BY DMITRI ALLICOCK  –  for Guyanese Online

The Town of Linden is split down the middle by the Demerara River. Over the years, the town grew and expanded unevenly as bauxite dominated. The notable eastern bank development was the Amelia’s Ward housing scheme that follow the Linden/Soesdyke Highway opening at the end of the 1960s. On the western bank, the population was always more numerous. The population has increased significantly from West Watooka to Christianburg and westward to include Wismar hill, Half Mile, One Mile and The Rockstone housing Scheme.

The ferry boat system, which was born with the bauxite industry, had the enormous responsibility of connecting the daily lives of the people. At its peak, over a dozen privately-own ferry-owners existed from Cakatara to Speightland.

Some of the owners in 1972 were from the Cakatara end, Quamina, Kennedy, and Obermuller. More centrally located were Rigby, Major and Dutchie boat landing, at Speightland, Chester, Adams and a few others. Except for the period before Major owned that particular very well built landing that once belonged to Demba in 1939, very little oversight and central control occurred. There were laws and rules on the books, but few paid much attention, and there was little enforcement.

Demba boat landing was called the Wismar boat landing and later became the property of Major. It was constructed and used during the Second World War to control access to the Mackenzie shore, providing extra security for the bauxite plant as British Guiana sought to safe guards all its interest. The World at war was also real in British Guiana. German submarine activities off the Atlantic coast of Guyana resulted in many ships torpedoed and sunk, most laden with supplies of bauxite and other materials, severely affecting trade.

This boat landing was the only one allowed, as passengers and all traffic required a pass of identification to be at Mackenzie.
Frequent mandatory blackouts were also implemented with the sound of any unidentified aircraft passing over head at night. The fear of sabotage or bombing was very real as the Allies attempted to protect vital raw materials and resources.

The early ferry boats were without engine or roof in the 1920s and early 1930s. All able-bodied passengers were given a large paddle and had to assist with rowing the small boat across the river. Many might still remember the old diesel engines that filled most of the back of the boat with smoke and which had to be hand cranked many times before the sputtering and gushing thick black smoke assured that the engine had started.

Zahra Freeth in her 1960 book, Run Softly Demerara said “There is no bridge over the Demerara, and the normal way to reach Wismar from North Mackenzie was in one of the small ferry-boats powered by outboard motors, in which ply back and forth across the river all day long. The fare for crossing was eight cents- four pence, which one handed to the ferryman, who crouched in the shade of a rough wooden shelter at the stern of the boat. The passengers sat on the thwarts, a position in which the women among them were constantly concerned to keep their skirts from trailing in the bilges. When one reached the further bank in the ferry, the small boat nosed its prows on the boards of a ramp, where one disembarked and clambered up on to the road, a broad unpaved track where after rain the pedestrian sank ankle deep into black ooze.”

For the most part, the ferry system worked, but there were serious problems. There was no safety training of the boat operators. You had untrained and, at times, lewd characters who couldn’t work elsewhere operating unsafe boats. On regular occasions there loud, foul half naked operators with a bottle of liquor in one hand playing cat and mouse with the passing bauxite ships that blew their horn endlessly to clear the river. Many engines failed and boats drift up and down the river. Little or no life jackets were on the boats. Some boats had to be bail out to stay afloat. There were many countless mishaps and drowning. Three bauxite workers had drowned while crossing the river in the early 70’s that I remembered well. A bearded tall man name Churchill with a large hook and rope would usually lead the body recovery effort. The ghastly site of Churchill with his hook and coil of rope fishing the river bottom for the unfortunate victim to an audience of hundreds of onlookers at the side of the river was a haunting sight.

I respect the kind and decent Mr. Quamina and was good friends with all his children who I admired and often remember. He had a boat that stood out from the rest. This small, shallow and greenheart made boat had a round bottom. The ominous bow of the boat pointed downwards. It sank many times. After it was recovered, it was moored for months before it was again back in service. By then, I guessed many would have forgotten the last tragedy. One morning on my way to school, Mr. Quamina repeatedly begged the passengers who were mainly bauxite workers, “Please reduce the load guys! There are too much people in the boat!” The boat operator and Mr. Quamina stood helplessly with hands on hips. Not a single passenger disembarked. Most of the passengers were either late or in a hurry to cross the river.
Then the frustrated Mr. Quamina said these magical words, “It’s alright, take the load across, it is long overdue since I sold another boat load to the fair-maid (water spirit).”The boat then safely crossed the river mostly empty as the appeal to the fears of the spooks worked very well. Mr. Quamina quietly smiled in relief.

The ferry boat played an integral part of a young child’s life that used the ferry daily to attend school. The untimely and unpredictable ferry boat decided daily, if a child was going to be punished for tardiness. Any excuse that the ferry broke down or that the boat aimlessly drifted, guarantee only an extra lash from the cane and a short lecture that other students were timely and maybe you should have caught the earlier ferry.

There were ways around this and we simply avoided the headmaster who stood at the entrance of the school compound in very creative ways.

Childhood imagination and play also surrounded the ferry system. We played and build sand castles on the Mackenzie shore while waiting for the boat. Ducks and drakes was a favorite game we enjoyed as we expertly skimmed over the water the flat bush seed called Iresoura, which was found with other interesting debris and drift wood on the beaches. We would be so involved in play that our last priority was catching the boat which came and went many times.

The substandard ferry boats did successfully transport the many thousands of residence including our family members. The current boat service has less landings and owners but provided a vastly improved service. Massive and very well built boats which are fully equipped with life jackets and working engines are now operated by what appears to be more professional individuals. That was very gratifying to see.

— Post # 1360

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Malcolm Herbert  On May 5, 2012 at 6:29 am

    You forgot Brother Harry

  • Johan  On May 7, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Indeed the old ferry crossing was quite terrifying, but I grew in it and became accustomed, it became a joy for me, but when those hugh bauxite boats were present in the river, you suddenly became nervous, because of the size. as a student living on the westside, I was compelloed to use these ferry, but the stories of boats coming into contact with bauxite boats and the lost of lives was scarry until the story eventually faded and allowed life to become normal again. this also motivated me to learn and learn quickly to swim, it eventually made me a very strong swimmer. those past feelings of crossing that river always reminds me of my childhood days growing up in Linden, its always home for me and that river will always be waiting for all who vist to cross..Perhaps there are no more bauxite boats moving in the waters, but surely that river will always be there.

  • lyn  On May 11, 2012 at 3:07 am

    The ships – bauxite boats still come and go. I cross with the ferry boats morning and evenings and there are times when the water looks monstrously frightening but I have to get to work. The boats move quickly across and are never overloaded. it is still one of the cheapest means of transportation for us who live on either banks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: