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Geregistreerd op: 2-2-2005
|Geplaatst: 08 Okt 2006 9:07 Onderwerp: A White Man's War? World War One and the West Indies
|A White Man's War? World War One and the West Indies
By Glenford D Howe
Black Britons from the West Indies responded to the outbreak of World War One with money as well as volunteers, despite some political opposition. Glenford D Howe considers the effect of war on the West Indies and the experience of black people who fought for the empire.
The colonies join the war effort
By the outbreak of war in 1914, centuries of alienation and the suppression of the remnants of African cultural practices, and the proliferation of British institutions, culture and language, had created staunchly loyal Black Britishers in Barbados and other colonies. The expression of support for Britain from the West Indian population was therefore, not surprisingly, quite overwhelming.
'...donations were made in spite of severe hardships...'
Gifts to the value of several thousand pounds were contributed by the colonies to the war effort; these included sugar, rum, oil, lime, cotton, rice, clothing, logwood, and nine aeroplanes. A total of 11 ambulances and adequate funds for their maintenance were donated, and approximately two million pounds sterling was given to the British government and charities. These donations were made in spite of severe hardships caused by major increases in the cost of living throughout the region which occurred with the proclamation of war.
The generosity of the colonies was, however, not uncontested locally. Some liberal newspapers, like the Federalist newspaper in Grenada, had reservations about what they regarded as extravagance on the part of the local legislatures. Their commitment to the cause of the lower classes had to be seen by the public as equally significant as their loyalty to the British government. But the Jamaica Times argued that opposition to the war should receive no mercy under martial law. In several colonies including Trinidad, Grenada, Jamaica and British Honduras, a number of blacks adopted the position that it was a white man's war and therefore black people should not get involved.
Should blacks participate?
Black and coloured reformers who were attacking Crown Colony government in the West Indies regarded the war as an important blessing for the movement for representative government, which was gaining great momentum in the region by 1914. Like their compatriots in South Africa, West Indian middle-class blacks were aware of the relevance of the war in their struggle for political and constitutional change. Couched beneath their protestations of patriotism was a clear linkage between their support for the war effort and the grant of the reforms they desired.
'...West Indian middle-class blacks were aware of the relevance of the war in their struggle for political and constitutional change.'
The intensity with which the pro-participation arguments were articulated by the local press and population provided the basis for official representations to be made by the various governors to the British government. Although the British officials were not keen on having blacks serve on the Western Front, the extent of the West Indian agitation, and devastating losses suffered by the Allies, eventually forced the British government to approve the formation of West Indian contingents and their service overseas. By the beginning of October 1915, negotiations relating to the financing of a West Indian contingent and its pay were completed and recruiting began in earnest. With a few minor exceptions it was agreed that the West Indians would be recruited on the same terms and conditions as British recruits
Recruitment and return
In the West Indies - as throughout most of the empire, with the exception of some areas of West Africa where coercion was used - the local officials and other recruiting bodies tended to employ moral persuasion in order to attract volunteers as well as the typical 'carrot and stick' measures - medals, glory, discipline, exercise and free land at the cessation of hostilities.
The economic advantages of enlisting also constituted a central theme used by recruiters in virtually every territory. In the prevailing conditions of high unemployment, spiralling cost of living, and depressed wages, the groups most susceptible to the economic incentives included plantation workers, artisans and the many unemployed of the working class in the towns.
'...those men discharged as unfit or undesirable were not entitled to any benefits or pensions...'
By the middle of 1916, men rejected in England as unfit or as invalid had begun to return to the West Indies. The exaggerated promises which recruiters pedalled would have become apparent to these men and the public because, without exception, the local governments had made little preparation for the invalids. Moreover, those men discharged as unfit or undesirable were not entitled to any benefits or pensions, while those who were entitled to benefits experienced excessively long delays before they received assistance.
In Jamaica the men were usually given a few shillings, a cheap suit of clothes and free railway transport to their home, but because of transportation problems some had to remain in Kingston for several days. This exhausted their money even before they actually left for home. The situation created major dissatisfaction because many had no other form of support. Having relinquished their jobs to fight for King and Country these men were left to experience destitution and poverty.
The Halifax Incident
The spectacle of returning invalids had a sobering effect on potential recruits. The sight of men hobbling on sticks and crutches was evident in Grenada, and there were in Trinidad, according to The West Indian Gazette, 'many pathetic scenes to be witnessed'. In Jamaica, however, it was the catastrophic journey of their third contingent that dramatically brought home the possible dangers which awaited potential recruits.
On 6 March 1916 the third Jamaica contingent, comprising 25 officers and 1,115 other ranks, departed for England on board the ship Verdala. Due to enemy submarine activity in the region, the Admiralty ordered the ship to make a diversion to Halifax - but before it could reach its destination it encountered a blizzard. Since the Verdala was not adequately heated and the black soldiers had not been properly equipped with warm clothing, substantial casualties resulted: approximately 600 men suffered from exposure and frostbite and there were five immediate deaths.
'The Halifax Incident seriously damaged the recruitment campaign...'
The Halifax Incident seriously damaged the recruitment campaign, which had to be temporarily suspended. The recruiters subsequently adopted a more vigorous strategy of house-to-house visits. Greater effort was also made to obtain more volunteers from Panama, particularly after America's entry into the war in 1917, and it was to a large extent the recruitment of these Jamaican and other migrants in Panama that allowed further Jamaican contingents to be formed.
Conscription measures were eventually passed in Jamaica and other colonies in order to recruit more men, especially those of quality, but these measures were never enforced. The men who arrived overseas from the region to serve in the British West Indian Regiment (BWIR) were therefore all volunteers even though, as elsewhere in the empire, some joined because of economic, legal and private pressures.
Discrimination at war
Even though there was a high degree of standardisation and regularisation in the disciplinary code structure of the army, inequalities in attitudes towards and treatment of the different races, classes and ethnic groups did exist. Major problems of discrimination were to be found in the practical application of army regulations in an environment in which stereotypes of race and class were prevalent. Even though the army structure and system of accountability did in many instances eventually vindicate the rights of all soldiers, adjustment into army life was usually more difficult and precarious for the black soldier than for his white counterpart because of racism. One veteran, Sir Etienne Dupuch, wrote of the 'consciousness of discrimination' against 'native troops' which blacks felt in the army.
'...soldiers sometimes accused the papers and the local public of getting them into these difficulties by having urged them to enlist.'
One response adopted by the black soldiers was to write to local newspapers urging for 'something hot' to be written against race prejudice. Their intention was to mobilise West Indian public opinion in the hope of getting proper representation and possibly relief from the daily harassment. In fact, soldiers sometimes accused the papers and the local public of getting them into these difficulties by having urged them to enlist.
Some soldiers sought a form of quiet accommodation within the system. Barbadian soldier Charles Rice, when questioned about racism, denied ever having experienced any racial insults; in his view 'anything you looked for is the same thing you got'. Quiescence may have been the product of centuries of colonialism and the feelings of inferiority which it engendered, or else it simply made life easier.
Relations in Egypt within the BWIR battalions which were most representative of the West Indian colonies were normally friendly, but this was not automatic or immediate. Amicable relations developed over time through interaction and communication, induced by their common experiences.
Mutiny at Taranto
After Armistice Day, on 11 November 1918, the eight BWIR battalions in France and Italy were concentrated at Taranto in Italy to prepare for demobilisation. They were subsequently joined by the three battalions from Egypt and the men from Mesopotamia. As a result of severe labour shortages at Taranto, the West Indians had to assist with loading and unloading ships and do labour fatigues. This led to much resentment, and on 6 December 1918 the men of the 9th Battalion revolted and attacked their officers. On the same day, 180 sergeants forwarded a petition to the Secretary of State complaining about the pay issue, the failure to increase their separation allowance, and the fact that they had been discriminated against in the area of promotions.
During the mutiny, which lasted about four days, a black NCO shot and killed one of the mutineers in self-defence and there was also a bombing. Disaffection spread quickly among the other soldiers and on 9 December the 'increasingly truculent' 10th Battalion refused to work. A senior commander, Lieutenant Colonel Willis, who had ordered some BWIR men to clean the latrines of the Italian Labour Corps, was also subsequently assaulted. In response to calls for help from the commanders at Taranto, a machine-gun company and a battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment were despatched to restore order. The 9th BWIR was disbanded and the men distributed to the other battalions which were all subsequently disarmed. Approximately 60 soldiers were later tried for mutiny and those convicted received sentences ranging from three to five years, but one man got 20 years, while another was executed by firing squad.
'An organisation called the Caribbean League was formed at the gathering to further these objectives...'
Although the mutiny was crushed, the bitterness persisted, and on 17 December about 60 NCOs held a meeting to discuss the question of black rights, self-determination and closer union in the West Indies. An organisation called the Caribbean League was formed at the gathering to further these objectives. At another meeting on 20 December, under the chairmanship of one Sergeant Baxter, who had just been superseded by a white NCO, a sergeant of the 3rd BWIR argued that the black man should have freedom and govern himself in the West Indies and that if necessary, force and bloodshed should be used to attain these aims. His sentiments were loudly applauded by the majority of those present. The discussion eventually drifted from matters concerning the West Indies to one of grievances of the black man against the white. The soldiers decided to hold a general strike for higher wages on their return to the West Indies. The headquarters for the Caribbean League was to be in Kingston, Jamaica, with sub-offices in the other colonies.
Meanwhile, the cessation of hostilities quickly led to a profound change in white attitudes to the presence of blacks in the United Kingdom. As white seamen and soldiers were demobilised and the competition for jobs intensified, so too did the level of race and class antagonism, especially in London and the port cities. The more serious aspect of this was the numerous riots which erupted and the assaults on blacks in the United Kingdom. Because of the large-scale onslaughts on blacks, and in an attempt to appease the British public, the government decided to repatriate as many blacks as they could and by the middle of September 1919, about 600 had been repatriated.
Even more alarming to the authorities, especially those in the West Indies, was the fact that between 1916 and 1919 a number of colonies including St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Trinidad, Jamaica and British Guiana experienced a series of strikes in which people were shot and killed. It was into this turmoil that the disgruntled seamen and ex-servicemen were about to return and many people in the region were hoping or anticipating - and, in the case of the authorities, fearing - that their arrival would bring the conflict to head.
'West Indian participation in the war was a significant event in the still ongoing process of identity formation in the post-emancipation era of West Indian history.'
When the disgruntled BWIR soldiers began arriving back in the West Indies they quickly joined a wave of worker protests resulting from a severe economic crisis produced by the war, and the influence of black nationalist ideology espoused by black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and others. Disenchanted soldiers and angry workers unleashed a series of protest actions and riots in a number of territories including Jamaica, Grenada and especially in British Honduras.
