REPORT OF THE WISMAR, CHRISTIANBURG AND MACKENZIE COMMISSION
Introduction - THE
WISMAR REPORT - INTRODUCTORY NOTE - by Editor
Chapter 1 - Statement
of the Proceedings of the Commission
Chapter 2 - Recent
Disturbances at Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie
Chapter 3 - Conduct
of the Security Forces
Chapter 4 - Account
of Number of Deaths, Extent of Injuries, Loss and Damage
Chapter 5 -
Conclusions and Acknowledgements
INTRODUCTORY NOTE -
by Editor - Odeen Ishmael
The Report of the
Wismar, Christianburg, Mackenzie Commission, termed the "Wismar
Report", was the result of the enquiry of a Commission appointed in
September 1964 by the Governor of British Guiana, Sir Richard Luyt.
It was given the task to investigate the causes of the racial
violence on 25 May 1964 by Africans against the minority East Indian
population residing in Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie, the
bauxite mining communities in the upper Demerara River, 65 miles
south of Georgetown. In the course of these attacks, a number of
Indians were murdered, scores of others brutally beaten and injured,
and women and girls publicly raped. These violent acts were
accompanied by large scale arson which saw the destruction of more
than 200 houses and business places owned by Indians.
Very little was
done by the Police and the British Guiana Volunteer Force to protect
the East Indian population at those locations, and it was not until
a contingent of British soldiers arrived on the scene late in the
evening that there was an ease in the attacks. More than 3000 East
Indians were, within a few days after, evacuated by the security
forces from the area and taken to Georgetown. Most of them, soon
after, re-settled in the coastal villages, but a small number,
probably feeling satisfied that the presence of British troops in
the area assured a state of security, decided to return to the area
to continue their employment in the bauxite industry.
The members of the
Commission concluded that the disturbances were politically and
racially inspired. They noted that "the thorough destruction of East
Indian property, and the fact that the security forces were in no
case able to apprehend arsonists, force us to conclude that the
destruction . . . . was organised, and well organised".
In the aftermath of
these horrible occurrences, Mrs. Janet Jagan, the Minister of Home
Affairs, tendered her resignation from her ministerial post. She
cited the non-cooperation of the Commissioner of Police who refused
to obey her instructions given early on the afternoon of 25 May for
reinforcements, including British troops, to be sent to the area to
protect life and property.
Mrs. Jagan's statement in the Senate
on 1 June 1964 explaining the reasons for her resignation
accompanies the Wismar Report.
But despite the
presence of British troops in the area, a state of violence broke
out again on the evening of 6 July 1964 when a passenger launch, the
Sun Chapman, travelling on the Demerara River from Georgetown to
Mackenzie was completely destroyed by a huge explosion not far from
its destination. More than 36 persons, all Africans, died in this
mishap. When the news of this incident reached Mackenzie, many
Africans there, assuming that the launch was bombed by Indians,
became highly enraged, and in acts of reprisal, they brutally
attacked Indians in the town. Five of them died as a result while
many others were suffered injuries. Some of these Indians were among
those who returned to the area believing that their security was
guaranteed by the presence of the British soldiers.
The medical officer of the Mackenzie Hospital, Dr. C.
Davies-Webb, wrote a report in his medical journal about the
Sun Chapman explosion giving details of the attacks that
occurred later that evening.
STATEMENT OF THE
PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMISSION
on Monday 28th September, 1964, in a Supplement to the Official
Gazette appointed this Commission under the Commissions of
Inquiry Ordinance, Chapter 59, to inquire into the recent
disturbances at WISMAR-CHRISTIANBURG, and MACKENZIE. The
Commissioners appointed then were: -
(1) Sohan Roopan
(2) Dr. Harold
(3) Rev. Alexander
(4) Dr. Subhan Ali
Mr. William Beekie
was appointed Secretary to the Commission.
The terms of
(a) To enquire into
the recent disturbances which took place at Wismar, Christianburg
and Mackenzie in the Demerara River, to investigate the conduct of
the Security Forces during the said disturbances and to determine
the number of deaths and the extent of injury, loss and damage
suffered in the said disturbances and to report thereon; and
(b) to furnish to
the Governor a full statement of the proceedings of the Commission
and of the reasons leading to the conclusions reported.
* Sir Richard Luyt, Governor of British Guiana]
II. First Meeting
On Wednesday 28th
October, Mr. Sohan Ropan Singh was informed that he would be
relieved of his magisterial duties as from Monday the 2nd November,
1964 so that he might preside over the Inquiry.
The first meeting
took place on the 31st October, 1964. Mr. S. Ropan Singh and Rev.
Alexander S. MacDonald were present. We were informed that Dr.
Harold Drayton was ill and Dr. S. Ramjohn was unable to attend. We
were also told that Mr. Sugrim Singh, Barrister-at-law would be
Counsel to the Commission.
Owing to the fact
that displaced persons were settled all over the Colony, but mostly
on the coastlands, and having regard to the easy accessibility of
Georgetown, the Commission decided to hold the Inquiry in
Georgetown. The office and place for hearing evidence was at 252
Thomas and Murray Streets, Georgetown.
We decided that
before hearing the evidence we would first visit Mackenzie, Wismar
and Christianburg area so that members could gain some impression of
its terrain, those parts in which the disturbances took place, of
the extent of the damage and a general picture of the social and
economic conditions of the area.
