TIMEHRI:The Journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana ([Vol.2 Third Series - December, 1912]pages. 337 - 355) Publishers: The ARGOSY Company, Limited.)
The history of the formation of the village communities and their administration in this colony is exceedingly interesting and instructive.
The object of this paper is to trace their formation from the beginning dating from the Act of Emancipation, and their slow development through seventy years odd years to the present day.
It will be seen the many vicissitudes through which they have passed. Firstly, the utter failure of the people to successfully manage and control their own affairs; then the intervention of the government who have, from time to time, passed legislative Acts for providing the machinery necessary for efficient administration.
Prior to emancipation, the Blacks had no land of their own, but as slaves resided on the property of their masters. The late Sheriff Brumell, in his "Village Law," says that "previous to 1838 and even to a later date, a traveller might have passed from one end of the country to another, without seeind a single house or an acre of land which did not belong to the proprietor of the estate through which the highway ran."
In 1834, the system of Apprenticeship, created by the Act of the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, entitled " An Act for the Abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies, for promoting the industry of manumitted slaves, and for compensating the persons hitherto entitled to the services of such slaves" came into operation. This created a great change in the feudal relations of master and man; the latter were no longer slaves. This partial freedom did not, however, satisfy them. They desired to be absolutely freed, and gave much trouble to their employers.
Four years later, ie., on the 1st August, 1838 (Emancipation Day), by virtue of Ordinance No.23, entitled " An Ordinance to terminate the apprenticeship of praedial labourers of British Guiana," all praedial labourers became absolutely freed and discharged of and from the then remaining term of their apprenticeship. These freed men, who had, during their apprenticeship, and after accumulated considerable sums of money, banded themselves together and purchased abandoned plantations from their former masters. Brumell, in his "Village Law," says "the way in which these purchases were conducted showed great union among the people and great confidence in each other. The negotiations were usually carried on by two or three head men selected in some instances from two or three hundred shareholderd or persons who had subscribed money towards the general undertaking. When the terms were concluded no credit was asked, the money was paid down, some times in bags of silver, wheeled in wheel-barrows to the office of the seller. The transport of the property was then passed in the name of these men, making them legally the sole owners of the estate, and leaving the subscribers, some of whose names were not even on record, without the slightest legal claim to the property they had paid for."
In 1842, i.e., four years after emancipation, it is estimated that no less than 15,000 acres of land, for which upward of $250,000 was paid, were owned by the freed labourers, and on these lands no less than 15,000 persons were settled. It is interesting to note that one of the first estates purchased was that on which the village of Plaisance was established. It was then a cotton estate consisting of 300 acres for which $39,000 was paid.
This system of purchasing in community did not prove successful, chieftly on account of the want of proper control and supervision and there being no combination of labour to work the places, and lastly, to the fact that in purchasing the several estates which were formed into these village communities, the villagers expended the whole of their capital in effecting the purchases and denuded themselves of all their ready money, thus leaving nothing with which to improve or carry on their properties. The point of this last fact will be more readily appreciated when I state that between 1839 and 1854 the emancipated slaves purchased seventeen properties which are now the Village Districts of Plaisance, Buxton and Friendship, Beterverwagting, Victoria, Golden Grove and Nabaclis, Ann's Grove and Two Friends, Good Intent and Sisters, Bagotville, Stanleytown, Den Amstel and Fellowship, Queenstown, and Danielstown for the large amount of $332,900 cash. The smallest amounts, viz.$2,000, each were for Nabaclis and Fellowship and the highest amount $80,000 for Friendship. The late Sir A. M. Ashmore - a former Government Secretary of this colony - in his memorandum on "Village Administration" says "at the outset the inhabitants found themselves face to face with three principal difficulties - the difficulty of drainage, the difficulty of title, attendant on their having brought in common, estates which they desired to hold in severalty, and the difficulty of fulfilling the obligation which rested on owners of plantations to maintain the public road through their properties." While some of the villagers were willing to do their share, others would not, and unless the whole system of drainage was kept up, it was impossible for the villagers to successfully cultivate their lands. The consequence was, that the estates which were well drained when purchased, sufferd from neglect of the upkeep of the dams and the drainage. It was evident that the people were unable to look after themselves and exercise that control over one another essential to the establishment of prosperous and well-ordered communities.
