[Editor's Note: The Wismar Report, long held
confined to an invisible archive by the PNC government, is now
made available by the PPP government via its historian-ambassador,
Mr. Odeen Ismael, online. The guyanaundersiege.com website expresses
its gratitude to the ambassador for his commentary work, and for
making this report finally public. That said, let is be clear
that at no time is this report the property of any government
or website or political party. It is the property of the people
of Guyana and it is regretful that the PPP has not seen it fit
to make this report in hardcopy format, available to the ordinary
folks of Guyana who do not have computers.—Rakesh Rampertab]
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
Chapter 5 - Conclusions and Acknowledgements
INTRODUCTORY NOTE - by Editor
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 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. In
the course of these attacks, a number of East Indians were murdered,
scores of others brutally beaten and injured, and women and girls
publicly raped. All of this was accompanied by large scale arson
which saw the destruction of more than 200 houses and business
places owned by East Indians.
Very little was done by the police and volunteer force, to protect
the East Indian population, 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 days evacuated from the area, and most of them re-settled
in the coastal villages.
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".
As an aftermath of these horrible occurrences, Mrs. Janet Jagan,
the Minister of Home Affairs, tendered her resignation from the
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 impending resignation accompanies the Wismar Report.
On 6 July 1964, a passenger launch, the Sun Chapman, travelling
from Georgetown to Mackenzie on the Demerara River was completely
destroyed by a huge explosion. 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 and five of them died as a result.
The medical officer of the Mackenzie Hospital, Dr. C. Davies-Webb,
wrote a report in his medical journal about Sun Chapman explosion
giving details of the aftermath.
STATEMENT OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMISSION
YOUR EXCELLENCY* 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 Singh (Chairman)
(2) Dr. Harold Drayton
(3) Rev. Alexander Sutherland MacDonald
(4) Dr. Subhan Ali Ramjohn.
Mr. William Beekie was appointed Secretary to the Commission.
The terms of reference were:
(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
[Editor's Note: * 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 Mackenzie
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
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 necessary.
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
The Commissioners 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.
The legal 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
(3) Mr. John Carter, Q.C. appeared for the Demerara Bauxite Company
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 evidence taken.
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.
[Editor's Note: * Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 which form part of
the original report of the Commission are not included in this
Top of Page
RECENT DISTURBANCES AT WISMAR-CHRISTIANBURG-MACKENZIE
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 to investigate.
II. The Wismar-Christianburg-Mackenzie Area
Christianburg, the 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
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 Economic Conditions
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.
IV. The Disturbances
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,
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 Cholmondeley Alley.
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 Demerara River.
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
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,
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
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 Colony.
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 property.
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
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.
The local 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 fullest extent.
Your Commissioners 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."
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CONDUCT OF THE SECURITY FORCES
I. The Security Forces in British Guiana
(a) The Police Force
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
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 September, 1962.
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. Volunteer Force
The B.G.V.F. [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) strong.
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 Mackenzie.
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 Army
Since the 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 Constabulary
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 or arson.
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
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
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
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 Indians.
Throughout the 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
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
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 months. (Our underlining)
"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
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
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. Neil Isaacs said that upon arrival at Mackenzie he discussed
the situation with Major Langham and Mr. Hobbs. He saw fires but
did not make a reconnaissance tour of the Wismar area.
It is to be recalled that the Minister of Home Affairs had previously
delegated her power to requisition British troops to the Commissioner
of Police. This delegation of power was intended to obviate any
delay in getting British troops into an area where they were needed
to assist the civil power. Your Excellency had observed in your
minute to the Garrison Commander of 22nd May that "the Minister's
verbal request reflects a proper appreciation of the present situation
in British Guiana", and instructed him that he should "on
receipt of a request for aid from the Commissioner of Police act
on such request." The Commissioner of Police who is in constant
receipt of security reports from all over British Guiana was clearly
the person who should have been expected to have his finger on
the security pulse beat of the nation.
Colonel R. King, the Officer Commanding the B.G. Garrison, said
in the course of evidence before us that at about 10.00 or 11.00
p.m. on Sunday 24th May he was informed by Police Force Control
Georgetown that there was serious trouble at Wismar. He thereupon
gave orders that one platoon of the Devon & Dorset Regiment
should be put on one hour's standby notice as from 5.30 a.m. on
25th May for service in the Wismar-Mackenzie-Christianburg area.