III. Visit to
On Friday 6th
November, 1964, Mrs. Savithri Devi Mootoo was appointed as a member
of the Commission vice Dr. S. Ramjohn who has resigned, and on the
same day at 8.15 a.m. Mr. S. Ropan Singh, Rev. A.S. MacDonald, Mrs.
Mootoo, Mr. Beekie and Mr. Sugrim Singh left by plane for Mackenzie.
At Mackenzie we
were met by Superintendent Oscar Carmichael of the British Guiana
Police Force who was then in charge of Division "E" Mackenzie, Major
Langham, Officer Commanding "D" Company, British Guiana Volunteer
Force at Mackenzie, Major Shearbourn of the British Army, the
Queen's Own Buffs, and Mr. John Carter, Q.C. Counsel for the
Demerara Bauxite Company. Although we would have welcomed the
presence of the District Commissioner, the officer responsible for
the civil administration of the Wismar-Christianburg area, he was
not present nor was he represented by anyone.
We were taken on a
tour of the area by Superintendent Carmichael, Major Langham and Mr.
Carter. At Mackenzie, the Commissioners visited the Trade School,
the sports club and the Police station where the evacuees had been
accommodated, before being taken to Georgetown. We also visited Cara
Cara and Rainbow City where houses had been destroyed. At Wismar we
were taken from the Police station in two jeeps to tour the
Wismar-Christianburg area. Much of the roadway consisted of deep
sandy ruts and potholes, and some parts of the area were uphill. In
order to reach the Valley of Tears, our party had to proceed on foot
since there was only a pathway. We mention this so as to give some
idea of the terrain of much of the area. We visited Silvertown,
Wismar Housing Scheme, One Mile, Half Mile, Valley of Tears, Silver
City, Sections A, B, C Christianburg. We saw the ruins of burnt out
premises and were shown spots where persons had been found dead.
After lunch at the
Government rest house at Christianburg, we returned to Mackenzie
where Dr. Davies-Webb showed us all the facilities available in the
Mackenzie Hospital which had been utilised to the full in the
treatment of the injured evacuees. Before leaving for Georgetown at
about 8.00 p.m. we visited the residential area of Richmond Hill and
the Mackenzie Hotel.
Our thanks are due
to Superintendent Carmichael, Major Langham and Mr. Carter, Q.C. as
well as to the caretaker of the Christianburg rest house.
On Saturday 7th
November, 1964, the Commissioners met at the office and were
informed by counsel of the procedure which he suggested should be
adopted in the examination of the witnesses. The following is an
extract of the procedure to which we adhered throughout the private
and public sessions of the Inquiry:
1. All witnesses'
statements and documents to be submitted by counsel who shall
present what he deems necessary. Any person or his representative
may apply to the Commission if not satisfied with counsel's decision
not to present any evidence offered by that person or persons.
2. Counsel will
first examine the witness after which he can be examined by
interested parties. Counsel may then re-examine the witness if
3. The same
procedure would be adopted in private sittings.
At this meeting it
was also agreed that an advertisement should be placed in the daily
newspapers. Counsel would be allowed one week to complete the
preparatory work so that public sessions of the Inquiry could
commence on the 16th November at 9.00 a.m. The advertisements did
not appear, however, until 11th November and it was subsequently
agreed that the last date for the submission of statements,
memoranda, etc. would be 28th November, 1964.
IV. The Sittings
began the hearing of evidence from members of the public on Monday
16th November, 1964, at 9.00 a.m. On this date Dr. Drayton was well
enough to join us, and from then until its conclusion, all the
members of the Commission participated in the work of the Inquiry.
appearances were as follows:
(1) Mr. Hugh
Shepherd, Barrister-at-Law, appeared for the British Guiana Police
Force and the British Guiana Volunteer Force.
(2) Mr. Gilbert
Farnum, Barrister-at-Law, appeared for the British Army. (Mr.
Shepherd held the brief for Mr. Farnum throughout the Inquiry).
(3) Mr. John
Carter, Q.C. appeared for the Demerara Bauxite Company Ltd.
At a later stage of
the Inquiry, Mr. P.N. Singh, Barrister-at-Law associated with Mr.
Hafiz Khan, appeared for the displaced persons, and Mrs. A. Khan
instructed by Mr. J. Edward DeFreitas appeared as counsel for the
Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company.
Colonel R. King,
the British Guiana Garrison Commander, Colonel C. DeFreitas,
Commanding Officer, British Guiana Volunteer Force, Mr. P.G. Owen,
Commissioner of Police, Mr. D.F. Macorquodale, Secretary of the
Demerara Bauxite Company Limited, who were all present at the
commencement of the first day's sitting, assured the Commissioners
of their cooperation. Mr. Oscar Hobbs, Assistant Superintendent of
Police who was the officer in charge of "E" Division, Mackenzie, was
present at the Inquiry.
The first day's
sessions were from 9.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. to 3.30
p.m., but on subsequent days until the end of the hearings on 9th
December, 1964, there was only one session from 8,30 a.m. until 1.00
p.m. The Commission was in session for 19 days, in the course of
which 86 witnesses were examined, six were heard in camera and eight
were recalled for further examination.
