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, Georgetown:
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
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 heard.
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 burnt4. At 1.00 a.m. one Singh was found unconscious in Sand Road, Wismar.
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 by fire.
10. At 8.30 p.m. another attempt was made on the building owned by Gaines.
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 destroyed.
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
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 outof 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.I
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 Demba Constabulary.
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."