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

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.


Vincent Roth
Travel & Description
Date published
14 Mar 2004

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.

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Vincent Roth

Vincent Roth was born in Australia in 1889, put into a convent at the age of ten months on the death of his mother and brought up by relatives in France and Scotland until he was reunited with his father and stepmother in Australia at the age of twelve. After completing his schooling in Tasmania he joined his father, Dr Walter Roth, who had taken up the post of Government Medical Officer in the North West District of British Guiana in 1907. Walter Roth, who had been an Aborigines district officer in Australia, did important ethnographical work in Guyana.

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