At the commencement
of the Inquiry no objection was taken to the building or other
arrangements by anyone, although the Commissioners felt that better
accommodation, staff and office equipment could have been made
available to the Commission, if someone with knowledge and/or
forethought had been made responsible for making arrangements for
the Inquiry. Initially only four stenographers and a tape recorder
were supplied for the taking of the stenographic record but by the
and of the second day it was clear that these would be inadequate,
if transcripts of each day's proceedings were to be furnished to
counsel and to members of the Commission in the shortest possible
time. This was explained at a meeting on Wednesday, 18th November,
to those officials of the Ministry of Development and Planning who
had been put in charge of the domestic and technical arrangements of
the Commission. Your Commissioners were informed that the political
interpretation placed on our terms of reference had made it very
difficult to secure suitably qualified staff from Departments of the
Public Service, the heads of which had either refused or had been
very reluctant to release members of their clerical staff on
secondment. This attitude of non-cooperation with a Commission
appointed by Your Excellency to enquire into a national disaster we
found very difficult to understand. Eventually, additional staff and
office equipment were made available to the Commission, but by this
time a backlog of work had accumulated which resulted in
considerable delay in the preparation of copies of statements by
witnesses before they gave evidence, and of the transcripts of
It is with regret
that we have to report that Mr. Sugrim Singh, counsel to the
Commission, became ill on 19th November and was unable to assist any
further with the onerous task of the examination of witnesses. We
learn at the time of writing that Mr. Singh has not completely
recovered from his illness and wish to record our appreciation of
his services to the Commission in the initial stages and our sincere
wish for a speedy recovery.
Until Friday 27th
November, when Mr. B. Ramsaroop was appointed to act for Mr. Sugrim
Singh, our Chairman, with the consent of the legal representatives,
examined witnesses who had previously submitted statements to the
Secretary of the Commission. It is regrettable that in a matter of
such national importance the Commission did not have the benefit of
the services of a more experienced counsel soon after Mr. Sugrim
Singh became ill.
During the, course
of the Inquiry an article appeared in the Evening Post of 18th
November, 1964. The Commissioners instructed the Secretary, Mr.
Beekie, to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions drawing his
attention to the article and requesting him to take any necessary
action he deeded fit. An acknowledgement was received from him on
the 14th January 1965.
On November 24th,
Mr. Shepherd took objection to and tendered a statement attributed
to the Premier's Office. The Secretary of the Commission wrote to
the Premier's Secretary and received a reply. The article in the
Evening Post, the letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and
his reply, the statement from the Premier's Office, the letter sent
to the Premier's Secretary and the reply are all published in
Appendix 1* of this report.
* Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 which form part of the original report
of the Commission are not included in this internet edition.]
The Colony of
British Guiana was in a state of unrest during the time of the
disturbances in the Wismar-Christianburg-Mackenzie area - May 1964.
A strike had been
called in the sugar industry by the Guyana Agricultural Workers
Union [G.A.W.U.] to enforce their demand for recognition as the
bargaining agent for the majority of the workers in that industry.
The Sugar Producers' Association [S.P.A.] had for many years
recognised the Man Power Citizens' Association [M.P.C.A.] which
refused to agree to the holding of a poll among sugar workers to
settle the question.
This strike must be
regarded in the context of the division which had developed in
recent years between the East Indians, the majority of whom
supported the People's Progressive Party [P.P.P.] led by Dr. Cheddi
B. Jagan and the majority of the Africans in the population who
supported the P.N.C. [People's National Congress] led by Mr. Forbes
Burnham. While the G.A.W.U. was the "industrial arm" of the P.P.P.,
the President of the M.P.C.A., Mr. Richard Ishmael, was against the
P.P.P. and seemed to enjoy the mutual confidence and support of the
P.N.C. and Mr. Burnham.
Although the strike
which commenced in February 1964 was peaceful at first, as time
dragged on with no solution in sight tempers flared, and there were
clashes between strikers and non-strikers, especially after the
employment of Africans as strike breakers. When two non-strikers
were killed by a bomb blast at Tain on the Corentyne Coast, and a
G.A.W.U. supporter squatting at the entrance of Leonora Sugar
Factory was crushed to death by an estate tractor, both sides
claimed their martyrs. Following these incidents, the violence was
intensified over the greater part of the East and West Coast of
Demerara. Many people were murdered and there were numerous cases of
arson and bombings.
The murder of a
negro couple at Buxton on Thursday 21st May had its repercussions in
attacks on East Indians and their property in the streets of
Georgetown on the afternoon of Friday 22nd May. Violence had reached
such a pitch that Your Excellency was advised by the Government to
declare a state of emergency on that evening. Three days later, on
Monday 25th May, the violence which had until then been confined to
the coastal strip was extended to the Wismar-Mackenzie-Christianburg
area resulting in widespread disturbances which it has been our task
first settlement, is about 60 miles up the Demerara River, on its
left bank, and immediately north of Wismar. It was originally owned
by a Scottish family by the name of Patterson who carried on a
sawmilling business. Because of legal action involving the
Pattersons, Sprostons Ltd. and Government, Government took over
Christianburg and those lots which they did not require they sold to
settlers. The former "great house" is still used to this day as the
Government rest house, in which a magistrate's court serving a
population of over 18,000 is held once per month. Christianburg is
divided into Sections A, B, C - Section A being nearer to Wismar.
(Roth's Pepperpot, 1958.)
