The first European to discover Guiana was Sir Walter Raleigh, an English explorer. The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle there, starting in the early 17th century, when they founded the colonies of Essequibo and Berbice, adding Demerara in the mid-18th century. In 1796, Great Britain took over these three colonies during hostilities with the French, who had occupied the Netherlands. Britain returned control to the Batavian Republic in 1802, but captured the colonies a year later during the Napoleonic Wars. The colonies were officially ceded to the United Kingdom in 1814, and consolidated into a single colony in 1831. The colony's capital was at Georgetown (known as Stabroek prior to 1812).
As the British developed the colony for sugarcane plantations, they imported many Africans as slave labour. The economy has become more diversified since the late 19th century, but has relied on resource exploitation. Guyana became independent of the United Kingdom on 26 May 1966.
Motto: Damus petimusque vicissim
"We give and take in return"
British Guiana, 1908
Guyanese Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu)
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
|13 August 1814|
• Single colony
• New constitution
|26 May 1966|
|1924||231,804 km2 (89,500 sq mi)|
|Currency||Spanish dollar (to 1876)|
British Guiana dollar (to 1940s)
British West Indies dollar (1935–65)
East Caribbean dollar (1965–66)
|ISO 3166 code||GY|
Source for 1924 area and population:
The English made at least two unsuccessful attempts in the 17th century to colonise the lands that would later be known as British Guiana, at which time the Dutch had established two colonies in the area: Essequibo, administered by the Dutch West India Company, and Berbice, administered by the Berbice Association. The Dutch West India Company founded a third colony, Demerara, in the mid-18th century. During the French Revolutionary Wars of the late 18th century, when the Netherlands were occupied by the French, and Great Britain and France were at war, Britain took over the colony in 1796. A British expeditionary force was dispatched from its colony of Barbados to seize the colonies from the French-dominated Batavian Republic. The colonies surrendered without a struggle. Initially very little changed, as the British agreed to allow the long-established laws of the colonies to remain in force.
In 1802 Britain returned the colonies to the Batavian Republic under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens. But, after resuming hostilities with France in the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, Britain seized the colonies again less than a year later. The three colonies were officially ceded to the United Kingdom in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The UK continued separate administration of the individual colonies until 1822, when the administration of Essequibo and Demerara was combined. In 1831, the administration Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice was combined, and the united colony became known as British Guiana.
The economy of British Guiana was completely based on sugarcane production until the 1880s, when falling cane sugar prices stimulated a shift toward rice farming, mining and forestry. However, sugarcane remained a significant part of the economy (in 1959 sugar still accounted for nearly 50% of exports). Under the Dutch, settlement and economic activity was concentrated around sugarcane plantations lying inland from the coast. Under the British, cane planting expanded to richer coastal lands, with greater coastline protection. Until the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, sugar planters depended almost exclusively on slave labour to produce sugar. Georgetown was the site of a significant slave rebellion in 1823.
In the 1880s gold and diamond deposits were discovered in British Guiana, but they did not produce significant revenue. Bauxite deposits proved more promising and would remain an important part of the economy. The colony did not develop any significant manufacturing industry, other than sugar factories, rice mills, sawmills, and certain small-scale industries (including a brewery, a soap factory, a biscuit factory and an oxygen-acetylene plant, among others).
The London-based Booker Group of companies (Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co., Ltd) dominated the economy of British Guiana. The Bookers had owned sugar plantations in the colony since the early 19th century; by the end of the century they owned a majority of them; and by 1950 owned all but three. With the increasing success and wealth of the Booker Group, they expanded internationally, and diversified by investing in rum, pharmaceuticals, publishing, advertising, retail stores, timber, and petroleum, among other industries. The Booker Group became the largest employer in the colony, leading some to refer to it as "Booker's Guiana".
British colonists built the first railway system in British Guiana: 61 miles of standard gauge, from Georgetown to Rosignol, and 19 miles of 3'6" line between Vreeden Hoop and Parika; it opened in 1848. Several narrow-gauge lines were built to serve the sugar industry and others were built to serve the later mines.
In 1948, when the railway in Bermuda was closed down, the locomotives, rolling stock, track, sleepers and virtually all the associated paraphernalia of a railway were shipped to British Guiana to renovate the aged system.
The lines ceased to operate in 1972, but the large Central Station is still standing in Georgetown. Some of the inland mines still operate narrow-gauge lines.
