History This Week No.7/2009

By Shammane Joseph

This is the second instalment in a series of articles which gives a brief overview of the history of the British Guiana railway with particular reference to the Georgetown-Mahaica link. The first article dealt with the reasons for the development of the railway system in British Guiana. In this article, I will examine the actions which were taken by the Provisional Committee in British Guiana and the Sub-Committee in England to commence the building of the railway in British Guiana.

The new prospectus which was published on 15th February 1845 predicted the payment of 10 per cent dividends and mentioned that from estimates already obtained the cost of construction of the railway would not exceed £100,000. It stated the line of the road, the description of the railway, and the plans and estimates for the execution of the work were to be determined by a practical engineer who was familiar with the construction of railways in Great Britain, and whose services, would have been obtained by the Directors as soon as the Directors were appointed by the shareholders. Finally, the prospectus anticipated that the Colonial Legislature would readily grant the necessary legislation to enable the Company to be incorporated, and thought it likely that “besides other aid from the proprietors along the line, a free grant would be given of the land required for the purposes of the Railway.”

Joseph Locke was nominated by the Provisional Committee in Georgetown to appoint an Engineer to perform the above duties. He recommended the Surveying Engineer of the Jamaica Railway. The expenses of the Engineer were defrayed by a deposit of five shillings per share, which was paid by the subscribers on receiving information of the number of shares that were allotted to them.

Subsequently, a public meeting was held and sixty-nine men attended. They were described in the press as “the most respectable and influential gentlemen in the community”. Everyone was highly in favour of the project, but some discussions took place as regards the capital. The Hon. John Croal, who presided, moved the amount be fixed at £150,000 instead of £100,000 as originally suggested. In the end, a majority of the meeting agreed to the motion, and the prospectus as previously published was adopted.

No stones were left unturned to raise capital abroad as is evidenced by the fact that more names were added to the original list. The Provisional Committee, whose appointment had been confirmed at the general meeting, lost no time in getting to work, and penned a letter on the 3rd March, 1845 to the shareholders in England who had been selected to form a Sub-Committee to push the project abroad.   This Sub-Committee undertook the duty of allotting to applicants in Europe two-thirds of the 13 shares of the proposed com                              pany. The prospectus provided for a deposit of £5 per share on allotment. The money was lodged with Messrs. Smith, Payne & Smiths, and the Colonial Bank in London. The Sub-Committee was authorised to withdraw from these deposits such sums necessary to pay the preliminary expenses connected with the formation of the Company. The London Sub-Committee approved of the prospectus and they immediately advertised it in the “Times,” “Morning Chronicle” and “Railway Times” newspapers.

The Sub-Committee in London took up the matter with enthusiasm, and on their advice at a meeting of the local committee in May, 1845, some drastic alterations in the prospectus were made. The capital was raised from £100,000 to £200,000. A total of 2000 shares, at the value of £10 each were reserved for issuance in the colony, instead of one-third of the total number as originally provided for. The London Committee was empowered to add to their numbers from time to time, as they deemed necessary and to dispose of all shares except 2,000 reserved for subscribers in the British Guiana colony. They were further requested to increase the amount of £5 deposit on each share to such sum as they saw fit.

On the 31st May 1845, the Provisional Committee instructed the Sub-Committee in London to summon a meeting as soon as 15,000 shares were subscribed in Britain. At the meeting of the shareholders, a London Board of Directors was created with nine members to manage the affairs of the company. Further, a Local Board of Management in Demerara was formed with five shareholders who resided in the Colony. They were appointed to transact the business of the company within the Colony. The London Committee was also requested to submit a draft of such an enactment to be passed by the local Legislature as would be acceptable to the shareholders in Great Britain.

In September of the same year, the local Committee notified the Committee in London, that 1,000 shares were all that were needed for subscribers in the colony and that the balance were to be allotted in England. This action seemed somewhat strange, as very shortly afterwards when the allotment of shares in the colony took place 1,726 shares were applied for, and as only 1,000 were available, a pro rata distribution had to be made. The local Committee at this stage represented to the London Committee that the Home Government should be approached “to permit the necessary measures to be adopted for procuring the introduction into the colony of labourers from Madeira, the Canary Islands and elsewhere, whose services might be made available in the construction of the proposed railway, and counteract in some degree the evils apprehended from the abstraction of labourers from agricultural pursuits in the districts through which the line would pass.” In October 1845, the London Board informed the local Committee that they had selected H. E. F. Young (Government Secretary) and seven other men to form the Demerara Committee of Management.

The extent to which railway enthusiasm had taken hold of the colony at this time was shown by the fact that, one of the first acts of the Demerara Committee was to pass a resolution moved by the Hon. John Croal which stated “That it is the opinion of this Committee that railroads should be extended throughout the colony, that capital should be raised for the purpose under such regulations and restrictions as may be deemed necessary, and that the following lines should in the first instance be undertaken, viz :_
East Coast Railway

West Coast of Demerara to Greenwich Park
Arabian Coast and West Coast of Essequibo, from Pln. Better Success to the Supenaam River. With ferries to connect Demerara and Essequibo and the respective lines.”

The resolution was forwarded to London, but appeared to have had a cold reception. The London Committee subsequently decided that while the draft Act to incorporate the company provided ample powers for tending the proposed line, there should be no mention of the West Coast of Demerara or of the Essequibo County railway development.

During this period, the need for a practical engineer to come out to the Colony engaged the attention of the London Committee. On the recommendation of Mr. Locke, a Consulting Engineer in England, Frederick Catherwood, a civil engineer who had experiences on railroads in England and North America, was chosen. Catherwood arrived in the colony in December 1845, and started work on the survey of the East Coast line with G. Butts, who possessed extensive knowledge of the estates and villages through which the proposed line would run. Upon completion of the survey, a preliminary report and plans were handed to the local Committee on April.1846.  Catherwood was urged to undertake surveys of lines for railways in the West Coast of Demerara, but he expressed his inability to do more than have a hurried look around this district because he had previous commitments in Jamaica. He submitted his final report to the London Committee in October 1846.

Catherwood appeared to have been very thorough with his methods. While carrying out his survey he supervised various experiments with regard to pile driving, shrinkage of embankments, enlargement of trenches, use of pegasse as fuel, and the manufacture of bricks and pipes.

Pertaining to the front lands of Plantation BeI Air, which were lent by proprietors for the purpose of experiments with pegasse, Catherwood later reported that peat was found in great abundance in the extensive savannah aback of the estate. It measured in thickness from a few inches to 20 feet deep, and at that time, it was valueless. However, when properly prepared and dried it was a substitute for coal or wood in furnaces and in different boiling houses. Later it was bought to be used by the Railway Company as fuel.

It did not appear as if the railway committee even attempted to carry out this suggestion, and it was later realised that Peat was too hot as a fuel for locomotives. However, kiln-dried pegasse proved to be unsuitable as a source of fuel for the kitchens of Georgetown.  The experiment concerning the manufacture of bricks and drain pipes appeared to have proved satisfactory as later, when the work of constructing the railway began brick making was done to facilitate certain buildings for the railway.

The provision of necessary legislation for incorporating the company, took definite shape. On 23rd October 1845, a Bill for this purpose was introduced in the Legislature. The Attorney General had previously been asked to accept the position as counsel for the Company to see the Bill through, but had declined, promising that in his official capacity he would watch its progress. The bill was passed and published on 18th July 1846, as Ordinance No.2 of that year.

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