In 1916, the
Demerara Bauxite Company was incorporated and registered in
Georgetown to exploit the bauxite resources which had been
discovered by George Bain Mackenzie on the eastern bank of the river
opposite Christianburg. The Company acquired titles to several
parcels of bauxite-bearing free-hold land along the Demerara River
between Christianburg and Akyma. In the same year the Demerara
Bauxite Company was granted crown and Colony mining leases, covering
additional areas of bauxite bearing land in the same district. The
first mining operations were undertaken in 1917.
Today the Demerara
Bauxite Company or "Demba" is a fully owned subsidiary of the
Aluminium Company of Canada, Ltd. Demba's operations are centred at
Mackenzie and consist of two large plants and a vast mining
operation with about eighty (80) miles of railway line. The company
has invested in the plants, the mines, the railroads, power supply
and in the township generally $124.8 million (W.I.) and maintains a
payroll of about 3,500. Its production represents about 80% of the
total output of the B.G. bauxite industry. At Mackenzie the company
has built up a planned residential area complete with primary and
secondary schools, a 128-bed hospital, a trade school and housing
facilities to accommodate many of its employees.
Wismar is in the
strictest sense a satellite to the Mackenzie mining town,
accommodating some of those who work at Demba and those businessmen
who cater to the needs of the workers at Mackenzie. Some of those
who settled at Wismar were squatters and many did not own freehold
land. Part of the Wismar area is controlled by a local authority.
There are also housing schemes and a cooperative for supplying
electricity. In part of the area there is a potable water supply.
Roads and drainage are bad.
III. Social and
The population of
these three areas was about 18,000 in May 1964, and of these, about
3000 were East Indian, the majority of the rest being Africans. The
majority of the working population were employed at Demba. Since
these settlers were originally from the coastlands, some maintained
contact with relatives there whilst others regarded their sojourn in
the Demerara River as being only temporary, and would visit their
relatives or families on the coastlands as often as once a month. A
few of these people were affected by the disturbances on the East
and West Coasts. Although some 350 of the East Indians were employed
at Demba, the majority were businessmen who in many cases owned
their places of business and their homes. Some of them owned more
than one building and were engaged in more than one occupation. The
majority of the Africans were wage earners.
The two major races
- East Indians and Africans - lived harmoniously side by side and
not in racial groups. Socially they would mix freely especially at
clubs and restaurants. Inter-marriage was not uncommon among them.
The points of difference between them were economic and political.
As indicated above,
the majority of the 3,000 East Indians were supporters of the P.P.P.
or were so identified. The majority of the Africans were P.N.C
supporters who had the satisfaction of knowing that the
representative for the Upper Demerara River constituency in the
House of Assembly was an African, Mr. Robert Jordan. The close ties
that existed between many of the Africans at Wismar and their
relatives who bad been involved in racial clashes on the East and
West Coasts of Demerara served to intensify animosity towards the
East Indian minority. The news of the murder of the African couple -
the Sealeys - at Buxton reached Wismar on Friday the 22nd May, and
seems to have been the incident which precipitated the planned
reprisal against the East Indians in the Wismar-Christianburg area
on Monday 25th May, 1964. The economic prosperity of the East Indian
community must have been a latent source of jealousy, which
determined that the major aim of the attack would be the destruction
of property. We shall have more to say on this point in a later
section of this report.
During the week
proceeding May 25th, 1964, there was evidence of marked tension in
the Wismar-Christianburg area, but in spite of threats of beating
and burning levelled against East Indians, most of these do not
appear to have been taken seriously enough as to warrant a report to
the Police. Although there were disturbances in British Guiana
during 1962 and again during 1963, the Upper Demerara River area
renamed relatively calm except for one major incident in 1963 at
Wismar when a shop was looted. The owner discharged a shot gun at
the looters but did not injure them seriously. He had to remove from
Wismar because of threats made against him.
We have attempted
to construct a chronological record of the important events at
Wismar from the 20th May to the early morning of the 25th May, 1964.
This record is based on entries in the Occurrence Book kept at the
Wismar Police Station, and on the reports made by the Police at
Wismar to Force Control, Police Headquarters, Georgetown:
1. Pandit Ramlackhan's house was bombed at about 2.00 a.m.
1. A strike took place at Demba. It began in the mechanical shop and
spread to other installations.
1. Daniel Persaud reported that people had set fire to his house but
it was only scorched.
2. At 11.30 p.m. there was an explosion at Silvertown at the house
of Ibrahim Khan and three people were injured and taken to hospital.
Damage was done to the living quarters of the building.
1. At 12.05 a.m. a bomb was thrown at the house of Walter Narine at
Silvertown. No one was injured.
2. Edoo's house was seen on fire in the One Mile Area.
3. At about 2.30 a.m. fire was set on the house of Cyril Ragnauth at
4. At about 10.50 p.m. Mr. Toolsie Persaud, a businessman who has a
timber grant at Christianburg, and his men were going to Mr. Lam's
Hotel for food and accommodation. Deodat Narine, one of his
employees was beaten and acid thrown on him. He jumped into the
5. Mr. Lam's Hotel was pelted and looted and Mr. Toolsie Persaud and
his men escaped through the back yard of Mr. Lam's premises. (They
hid themselves until the next day when they travelled to Georgetown.
Mr. Toolsie Persaud did not mention this incident or the situation
at Wismar to anyone.)
6. At 11.30 a.m. the empty house of Joseph Gaines (East Indian ) of
Half Mile Wismar was set on fire.
