Nostalgia: My memories of Hand In Hand Insurance and Dadanawa Ranch –  By Geoff Burrowes

 By Geoff Burrowes

  • An open letter to the Secretary of the Hand In Hand Insurance

Mike Pacheco, Michael Bunbury and I are probably the oldest surviving members of the staff from the early 1960s!

I recently saw on the Internet that Hand in Hand now owns Dadanawa Ranch. I worked for Hand in Hand in 1961 and for Dadanawa in 1963.

The grand old lady doesn’t appear to have changed much, with it’s bungalow silhouette and it’s graceful balconies around the outside. We watched from those balconies as Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth oversaw the trooping of the Volunteer Guard from a stand, stoutly erected at the start of the Avenue of the Republic, across from the Carnegie Public Free Library, on their only visit to Guyana.       

Hand-in-Hand Insurance Building today

At the time Rolf Paireadeau was the Chairman of the Board. His son was the renowned BG and West Indian cricketer Bruce Paireadeau who emigrated to New Zealand and his secretary was Miss Morgan, a petite grey-haired, erect lady!  The Secretary of the company was Cecil P. Fitt and the Chief Clerk was Fred King who entered the transactions of the day in the most beautiful copperplate you have ever seen! The five x four ledgers are probably still in storage (maybe in the attic!). Gerry Gouveia was Burt King’s assistant.

The Messenger was Harry Mayers a tall cadaverous gentleman who was ably assisted by Gordon Peters. Harry Mayers delivered envelopes around town efficiently, was rumoured to fit a visit in to the Hand in Hand bar on the corner. It never affected his cheerful demeanor or the efficiency with which he did his job.

The office clerk was Mrs Shirley Barrow and CP’s secretary was the beautiful and efficient Denise D’Andrade. The salesmen who brought in new business were Henry Fitt, who was also one of the brave pilots who in single engined planes opened up the jungle interior of the country and who eventually didn’t return from a flight and was never heard from again; Mike Bunbury my cousin and the grey haired veteran Leslie Johnson made up the sales staff. We were more a family than an office staff and a large part of that can be attributed to the brothers Cecil and Henry Fitt whose light hearted personalities masked a fierce drive for excellence.

There was no television in British Guiana (BG) in those days so a lot of the advertising was on the radio! The Hand in Hand had a jingle that went

  •         “Hand in Hand fire Insurance
  •         Ah warnin’ you this is your last chance
  •         Come down here and insure your property
  •         When fire bu’n it down don’ complain to me”

There were also no computers so the policy reminders were on metal Addressograph plates which I was employed to create when there was new business and which were used to print the reminders when payments were due. I followed Mike Pacheco who was becoming cashier and later became cashier myself.  While Mike was cashier he provided a public service to two homeless men who were not welcomed in the banks. One was Bertie Van who bathed on a pipe over the trench that ran between the two Avenues of the Republic.

Bertie was apparently a very bright school principal who cracked up under the pressure of his job and subsequently became homeless. He spoke in a courtly manner and was not violent so the police didn’t harass him. Mike was asked by Bertie to keep his money safe for him, which he did faithfully. There was an old saying which went “Ah may be mad but ah aint stupid! That could have applied to Bertie who once asked me how much of his money I was holding and when I pulled out the envelope I kept his money in and told him he courteously replied ” No sir it should be ten dollars more.” Sure enough when I checked in the drawer where I kept his money there was another envelope containing ten dollars. I was a lot more careful with Bertie’s savings after that!

  •         Dadanawa Ranch – 1963

The approach to the Ranch was down the west bank into the Rupununi River through the 100 yards or so of river and up into the tunnel of bush over the two sand tracks, which led into a large green field of grass bounded by a wire fence and surrounded by scrubby savannah. At the far end of the pasture was a well kept white two storied building with green awnings and trim, and a spacious veranda furnished with comfortable white Adirondack chairs. At the near end of the well-trimmed pasture was a wooden unpainted two story building which I shortly discovered I would be sleeping and keeping my clothes in.

Dadanawa house

I would share this house with a young Canadian man called Ted Gorsline. My first day at the ranch was full of promise as I worked in the corral with the vacqeros (cowboys) and thoroughly enjoyed it! At the end of that stint I was introduced to a young pony and told that we would be riding out into the savannahs to round up the following day. Before we left however we had a meal. The food was different but tasty! Beef and farine, highly spiced! I found out afterward that it was prepared by a West Berbician named Irene, a jovial lady and accomplished cook!

She was assisted by another West Berbician named London – I never heard him referred to by a first name.

I had never ridden a horse before so had to learn like any other rookie. The Brazilian capataj, a rough man but empathetic showed me how to mount and we set off across the savannah in the most uncomfortable jog trot imaginable. Uncomfortable or not I was thrilled to be part of a group of real life cowboys. The group was young, I discovered an average age of 19 or so, Amerindian boys (mainly Wapishanas)  from Sowarowau, Sand Creek and  Aishalton. The capataj or foreman of the whole of Dadanawa Ranch at the time was a seasoned Brazilian who was tall and grizzled and had been a vacquero all of his adult life.

