GUYANA: History: The S.S. Queriman Ferry – Georgetown / Vreed-en-Hoop – By Dave Martins

By January 30, 2022

Part of our Guyana history that has vanished in recent times was the era of the broad, squat steamship, the S.S. Queriman, which was at one time in operation as the ferry between Georgetown and Vreed-en-Hoop on the opposite bank of the Demerara River. She was a fixture for me as a youngster, living first at Hague on the West Dem and later Vreed-en-Hoop when I was going to school on scholarship at Saint Stanislaus College on Brickdam, making the crossing to and fro in early morning and late afternoon for classes and later occasionally even on weekends for purely social visits to town.

We country folks would park our bicycles on the lower deck and take the stairs up to first-class with abundant seating and breezes as opposed to the space below, where the heat from the ship’s steam engine could be at times unbearable.  In later years, the Queriman gave way to the smaller and more maneuverable diesel-powered ships, like the Lady Northcote, where owners of vehicles would sometimes find no space to accommodate them on a particular trip and would have to wait on the wharf for the next crossing.         

Lady Northcote ferry

The sailors operating the ship, busy with the various routine parts of their work, were generally a rather impatient lot who had no time or interest for small talk or casual chat. Finding a safe place to park your bike and go upstairs to the better accommodations and cooler temperatures of first-class was always a high priority for cyclists coming and going. To prevent lower deck passengers from sitting on their cars, or resting objects on them, many car owners would often stay in their cars during the 15 minutes or so it took to make it across.  It follows that with the majority of passengers being upstairs, there was a significant amount of social exchange going on there and even some romantic liaisons being formed.

In my senior years at Saints I definitely had my antenna up for two young ladies from the West Bank who travelled on the same schedule as I, but to say that anything substantial emerged from that early contact would be an exaggeration; it was generally a case of largely looking and dreaming.  For cyclists like myself, the priority was always to get on board as early as possible to find a safe place to park your bike downstairs, leaving you free to relax on the upper deck for the short trip to town.  I recall on one of my first crossings, asking a passing sailor where I could park my bike, only to be curtly told, “Hang it over the side” – case closed. Catering to customers they would not likely see again was not high on the agenda of the T and HD guys working on the ship.  Looking back on it all years later while living in Canada, it occurred to me odd that the practice of offering these sailors a “small piece” to park one’s bicycle safely on that ferry crossing was never mentioned, by either cyclist or sailor – the subject never came up… not even once.

Years later, as the old Queriman deteriorated and was often tied up in town for repairs, there came a time when it was taken out of service entirely and I recall it seeing it beached on the shore of one of the islands in the Essequibo River, eventually rusting away to nothing.

In retrospect, it is surprising that the vexing conditions on that short steamer trip for West Coast folks travelling to town did not create clashes between passengers. Obviously, most folks accepted matters in the well-known Guyanese expression, “What it is, is what it is.” and that the trip, taxing as it could be, was generally brief, and really not that taxing.  Indeed, writing this column, it strikes me as remarkable that to this day a permanent bridge has not come into being for that extremely busy crossing, used by so many travellers and so many businesses, day after day.  The bridge that did come was built farther upriver somewhat remote for West Coast users and that’s how we know it today.
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  • Peggy  On 04/08/2022 at 8:43 am

    Love this nostalgic article. Great job and thanks.

  • Ray Williams  On 04/10/2022 at 7:19 pm

    Another nostalgic trip down memory lane thanks to Guyana’s coltural ambassador Dave Martins, well done.

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