A Dakota plane was later made available for the transportation
of these troops from Atkinson. The Commissioner of Police alleged
that on the Sunday night, 24th May, he did not have this information
about trouble at Wismar, nor did be know then that British troops
would be placed on standby as from 5.30 a.m. on 25th May. We find
this very difficu1t to understand.
We were privileged to have before us the Attorney General of British
Guiana who explained the constitutional position relevant to the
authority of the Minister of Home Affairs in requesting the intervention
of British troops. This is what he had to say:
"The Minister of Home Affairs may ask the Governor to lend
forces - the military - for the support of the civil power where
the Commissioner of Police expresses the opinion that the forces
under his command are no longer able to cope with any particular
situation. . . . The grant or refusal of the forces is in the
discretion of the Governor. . . . I would say that the Minister
who is in charge of internal security is the one from whom the
request of troops should come. But I can say that the Commissioner
of Police should conceivably make such a request on the Minister's
authority. Since the maintenance of public safety and public order
is the responsibility of the Minister of Home Affairs, that responsibility
could not be exercised unless the Commissioner of Police - the
head of the Police Force - is subject to the Minister's orders
and instructions. Constitutionally, the Commissioner of Police
was obliged to act on any request - oral or written - of the Minister
of Home Affairs and, specifically, that British troops be called
upon to give assistance in any area."
The Attorney General stated that this question had been one of
the matters of continuous controversy in the running of the Government.
The Council of Ministers had not been formally advised by the
Commissioner of Police that a state of emergency should be declared
until May 21st 1964.
We find that the Commissioner of Police acted without due regard
to the proper constitutional position when he refused to carry
out the request of the Minister of Home Affairs, that British
troops be requisitioned for immediate service in the area. Having
regard to the forebodings which he had expressed to the Minister
in his letter of 23rd May, the reports which he must have received
from Force Control on the night of 24th concerning the gathering
storm at Wismar, the telephoned reports from Mr. Hobbs during
the morning of Monday May 25th, and the plea from the Managing
Director of Demba for intervention of British troops, we are at
a loss to understand why he should have thought it necessary to
follow "normal procedure" in awaiting the "on the
spot" assessment by Mr. Neil Isaacs before signing the requisition
for British troops to be sent to Wismar, in what was clearly an
abnormal situation. We would hesitate to believe that the Commissioner
of Police deliberately prevented the arrival of British troops
at Wismar until the major portion of the destruction bad taken
place. On the most charitable view, his failure to get British
troops into the area at a much earlier hour on the 25th was a
most serious error of judgment on his part, and showed his inability
to comprehend and appreciate the reports which were transmitted
to him. We reiterate our view that the critical factor which could
have considerably reduced the casualties to life and property
at Wismar on the day of the disaster was the presence of British
IV. Further Observations
(a) Mrs. Janet Jagan
By about 10.00 a.m. on the 25th May, 1964, the Minister of Home
Affairs was in possession of what seemed to her to be sufficient
information about what was happening at Wismar as to require the
immediate intervention of British troops. We consider, therefore,
that after failing to contact the Commissioner of Police before
noon, she should have made a formal request of Your Excellency
or of the Garrison Commander for the despatch of British troops.
It is unfortunate also, that after the Commissioner of Police
had refused her verbal request at the Security Council meeting
at 2.00 p.m. she did not attempt to confirm the exercise of her
constitutional authority by signing a formal written request.
(b) Mr. Robert Jordan
Several witnesses have alleged that Mr. Robert Jordan, member
of the former Legislative Assembly for the Upper Demerara River
constituency, bears a major responsibility for the events of May
25th and 26th. Mr. Jordan was said to have been seen on Thursday
May 21st, and again on Saturday May 23rd, inciting African people
to violence against East Indians. Three witnesses said that on
the Thursday be was seen with a newspaper on the public road drawing
to the attention of those he met the murder of Mr. & Mrs.
