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Georgetown, British Guiana

GEORGETOWN, BRITISH GUIANA, the capital of British Guiana (see Guiana), and the seat of the colonial government, situated on the left bank of the Demerara river at its mouth, in 6° 29' 24" N. and 58° 11' 30" W. It was known during the Dutch occupation as Stabroek, and was established as the seat of government of the combined colonies of Essequibo and Demerara (now with Berbice forming the three counties of British Guiana) in 1784, its name being changed to Georgetown in 1812. It is one of the finest towns in this part of the world, the streets being wide and straight, intersecting each other at right angles, several having double roadways with lily-covered canals in the centre, the grass banks on either side carrying rows of handsome shade trees. In Main Street, the finest street in Georgetown, the canal has been filled in to form a broad walk, an obvious precedent for the treatment of the other canals, which (however beautiful) are useless and merely act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The principal residences, standing in their own gardens surrounded by foliage and flowers, are scattered over the town, as are also the slums, almost the worst of which abut on the best residential quarters. Water Street, the business centre, runs parallel to the river for about 2 m. and contains the stores of the wholesale and retail merchants, their wharves running out into the river to allow steamers to come alongside. Most of the houses and public buildings are constructed of wood, the former generally raised on brick pillars some 4 ft. to 10 ft. from the ground, the bright colouring of the wooden walls, jalousies and roofs adding to the beauty of the best streets. The large structure known as the Public Buildings in the centre of the city, containing the offices of the executive government and the hall of the court of policy, was erected between 1829 and 1834. It is a handsome, E-shaped, brick-plastered building of considerable size, with deep porticos and marble-paved galleries carried on cast-iron columns. The law courts, built in the 'eighties, have a ground floor of concrete and iron, the upper storey being of hardwood. Among other public buildings are the town hall, the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, several handsome churches, the local banks and insurance offices, and the almshouse. The public hospital consists of several large blocks. The Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society has a large reading-room and lending library. The assembly rooms, above and owned by the Georgetown club, has a good stage and is admirably adapted to dramatic and musical entertainments. A museum (free), belonging to the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society, is chiefly devoted to the fauna of British Guiana, but also contains an instructive collection of local economic, mineralogical and botanical exhibits, a miscellaneous collection of foreign birds and mammals, and an interesting series of views of the colony. The botanical gardens to the east of the city are of considerable extent and admirably laid out. The nurseries cover a large area and are devoted chiefly to the raising of plants of economic importance which can be purchased at nominal rates. The collections of ferns and orchids are very fine. In the gardens are also located the fields of the board of agriculture, where experimental work in the growth of sugar-cane, rice, cotton and all tropical plants of economic importance is carried on. Other popular resorts are the sea wall and the promenade gardens in the centre of the city.

The local government of Georgetown is vested in a mayor and town council elected under a very restricted franchise. The city is divided into fourteen wards each with one representative. A councillor must possess, either personally or through his wife, premises within the city of the appraised value of at least $1500. A voter must either own house property of the appraised value of $250 or occupy premises of an annual rental of $240. There are indeed only 297 municipal voters in a population of nearly 50,000. The revenue, just over £50,000 annually, is mainly derived from a direct rate on house property. The colonial government pays rates on its property and also gives a grant-in-aid towards the upkeep of the streets. The expenditure is principally on sanitation, fire brigade, streets, water-supply, street lighting and drainage. Street lighting is carried out under contract by the Demerara Electric Company, which has a monopoly of private lighting and works an excellent tram service. Water for public and domestic purposes is taken from the conservancy of the east coast and is delivered by pumping throughout the city, but drinking-water is collected in tanks attached to the dwellings from the rain falling on the roofs. The fire brigade is a branch of the police force, half the cost being borne by the rates and half by the general revenue. There is an excellent service of telephones, a branch of the post office, and halfpenny postage within the city boundaries. There are in Georgetown two well-equipped foundries, a dry dock, and factories for the manufacture of rice, cigars, soap, boots, chocolate, candles, aerated waters and ice. Georgetown is connected by rail and ferry with New Amsterdam, by ferry and rail with the west coast of Demerara, and by steamer with all the country districts along the coast and up the navigable reaches of the principal rivers.

(A. G. B.*)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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