Guyana Then And Now

November 6, 2011

The Demerara Essequibo Railway (DER)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Pirai @ 6:42 pm

by Dmitri Allicock

The once popular and well known 1897 Demerara Essequibo Railway (DER) once symbolized the Upper Demerara River and served as a corner stone in its development before Bauxite came to dominate. This railroad provided valuable and safe transportation of commuters and cargo between the Essequibo and Demerara rivers. It was Guyana’s first inland railroad.

Demerara Esequibo Railway Terminus at Wismar c1924 (Photo Armorel Clinton)

Hugh Sprostons entry to British Guiana in 1840 saw the dire need for transportation across Guyana’s waterways and hinterlands. He established Steam powered vessels across Guyana and built Guyana’s first dry dock in 1867, where damaged vessels could be repaired and new ones constructed.

Loading Greenheart Lumber from Sprostons Stelling at Wismar on the Demerara River

Sprostons had steam brigs and other vessels plying the Georgetown route to as far as Lucky spot up the Demerara River since the 1850s. There were also other privately run vessels of that time period.

Access up the mighty Essequibo river was a different matter. Navigation was very dangerous because of the many rapids and waterfalls. Many died by drowning as boats frequently capsized in the torrents of the Essequibo. The Idea was born to construction this railway from Wismar to Rockstone. The calm and navigable Demerara River had the width and depth to allow ocean going vessels up to Wismar and it provided access from Georgetown to this railway with transportation continuing from Rockstone via launches to Tumatumari on the Essequibo.

Essequibo River Rapids (Photo Armorel Clinton)

The Demerara River is obstructed by large rocks that sit in the middle of the river at the Watooka area. These rocks may have influenced the choice of Wismar for the railway terminus.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/30593522@N05/4059300708/in/set-72157622697152900

Demerara River, rocks at low tide and the entrance to the Watooka creek (Photo P Llyn-Jones)

John Dagleish Paterson of Christianburg lands and Sawmill business was bought by the then British Government in 1894 to set up this Railroad. Sprostons Company LTD then constructed The Demerara Essequibo Railway in the years 1895 to 1897. A loan of $200,000 dollars was given to Sprostons Company LTD by the British Government, to be repaid in twenty years without interest.

The Demerara Essequibo Railway in British Guiana

This light Railway line as it was referred to, was 18 and ¾ miles long and ran westward from the Wismar Terminus to the Rockstone Terminus. It provided access through Guyana’s primeval forest to the upper Essequibo’s Potaro gold fields, Balata (Bullet wood) trees and endless supply of hardwoods. The demand for Greenheart appeared limitless and British Guiana was the only country that exported this prized hardwood at the time.

The Eastern Terminus was built next to the Wismar Steamer Stelling .

Wismar Terminus of the DER c1924 (Photo British Pathe)

Demerara Essequibo Railway at Wismar on the Demerara River

The train tracks ran south along the Demerara River until it reached the area near the current Wismar / Mackenzie Bridge.

Demerara River Bank c1924 (Photo British Pathe)

The Railway then swung westward through the forest until its destination at the Rockstone Essequibo River Terminus.

Rockstone River Terminus of the DER on the Essequibo River

The Steamer left Georgetown daily at 8am except on Sunday for Wismar. The Trains departure from Wismar to Rockstone was synchronized to the Steamers arrival fromGeorgetown. On Sunday the Train did not run. At the Rockstone Terminus, one or more Launches with passengers and cargo provided a daily service at departing at 6.30am to Tumatumari on the Essequibo, with Sunday also being the day of rest. At Tumatumari, a launch provided daily transportation to Potaro Landing, taking passengers and cargo.

The 1924 publication from the “British Empire Exhibition Wembley- Guiana ” read, “The Terminus of the Colonial Steamers which ascend the Demerara River daily is at Wismar about 65 miles from the sea: but sailing vessels can be towed for 15 miles further up to load timber supplies of which for many years been obtained and exported from the valuable forest Country through which the river flows. Opposite Wismar is “Mackenzie City” the headquarters of the Demerara Bauxite Co. Ltd. From Wismar a railway runs across to Rockstone on the Essequibo River and small launches runs regularly twice a week to the foot of the Malali rapids on the Demerara about 104 miles from Georgetown where the influence of the tide ends.”