1. At 1.30 a.m. Cyril Ragnauth and his wife were injured by air-gun
pellets when they opened a window to investigate a noise they heard.
2. The house of Seecowathai was set on fire.
3. At 8.40 a.m. a lighted substance was thrown on the house of
Basdeo Ramkumar - a piece of tarpaulin burnt.
4. At 1.00 a.m. one Singh was found unconscious in Sand Road, Wismar.
5. At 4.55 a.m. house owned by Daniel Persaud completely destroyed.
It was unoccupied.
6. At 9.17 a.m. strike at Demba called off.
7. At 6.45 p.m. building owned by Alphonso Singh set on fire.
8. At 7.30 p.m. houses owned by Charles John set on fire at One Mile
area. One building destroyed, the other damaged.
9. At 9.00 p.m. the other building owned by Charles John destroyed
10. At 8.30 p.m. another attempt was made on the building owned by
11. At 8.45 p.m. Leonard Gobin was beaten in the Silvertown area.
12. At 9.00 p.m. Sukraj of Half Mile, Wismar, was beaten.
13. At 11.00 p.m. the premises owned by Sookram at Christianburg
looted and destroyed by fire.
14. At 11.20 p.m. two (2) shots were fired on Roshal Alli of
Silvertown. He was hospitalised.
15. The building of David Perai set on fire.
1. At 12.15 a.m. the unoccupied building of Sahadeo Ram completely
2. At 1.30 p.m. unoccupied building on Blueberry Hill set on fire.
3. At 4.05 a.m. a barber shop of William Subrian pulled down and
thrown in the river.
From 7.09 a.m.
until 12.43 p.m. no entry was made at Force Control concerning the
events at Wismar. The last record at Wismar of a message sent to
Force Control was at 5.30 a.m.
During the course
of our Inquiry, counsel for the security forces suggested to several
witnesses that the disturbances in the Wismar-Christianburg area on
May 25th, 1964, had been "spontaneous" and had taken many people by
surprise. Many witnesses confirmed that the intensity of the
outbreak took them by surprise, but Mr. Hobbs, the Police Officer in
charge of Wismar, gave it as his opinion that the events at Wismar
had been carefully planned with such efficiency as to thwart the
efforts of the security forces. The Commissioner of Police, on the
other hand, opined that from subsequent reports he was sure that the
outbreak had been spontaneous. This aspect of the matter will be
dealt with in more detail in another chapter of this report.
Between 7 and 8
o'clock on the morning of May 25th the situation deteriorated
rapidly. There was widespread violence, arson and looting. The stage
was set for a day of unmitigated tragedy. At about 8.00 a.m. it was
rumoured that an East Indian man had kicked an African boy. The
Police subsequently investigated this but found it to be untrue. If
any was needed, this was the casus belli.
Throughout the day,
large numbers of East Indians sought refuge in the Wismar Police
station compound - some were rescued by Police and Volunteers,
others went there on their own. With the arrival of British troops
at Mackenzie at 5.00 p.m. these people were ferried across to
Mackenzie where they were accommodated at the trade school, sports
club and Police station. Those who had been injured were treated and
sent away or hospitalised at the Mackenzie Hospital according to the
severity of the cases. On the 26th May the R.H. Carr and the M.V.
Barima were made available for the transportation of evacuees to
Georgetown; some went by air. The presence of African policemen and
Volunteers at the point of disembarkation in Georgetown caused some
fear on the part of the evacuees which was only assuaged when
assurances were given by officials of the B.G. Sanatan Dharma Maha
Sabha. The industrial site at Ruimveldt was used as a transit point
for the evacuees until they could be re-settled elsewhere in the
The advent of the
British troops and the imposition of a curfew helped to restore
order out of chaos, but as darkness fell, fires could still be seen
in the area. Sporadic attacks on Indian life and property continued,
however. On the 26th May, Isaac Bridgewater, the father of Senator
Christina Ramjattan, was murdered and his place burnt. Arson took
place on the Mackenzie side on the 27th May, 1964, and on the 2nd
June, 1964, when Indian houses at Cara Cara were burnt. Toolsie
Persaud's gasoline installation at Section C, Christianburg, was
destroyed on the 25th July, 1964.
On the 6th July,
1964, an explosion occurred at Booradia on a launch named "Sun
Chapman" which was taking goods and passengers, the majority of them
Africans, from Georgetown to Wismar. About thirty-eight (38) persons
perished in this disaster. The echo of the Sun Chapman disaster was
immediately felt at Mackenzie when five East Indians were murdered
and seven seriously injured. Before the official report of the Sun
Chapman tragedy reached the Police and British army, Africans were
on the rampage and in the space of two hours, 5.00 to 7.00 p.m.,
more people were killed than on the whole day of the 25th May, 1964.
Within two hours
the security forces had rounded up all the East Indians working at
Demba and living in or around Mackenzie; on the next day these were
transported to Georgetown. In spite of the imposition of a curfew,
the few remaining Indian houses at Cara Cara were destroyed or
damaged. The destruction of the building which housed the Royal Bank
of Canada was the last known act of violence directed against Indian
Those members of
the Commission who visited the area did not see any East Indians
except for a few in the Police Force and the Demba Constabulary.
