Guyana: The romance of the Georgetown Sea Wall – By Godfrey Chin

The romance of the Sea Wall – Nostalgia 561

–   – Stabroek News

Tramcar terminus at the Sea Wall, early 20th century

Ask any Guyanese, at home or abroad, to name the first five things Guyanese that readily come to mind, and they often reply, Kaieteur Falls, Stabroek Market, St George’s, Parliament Buildings, Town Hall, and sometimes, Jonestown.

Can you imagine they always forget  our Sea Wall, which actually saves the capital city of Georgetown from being a Venice, and our coastline languishing as another lost continent of Atlantis.    

Large portions of the Guyana coastline stretching 425 kilometers from Venezuela to Suriname lie below high tide level, and defence from the threatening Atlantic has been a battle ever since the planters began to lay out estates along parts of the coast at the very end of the eighteenth century. And the perennial challenges continue today.

Godfrey Chin
The depredations of the sea claimed plantations Kierfield and Sandy Point near what is now Kitty in 1792, and there has been periodic flooding at various points along the East Coast Demerara for two centuries. In February 1855, for example, the spring tide rose to a height unknown for the previous fifty years, inundating the ward of Kingston and flooding as far as Plantation Ogle. The flood swamped the railway embankment, and salted the head of the Lamaha Canal. Camp House which had once been the residence of the early governors had to be dismantled. The building of the Georgetown Sea Wall commenced that year, and the plaque off the Round House indicates that the first section from Fort Groyne to the Round House was completed by 1860.

Deadly duels by sword and pistol plus horse racing were staged on the beach between Camp Street and Kitty in the early nineteenth century, although the beach was later washed away.

Bandstand – Militia Band – 1954

The Governor’s Pond at King’s Ground, was dug to provide dirt for a continued embankment to the Bandstand area and by 1872 the Sea Wall had reached Kitty. The Bandstand was built in 1903 as a memorial to Queen Victoria, with the small hut Koh-i-noor opposite, at the same time. This hut has now been demolished because of vagrants.

By April 1882 the Sea Wall had reached as far as Unity, East Coast, while some other coastal areas were protected by mangroves and courida, earth dams and jetties. Today mangrove replanting assisted by Anette Arjoon-Martins and the Mangrove Action Committee is a top priority. Heavy boulders, concrete walls and rip-rap defences help in our constant battle to defend our foreshore.

Sea Wall circa 1890(?)

The romance of the Sea Wall has been truly reflective of our maturation in Georgetown these last seven decades. During the war years of the forties, the Sea Wall was our haven for small boy escapades – skulking hokey from public school, skinny dipping, catching crabs, four-eyes fish, and birds. A big ‘chapta’ thrill was standing seaward at the end of the slippery jetties with the raging Atlantic attempting to wash you overboard.

Public bathhut and lockers, Kingston, before the Luckhoo Pool came into existence

By the teenage years, the sand flat off Camp Street was our ‘Lords,’ where daily cricket duels weaned many national cricket stars, including Charlie Stayers, Pat Legall and Colin Croft, etc. Thousands gathered at Easter to fly kites on or around the Sea Wall, relishing delightful family picnics, body building and fashion contests.

The Bandstand was a major attraction, especially after Bandmaster Ken De Abreu broadened the repertoire of the local Police Band which emerged from the Militia Band in 1957, and began to play popular folk, calypso, reggae, and jazz. The public Saturday afternoon concerts were a delightful treat for the citizenry. Morning exercises and evening strolls, enjoying our fresh sea breeze was a Limacol delight for young and old.

Carib Hotel

Daily, several heads of the government departments and commercial houses, plus know-it-all citizens would meet at the benches off the Bandstand to debate how the country could be successfully governed. I referred to them then as ‘the Poke-a-hole’ in the Sea Wall Fresh Air Party, now extinct and replaced today by erudite email letters to newspaper editors. Al ya remember the Keyholt wreck outside the Demerara Harbour?

By adulthood as hormones raged, the Sea Wall was a romantic trysting place – a public bedroom – a private parking promenade for lovers.  During the banlon years of the seventies, choke and rob reared its ugly head in our once peaceful society, and the Sea Wall become less popular as a local oasis. Today’s Sea Wall Sunday lime opposite the Subryanville residences, east of the former D’Aguiar and later Russian Embassy Turn is the popular attraction.
Luckhoo Pool, 1965

The Kitty Sea Wall hut was the venue of the annual May fair on the last Saturday of May yesteryear. Today, that site is La Chalet. Must mention here the Adamson Bend scandal, July 12, 1945 when a sensational murder took place at the bend, opposite the former entrance of St Stanislaus Ground to the Sea Wall.

Forty-eight year-old James Adamson, Class I Customs Clerk, a patient at the Geogetown Hospital had a recuperating tryst with a nurse at this bend, previously called ‘Dixie,’ when they were attacked by a cutlass wielding vagrant. Adamson died shortly after. Hilton Dhoney, a labourer, was charged but acquitted in a sensational trial that launched a young J.O.F Haynes, to an illustrious legal career.

Refer Hammie Green’s Anthology of Georgetown for fuller details of this nylon.

In the early fifties the Carib Hotel was our mecca for dancing under their starry roof, while the Bel Air Hotel, a half mile westward was a popular oasis where the Penumbrians, a civil servants club held their debut dance in 1954.