The dawn of 1900 saw this spanking new railroad linking the two rivers, moving people, equipment, timber, cargo of many varieties and most of all hope for a brighter future. Bauxite would later take over as new king. The Demerara Bauxite Company would soon be established with the 1912 land purchased by George Bain Mackenzie. 1917 saw the first mining of bauxite at Akyma and later the construction of the Bauxite plant and housing areas on the eastern shores of the river.

With this Railroad, Wismar became the focus and hub of economic activity overtaking Christianburg as the center of the community. However within two decades, as the bauxite industry developed, the eastern bank of the Demerara River rose eclipsing Wismar. The Mackenzie, or eastern shore of the Demerara River still maintains this level of importance today.

R.H. Carr and friends on the DER c1924 (Photo Armorel Clinton)

This railroad brought all sort of jobs for the people in the area. A net work of related businesses grew around the railroad and life improved for many family members. Our special cousin Manly Binning worked from 1919 to 1927 as a machinist at the Sprostons Wismar Workshop. One of my Grandfather’s, Alfred Allicock used to square timber delivered by this train, on the Wismar bank of the River. Others travelled to upper Essequibo to work in the timber, balata industry or to mine Gold and Diamond. The Steamer and Railway service became an integral part the lives of our family and people of upper Demerara.

The R.H Carr Steamer commissioned in 1927 continued service long after the railroad was closed. The steamer service came to end shortly after the Linden Soesdyke Highway opened in 1968 and brought to an end over 100 years of Steamer service between upper Demerara and Georgetown.

In 1960, one of the descendants of John Blount of the Three Friends referred to as Miss Blount spoke with the author Zahra Freeth of “Run Softly Demerara” had this to say about the Railroad, “and when Christianburg went down, so Wismar became bright; with the railway to Rockstone, Wismar became the centre of importance on the upper river which only shows that God will always provide,” she added, “as one place closes down another place opens up, and after Wismar it was Mackenzie.” She went on to say “I don’t understand how people can say there is no God, when here we see the bauxite dug out of the ground, bauxite that God put there so that it would bring work and money to the people of Demerara.” A bauxite ship was passing her home at Christianburg at that moment. The ocean going ore ship was only a stone’s throw from the house, and dwarfed the surrounding scene as it passed along the Wismar water-front. Miss Blount added, “And when I see the big ships, I say to myself, there, if you need it, is another proof of the greatness of God.” Miss Blount was in her eighties at the time of the interview and was also one of our family members.

Bauxite ship Baron Belhaven on the Demerara river, Guyana 1974-75 (Photo Chaerlie McCurdy)

This Railway would continue running well into the Bauxite era until it was closed in the 1940s.

Rail Scooter on the tracks of the DER c1957 (Photo Wong family)

The gold decline in the Potaro fields and the switch to the much cheaper petroleum based rubber were believed to be some of the reasons for its closure. Nothing remains of this historical Railway today. The Wismar Steamer Stelling which was closed in 1968 lies in ruins in 2010. Some rail lines are covered by the now Burnham Drive main road in Wismar.

The Ruins of the steamer R.H Carr is at Skull point located at the Cuyuni and Mazaruni River junction. The nostalgic memories of this particular ship are remembered and bring a particularly sad feeling upon viewing the ruins. Most of upper Demerara residents that included all of our family members used the R.H Carr for transportation to Georgetown. The exceptions were the many speed boats and launches available. The speed boats took only one hour but did not complete the entire journey to the port of Georgetown but stopped short at the Atkinson base where taxi or bus completed the trip.

The R.H Carr took a relaxing 8 hours and held a special bond with all passengers. The slow journey through the meandering Demerara River was punctuated with frequent stops in the middle of the river as passengers got off or into small boats.

