British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley -1924

This is a historical document that gives a comprehensive picture of British Guiana in 1924.  The Introduction is shown in this entry.  The whole document (126 pages) can be downloaded here : BRITISH GUIANA  – 1924

The photos from this publication are in

British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley – 1924


BRITISH GUIANA, the only British colony on the South American mainland, has an area of about 89,480 square miles, approximately equal to that of England, Scotland and Wales, and the population by the 1921 Census was estimated at 297,691, which gives an average of 3 1/3 per square mile.

In spite of being so near the equator the climate is more subtropical than tropical. For most months of the year the maximum shade temperature is about 85°F, and even in the hottest months 89°F is rarely recorded, while the night temperature seldom falls below 73°F or 74°F, a temperature of 70°F being very rare.There are two wet and two dry seasons in the coastland regions; the long wet season, usually from April to August, being succeeded by the long dry season up to the middle of November, followed by the wet weather towards the end of January, and the short dry season until April.        

The rainfall average is about 85 inches on the coastland belt, and 58 inches on the savannahs. In the forest regions of the interior the contrast between the wet and dry seasons is less marked than on the coast, the rainfall being more regular throughout the year. In the savannah region of the interior there is a well-marked dry season from October to February; while the wettest months are from May to August. It may be said also that the range of temperature is slightly greater in the forest regions than on the coastland region, and is even greater still on the savannah region; thus on the savannahs the main maximum shade registered is 92.5, while the main minimum shade is 72.2.

Fresh sea breezes blow steadily almost without intermission during the daytime for the greater part of the year; during the months of January, February and March they continue both night and day and make life, even for the European, exceedingly pleasant. The general direction of the wind is north-east, east-north-east or east.
Occasionally, however, during the wet months of the year, a land-breeze is experienced from the south-east, south or south-west, and with this wind the heaviest falls of rain occur. The wind varies from “ gentle” to ” fresh” and gales are exceedingly rare. Hurricanes are unknown.

The constant winds temper the heat of the tropical sun and keep the temperature inside the houses cool and pleasant. Visitors from other tropical countries frequently express surprise at the pleasantness of the climate. The nights, too, throughout the year are uniformly cool and conducive to sleep.


British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


There are rarely twenty days in any year on which bright sunshine is not recorded.
The daily average throughout the year is a little over six hours, but except when rain is
falling, dull and cloudy weather is very rarely experienced. In the dry season the
average record of sunshine is nearly ten hours per diem. Rain generally occurs during
the early part of the day.

History. Guiana was the Indian name for the country between the two rivers Orinoco
and Amazon, and was probably derived from the root word ” winna” = ” water” or
“watery country.” The coast was first seen by Columbus in 1498, but no Spanish
voyager appears to have landed on the part now known as British Guiana. The
inhabitants were numerous and consisted of three tribes, Caribs, Arrawaks and
Warrows, the first two being continually at war with each other. The Caribs were
noted cannibals and fighting men, and did not hesitate to raid the European
settlements in the West Indian Islands in search of their favourite food – human flesh.
It is probable that these tribes had driven out and taken the place of an earlier
migration, probably from Mexico or Yucatan. In the latter half of the sixteenth century
the story of EI Dorado incited many adventurers to explore the country, and in 1595
Sir Walter Raleigh went up the Orinoco in quest of the Gilded King and his wonderful
city. English, Dutch and French traders followed.

In 1621 the Dutch West India Company received a charter by which it became
possessed of Essequibo. Three years later a commander was sent to Fort Kyk-over-al,
and at the same time a few settlers went to the Berbice river in the interest of the
mercantile house of van Peere. In 1650 the Governor of Barbados founded a British
colony on the Surinam river, and in 1657 a small Dutch settlement was made on the
Pomeroon. In 1666, war having broken out between England and the Netherlands,
both Kyk-over-al and Pomeroon were captured by an expedition from Barbados.
In 1667 Surinam was exchanged for what is now New York, and most of the
Pomeroon settlers went to what is now Dutch Guiana. Those were the days of raiders.
A second settlement in the Pomeroon was destroyed by French corsairs in 1689; in
1708 Kyk-over-al submitted to pay a ransom to Captain Ferry, and in 1712 Berbice
was held by Jaques Cassard as security for a bill of exchange.