I managed to stay in the saddle for most of the time but when we were crossing a small creek the horse lunged unexpectedly and I had to grab whatever I could to stay in the saddle! So much for being a vacquero! By this point any movement in the saddle was painful as my soft nether regions were excrutiatingly sore from the cowponies gait. We slept in our hammocks under the stars that night and at dayclean we saddled our horses and rounded up all the cattle in our area and drove them back to the ranch.

The manager was an English ex-heavy cavalryman called Mr. Harry E. Turner who had fascinating tales of what he claimed was the last cavalry charge in History. I never found out if his historical accounts were true or if they were bushmen’s tales designed to entertain a naïve townsman. Believe me there no shortage of bushman’s tales in the Rupununi and Mr. Turner was an old Rupununi hand. His right hand man was Stan Brock a young Englishman who had thrived in the savannahs, and was an excellent cattleman by the time I knew him! He walked with a long pantherlike stride wore a vacquero’s knife on his belt and rode like a centaur. He knew everything there was to know about cattle and could have taught me everything I needed to know but he didn’t like me and I didn’t like him either and when Mr. Turner retired and returned to England Brock told me that there wasn’t room for both of us at Dadanawa and he planned to stay and presented me with an open ticket back to Georgetown.

I haven’t mentioned Jimmy Brown a wizard of a mechanic, originally from Saskatchewan I think; who looked after the ranch vehicles and  kept them in  tip top shape while training a couple of vacqueros in maintenance and repair.

Jimmy would give me a ride to Lethem where I would catch a Guyana Airways DC3 back to Georgetown. Jimmy dropped me and my suitcase off at the Fazenda, the bar owned by Mr. Teddy Melville, at the southern end of the airstrip in Lethem.! I was drowning my sorrows in Banks Beer, because I had fallen in love with the savannahs and was not looking forward to returning unexpectedly to Georgetown with my tail between my legs. To my surprise in walked an old friend, Tony Melville, whose dad owned the Fazenda and who after hearing my story said that his aunt Maggie Orella was looking for someone to help with visitors to her guest house at Manari and to assist her son Louis in running the ranch.

I met Mrs Orella, who it turned out knew and liked my Mum and who offered me the job Tony had told me about. I spent the next six months learning the cattle business from Louis who had grown up working cattle and taught me everything he knew. I returned to Georgetown at the end of this time to raise the money to start a small spread of my own, fell in love with a beautiful green eyed girl who told me that she was not raising her children in the bush. (for town people everything South of Ruimveldt was bush!) Given the choice I chose the beautiful girl and after 50 great years have never regretted my choice! So there you have my contacts with Hand in Hand and Dadanawa Ranch!

Not quite the end!

More info from Wikipedia

Dadanawa Ranch is located on the Rupununi River in the Rupununi savannah in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region of Guyana. It is the largest and most isolated cattle ranch in Guyana.

Dadanawa Ranch is one of the most remote ranches in the world containing about 5,000 head of cattle. It is located on the Rupununi River in the South Rupununi savannahs, in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region of Guyana at 2°50′N 59°31′W. Ranch workers or vaqueros, are local cowboys, who operate barefoot and are responsible for managing ranch livestock.

The preferred means of travel to Dadanawa is by jeep. It takes about 3.5 hours to drive from Lethem to Dadanawa in the dry season, and as much as 3 days in the wet season. Tourists often stay at Dadanawa and use the ranch as a base for further journeys throughout the South Rupununi.

The name “Dadanawa” is a distortion of the local Wapishana Amerindian name of Dadinauwau, or “macaw spirit creek hill”.

Dadanawa started out as a trading post by a man of the name DeRooie about 1865 and was sold with 300 head of cattle in the late 1880s to H.P.C. Melville, a gold prospector from Barbados who found himself lost and near-dead of malaria in the area several years before. The ranch was sold to investors and established as the Rupununi Development Company in 1919.

Ranch cowboys are called “vaqueros“, most of whom are Wapishana Amerindians. The ranch supports over 40 people in the main compound including the direct and extended families of the manager and staff, some of which extend for 3 generations.

The ranch is now run by Duane de Freitas, his wife Sandie and son Justin along with his Irish partner, Erin Earl. They run an Ecotourism business from the ranch and visitors from all over the world come to birdwatch or go on river trips in the savannahs and Amazon rainforest. Duane and Justin have set up the Rupununi Conservation Society to protect the highly endangered Siskins and other bird and river turtle species.



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  • PETER JULY  On 10/18/2019 at 10:30 am

    my thanks to Geoff for this nostalgic look back in time.

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