The Guyana-Suriname Border (1831-1899)

(Close this window to return to the main contents)

Previous Chapter        Next Chapter

Up to the period of the establishment of the united Colony of British Guiana, the upper reaches of the Corentyne River were largely uncharted. In 1841 the British Government commissioned Sir Robert H. Schomburgk to survey the boundaries of the Colony of British Guiana. As part of this activity, Schomburgk proposed exploring the upper extent of the Corentyne River. As a result, the Governor of British Guiana suggested to the Governor of Suriname that he should send a commissioner to cooperate in the exploration of the river which was regarded as the boundary between the two colonies. However, the Government of Suriname declined to participate in the survey on the grounds that the Governor "having no instructions to that effect, was unable to appoint a commissioner and that as he was not aware of any difference of opinion as to the boundary and did not anticipate any, he saw no occasion for sending a representative."

Schomburgk accordingly explored the Corentyne River alone and in its upper reaches found two rivers, the Kutari and the Curuni, which united and flowed into the Corentyne. Schomburgk named the united river the Corentyne and sailed down it to the coast. As a result of this journey the Corentyne with the Kutari as its source was mapped as forming the boundary between British Guiana and Suriname. Subsequently maps drawn by both Dutch and English cartographers embodied Schomburgk' s findings. Thus, for example, in 1892 in Dornseiffen' s Atlas, published at Amsterdam, this was the delineation followed. This delineation remained unchallenged until after the turn of the twentieth century.

Meanwhile, in 1871 Barrington Brown, a geologist, while carrying out a geological survey, discovered a river in Guyana to the West of the Kutari which he named the New River. It was his opinion that the New River was larger than the Kutari, and that the latter, for that reason, ought to be regarded as being only a branch. Nevertheless, despite this assertion Barrington Brown himself mapped the New River as a tributary of the Corentyne. Both the British and the Dutch continued to publish maps on this basis until 1899 when W.L. Loth, a land surveyor in Suriname, drew a map which, for the first time, showed the New River as the continuation of the Corentyne.

Significantly, Loth, eleven years before in 1888, had produced a map of the Guianas, "based on the best available information and my own measurements" and issued with the approval of the Governor of Suriname, which showed both the New River and the Kutari but with the Kutari as the Boundary river.

In 1899, the Arbitration Tribunal in Paris demarcated the boundary between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela and referred to British Guiana's boundary with Suriname as continuing "to the source of the Corentyne called the Kutari river". The Dutch authorities used this occasion to raise a protest in which they claimed that, as a result of Barrington Brown's remarks in 1871, the New River and not the Kutari ought to be regarded as the upper continuation of the Corentyne and for this reason the boundary. To this protest, Lord Salisbury, the British Secretary of State on behalf of the United Kingdom, in 1900 replied that it was now too late to reopen this particular issue as the Kutari had long been accepted on both sides as the boundary.