The violence of May
25th, although started at the river front, was at first mainly
concentrated in remote areas such as Half Mile, One Mile and Valley
of Tears. It was only later that large buildings such as those owned
by Messrs. T. Prashad, Lalta Paul and Hakim Khan in Silvertown and
Silver City were destroyed. Protection money was demanded and in
some cases obtained from the owners of big business. But this did
not prevent their business places being looted and burnt,
subsequently, nor did it prevent them from being assaulted.
population in the majority supported these acts. A few of those who
engaged in these acts of violence might well have come from other
parts of the country, some were undoubtedly drawn from the criminal
elements who made periodic visits to the area, whilst some others
were from the area. Wherever they might have come from, however,
they were certainly well informed about the precise location of East
Indian premises in the Wismar-Christianburg area, and were well
equipped and trained for incendiarism. The local population knew how
to prevent fires spreading and indeed lost no time in forming bucket
brigades to save African homes. African furniture was removed from
Indian houses so that the houses could be burnt.
During all this
violence there was no report of an African or anyone for that matter
being injured by an Indian. They were afraid that retaliation might
result in a heavy toll of lives and this could have been the case.
The East Indians were shocked by the sudden enmity shown by persons
who had been their friends, neighbours and fellow workers.
The hilly and
wooded terrain of the Wismar area made it difficult for the security
forces, however conscientious, to apprehend persons engaged in arson
or other crimes of violence. Neighbours and other members of the
public were either afraid or were unwilling to render any assistance
to the security forces. They never lent a hand to extinguish fires
kindled on East Indian homes, and the very few who offered shelter
to East Indians were threatened to such an extent that they had to
put out the families whom they had succoured. The majority of the
Africans laughed and jeered at the East Indians as blood stained and
battered, raped and naked, shocked and destitute, they helplessly
went their way to the only place of refuge, the Wismar Police
Station. African women played their part in these events to the
are convinced that "this was a diabolical plot, ingeniously planned
and ruthlessly executed."
In the words of Mr.
Festus Adams, the Village Chairman of the Wismar- Christianburg
Local Authority, as he surveyed the inferno during the 25th May, it
was "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
CONDUCT OF THE
I. The Security
Forces in British Guiana
(a) The Police
The British Guiana
Police Force was established by the Police Ordinance of 1891 which
was subsequently continued by the Police Ordinance of 1920 and is
now to be found in Chapter 77 of the Laws of British Guiana. This
has since been amended by the Police Ordinance of 1957. Section 60
of Chapter 77 gives the Commissioner of Police power to make
regulations governing the Police Force. These rules and regulations
are to be found in the Subsidiary Legislation Ordinances.
Articles 99-104 of
the Constitutional Instruments govern certain matters pertaining to
the Police Force. Article 101(1) states: "Power to make appointments
to the Office of Commissioner of Police and to dismiss and to
exercise disciplinary control over any persons balding or acting in
that office shall vest in the Governor acting after consultation
with the Chairman of the Police Service Commission." Article 102 of
the Constitution also gives, inter alia, power to make
appointments of officers in the Police Force of or above the rank of
inspector, to the Governor acting on the recommendation of the
Police Service Commission. Power to make appointments below the rank
of inspector vests in the Commissioner of Police to such extent as
may be prescribed by any law of the Legislature.
Mr. Peter Granville
Owen became Commissioner of Police for the B.G. Police Force in
The men in the B.G.
Police Force are predominantly Africans. The numerical strength of
the entire "E" Division of the Police Force at Mackenzie was
thirty-one (31). In May, 1964, they were under the command of
Assistant Superintendent Oscar Hobbs. Wismar Police Station had
thirteen (13) men, consisting of one sergeant, one corporal and
eleven constables. At the request of the Government, the
Commissioner of Police had in 1963 carried out a review of the
number of policemen in that area, and having regard to the
population, he recommended that the strength of "E" Division be
increased by the addition of seven men - one inspector, one corporal
and five constables. There was only one vehicle at Mackenzie and he
recommended that another be obtained for the Wismar area and this
was done. The other recommendation was not carried out.
(b) The B.G.
[British Guiana Volunteer Force] was estab1ished by the Volunteer
Ordinance, Chapter 38, of the Laws of British Guiana. The Commanding
Officer is Col. Celso DeFreitas, who is responsible to the Governor
for the Force. The Volunteer Force is about six hundred (600)
The battalion is
made up of a Headquarters Company in Georgetown and four rifle
Companies of which one is stationed in New Amsterdam and another at
The Volunteer Force
at Mackenzie, "D" Company, had one Major, three Subalterns and
ninety-one (91) other ranks. Major Langham who commands "D" Company
also works as Security Officer at Demba. Many of the ranks of "D"
Company work and live at Wismar-Christianburg and Mackenzie and the
majority of them are Africans.
On 24.5.64 at 10.00
am, authority was given for the embodiment of twenty-four (24) men
of "D" Company. Orders for full embodiment of the company came at
midday on 25.5.64 and by 5.00 p.m. they were all embodied under the
command of major Langham.
(c) The British
disturbances of 1962 British soldiers had been in British Guiana and
could be called upon in time of emergency to come to the aid of the
civil power. In May, 1964, the British soldiers were under the
command of Col. R. King, Commander of the B.G. Garrison. He takes
orders relating to the British forces from the Governor as
Commander-in-Chief. After the declaration of the state of emergency
on Friday 22nd May, 1964, additional British soldiers were flown
from the United Kingdom to British Guiana.
One platoon of the
British army went into operation at Wismar at about 6.00 p.m. on
25th May, 1964.
