THE 1905 RIOTS
On the 28 November 1905 workers employed at the Sandbach Parker wharf in Georgetown went on strike for higher wages, demanding 16 cents an hour instead of the 48 to 64 cents a day they were receiving. They carried out a picketing exercise outside the wharf throughout the day, but even though most of them were very peaceful, some of them threatened other workers who attempted to break the strike.
By the next day, workers at the other Georgetown wharves joined the strike in solidarity and also demanded higher wages from their employers. They teamed up with the Sandbach Parker workers in mounting the picketing exercise along Water Street.
By the 30 November, hooligan and criminal elements, including many women and youths, began to mingle in the crowd of striking workers and attempted to rob stores along Water Street. Soon, a full scale riot broke out and some stores were attacked and looted. Armed police moved in and managed to disperse the rioters, but they only moved away to other parts of the city to gather in small groups and plan their strategy for the next day.
On the 1 December, rioters attacked shops in La Penitance and Ruimveldt. The police opened fire at Ruimveldt and many of the rioters were injured; four of them died shortly after. The killings inflamed the riotous crowd who moved to other parts of the city to attack and loot business places and private residences. The Portuguese Pawnbrokery on Robb Street and Humphrey Pawnbrokery on Robb and High Streets suffered the worst damage and losses in the looting that occurred.
The owners of stores along Water Street, where the wharves were located, closed and barricaded their buildings as a safety precaution. But this did not prevent the crowd from breaking down their doors and looting them.
The rioting took on a racial overtone when the crowd stopped horse-carriages carrying persons of European descent. These persons, who were seen by the rioters as closely associated with the owners of the wharves and other businesses, were roughed up and robbed by the hooligans who also threw stones and bottles at the carriages that refused to stop. Some other persons, including three magistrates and Attorney General Sir T. C. Rainer, were also chased and beaten by the hooligans. Later in the afternoon, the rioters moved along Main and High Streets and attacked and looted the homes of Europeans. The police, in an effort to disperse the rioters and looters, opened fire, but this did not prevent them from moving to other areas to carry out further mischief.
The riots spread to the area around the Public Buildings where two persons were shot dead by the police. By the end of the day, 8 rioters were shot dead by the police, and about 30 others suffered bullet wounds. Many police men were also injured when they were attacked by the rioters. By this time, the police had, to a certain extent, taken control of the streets and had arrested many persons.
Meanwhile, a large group of striking workers met at the Parade Ground with three leading members of the Georgetown City Council, J. W. Davis, A. A. Thorne and Dr. Rohlehr, to intervene with the Governor on their behalf. The three men met with the Governor, Sir Frederick Hodgson, at the Public Buildings which were surrounded by hundreds of people. The delegation told the Governor that if he decided to hold an inquiry to investigate the workers' grievances, the crowd would disperse.
Shortly after, the Governor addressed the crowd and promised to hold an inquiry and requested everyone to disperse and go home. However, the crowd refused to obey and, after Davis spoke with them, it was agreed that the Governor would meet with six workers' representatives along with the three Councilmen on the following day.
The following day saw a continuation of rowdy behaviour. Striking workers and hooligans tried to stop employees at other business places from going to work and severely beat those who opposed them. Marauding gangs of women and youths, armed with sticks and pieces of wood, attacked and robbed Whites and also other persons on the streets. A large gang of rowdy women even attacked the Police Station at Brickdam and seized a consignment of bread purchased for the policemen stationed there. But the police managed to regain control after arresting and locking up six of the women.
Later in the day, at a meeting at the Parade Ground, large groups of workers were urged by Dr. Rohlehr and others to adopt orderly behaviour and discuss their demands peacefully with their employers. Immediately after, the workers' representatives met with the Governor to discuss their demands.
The Governor also met with delegations of employers between the 2 and 4 December, and negotiated a settlement with them. It was finally agreed that a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce would work out a new wage proposal for all workers on the wharves.
By the 4 December, all rioting and street robberies ended after two British warships arrived with a contingent of soldiers. These soldiers were immediately sent to patrol various areas of the city where they helped to put a stop to the activities of the hooligan gangs.
The strike eventually ended on the 6 December with the workers failing to obtain any wage increase. They had also become more divided among themselves since many of them accused others of reporting them to the police. By then, too, hundreds of persons were arrested and charged for various crimes. Some of them were later sentenced to terms of imprisonment accompanied by flogging with the cat-o'nine-tails. Women who were convicted of for their criminal behaviour during the riots had their hair cut off.