West Indian participation in the war was a significant event in the still ongoing process of identity formation in the post-emancipation era of West Indian history. The war stimulated profound socio-economic, political and psychological change and greatly facilitated protest against the oppressive conditions in the colonies, and against colonial rule by giving a fillip to the adoption of the nationalist ideologies of Marcus Garvey and others, throughout the region. The war also laid the foundation for the nationalist upheavals of the 1930s in which World War One veterans were to play a significant role.
Find out more
Books and articles
Lest We Forget by Robert N Murray (Hansib Publications, 1996)
Twenty-five Years After: The British West Indies Regiment in the Great War 1914-1918 by AA Cipriani (Karia Press, 1993)
Slaves in Red Coats: The British West India Regiments, 1795-1815 by N Roger Buckley (Yale University Press, 1979)
A Salute to Friend and Foe by Sir Etienne Dupuch (Tribune, 1982)
A Source of Black Nationalism in the Caribbean: The Revolt of the British West Indies Regiment at Taranto, Italy by WF Elkins (Science and Society, Vol 33, No 2, Spring 1970)
The British West Indies Regiment 1914-1918 by CL Joseph (Journal of Caribbean History, Vol 12, May 1971)
The Land Forces of Britain site has information about the West Indies Regiment.
Places to visit
The Imperial War Museum has extensive film and photographic archives, including the original film of the Battle of the Somme, and 40,000 official British, Australian and Canadian photographs from World War One.
The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (Clock Tower Yard, Temple Meads, Bristol BS1 6QH) has a range of galleries and offers special tours, guides, workshops and family activities to visitors of all ages.
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London, 28 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DS) has a library and archive for anyone interested in further study of British Colonial history.
About the author
Dr Glenford D Howe is a graduate of and a Research Officer at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados. He is also a graduate of the University of London and a Commonwealth scholar. He has edited and authored several books including The Caribbean Aids Epidemic, Higher Education in the Caribbean and The Empowering Impulse. His forthcoming book on West Indians in World War One will be published by Ian Randle publishers.
Met hart en ziel
De enige echte
Geregistreerd op: 9-5-2009
|Geplaatst: 07 Feb 2010 20:58 Onderwerp:
|THE 1918 RIOTS - “THEM PLANTERS GOT WELL SHOOK UP”
Susan Lowes - New York - 1995
When Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, there was a
great deal of anxiety in Antigua about the effects the war would have on the island. A
number of measures were immediately taken to calm the population. The Colonial
Bank was allowed to refuse or delay any large demands for cash, both to stop a panic
and to conserve money to pay the laborers. The government held “conversations”
with those merchants it felt might take advantage of the situation by raising prices.1
It also, on request, assured the Colonial Office of the loyalty of all its subjects—
specifically meaning the Lebanese, who as citizens of the Ottoman Empire might have
been classed as loyal to the enemy; the only exception was a German commercial
traveler who was made a prisoner of war and shipped off to Trinidad.2
Britain depended upon its colonies to help out in the war effort, and Antiguans
rich and poor, in the city and in the countryside, threw themselves vigorously behind
the war effort. Across the island, people responded to calls for aid with a variety of
fund-raising efforts. The schools held dances, bridge tournaments, and bicycle races.
There were Red Cross committees in many villages, and the women made bandages
and knitted scarves and hats.
ECONOMIC CONDITIONS DETERIORATE
Although many young men joined up, the island's economy at first seemed
little affected. But as the war progressed, people began to experience increasing
hardship. Ships carrying badly needed goods were blown up, diverted, or delayed,
and the by-now-established reliance on outside foodstuffs began to take a toll.
Imported items became more expensive and such basics as flour, matches, kerosene,
and cornmeal became increasingly scarce.
No doubt everyone suffered, but some suffered far less than others. Rising
sugar prices, a guaranteed market, and several years of good production had brought
prosperity to both the planters and the government. Import merchants also suffered
less: while there were fewer buyers, prices were higher. The small shopkeepers felt
the pinch a bit more, in part because they had to face customers from the laboring
classes. In June 1917, for instance, when several small shopkeepers were tried for
overpricing, they pled (backed by the newspapers) that they were being put in an
impossible situation, squeezed between the wholesaler, who was raising his prices,
and the consumer, who was protesting if the shopkeepers raised prices to cover their
Reports of scarcities and rising prices began to appear in the papers early in
the war, but the government did not begin to get seriously worried until 1917. In
February the newspapers reported that there might be actual starvation if something
was not done.4 At one point in early 1918 there was no rice, sugar, bread, cornmeal,
or kerosene; bakers and other shops were forced to close; the street lights were out.
T.H. Best, who was Colonial Secretary and also acting governor throughout most of
this period,5 reported to the Colonial Office that he could see a “physical
deterioration” among the laboring population due to poverty and malnutrition.6
Sammy Smith, a plantation worker at the time, described the situation considerably
more graphically: “During and after the war people nearly eat one another. There
seem to be no end to hunger and starvation.”7
THE PLANTERS BLAME THE LABORERS
The planters' response to the situation was to blame the laborers: there was
not enough food because they refused to plant food crops. Best tended to agree, and
restated a complaint that was a favorite of many Antiguan governors, that this was
because of the government's previous and on-going failure to the make the former
slaves become self-supporting. At the same time, the planters were frustrated at not
being able to attract sufficient field labor, which they also attributed to the laborers'
unwillingness to work. Best, as well as one newspaper columnist, felt that this was
more the result of out-migration than resistance, but the planters were convinced.
This led to a concerted campaign to make “vagrants” work, accompanied by threats
of increasingly harsh punishment for acts—such as praedial larceny, or stealing food
crops—that the planters (and in this case the government concurred) saw as lawless.
In June 1917, for instance, when there were reports that praedial larceny was on the
increase, the planters lost no time in suggesting that flogging be instituted as
punishment;8 by February 1918 a law to this effect had been passed.
While some of the shortages were unavoidable, the food crisis was not, and
everyone agreed that the obvious solution was to grow more food crops. There was
no agreement, however, about who should do so. No cane farmer, large or small,
was willing to give up sugar land in order to plant provisions, but the large planters
were far better able to resist government pressure, and it was the peasants who
became the focus of the effort. Here too compulsion was discussed, but not
instituted.9 Instead, there were repeated appeals in the newspapers to “patriotic”
small cultivators to plant provisions.10 The planters were not subject to this kind of
pressure, however, and only “Stroller,” the Sun columnist who considered that his
role was to represent the “common man,” pointed out that the planters were
inexcusably being let off the hook. (Sammy Smith remembers that some planters
gave land they did not need to those who wanted to work it, but that they insisted on
keeping two-thirds for themselves.11)
The situation continued to deteriorate and the laboring population began to
grow restive. Not only were the planters clearly making large profits, but they were
increasingly attempting to control the labor force by prosecuting their workers under
the terms of the Masters' and Servants' Act. This act, also known as the Contract Act,
had been passed immediately after emancipation in order to keep the former slaves
tied to the estates. It allowed a family to continue occupying a house on an estate,
rent free, as long as its members worked there. They could not even look for work on
another estate when their own had no work for them. And since housing off the
estates was scarce, workers were effectively tied to a particular plantation; even after
villages began to be established, a majority of workers still lived on the plantations.
Complaints about the act grew, and in 1914 a commission was established to
inquire into its workings. Not surprisingly, it found that while the planters brought
complaints against the laborers in great numbers—about four hundred a year in the
three years preceding the inquiry—the laborers had brought very few—an average of
five. There was widespread agreement that at least parts of the act were unfair: one
article in the Sun noted that the seventy-nine-year-old act was so obviously outdated
that “any right-thinking person, planter or otherwise,” should agree that it needed
amending; another called for an end to this “miserable system of helotry.”12 Yet
despite this, the planters were adamant that the act remain in effect, and no changes
were made as a result of the commission's inquiry.
In February 1917 a series of night-time cane fires upset the planters and led
to a spate of alarmed articles in the Sun. Workers on other islands were beginning to
call for higher wages to offset the higher prices caused by the war, and there were
strikes in nearby St. Croix. The term “union” was suddenly in the air. In Antigua, the
Sun reflected general planter sentiment when it warned that the island would find
itself on the “eve of conflict” if something was not done to improve the condition of
the masses. People in Antigua were well aware that in neighboring St. Kitts, the St.
Kitts Universal Benefit Association had tried to reorganize itself as a trade union but
had been forestalled by Best, who believed he had quieted what he felt was a “highly
excitable situation” by negotiating a wage increase and at the same time forbidding
trade union activity because of wartime conditions.13 But the St. Kitts association
continued to attract members—by August 1917 it had 1,500 (out of a nonwhite
population of 26,000)—although its activities reverted to those traditionally
associated with a friendly society, a situation the governor considered “excellent.”14
Nevertheless, despite this display of verbal confidence, Best was aware that,
along with the collective demand for wage increases, a new and extremely disturbing
factor had been introduced into the islands, and this was that the demands were
increasingly being phrased in racial terms, as black against white. The movement in
St. Kitts had been encouraged by a man named Arlington Newton, a Barbadian who
had lived in the United States. He was described in one dispatch to the Colonial Office
as “a man of doubtful antecedents, who has lived much in the United States and,
according to his own account, in Egypt.”15 He was viewed as such a threat that he
was forbidden entry into the Leewards, but he continued to send letters and
messages of advice and encouragement.
THE ROLE OF THE LODGES
At about this time in Antigua, James A.N. Brown and his brother, both of
whom had also lived in the United States and had probably been strongly influenced
by Marcus Garvey, formed a chapter of the Ulotrichian Universal Lodge. They were
from the start determined that the Lodge would act not only as a friendly society but
as a political organizing force as well.16 The Inspector of Police, in a letter devoted to
the pernicious effects of the Lodge, wrote that one of its major aims was to
“manufacture a feeling of race hatred,” and concluded that its leaders were therefore
pro-German and, as a result, seditious.17
In February 1917 there was an acrimonious split in the Lodge, and fifteen
branches—all in the countryside—withdrew to form the Antigua Progressive Union
Friendly Society.18 Whether this was the result of a difference in politics or a matter of
personalities—not only were the Ulotrichians under the patronage of the Dean and
the Progressive Union of the Bishop, with considerable animosity between them,19 but
the founders of the APU were more rural: one was C.O. Sheppard, a clerk at the
Antigua Sugar Factory, while another was a pipefitter there, and both were also small
own-account cultivators,20 while the Browns and their supporters were urban
shopkeepers and small businessmen. In addition, the Browns took over virtually all
the top posts in the Lodge, leaving little room for non-family members.