Sealey, African farmers of Buxton, East Coast, Demerara, and asking
what the people of Wismar were going to do in reprisal for such
actions by East Indians on the coast. Four witnesses claimed to
have seen Mr. Jordan on the Saturday in company with various community
leaders and at least one of the known criminal element, either
inciting Africans or planning acts of violence against East Indians.
The Commissioners noted that those of the alleged "conspirators"
who appeared before us categorically denied that they had been
planning violence with Mr. Jordan or indeed that they had seen
him in the area at the time in question. It is also noted that
the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Sealey were found aback of Buxton on
Friday May 22nd and the day after it was alleged that Mr. Jordan
was reading about their murder from a newspaper on the Wismar
Your Commissioners feel that we must express our regret that Mr.
Robert Jordan did not appear before us although invited to do
so, in order that the extremely serious allegations against him
might have had the strenuous testing they deserve. We are thus
obliged to include them for the record, without further comment.
(c) Mrs. Christina Ramjattan
Mrs. Christina Ramjattan was a Senator who lived at Christianburg.
On Sunday 24th May she had seen several fires in the area and
had been aware of the rising tension, which was so severe, that
she had to request a Police escort to the launch which brought
her to Georgetown at about 1.00 a.m. on the morning of 25th May.
On arrival she made no effort to contact any Police officer or
any member of the Government to inform them about the worsening
situation at Wismar.
She failed to bring the matter to the attention of the Senate
at the Senate Meeting which she attended on 25th May, at 9.00
a.m. During the meeting she passed a note of a resolution about
the situation at Wismar from the P.P.P. Constituency Committee
there to Senator Janet Jagan, but she did not discuss with the
Minister what she had witnessed the day before, She did make an
attempt to see the Commissioner of Police but without success.
She failed to see any other Police officer.
Mrs. Ramjattan confessed that on the morning of 25th May she was
so very distressed at the memory of what she had witnessed the
day before and by the many reports that reached her by telephone
from Wismar, that she would not act properly and could think only
about her property and her invalid husband whom she had left behind
At it turned out, the police at Wismar, though they escorted Mr.
Ramjattan to the safety of the police station on 25th May, seized
the shot gun which he had discharged at a would-be arsonist. This
action by the police in seizing a gun from a man who was using
it to defend his own property must be criticised most strongly.
Mrs. Ramjattan's father, Isaac Bridgewater, who lived in Section
C, Christianburg, was murdered on 26th May. We cannot understand
why the police did not evacuate all the Indians from this remote
area - Section C, Christianburg - on 25th. Had they done so, Bridgewater's
life would have been saved.
(d) Mr. Patrick Bender
Mr. Patrick Bender was the Assistant District Commissioner for
the area during the period of the disturbances. As A.D.C. he might
have been expected to have rendered active assistance to the security
forces in their efforts to maintain law and order on the day in
question. Instead, however, be remained throughout the day in
his compound at Christianburg and did not venture forth into Wismar
until two days after the 25th. Mr. Bender admitted in evidence
that he had been so afraid at what he had heard of the crimes
of violence end arson, and at the large number of fires which
he saw from his compound, that he had instructed his men to keep
the launch in readiness for prompt departure in the event of the
crowds coming his way.
(e) Mr. Festus Adams
Mr. Festus Adams, "the Village Father" - Chairman of
the Loca1 Authority - travelled across to Wismar after lunch and
walked around the area surveying the scene. His simple and sole
reaction was to interpret what he saw as an illustration of "an
eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." After his tour of
the area he returned to his home at Mackenzie for tea.
(f) Mr. Albert Jairam
Mr. Albert Jairam was the Government dispenser and Sub-Registrar
of Births and Deaths in the area before be left for Georgetown
on Sunday 24th May. Although he was fully aware of the tension
prevailing at Wismar and that there had been a number of cases
of violence and arson on the day of his departure, he failed to
make any kind of report to any responsible authority on arrival
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ACCOUNT OF NUMBER OF DEATHS, EXTENT OF INJURIES, LOSS AND DAMAGE
When one considers the number of East Indians evacuated, the large
number of Africans in the area and the negligible opposition which
the attackers encountered, the number of fatalities was indeed
There were two East Indians who died on the 25th May, 1964. Richard
Khan, aged about 18 years, died at the Mackenzie Hospital two
hours after admission. He had been attending high school in Georgetown.