Real colonization did not commence until the introduction of foreigners in the early
years of the eighteenth century. In 1740, under Governor Storm van Gravesande,
Essequibo was thrown open to all nations, with free land and ten years freedom from


British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


taxes, and settlers began to arrive in considerable numbers. The seat of Government
had been removed to Fort Island near the mouth of the Essequibo; a general move was
made to the fertile coast lands, and permission was given to settle on the river

Berbice, though far behind Essequibo, had become a real colony with a population
of 346 whites and about 4,000 slaves, when, in 1763, a rising of the latter drove their
masters from every plantation to take refuge at the mouth of the river. The revolt was
not put down till nearly a year afterwards.

No real town existed in either colony. There were some houses near Fort Nassau, in
Berbice, and Fort Zeelandia, in Essequibo, while in Demerara the Government
officers were on a small island called Borsselen, about 15 miles up the river. In 1781
the colonies were captured by the British, who occupied them for ten months, and
chose a site for a new town near the mouth of the Demerara. The French, acting as
allies of the Netherlands, then ousted the English, and in 1784 the Dutch resumed
possession, and called the new town Stabroek. It became Georgetown in 1812. New
Amsterdam, in Berbice, was laid out about ten years later.

The capture of the colonies by the British and then by the French allies of the
Netherlands upset the easy-going Dutch authorities, and resulted in a political crisis.
The West Indian Company wanted to introduce changes which the colonists refused
to allow. For two or three years no taxes could be collected; petitions against the
Company were sent to the States-General, and in the end the renewal of its charter
was refused. In 1791 Demerara and Essequibo came under State control, and a Plan
of Redress, the basis of the present constitution, was formulated.
The troubles in Europe that followed the French Revolution were naturally reflected in
the colonies. The Dutch and British became allies, but the Court of Policy in
Demerara refusing to recognise this, nine English vessels arrived on the 27th of May,
1796, with a demand that the colony be placed under the protection of the British
Government. Thus the two colonies of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice became
British for the first time. Restored to the Batavian Republic in 1802, they were again
captured ten months afterwards, and finally transferred to Great Britain at the Great
Peace of 1814-15 for certain monetary considerations to the tune of about three
millions sterling.


British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


The arrival of the British in 1796 was followed by a remarkable development of the
colonies. Cotton, coffee and sugar were the main products, and high prices were
realised. Slaves were imported to the number of about 5,000 a year, and everything
looked bright, when the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 checked further
development, and caused everyone to cry out for labour. Coffee and cotton gradually
disappeared and sugar took their place. Labour was always inadequate, and gave rise
to suggestions for immigration. A great rising of slaves took place in 1823 on the East
Coast of Demerara. Suddenly emancipation became an impending fact. A system of
apprenticeship was established for four years, and in 1838 the negroes became their
own masters.

The chief danger to threaten the industry of late years was the Continental. Bounty
system which encouraged the sale of sugar in England at a price much lower than the
cost of production.

This handicap was removed in 1903, thanks to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and the
Brussels Convention. The general result of East Indian Immigration has been very
good, and of late years the colony has enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity. The
discovery of gold in paying quantities was made in 1880, and since that time the
precious metal has furnished a considerable portion of the colony’s revenue.
Diamonds, too, have been found in considerable numbers, and rice-growing for export
has undergone a remarkable development. Politically, the settlement of the
Venezuelan boundary question in 1899,and the demarcation of the Brazilian
boundary in 1906 have had a good effect. The tendency to closer trade relations with
Canada – already the colony’s chief market for sugar – promises much good. That
British Guiana contains great possibilities is a truism; the full development of those
possibilities has yet to be recorded.

Administration.- The existing Administration consists of the Governor, the Executive
Council, the Court of Policy and the Combined Court.

The Governor is appointed by the Sovereign, and holds office during the Sovereign’s
pleasure. In him is vested exclusively the executive power, and he exercises direct
supervision over the whole of the administrative departments.

The Executive Council consists of the Governor, the Colonial Secretary, the
Attorney General, and such other persons as may be appointed from time to time by
the Sovereign or are provisionally appointed by the Governor.


British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


The Governor is President of the Council. The expression “Governor-in-Council” is
defined under the law to mean ” the Governor acting with but not necessarily in
accordance with the advice of the Executive Council”. The primary functions of the
Council are to advise and assist the Governor for the time being in the administration
of the Government. The Annual Estimates for the Combined Court are prepared by the
Governor-in-Council. With the Council also rests the trial and suspension from office
of Public Officers charged with misconduct.