The British long continued the forms of Dutch colonial government in British Guiana. A Court of Policy exercised both legislative and executive functions under the direction of the colonial Governor (which existed from 1831 to 1966). A group known as the Financial Representatives sat with the Court of Policy in a Combined Court to set tax policies. A majority of the members of the Courts was appointed by the Governor; the rest were selected by a College of Kiezers (Electors). The Kiezers were elected, with the restrictive franchise based on property holdings and limited to the larger landowners of the colony. The Courts were dominated in the early centuries by the sugar planters and their representatives.
In 1891 the College of Kiezers was abolished in favour of direct election of the elective membership of the Courts. Membership of the Court of Policy became half elected and half appointed, and all of the Financial Representatives became elective positions. The executive functions of the Court of Policy were transferred to a new Executive Council under the control of the Governor. Property qualifications were significantly relaxed for voters and for candidates to the Courts.
In 1928 the British Government abolished the Dutch-influenced constitution and replaced it with a Crown colony constitution. A Legislative Council with an appointed majority was established, and the administrative powers of the Governor were strengthened. These constitutional changes were not popular among the Guyanese, who viewed them as a step backward. The franchise was extended to women.
In 1938 the West India Royal Commission ("The Moyne Commission") was appointed to investigate the economic and social condition of all the British colonies in the Caribbean region after a number of civil and labour disturbances. Among other changes, the Commission recommended some constitutional reforms. As a result, in 1943 a majority of the Legislative Council seats became elective, the property qualifications for voters and for candidates for the Council were lowered, and the bar on women and clergy serving on the Council was abolished. The Governor retained control of the Executive Council, which had the power to veto or pass laws against the wishes of the Legislative Council.
The next round of constitutional reforms came in 1953. A bicameral legislature, consisting of a lower House of Assembly and an upper State Council, was established. The voting membership of the House of Assembly was entirely elective. The membership of the State Council was appointed by the Governor and the House of Assembly, and possessed limited revisionary powers. A Court of Policy became the executive body, consisting of the Governor and other colonial officials. Universal adult suffrage was instituted, and the property qualifications for office abolished.
The election of 27 April 1953 under the new system provoked a serious constitutional crisis. The People's Progressive Party (PPP) won 18 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly. This result alarmed the British Government, which was surprised by the strong showing of the PPP. It considered the PPP as too friendly with communist organisations.
As a result of its fears of communist influence in the colony, the British Government suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency, and militarily occupied British Guiana on 9 October 1953. Under the direction of the British Colonial Office, the Governor assumed direct rule of the colony under an Interim Government, which continued until 1957. On 12 August 1957, elections were held and the PPP won nine of fourteen elective seats in a new legislature.
A constitutional convention convened in London in March 1960 reached agreement on another new legislature, to consist of an elected House of Assembly (35 seats) and a nominated Senate (13 seats). In the ensuing election of 21 August 1961, the PPP won 20 seats in the House of Assembly, entitling it as the majority party to appoint eight senators. Upon the 1961 election, British Guiana also became self-governing, except as to defence and external matters. The leader of the majority party became Prime Minister, who then named a Council of Ministers, replacing the former Executive Council.
From 1962 to 1964, riots, strikes and other disturbances stemming from racial, social and economic conflicts delayed full independence for British Guiana. The leaders of the political parties reported to the British Colonial Secretary that they were unable to reach agreement on the remaining details of forming an independent government. The British Colonial Office intervened by imposing its own independence plan, in part requiring another election under a new proportional representation system. Britain expected that this system would reduce the number of seats won by the PPP and prevent it from obtaining a majority.
The December 1964 elections for the new legislature gave the PPP 45.8% (24 seats), the People's National Congress (PNC) 40.5% (22 seats) and the United Force (UF) 12.4% (7 seats). The UF agreed to form a coalition government with the PNC, and accordingly, the PNC leader became the new Prime Minister. In November 1965 an independence conference in London quickly reached agreement on an independent constitution; it set the date for independence as 26 May 1966. On that date, at 12 midnight, British Guiana became the new nation of Guyana.
In 1840, the British Government assigned Robert Hermann Schomburgk to survey and mark out the western boundary of British Guiana with newly independent Venezuela. Venezuela did not accept the Schomburgk Line, which placed the entire Cuyuni River basin within the colony. Venezuela claimed all lands west of the Essequibo River as its territory (see map in this section).
The dispute continued on and off for half a century, culminating in the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, in which Venezuela sought to use the United States' Monroe Doctrine to win support for its position. US President Grover Cleveland used diplomatic pressure to get the British to agree to arbitration of the issue, ultimately agreeing terms for the arbitration that suited Britain. An arbitration tribunal convened in Paris in 1898, and issued its award in 1899. The tribunal awarded about 94% of the disputed territory to British Guiana. A commission surveyed a new border according to the award, and the parties accepted the boundary in 1905.
