THE LUSIGNAN RIOT IN 1912
On the 18 September 1912, at Lusignan Estate, East Coast Demerara, a large number of Indian indentured workers in the shovel gang went on strike. They were protesting the wages of 20 cents per rod paid to them for digging trenches. They also claimed that the rising cost of food products necessitated higher wages. They encouraged other workers on the estate to join them and soon a large noisy crowd of workers gathered in the vicinity of the public road. The police, not too long after, arrived on the scene to prevent any disturbance.
The workers moved to the estate office to meet the manager, Brassington, but failed to see him. At that time, Brassington and his deputy, McKenzie, had just finished examining the work of the shovel gang in the fields, and were riding their horses to return to the office when a worker told them that the men were on strike. Brassington sent a message that he would meet with the strikers to examine their problems. But before he and McKenzie could get back to the estate office, a large group of angry strikers approached them in a threatening manner. The strikers rushed at them, but they raced their horses away from the area and sped for Brassington's home.
The strikers chased behind them and surrounded the home and cut telephone wires leading to it. Brassington, meantime, had collected all the ammunition he could find, and gathered 19 African factory workers whom he provided with guns and placed as guards by the windows.
Some of the strikers attempted to cross a bridge leading to the house but were warned that they would be shot. This warning was not heeded, and as some rushed into the yard, Brassington and McKenzie fired at them, first above their heads, and then at them after they continued to press forward. One worker, Nankoo, was shot in the abdomen, and this forced a general retreat. The workers took the severely injured Nankoo with them, and stubbornly refused to take him to the estate's hospital.
The shooting dispersed the crowd which moved away from around the house. The striking workers then decided to take their protest to the Governor, and about 300 of them, armed with their shovels, marched the 12 miles to Georgetown, taking with them the severely injured Nankoo, who subsequently died.
They attempted to go to Government House to lay their grievances to the Governor. But the police prevented them from entering the compound, and while they grouped themselves on the roadside, the Immigration Agent General, A. H. Hill, arrived to talk with them. Eventually, a small delegation of the strikers met with the Governor, Sir Walter Egerton, and explained their grievances to him.
Brassington, in a subsequent statement to the police, insisted that he feared for his life and for those in the house, and that he had ordered the shooting in self defence. At an inquest, even though one worker, Krishna, firmly accused Brassington of shooting Nankoo, the verdict arrived at was that the worker died after being shot by "a person or persons unknown, to prevent serious outrage." Krishna himself was a Punjabi and was regarded as a leader of the workers, and he played a leading role in organising the protests on the estate.
Despite the finding of the inquest, Brassingron was arrested and charged for murder but was subsequently acquitted at his trial during which Krishna again accused him of shooting Nankoo. Twenty-four workers were also charged for riotous behaviour, but after two trials in which the jury disagreed, the case was dismissed. However, sixteen of them, as a form of punishment, were transferred to other estates.