Whatever the case, the APU seems to have won the support of the
newspapers in a way the Ulotrichians did not—perhaps it lacked the stridency and
racial overtones of the urban lodge members, but it also emphasized traditional
friendly society activities, such as helping the sick, alleviating poverty, and providing
decent burials, and it received help from the churches and the planters.21
Nevertheless, from the beginning labor problems were discussed at APU meetings,
and both a political and a racial consciousness developed. Copies of Garvey's Negro
Then, at a series of public meetings in late 1917, the APU began to call for the
abolition of the Contract Act and higher wages for cane cutting. The meetings grew
larger and larger, and on October 28, 1917, at a meeting chaired by the Bishop, a
resolution was passed calling for a revised wage scale that would be in effect across
the island, and changes in the Contract Act. The resolution was greeted with
considerable sympathy, even by the non-laboring population, and a number of
articles in the Sun agreed that wages had to be adjusted if conflict was to be avoided.
THE “PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE”
Immediately thereafter, a group of nine men formed what they called—
inaccurately, as we shall see—a “Committee Representing the Labourers,” with the
self-proclaimed mandate of coming up with an agreement for the 1918 crop that
would forestall a confrontation. The committee included the Bishop and one other
clergyman; C.O. Sheppard, president of the APU; the Rev. Dr. George Andrew
McGuire, also a leader of the APU; A.E. Hill, a teacher; A.H. Nurse, editor of the Sun;
R.S.D. Goodwin and Sydney Smith, two leading planters; and—last but certainly not
least—L.I. Henzell, manager of the factory and therefore the representative of its
British owner, Henckell DuBuisson. Clearly this “People's Committee,” as it was called
in the newspapers, not only did not represent the people but was stacked with
members of the plantocracy and the middle class. Given the temper of the time, this
was a recipe for disaster.
The committee wasted no time in showing its colors. First, it quickly decided
to put the matter of the Contract Act on hold—the plantocracy had unanimously
decided that the act was not to be tampered with, and the committee wanted to
avoid a confrontation on that score.23 The committee instead decided to concentrate
on the issue of wages.
As people waited for the committee's proposals, the atmosphere on the island
grew increasingly restless, and there was a rash of cane fires in December and in
January 1918. Finally, the committee presented its proposal: there should be a
uniform per ton rate across the island—10d for plant cane and 1s for ratoon cane.
While this proposal went part way toward meeting the canecutters' demands,
it also adopted the ton, rather than the line, as the standard of measurement on all
estates. This was already the case on the Henckell-DuBuisson estates but not on
most others, and the proposal that it be adopted by all was taken by the cutters as
an attempt to offset the wage increase and to increase planter control. The cutters
hated the ton standard because the cane was weighed at the factory by a factory
employee (or, if it was weighed in the field, by the overseer), and they frequently felt
cheated. In the bitter arguments that invariably ensued, the planters always had the
upper hand. In addition, the 1918 crop was expected to be very light, due to
drought, and the laborers knew that if they were paid by the ton they would earn
even less than usual—while the planters would still be assured their high profits. (It
took much more work to cut a ton of cane in a bad year than in a good year.) “No
payment by the ton” quickly became the rallying cry across the countryside.24
The People's Committee proposal was next submitted to the Planters'
Association, a group that had been hastily constituted only shortly before. This was a
brazen attempt to create what looked like a “negotiation” between the self-selected
People's Committee, which, as we have seen, did not in any way represent the
people, and a group representing the planters. How little “negotiation” was likely can
be seen from the fact that Henzell, the most powerful planter on the People's
Committee (and on the island) was also the honorary secretary of the Planters'
Not surprisingly, then, the committee's proposal was immediately accepted by
the Planters' Association, with three key changes: a sliding scale was instituted, so
that the more cane cut, the less pay (apparently an attempt to limit the amount cut
in any one day and thus make the laborers work a full week—the planters were
constantly frustrated because the laborers preferred to work hard for two or three
days a week and then “retire” for the rest of the week to do their own business); the
price differential between ratoon and plant cane was removed; and the general rate
was increased slightly. The first two modifications were clearly in the planters' favor,
and the third an attempt the make the bitter pill easier to swallow. But most
important, the ton was to be the standard.
Such an agreement was bound to create a furor, and the planters were well
aware that there was widespread sentiment in favor of cutting by the line—it was
repeatedly endorsed in the Sun, for instance.25 But they were determined to get their
way, and now attempted to institute the agreement unilaterally. This high-handed
action set in motion the chain of events that culminated in the “riot” of March 9.
The laboring population blamed the Progressive Union, and particularly its
leadership, for the failure of the People's Committee to win them a favorable
agreement. This led to a vigorous attempt by Sheppard to set the record straight, in
letters published in the Sun,26 in which he argued that the APU could not be blamed
for the failure of the committee, since it was entirely separate from the APU, and
since the two APU members served as individuals, not as representatives of the
organization. Further, he argued that the People's Committee had not intended to
represent the workers. This defense cannot have done much to mollify his
constituents, who knew that he and his fellow APU members had neither resigned
from the committee nor filed any protest about the agreement that was reached; and
who could be forgiven for believing that the APU members on the committee—who
were, after all, its president and secretary—would represent them. Indeed, this was
hardly a spirited defense of the workers, and Sheppard's intent seems primarily to
have been to defend his name. This was apparently not atypical of the APU's
leadership: when the Rev. Dr. McGuire was appointed to a post in St. Kitts and met
vociferous opposition for having been one of the “causes” of the riots, he defended
himself by denying vehemently that he was either a “social [or] a labour firebrand.”27
THE PEOPLE GET VEX
The day after the planters announced the new terms—their terms—the cutters
on some estates refused to cut any cane under the new rules, while others refused to
work the customary number of hours in a workday. Some planters immediately
invoked the Contract Act, hoping to punish the laborers until they fell into line, while
the Antigua Sugar Factory attempted to force the small farmers to come to terms by
refusing to accept their cane.
The situation quickly became hostile: as Sammy Smith put it, the people were
Then, on February 26, a hearing for the first of the Contract Act cases was
held in Parham magistrate's court, and the magistrate ruled that payment by the ton
was the fair method. A huge crowd had gathered, and an unpopular planter and his
son were stoned (but not injured) as they left the court.
The next day, what Colonel Bell, the Inspector of Police, described as “bands
of young men” stopped people from cutting cane on at least four estates (Morris
Looby, Donovans, Millars, and Cassada Garden). The police issued summonses
against a number of “offenders.” The situation can hardly have been helped by an
intemperate letter in the Sun proposing that, under martial law, the laborers should
be made to serve King and country by being forced to work.28
The planters were becoming increasingly alarmed, and on February 27 they
sent a delegation to Best, to protest the situation and to ask him to enforce the
Contract Act. Best decided instead to create an “impartial” commission to look into
the situation. He appointed the Chief Justice, F.M. Maxwell; the Dean; and Thomas
Fisher, the governor of the prison. In the context of the times, this was a fairly liberal
threesome—the Dean, it will be remembered, was the mentor of the Ulotrichians,
Maxwell was a distinguished nonwhite jurist originally from British Honduras, and
Fisher, while a jailer, was active in civic affairs and never considered by the
plantocracy to be quite of their class. None was a planter. The commission's
composition and mandate were not announced, however, until March 4.
On March 1, a Friday, the attorney for the Maginley estates was stoned while
on the way to town, as was the overseer of another estate. Both fired their revolvers
even though neither was hurt: in fact, the first was so unaccustomed to guns that he
nearly shot himself, which perhaps gives some indication of the planters' state of
mind. A police car was sent to patrol the main road to the estates, and more people
On the following Tuesday—it was now March 5—the cases against those who
“intimidated” the canecutters were to be heard, again in Parham. A crowd of more
than four hundred people gathered, carrying an assortment of homemade weapons
and making a noisy commotion. Colonel Bell, according to his own account,
attempted to convince them that they should disperse and await the results of the
government commission, but some in the crowd had copies of a leaflet that they
believed outlined the true agreement. They were convinced that the planters had
abrogated this agreement and substituted one of their own, and they were outraged.
The leaflet specified higher rates, uniform across the island; stated that the cane was
to be cut by the line, or, if by the ton, was to be weighed on the estate on which it
was cut (never at the factory); specified different rates for plant and ratoon cane;
and outlined a sliding scale that increased for cane cut above the minimum on dense
fields. It also included a provision for equal pay for women. Although its source is not
specified in the official reports, the proposal embodied everything (and more) that
the estate laborers wanted. Furthermore, it was extremely detailed, and appears to
have been a carefully worked out agreement, or draft of an agreement.
To Bell, however, it was a forgery, and he and the magistrate attempted to
convince the crowd that it was a false document, a propaganda piece manufactured
by troublemakers (although who they were and what their purpose might be was not
specified). The crowd was not satisfied. At this point a planter—in fact, the same
unpopular planter who had been stoned the previous Friday—emerged from the
courthouse, and the crowd again began to throw stones at him. This was enough for
Bell, who felt that the situation was fast getting out of hand. He quickly called for a
detachment of the Defense Force that was stationed in St. John's, and when it
arrived (it came by car, while the police were mounted on horses) it escorted the
planter home; two armed police constables were left to guard his house. This
particular planter's presence was in fact a direct provocation: even Bell felt that his
presence was extremely unwise, since he had no business in the court and had come
only to show that he was not afraid.
There were fires that night at Ottos estate, and in the early morning hours at
Gambles. The next morning, when the canecutters at Ottos refused to cut the
damaged canes, the owner sent in cutters from another of his estates, under police
protection. According to Bell, an attempt was made to “interfere” with these cutters,
and still more summonses were issued. Nevertheless, the situation was calm enough
for Bell to write a long report (which Best forwarded on to the Colonial Office) that
concluded with his firm belief that order had been restored.29
By the next day, however, it was clear that this evaluation was premature.
There was another cane fire that evening, and it burned perilously close to
Government House. Bell clearly feared that an insurrection was in the offing, and
called out the entire Defense Force. Two more fires then sprang up on the same
estate. When the manager and some of the laborers tried to put them out, a
“disorderly mob” tried to stop them. The manager immediately identified four men as
leaders of the crowd—how he knew them is not clear—and Bell was determined to act
forcefully by arresting and jailing them.
It is important to note that the stage on which all this activity was taking
place now moved from the countryside to the town because it indicates the extent to
which frustration with the economic situation was not confined to the rural estate
workers but was widespread. And with this move came a new set of actors. The
crowds were now young and urban. In fact, the four men Bell was determined to
arrest—Joseph Collins, George Weston, John Furlonge, and “Sonny” Price—not only
lived in the city, but lived in the Point, the center of the urban proletariat and an area
long considered a law unto itself.
