Introduction to the Guiana Colonies


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Introduction to the Guiana Colonies is Number 134 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The study deals with three territories on the northern coast of South America: French Guiana, Dutch Guiana (present-day Suriname), and British Guiana (present-day Guyana). The study is in two parts. The first part deals with the “earlier history” of the region, including the 1595 voyage of Sir Walter Raleigh in search of the legendary city of El Dorado, the establishment of a Dutch settlement on the Essequibo River in 1616 and of later Dutch, British, and French settlements. It also covers the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1665–67 and 1672–74, which, the study notes, resulted in “the destruction and devastation of all the Guiana colonies.” The later history is covered in three other studies in the series, British Guiana (Number 135), Dutch Guiana (Number 136), and French Guiana (Number 137). The second part of this study is a comparative sketch of economic conditions in the three colonies. It describes economic conditions in French Guiana as “not satisfactory,” and notes that use of the territory as a penal colony had done little to develop its economic and physical infrastructure. Conditions in Dutch Guiana and British Guiana were somewhat better, based on the production and export of forest and agricultural products. British Guiana became independent in 1966, Dutch Guiana in 1975. French Guyana is an overseas department of France.

Last updated: February 18, 2015