History of the Republic of Guyana

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Reports and Letters of Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk with reference to his
Surveys of the Boundaries of British Guiana.

No. 12: Report of Mr. Schomburgk to Governor Light.
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Georgetown, Demerara, January 23, 1843.



I have the honour to report to your Excellency my arrival in Georgetown.

I informed your Excellency, in my letter dated Pirara, the 25th August,(1) that it were [sic] my intentions [sic] to proceed to Roraima, and from thence towards the head-waters of the Cuyuni, in order to close in with the survey where I left off in July 1841.

I have this safely executed, and while the detailed relation of this journey, for the first time performed by a European, belongs properly to the journal kept during that period, I beg leave to mention here only such occurrences as relate more strictly to the mission, for which I have the honour to bear Her Majesty's Commission.

In the plan of operations which I laid before your Excellency before I left Georgetown I observed that I considered Mount Roraima and the other sandstone mountains in its neighbourhood of such importance that a stay of some time would be required to determine this point with every geographical precision at my command. This mountain ridge is the culminating point of the different groups which send tributaries to the three great rivers at the northern part of South America, namely, the Amazon, the Orinoco, and the Essequibo, and here unite, therefore, the natural boundaries of British, Brazilian, and Venezuelan Guiana.

The River Takutu, from its sources to its junction with the River Cotinga, has been provisionally assumed as part of the south-western boundary of British Guiana (v. Parliamentary papers relative to British Guiana ordered to be printed 11th May, 1840).

I informed your Excellency in a former report (dated Pirara, 30th May, 1842), that I had executed the survey of that part of the boundary which extends from the sources of the Takutu to the mouth of the Mahu; it became now my duty to continue the survey to the sources of the Cotinga at Mount Roraima.

Our canoes having been hauled over the portage for that purpose, the party under my command left Pirara on the 11th September, and, arrived at the junction of the Cotinga with the Takutu, we encamped. Under the supposition that Colonel de Matheo, the Brazilian Commissioner, who, as I was informed, was then expected at Fort San Joaquim, might have arrived by this time, I considered the propriety of calling on him, and to pay him my respects as a proof that it is the desire of Her Majesty's Government to settle the question of the relative boundaries in the most amicable manner. I left, therefore, the Expedition at the mouth of the Cotinga, and took only the requisite number of paddlers with me, and proceeded to Fort San Joaquim, where I was received with great kindness and attention by Captain Leal, the Commandant of Fort San Joaquin, but was sorry to learn that Colonel de Matheo had been taken ill on his way up the Rio Banco, and had returned to Santarem for medical aid. I left, therefore, the Fort on the following morning, and had the pleasure to welcome Captain Leal a few days after at our camp.

The magnetic and meteorological observations which are carried on in Her Majesty's observatories on the 21st and 22nd September were attended to likewise by me; the 24th of September approached, therefore, before we left the mouth of the Cotinga, and ascended that river towards its sources. We were only two days advanced when l received information from Fray Jose, with the name of whom your Excellency is already acquainted, that he wished to pay me his respects, and desired me to stay, in order to allow him to come up with us the following day. He had been travelling day and night since he learned at his mission of our arrival, and when I considered his age and weak constitution, I know the more to appreciate this mark of attention. His conversation turned upon the boundary question, and breathed the wish, as on a former occasion, that everything might be settled amicably. He showed me several letters which he had received from his superior, the Vicar-General of the Province, which lauded his amicable conduct towards " the English", and desired him to continue the same, and to prevent every possible rupture.

Fray Jose is considered to have political influence, and I know from experience that he is generally esteemed in the Province of Rio Negro.

Your Excellency will, therefore, observe that I have made it my duty to keep up the best understanding between the Boundary Expedition, Fray Jose, and Captain Leal, upon which I flatter myself the more since they were both prejudiced against me before we became personally acquainted.

We continued the ascent of the Cotinga, and passed its junction with the Zuruma on the 4th of October. After entering the large chain of mountains which is marked as the Sierra Pacaraima in maps, we were obliged to abandon the canoes for the present, and to continue our journey overland; a task not without its difficulties, in consequence of the mountainous nature of our road, and the number of Indians that were required to carry our baggage, as these people are only able to carry a trifling burden, if compared with Europeans and Africans.