March 9 was a Saturday, and market day. St. John's was crowded and noisy.
Bell and the magistrate went to the Point to arrest the four men.
The Point had always been an area that looked after its own, and the people
were determined not to let the men be arrested. Bell realized that feelings were
running high and retreated. He ordered all the rum shops closed, an action bound to
provoke a hostile reaction on market day. He then went up to Government House to
attend an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council. There he argued that the
arrests had to be carried out. The Council agreed that he should take whatever action
The planters fled town for their estates, while Bell returned to the Point. He
arrested Weston, Price, and Collins; Furlonge escaped, only to be killed—
coincidentally or not—later in the afternoon.
By this point a huge crowd had gathered, filling St. John's Street from well
down in the Point up to Popeshead Street, along Popeshead and across Newgate
Street to the Police Station. Although there is no indication that the crowd was armed
with more than stones picked up from the road, Bell considered that a riot was in
progress and ordered the magistrate to read the Riot Act. He then ordered the militia,
which had approached Popeshead Street, to make one bayonet charge, and then
another, in an attempt to disperse the crowd. When this failed, he ordered the
mounted infantry to fire. They got off eighteen rounds, and the crowd finally
scattered; many of those hit were reportedly shot in the back. Fifteen people were
injured, and two subsequently died.30 At least 38 people were arrested; almost half
were women, who were also prominent among the stone throwers—close to three
tons of stones were collected in the clean-up the next day. Few of the rioters were
canecutters, which again points to the extent to which this had become an urban
A curfew remained in effect for about a week, and liquor sales were
prohibited.31 Throughout that evening and the next day—Sunday—there were
incidents of vandalism and threats to burn down the town; one shop was looted. Best
had called for reinforcements, and a Canadian artillery officer and twenty-six men
arrived from St. Lucia to relieve the Defense Force, along with a British patrol boat
(with an Admiral aboard), two French men of war, two mosquito fleet boats, and the
subinspector of police and five of his men from Montserrat. By the time this huge
force arrived, however, the town was quiet.
On Monday, March 11, Weston and Collins were tried at court martial; Weston
was given seven years hard labor, but reportedly escaped.32 An inquest was held into
the deaths, and it agreed that the government had acted correctly. This was hardly
surprising, particularly since the jurors came from among the families at the heart of
the nonwhite middle class: Roland Henry, Richard Colbourne, Joseph Armstrong,
William Hart, and Hugh Kelsick. On April 4, the twenty-three men and women
charged with rioting were tried, and all but seven found guilty; sentences ranged
from two to three years hard labor—punishment so harsh that one Colonial Office
official was moved to write that the “whole thing savours of vindictiveness”; another,
however, felt that if the sentences were harsh, then they must have been deserved.33
(Twelve more remained to be tried, but the result is not included in the
The three-man commission of Maxwell, Fisher, and the Dean had reported on
March 9, the day of the riot, but its findings were not made public until Monday.
Although the commission agreed with the planters that payment by the ton was
preferable, “in the circumstances” it recommended payment by the line. The rates it
proposed were almost exactly those in the Parham leaflet (which were, not
surprisingly, far higher than those offered by the Planters' Association),34 and
reinstated the differential between plant and ratoon cane. It did not, however,
recommend a sliding scale.
The factory reopened on March 12. There was one last-ditch effort by an
estate manager to get his laborers to accept a lower rate, but the magistrate ruled
against him, thus effectively codifying the agreement.35 Henzell, however, continued
to bombard both his company and the Colonial Office with intemperate letters about
the new rates. He felt that he was the only clear-sighted planter on the island, and
argued that the government's weak and foolish capitulation would cause nothing but
trouble. The laborers were going to earn “entirely out of proportion to the amount of
work done” and, as he put it, “All the licks we got with stones has gone for nothing.”
He was particularly upset that the final agreement, as published in the Gazette,
included the phrase “if the laborer is willing,” which he believed effectively took away
all authority from the planter.36
THE PLANTERS' VIEW OF THE RIOT
As a whole, however, the planters were very proud of how they had stood up
to what they believed had been an enormous threat to their way of life. They heaped
praise on the Inspector of Police, Bell, on the magistrate, and the defense and police
forces, both in their dispatches to the Colonial Office and in public ceremonies in
Antigua. Bell was awarded a piece of silver plate—paid for by subscription—for his
services and good judgment.37
The planter/government line on the entire affair was quickly established: the
riot, it was decided, had in fact had very little to do with labor conditions but had
been instigated by “lawless and idle persons” in the city—the main evidence being
that those who were arrested were city people.38 This was clearly a planter attempt
to deny the harsh conditions faced by the laboring population. In addition, the
planters argued that the “riot” would not have happened had there not been “outside
agitators” motivated by racial animosities. In other words, they refused to believe, at
least publicly, that “their” labor force would rise up against them on its own. It is
difficult to determine, given the sources, the extent to which racialism actually played
a role, but there seems to have been a fairly general consensus that by the end the
situation had acquired a decided racial aspect. As Sir Frederick Maxwell put it, “What
began as a labour question developed into a race question”; and Sammy Smith
reported that what had been a dispute between Point people and the police became,
once the militia was called out, a battle between “nega and white.”39 The one voice of
reason was that of Sir Frederick Maxwell, who had been charged with investigating
the riots and who wrote a very thorough and sympathetic report that concluded,
among other things, that the real agitator did not come from among the laborers but
was the person who suggested that the planters get together.40
Over the next few months, the planters gradually convinced themselves that
perhaps they had given in too easily and began another assault on the “idleness” of
the working masses. There were renewed calls for enforced work—“Every eater
should be a worker,” the Sun editorialized on April 27. The newspaper also reported
favorably—and more than once—on a Trinidad law that in effect allowed “habitual
idlers” to be jailed,41 and frequent editorials bemoaned the fact that some people
would rather beg and steal than work. The economy was not improving and the fault
was the laborers: they had to be “taught habits of thrift and industry”; they were
“suicidal” in their inability to use opportunities to earn more; each of them had to be
“taught to feel his responsibility as a man.”42 This hysteria continued for several
years, and culminated in an amendment to the Vagrancy Act to allow the
imprisonment of habitual idlers, with the persons so charged having the responsibility
of proving they had a trade or calling.43 The governor told the Legislative Council that
idlers “should be made to work and so contribute their share to the upkeep of the
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE RIOTS IN THE LONG TERM
Although it might appear from this that the laboring population achieved little
as a result of the tumultuous events of 1918, and although this belief is apparently
part of the popular conception of the riots—Sammy Smith reports that for the next
few years things were very quiet, the planters feeling assured that the laborers had
learned their lesson (he also believes that they failed to win any wage increase)—this
was in fact far from the case. For despite the fact that some things did not change—
the Contract Act remained in effect until 1937, for instance—the key point is that the
balance of power between labor and management imperceptibly shifted toward labor.
It was for good reason that “them planters got real shook up,” as Sammy Smith put
it. And the more astute planters recognized this: it is part of the reason that Henzell,
more of a businessman than most of the other planters, protested the agreement so
vehemently. He knew that it was a major victory for the laborers, not only because
they would earn more but, even more important, because for the first time since
emancipation organized collective action had achieved better wages and conditions
than had been possible in the traditional method of negotiating agreements between
workers and management on an estate-by-estate basis, where management always
had the upper hand. The road to trade unionism had been embarked upon.
The events of these years also taught the laboring population another lesson,
although one that they would have to learn again and again, and this was that their
middle class leaders were willing to settle for less in order to avoid confrontation. In
the future, leaders would have to come from among their own ranks: leaders from
other classes could not be counted on.
1. CO 152/342/Conf., 14 August 1914. The Colonial Office series CO 152/... is held at
the Public Record Office at Kew Gardens in England, and contains all the material
sent directly to and from the Leeward Islands, including dispatches, enclosures,
and minutes. These are the dispatches that are cited in what follows.
2. CO 152/345, Secret, 27 January 1915 and ibid.
3. Sun, 25 June 1917, 26 June 1917. A fairly large but incomplete collection of
newspapers, including the Sun, which had been placed in a considerable state of
disarray in the courthouse on High Street in St. John's after the earthquake in
1974, was salvaged and sorted by myself and several students in 1980. It should
by now have become available for general use in the archive.
4. For example, Sun, 21 February 1917.
5. The governor, Sir Edward Merewether, had been governor of Sierra Leone and was
appointed governor of the Leeward Islands in 1916. However, he was captured by
the Germans en route to Antigua and did not arrive until 1919.
6. CO 152/358/10, 9 January 1918.
7. Keithlyn B. Smith and Fernando C. Smith, To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and
Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman, 1877-1982 (Scarborough,
Ontario: Edan's Publishers, 1986), p. 124.
8. Sun, 14 June 1917
9. For example, Sun, 26 May 1917,
10. For example, Sun, 15 June 1918.
11. Smith and Smith, To Shoot Hard Labour, p. 124.
12. Sun, 30 June 1914, 28 September 1917.
13. CO 152/354/Conf., 10 June 1917.
14. CO 152/356/Conf., 24 August 1917.
15. CO 152/359/Conf., 15 May 1918.
16. Paget Henry, Peripheral Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Antigua (New
Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1985), p. 82; CO 152/358/113, 28 March
17. CO 152/359/Conf., 15 May 1918.
18. CO 152/358/113, 28 March 1918; Sun, 28 February 1917.
19. CO 358/Tel., 12 March 1918.
20. Caroline Carmody, “First Among Equals: Antiguan Patterns of Local-Level
Leadership,” Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1978, p. 161.
21. Sun, 13 June, 25 June 1917.
22. On all of this, see Carmody, “First Among Equals,” p. 161.
23. Outlet,, 13 March 1987, quoting a letter from George Moody-Stuart, who was in
charge of the Henckell-DuBuisson estates, to the Colonial Office. George
Moody-Stuart was the first of the family to come to Antigua. His son Alexander
arrived in the mid-1920s and married L.I. Henzell's daughter Judith. Alexander and
Judith's son, also named George, continued the family's interests in Antigua into
24. CO 152/358/113, 28 March 1918.
25. Sun, 6 February, 8 February, 9 February, 16 February 1918.
26. Sun, 1 March, 7 March 1918.
27. Sun, 23 April 1918. This is the same Rev. George Andrew McGuire who became
UNIA chaplain-general in 1920.
