`Sir Robert Schomburgk and his explorations of Guyana'
History This Week
By Tota C. Mangar
Stabroek News
December 31, 2005

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This article is a continuation of Part One on Sir Robert Schomburgk and his explorations of Guyana which was published in last Thursday's issue of Stabroek News.

Robert Schomburgk followed up with the production of a map of the colony and indicating its boundaries in 1840. Governor Light and the British Government were convinced that the highly sensitive issue of the boundaries had to be fixed. To this end Robert Schomburgk was commissioned in 1840 to lead an expedition to survey and determine the boundaries of the colony of British Guiana. He was "Her Britannic Majesty's Commissioner for Surveying and Marking out the Boundaries of British Guiana."

Explorations between 1841-1843

Subsequently, Robert Schomburgk made four different journeys into the interior of British Guiana between April 1841 and October 1843 during which time he virtually covered the entire boundary of the colony as it now stands. On this occasion he was accompanied by his brother Richard Schomburgk. They left Germany for British Guiana on October 29, 1840 and arrived in Georgetown in January, 1841.

The expedition comprising the Schomburgk brothers, Mr. King, Superintendent of Rivers and Creeks in charge of the Barima and Waini rivers, Mr Eichlen, artist, M. Glascott, assistant surveyor, Mr. Peterson, first coxswain and Mr Cornelinsen, second coxswain, left Georgetown April 19, 1841. They proceeded to the Waini river and through the Mora Passage to Kumaka and then the Barima river. A navigational survey of the river was conducted and a boundary post was planted at its eastern point.

The party returned to Kumaka on May 20. The Amakura and Aruka rivers were then carefully surveyed. While at the former, they visited Assecura, a settlement comprising Warau and Arawak Indians. A boundary post was also planted to indicate the western limit of the country. They returned to the Waini and the expedition proceeded up that river to its tributary, the Barama, and then overland to the Cuyuni river. They descended the river and eventually reached the junction of the three rivers, Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cuyuni and Bartica Grove on July 27, 1841 before returning to Georgetown two days later.

The party had spent approximately three and a half months exploring the rivers, Waini, Barima, Amakura, Aruka, Barama and Cuyuni while travelling over 700 miles. Robert Schomburgk acquired more accurate knowledge of the courses of these rivers. At the same time he was able to "ascertain the limits of Dutch possessions and the zone from which all trace of Spanish influence was absent."

After a brief rest the members of the boundary expedition now comprising the Schomburgk brothers, Mr Fryer, Schomburgk's Secretary, Mr. E. A. Goodall, artist, Mr. Sororeng, interpreter and a number of Indians as carriers and guides, left Georgetown on the morning of December 23, 1841 for the specific purpose of defining and exploring the Brazilian frontier. They travelled up the Essequibo to Ampa and then to Bartica where they were joined by Rev. Thomas Goud. they proceeded to ascend the Essequibo and the Rupununi rivres to Pirara. while there British troops arrived to assert British rights to the territory and to prevent further incursions of the area by Brazilians.

Using Pirara as his base, Robert Schomburgk proceeded to explore the Takutu river to as far as the junction of the Pirara and Ireng rivers. Boundary markers were erected at the confluence of the Takutu and Ireng rivers and the right bank of the Takutu was formally claimed as the south-western boundary of the colony. Markers were erected at various points along the whole course of the river in an attempt to help protect the Indians by identifying them as "Her Majesty's subjects."

The expedition returned to Pirara and Robert Schomburgk then traced the Cotinga or Kurumu river to its source at Mount Roraima, thereafter he discovered the sources of the Cuyuni and travelled downwards to the mouth of the Acarabisi. The low level of water of the Takutu forced them to cross the savannah and the Kamauku Mountains on their way to Pirara village which was reached on May 22, 1842.

The party departed Pirara on September 11, 1842 and proceeded to navigate the Cotinga river to its sources in the vicinity of Mount Roraima. He became the first European to accomplish this feat.

Robert Schomburgk sent the larger part of his expedition back to Pirara while the rest travelled between the watershed of the Orinoco on one side and the Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers on the other until the Wenamu river, 222 miles up the Cuyuni, was reached. The party proceeded downwards to the marker Schomburgk had earlier erected when he surveyed that part of the colony from Barima Point. He had thus surveyed "the whole line from the sources of the Takutu to Point Barima on the Atlantic Ocean." The expedition eventually returned to Georgetown in January, 1843.

After a month's rest Robert Schomburgk decided to complete his commission with a survey of the boundary with Dutch Guiana (now independent Suriname). It was his view that "in order to bring the survey which has been entrusted to me to final and satisfactory close, it remains now to trace the country, between the sources of the River Takutu and those of the River Corentyne; and to descend the latter to its embouchure into the Atlantic."

The expedition initially visited Pirara and from there ventured southwards with a view to conducting a more thorough exploration of the Upper Essequibo and the watershed between the Essequibo and the Amazon rivers. Leaving the village of the Taruma Indians on the Upper Essequibo they proceeded to trace the Onoro or Onororo river, a tributary of the Essequibo, 265 miles from the mouth of the Rupununi before returning to Pirara.

Robert Schomburgk decided to leave the Rupununi and to traverse the Carawaini Mountains in his quest to the Upper Corentyne. He found the Cutari river with its branch the Curuwuini that flowed into the Corentyne. Schomburgk identified Cutari as the source of the Corentyne and proceeded to map the river as constituting the eastern boundary of the colony of British Guiana. He descended the Corentyne beyond his 1836 venture and arrived at Tomatai Settlement.

Robert Schomburgk eventually arrived safely in Georgetown on October 12, 1843 with the objectives of his expedition fully realised. His brother Richard subsequently explored the Pomeroon, Moruca and Demerara rivers.

Robert Schomburgk spent some time in Georgetown completing his maps and his accounts of his travels. He departed Georgetown on May 19, 1844 and arrived in England on June 25 of the same year.

Indeed, Robert Schomburgk had made a sterling contribution to the colony's history, geography and botany. He traced many of Guyana's rivers to their sources, demarcated the boundaries and demonstrated his concern for the indigenous people.

As to the importance of the colony Robert Schomburgk was very optimistic when he said "Guiana bids fair ere long to become a focus of colonization, and with her fertility, her facilities of water communication, she may yet vie with the favoured provinces of the eastern empire, and became as Sir Walter Raleigh predicted the El Dorado of Great Britain's possessions in the West."

As a result of the invaluable contribution of this very energetic, visionary and courageous explorer he was deservedly knighted in 1845 and appointed Consul General and Representative of Business in the Dominican Republic, a position he held for nine years. In 1857 he was made British Consul General for Bangkok. He returned to Germany in 1864 and died a year later on account of ill-health.

The name Robert Schomburgk will live on for generations to come in Guyana's history.