(d) The Demba
There is at
Mackenzie a hybrid force of about 90 men called the Demba
Constabulary, the members of which are recruited by Demba and paid
by the Company. They receive their training from the Police Force,
are subject to discipline by the Commissioner of Police and can
arrest for any crime committed on land or premises owned by Demba.
Elsewhere they must make a report to the Police. Throughout the
disturbances on May 25th, a few of these special constables were
used by the Police at Wismar. They are not allowed to carry arms nor
are they trained in their use.
II. Conduct of the
Security Forces at the Scene
On the day of the
disturbances at Wismar-Christianburg there were 57 cases of assault,
including rape, which were treated at the Mackenzie Hospital. Two
persons were killed and at least 197 houses were destroyed in
addition to several cases of looting. With the single exception of
Assistant Superintendent Lashley, who in company with Lieutenant
Wishart and a party of men, apprehended and shot a looter who
refused to halt when ordered to do so, no member of the Volunteers
or Police admitted witnessing any cases of assault or rape, looting
Several members of
the Police and Volunteers who gave evidence said that they had seen
large crowds of people moving up and down but committing no offence
- indeed one witness described the crowd as orderly and peaceful and
said that they were walking "as though going to church". On the
other hand, Assistant Superintendent Lashley stated that in the
course of his patrolling duties he had on one occasion dispersed a
riotous crowd by the use of tear smoke. In his view the dispersal of
crowds should have been one of the prime duties of the patrols,
since he observed that the assembly of a crowd in an area always
heralded the start of fires and other acts of violence in that area.
We would like to single out Assistant Superintendent John Lashley
for special commendation for his intelligent and energetic action
during the disturbances and for the forthright and unequivocal
manner in which he give evidence before us.
A variety of
allegations were made by witnesses against the security forces - the
Police and Volunteers. These included bribery, partaking in loot,
standing by and refusing to give assistance whilst rape and assault
were being committed, refusing to extinguish fires, supplying
gasoline to arsonists and being politically partial by telling
people who were beaten and stripped to go to their political
On the other hand,
members of the security forces alleged that they were on every
occasion just in time to see fires beyond their control, and injured
or uninjured East Indians coming out of their hiding places and in
tears begging to be rescued. These persons were taken to the Police
station promptly and those in need of medical treatment were sent to
the Mackenzie Hospital. By noon on the 25th it became quite evident
that the tide of violence could not be stemmed and it was decided by
the Police to concentrate all their energies on the saving of lives
rather than property.
Having regard to
the scale of the disturbances in the Wismar-Christianburg area on
the 25th May, we believe that the handful of Police and Volunteers
available for service was totally inadequate to patrol the area
properly and check the violence. Had members of the public been
willing to cooperate with the security forces, however, their
effectiveness would have been greater, but there is evidence that
members of the public actively thwarted the efforts of the Police
and Volunteers by assembling in large crowds and by jeering and
taunting them. No doubt also, it must have been extremely difficult
for some members of the Volunteer Force who lived in the area and
who were Africans, to dissociate themselves emotionally from the
prevailing attitude of hostility against the Indians on that day.
It should be also
borne in mind that total embodiment of the Volunteer Force was not
effected until 5.00 p.m. on the 25th May. United Kingdom troops did
not arrive at Wismar until about 6.00 p.m. on that day. It is a pity
that the "image of the British soldier" was not sooner on the scene.
We shall have more to say about this aspect of the matter in a later
section of our report.
As stated above,
the security forces decided after a certain stage to save lives
rather than property, but we do no believe that the primary
intention of these who planned this disaster was to kill East
whole of the 25th of May only two East Indians were murdered out of
an East Indian population of 3,000; one was killed on the next day.
Yet after the Sun Chapman disaster on the 6th of July, within the
short space of two hours, five East Indians were murdered out of the
remaining East Indian population of 300.
III. Conduct of the
Security Forces Behind the Scene
The Commissioner of
Police in the course of his evidence alleged that he had recommended
verbally to the Premier since April the declaration of a state of
emergency. It was not, however, until the 22nd May, 1964, that the
state of emergency was declared by Your Excellency on the advice of
your Council of Ministers. Just prior to the declaration of the
state of emergency sections of the British Guiana Volunteer Force
had been embodied by Colonel DeFreitas, acting on your instructions.
On Saturday the
23rd May, 1964, the Commissioner of Police wrote a letter to the
then Minister of Home Affairs, Mrs. Janet Jagan, summarizing the
genera1 security situation throughout the Colony. In this letter he
stated, inter alia:
"The violence which
erupted in Georgetown yesterday found a moderate echo in Wismar.
This was the case last year and I am afraid that if violence is
allowed to continue in the countryside the pattern will be repeated
not only in Georgetown but also in Wismar with increasing severity.
The Buxton incident and racial violence generally throughout the
country produced the same effect in Wismar-Mackenzie. At 9.00 p.m.,
an Indian owned house was destroyed by fire at 1 Mile Wismar and at
11.40 p.m. an explosive device was set under the house of another
East Indian at Silvertown, Wismar. It exploded doing damage and
injuring three persons although not seriously.
