World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 20, June 1995

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Review
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Museum Notes
  5. Archive Notes

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 20, June 1995, has been edited for the purpose of online display. The contents remain complete.

From the Editors

We were extremely pleased by the response to our first issue of the revived Newsletter. Readers have provided the information for this and future numbers, indicating the continuing interest in the focus of the Newsletter. We wish to thank you for your contributions and, at the same time, make a request for information on three specific topics. Does anyone have recent references to or data on: 1) the history of sugar beet in different parts of the world; 2) the history of sugar refining and sugar refineries; and 3) sweeteners in pre-Columbian America?

Subscriptions have also begun to arrive. We remind you that the rate is $15 for two years (four issues). The date listed on your address sticker indicates when your subscription expires. Residents of the USA and Canada can send a personal cheque made out to World Sugar History Newsletter. We are looking into the possibility of payment by credit card. The address for subscriptions is listed at the end of the Newsletter.

Our efforts to bring the Newsletter into the age of the information highway has proceeded apace. Issue No. 19 is now available on the World Wide Web at We hope to add all of the previous issues of the Newsletter to the file as well as future ones. Our thanks to Willard McCarty, Miranda Cheng, and James Lu for providing much-needed guidance and assistance in this area.

Please let us know of people working in the field who might be interested. We'll add their names to the mailing list.


Luis Martínez-Fernández, Torn Between Empires. Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1840-1878 (Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1994). Pp. ix + 333. Index. $50.00. ISBN 0-8203-1568-0.

The sheer volume of published scholarship that deals with the history of the Caribbean makes generalizations about it suspect. But two such generalizations may seem appropriate. First, book-length studies in Caribbean history usually can be sorted into two broad categories: region-wide studies and monographs that deal with single islands or places. Second, books about Caribbean history often are clustered around key dates, with a great many, for example, dealing with the first European entry into the region, slave emancipation, or the more recent era of political independence. Torn Between Empires by Luis Martínez-Fernández is different in both respects. His study area is at the meso-scale because he is concerned with a comparative analysis of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. And he deals with an understudied period in the nineteenth century that is far from common ground.

Torn Between Empires is a revised doctoral dissertation that involved archival research in the United States and the Caribbean, as well as Spain and Great Britain. The author also has read widely in the secondary literature, and he provides an enlightening review of historiographic issues and arguments among scholars who deal with the Greater Antilles, a literature written almost exclusively in Spanish. The book is organized into two twenty-year time spans, one on either side of the US Civil War. The end material -- notes, bibliography, and index -- covers a full one hundred pages. There are no maps, graphs, charts, or tables.

The result is a pleasing, well-written study that describes how the three countries dealt with internal demands and aspirations at the same time as they were coping with the external pressures exerted by the United States, Spain, France, and Great Britain. Martínez-Fernández calls attention to the vast differences at the time among the three countries in the superficially homogeneous Greater Antilles. Cuba, always the sugar giant, seemed pulled in two ways at once between the fickle annexationist impulses of the United States and Spanish imperialism. Puerto Rico's planters were less responsive than Cuba's to high sugar prices at mid-century and retreated into mixed cash-cropping. Residents of the Dominican Republic -- the region's backwater -- were buffeted by US expansionism, exhortations from their own caudillos, and marauding columns of Haitian soldiers. The memory of what had happened in Haiti only a few decades earlier helped explain the fear of "Africanization" among the planter families of all three places.

A major contribution of Torn Between Empires is the author's discussion of how the Greater Antilles were colonized simultaneously by US commercial interests and Spanish political control. He argues convincingly that American influence in the area began earlier than is normally supposed. The United States had supplanted Great Britain as the main supplier of sugar machinery to the region by the mid-1840s. Spain, nevertheless, maintained fiscal and political control over the colonies, so that "Cuba and Puerto Rico actually suffered the worst of two kinds of colonialism: economic subordination to the powerful, expanding United States and political-fiscal subjection to decadent Spain" (p. 88). Furthermore, "preserving Spanish colonialism was a means of preserving US neocolonialism" (p. 230).