The other, Pau1 Mirgin, who operated a tug, was married and lived
with his wife and four sons in the Valley of Tears.
Gussie English* an African was shot on the 25th May, 1964. He
died the same day.
On the 28th May, 1964, Isaac Bridgewater was killed. He was the
father of Senator Christina Ramjattan and lived at Section C,
On the 27th May, 1964, Byron Wharton*, an African, died because
of extensive burns suffered when he was trapped in a burning building.
Following the Sun Chapman disaster the bodies of 35 persons were
taken to Mackenzie and 12 others were listed as missing or unidentified.
All of these were Africans. The Sun Chapman incident resulted
in five East Indians being murdered at Mackenzie.
There are no official records of the deaths of these persons as
no entry has been made in the Register of Births and Deaths. The
dispenser who is also the Sub-Registrar for Births and Deaths
left for Georgetown on the 24th May and never returned. His place
was looted. The present dispenser did not even prepare a temporary
list of deaths from the Police record pending the report from
the coroner. He did not attend at the Inquiry in order to be of
some assistance to the Commissioners. The Assistant District Commissioner
who supervises the Sub-Registrar has done nothing to regularise
the position. Up to the time when evidence was being taken at
the Inquiry the coroner's court had not started to enquire into
[Editor's Note: * Gussie English and Byron Wharton met their deaths
while they were involved in looting.]
On the 22nd May, 1964, three people, a man, his wife and their
daughter, were admitted to the Mackenzie Hospital suffering from
injuries sustained a result of a bomb being thrown into their
On the 24th May, 1964, two male persons were admitted to the Mackenzie
Hospital. They were beaten. There was one case of shot-gun wounds.
He was treated and sent away.
On the 25th May, 1964, thirty-three persons were admitted to hospital
with several injuries ranging from gun shot wounds, fractures
of the skull, mandible and humerus, lacerated wounds, multiple
contusions and abrasions. Children suffered bruises, women suffered
rape, fractures and lacerated wounds. One woman suffered a fractured
right humerus and both bones of the right forearm. Another pregnant
woman had multiple contusions about the body. Her baby was born
the next day 26th May, 1964, a full term child. Victor Bholai
Singh suffered a fractured pelvis and left fibula. He gave evidence
and we noticed that he could not walk nor stand up properly. There
were six cases of rape, some of whom had been successively raped
by several men. Four were hospitalised and were treated and sent
the next day to Georgetown Hospital. These cases were still bleeding
slightly when they were examined at Georgetown Hospital. Eighteen
persons were treated by the St. Johns Ambulance Brigade.
One African had a bullet wound through his right arm. This injury
was inflicted by the security forces.
The records of the persons admitted and/or treated at the Georgetown
Hospital, although not as carefully documented as we would have
liked, disclosed that about 14 cases were hospitalised.
One 15-year-old girl who had been raped, besides her physical
suffering, had received a terrible mental shock, and there is
no doubt that her experiences on the 25th May will leave an indelible
scar on her memory.
On the 26th May, 1964, three persons were hospitalised for their
injuries. One was treated and sent away.
On the 27th May, 1964, one Indian was beaten and an African who
swam the Demerara River near the Christianburg area, because of
rumour that the East Indians were coming to attack the community,
was suffering from exhaustion and a punctured wound in the right
On the 6th July, 1964, seven persons were injured including a
child 3 years old who suffered a depressed fracture of the skull.
She had to be sent to the St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital in Georgetown
where after some time she recovered. Her brother, aged 10, was
murdered when he tried to save her from further injuries.
In the Sun Chapman disaster 10 persons were injured. Five of these
were admitted to the hospita1 and the other five treated and sent
home. Seven other persons were treated for shock when they heard
the news of the disaster.
(c) Loss and Damage
Two hundred and twenty houses were destroyed. Of those, five belonged
to Africans. Three of the five were destroyed either because they
were owed by P.P.P. members or by persons who had assisted East
Indiana during the disturbances. The other two could not have
been saved when large Indian buildings adjacent to them were on
Stocks, including household furniture and general merchandise,
were looted, and what could not be taken away were burnt with
the buildings. Only a very small proportion of looted goods has
been recovered and restored to their owners. Some loot is still
lying unclaimed at the Wismar Police station.
