Historic sites of Georgetown
History This Week
By Arlene Munro
February 2, 2006
The St George's Cathedral
Georgetown is a beautiful wooden city with many historic sites. It was established by the French in 1782. The French called it Longchamps of La Nouvelle Ville. In 1784 when it was returned to the Dutch, it was renamed Stabroek after Nicolaas Geelvinck, Lord of Castricum, Backum and Stabroek, President of the Dutch West India Company. Eventually the city extended and covered the estates of Vlissengen, La Bourgade and Eve Leary to the North, and Werk-en-Rust and Le Repentir to the South.
When it became a British possession it was renamed Georgetown after King George III of England on April 29, 1812. Georgetown became a city in 1842.
Some of the sites in Georgetown have great civic significance, for example, the City Hall, State House, Parliament Buildings and the High Court. The City Hall is a beautiful Gothic building, which is located at the junction of Regent Street and Avenue of the Republic in the heart of the commercial area of Georgetown. Its foundation stone was laid on December 23, 1887 by Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving. The architect was Rev. Ignatius Scoles. It was constructed from local timber and has slate roofs, cast iron columns and decorative elements. Hernandez noted that the main features of the building are its high, square tower which houses a mahogany staircase leading to the first and second floors. The tower has cone-shaped pinnacles at its four upper corners and has a flat-topped spire. Another special feature is its hammerbeam roof with a ceiling, which has three Gothic arches. The building is painted in blue. The City Hall was officially opened on July 1, 1889 by Governor Gormanston on land that was donated to the Town Council by a prominent citizen, Mr. G.A. Forshaw.
To the south of the City Hall lies the High Court which is also located in the Avenue of the Republic. Originally known as the Victoria Law Courts, it was opened on May 21, 1887, the birthday of Queen Victoria. The Queen also celebrated her Jubilee year in 1887. Consequently, a statue of the Queen was placed on the lawns of the High Court. It is claimed that Baron Hora Siccama was the architect of the building. However, Webber claims that Caesar Castellani was the architect of the building. The upper floor of the Victorian Law Courts is reminiscent of the timber-framed buildings in England in the sixteenth century. The ground floor is an example of the classical style of early Rome and Greece. Yet the Victorian architecture is reflected in its cast iron columns, steep helm roofs and dormers. Another feature is its covered verandahs. The building was constructed in an L shape. It is painted in yellow and has a red roof.
One corner away from the High Court is the Parliament Building which is located at the junction of Brickdam Road and the Avenue of the Republic. It was constructed between 1829 and 1834 and its architect was Mr. Joseph Hadfield. Ignatius Scoles described it as being strictly classic.
Built of "bricks well stuccoed over", this edifice is a model of nineteenth-century Renaissance architecture. Caesar Castellani designed its coffered ceiling in the Parliament Chamber. It has a grand central staircase, several balconies and glass-paned timber casement windows.
To the northeast of the City Hall lies St George's Anglican Church which is located on Company Path. The Company Path was a strip of common land separating two plantations. Once known as the tallest timber church in the world, it stands 43.6 metres tall. The cathedral was built between 1877 and 1892. Its foundation stone was laid on November 21, 1889 and it was consecrated on St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24, 1892.
Its architect was Mr. Arthur Bloomfield. The church was opened on March 26, 1893.
The Cathedral is in the shape of a cruciform. It was constructed from greenheart and English oak. Its architectural features include pointed arches, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, traceried windows and clerestory. Iron columns in Gothic style sustain the nave and roofs.
Another famous edifice in Georgetown is the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. It is located on Brickdam Road which received its name from the small bricks which paved the causeway lining the oldest street in Stabroek. The architect of the Cathedral was Leonard Stokes. It was constructed from 1921 to 1931. This Roman Catholic Cathedral was built in Romanesque Architecture style. One of its features is a round arch, both external and internal. Another remarkable feature is its lofty nave in the centre of the roof of the Cathedral. On top of the western fašade of the Cathedral is a metal shrine to the Virgin Mary. The building was dedicated by Rev. Richard Lester Guilly in 1960.