Bauxite ship Baron Belhaven on the Demerara River taking on provisions c1974 (Photo Charlie McCurdy)

It was exciting to see the occasional cow transported. Cattle were pushed out into the river and had to complete the trip to pasture by swimming. For many the R.H. Carr was their only contact with the outside world. The area of Linden is like an oasis surrounding by jungle. Most of the area’s new population who came from Guyana’s coastal communities and the many Caribbean Island had little knowledge of inland Guyana. This was a great opportunity and experience for all to see Guyana’s hinterlands.

This river trip brought many in contact with the soul of Guyana. They were able to see the many settlements, sawmills, sawpits, villages, farms and life alongside the river. They saw the essence and make up of what is Guyana.

I still remember running down the steep steps of the R.H. Carr’s third class as a child to buy gynip and drinking a cold coca cola from D’Aguiar while watching the large propeller of the boat churning up the brown water of the river. We would wave as we passed the people on shore or in boats on the river in a kind of farewell salute to a time of innocence.

There were other businesses that provided employment like logging, balata bleeding, farming and gold mining in the area of Lucky Spot and Kanaimpoo. But their influence was dwarf by the importance of this Railway and the other industries that it supported.

The turn of that century saw the first automobile and the electric bulb take center stage in upper Demerara, however steam power still dominated.

The Demerara Essequibo Railway was essential and a major pillar in upper Demerara’s development. Sprostons Steamers, Railway and Construction Company lead the way as the Demerara Bauxite Company became established.

This notable trend to discard and forget history in Guyana is observed once more as the memories of the Demerara Essequibo Railway and this not so distant and significant chapter of upper Demerara is now lost and gone with the wind for many.

Remembering the past is a vision of the future.

God bless, Dmitri Allicock

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34 Comments »

  1. A most informative article, Dmitri. I didn’t know there was so high traffic between Wismar and Rockstone in those times. The photographs tell it all.

    Comment by Hemraj Muniram — November 12, 2011 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Hemraj and it is great to hear from you.
    My father used to talk about this Railway when I was a child. Once after a major rain storm Silvertown was flooded. My father and a group of neighbours had to “cut” the now Burnham drive road to release the large volume of water trapped. They found some of the railway lines buried deep under the roadway.
    This Railway lead the way into the Bauxite era and placed the community of upper Demerara on the map. It brought lots of jobs and improved life in the area. The Railway was also a symbolic link to the early history in the area.
    It was refreshing to hear of recent plans to build a railway from East Bank Demerara to Berbice, that would be great news. I often wonder why the Georgetown/Rosignal Railway was ever closed.
    Stay in touch and best regards, Dmitri

    Comment by DMITRI ALLICOCK — November 14, 2011 @ 9:51 am | Reply

    • Hello Dimitri I am tuly glad to be able to read about some of the historical truth of our beloved community. I mean growing up there in second street there was always a sense of history all arround us like where we would play cricket out at sawmill all those ruins out there by the river definitely estabilished that there was impressive history surrrounding us. But I never knew anything about a railroad, never heard anything about it before reading this article. Thank you very much.
      Alvin McClintock.

      Comment by Alvin — February 19, 2012 @ 6:27 pm | Reply

  3. Yes Alvin,
    Sorry I didn’t see your comment until today.
    A lot of relatively recent history gone with the wind indeed
    I am doing something which goes back 150 years prior to the Railway.
    I still think of your dear brother Peter and the lost which we all felt.
    The best black pudding was made by Mrs. McClintock. My brother Kenrick and “Tony” formed “Kentone”, I was so proud to see the name “still” survives today. It is very nice to hear from you and my love goes out to all your dear family.
    Always yours, Dmitri

    Comment by DMITRI ALLICOCK — June 18, 2012 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  4. When it comes to justifying the railways – the studies have already been done and the locomotive has beaten all competition at every level. Environmentally: one locomotive [especially the new, more powerful, AC power, as opposed to DC power with the armature and brushes] will use LESS fuel; pollute the air and surroundings LESS and carry a lot MORE load [traffic] efficiently. Regardless, of the reasons why the railways in Guyana were dismantled – the time has come to bring it back. Building new highways to support an inefficient infrastructure is a non-starter, in my opinion.

