World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 14, December 1989

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. The Dutch Sugar Industry
  3. 1990 Conference Announcement
  4. Request for Information
  5. New Publications of Interest
  6. Papers Received

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 14, July 1989, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Humberto Rodriguez Pastor, Hijos del Celeste Imperio en el Peru (1850-1900). Migracion, agricultura, mentalidad y explotacion (Lima: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, 1989. (Address for purchase: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, Tizon y Bueno 847, Jesus Maria. Lima, Peru).

One of the most interesting contradictions in the development of cane sugar industries in the nineteenth century was the striking difference between the degree and pace of change in the forces of production and the relations of production. Most planters were willing to employ steam engines to drive their new roller mills and centrifugals. They happily brought in modern chemical techniques and the many other innovations which helped revolutionize sugar production, but, with few exceptions, they were extremely reluctant to employ free wage labour. In the most extreme cases, Cuba and Brazil, slavery was not abolished until almost 1890. In other areas, such as Mauritius, Reunion, British Guiana, Trinidad, Queensland, Fiji, Hawaii, Cuba, and Peru, semi-servile contract labour imported from India, China, or the Pacific Islands represented, for the planters, a convenient transitional stage between slavery and free wage labour. It was only in Cuba and Peru that the Chinese came in large numbers. It is significant that in many sugar producing regions it was easier to import workers from many thousands of miles away than to pull or push labour out of the local peasant sector. Of course, the reasons for this varied greatly, but much of it had to do with either the relative weakness of planters vis-a-vis entrenched indigenous groups, access to land, the fact that plantation work was too closely associated by locals with slavery, and/or that it was simpler and cheaper for planters to rely on the flow of foreign migrant workers. It was also much easier to control these workers, isolated as they were on plantations, cut off by culture and language from the local society.

Rodriguez's study of the Chinese in Peru addresses itself to many of the aforementioned issues. It also offers a stimulating account of the cultural world created by the Chinese to cope with the hostile environment they found on the Peruvian coast.

Between 1849, when the first Chinese were brought over to work the guano islands, until 1874, when the trade was ended, about 100,000 Chinese were brought to Peru, 50,000 coming in the last four years of the trade. It was their labour, in effect the same flow which helped build the railways in the American West, that was so vital during the key phase in the modernization of the Peruvian sugar industry before the War of the Pacific in 1879. They remained important as re-contracted workers and free-wage labourers up to the 1890s, when the hacendados started to contract workers from the mountain regions of the country.

Rodriguez details the relationship between a rapidly growing export agriculture and the import of labour. He discusses the root of this phenomenon in the apparent shortage of labour on the coast, but although he makes a few telling observations on the relationship between the expanding haciendas and the local communities, he fails to dig deeply and rigorously enough into this key question. However, this failing is more than compensated for by the rich detail he offers on all aspects of Chinese life. Based largely on the excellent collection of primary documents formerly in the Archivo Agrario, (of which Tito Rodriguez was director and protector for ten years and for which everyone who has worked on the history of the Peruvian sugar industry owes him an immense debt of gratitude) the book traces events on some of the principal coastal estates. He looks not only into the initial contracting, conditions on the estates, and the reaction of the Chinese (suicides, rebellions, escapes, and murders of overseers) but also at what happened to the Chinese after their eight-year contract expired. Rodriguez's subtle skills as an anthropologist are shown to great effect in the final two sections of the book. The first of these recreates the biographies of five Chinese and the second offers an insightful treatment of Chinese life not only on the estates but also in the urban areas. The book contains an excellent critical bibliographical essay as well as a wealth of statistical detail. Rodriguez's work is thoughtful, painstaking, and scholarly. It stands out as a major contribution not only to Peruvian historiography but to the study of contract labour generally.

Bill Albert
University of East Anglia

Robert Louis Stern, The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1988). Pp. l85. 27.50 pounds.

This book is a useful addition to the historiography of sugar. Its structure is straight-forward, starting as it does in the "periphery" where sugarcane was cultivated on the plantations and raw sugar produced with the use of slaves brought in from Africa. The focus then shifts to the "centre" where sugar was refined and consumed by Europeans. The specific concern of Stern's book is the French sugar business in the eighteenth century -- a century in which France dominated the global trade in sugar but one which ended with France's abrupt decline in this trade following the Haitian and French revolutions. Clearly, this made it easier for Britain to dominate the nineteenth century in the commodity which boomed when sugar moved from being a luxury to becoming a necessity.

