The History of El Dorado: British Guiana Since 1600

Charles Dimont traces the establishment and development of Britain's South American dependency.

Illustration of the Demerara rebellion of 1823“The empire of Guiana hath more abundance of gold than any part of Peru,” wrote Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595. In the streets of its capital, El Dorado— “the City of Gold”—the precious metal lay like “wood marked out to burn.” The Inga, or Emperor, lived in a gold palace, furnished with gold chests bound with gold ropes, and gold wardrobes stuffed with gold statues. He walked in gardens planted with gold trees and gold flowers. He and his subjects even relaxed in a golden manner: they intoxicated themselves and stayed drunk for six days at a time.

Guiana, Raleigh added, “is a country that hath yet her maidenhead, never sacked, turned nor wrought.” It was ideal country for a successful military campaign. The soldier had merely to pick up his pay from the ground, “whereas he breaketh his bones in other wars for provant and penury.” Without any doubt it seemed to him “this Empire is reserved for Her Majesty and the English nation.”

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