The Social Assistance Department compiled statistics relating
to the displaced persons from Wismar-Mackenzie area and they were
made available to the Commission. The number of families displaced
is 744 comprising 1,249 adults and 2,150 children making a total
of 3,399 individuals. The estimated value of the houses is $1,457,810.
The number of business premises is 87, valued at $448,540. There
were 8 farms destroyed valued at $6,500 and livestock lost valued
at $30,000. The estimated value of the total amount of property
destroyed or lost is $1,942,850.
The occupational groupings of the displaced families are:
(a) Farmers 24
(b) Artisans 315
(c) Businessmen 101
(d) Clerical Employees 114
(e) Unclassified 190
The estimated loss in earnings, wages, or salaries per month is
On arrival in Georgetown the evacuees were taken to the Ruimveldt
bond where they were given free board and lodging for 10 days.
After this period they received immediate money grants which amounted
to $16,500, and they were assisted with food vouchers monthly.
Every adult was given a food voucher to the value of $6 and $4
for each child per month. The vouchers were not available for
clothing but they were assisted in this respect by religious and
charitable organisations. Food vouchers amounted to $18,100 per
The number of families who we re unemployed as a result of the
disturbances are as follows:
(a) Farmers 19
(b) Artisans 285
(c) Businessmen 100
(d) Clerical Employees 96
(e) Unclassified 244
These people were placed either with friends or relatives so that
they could try to pick up the threads of their broken lives.
The individuals who were working at Demerara Bauxite Company on
the 25th May, 1964, were 365. Of this number 342 were evacuated
on the 27th May, 1964, but some of those returned subsequently.
During the period between 27th May, 1964 and the 6th and 7th July,
1964, 175 were employed. On the 7th July, 1964, 132 persons were
evacuated. Of the total evacuees during this period 163 persons
were granted leave of absence and 116 decided to terminate their
employment with the Company.
Demba gave $10,000 as financial assistance to the evacuees and
the Maha Sabha expended a total of about $30,000 to assist the
Many of the building were not insured against riot and as a result,
with one exception, no one received any insurance money for buildings
or stocks. In many cases the buildings were insured below the
market value. One building was insured with the Hand-in-Hand Mutual
Fire Insurance Company Ltd. for $60,000. This claim was settled.
The number of people insured with the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company
was 13 and the value of the buildings and stocks amounted to $100,000.
Of this amount $6,000 was paid out. The British Guiana and Trinidad
Mutual Fire Insurance Company Ltd. had buildings and stocks insured
to the value of $335,933: buildings $253,593.00, stocks $78,000,
machinery $600, furniture and other household items $3,940. No
amount was paid out. There were no records of claims for life
insurance as a result of the disturbances. As a result of the
injuries and lootings a few criminal cases have been instituted.
Some have been terminated whilst others are pending.
Many witnesses named persons who had attacked and/or robbed them.
We were informed by the Police that prosecutions have been instituted
against some of these persons.
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CONCLUSIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
(a) We have come to the conclusion that the disturbances which
took place in the Wismar-Christianburg-Mackenzie area on May 25th,
1964, were politically and racially inspired. Although there is
a difference of opinion among the security officers who gave evidence
before us on the point, the thorough-going 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 not "spontaneous" but was organised,
and well organised.
(b) We are of the opinion that the Commissioner of Police, Mr.
Owen, acted injudiciously in deciding that until he had received
an assessment of the situation from Mr. Neil Isaacs he would not
requisition British troops for service at Wismar. In consequence,
the arrival of British troops was unnecessarily delayed until
most of the damage to life and property had been complete. We
are convinced that he had enough information from a number of
sources about the extent of the disturbances in the area at least
by 10.00 a.m. on the 25th of May, to justify a requisition for
the immediate dispatch of British troops. Had this been done the
major portion of the tragedy might not have occurred.
(c) We consider that the Commissioner of Police acted unconstitutionally
in not acceding to the request made by the Minister of Home Affairs
at 2.00 p.m. on May 25th to requisition British troops for service
in the Wismar area.