    Comment by Clyde Duncan — March 1, 2013 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article for it brought back memories of the good old days. I had actually forgotten how beautiful my country was. I am looking forward to reading an article on the Demerara – Berbice railroad.

    Walton David

    Comment by Walton David — March 25, 2013 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

  6. From this article we can see how important the rail was in those days and I would like to stress that it would be even more important today. It was a cheap means of transportation then and would also be a cheap means today. It would enable families to see Guyana in its beauty at a fraction of the cost it takes to move by road, and it would also be much safer. Too many Guyanese do not know how beautiful the country is and being able to move around by an affordable means would enable them to see more of their country. Farmers would be able to transport their produce at a reasonable price thus keeping down the cost to consumers. I would love to see the rail come back to Guyana.

    Comment by Walton David — March 25, 2013 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  7. Dear Dmitri,

    Thanks for the links. As a Guyanese I was not aware of some of the history. It is really educational and informational.

    Comment by Walton David — March 25, 2013 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  8. You are most welcome David and best regards to you and yours.

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — March 25, 2013 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  9. This article is so invaluable to Guyana’s history, it should be archived somewhere. Great work!

    Comment by lukeone45 — April 12, 2013 @ 5:56 am | Reply

    • Thanks Luke.

      Comment by Dmitri Allicock — May 2, 2013 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  10. Amazing blog. I am so glad I came across it. I am Guyanese and have been traveling to several countries but always avoided going back to Guyana. I have too many memories there but now I want to visit. I am planning a trip very soon. Thank you for inspiring me ! :)

    Comment by terrytrekker — May 2, 2013 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

    • You are welcome Terry. Best regards.

      Comment by Dmitri Allicock — May 2, 2013 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

  11. This 1924 Video has no sound but shows 1924 Christianburg, remnants of the Paterson Sawmill, Wismar, the Wismar to Rockstone Railway with Train, Rockstone and so much more….

    http://www.britishpathe.com/video/british-guiana-the-country-and-its-industries-re-2/query/wildcard

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — May 14, 2013 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  12. THE BREMNERS
    Of Akyma-De Maria Elisabeth
    By Dmitri Allicock
    “One Boviander family on the Demerara River lived at a lovely placed called Akyma, on a little Hill, rising about thirty feet from the river and crowned with feathery bamboos and tall cucurite and manicole palms. Their name was Bremner and their immediate ancestor was a Dutchman, who had been the post-holder at the Government post of Sebacabra, a hill on the right bank of the river about ninety miles from Georgetown.” Henry Kirke 1870.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-bremners-of-akyma-de-maria-elisabeth-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — June 6, 2013 @ 12:29 am | Reply

  13. PEG LEG GEORGE OF SEBACABRA
    A boat ride of time-travel which offer just a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors is not unlike a text or message from the past and, for a brief moment, their immortal spirit lives once more. A special opportunity revealed in the realization that our fragile existence might be made just in little more secured by our appreciation of them.

    http://guyaneseonline.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/peg-leg-george-of-sebacabra-rev1.pdf

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — June 8, 2013 @ 11:47 am | Reply

  14. If you grew up in Guyana you would certainly be acquainted with some of these common over the –counter- medicines and remedies that brought relief for various afflictions and ailments. Corner stores carried a wide array of medicines found only in the Caribbean and Guyana. These were augmented with herbal medicines and treatments before a visit to the doctor was attempted.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/traditional-home-remedies-of-guyana-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — June 15, 2013 @ 9:05 am | Reply

  15. Heroes Day! The Prudential World Cup – 1975

    June 21 is one the greatest day in West Indies cricket history. On this day back in 1975 the West Indies won the first Cricket World Cup when they beat Australia at Lord’s. Captain Clive Lloyd scored 102 off only 85 balls and Viv Richards was brilliant in the field with three run outs by Viv Richards and our heroes won by 17 runs.
    Here Lloyd proudly lifts the World Cup on that historic day.

