British Guiana


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. British Guiana is Number 135 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 book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The section on political history discusses the establishment by the Dutch West India Company of the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice on the northern coast of South America and Dutch rule from 1674 to 1796; the seizure of the colonies by the British in 1796 and British rule from that year until 1914 (except for an interregnum in 1802−3); and the history of the disputes between Britain and Venezuela over the western boundary of the colony and between Britain and Brazil over its southern boundary, both of which were settled by arbitration. The earlier history is covered in Number 134 in the series, Introduction to the Guiana Colonies. The population of British Guiana was estimated to be 313,859 (1917). The study discusses the ethnic and racial mix in the colony’s population, which included people of European descent (British colonists and their descendants, families of Dutch descent, and Portuguese laborers and their descendants); descendants of African slaves; laborers brought by the British from East India and their descendants; a small Chinese colony; and the Arawak, Carib, and other indigenous peoples. The study concludes rather optimistically: “Probably there is no other territory in the world where the settled inhabitants contain a greater variety of races divided from one another by history, tradition, and colour, all living side by side on terms of friendly co-operation, and without any of the bitterness of strife arising from class or caste distinctions.” British Guiana became the independent state of Guyana in 1966.

Last updated: July 23, 2015