We found great scarcity prevailing among the Indians of these regions, partly owing to an uncommon drought, partly to an internal feud among the Arecunas, in which several were killed, and which had rendered the mind of the others, and their places of abode unsettled.

I selected our chief station at the left bank of the Cukenam, from whence Roraima was about fifteen miles distant. This point was not only astronomically determined, and the situation and height of the most remarkable mountains ascertained by trigonometry, but a series of magnetical and meteorological observations were entered into, which I hope will prove of great interest. As I stood unassisted during any of the scientific and geodesical inquiries which I considered it my duty to enter here into, December approached before I had procured the necessary data for the future construction of the maps.

The scanty information which I had been able to obtain with regard to my future journey across the mountains to the River Cuyuni foretold difficulties of no common nature; I came, therefore, at once to the resolution to order the Expedition to return to Pirara, and to await my arrival there.

As I speak now from experience, it would have proved nigh to impossibility to carry our baggage and the greater part of the instruments across the mountains and through the thick forests which I have traversed, nor do I think that the constitution of the other gentlemen who were attached to the Expedition would have empowered them to accomplish the task. I undertook it, therefore, alone, and confided the command of the Expedition to Mr. Fryer, the gentleman whom I engaged in consequence of his medical knowledge, and who has been paid hitherto out of my own means, I have the honour to enclose herewith his instructions for your Excellency's information.

Mr. Fryer left our camp near Roraima with his party on the 4th of December, and I started next morning, accompanied by the coxswain of the Expedition, three canoemen, and the necessary number of Indians to carry the indispensable instruments and our baggage. Mr. Fryer returned to Pirara, while the party under my command followed the sandstone-ridge of Roraima in a north-western direction, in order to trace the tributaries which the River Mazaruni receives from the west, and to fall in with the ridge of mountains that divide the rivers which flow into the Mazaruni from those which empty themselves into the River Cuyuni.

The River Carimani, or Carimang, is the largest of the western tributaries of the Mazaruni. It is succeeded by a ridge of sandstone mountains, from which flows the River Wenamu northward into the Cuyuni.

I consider that Her Majesty has undoubted right to any territory through which flow rivers that fall directly, or through others, into the River Essequibo, Your Excellency is well aware that the Cuyuni falls a few miles above the penal settlement into the Mazaruni, and both rivers after their junction empty themselves at Bartika Point into the Essequibo. Upon this principle the boundary line would run from the sources of the Carimani towards the sources of the Cuyuni proper, and from thence towards its far more northern tributaries, the Rivers Iruari and Iruang, and thus approach the very heart of Venezuelan Guiana.

These rivers are of less importance to Great Britain, but as a maritime power the possession of Point Barima is of great importance, and relinquishing the claim to the territory watered by the Upper Cuyuni and its northern tributaries, the Iruari or Iuruario, and Iruang, Her Majesty's Government acquires additional grounds to impress the claim of Point Barima the Dardanelles of the Orinoco, as it has been lately styled by the Venezuelans. Upon these grounds I considered it unnecessary to proceed further towards the sources of the Cuyuni, which, according to Indian information, are about three days' journey farther to the west, and close to those of the River Apangwau, one of the great tributaries of the Caroni. I traced, therefore, the Wenamu, and after a march of 14 days (not including numerous delays which were unavoidable) from the time we left our camp near Roraima, we reached the cataract Imaparu, from whence we had to continue our route by water. We procured here some bark canoes, slight skifts [sic] (as the name employs [sic]), made merely of the bark of trees, and which are so light that they can be carried overland when necessity requires it. Such a navigation is always connected with danger; nor was my party allowed to pass without all accidents. One of the small canoes sank. Fortunately no human life was lost, but of the cargo, which consisted of our kitchen apparatus and the little stock of salt so precious to a traveller through the moist regions, nothing whatever was saved, and I was obliged to adopt for the remainder of the journey the Indian fashion of eating.

We entered the Cuyuni on the 4th of January, and after having procured the necessary stock of provisions, and engaged two Indian pilots to guide us on this river, so full of dangerous falls and rapids and numerous islands, we commenced to descend the Cuyuni on the 7th of January, and continued the survey along the right bank until I met the mark, engraved on a, tree, where I had left off in July, 1841, accomplishing thus the whole line from the sources of the Takutu to Point Barima on the Atlantic Ocean.