In Part I we are given a tour of the early history of sugar consumption in France and the role of European colonization of Africa and the Caribbean in popularizing it. The first chapter provides a good introduction to the mechanics of the "triangle trade" that characterized the mercantilism of this period, with European merchants trading goods for slaves in Africa, trading slaves for tropical commodities such as sugar in the Caribbean, and then returning with these goods to Europe to finance the next round of trading. This is followed by an analysis of the plantation economy -- its structure and the quality of life for both the slaves and the masters.

We are then offered a detailed examination of the structure of cane cultivation, sugar production, and trade during the period and its relationship to the slave trade. The nature of the links between the participants in these trades -- the French, African, and colonial merchants and planters -- are also considered. Except, of course, for the slaves, the author argues, everyone benefited.

In Part II Stein analyses the structure of the sugar business in France, both nationally and locally. He describes its emergence and the attitudes that developed here towards the planters and the colonial trade. French entrepreneurs were clearly more interested in the European export trade than in deepening the internal market in their own country. The national policy of the French government supported this and despite the fragmented nature of ownership and production, the French sugar business secured tremendous support from the Old Regime in expanding its external market. France re-exported 60 to 70 percent of its colonial produce as compared to less than 20 percent in the case of Britain. But, when war and revolution disrupted colonial trade, the French sugar business proved to be vulnerable and caved in.

Stein proceeds to offer a careful account of sugar refining, the productive and trade structures within France, and the relationship between sugar merchants and the Old Regime. However, although the historical detail on the sugar industry is excellent, the study is often too narrowly conceived. When looking at events in France, the author fails to set this detail in a wider context. For example, it would have been interesting to know a bit more about business enterprise in general during these years. This would have allowed a more informed perspective on the sugar industry.

Sanjaya Baru
University of Hyderabad, India


M. Bakker, "Ondernemerschap en Vernieuwing van de Nederlandse Bietsuikerindustrie 1858-1919," Neha Series III, Part 6, Dissertation 90 71617/11/4, Amsterdam, 1989.

This translation, by the author, is provided so that the interesting material in the dissertation may be made available to a wider international readership. If other authors feel they too would like to offer such translated summaries of their work, please let us know. For further information on this work contact: M. Bakker, Technische Hogeschool Eindoven, Den Dolech 2, PO Box 513, 5600 MB Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

"Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Dutch Sugar Beet Industry, 1858-1919"

In various respects the rise of a beet sugar industry in The Netherlands -- making raw sugar to serve as raw material for refineries elsewhere in the country or abroad -- was a remarkable development. Virtually out of the blue, over 30 factories were set up over a very short time, most of them in a region which had no industrial tradition whatsoever. Between 1858 and 1873 approximately f6 million was invested by Dutch capitalists in these factories; an unknown amount of capital was provided by Belgian shareholders and entrepreneurs. The growth of this entirely new branch of industry was of an unprecedented rapidity and, most amazingly, its newness and technological complexity seemed no serious obstacle to potential investors, who have historically often been blamed for technophobia and conservatism.

This fast growth could not be sufficiently explained by merely referring to favourable market situations and prospects of big profits in the long run. Long term expectations regarding sugar prices had ceased to be optimistic by 1870, but even then 12 more enterprises were formed. Besides, large-scale installations were considered the best and only available type of technology. These had to be imported from abroad, together with know-how and experienced staff to manage the actual production. All this might easily have deterred capitalists from investing in those new industrial projects.

An analysis of the social backgrounds and family relations of shareholders and members of the boards of directors supports the idea that a stimulating enthusiasm of a few appealed to family, or group solidarity and made relatives take part in these firms. This optimistic attitude among local, non-industrial capitalists was, in part, caused by a few successful and nearby examples, set by Amsterdam sugar refiners, who built the very first beet sugar factory, and experienced Amsterdam machine builders, who were closelv involved in 6 firms.

Beet sugar industries in many countries were strongly influenced by the way in which sugar duties were being levied. In Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands the manufacturers had to pay duties to the state over only a part of their production. However, they asked the refiners for compensation for those payments by adding the full amount of duties due for 100 kilos of raw sugar to all the sugar they produced. In The Netherlands, such a favourable system existed until 1897. The additional income which the industry received in this way made the firms less vulnerable to the extreme price falls of the international sugar market for which they produced. On the other hand, the general tendency of falling prices, which existed from the early 70s onward, caused the factory owners to be permanently alert to lower costs of production.

