In 1829 the Church Missionary Society established the area to conduct missionary work, and it was known for its quiet environment surrounded by palms and mango groves. The point, known as Bartica Grove, was chosen for the new town. The name was later shortened to Bartica, which is said to mean “red earth” in one of the Amerindian languages, as the community developed into a town. Bartica Grove was one of the earliest Anglican missionary settlement in British Guiana where the land was originally obtained from Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The mission was moved from its original site – a mile westward (St. Edward’s Mission in Mazaruni) – to the present Bartica site in 1837 which was obtained from the Crown. The Preamble to an 1887 ordinance in British Guiana stated that it had become necessary for the “establishment and regulation of a town” at the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni (Massaruni) and Cuyuni rivers. It was the discovery of gold in the interior that focused imperial eyes on Bartica Grove to establish a central location to register, monitor and manage the influx of labourers entering and leaving the region’s gold lands.
The area was soon divided into rectangular grid lots, and its avenues given the simple names of First, Second, Third etc., despite being mostly unoccupied and surrounded by sheer jungle then. However, two or three hostels were soon providing room and board and surrounded by sheer jungle then. However, two or three hostels were soon providing room and board and a market was added, though few marketing activities flourished and it mainly thrived with rum shops at the time. A hospital and new police station were also added later. Today, Bartica remains the second best laid out town next to the capital city – Georgetown.
As the land nearest the river was relatively low, a drainage trench was soon dug and a koker installed. Further inland however, the lands become hilly, and today people often resort to taking taxis to travel up and down its distant hilly slopes. Back then, there were no cars or fueled vehicles so as the population expanded, and persons took up house lots inland, they walked to and from the centre of activity – First Avenue along the Essequibo River. Early pioneers included but are not limited to the Bradfords, Garraways, Rhodius, Mendoncas and the Fitzpatricks. They and their families toiled to build simple homes and a system including educational and recreational activities for themselves and families.
Early churches included the St. John-the-Baptist Anglican Church of Triangle Street Which also started the first Mission School, St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church which came many years later and later on much further – the Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists and Congregationalists. Their buildings – churches, residences and business reflected the architecture of the day but very few remain as a testimony to their existence today.
Business who invested in Bartica and contributed to its economic growth included men such as Nagasar Sawh – sawmill at Byderabo, John Willems – sawmill at Kaow Island, Charlestown Sawmill, C.D Persaud – owner of the well know Modern Hotel, Frank and Neville Alert, Sylvester Ferreira, the Mendoncas – Lucien and Edward, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Gussy and William Chin Lun – who owned both a cook shop and a grocery, Ho Chung and other Chinese who owned groceries on First Avenue, the Nascimentos who owned the only cinema – the Metropolitan, now closed, Nadeer ‘Gandi’ Khan, Ms. Baldeo, the Sookrams, the Maikoos who had the Photo Studio, most of whom operated businesses on First Avenue. Of course there were the usual small ‘shops’ in the back avenues catering to those who did not want to walk to the front. And then there was the market with famous names such as Nancy Khan and his brother, fishermen such as Mr. Edun ‘Gold Head’, where we purchased our meats and fish, and the other vendors like the Barkers, Persauds, Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Bandoo who sold greens and other groceries. Today Bartica is still considered the “Gateway to the Interior” and has a population of about 17,000 and is the launching point for people who work in the interior, particularly miners. Added to the mix were the persons who sold locals such as buns and mauby – Mr. Joris, homemade ice cream – Ms. Pequeno called Mother ‘B’; and the black pudding and souse ladies – Ms. Rita, Ms. Nicey and Ms. Marshall to name a few. Today these are still being made by the younger generation and person like Teacher Leon and Lionel ‘Lio’ or ‘Pura’ Dugan are famous for their black pudding and souse dishes especially on weekends.
With an ever expanding population, Bartica owes its prosperity to the rich gold and diamond wealth of the Essequibo. Miners from across Guyana as well as locals use Bartica as their first stop coming out of the interior and a last stop before going in, because of this, miners often spend the majority of their earnings either buying their supplies in village or simply on their first day out either drinking or partying. Its building architecture has changed vastly with many new modern structures being erected to house dwelling, hotels and businesses in and around the town.