There the matter rested until 1962, when Venezuela renewed its 19th-century claim, alleging that the arbitral award was invalid. After his death, Severo Mallet-Prevost, legal counsel for Venezuela and a named partner in the New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle published a letter alleging that the judges on the tribunal acted improperly as a result of a back-room deal between Russia and Great Britain. The British Government rejected this claim, asserting the validity of the 1899 award. The British Guiana Government, then under the leadership of the PPP, also strongly rejected this claim. Efforts by all parties to resolve the matter on the eve of Guyana's independence in 1966 failed; as of today, the dispute remains unresolved.
Robert Schomburgk's 1840 commission also included a survey of the colony's eastern boundary with the Dutch colony of Suriname, now the independent nation of Suriname. The 1899 arbitration award settling the British Guiana—Venezuela border made reference to the border with Suriname as continuing to the source of the Courantyne River, which it named as the Kutari River. The Netherlands raised a diplomatic protest, claiming that the New River, and not the Kutari, was to be regarded as the source of the Courantyne and the boundary. The British government in 1900 replied that the issue was already settled by the longstanding acceptance of the Kutari as the boundary.
In 1962, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on behalf of Suriname, which had become a constituent country of the Kingdom, finally made formal claim to the "New River Triangle", the triangular-shaped region between the New and Kutari rivers that was in dispute. The Surinamese colonial government and, after 1975, the independent Surinamese government, maintained the Dutch position; while the British Guiana Government, and later the independent Guyanese government, maintained the British position.
British Guiana is famous among philatelists for its early postage stamps, which were first issued in 1850. These stamps include some of the rarest, most expensive stamps in the world, such as the unique British Guiana 1c magenta from 1856, which was sold in 2014 for US$9.5 million.
Berbice is a region along the Berbice River in Guyana, which was between 1627 and 1815 a colony of the Netherlands. After having been ceded to the United Kingdom in the latter year, it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana.
After being a hereditary fief in the possession of the Van Peere family, the colony was governed by the Society of Berbice in the second half of the colonial period, akin to the neighbouring colony of Suriname, which was governed by the Society of Suriname. The capital of Berbice was at Fort Nassau until 1790. In that year, the town of New Amsterdam, which grew around Fort Sint Andries, was made the new capital of the colony.British Guiana 1c magenta
The British Guiana 1c magenta is regarded by many philatelists as the world's most famous rare stamp. It was issued in limited numbers in British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1856, and only one specimen is now known to exist. It is the only major postage stamp ever issued that is not represented in Britain's Royal Philatelic Collection.
It is imperforate, printed in black on magenta paper, and it features a sailing ship along with the colony's Latin motto "Damus Petimus Que Vicissim" (We give and expect in return) in the middle. Four thin lines frame the ship. The stamp's country of issue and value in small black upper case lettering in turn surround the frame.
With its $9,480,000 sale on 17 June 2014 to Stuart Weitzman, this item has broken the world record for a single stamp auction price each of the last four times it has been sold.British Guiana at the 1948 Summer Olympics
British Guiana (now Guyana) competed at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. Four competitors, all men, took part in seven events in three sports. It was the first time that the nation competed at the Olympic Games.British Guiana at the 1952 Summer Olympics
British Guiana (now Guyana) competed at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.British Guiana at the 1956 Summer Olympics
British Guiana (now Guyana) competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.British Guiana at the 1960 Summer Olympics
British Guiana (now Guyana) competed at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.British Guiana at the 1964 Summer Olympics
British Guiana (now Guyana) competed at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.British Guiana during World War II
The history of British Guiana during World War II begins in 1939, following the outbreak of war in Europe and the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Like all the other British colonies in the West Indies, Guiana gave full support to the Allied war effort by providing personnel for the British Armed Forces, land for an American military base, and raw materials for war production. Although the Guianese economy initially suffered as result of the war, large-scale infrastructural projects were undertaken, in order to optimize the production of goods for the war effort, and by the war's end in 1945 the Guianese economy had more than recovered. There were also significant changes in the country's political system during the same period, such as the legalization of political parties and the enfranchisement of women.Guyana at the Olympics
Guyana has competed in 16 Summer Olympic Games. They have never competed in the Winter Games. For the first 5 games they appeared as British Guiana. The country has won a single medal, a bronze in boxing won by Michael Anthony at the 1980 Summer Olympics.
The Guyana Olympic Association was created in 1935 and recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1948.Guyana national cricket team
The Guyana cricket team is the representative first class cricket team of Guyana.