In 1844, Mr. Joseph Hanfield, reporting on abandoned estates and villages, recommended "the establishment of an appropriate Code of Municipal Regulations by which each of the proprietors should be bound to perform certain duties and otherwise contribute to the general good under some magisterial authority and control". The roads through the villages were in a deplorable condition and in many cases, impassable. Each estate was liable for its maintenance, and their omission to repair the road created a very awkward position, as it was obviously impossible for the Government to sell off old communities. In 1845, in order to meet this difficulty, an Ordinance was passed for the maintenance of the road through Queenstown in Essequibo, by the means of an assessment of a rate to be prepared by elected Commissioners and levied upon the villagers. In 1849 an Ordinance with reference to the roads through the village of Plaisance was passed; This Ordinance provided for the appointment of proprietary Commissioners, the assessing of the proprietors "to contribue to the making up and keeping in repair the line of Public road and bridges running or passing through or over the lands of the said plantation, Plaisance, and other dams and kokers necessary for the preservation thereof." Other Ordinances of a similar nature were passed, but complaints of the state of the main road still continued, and even as late as 1872, Canon Stevenson, late Rector of St. Paul's at Plaisance, stated that the road leading to the Railway Station was so bad that the loss of a shoe was a common occurrence, and "remarks that "happy was he who had a spare pair of boots at the Railway Station, and, I think, happier was he who went barefooted." Sir A. M. Ashmore , in his memorandum, says that " the election of these commissioners was the first legislative attempt to provide a village organization." In 1850, an Ordinance was passed dealing with the establishment of a general administration for sanitary purposes throughout the colony. This appears to have been the first attempt to deal with this aspect of the question. This Ordinance established two Central Boards of Health, one for Demerara and Essequibo, and one for Berbice; also Local Boards of Health composed of the Vestries of the Parishes, and the medical men residing therein. This Ordinance was in operation for a very short time, and was repealed by Ordinance No. 10 of 1852. This was a much more elaborate measure. It established a Central Board at Georgetown in place of the two Boards in the 1850 Ordinance; the Parishes Vestries were made Local Boards of Health for the rural districts with power to establish general systems of drainage for their districts, and to make and enforce sanitary regulations. Power was also taken to declare new villages so as to bring them under the operations of the regulations.
In 1851, in order to deal with the difficulty in the matter of titles, Ordinance No.4 was passed; it was amended in the following year by Ordinance No.10. It provided for the appointment of commissioners, to divide the lands of the village among, and pass transports to, the individual proprietors.
In 1856, Ordinance No.33, entitled "An Ordinance for the better management and regulation of villages and estates held in undivided shares in this colony" was passed. This was the first general Ordinance dealing with all the villages.
The late Sir A. M. Ashmore , in his memorandum, remarks that this "is the germ out of which the existing more elaborate system has grown."
(a) That the Governor and the Court of Policy may, by Resolution, bring under its provisions all estates which, having been purchased in community, had been divided, or should in future be divided in severality among proprietors, and also the means of division for the future..
(b)For the election and payment of an Overseer.
(c)For the election of two Commissioners for each village.
(d)For the assessing of rates.
(e) That all moneys received were to be deposited in the local banks, and drawn out by cheque signed by the Overseer and the Commissioners.
(f)That the Overseermay require the shareholders to perform what work was necessary to be done and in default to cause the work to be done at the expense of the proprietors.
The great defect in this measure was that it did not provide for any central administration.
This measure, however, failed to carry out what it was intended for, and this failure the late Sir A. M. Ashmore attributes to the following reasons:"the lack of a system of provincial administration by means of which the Central Government could supervise its working, and influence the people to co-operate for their own good; and a reluctance on the part of the Government to use compulsion to make the recalcitrant minority, always to be found in every community, discharge their share of common obligations."
In 1862, the Combine Court voted as a loan from borrowed money the sum of $60,000 for the purpose of improving the drainage and works of a like nature in order to ameliorate the deplorable condition of many of the villages. This loan was never repaid.
In 1864, a Committe consisting of the Government Secretary(Mr. Walker), a member of the Court of Policy (Mr. Ludovico Porter), the Sheriff of Demerara (Mr. Brumell), Inspector General of Police(Mr. N.Cox), and Mr. N. J. Jeffrey, was appointed to "enquire and report, among other matters, upon the condition and deficiencies of the existing villages, and to consider whether by any improvement in the legal constitution or regulations thereof or in their management they, i.e., the legal constitution and regulations, can be adopted to improve the condition of the present villages."
The Committee sent in their report in May, 1865. They found the villages generally in a most unsatisfactory state, and, in some instances, in a deplorable condition; the house in the latter case, in ruin and disrepair; and the lands attatched to them, undrained, uncultivated, and neglected; the means of internal communication most defective, and the uttermost disregard for all sanitary considerations.
The result was that an Ordinance was passed in 1866, providing for
(a)A Central Board of Villages composed of the Governor and the Court of Policy, and such other persons as may be appointed from time to time by the Governor.