The Queenstown Jamaat holds significance for many Muslims in the city as the oldest place of worship for Muslims. It is located on Church Street, Queenstown, Georgetown. Originally it was a wooden structure which was built in 1896-1897 by Muslims from India and Afghanistan. The present mosque is constructed from concrete. It is unusual because it has no towers but three domes instead of one. One dome is larger than the other two. Another unusual feature is the roof which covers the entire area where the congregation sits and kneels. Most mosques in Guyana and elsewhere have a walled open-air space.
Another important building in the history of Georgetown is Castellani House which is located at the junction of Vlissengen Road and Homestretch Avenue. It received its name from Caesar Castellani, the architect who designed it. At present, the National Art Collection is kept in this building. It was originally erected as a residence for George S. Jenman, Government Botanist and Superinten-dent of the Botanic Gardens. The second occupant of the house was Sir John Birchmore Harrison, who served as the Director of Science and Agriculture. Succes-sive Directors of Agri- culture lived there until the departure of Gavin Kennard. The last resident of the house was Executive President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham who died in 1985.
The building was constructed between 1879 and 1882 from local greenheart and imported pine.
The original building had a ground floor and first floor with high gable roofs and gable dormer windows. By 1942 a third storey had been constructed, the roof was raised and the open porch was enclosed. In 1965 more alterations were made to produce the building that appears today. The building is painted in cream and green. The house was built on land that belonged to the former plantation Vlissengen which was owned by Joseph Bourda, a Member of the Court of Policy. Vlissengen received its name from the plantation. Homestretch Avenue was so named because it was the homestretch for horses which were taken to race at D'Urban Park which was once located adjacent to Castellani House.
To the southwest of Castellani House lies the Independence Arch at the junction of Brickdam Road and Vlissengen Road. It was built in 1966 in honour of the granting of independence to British Guiana on May 26, 1966. It was a gift to the nation of Guyana from the Demerara Bauxite Company. The arch was constructed from indigenous materials, for example, aluminium from the local bauxite and quartz stone from the Mazaruni river. The arch consists of three silver steel arches mounted on two granite bases about nine feet high. The three arches are symbolic of the three counties of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice. They are also symbolic of the six peoples of Guyana and the national motto of "One People, One Nation, One Destiny."
Another historic site is the iron-work bandstand on the Kingston seawall. It was erected in 1903 to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria of England who died on January 22, 1901. It has a red-shingled roof in the shape of a hexagon with a spire.
The columns and rails are also painted in red. This bandstand is mounted on a green concrete foundation and has steps at its side. On special occasions concerts are held at this bandstand.
In Main Street, Cummingsburg, there are two stately colonial houses. The first is the Prime Minister's Residence which is situated at 44 Main Street, Cummingsburg. This house was built for the use of Mr. Sandbach in the nineteenth century.
He was perhaps the founder of Sandbach Parker Company. It was purchased by Booker Brothers Ltd in 1911. Subsequently, in 1962 it was acquired by the British and became the home of the British High Commissioner. Finally, in 1987 it was bought by the Government of Guyana. This house is distinguished by its Demerara windows, wide-open porch on the ground floor and its tower. The building bears evidence of British and continental influences. In the nineteenth century a signal was sent from the tower to ships in the harbour.
In my next article I will continue my description of some of the historic sites of Georgetown of civic and religious significance.
Georgetown is the location of many beautiful historic sites. It was founded by the British in 1781 and established and developed by the French in their period of occupation of the colony of Demerara from 1782 to 1784. In 1784 the French restored the colony to the Dutch who called the new emerging capital of the colony Stabroek.
In 1796 the British occupied the colony and eventually in 1812 renamed Stabroek, Georgetown, after their monarch, King George III. Georgetown became a city in 1842. A few more of its historic sites will be described in this second instalment of this article, which will focus, however, primarily on sites in the rural areas.