It does not take part in any international competitions, but rather in inter-regional competitions in the Caribbean, such as the West Indies' Professional Cricket League (which includes Regional Four Day Competition and the NAGICO Regional Super50), and the best players may be selected for the West Indies team, which plays international cricket. The team competes in the Professional Cricket League under the franchise name Guyana Jaguars.Guyana has won the domestic first class title seven times since its inception in 1965–66, which is the third highest number of wins, behind Barbados and Jamaica.
In one-day cricket, Guyana reached the final of the domestic competition four times in the early 2000s, but the last victory was in 2005–06. They have won the KFC Cup a total of nine times – including two shared titles – which is the most by any competing team, Trinidad and Tobago coming closest with seven (including one shared).
The cricket team has been known under two other names – they were first known as Demerara when they played in the first first-class cricket game of the West Indies, against Barbados in 1865, and they retained that name until 1899, when it was finally changed to British Guiana (they had also played first-class cricket in 1895 as British Guiana). The name of British Guiana stuck until 1965–66, when the nation and thus the team changed to its current name. From 1971 until the mid-1980s two regional sides competed in an annual first class match for the Jones Cup and later the Guystac Trophy.
The list of prominent cricketers who have played for Guyana includes Basil Butcher, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Colin Croft, Roy Fredericks, Lance Gibbs, Roger Harper, Carl Hooper, Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
In June 2018, Guyana was named the Best First-Class Team of the Year at the annual Cricket West Indies' Awards.Guyana national football team
The Guyana national football team, nicknamed the Golden Jaguars, represents Guyana in international football and is controlled by the Guyana Football Federation. It is one of three South American nations to be a member of the Caribbean Football Union of CONCACAF alongside Suriname and French Guiana. Until the independence of Guyana in 1966, it competed as British Guiana. They qualified for the Caribbean Nations Cup in 1991, coming fourth, and in 2007. Guyana has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but on 23 March 2019 they qualified for the first time for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.History of the Jews in Guyana
The history of the Jews in Guyana began in the mid-1600s, when Jewish settlers arrived in the Dutch colony of Essequibo, the forerunner of what became British Guiana and today's Guyana. In 1658, the Dutch agreed with David Nassy to establish a colony of Jews on the Pomeroon River, which flourished, becoming a prized possession of the Dutch, until its destruction in 1666 by an incursion by the English from Barbados under Major John Scott. The Jews of Pomeroon (Bowroom) fled, following the destruction of their colony, mostly to Suriname, where they were granted unprecedented religious freedoms.
By the 1930s there was neither an organized Jewish community nor a synagogue in the capital city of Georgetown. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several Jewish families immigrated to British Guiana from Arab lands to avoid persecution and expand business opportunities.Inter-Colonial Tournament
The Inter-Colonial Tournament was the main first class cricket competition in the West Indies before World War II.List of Prime Ministers of Guyana
This is a list of the Prime Ministers of Guyana, from the establishment of the office of Chief Minister of British Guiana in 1953 to the present day.List of governors of British Guiana
The Governor of British Guiana was the Crown representative in British Guiana. The office existed from 1831 when the colonies of Demerara-Essequibo (see Demerara and Essequibo (colony)) and Berbice united as British Guiana until 1966 when Guyana attained independence.Music of Guyana
The music of Guyana encompasses a range of musical styles and genres that draw from various influences including: Indian, Latino-Hispanic, European, African, Chinese, and Amerindian music. Popular Guyanese performers include: Terry Gajraj, Harry Panday, Eddy Grant, Dave Martins & the Tradewinds (Johnny Braff, Ivor Lynch & Sammy Baksh), Aubrey Cummings and Nicky Porter, and Shameer Rahman.
The Guyana Music Festival has proven to be influential on the Guyana music scene.Postage stamps and postal history of British Guiana
A privately run packet service for mail existed in British Guiana in 1796, and continued for a number of years. Postage stamps of Britain were used in those days at Georgetown (Demerara) and Berbice. The first adhesive stamps produced by British Guiana were issued in 1850.
British Guiana is famous among philatelists for its early postage stamps, some of them considered to be among the rarest, most expensive stamps in the world. These include the unique British Guiana 1c magenta from 1856, which sold in 1980 for close to $1 million.
In June 2014 the 1856 British Guiana one-cent magenta stamp was sold at auction in New York, to an anonymous bidder, for $9.5m (£5.6m) at auction in New York, a world record.Revenue stamps of British Guiana and Guyana
British Guiana, now known as Guyana, first issued revenue stamps in 1865 and continues to do so to this day.Senate (British Guiana)
The Senate was the upper house of the Legislature in British Guiana between 1961 and 1964.