Tramcar at Sea Wall, early 20th century

Mayor Lionel Luckhoo built the Luckhoo Pool in the early sixties at the Water Street end of the Sea Wall where thousands enjoyed aquatic sports, etc. A few years later due to subsidance of the foundation, the pool was abandoned. Pegasus built at the site of Governor’s Pond opened in 1969. The Umana Yana was built by the Wai-Wai tribe for the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers Conference of 1973. Bookers Staff Sports Club came on stream in the early fifties, after Bookers Universal was rebuilt following the great fire of 1945, and opened in 1951.

Carifesta Avenue was built on Kelly’s Dam, which was our secondary sea defence for north Georgetown from Camp Street to Vlissengen Road.

Many of the Guyanese diaspora reading this will reminisce about their wonderful moments basking on the Sea Wall. Dr Ian McDonald recalls attending the 100th anniversary dance of the Georgetown Cricket Club at the Carib Hotel in 1958, and the champion BG Brandon Trophy Tennis team training under McDonald Bailey at 5 am on the Sea Wall in 1957.

A recent film documentary on the Sea Wall was presented at the Cannes Film Festival May 2011. The Saga and Romance of the Sea Wall lives on.

**************

This article was written by the late Godfrey Chin 1937-2012, Guyanese social history icon and culture enthusiast.  See some information on his life here:

Godfrey Chin Passes on – January 16. 2012 Stabroek News

https://www.stabroeknews.com/2012/news/stories/01/16/godfrey-chin-passes-away/

 

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On April 3, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    I have lots of happy childhood memories of the Georgetown Seawall: going for Sunday afternoon walks; swimming in the ocean; flying our kites; and more.

  • Roy  On April 3, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Remember the “the eight o’clock cannon ‘” fired every night from the round house?
    Remember strolling along the “broad walk” from the bandstand to the round house and back.
    Remember sitting on the broad walk benches at nights, chatting or just quietly enjoying the fresh, ozone breeze from the Atlantic.
    Remember…………..

  • Clyde Duncan  On April 3, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    JUST TO CORRECT the Article…The LOCAL BANDMASTER was VINCENT de ABREU..

    NOT Ken de ABREU…..We de Castros know THIS as he was our UNCLE

    Compton and my Mom and Ben and Greg’s MOM were sisters of Vincent de Abreu

    Rupert de Castro

  • guyaneseonline  On April 8, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Received From Narine Datt:

    Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
    —- Mahatma Gandhi

    THE SEA WALL

    Always blasting the old coastlands
    From Point Playa to Springlands
    Daily taking the beating and all
    Was and is the good old Sea Wall
    Firstly built by the good old Dutch
    And now have some other’s touch
    Like Don Quixote she clasped the waves
    Reminiscent of Guyana Arawak’s braves
    With dirt and concrete so reinforced
    Battling the Atlantic Ocean’s course
    Eight feet below sea level still
    As the foaming froth try to fill
    The land with her muddy salt sea water
    Standing her ground and getting stronger
    Over spill sucked up by waiting crab-grass
    As the sea wall looks upon this as “eye-pass”
    And the waters shyly ebbs away
    Only to be returned another day
    The old man watching the brackish waters
    Heedless of the local bat and ball cricketers
    Waiting for the right time and tide
    To throw his cast-a-net far and wide
    As a gull flitters nearby as an imp
    For the discarded fish or shrimp
    And life goes on as farmers forge ahead
    Thinking of their crops and homestead
    Not knowing how much pressure it’d take
    Or when and where the sea-wall could break
    The sea-wall is alive as day is nearly closing
    Some come for walks others at their choosing
    Lovers holding hands and watch the sunset
    True and even taboo unions try to forget
    What will befall them with their confessions
    For then inter-marriage could cause fractions
    Partly the sea-wall is covered with graffiti
    As trustful hearts keep it out of boundary
    The wall can tell of broken hearts and tears
    Of peers and fears which fell on deaf ears
    And as you follow the sea-wall to the city
    You see lovers smooching in many an alley
    They are on bicycles or just standing
    Looking into one another’s eyes talking
    As the waters lash the sea-wall with sprays
    Likewise hearts and desires are in a blaze
    Looking across the sea each with dreams
    For life abroad hatching plots or schemes
    Concentrating on emotions so fervent
    Oblivious of all in that environment

  • Ian Wishart  On April 9, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Godfrey is wrong about the naming of Adamson’s Bend. The fact that someone by the name of Adamson was murdered on Kitty beach (I believe allegedly by a jealous boyfriend of the woman he was meeting) is purely co-incidental. Adamson’s Bend was the name given to the dog leg in the Public Road because of a fatal accident involving a Mr Adamson in a vehicle many years before. I remember the name Adamson’s Bend when I was a little boy (I’m now 83) years before Mr A was murdered.

    With regard to the flood of 1855, the following verse appears in Rodway’s “The Story of Georgetown”:

    Be sober my muse, and with gravity tell
    What sad havoc and ruin all Kingston befell;
    How the sea swept away all the dam and its smouses,*
    Made canals of the streets, Noah’s Arks of the houses.
    Some bridges blew up, how some houses came down,
    And together went wandering over the town.

    * Smouse (a word of Dutch origin): a small dam about 3 or 4 ft high built of compacted earth for preventing flooding due to rising water.

    • Ali...  On April 9, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      Mr Wishaet:

      Smouse is not a Dutch word for small dam. The word you probably mean is dyke. Smouse is an obsolete word for Jew and for traveler – itinerant.

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