Polder Authority of a sum not exceeding $50,000 at the rate of 6 per cent per annum.

During the First World War trade was diverted from the United Kingdom to the United States of America and Canada. At the end of the war, the Secretary of state informed the Governor that for the United Kingdom to recover trade with the West Indies there must be a regular fortnightly Mail Service with the United Kingdom. Regular Intercolonial Mail Service would be essential also. In addition, the Department of Overseas Trade in the United Kingdom enquired about the demands likely to arise in the Colonies after the war for goods manufactured in the United Kingdom. The issue was referred to a local committee for the purpose of collecting and analysing the likely demands of the colony for goods from the United Kingdom.

The revenue of the colony increased during the war years from $2,815,609.33 in 1914 to $3,535,096.39 in 1917 and $4,145.56 in 1918. It appears that the least revenue of $2,305,024.30 was received in 1915.

War expenditure increased from $159,229.22 in 1914 to 37,208.48 in 1915 to 78,585.67 in 1916 and 109,534.26 in 1917. It declined to 71,270.34 in 1918 as the war came to an end. The public debt in 1914 was reduced from $4,240,392 to $4,234,152. In 1916 the public debt increased to $4,369,702.

In 1917 war bonuses were granted to Government officers and others. $118,878.00 was allocated for this purpose. The following year war bonuses were once more granted to Civil Servants in the colony whose personal emoluments fell within the range of 50 and 500 pounds. Teachers in government aided schools also received bonuses.

In conclusion, economic conditions in British Guiana improved during the years 1914-1918. Production increased in the mining and agricultural sectors of the economy. However, by the middle of the First World War most industries were temporarily affected and production declined before recovering and improving. During those years the government had the additional burden of war expenditure and war bonuses. It is noteworthy that during the period 1914-1918 the bauxite industry was established in the colony. This industry would later develop into a major lucrative export industry which would earn considerable revenue for the colony of British Guiana. Another significant event, though of lesser importance, was the laying out of the cattle trail to the Rupununi.