28. Sun, 27 February 1918.
29. CO 152/358/113, 28 March 1918; enc. of 7 March.
30. Best's report of March 12 gives the figure as three, but this seems to have been
premature; see also Sun, 12 March 1918, and Bell's report, which states that there
were 16 “casualties.”
31. Sun, 13 March 1918.
32. Smith and Smith, To Shoot Hard Labour, p. 133.
33. CO 152/359/Conf., 15 May 1918.
34. Sun, 13 March 1918,
35. CO 152/358/114, 28 March 1918.
36. CO 152/358/Tel., 12 March 1918, Enc.
37. Sun, 20 March 1918.
38. Sun, 10 April 1918
39. CO 152/360/295, 25 September 1918; Smith and Smith, To Shoot Hard Labour,
p. 131. It seems quite possible that the Ulotrichians, and possibly unaffiliated
people with Garveyite sympathies, played a major role in the dispute, but the
material available allows no conclusions one way or the other. In any case, the
Ulotrichians were certainly concerned about the status of black people as such, and
were clearly affected by Garveyism, which was spreading rapidly throughout the
Caribbean in these years (although there does not seem have been a UNIA branch
in Antigua). For instance, in June 1917, well before the riots, the Ulotrichians
sponsored a public lecture at the Methodist church on the life and work of that
“great pioneer of the race,” Booker T. Washington. The speaker, according to the
Sun, emphasized that “we are not to look for greatness in being white, nor to live
to wipe the feet of the white man, nor to think there is any disgrace in not being
white.” (Sun, 30 June 1917; it is not clear if the emphasis is the speaker's or the
40. CO 152/360/295, 25 September 1918.
41. Sun, 10 May 1918,
42. Sun, 6 May, 7 September, 12 September, 14 August 1918.
43. Sun, 2 April 1922.
44. Sun, 1 April 1922.
Susan Lowes received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1994.
She has done fieldwork in St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, and in Antigua, focussing
on the social history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is the
author of “They Couldn't Mash Ants: The Decline of the White and Nonwhite Elites in
Antigua, West Indies, 1834-1900,” in Karen Fog Olwig, ed., Small Islands, Large
Questions (London: Frank Cass, 1995), and The Peculiar Class: The Formation,
Collapse, and Reformation of the Middle Class in Antigua, West Indies, 1834-1940,
her dissertation, which is available from University Microfilms in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
She is married to Antiguan Milton Benjamin. She is currently Associate Director for
Research and Evaluation at the Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College,
Columbia University, and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– A. Schwarzenegger
Geregistreerd op: 9-5-2009
|Geplaatst: 24 Feb 2011 14:09 Onderwerp:
|Social conditions in British Guiana, 1914-1918
By Arlene Munro, May 13, 2004
The administrator of British Guiana when the First World War began in 1914 was Sir Walter Egerton. He was succeeded by Sir Wilfred Collett in March 1917. It was a period of economic hardship and strikes. The aim of this paper is to examine the social conditions in British Guiana during the First World War.
The First World War started in 1914. The Report of the Director of Primary Education for 1914 reveals that reading, writing, arithmetic, English and Geography, drawing and manual occupations (paper folding, clay or plasticine modelling), Nature Knowledge, Hygiene and Infant Care, Singing, Drill and Needlework were taught.
School gardens were kept in an unsatisfactory manner. All schools in Georgetown and New Amsterdam were visited once a quarter by an Inspector.
During the First World War there was a building programme for the renovation of extant schools and the construction of new schools. 228 schools received grants-in-aid for this programme in 1915. As a consequence, many schools made improvements to their buildings. Blackboards and maps were bought. Registers and journals were kept neatly.
Schools were threatened with withdrawal of the grant if defects were not fixed at the end of six months. Great renovation of buildings was done in response to these threats. There were still a few who barely fulfilled the requirements of the Code.
By the end of 1916 the Director was able to report that two schools had been entirely rebuilt and "a fairly large number" had undergone extensive repairs. Twelve schools had been rebuilt between 1911 and 1916 including St. George's, Victoria Roman Catholic, Friendship Roman Catholic, Agricola and Mindenburg. However, several school buildings were still in bad condition.
In 1916 the Canadian Presbyterian Church constructed a secondary school which was intended mainly for East Indians, but children from other races were also admitted. In 1917, a Canadian Presbyterian school building was handed over to the Canadian Presbyterian Mission at Plantation Wales on the West Coast of Demerara. It was built by the owners of the Estate for the instruction of East Indian children living on the estate. This reveals that some school building programmes were not funded by the government.
An Education Code was drafted and passed by the Court of Policy in February 1914. The regulations became operative on 1st April, 1914. In 1915 a Committee appointed to report on Primary Education submitted a draft code containing recommendations on the subject. The committee's objective was to strengthen the control exercised over Lower Primary Schools by the governing bodies of the denominations, to recognise that the teaching staff of the schools was directly responsible to the school managers and the denominational governing bodies, subject to general supervision by the Education Department and to reconstruct the financial clauses in such a manner that the money allocated for Primary Education by the Combined Court would be equitably distributed among the grant-in-aid schools without applying to the Combined Court for supplementary votes.
It was also to provide for East Indian education, to outline the system upon which the Upper Primary School may be established in the Colony and to leave matters of detail as far as possible to the discretion of the Governor-in-Council.
In 1917 another Education Code was drafted. The Director felt that the Draft Code was suitable and met "in a great measure the primary educational needs of the colony" that had been observed for several years. The code stated that the schools were to be inspected at anytime without notice.
It advocated that manual work should have a "practical and vocational bias". It could be gardening or simple handicraft. Physical training and practical lessons in hygiene were also advocated.
In 1916, the governor asked a Mr. Grannum who was on leave in England to attend a Conference on behalf of British Guiana with the guarantee that his expenses would be refunded to him. It was an Imperial Education Conference.
The Report of the Director of Primary Education for 1916 revealed that in Georgetown no less than 16 percent of the pupils attended school under 100 times in the year. In Leguan, Wakenaam and the East Bank Berbice the attendance was worse. In the East Bank Berbice District 32 percent of the children made less that 200 attendances, while in the Pomeroon where the tide affected school attendance, only 37 percent of the children attended school between 100 and 200 times.
In 1917, 228 schools were examined during the year. Some schools still needed to be repaired. No new buildings had been added to the list. Schools on the West Coast of Demerara, the lower Corentyne Coast and in the Mahaica District did not receive any visit from the Inspector of Schools. This was due to the "long drawn out agony of the Board of Education".
In 1917, Ordinance No. 6 was passed to provide for the obtaining of permission by persons other than British subjects to undertake Missionary or educational works in British Guiana. Rev. J. B. Cropper, the Superintendent of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission, wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies about the protest from certain clergymen against the Education Ordinance.
On 25th February 1914, the Combined Court proposed that the salary of the Director of Primary Education be increased from 625 pounds to 750 pounds. The salaries of the other officers in the Education Department were also to be improved. However, with the outbreak of the war this issue was not addressed until peace was restored in 1918.
From 1913 quinine was supplied to schools in Georgetown, New Amsterdam and other schools by the Surgeon General's Department. The headteachers of ten schools claimed that less children suffered from fever after taking the quinine.
In July 1916, a scheme for the medical examination of all the children attending the Georgetown schools was submitted to the Department of the Surgeon General. The programme received the approval of the Department and the government.
The Onderneeming Industrial School was visited by the Government Medical Officer who stated that he was satisfied that all buildings and rooms where there was likely to be any danger from the presence of flies had been made properly fly proof with wire gauze, in accordance with his instructions.
The Superintendent reported that the campaign for exterminating the flies and their breeding places on lines advocated by the Government Biologist was resulting in a reduction of the nuisance to a minimum.
During the war period the Governor of British Guiana discussed with the Secretary of State the issue of assistance given to churches by the Government. The following churches received assistance: -
Scots Church $1.14 c/s
Anglican Church 54 c/s
Roman Catholic Church 38 c/s
Wesleyan Church 24 c/s
Other Churches 2 c/s
Sir Collett did not think it necessary for the government to subsidise any church except for missionary purposes. He, however, approved of subsidization of missions to the Aboriginal Indians and immigrant East Indians because it was "impossible for them to be self-supporting".
Collett also condemned the richer churches, which required large subsidies from the revenue of the colony to which the poor members of other denominations contributed. The Scots Church received more assistance than the others. The smaller churches, e.g. Congregationalists and Wesleyans, were self-supporting. Collett made these observations because he had received a manorial from the Bishop and Moderator of the Church of Scotland stating that some of their clergymen had not received a war bonus.
On 23rd April the Combined Court passed a resolution authorizing that on the retirement of certain Ministers of Religion named in the resolution, they should be granted such pension as might have been allowed to them if they had been officers on the Fixed Establishment of the Colony.
Ordinance No. 2 of 1916, was passed in order to regulate the position of the Salvation Army in the colony by creating a corporation capable of being represented by one of the officers of the Salvation Army as holder of his power of Attorney.
In 1918, a bill was passed to repeal the Board of Education, 1910, and to establish a new Board of Education. By 1918 there were 225 schools with 32, 167 children.
It appears that during the war period there was an upsurge in crime perhaps because of the shortages of food and materials and the hoarding and black-marketing practised by some shopkeepers. Statistics of corporal punishment reveal that orders were passed by the Supreme Court, the Magistrates, the Inspector of Prisons, the Government Industrial School, and the Orphan Asylum for corporal punishment to be inflicted on persons who had committed misdemeanours. The total number of corporal punishments in 1913 was 33. This increased to 44 in 1914, dropped to 37 in 1915, rose to 41 in 1916 and fell to 22 in 1917. Therefore, there was an increase in corporal punishment from 1913 to 1916, which reflects an increase in crime.
In the year 1914-1915 the criminal statistics show a decrease of 322 cases less than the number reported in 1913. There was an increase of praedial larceny. 173 cases were reported as against 63 in 1913-1914. In 1914, 436 were prosecuted, 336 were convicted, 56 were acquitted, and 44 cases were withdrawn.
In 1915 there was no increase in petty theft and there was a decrease in more serious forms of offences against property. This is significant since many people were unemployed at the beginning of the year, yet they did not resort to crime. During the crop season there was an increase in the number of people employed in handling produce who were caught stealing sugar and rum. Two criminals were executed on 10th July 1915 for the offence of murder tried at the Supreme Criminal Court in Georgetown.
In 1914 an "unusually large number of children" were convicted of theft. However, there was a reduction in the number of juvenile offenders in 1915.
In 1915 there was an increase of 229 cases over the number reported in 1914. There were increases in offences against the person, disorderly conduct and Sunday trading. In 1917 6,278 persons were charged for various offences, while 6,357 were charged in 1916. Of the 6,357 cases in 1916, seven were murder cases. Two cases were withdrawn, three were acquitted and two convicted.