Several strategies could be used to optimize production. Some firms relied on numerous small alterations of their installation, which did not substantially influence daily capacity; others combined a stream of minor changes with incessantly enlarging their capacity. The choice between those two ways was by no means obvious, the latter requiring far more capital and organization. This led, in turn, to the need to spend annually large sums and pay a good deal of attention to removing new bottlenecks. In the second half of the 1890s sugar prices were expected to stay low, and Dutch sugar legislation was altered to the extent that the producers had to pay duties for their entire output. In order to overcome these obstacles to profit, almost every factory took refuge in drastic economies of scale. This put a large amount of stress on the market for beet, their raw material. Sugar factories tried to form trusts by which they hoped to keep prices of beet at a minimum -- costs of raw material formed up to 85% of their total expenses. Beet growing farmers reacted to rumours about those plans and formed 7 cooperative societies between 1889 and 1916. The societies built new factories that outclassed most existing firms in size and modernity of installations.

The idea of a merger movement was being entertained by some entrepreneurs by 1900. It was stimulated by the uncontrollable competition among all factories over beet and the threat of huge cooperative societies. However, only a minority of firms actively supported the idea of a merger, since this would meant a loss of independence and identity.

To the sugar refiners -- a separate branch of the industry -- a concentration of factories would threaten low prices for their raw material, raw sugar. Refiners became even more aware of a possible loss of their independence when about 1905 some of the largest factories began to make their own white sugar. The quality of this product could not entirely compete with the sugar made in refineries, but for some industrial purposes this semi-refined sugar was good enough and it meant a loss of market to the refiners. By 1909 the country's largest refinery started to buy sugar factories in order to be at least in part self-supporting in its raw material supply.

The cooperative societies that made raw sugar were not pleased to see themselves dependent on privately owned refineries. Not unjustly, they expected the refiners eventually to join the other factories, that were privately owned as well, which might enable these firms to rule both raw sugar and beet prices in the country. This controversy between private and cooperative factories made one of the largest societies adopt a new technology in 1915. By using recently invented active coals for filtration, real refining could be carried out at relatively low costs. Until then, especially costs of filtration had been so high that refining could only be made profitable by economies of scale. Apart from that, additional technical and commercial problems had prevented the spread of an integrated process in which raw sugar factories could also produce 100% pure sugar, and, in fact, would become refineries too.

The role of technical innovations in the development of the raw sugar industry cannot be separated from the preceding non-technical elements. Economies of scale formed a technical means to reduce costs; integration of raw sugar production and refining in one factory made cooperative societies independent from refineries. On the other hand, the characteristics of this typical process industry put constraints to the freedom of choice when a firm wanted to alter its installation. New parts had to fit in with the existing system. Being a balanced system of unit operations, modification at one place would cause numerous changes to be carried out elsewhere along the line in order to re-establish the balance.

This is especially evident in enlarging the daily capacity of a factory. Equally drastic modifications were caused by the introduction of one major innovation, the so-called diffusion process. This apparatus replaced the traditional hydraulic presses to extract juice from the beet. In most factories it was adopted shortly before 1880, some 14 years after its invention in Austria. Reasons for this retardation in The Netherlands were similar to the objections made by German and French sugar manufacturers: the real and expected difficulties in combining the diffusion apparatus with the existing systems of juice purification and evaporation made it a less obvious improvement for some time; patent rights were very high; there was much uncertainty about the real value of the first types of diffusion apparatus in terms of product quality and technical failure.

Those doubts were mostly taken away by new types of diffusion apparatus, that lacked most of the disadvantages of the first generation and were introduced in the late 1870s.

To keep a sugar factory going, a fair amount of skill and experience is needed in certain jobs. In their early years, Dutch firms used foreign technicians, sugar boilers, and foremen. Contacts between firms and foreign staff were established by the machine building companies that supplied the installations: without exception, these installations were of Belgian, French, or German design and origin. Apart from this kind of technology transfer, the directors themselves went abroad to enlarge their know-how. They spent months working in foreign factories and followed courses at specialised institutions in Berlin and Braunschweig.

It seems to have been largely a matter of personal interest on the part of the directors that decided whether new possibilities of scientific control of the process were considered to be improvements. The usefulness of some methods of analysis remained doubtful for a long time, which urged the sugar industrialists in Germany and France to establish central laboratories for scientific research. The resulting chemical knowledge about what happens during the process of production was of great help in judging the value of new inventions: were they an improvement, could they fit in with other parts of the process, and if not, what should be changed? But when it came to direct control of the process, this remained often a matter of the experience and skill of some of the staff.