At the corner of Regent and Bourda streets there is an eighteenth century cemetery. This cemetery was formerly called Bourda's Walk and was part of Plantation Vlissengen. It was the property of Joseph Bourda, a Dutch planter and Member of the Court of Policy who served as Governor more than once. It was used as a private cemetery for many years; then many wealthy proprietors sought permission to bury their relatives there for a small fee. Today, it is no longer used.
Another interesting cemetery is the British cemetery at Eve Leary. It is located on Young Street, Georgetown. This was established circa 1824. Eve Leary, which was named after the wife or daughter of its owner, Cornelis Leary, was purchased for 47,374 guilders and burial grounds were laid out on this land. Subsequently, new military barracks were constructed in 1825. After the erection of these barracks Eve Leary became a fashionable burial place for any person holding military rank.
Finally, the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital is another historic site and is located at 133 Parade Street, Kingston, Georgetown. It was opened on September 1, 1945. The Sisters of Mercy were given the responsibility of administering this hospital. The original hospital was called Caloona House and was purchased by the Catholic Hospital Committee from Dr. Cesaire Romiti and Dr. A. J. Craigen. In later years other wings were added to 'Caloona House.'
Outside of Georgetown there are other historic sites. One of these sites is the Enmore Martyr's Monument, which is situated along the road to the Enmore Sugar Estates. It was constructed as a memorial to five sugar workers - Rambarran, Harry, Lallabagee, Lal and Surujbally who were killed during a strike at Enmore on June 16, 1948. They were shot by colonial police. The strike started when workers rebelled against a new system of labour which had many faults. It was called the 'cut and load' system.
The older labourers complained that it exhausted them and it was observed that only three days of work per week could be accomplished under this system. The monument was unveiled on June 16, 1977. It was built by Zenith Industrial and Construction Cooperation Society. Denis Williams designed the monument which is 25 feet high. It consists of white cement stands on a six feet base. It has five flutes and five brass symbols reminiscent of cutlasses, each of which has the names of the five martyred workers. The monument bears a plaque 30" by 20", which was designed by artist Stanley Greaves.
Another monument symbolic of worker resistance is the Devonshire Castle Monu-ment at Devonshire Castle on the Essequibo Coast. It was built to commemorate the persons who died in a protest on September 29, 1872. They were Kaulic, Beccaroo, Auckloo, Baldeo and Maxidally and they were protesting against poor wages and long hours of work. The monument was designed by Mr. Ali Basir. It was completed on October 3, 2000.
A site of religious significance is the Shiv Mandir Temple at No.11 Village, West Coast Berbice. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, who is usually represented by a phallic symbol. It is built next to a stream in Albion, Chesney because the Hindus believed in the absolution of the body, which was symbolic of spiritual cleansing. It is believed that this shivala was built in the nineteenth century and is a replica of the shivalas constructed in India at that time.
Another historic site is the Damon Monument at Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast. It was erected in 1985 as a memorial to Damon's gesture of protest on August 3, 1834. When slavery was abolished in 1834, many planters failed to explain to the slaves that they had to continue to work for four more years largely as unpaid labourers. Damon and 700 apprentices protested against the new system of apprenticeship on August 8, 1834 in Trinity Parish, Essequibo. These men went on strike, declaring that they were free men and would work for half a day. Damon who was their leader raised a flag in the Trinity Church yard at Belle Alliance which they had occupied during the protest. Because he played a leadership role he was hanged.
The monument was sculpted by Ivor Thom and cast in bronze by Claude Geddes. It is 3x3.6 metres and rests on a plinth 2.4x3m. It was unveiled on July 31, 1988 at Damon Park, Anna Regina.
Another historic site associated with this strike is Damon Cross which stands in the Anglican graveyard of the Trinity Church. It is the same cross that stood in the Trinity churchyard in 1834 when Damon and his fellow slave rebels made their protest. The cross is made of concrete and is extremely solid.