The Governor inspected the penal settlement at Mazaruni. He was impressed by the management of the settlement. The buildings were not in good condition. He stated: "The prison was originally a Dutch one, and it contains many cells in which no-one should be confined except for the very shortest periods. They are low down, badly lighted and ventilated, and very damp". However, he described the hospital as a fine one.
It is noteworthy that the Governor of British Guiana wrote asking for information on electricity supplied by waterfalls in Canada. He suggested that waterfalls in the colony could be used to generate electricity for the coastland and the city of Georgetown. He also suggested that a railway from Georgetown to the Brazilian frontier be operated with electrical power. The result of this communication is unknown. Other persons also observed the potential of waterpower in British Guiana. In 1918, J. B. Harrison wrote a letter to Professor Watts about the waterpower in the Mazaruni, Cuyuni and Potaro Rivers. The second instalment of the article will examine other features of the social conditions of British Guiana during the First World War.
During the First World War there was some improvement in social conditions in British Guiana. For example 228 schools were renovated and Education Codes were drafted. School medical services were ameliorated. However, there was an upsurge in criminal activity.
This instalment will focus especially on health conditions and legal matters in the colony during the war period. There were seven medical officers who served the government, namely, F.T. Wills, E.H. Gewand, J.S. Douglas, A.A. McKinnon, A. Matthey, C.H. Downer and Nedd. Drs. Downer and Nedd left the service. Drs. Douglas, McKinnon and Matthey remained.
The most common diseases and illnesses in the villages in 1914 were malaria, pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, ankylostomiasis and intestinal disorders. On the estates of Buxton and Peter's Hall there was a severe epidemic of influenza. Dysentery occurred at Port Mourant and Albion. The highest rate of mortality was for the maladies phthisis, pneumonia, Bright's disease, enteric fever and dysentery. The enteric fever and tuberculosis were encouraged by the overcrowding and lack of ventilation in the building occupied by the poorer classes in Georgetown.
The number of in and outpatients increased during the last six months of 1915. During the last nine months of 1915 there were 9,187 inpatients and 27,885 outpatients.
The wave of increased sickness and mortality was the cause of this.
Many babies below the age of one died in 1915. The infant mortality rate for the colony was 184 per 1,000 births and for the City of Georgetown 228. Both these rates were higher than the previous year (170 and 210 respectively in 1914). The Baby Saving League completed its second year of work.
In 1915, 156 deliveries of babies took place during the nine months. The actual member of births on the estates during 1915 was 2,213 (2,463 in 1914) and of deaths 1,392 (1,263 in 1914). Infantile enteritis was one of the causes of the high rate of infantile mortality in British Guiana, Europe and North America. There was a fall in the birth rate in the colony during 1916 due largely to the grave change in economic conditions and cost of living.
The report of the Surgeon-General for 1916 stated that malaria, hookworm disease and respiratory and intestinal disorders undermined the strength of the Guianese people during that year. One hundred and forty-five patients died from pneumonia. Phthisis caused 88 deaths and bronchitis 28 deaths. There were 823 deaths at the Public Hospital, Georgetown in 1916. By that time there were two dispensaries in Georgetown and five county dispensaries.
There were two hospitals in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
Eighty-nine schools were visited by Government Medical Officers in 1916. The Government Dispensers also visited the schools in their district and gave advice and treatment.
In 1917, 69 people died from pneumonia, 32 people from phthisis, and 15 people from bronchitis. The number of births in Georgetown was 1,461, which was greater than the previous year, but three less than that of 1915. The number of deaths increased from 1,545 in 1915 to 1,617 in 1917. There was a decrease in the infant mortality rate from 228 in 1915 to 216 in 1917. The Surgeon-General commented on the "medical system of water supply and the inadequate system of sewage disposal."
In 1918, 56 persons died from enteric fever and 86 from pneumonia. Twenty-six died from bronchitis, 86 died from influenza, while 47 died from phthisis. There were 1,440 deaths in the Georgetown Public Hospital. The high mortality rate was due to the flu. There were 565 deliveries in 1918 at that same hospital.
Drainage and Irrigation Schemes received funding during this ear. The Combined Court approved the sum of $45,000 to be spent on three irrigation schemes. The irrigation schemes were for Fyrish and Gibraltar ($16,228), Bush Lot Country District ($15,000), and Craig Village District ($12,859). Owing to the war and the impossibility of raising a large loan, the irrigation schemes had to be deferred.
The Governor sent a copy of a Resolution passed in the Combined Court on the votes of the Elective Section, recommending that 25 per cent of the cost of the East Mahaica Drainage Scheme, as approved by Resolution of the Court of September 7, 1914, to be charged to the general revenue of the colony as was done in the case of sea defence works.
There were changes in the legal system during the war years. The Governor attempted to reform the legal system by sending the Report of the Committee appointed to consider which English statutes should be adopted in the colony to enable the law to be altered from Roman-Dutch to English. The Governor stated that he had already addressed the issue of the revised Common Law Bill and that of the ten subsidiary bills; one was forwarded to London in his dispatch No. 422 of December 10, 1915. The remaining nine - the Common Carriers' Bill; the Accidental Deaths and Workmen's Injuries' Bill; the Infants' Bill; the Deeds of Arrangement Bill; the Matrimonial Causes' Bill; the Registry of Deeds' Bill; and the Deceased Persons Estates' Bill - were bound up with the print of the Report of the Committee.
A new jury law was introduced. There were some half-hearted attempts to incite a protest against the ordinance. The Governor doubted that the persons opposing it had any real desire to have any part abrogated.
The Attorney-General proposed changes in the Law Department. He suggested that the posts of Solicitor-General, his clerk and messenger be abolished. He also recommended that an Assistant Attorney-General and a Fourth Class Clerk for typing and general office work should be substituted.
A proposal was made for partial amalgamation of the functions of barristers and solicitors. The Attorney-General recommended that local solicitors be afforded the facilities given to solicitors in the United Kingdom for call to the bar. After reaching "a certain standing in practice", they had to pass an examination qualifying them for call.
M. T. Berkeley stated that he was opposed to the amalgamation of the two branches of barristers and solicitors. He stated that there was a class of solicitors whose incomes were derived from practicing in the courts of Stipendiary Magistrates. Sometimes they took cases for a few shillings and this helped them to earn a living. Berkeley opined that if the branches were amalgamated, the solicitors would continue the same practice in the criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. He felt that the remedy would be worse than the disease.
Reform in the legal system was also advocated by Cecil Clementi, Officer administering the Government in 1917. He wrote to the Secretary of State informing him that in 1912 Sir H. Bovell, Sir T. C. Raynor and Mr. Hewick expressed the view that Phillip N. Browne should be appointed one of His Majesty's Counsels, for British Guiana. A vacancy had been created in the King's Counsel due to the death of D. M. Hutson. Mr. Phillip N. Browne was a Negro. Clementi added that A. B. Brown, J. S. Arthur and Mr. G. Woolford had played prominent roles in the 'disgraceful agitation' against Sir Walter Egerton. On the other hand, Phillip N. Browne had continued to support the Government in relation to the attack on Sir Walter Egerton. Clementi felt that the appointment of a Negro barrister as King's Counsel would have a good effect on the colony.
The Governor claimed that the amount provided on the Civil List for Stipendiary Magistrates was 6,300 pounds, equivalent to $30,240. The amount provided on the Estimates for 1917 was only $20,288.
There was a large margin between the amount authorized by the Combined Court and that which was being expended. Secondly, the Governor appointed an additional magistrate because the magisterial staff was undermanned. The salary of the new post was to be 500 pounds per annum.
A West Indian Court of Appeal was proposed. It was decided that British Honduras would refer its appeals to Jamaica. The Governor stated that if the proposed Court of Appeal was established, the Secretary of State would have power to appoint an additional judge.
The next and final instalment will examine other aspects of the social conditions of British Guiana during the First World War.
During the First World War there was some improvement in social conditions in British Guiana. For example, schools were renovated, education codes were drafted, school medical services were ameliorated, and the legal system was reformed.
In addition, the government invested money in public works during this period. Road extensions were done in the year 1914. One was constructed in the Pomeroon to connect this area to the coast. Old roads were also reopened and this motivated farmers to apply for land and settlement. The East Bank Demerara Road was also extended. A new public road was constructed between Buxton and Felicity on the East Coast Demerara in 1916.
The estimated cost of this new road was $39,000.00. The British Guiana Combined Court at the first Special Session of 1916 by Resolution No. X approved the construction of this road at the cost of $39,999 which would be charged to the Loan Account. Meanwhile funds would be taken from Revenue and Surplus Balances.
The Governor sent a copy of a resolution passed in the Combined Court on the 7th December approving the construction of a new road between Three Friends and Reliance in the county of Essequibo being undertaken at an estimated cost, exclusive of land, of $15,400 as a charge against the Loan Account. An artesian well was sunk at the Naval Wireless Station at George-town. The work of boring started on 3rd March and ended on 17th March at the cost of $2,536.74.
Attempts were made to improve transportation facilities during the war years. The Governor received a letter from D Gordon Cameron, a member of the London Chamber of Commerce, applying on behalf of a syndicate which had been registered in London, for a grant of an exclusive permission to construct a railway to the Brazilian frontier or to the Venezuelan frontier or both, starting from the neighbourhood of Georgetown. This plan did not materialise.
The Railway Company was considering the question of an application to the government for financial assistance to help the Company to establish proper wharfage and storage facilities at their Georgetown Terminus. Mr McConnell of the firm of Messrs. Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co. stated that had he known that the Company planned to proceed with the wharfage scheme, he would not have negotiated with the Railway Company in preference to negotiating with Mr Campbell. He said that the scheme was an interference with his business and that he would discuss the issue with Mr Campbell. The result of this discussion is not known.
Governor Sir Wilfred Collett sent a report on the measures of relief which would be afforded to Sprostons Limited in relation to their contract steamer services. On 24th April 1918 a resolution was moved by the Acting Government Secretary approving the recommendations of the relevant committee and was passed in the Combined Court.
As late as 1915, indentured immigration was still being considered essential for the survival of the plantations. On 1st December 1915, the Combined Court passed a resolution asking the Governor to appoint a committee to consider and report upon the best means of increasing the introduction of immigrants, either free or under indenture. It also demanded the introduction of the "most equitable method of taxation to provide the funds necessary for immigration purposes."