The advent of technology has also impacted on the shape of the ‘town’ – modern structures and businesses are now prevailing on the landscape as well as number of vehicles which have grown exponentially. Along the way, residents have also seen a growth in their own lifestyles and even though they still retain the hospitable nature and warm social looks, they are very trendy both in business and socially. Cell phones and internet now dominate the way in which we communicate, and the advent television especially cable has enabled both young and old to keep up with news on the international level. And of course, we continue to value religion in our lives as the number of churches have also grown as compared to the few that we had years ago.
The ‘sporting’ culture is still very much present with the many bars, restaurants and clubs which offer entertainment of a wide variety for each and everyone every day of the week. In this regard, Bartica is still very much the ‘Miners’ choice. However, the changing prices of gold has impacted on the business and community at large. Steps are now being explored to take advantage of our rich local flora, fauna and historical sites to promote tourism as our next economic base. Like Cinderella of the famous fairy tale, hers is a story of ‘rags or riches’; having been born because of necessity, Bartica has cemented her place in the anals of Guyana’s history with contributions to village and country by our sons and daughters. We have come a long way indeed over the last century and a half, and in looking back to where we started, there is no doubt, that we have much more to achieve and gain if her sons and daughters can make the dreams and visions of their forefathers a reality.
During those bygone days, as the population flourished and information became accessible through newspapers and radio, the culture of Bartica evolved both socially and educationally. Socially the residents organized ‘Dances’ Famous were those held at the Bartica Community Centre, and the music was either by famous gramophones which evolved into juke boxes and also from time to time, a live band.
Residents earned their livelihoods through pork knocking in the interior, cutting logs for the local sawmills which came into existence as the ‘village’ grew and providing services such as groceries and small lodging houses. Famous in the days gone by were the Boat Captains who captained those big ‘Paddle Boats which gave way to boats with inboard engines, up and through the dangerous falls and rapids of the Mazaruni and Cuyuni Rivers. Captain like Jacob Garraway, James Bradford, Richard Abrams, Mr. Perret and other traversed the dangerous falls and rapids often away from family for weeks if not months taking pork knockers and their supplies to the gold mining areas in the deep interior. As matter of facts, it was this same mode of transportation, about the ‘betting’ and ‘discussions’ on whose boat and engine was faster that gave rise to the present Annual Regatta at Easter. It is accurate to claim that Bartica is the ‘Home of ‘Regatta’ in Guyana, Today those same rapids are traversed by boats driven by powerful outboard engines from 75-200HP and also the stunning jet boats, making traversing the interior much easier and faster. Getting to Bartica was by steamer – MV Powis and VBasra gave way to MV lady Northcote, MV Barima and MV Lukanani. Residents waited anxiously each steamer day to see who came and what goods were brought when it arrived at the Wharf on First Avenue. Travelling on the steamer in those days was an adventure for families and especially youngsters with all the little stops along the way to and from Parika. Up until the early 1980’s there were only three or four cars in Bartica, and these were used primarily for weddings. Many persons with loads from the shops or the ferry would have them loaded onto the famous donkey cart and then hitch a ride home.
Recreation also included the games of cricket and football, swimming (a must), some cyling and female pursuits of rounders and circle tennis. Famous clubs were Bartica Cricket Club, Wolves United, Eusibio among others. Some locals also played lawn tennis on the courts of the Bartica Hospital. We have produced sports icons of Guyana such as Ivor Mendonca who played cricket for the West Indies, Brian Tracey – National Goalkeeper and Dianne Fereira-James, FIFA international Female referee.
The village fathers of bygone era established a system of local governance which enabled the village to provide services for its citizens. Over the years men like Edward and Lucien Mendonca, Carlos Nascimento, Jack Fitzpatrick were among some of the well known persons who over saw the development and provision of service as provided for by payment of taxes of the residents. During those days as seen by photo of that era, the streets, drains and parapets were kept in pristine condition and that was through the use of tools such as handpicks, shovels and cutlasses by men like James Ramdatt and Mr. Ghanie who took pride in keeping the village immaculately clean