The Work of O Tye Kim

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The most well known Chinese immigrant in Guyana was O Tye Kim, also known as Wu Tai-Kam. He was born on one of the islands near to Singapore. His family was very poor, but he managed to obtain an education during the 1840s at a school run by the London Missionary Society in Singapore where he was converted to Christianity. There he found employment with the British Government as a surveyor, in which capacity he served for about ten years. He showed intense interest in studying the scriptures and spent much of his time in preaching to people in Singapore. By this time he had a wife and three children and his economic circumstances were much improved.

O Tye Kim eventually was employed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and soon after he left for England. There he established an alliance with the Church Missionary Society which decided to send him to work among the Chinese immigrants in Guyana in 1864. The Society paid his passage to Guyana and provided him with funds to meet his initial expenses.

In Guyana, he quickly won the friendship of Governor Sir Francis Hincks who supported the establishment of a church in Georgetown to minister to more than one hundred and twenty Chinese Christians. He also travelled on foot to all the sugar estates, at his own expense, to meet with Chinese immigrants, and had great success in converting the non-believers among them to Christianity. In a very short time, he established great influence among the Chinese immigrants who sought his advice and made voluntary contributions to him.

Within a year of his arrival in Guyana, O Tye Kim developed a plan to resettle Chinese, who had completed their indenture, on an agricultural settlement called Hopetown on Kamuni Creek, a west bank tributary of the Demerara River. For this project he obtained the permission of the Government, and he began the settlement with 12 Chinese settlers, and by the end of 1865, under his careful supervision, Hopetown's population grew to 170 inhabitants.

The settlement was largely self-sufficient, and O Tye Kim kept a tight control on its economic and social development. The settlers, in addition to producing agricultural commodities, manufactured large quantities of charcoal, the sale of which O Tye Kim organised in Georgetown.

O Tye Kim's work among the Chinese was given official recognition when the Court of Policy Guyana appointed him as a paid missionary with special responsibility to minister to the Chinese population.

For over two years, the settlement prospered, even though from time to time some of the settlers accused O Tye Kim of conducting their affairs for his own personal benefit. Then in 1867, O Tye Kim was involved in a scandal when he had an extra-marital affair with a "Coloured" woman in Georgetown. In embarrassment, he went to live somewhere on the Essequibo coast, and finally in July 1867, it is believed that he left secretly for Trinidad and nothing more was heard about him.

Meanwhile, the economic well-being of Hopetown declined from 1867 and the settlement never recovered. Most of the settlers abandoned it and migrated to Georgetown and other large villages on the coast.