Consequently, the Com-mittee on Immigration was appointed on 23rd February 1916. This committee had been formed before the receipt of the Secretary of State's letter stating that the Indian government had decided to abolish indentured immigration. The committee's work was modified after learning of the Indian government's intentions. The report of the Committee was presented to the Combined Court at its first special session in 1916. The report focused on immigration, the system of recruitment, inspection, shipping and sanitary regulations, indenture to government, the sex ratio, settlements of immigrants, education, and repatriation.
The Indian government's decision to terminate Inden-tureship must have disappointed the Court of Policy which had already asked for an addition of 1,540 immigrants so that they could receive 3,740 in 1916. This increased demand was due to expansion of the area under sugar cultivation. The Indentureship of Indian immigrants was officially terminated in 1917. In 1918 the final shipment of 1,630 arrived, while 1,407 departed for India.
In 1918, the Governor asked the Secretary of State to consider sending Chinese labourers to work in the colony after the war. He had heard that 150,000 Chinese were working in France as peasants and artisans and were labouring well in the rear of the fighting line and at the shipping ports. The British Guiana Sugar Planters' Association informed the government that it had asked the West India Committee in London about the possibility of obtaining after the war, Chinese labour employed on the Western front. This proposal was approved by the Governor. However, these plans did not come to fruition.
The war years were a period of industrial unrest due to the rise in the cost of living. Yet the Governor enquired of the Secretary of State whether unemployed workers of the United Fruit Company in Panama could be sent to British Guiana to work. In March 1918 the Elective members of the Combined Court asked whether it would not be possible to improve the position of some of the Sixth Class clerks in the Registry. The Governor thought that this suggestion was a good one.
Waterfront workers were also discontented. Therefore, Hubert N Critchlow organised a protest in 1916. In January 1917, the waterfront workers went on strike under his leadership. Due to Critchlow's successful negotiation, the Curtis Campbell Company offered the worker a nine-hour day with a lunch-break. They also received payment for overtime work and work done on Sundays and holidays. The truckers' wages were increased from 48 cents to 60 cents per day. With the abolition of the quarter-day system, the stevedores gained half-a-day's pay.
There was unrest among the Indian immigrants as well. The India Office observed that there was an 'abnormal number of strikes among East Indians ...' in British Guiana in 1916. It was noted that there had been an increase in suicides in 1916 and 1917 among the East Indians. On the eight plantations where the suicides had occurred in 1917 there had been no strikes. Cane Grove, Lusignan and Ogle were among the plantations where the suicides had occurred. It appears that conditions on plantations were so poor that the Indians resorted to strike action or suicide attempts.
Statistics revealed that there was an increase in wages between 1913 and 1917. However, the number of labourers was more than the supply which caused problems. On a sugar estate in Berbice during the week ending 3rd May 1918, the average wage earned by the males was 51 cents per day. Out of 1416 working days, only 828 were worked. There were 493 days of 'unlawful absence,' 12 days of absence with leave, and 83 days of sick leave for that year.
In conclusion, social conditions in British Guiana improved slightly between 1914 and 1918. On the one hand, some schools were renovated, education codes were drafted, school medical services were ameliorated and the legal system was reformed. Four new roads were constructed. On the other hand, health conditions remained the same. Malaria continued to be one of the common diseases in the colony. Pneumonia was the leading cause of death. There was an increase in criminal activity. The period was one of industrial unrest due to the high cost of living which was a consequence of the First World War. Indentured immigration which has been a support to the sugar industry since 1835 came to an end.
– A. Schwarzenegger
Geregistreerd op: 9-5-2009
|Geplaatst: 24 Feb 2011 14:10 Onderwerp:
– A. Schwarzenegger
Geregistreerd op: 9-5-2009
|Geplaatst: 24 Feb 2011 15:43 Onderwerp:
|The impact of the first world war on British Guiana
By Arlene Munro, March 18, 2004
When Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to Emperor Franz Josef, ruler of the Hapsburg Empire, was shot in the Balkan town of Sarajevo in June 1914, Europe was ready for war. On July 28, 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia. On August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia. On August 3, 1914 Germany declared war on France.
According to Brower, this "became known as the 'world' war, not because major battles occurred in distant parts of the globe but because for the first time the resources and peoples of distant, non-western lands played an important part in the European fighting." The aim of this article is to examine the impact of the First World War on British Guiana. The war affected the country socially and economically.
As a consequence of the war, the Volunteer Infantry in British Guiana was transformed into the Militia Artillery. The local forces were mobilised and the Police took their place with the Militia in the defence of the colony. The majority of the police in Georgetown were given only military duties.
The commandant of the local forces sent a letter to the governor, Sir Walter Egerton stating that there was only provision at Fort William Frederick for the storage of 30 rounds for the 4.7 guns. The rest of the ammunition was stored in a magazine about 3/4 mile away. Egerton instructed the Director of Public Works to consult the commandant of the local forces and the officer commanding the Artillery Militia and to build a supplementary magazine. This building accommodated a 216 shell, with primers and fuses being stored in Fort William Frederick in the old gun floor recesses and 240 cartridges in the new magazine.
In writing to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir Walter Egerton reported: "The earlier notice to which you draw my attention was issued before it was settled that recruits from the Colony were to form part of a special Regiment instead of being enlisted on arrival in England and drafted to the British Regiments on the same terms as all other recruits as you informed as would be the case when the offer of men from the Colony was first made."
Consequently, Resolution No. XX of the Combined Court, passed on May 3, 1916, stated that in November 1915 the Combined Court had voted $48,000.00 to cover passages and separation allowances for Guianese. It stated that the cost of the prolonged training would exceed the amount voted. The Court resolved to meet the additional expense.
In a subsequent letter, Sir Egerton stated that the Combined Court had passed a resolution offering to contribute a maximum of $10,000 each year to the cost of sending home recruits from British Guiana to serve in the British West Indies Regiment during the war. He added that subsequently, another resolution was passed by the Combined Court when it became apparent that the expenses that year would exceed the above-mentioned sum of $10,000. The resolution stated that the Colony would meet the whole of this expenditure, including the additional one.
The Inspector General of Police also reported that some Guianese joined the British West Indies Regiment. This Regiment went to Egypt and East Africa, where the last German colony was captured. Five officers from British Guiana were made Companions of the Distinguished Service Order.
The British West Indian Regiment consisted of contingents from various West Indian Islands. It was reported that Guianese Sub-Inspector Craig and 40 Police Constables left the colony for England on August 21, 1915. These men as well as detachments from the Militia Com-panies and civilians joined the British West Indian Regiment. Mr. O. C. Rayner, another Sub-Inspector of police, resigned his appointment in order that he might proceed to England to apply for a Commission for service in the war.
Primary School teachers also joined the military service in 1914-1915. The Director of Primary Education reported that eleven teachers, including Head-teachers, had made this decision. In 1917, seven primary school teachers left to join the British West Indian regiment. They were Sergeant D.J. Baird, Private Bruce, Private Solomon, Private Hope, Private Hamilton, Private J. Alexander and Sergeant E.A. Rohlehr. The war and the organisation of local forces gave an impetus to the Boy Scout organisation. The number of Scouts in the Primary School increased.
Estate employees also desired to serve in the war. Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co., Ltd protested against the government further assisting employees on sugar estates to go to the war. They sent a letter to the Governor. He claimed that it was a difficult issue and that the Executive Council was divided on whether the government should pay the passages of persons such as overseers on sugar estates who desired to serve in the war. Although more soldiers were needed, it was felt that local industry would lose skilled staff.
Even men from the Government Service were leaving to join the Army in Canada as late as June 1918. The Governor reported that the Government Service could not spare any more men. The loss of staff had adversely affected the Government service.
Other persons who enlisted as officers in the British Guiana contingent were clerks, miners, tailors, labourers, painters, engineers, chauffeurs, grooms, car conductors, bakers, coopers, carpenters and porters. Statistics reveal that 150 Non-commissioned officers and men of the British Guiana contingent left Guiana on 19th September 1915. Their destination was the United Kingdom. Another 30 men left later and were due to arrive on 30th November 1915. However, not everyone was willing to join the British West India Regiment. In 1917, the Daily Chronicle of 8th February stated that the recruiting campaign was no longer successful. British Guiana was asked to send 250 more men to war, but up to press time less than fifty per cent had been recruited. The previous week 82 responded, but only 37 reported for the medical examination. Of this number only seven were fit for service. It was evident that by 1917 Guianese were no longer eager to serve in the war.
New ordinances were passed pertaining to the war effort. Ordinance No. 30 of 1915 prohibited the export of all arms, ammunition, military and naval stores to any country to prevent the use of these articles against British subjects and military or naval forces. Ordinance No. 2 of 1918 was passed to provide for the payment of duty on excess profits. This ordinance allowed for the collection from firms and companies of a tax of five percent on all profits earned in the colony in excess of ten per cent on the capital used in earning such profits. If the profits in excess of ten per cent did not exceed $2,500.00 then the tax was not levied. The war had so affected the local conditions that such an ordinance was thought necessary.
With the outbreak of the war the Combined Court voted to the British government gifts of sugar and rice worth $142,667.44 and spent $16,561.78 to defend the colony in case of attack. By 1916, war expenditure had risen to $22,085.67. In 1917 it was $30,687.00. It increased to $81,346.66 in 1918.
During the war A.H. Fuchs and three other prisoners were arrested in colonial waters on 22nd November 1916. His three companions were escap-ed convicts from Cayenne. Fuchs and his friends were German. Shortly after arrest they were sent to Mazaruni. These men formed a plot to seize a launch and escape. They were sent to George-town Prison. Fuchs was suffering from malaria.
During the war wages rose. The average rise of wages on the sugar estates from 1914 was eighty per cent. In some places the increase was 100 per cent. Before the war sugar workers worked for five days, but during the war they worked for four days. The demand for labour exceeded the supply.
Government officers also received a war bonus. These officers sent a petition to the Governor asking for a war bonus to enable them to meet the extra cost of living resulting from the war. The Governor, Sir Wilfred Collett, in a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies testified that the prices of foodstuff and necessities of life had increased. He added that the customs revenue had increased partly because of the increases in ad valorem duties received.
The Civil Servants were demanding either a bonus or advance equal to 10 per cent on their salary. With this bonus they proposed to start a Civil Service Cooperative Store in order to be able to supply themselves with their requirements at reasonable rates. Local merchants were making undue profit on the goods which they sold. They were perhaps selling goods at black market prices. Sub-sequently, the Combined Court passed a resolution approving of the payment of a war bonus to all Civil Servants whose personal emoluments exceeded 50 pounds a year. However, the Civil servants and Govern-ment officers formed a small proportion of the workers in the colony. Therefore, only a minority received war bonuses.
