Guyana in the days of Parson Munroe

Parson Munroe

           Parson Duke Munroe (left) in Berbice in the 1940’s.

 This article is based on the memories of Edwin (Joe) Joseph in an interview I did with him in 2008 just before we left Guyana. Parson Munroe  was like a second father to Edwin, whose mother was a servant for the Munroes at Rodboro Manse near Bath in West Berbice in the 1930s and forties. Edwin was taken under Parson’s wing when he was three years old and went everywhere with Parson who had a profound influence on this little boy. Edwin travelled to England in 1950 with the Munroe family after Parson died and spent the next 42 years of his life in England, Germany and Malaya as he forged a career for himself in the British Army and in sport and recreation. He returned to Guyana with me in 1991 in order to fulfill a promise he had made to Parson Munroe over forty years before.

The Railway line built by the Sprostons in the 1800s was the main communication line along the coast linking Rosignol with Georgetown in the days when I was a boy. Parson Munroe had to run the manse at Rodboro (West Berbice) as a viable economic business and to keep meticulous, accurate accounts which were inspected regularly by English officials of the Congregational Union or London Missionary Society (I’m not sure which).

The line ran parallel to the main public road from Georgetown to Rosignol which at that time was only a red brick (laterite) surfaced highway that very little vehicular traffic ran on. There was a bus and dignitaries would come by motorcar to Fort Wellington and other local government offices or police stations along the coast, but for most of the day the road was plied by pedestrians and donkey carts. Parson had a horse and buggy of Victorian design with which every week he covered the miles between all the various congregational churches that he had to serve as minister between Rosignol and Litchfield and beyond.

I can remember sand tracks leading to the railway from the public road, in particular Franklin Bowman’s Dam providing access for villagers of the St Paul’s and St John’s and Firebrace sections of Hopetown; another sand dam (street) used to cut between Fort Wellington Hospital and the Fort Wellington Garrison and at the end of this was a proper station platform; a third street, this time a proper redbrick road, led from the estate at Bath to the station platform aback of Bath Settlement. Sugar and rice grown in the surrounding estate fields were loaded on the train at this stop. A fourth street was a sand dam leading to a small stop at Cotton Tree Village. All four stops were loading points for cattle that were kept by peasant farmers in the pastures to the rear of the cultivation lands. These pastures were where men like my father practised the seasonal transhumance associated with cattle rearing and peasant rice production.

There was a Saw Mill at the mouth of the Berbice River at Rosignol, and an Ice Factory. Open-air sugar boiling was done between Cotton tree and Bath. At Fortwellington, provisions and arrowroot grown in the peasant cultivation lands of Hopetown and 22 Belair as well as cattle and milk-churns were loaded onto the train. Although Bushlot barely existed at that time, fish caught out at sea were brought in by small boats which sailed up the canal leading to the railway from the sea at no 23 turn and were able to load them onto a train stop at the end of this canal where there was a small railway bridge over the canal.

On the train every day, there would be a buyer who would meet with local peasant farmers at every train stop and buy their produce from them at that station.

In some seasons there were truckloads of coconuts in net bags. Coconut husks were loaded into another wagon, coconut shells in yet another, for making into charcoal in Georgetown, jute sacks of copra, flour-bags of sugar and arrowroot, jute sacks of sugar still warm from being processed in open air boilers at Cotton Tree and Bath, truckloads of logs for fuel, of fence-posts of bullet wood and of paling staves, bamboo sticks from Fort Wellington and milk churns, small farmers provisions such as cassava, plantain, eddoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and fruit such as pomegranates citrus and baskets of Tamarind.

Parson’s honey in special boxes went to government house, and beeswax in other boxes was also loaded on the train whenever it had been produced.

On the return journey, barrels with pickled mackerel, salt beef, pickled beef, pigs’ tails and rolls of cloth were unloaded at Fort Wellington to be taken to Yapps or De Souza’s shops in Hopetown.

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To read about what happened to Edwin when he went back to his home country, Guyana, in 1991 to help it develop after he retired from his full service career in the British Army and subsequent career in sport and recreation, then order “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 available in the UK in Paperback via Nielsens, Gardners, Waterstones bookstores or by post from Amazon.co.uk. Outside the UK, it is available from Amazon.com in Kindle format only so if you live outside the UK and want a paperback copy you have to place an order with Waterstones.com