We both know how
serious it will be for the small East Indian minority at Wismar,
Mackenzie if the Africans start retaliation there as they did last
year. Elsewhere the Police enjoyed one of the quietest nights for
"I note in His
Excellency's Minute of the 22nd May, 1964, addressed to the Garrison
Commander and copied to you and to me, that you had advised the
Governor that you wish me to take the initiative if the physical
intervention of the troops appeared to be necessary and request the
Garrison Commander direct for assistance. I shall endeavour to
consult you before taking such action and I shall of course keep you
informed of what is happening. It would in my opinion be
advantageous at this juncture to resuscitate the Security Council at
which you as Minister of Home Affairs take the Chair."
From this letter it
is quite clear that the Commissioner of Police was fully aware,
probably on the basis of security reports which he had received, of
the explosive situation at Wismar-Mackenzie, and that the East
Indian minority would be in grave danger if "retaliation" commenced
there. Counsel for the security forces put this point admirably when
be said that it was as if the Commissioner of Police had been gazing
into a crystal ball and had been able to foretell the horrible
events that would come to pass.
On Sunday the 24th
May, the Commissioner of Police was aware that the situation at
Wismar had deteriorated considerably. At 9.00 a.m. on that day he
conferred with Assistant Commissioner Puttock at Police Force
Control and gave instructions for the embodiment of 24 men of the
"D" Company, B.G.V.F. The officer in charge of the police at
Mackenzie-Wismar, Mr. Hobbs, had requested the assistance of the
Volunteers; all special constables had been called out and members
of the Police Force had been ordered to go on "stand by".
On the 25th May,
1964, at about 9.00 a.m., Mr. Hobbs reported to Police Headquarters,
Georgetown, that there was wide-scale looting, arson and other acts
of violence at Wismar and requested the embodiment of the entire
Volunteer Force. Major Langham said that the order to embody came
through at about 10.00 a.m. although his diary of event s mentions
the order as coming through from B.G.V.F. Headquarters at 12.00
midday. Full embodiment was not completed until after 3.00 p.m.
The Commissioner of
Police who had been aware of the deteriorating situation at Wismar
decided to send Mr. Neil Isaacs, a "more experienced" officer to
Wismar to assess the situation. Mr. Isaacs left Georgetown by
chartered aircraft at 1.00 p.m. and it was not until a few minutes
before 5.00 p.m. that he telephoned the Commissioner requesting that
British troops be sent to the area. Your Commissioners are in no
doubt whatever that had British troops reached the area earlier on
the day of the 25th the major portion of the tragedy would have been
averted. The question of whether the Commissioner of Police acted
wisely in awaiting the report of Mr. Neil Isaacs before requesting
British troops must be viewed in the light of the reports he
received from Wismar throughout that day, what transpired at the
Security Council meeting at 2.00 p.m., and the time necessary to get
British troops into the area.
As to the nature of
the reports received from Mr. Hobbs, Assistant Commissioner Puttock
was extremely vague. As far as he could remember, the report which
he received was "that the situation was deteriorating and that there
were fires which appeared to be spreading and that there was
looting." He did not mention that the East Indian community at
Wismar was in serious danger. The Commissioner of Police said, "I
understand buildings were burnt, attacks were made on people and
they were beaten at Wismar." Major Langham said that on Sunday 24th
there was a distinct deterioration of the situation and regretted
that Assistant Commissioner Puttock did not agree to the embodiment
of the entire Volunteer Force at Mackenzie rather than only 24 men
without any officers. In his opinion, had full embodiment taken
place on the Sunday, the extent of the damage and injuries which
took place on the Monday would have been considerably reduced. In
any event, by 9.00 a.m. on the 25th of May the Commissioner of
Police had enough information to come to the conclusion that his
prediction of the 23rd May had come to pass. At about 8.00 a.m. on
the 25th, a message was sent from the Demba office at Mackenzie to
the Managing Director of Demba in Georgetown that the situation at
Wismar was extremely serious and that more police or British
soldiers should be sent immediately. Later that morning a further
message was sent through to the Demba head office asking the
Managing Director, Mr. Campbell, to get in touch directly with
either the Commissioner of Police or the Governor, and to advise
that the situation was so extremely serious as to warrant the
immediate despatch of British troops without awaiting the "on the
spot" assessment of Mr. Neil Isaacs. Mr. Campbell confirmed that he
did speak with the deputy Governor Mr. J. Rose at about 10.30 a.m.
The Minister of
Home Affairs said that at 9.00 a.m., on 25th while she was attending
a meeting of the Senate, she was informed that the situation at
Wismar was grave, and that at the adjournment of the Senate meeting
she received further distressing information about the situation.
She tried without success to contact the Commissioner of Police and
it was not until 11.30 am that she managed to speak with the
Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Puttock, who told her of the
Commissioner's decision to send Mr. Neil Isaacs to make an on the
spot assessment of the situation. At 2.00 p.m. a meeting of the
Security Council was held attended by the Commissioner of Police,
the Garrison Commander, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of
Home Affairs and the Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Home
Affairs who deals with Police matters, and presided over by the
Minister. The Minister informed the Council of the reports she had
received concerning the situation at Wismar and requested that
British troops be sent into the area immediately. The Commissioner
of Police said that he would await the report of Mr. Neil Isaacs
before requesting British troops. It was only after the meeting had
adjourned that at about 3.00 p.m. the Commissioner requested British
troops after receiving a telephone call from Mr. Isaacs.
Mr. Neil Isaacs
said that upon arrival at Mackenzie he discussed the situation with
Major Langham and Mr. Hobbs. He saw fires