(d) We are satisfied that Assistant Superintendent Hobbs, the
Police officer in charge of the Wismar area, did keep Police Headquarters
in Georgetown fully apprised of the developing situation by way
of transit messages and telephone calls. It was in fact the information
obtained primarily from Mr. Hobbs which was the basis of Mr. Isaac's
report to the Commissioner at 3.00 p.m. on the 25th May.
(e) We consider that the limited embodiment of only a sergeant
and 24 men from "D" Company, B.G.V.F., requested by
the Police on Sunday May 24, considerably reduced their effectiveness
as a force complementary to the small Police force at Wismar.
We agree with Major Langham, Officer Commanding "D"
Company, B.G.V.F., that the full embodiment of the Volunteers
at Mackenzie on Sunday May 24th, might well have reduced the scale
of the Monday disturbances. Even after full embodiment was requested
by Mr. Hobbs at about 8.45 a.m. on Monday 25th, authority for
this was not received from Col. DeFreitas until noon. This delay
meant that the majority of the Volunteer Force was immobilised
during the peak of the disturbances.
(f) Although the overall conduct of the security forces was not
impressive, some members of the Police and Volunteer Forces, in
what was without doubt a most difficult and frustrating situation,
nevertheless, managed to perform their duties conscientiously,
efficiently and humanely. In our opinion, however, the strategic
use of tear smoke for the dispersal of the large crowds which
seemed to gather everywhere at Wismar on the 25th of May would
have assisted the Police and Volunteers in containing the situation.
Throughout the day of the disturbances, members of the security
forces must have been continuously aware of their pathetically
small numbers compared with the large population they were expected
to control. It is regrettable that it had not been found possible
prior to the outbreak of the disturbances - probably because of
lack of funds - to increase the numbers of Police at Wismar-Mackenzie
as the Commissioner of Police had advised in his review of 1963.
(g) British troops requisitioned acted promptly and firmly with
the minimum of severity against the population. Their presence
in the area on the 6th and 7th July, l964 prevented the loss of
many more Indian lives.
(h) The Demerara Bauxite Company, in spite of the ever-present
threat of a strike by the majority of its employees who are Africans,
nevertheless gave substantial assistance to all those who suffered
during these disturbances at Wismar-Mackenzie. For those employees
who might care to return when conditions settle down, Demba has
kept their jobs open and has paid a gratuity to some employees
with a long record of service who had resigned. We feel that the
company ought to find it possible to pay some sort of gratuity
or severance pay in the case of every worker who has resigned
because of these disturbances.
(i) The religious and charitable organisations rendered a yeoman
service in the alleviation of the sufferings of the unfortunate
victims of these disturbances and in their rehabilitation.
(j) Although only one of the properties which were destroyed was
insured against riot, we feel that in view of the extraordinary
situation, some measure of financial relief should be granted
to all those whose properties were destroyed.
(k) The recent disturbances in Wismar-Christianburg-Mackenzie
have been examined by your Commissioners in the context of the
wider pattern of planned violence, murders, arson, bombings, reprisals
and counter-reprisals that characterised life in British Guiana
during 1964. Although the number of deaths caused by violence
and the amount of property destroyed was greater in the rest of
the Colony, Wismar does, however, bring the months of violence
into sharp focus.
There, within the brief period of 48 hours, a total section of
a community was attacked, outraged and subsequently had to he
evacuated. Nearly all their property was maliciously destroyed,
while the majority of their erstwhile friends and neighbours either
took part in the destruction or stood idly by.
We should like to express our thanks to all those persons who
assisted the Commission by giving evidence or by submitting statements
or memoranda. Our thanks are due also to the staff who worked,
and sometimes under trying conditions, in order that the work
of the Commission should he completed. The Secretary, Mr. Beekie,
spared no effort in order to assist the Commission, especially
after counsel to the Commission became ill.
1. S. ROPAN SINGH - Chairman
2. HAROLD A. DRAYTON - Member
3. A.S. MACDONALD - Member
4. SAVITHRI DEVI MOOTOO - Member
Dated this 29th January, 1965.
Source: Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Georgetown, Guyana] -
Copyright© GNI Publications, 2004