The Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1894, p.8:|
A California Miner in That "Far Countree."How to Get There, What to Take and the Expense.
Placer Mining in the Dense Tropical "Bush."
Labor, Provisions, Wages and the Daily Routine in the Mines
All Traveling by Water - The Burro "Ain't in It."
ARAKA CREEK (British Guiana,) Jan. 10, 1894 (Special Correspondence.) Since my last letter appeared in The Times I have received so many inquiries about this colony that I shall do my best to answer their various questions through your paper, as I positively cannot answer one hundred letters privately...
The most direct way to get to this country is by way of New York, where there is a regular line of steamers running to Demerara, touching at the West India Islands en route. One can also come by the way of New Orleans, taking one of the steamers engaged in the banana trade to Port Limon, in Costa Rica, where you can take the Royal Mail to Kingston, Jamaica, or Barbadoes.
Another route is by the way of San Francisco to Panama; take the railroad across the isthmus to Colon, then by Royal Mail steamship to Barbadoes; from Barbadoes one can go to any port desired.
The cost by any route will not be less than $150.
Georgetown is the capital of British Guiana, it is sometimes called Demerara, and is located near the mouth of the Demerara River. On the banks of the river are immense sugar plantations, some of them being protected from the encroachment of the ocean by high dams or levees. Most of the transportation on these estates is done by canals.
The labor employed is mostly East Indian coolies, who are brought here under a contract to work for five years; the planters furnish them with at least 1 shilling's (25 cents) worth of work each day, Sunday excepted. They sometimes earn more than the shilling by doing task work, but they cannot leave the estate without a written permission from the manager, and if they do not do the task allotted to them, they are arrested and punished by law.
Wages are very low, averaging about 60 cents a day. On [some] of the places black men do the work, receiving from 40 cents to 64 cents, with board.
Rations are issued to the men once a week, which consists of three biscuits (hard-tack), one pound of flour, two ounces of sugar, one-half pint of rice, two ounces of pork, two ounces of beef, four ounces of salt fish, one-fourth pint of peas each day, the men to bake their own bread. No tea or coffee is given to them.
These regulations were written up by the government to stop the frequent complaints about the men on the placers not getting sufficient food.
Mechanics' wages range from 80 cents to $1 per day; clerks in the stores, about £100 per year [$1.60/day if working 6 days a week], and the overseers on the plantations commence on $800 per year.
The climate is about the same throughout the year, the months of September and October generally being dry; during the balance of the year rain falls continuously, accompanied by heavy thunder and lightning. The average rainfall is 120 inches, though it frequently goes much higher. Such an excessive rainfall produces a very rank vegetation, and on some rivers creates a great deal of malaria.
People first coming into the bush frequently suffer from dysentery, and it causes a number of deaths, notwithstanding every placer has to carry a complete medicine chest prescribed by law.
All traveling is done on the water. Such a thing as the old-time California prospectors, with the burro and pack-saddle, would be an impossibility, owing to the dense forests, swamps and rivers.
A prospector, after procuring an outfit at Georgetown, embarks on one of the Colonial steamers, and, according to which district he intends to prospect in, proceeds either to Bartica or Morranhama, where he disembarks and goes from there in his own boat, which must contain at least eight men and provisions for three months.
You can buy nothing after leaving the above places. A shotgun is a good thing to have, for you can frequently get a shot at some kind of fowl or animal, and that will be your only chance of getting fresh meat. A rifle is useless here.
Among the many rivers along which gold mining is carried on are the Cuyuni, Potara, Mazaruni, Comanawarook, Essequib and their tributaries. These rivers are producing the most gold, but owing to the many dangerous falls and cataracts, people are timid about venturing up them; besides, it is much more expensive, the trip frequently taking thirty days to some points of the Cuyuni.
A Captain must be engaged to Bartica at $3 per day, and a bowman at $2 per day. This is compulsory. (Boat hands at 64 cents.) Boats frequently get lost with all their contents in going up, but it is most dangerous coming down, shooting the rapids. One boat with thirty men, coming down a few months ago, struck a rock and all got lost but one, besides about forty pounds of gold.
The Mazaruni is a dangerous river to travel on, owing to the many falls, but the Barnard Syndicate Placer never sends down less than seven hundred ounces of gold per month. The Barima and Barama rivers are less dangerous, consequently it takes less capital to fit out a prospecting party.
There is plenty of virgin ground to go over yet, and just as rich strikes to be made, but it requires plenty of energy and perseverance. One must not expect to pull up a bush and shake the nuggets from its roots, as some of my correspondents seem to expect, I am sorry to say.
After reaching the place one intends to prospect in , he immediately builds a magazine or storehouse at the waterside; then he goes into the bush and prospects until he finds a suitable creek, which he locates, and proceeds to build a camp, first making a clearing.
The house consists of posts, on which is placed a roof of palm leaves, under which are slung the hammocks. The laborers have a separate building to themselves. No walls are needed; the roof is to protect you from rain and sun; it is never cold. A coat or vest is an unnecessary article.
At 5 o'clock a.m. a horn is sounded to wake us up, and for the laborers to make their own coffee out of sugar and water. At 6 o'clock work commences; at 10 o'clock the horn calls them to breakfast on salt fish, pork and rice. From 10:30 they work until [undecipherable]:30 p.m., when the horn is blown for dinner, which consists of pea soup and salt beef.
The manager in the meantime will go down to the creek and superintend the clean-up of the day's washing.
A compass and cutlass must always be with the prospector--the former to guide him about the bush, the latter to help him cut his way through it, and also through any chance snake, which may be hanging on some tree waiting for him.
Some of these snakes are very large, the bush commodie (a species of constrictor) being sometimes over sixty feet in length.
While this is no place for a poor man to come seeking work, I consider it a good field for the prospector, who knows what to expect in a country like this. He must not expect to find a country like the States, for there is no open ground here as in California or Colorado, and no high mountains.
If a man has a family, he must think twice ere he leaves them, because there is no certainty of his ever returning or being successful.
Besides British Guiana, our next neighbors, Venezuela and Dutch Guiana, or Darinam, both offer inducements to the gold-seeker, and, according to some late reports, Venezuela thinks she has far the richest ground of the three.
So there is plenty of ground to choose from in which to try one's luck. Besides, Venezuela is more of an open country, and pack animals can be used, but provisions are dearer, and Spanish is the language employed there, which is a hindrance.
Among the foremost engaged in the industry are Mr. Wood, Gold Commissioner James Winter, Garnett and Winter, Sproston and Company, and Robert Lennant, all of Georgetown.
While there are no stamp mills in British Guiana, several persons are proposing to erect some as soon as possible, and I understand that an order is placed with Messrs. Chalmers of Chicago for a forty-stamp mill, for the Kanaimapoo Company of Demerara...
Until outside capital can come here little will be done with the quartz reefs, and the mines are not sought after so eagerly as they were six months since, nor is a prospecting outfit so easily obtained as formerly.
It costs about $600 or $800 to fit out an expedition, and that frequently gets swamped going over the falls.
The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1894 was equivalent to $23.76 in 2007.
see also: Brazil News - Venezuela News - Suriname - French Guiana|
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Originally a Dutch colony in the 17th century, by 1815 Guyana had become a British possession. The abolition of slavery led to black settlement of urban areas and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations. This ethnocultural divide has persisted and has led to turbulent politics.
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