THE BERBICE-SURINAME BOUNDARY
As has been already stated, Berbice was settled in 1627 by the Dutchman Abraham Van Pere. A few years later Suriname was settled by Lord Willoughby and Lawrence Hyde under a grant from the English King, Charles II. In the beginning, therefore, Suriname was a British and Berbice a Dutch possession. Due to European imperial rivalries in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the colonies frequently changed hands and these changes played their part in the story of the boundary between Guyana and Suriname.
Soon after the middle of the seventeenth century Suriname was conquered by the Dutch. Immediately after, the neighbouring proprietors, Van Pere of Berbice and Van Somelsdyk of Suriname, agreed that their plantations should be separated by Devil's Creek, a creek west of the Corentyne River. However, this private agreement could not be regarded as affecting in any legal way the boundary between the two colonies, and in 1794 the Governor of Berbice, Abraham Jacob van Imbyse van Batenburg, challenged the legality of the act of the two proprietors in presuming to demarcate territorial boundaries. In a letter dated 23 March 1794 to the Directors of the Berbice Association in Amsterdam, Van Batenburg made the point that, under the terms of the grant of Charles II to Lord Willoughby, the western limit of Suriname could not be regarded as extending further than one English mile west of the River Coppename, a river which in fact lay several miles to the east of the Corentyne River. Batenburg referred to the act of the proprietors as "an illegal act from which it is not to be inferred that the true boundary limit between Berbice and Suriname could be at that place (i.e., at Devil's Creek)." As such, Batenburg asserted that the land between the Coppename and the Corentyne Rivers belonged to neither colony.
The proprietors of the estates in Berbice did not themselves accept this property transaction as validly defining the boundary between the two colonies, and repeatedly made demands on Batenburg to make grants of land in the area between Devil's Creek and the Corentyne River. Actually, the Governor declared that the Corentyne coast had proved to be "a perfect gold mine for the cultivation of cotton" and numerous applications were being made to the Berbice authorities for grants of land on the coast between Devil's Creek and the Corentyne River.
Shortly after this protest to Amsterdam, Batenburg updated an extraordinary meeting of the members of the Court of Policy of Berbice on the correspondence between himself and the Governor of Suriname over the boundary between the two colonies, and of his protests to the imperial government in Amsterdam over what he regarded as illegal claims of the Suriname authorities to land west of the Corentyne River.
By 1799 colonial conquests caused both Berbice and Suriname to become British colonies. Berbice was taken in 1796 and Suriname in 1799. For administrative purposes, however, the Dutch Governors of the two colonies were not removed. Batenburg remained Governor of Berbice while Frederici, the Dutch appointee, retained his post as Governor of Suriname. In 1799 the two Governors met at Paramaribo and concluded an agreement providing that Berbice should have control over the land between the west bank of the Corentyne River and Devil's Creek.
The terms of the Agreement specified that the west coast and west bank of the Corentyne River as far as the Devil's Creek, which previously were part of the colony of Surinam, were now considered as belonging to the Government of Berbice.
The Agreement was formally published in a proclamation of the Governor and the Court of Policy in New Amsterdam on 20 January 1800. (It is on this Agreement of 1799 that the Dutch in the last half of the twentieth century based their claim that the western bank of the Corentyne River formed the boundary between Guyana and Suriname).
Indeed, the Agreement stated that "none of the Islands situate in the River Corentyne shall be included in this provisional cession, but always be acknowledged to belong to the Government of the Colony of Surinam." By expressly stating Suriname's ownership of the islands, the Governors, therefore, excluded the river from their agreement, thus clearly implying that the entire river did not belong to Suriname.
The Agreement did not acknowledge Suriname's sovereignty over the Corentyne River itself. A provision of the Agreement did guarantee Surinamese certain rights of movement in the river for the purpose of trading with the Amerindians but it was more consistent with the exercise of sovereignty over the river by Berbice rather than by Suriname.
In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens handed back both Suriname and Berbice to the Dutch. But in September 1803, Berbice was re-taken by the British. The Articles of Capitulation, drawn up between Britain and the Netherlands in September 1803 in relation to Berbice, recognised the 1799 Agreement but did not demarcate the boundary in a formal way.
In the years following 1803 nothing was done to settle the boundary by treaty, but the Corentyne River was accepted in practice as separating the two colonies. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Convention of London (1814), confirmed at the Peace of Paris (1815), gave back Suriname to the Dutch while retaining for the British the colonies of Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice, but again the boundary between Berbice and Suriname was not defined. When the British colonies were united in 1831 and became British Guiana, the eastern boundary remained as undefined as it had been when Berbice was a separate colony.