The deprivations and difficulties we had to contend with during this journey can only be judged by him who has been travelling in a country so sparingly inhabited as Guiana. We were repeatedly put upon small allowances of cassava bread, and in one instance did not taste a morsel for 36 hours; nevertheless, I can, almost without exception, attest the readiness and good conduct of the men who accompanied me to Demerara, and the entire confidence and willingness of the Indians who joined me, partly at Pirara, partly near Roraima.

The accompanying list(2) of Mr. Goodall's drawings and sketches will serve as a proof to your Excellency how industrious he has been since I had last the honour to report proceedings; and have great satisfaction to attest his amiable conduct in general. This refers likewise to Mr. Fryer, who, as your Excellency is aware, accompanies the Expedition for the sake of his medical knowledge, and who, as his salary is paid by me, receives only a small remuneration for the numerous fatigues and deprivations he is obliged to undergo.

It has been impossible to me to calculate the numerous elements which I possess for the construc[tion] of the maps; nor can I present at this time to your Excellency a fair copy of the journal which I kept during the journey.

Your Excellency will please to recollect that, deprived of an assistant, not only the conduct of the Expedition to the smallest detail, but likewise all observations and scientific inquiries fell solely upon me, and occupied me more or less day and night.

Some of the instruments have suffered from the roughness of the road, but none materially, if I except three common thermometers, and one mountain barometer.

In order to bring the survey which has been entrusted to me to a final and satisfactory close, it remains now to trace the country between the sources of the River Takutu and those of the River Corentyn; and to descend the latter to its embouchure into the Atlantic. This might be accomplished, as far as I can foresee, in six months from the time I leave Demerara.

While I cannot help to wish most earnestly that I may receive your Excellency's orders for the completion of the survey of so interesting a portion as remains yet to be explored, I cannot deny the knowledge of the peculiar situation of the Expedition under my command, as hitherto Her Majesty's Government has only given orders to pay half the contingent expenses connected with so arduous an undertaking; and if your Excellency had not come forward and advanced, meanwhile, the other half which the colony refuses to pay, as was contemplated, the object of my mission would have failed in all commencement, in lieu of which I stand now near its accomplishment.

Comparatively a small sum will be required to effect the execution of the plan as originally matured, and Her Majesty's Government will then not only possess a firm foundation upon which to base future negotiations for the settlement of the boundary, which could not have been procured without the actual exploration of the territory, but I trust that my researches during that period have proved likewise of some interest to science in general.

If, necessitated by circumstances, your Excellency should have resolved to withdraw the timely assistance the Expedition has hitherto received from your Excellency, and thus render the continuation and conclusion of the survey for the present impossible, I beg leave to observe that it would be necessary for me to proceed with such despatch as circumstances permit to Pirara, in order to conduct the Expedition back to Georgetown, A number of valuable instruments have been left in Pirara, and among others the reflecting telescope, which only arrived at the time of our departure in Pirara, unfortunately too late to make then the necessary use of it.

Neither Mr. Fryer nor Mr. Goodwill possesses the necessary experience to pass the numerous and dangerous falls of the Essequibo with every chance of success.

There is another circumstance which I beg leave to bring under your Excellency's consideration, and which urges my return to Pirara. I ordered the reflecting telescope already mentioned for the determination of meridional distances by the occultation of stars, and the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites. It arrived unfortunately at a period when the rainy season, and our departure for Roraima, rendered all observations at Pirara impossible. The expense of this instrument would not only prove useless, if by proceeding to Pirara another opportunity was not afforded to me to fill up this great desideratum, but the series of astronomical observations would remain incomplete.

The large canoe of the Expedition is now in Georgetown, and the Indians and canoemen who accompanied me to the coast are willing to return to Pirara; indeed the Indians have been promised at the time they were engaged, to be sent back to Pirara.

It is, therefore, my firm persuasion that, considering the necessity of returning to Pirara, the completion of the survey as originally contemplated would not cause a much greater expense than circumstances require me to incur, in order to conduct the Expedition back to Georgetown. The necessary stores, provisions, articles of barter, etc., for the maintenance of the Expedition for the next six months would scarcely amount to more than 1,200 dollars, which sum does not include salaries and wages to the canoemen, the latter of whom l intend to reduce to a coxswain and three canoemen.

I have, etc.

1- No. 11.

2- Not printed.