    Read more : http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/the-prudential-world-cup-1975-submitted-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — June 22, 2013 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

  16. Some of the greatest cities of old and modern times owe their rise and grandeur to their positions in the fork between great rivers, which gave them unrivaled advantages for defense and commerce. Lyons of France, St Louis in the U.S and Belgrade of Serbia are three striking examples. Bartica occupies such a unique natural location in north-central Guyana where the mighty Essequibo, Mazaruni, and Cuyuni rivers meet.

    http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/bartica-a-missed-opportunity-of-history-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — July 25, 2013 @ 10:13 pm | Reply

  17. Honoring our heritage must be as natural as breathing for it is indeed the foundation on which you stand. Many great individuals of early British Guiana have been lost to the fog of history but the legacy of Anglican Bishop Dr. William Piercy lives on in Guyana. Bishop William Piercy Austin’s ideas and diligent contributions gave rise to the academic pursuits in Guyana for which he is recognized as one of the most outstanding individual in the history of the Colony of British Guiana.

    http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/lord-bishop-william-piercy-austin-of-british-guiana-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — August 2, 2013 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  18. The majestic Ité Palm of Guyana is a native palm of Guyana, commonly found growing nearby its vast waterways of rivers, creeks and wetlands.
    Palms have been important to humans throughout much of history and are among the best known and most extensively cultivated plant families. Palms are valued as an important food source and provide valuable ingredients in many household products. In many historical cultures, palms were symbols for such ideas as victory, peace, and fertility. In Assyrian religion, the palm is one of the trees identified as the Sacred Tree connecting heaven, represented by the crown of the tree, and earth, the base of the trunk. Today, palms exotic and captivating appearance remain a popular symbol for the tropics and vacations.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/the-versatile-ite-palm-of-guyana-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — August 9, 2013 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  19. One of the images conjured up about the rainforest of Guyana is best exemplified by the colorful bill of the Toucan {Ramphastidae} and its Jurassic calls of a lost world. Guyana and South America are homes to a diverse range of birds which can be partly attributed to the multitude of fruits which provide sustenance for the large number of fruit eating birds including the toucans. These winged wonders carry a large variety of color combination and adorn the canopy of the rainforest.
    Read more: https://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/the-magnificent-toucan-jewel-of-the-forest-canopy-by-dmitri-allicock/

    In the early 1970s, Guyanese music legend Dave Martin of the Tradewinds wrote a remarkable song called “Not a blade of grass”, during the brewing border conflict between Guyana and Venezuela. “Not one Blue Saki!” this patriotic song of love for Guyana defiantly went, acclaiming the Blue Saki to new heights and meaning.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/the-blue-saki-amazing-seed-disperser-by-dmitri-allicock/

    The Kiskadee is indeed a treat for nature lovers or the casual observer and the bird won’t keep you waiting. This boisterous in both attitude and color, bandit in a black mask will attempt to dominate your attention with flashes of his yellow belly and incessant Kis-ka- dee calls.
    Read more: https://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/the-conspicuous-great-kiskadee-of-guyana-by-dmitri-allicock/
    A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. The love of this little songster finch brings out a unique and warm feeling of cultural identification between many Guyanese, making the path of life just a bit brighter by its serenading tweets and charm.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/the-towa-towa-great-songster-of-guyana/

    The breathtaking lake Capoey with its biological diversity and natural beauty would be an irresistible temptation for both ecotourism and adventure seekers alike when developed. Guyana’s immense pristine rainforest and wild life blended with rich indigenous cultural heritage offers both understanding and fulfillment for the curious.
    Read more: http://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/the-scenic-lake-capoey-of-guyana-by-dmitri-allicock/

    Comment by Dmitri Allicock — August 28, 2013 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  20. Wow, never knew about this railroad. My mother always talks about growing up along side the Demerara River. I wish I could visit there. Does anyone know if there is still a community there. Would love to know

    Comment by Cheryl Nazier — November 29, 2013 @ 7:03 pm | Reply


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