(b)Local Boards of Superintendence appointed by the Governor, one for each village, or one for a number of villages combined.
This Ordinace proved unworkable, due in a great measure, as Sir John Carrington, a former Attorney General of this colony, says, "because the Governor and the Court of Policy had got enough to do in other respects without attending to such matters of detail as village administration".
In 1872, another commission consisting of Mr. J. Brumell, the Revs F.J.Wyatt, W.J.Webber, J.Kinnison, W.G.G.Austin, J.Dalgliesh, and E.A.Wallbridge, and Messrs. H.C.Huggins, Benon Maxwell, N. Cox, P.C.Barlow, James Craigen, J.G.Gray, Andrew Hunter, and R.J.Kelly, was appointed to go into the whole question again. the result of this was the passing of Ordinance No. 10 of 1873. This Ordinance provided for:-
(a.)A Central Board of Villages.
(b.)Village Councils, composed of three persons elected in each village.
(c.)The District Commissary, or some person appointed in his stead, as superintendent of all villages in his district, and chairman of each village Council.
(d.)The appointment of an Inspector of Villages.
(e.)The borrowing of money by the Central Board on behalf of the villages.
Under this Ordinance the following 18 incorporated villages were administered:-
Ann's Grove Beterverwagting Bagotville
Two Friends Plaisance Stanleytown
Nabaclis Den Amstel Craig
Golden Grove Fellowship Queenstown
Friendship Sisters Danielstown
Buxton Good Intent Agricola
All endeavour to work the smaller un-incorporated villages was abandoned.
This Ordinance suffered the fate of its predecessors, proving unworkable, due to the want of money in carrying on the villages.
In 1878, an elaborate Ordinance No.3 was passed to provide for the sanitary administration of the colony. It divided the whole colony into :-
(a.)Town Sanitary Districts, i.e., Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
(b.)Village Sanitary Districts, i.e., the incorporated villages.
(c.)Country Sanitary Districts, i.e., those portions not included in (a.) and (b.).
Those Sanitary Districts created under (a.) and (b.) were administered by the Authorities already provided for them, and those under (c.) by the Sanitary Authorities.
This Ordinance created a Central Board of Health to supervise and direct the machinery and this Board remained in force until the passing of Ordinance No.13 of 1907, when it was called the Local Government Board.
By 1881 and 1882, the condition of most of the incorporated villages was described as lamentable owing to the restricted powers given to the chairmen of the villages under the governing Ordinance which precluded their getting any real work done; the poor rate collection; the heavy burdens for road upkeep; and several other minor causes, all of which contributed to dishearten the industrious villager, and made even more careless the thriftless property owner. This state of things culuminated in 1883, when owing to the general discontent and dissatisfaction at the administration and the deplorable conditions existing, the whole system was change by Governor Irving. Ordinance No.4 of 1883 was passed; by it the whole of the machinery for incorporated village management was swept away and the administration placed under the Public Works Department and the Inspector of Villages as the Sanitary Authority under the 1878 Ordinance;all village property vested in the Board of Villages was transfered to the Colonial Civil Engineer. Funds were provided by a two per centum rate levied on the villages, which rate was collected by the Inspector of Villages, and any deficiency made up from Public Funds voted by the Combine Court.
Under this Ordinance the affairs of 15 incorporated villages (14 in Demerara and 1 in Essequibo) passed into the hands of the Public Works Department, the number next year being increased by the addition of five newly-incorporated villages, one situated in Demerara, three in Berbice and one in Essequibo. On the Department assuming charge it found a large amount of work to be executed both of an extraordinary and recurrent character, and in the first two years of their charge we find a record of much good work accomplished and a claim put forward to mark progress having been attained in both the sanitary and drainage conditions of the villages under the Department's charge. In 1883 the population of the 15 incorporated villages was estimated at 23,142, and an expenditure of $45,058.72, or at the rate of $1.94 per head of the population, is stated to have been spent on improvements. In 1884, $43,355.01 was expended on improvement account in the 18, out of 20 incorporated villages that were dealt with by the Public Works Department during this year, this working out at the rate of $1.63 per head of the population which was estimated at 26,667. By the way of comparison it might be stated that during 1884, Georgetown with an estimated population of 48,272, expended on maintenance and improvements a sum of $213,729.74, or at the rate of $4.42 per head of its population. For the town of New Amsterdam the expenditure in the same year for maintenance and improvements was $34,560, or at the rate of $3.81 per head of the population which was estimated at 9,053.
But although the Department had to face difficulties it was not left with out means being placed at its disposal to overcome them.