The Court of Policy is now purely legislative, the executive functions which it
formerly exercised having been transferred in 1891 to the Executive Council. It
passes all Ordinances except the Annual Tax Ordinance and the Annual Customs
Duties Ordinance, which are passed by the Combined Court. The power to legislate is
derived from the Crown and is subject to veto by the Crown and to the power of the
Crown to pass, by Order in Council. laws which cannot be altered by the authority of
the Colonial legislature.

The Court of Policy consists of the Governor, seven official members and eight
elective members. The official section includes the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney
General, the Immigration Agent General, the Colonial Treasurer, and three other
persons holding Public Offices in the colony, these being at the present time the
Surgeon General, the Director of Public Works and the Commissioner of Lands and
Mines. The elective members are chosen by the direct vote of the people. General
elections are held every five years unless the Court is dissolved earlier. At least two
Sessions of the Court must be held each year at less than eight months’ interval. No
Bill can be introduced without the sanction of the Governor.

The Combined Court means. ” the Governor and Members of the Court of Policy with
the Financial Representatives in Combined Court assembled.” The powers possessed
by the Court are the right to vote for the raising of Colony Taxes and to examine the
Colonial Accounts; the right during the continuance of the Civil List to discuss the
several items on the Annual Estimates of the colonial expenditure: and the right to
move the reduction or striking off of any item on the Estimates not on the Civil List or
secured by law.

The Financial Representatives are six in number and are elected in the same way as
the elective members of the Court of Policy. Each holds office for five years


British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


concurrently with the Members of the Court of Policy, and is eligible for re-election.
There must be at least one meeting of the Combined Court in each year, and this
is usually held in November or December to discuss the Annual Estimates and to raise

Every male person who possesses the following qualifications is entitled to be
registered as a voter, and, being registered, to vote at the election of a member of the
Court of Policy or of a Financial Representative :

a) Has attained the age of 21 years; and

b) Is under no legal incapacity; and

c) Is a British subject by birth or naturalization; and

d) Has possessed within the District or Division within the six months previous

to registration, certain property or income qualifications.

Judicial System.-Justice is administered by the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief.
justice and two puisne judges, which has an original criminal and civil jurisdiction and
hears appeals from the Courts of Stipendiary Magistrates both in civil and criminal
matters. With some exceptions an appeal lies in civil matters as of right from any
judgment or order of a single judge in actions where the amount claimed or the value
of the property in respect of which the action is brought exceeds £52.1s. 8d. to the
West Indian Court of Appeal. A judge may also reserve a question of criminal law for
the consideration of this court.

Appeals from the West Indian Court of Appeal to His Majesty-in-Council are
governed by the provisions of the Order in Council of February 7th, 1921. An appeal
lies as of right when the matter in dispute on the appeal amounts to or is of the value
of £300. The courts of Stipendiary Magistrates in the various districts dispose of
minor civil and criminal matters, an appeal lying there from to the Full Court.

Up to January 1st, 1917, the Roman-Dutch Law was the common law of the colony.
At that date the Civil Law of British Guiana came into operation. This ordinance
purports to codify certain portions of the Roman-Dutch law, and in other matters to
substitute the English common law and principles of equity, together with certain
English statutory provisions, for the Roman-Dutch law. The criminal law of the
colony is practically the same as that of Great Britain.

British Guiana – British Empire Exhibition, Wembley


In this colony as elsewhere the legal profession is very much overcrowded. There
are at present on the Roll of Court forty-nine barristers, of whom thirty are practising,
and thirty-five solicitors, of whom twenty-eight are also practising in the colony.

Finances.-The revenue for the year 1923 amounted to £1,110,500, and the expenditure
£1,050,921. The public debt at the end of 1922 amounted to £2,409,590*. Nearly 50
per cent. of the amount collected in taxation comes from import and export duties; a
further 20 per cent. of the average is from excise on rum. There is no income tax.
Customs duties average about 15 per cent. ad valorem, and a substantial preference is
granted to the products and manufactures of Empire countries. Accounts are kept in
dollars and cents at the rate of 4s. 2d. to the dollar. In addition to the English silver
and copper money there are also in circulation four penny pieces, current only in
British Guiana, and usually known as “bits.” The Government issues notes to the value
of $1 and $2, and other currencies are provided by the Colonial Bank and the Royal
Bank of Canada in the form of $5, $20 and $100.

* Figure for 1923 not available.

The whole document (126 pages) can be downloaded here : BRITISH GUIANA  – 1924

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


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