The Amerindian Heroes Monument is located in Santa Rosa Mission, Moruca, Essequibo. Inscribed on the monument are the names of several Amerindian residents who have made invaluable contributions to the community. They include Stephen Campbell, the first Amerindian parliamentarian, John Ferreira, Rosa Atkinson, Anne Prince, Vincent Ferreira, Nash Rodrigues and Basil James who was another member of Parliament. The monument is the brainchild of Basil Rodrigues, a retired schoolteacher. It was completed by self-help in 1995.
The Litchfield Village Monument can be found in Litchfield, West Coast Berbice.
This was erected in 1940 as a memorial to the village fathers and during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the village of Litchfield. The village was purchased by 11 ex-slaves on November 14, 1840. There is a plaque in the yard of the St. Jude's Anglican Church which commemorates the handing over of the land to the village fathers.
St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church, Queenstown, Essequibo is unique because it was designed in the shape of a ship which transported African slaves to the colony. It was constructed by ex-slaves and was dedicated on October 24, 1859. The church has an ornate wooden altar. Alterations have been made to the edifice since it was constructed. In 1911 the pitchpine floor was replaced by a concrete floor and new seats and a gallery were constructed at the western end of the church. However, the rest of the building remains the same.
Another edifice of importance is Mission Chapel in Main Street, New Amsterdam. The first building was established by Rev. John Wray from the London Missionary Society. It was opened in 1819 and was burnt in 1823 on the order of planters who blamed the missionaries for the 1823 slave insurrection in Demerara. A second chapel was built, but this was inadequate as the congregation grew. The present Mission Chapel was built in 1841 during the ministry of Rev. Ebenezer Davies. Its architecture is unique. It is a square building painted blue and white. It has a short tower with a spire. The tower has louvred vents. The building has casement windows and above the windows are decorative roundels.
The water wheel in Wismar, Linden is another historic site. It was built in 1855 to maximise the production of the sawmill owned by John Dagleish Patterson in the 1820s. It was situated not far from the Great House owned by the Pattersons who were a wealthy family. When Vincent Roth revisited the area in the 1950s, the sawmill had been dismantled but the water wheel remained. The Christianburg water wheel is the best example of water wheels which were built on the rivers of Guyana to generate power for sugar factories and sawmills.
Fort Zeelandia is another historic site and is situated on Fort Island, Essequibo River. This brick fort was completed in 1744. The original fort was square with four ramparts, which held 18 or 19 guns. In the ramparts were three covered masoned redoubts with flat roofs with embrasures. Near the store there was a hornwork lined with palisades and fortified with 12 guns. The original project was the brainchild of Commander Laurens De Heere, but it was completed by Governor Sir Laurens Storm van Gravesande. The lower storey served as a warehouse for provisions and a powder magazine. The upper storey housed the quarters of soldiers and non-commissioned officers. Each storey had 20 portholes for two and three-pounders. There were mortars and swivel guns on the roofs. The present fort lacks floors, but its walls are still standing. Fort Zeelandia also has an armoury in its southwestern bastion. It is shaped like a vault and is built of red bricks.
Within the vicinity of the fort lies the Court of Policy building. It was constructed after the fort for the meetings of the Court of Policy. It was also used as a church. On the floor of the building are memorial slabs to members of the Roth and Backer families. One was Michael Roth, a surgeon who worked for the Dutch West India Company and died on November 13, 1790. Johannes Backer was the Captain and Commander of the military services in Essequibo. He died on February 19, 1772. His son, Laurens G.L. Backer, died on September 1, 1768.
The building is a solid brick structure and is well-preserved. It was used as a courthouse and vendue-office during the week. The building is 103 feet long and 36 feet wide. The walls are 24 inches thick. The building has three chambers and one central hall flanked by small rooms. Criminals received the death sentence in this building, which St. Clair described as "an old English Barn."
These historic sites and monuments reflect the rich history of Guyana, which was administered by the Dutch and the British for lengthy periods. Some sites reveal the religious and ethnic diversity in the country, while others are of civic importance. The buildings are picturesque and are a tangible reminder of the creative talent and constructive energy of Guyanese as well as the architectural skills of the expatriates who served here.