The beet sugar industry in The Netherlands shows that technical factors are closely related to legislation, markets of sugar and beetroot, possibilities of training and the availability of experienced workers. The structure of firms and the ideology and the personal view of entrepreneurs were equally decisive for the way in which innovations were regarded.


The International Sugar Economy in the Post-War World, 1945-1990

The response to earlier requests for papers has been magnificent and more than 20 have been offered for the conference. This is by way of a last call for anyone who would like either to attend or to present a paper. Please get in touch as soon as possible. It is important to note that the venue of the conference has been changed. It will be held from August 29th to the 31st, 1990, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.


John Daniels and Christian Daniels, "The Origin of the Sugarcane Roller Mill," Technology and Culture (July 1988), Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 493-535.

In our paper we point out that the three-roller vertical sugarcane mill was one of the most significant inventions in the history of sugar production. It increased crushing rates using less manpower and was a major factor in the expansion of the sugar industry in the New World. We give literary evidence pointing to an origin in Peru dating to the time of Diogo de Meneses (1608-1612). We now come to a most surprising situation: the first description of two-roller vertical milling, surely the precursor of three-roller milling, was given by Richard Flecknoe in Rio de Janeiro in 1649, many years after 1608. This was not because two-roller vertical mills were uncommon in the Caribbean, as they were described by de Rochefort (1658) and Hughes (1672) and are still evident in the 20th century (Sauer, 1966). We would like to hear from anyone who has evidence of a two-roller vertical mill in the New World or Asia prior to 1608. In our paper we argue for an origin of the two-roller vertical mill before 1600 in China, but our first literary evidence is dated 1637. Since the paper was written we have been informed by William Henry Scott, a missionary and scholar in the Philippines, that the Chinese two-roller mill appears in a Tagalog/Spanish dictionary dated 1613. Scott comments, "We might assume that the two-roller mill of Chinese origin entered and spread after the great Chinese influx in the last two decades of the sixteenth century." Any information received will be gratefully acknowledged in our future publications.


J. H. Galloway, The Sugar Cane Industry. An Historical Geography from its Origins to 1914 (Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography no. 12, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Pp. xiii + 266. 30 pounds and $44.50.
This book will be reviewed in the next issue of the WSHN.

Sinjara Velou, Les Indiens de la Caraibe: Comprendre la diaspora indienne dans la Caraibe

Afin de fournir une main-d'oeuvre abondante et bon marche a l'economie sucriere de plantations mise a mal par l'abolition de l'esclavage, un demi-million d'immigrants indiens provenant de la plaine gangetique et une minorite de Tamouls, fuirent leurs plantations et s'installerent dans les iles caraibes. Cette population minoritaire jusqu'a la deuxieme guerre ondiale n'a cesse de croitre numeriquement pour devenir majoritaire dans les Guyanes et a Trinidad. Essentiellement rural, avec comme activite economique la riziculture, les Indiens ont recemment reussi une percee importante dans le secteur tertiaire grace a la scolarisation, sauf en Guyane a cause de l'ostracisme du pouvoir creole. Dans ces echanges entre la tradition indienne et la realite caribeenne certaines caracteristiques socioculturelles ont disparu, d'autres sont acquises mais restent variables selon les pays. Ainsi les castes subsistent, la religion hindoue reste de loin le bastion culturel de l'indianite. Les cultes populaires de Kalimai et de Mariamrnan sont vivaces et attirent de nombreux Creoles. Les cultes brahmaniques sont lies a une renaissance culturelle datant de l'entredeux-guerres. En Jamaique et dans les petites Antilles, les minorites indiennes sont quasi totalement christianisees. Cette confrontation ethno-culturelle conduit a une lutte sans merci pour le pouvoir politique entre Indiens et Creoles surtout en Guyane et a Trinidad.

3 volumes: Tome 1, 280 pp., 150F; Tome 2, 252 pp., 140F; Tome 3, 298 pp., 160F
L'Harmattan, Edition-Diffusion, 7 rue de l'Ecole Polytechnique, 75005 Paris, France.
Tel. 43 54 79 10


"La fin des plantations?" par Christian Deverre, Etudes Foncieres (Septembre 1988), no. 40.

"Le Transfert de la Production de Canne a Sucre des Plantations Capitalistes aux Exploitations Paysannes comme Strategie de Reponse a la Crise de L'Industrie Sucriere en Guadeloupe. Evaluation Critique," par Christian Deverre, 46eme Congres International des Americanistes, Symposium sur le crise sucriere dans la Caraibe, Amsterdam, 4-8 Juillet 1988.

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, UEA, Norwich. Adrian Graves, Department of History, University of Adelaide. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.