This is a grand masterplan of Georgetown, then the capital of the colony of British Guiana (today’s Guyana), a bustling multicultural port city located where the mighty Demerara River meets the Atlantic Ocean. It was made from the very best and most recent sources, being trigonometrical surveys done by the colonial government, as well as municipal cadastral plans, and issued by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS), the special post-WWII agency that scientifically mapped Britain’s colonies as they prepared for their independence.
Importantly, the present example of the map is a contemporary photographic duplication of the DOS’s 1961 first edition Tolworth, Surrey printing, either made in Britain or in British Guiana, probably by either some official authority or land developer. As a large map, produced in a limited print run, originals would seemingly have been in short supply, and it seems that an antecedent example was duplicated sometime within a few years after the first issue. While the print quality is little crude, all details are clear and faithful to the content of the antecedent.
Georgetown started out as a small Dutch settlement in the mid-18th century, later named ‘Stabroek’, amidst a land of sugar plantations. In 1812, after the British took over the colony, they renamed the town after George III. Georgetown grew rapidly due to an ongoing commodities boom, leading to the construction of many grand public and commercial buildings. British Guiana transitioned from the end of slavery in the 1830s, proceeding to import East Indian and Chinese migrant labourers to buttress its agrarian economy, while the lumber and mining sectors remained buoyant. By the early 196os, when the present map was made, Georgetown was one of the most vibrant and well-ordered cities in the West Indies and was preparing the become the national capital of Guyana, which achieved its independence in 1966.
The map showcases the entire city, which is laid out in an orderly grid of streets, protected by a seawall and crossed by canals, legacies of the former Dutch colonial presence and the fact that the city lies almost a metre below sea level, so requiring constant water regulation. Amazingly, the map defines every property lot, outlines and labels every major building, depicts all parks and recreational facilities, and delineates every street and alleyway, making it one of the most detailed of all mid-century West Indian urban plans. It is an incomparable resource for scholars of Georgetown or, more broadly, urban development in the tropical Americas.
The western front of the city, along the Demerara River, is lined with quays and the warehouses of numerous named businesses and crown agencies. All neighbourhoods are labelled and the old downtown, centre-left, features numerous historical sites. These include the ‘Parliament Building’ (which housed the colonial Assembly, today the National Assembly, designed by the architect Joseph Hatfield and completed in 1834); ‘Stabroek Market’ (founded in 1792, and since the commercial heart of the city); ‘City Hall’ (a neo-Gothic structure, built in 1889); St. George’s Cathedral (completed in 1899; a magnificent all-wooden church 43.5 metres high); ‘Christ Church’ (established in 1836 after its Anglican congregation had separated from St. Georges Church); ‘St. Andrew’s Kirk’ (the oldest surviving house of worship in Georgetown, built for a Dutch Reformed Congregation in 1811, but was re-consecrated as a Presbyterian church in 1818); and the ‘Brickdam Catholic Cathedral’ (more formally the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception).
Elsewhere are numerous named parks, the most notable of which is the Georgetown Botanical Gardens, a verdant tropical oasis, created in 1878. In the south, are the new suburbs, featuring labyrinthine street plans, while in the city’s north are various sports clubs, recreational facilities and educational institutions, located upon large lots. The famous Georgetown Lighthouse (built 1830), above the old colonial bastion of Fort William Henry, guards the entrance to the river.
The Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS), which created the map, was a special agency established immediately after World War II whose mandate was to scientifically map Britain’s colonies as they prepared for their independence. Headquartered in Tolworth, Surrey, the DOS either applied the best existing aerial surveys or commissioned new ones, to create colonial-national maps of peerless accuracy. Its first major project was a colossal 12-sheet map of Jamacia, published in 1947, done to scale of 1:50,000, based upon controlled mosaic surveys executed for the United States Air Force in 1941-2. This was the inspiration for the mapping of other places, including Barbados, the Leeward Islands and British Guiana.
The Directorate of Overseas Surveys issued the present map in two editions, the first in 1961 (from which the present work is based) and the second, in 1967. While examples of the map are held by several libraries worldwide, many of which had contemporary DOS subscriptions, examples practically never appear on the market.
References: Cf. (re: original 1961 DOS edition:) British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 84010.(28.); OCLC: 557508800, 84992800.
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