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Vincent Roth, A Life in Guyana, Volume 2: The Later Years 1924-1935

Authors: Vincent Roth

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781900715553

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The second part of Vincent Roth's memoirs of a life in Guyana covers the years between 1923 and 1935 when a second bout of blackwater fever nearly killed him and forced his retirement from working in the interior.

In addition to his job as a government surveyor (one task was to survey a mere 400,000 acres between the Demerara and Berbice rivers) Roth was appointed as Warden of the Mazaruni, a post which combined being magistrate, inspector of weights and measures and regulator of the diamond and gold mining in the area - tasks which brought him into a world far from the proprieties of colonial Georgetown. There are vivid accounts of the Saturday night festivities when hundreds of prospectors and the 'women of the fields', gaudy birds of paradise, gathered at the trading posts for music, drinking, gambling and much more.

What comes over is a picture (a mixed and contradictory one) of Guyana as, on the whole, an enterprising and pioneering society. Much of Roth’s work was concerned with surveying the lots of farmers and gold and diamond prospectors - people creating if not great wealth, at least making things happen. But he also has a sharp eye for grandiose follies; interior enterprises built on dreams of wealth but inadequate foundations of knowledge. Their memorials lie in the ruins of mines collapsing into bush. And though Roth has an acerbic view of jumped-up officialdom and bureaucratic incompetence, he neverthess gives a picture of a country that worked, where the mail and the daily papers reached the remotest parts of the interior, but where the obliterating power of nature over human effort had to be constantly resisted. His accounts of roadbuilding and ideas for agricultural schemes suggest possibilities not yet realised in the Guyana of the present.

In this volume, Roth grows from energetic and opinionated young manhood to a more relaxed and unbuttoned maturity. There is an affectionate portrayal of his relations with his father (and samples of Roth senior's appalling jokes!) and with his two sons who join him on his later expeditions. An epilogue, written by his son-in-law, Michael Bennett, takes Roth's story beyond the days of his journal to note the contribution he made to Guyana in his journalism, his historical writing and his work with the museum and the zoological gardens.

Between 1907 and 1964, Vincent Roth contributed immensely to the development of Guyana, first as a surveyor in the interior, then as a journalist, historian and naturalist.
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