During the war certain concessions were made. The Governor wrote the Secretary of State about the purchase of gold produced in the colony and subsequently the Bank of England offered to assist in this matter. As a consequence, the local banks greatly reduced their charges and the producers deposited their gold in the local banks in the same way as they had done before the war. The extra charges on account of war risk and insurance were reduced by one-half prior to this. The banks began to purchase gold practically on the same terms as those offered by the Bank of England.
Another concession was made pertaining to the printing of money. At the outbreak of war it appeared that there was a likelihood of great scarcity of currency due to the people's habit of hoarding coins. They were withdrawing great sums of money from the Government Savings Bank. The governor decided to print a supply of government notes of small value ($1 and $2) to the face value of $50,000 for issue as legal tender. Since he did that he learnt that confidence had been restored and people had stopped withdrawing money from the banks.
An additional charge of two cents was imposed on each letter posted in the colony to places within the British Empire and the United States of America. This charge took the form of a war tax stamp and remained in force for the duration of the war. Also, certain rates of postage were charged on letters and newspapers posted locally to destinations within the colony.
The second instalment of the article will continue to examine the impact of the First World War on British Guiana.
In the first instalment of this article I examined the effects of the First World War on British Guiana. It was observed that the cost of living rose and civil servants and government officers received war bonuses. Extra currency was printed. More significantly, measures were taken to fortify the colony. In addition, skilled Guianese workers joined the British West Indian Regiment and this alarmed some heads of industry.
In 1915, the citizens of British Guiana also made financial contributions to the war effort. Special collections were made on Monday, October 1, Aircraft Day, and on Monday, November 4, Red Cross Day. The donations were used to buy an armed airplane or to help the Red Cross.
The primary schools of British Guiana also contributed to the war effort. The Head of the Department of Primary Education, H.W. Sconce, sent a circular letter to managers and headteachers of primary schools proposing that voluntary collections from the 37,000 children in these schools be organised. Each child was expected to give one cent or more per quarter to the British Red Cross Society. They gave in 1916 the first gift of 32 pounds to the Society. Teachers and students contributed to this cause. A second contribution was given of 31 pounds 5 shillings. A third contribution of 32 pounds was sent to London.
The Lord Mayor of London sent a letter dated June 15, 1916 to the Director of Education, British Guiana asking for further aid for the children of Belgium. The Guianese children and teachers responded by giving $729.97 to this need. Another contribution of 34 pounds was sent after this. A school in Wakapau for the Amerindian children gave a donation of Indian curios, which was sold to the Self-Help Depot for $240.00 and was given to the war effort. Three Indian Mission Schools in remote and sparsely populated localities, i.e. Calcuni on the Berbice River, and Orealla and Epera on the Corentyne River, gave financial contributions to the war effort.
In 1917, 259 children representing eight schools contributed to the War Fund that was organised to provide a Christmas Gift from the children of the Empire. The subscription did not arrive in England until January 1917. It was sent to the Overseas Club which requested it. It was pathetic that children should have been asked to subscribe to the war effort.
The Auditor-General reported that British Guiana sent a relief grant of $5,000.00 to Halifax sufferers. It also subscribed $7,200 to an aeroplane for the Royal Flying Crops. A Ram Narain Sharma sent a letter to Sir Walter Egerton informing him that he was attempting to collect subscriptions for the National War Relief Fund. The success of this venture is not known.
Other funds were in existence. For example, in a letter sent by Sir Walter Egerton to Lewis Harcourt the Prince of Wales Fund and Queen Alexander's Fund are mentioned. A National War Relief Fund was also mentioned. A committee of ladies, headed by Lady Egerton, organised a local War Relief Sewing Guide. The colony subscribed to the Red Cross Society and its branches. Clothing was also shipped by the ladies of the colony to Queen Mary's Needlework Guild.
The colony of British Guiana also presented a gift of 1,000 tons of sugar to the British Army worth $82,496.36 and another gift of 500,000 lbs of rice for the Indian troops valued at $16,561.78.
How did the war affect the industries in the colony? It adversely affected the balata and mining industries. Both industries were temporarily paralysed and the diamond industry came to a halt in October 1914. Diamonds became unsaleable and diamond mining ceased. The higher cost of imported food and increased freight and insurance charges greatly retarded gold mining. The heavy freights and scarcity of tonnage were additional weights on the export timber trade. As a consequence of the war, there was a heavy fall in the price of balata. The chief working company was given substantial assistance. By 1916, these industries had partly recovered. During the war bauxite exports were confined to England, Scotland, Ireland or Canada.
The war also affected the sugar industry. Most of the sugar crop in the colony was produced in the last quarter of 1914, and as a consequence of the First World War, almost the whole of this crop which had not been previously sold was purchased by the Imperial Government at the excellent price of 17 pounds per ton. The abnormal conditions in Europe interrupted the current of trade in sugar between the colony and Britain and were the main cause of the decrease during the year 1914.
The war also had an effect on hospitals and asylums in the colony. An excess of $979.20 on the head 'Bakery' was caused by the rise in the prices of materials due to the war.
There was a shortage of food during the war. Due to the global shortage of animal food and cereal, the Combined Court encouraged the citizens to raise food for consumption and export.
The price of extra flour rose from $6.45 per bag just before the war to an average of $12.81 during 1917 and $15.80 during 1918. This increase materially affected the cost price of the bread produced at bakeries. The average cost of bread in 1913-1914 was 2.8 cents per lb against 4.8 cents in 1917 and 6.14 in 1918. The increase in the cost of bread was smaller than the increase in the cost of flour. This was due to the use of cornmeal and rice mixed with flour during a portion of the year, thereby lowering the cost of production. No charge was made for bread issued to other institutions, the entire cost being shown against those institutions that had bakeries, viz., the Georgetown Prison, H.M. Penal Settlement, the Lunatic Asylum, and the Industrial School, Onderneeming.
An ordinance was passed to protect the poor from being overcharged for their provisions by profiteers. However, it was difficult to enforce this ordinance. The attempt to fix the price of rice proved to be a failure. Many dealers charged 4 to 6 cents per gallon above the price suggested.
Another consequence of war was labour unrest in Georgetown. During the war the cost of living rose and the working class suffered the most. Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow organised a protest in 1916. In January 1917 the waterfront went on strike under his leadership. Owing to Critchlow's successful negotiation, the Curtis Campbell Company offered the workers a nine-hour day with lunch-break. They also received payment for overtime work and work done on Sundays and holidays. The truckers' wages were raised from 48 cents to 60 cents per day. With the abolition of the quarter-day system, the stevedores gained half-a-day's pay.
It is noteworthy that merchant, G.R. Garnett wrote the Executive Council and made several observations during that period of labour unrest. He implied that the Water Street stores and shopkeepers were not giving fair value and honest treatment to their customers. He suggested that the wholesale dealers in Water Street and the retail shopkeepers were 'bleeding them unduly.'
Another consequence of the war was that firms such as J.P. Santos & Co., J.N. Perreira & Co., Santos, De Caires & Co., George Bettencourt & Co., Wm. Fogarty & Co., Ferreira & Gomes, Lopes Fernando & Co., and Booker Co. gained increased profits after the outbreak of the war. This claim was made by the merchant, G.R Garnett. He also accused these firms of encouraging the men to continue their strike for more wages so that they could spend money in their stores. Mr. Garnett wisely suggested that enquiries should be made into the cost of living to determine whether it could not be reduced. He also recommended that the government find out from the Registrar the profits made by the locally registered Water Street firms for the previous four or five years.
One year later, Sir Jules Pairadeau observed in a letter to the Government Secretary that there had been a rise in wages since the beginning of the war, "having regard to the increased cost of living." He stated that the Executive Council felt that people except seamstresses and clerks, were in a better economic position. The Council claimed that Georgetown workers had received 50 per cent increases in their wages and that the Estate labourers had received even more.
With the outbreak of war instructions were given that "movements of His Majesty's ships should not be published in the local Pressâ€¦" for security reasons. British shops visiting British Guiana were warned not to carry goods comprising foodstuffs for Silleveldt Rotterdam, and to discourage shipment in neutral bottoms. Trade between British Guiana and Holland was carefully watched in the direction desired and the agents of shipping lines were privately cautioned on the subject. There were no merchants in British Guiana with trade relations with Silleveldt or J.C. Benstamy.
The widows and orphans of dead Government Officers endured much hardship during this period. At a meeting of the Combined Court, Mr. Brassington suggested that a monthly allowance be given to them from the Widows and Orphans' Fund. However, he observed that this allowance was 'a mere pittance' and that the war had caused prices to rise. It is not known whether this was implemented. At this same meeting, Mr Brassington mentioned that officers had returned from Egypt and needed assistance. He submitted a letter written by one of the soldiers who claimed that he was starving because he could not find work.
In 1917 the Mayor of Georgetown started a campaign for the erection in the city of a monument to Lord Kitchener to be a memorial to those who died in the war. A Kitchener Memorial Fund was started on February 3, in 1917 and was advertised in the newspapers. This is perhaps the same war memorial that was erected in 1923.
When the war ended in 1918, Sir Walter Collett reported that shortly after he published the news of the signing of the armistice with Germany, the citizens of Georgetown covered the town with bunting and people were taking joy rides in motor cars.
Sir Wilfred Collett assured the Secretary of State, Walter H. Long, that every attention would "be given to the needs of the discharged and disabled soldiers returned to British Guiana in respect of any artificial appliances they may require" He also promised that a Medical Board appointed by the Surgeon General would examine all cases returning to the colony.
The governor recommended that the Order of the British Empire should be conferred on Mr. J.B Cassels as a reward for unofficial services pertaining to the war.
He explained that Mr. Cassels, one of the Directors of Booker Brothers, McConnell and Company, had surpassed others in raising money for the Red Cross, the British West Indies Contingent Fund and other funds.
The First World War impacted socially and economically on British Guiana. Firstly, the colony temporarily lost some of its skilled and unskilled workers when they joined the British West Indies Regiment. Furthermore, the cost of living rose and the colonists had to pay more for daily necessities. There were shortages of food and widows of dead government officers were suffering.
Thirdly, the mining industries were adversely affected by this war.
Prices of the products fell and the diamond industry ceased temporarily in 1914. The financial resources of the colony were remitted to the Empire for the purchase of planes and other war machinery.
The colony also sent sugar and rice to the British Army and the Indian troops.
Therefore, the war exploited the human, financial and agricultural resources of this small, struggling colony.
It was unfortunate that returning soldiers could not find work and claimed to be starving.
The only positive impact of this war was the increased wages for sugar workers, government officers and civil servants.
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– A. Schwarzenegger
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