Students of sugar history will find this book valuable for its coverage of the geopolitical elements providing the basis and background for the cultivation and export of sugar from the Greater Antilles. Although he does not dwell on sugar itself at great length, Martínez-Fernández points out the astoundingly early dates for the steam engine and railroad in Cuba (Why is this not in our history textbooks?), the importance of the early railroad network in pushing cane acreage out from Havana, how US tariff regulations in the early 1840s began to encourage Cuban production of the crude moscabada sugar over the semi-refined variety, and how the need for capital equipment modernization and associated expenditures in the Cuban sugar industry led to a replacement of the older planters by a new planter class in the 1840s. He discusses throughout the exportation of sugar from both Cuba and Puerto Rico and its destinations. More and more, the islands were being drawn into the US trade orbit, but during the US Civil War, Antillean exports of sugar to America were curbed noticeably.

Torn Between Empires could have used a few simple charts or graphs showing, for example, sugar exports to various destinations. With the two sugar producing countries, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and a limited number of buyers, graphics could have easily summarized what the author attempts to accomplish in what turns out to be a tedious series of paragraphs enumerating volumes, prices, and similar trade statistics. These data are important to any study such as this one, but when discussed at length, rather than summarized graphically, they are lost on all but the most determined readers. Even the author seemed numbed by the exercise: on page 71 he has sugar in London sliding from 63 shillings per pound down to 43 in the 1840s, when he really means 63 shillings per hundredweight.

The same point could be made about maps. One or two well-designed maps of the area could have provided the book with a tactile dimension that would have aided the discussion greatly and brought many of the author's important points into the open. The attraction of Cuba to southern slaveholders in the antebellum period would have been clearer. And the very illuminating discussion that Martínez-Fernández provides about US designs on Samaná Bay in the 1870s could have been augmented nicely with a map. Located in the remote, northeastern corner of Hispaniola, Samaná was coveted by President Grant as a coaling port. The US actually signed an agreement for the area early in the 1870s, but the lease was rescinded later by Dominican authorities. Had the lease held, Samaná, not Guantánamo, might have guarded the sea lanes south from Florida and now be occupied by a contingent of US marines!

Bonham C. Richardson
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Recent Publications

César J. Ayala, "Social and economic aspects of sugar production in Cuba, 1880-1930," Latin American Research Review, 30:1 (1995), pp. 95-124.

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Geoff Burrows & Ralph Shlomowitz, "The lag in the mechanization of the sugarcane harvest: some comparative perspectives, Agricultural History, 66 (1992), pp. 61-75.

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Alan Dye, "Cane contracting and renegotiation: a fixed effects analysis of the adoption of new technologies in the Cuban sugar industry, 1899-1929," Explorations in Economic History, 31:2 (1994), pp. 141-175.

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Peter Dyer and Peter Hodge, Cane Train: The Sugar-cane Railways of Fiji (Wellington: The New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society, Inc., [n.d.]). It is available for NZ$ 18.00 plus postage from the Society at P.O. Box 5134, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Harold M. Hyman, Oleander Odyssey: The Kempners of Galveston, Texas, 1854-1980 (Texas A. & M. University Press, 1990). A family and company history that includes the Imperial Sugar Company of Texas.

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William P. McGowan, "Industrializing the land of Lono: sugar plantation managers and workers in Hawaii, 1950-1980," Agricultural History, 62:2 (1995), pp. 177-200.

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M. Mousnier & B. Caille, Atlas historique de partimonie sucrier de la Martinique (xviie - xxe s) (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1990).

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Antonio Santamaria García, "Azucar y revolución: el sector azucarero de la economía cubana durante los primeros años de la Revolución (1959-1970)," Revista de Historia Económica, XII:1 (Winter, 1994).

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Tamás Szmrecsányi, "Tecnologia e degradação ambiental: o caso da agroindústria canavieira do estado de São Paulo," Informações Econômicas (São Paulo), 24:10 (Oct., 1994), pp. 73-81.

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There is also a reissue of Richard Sheridan's Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies 1623-1775, with a forward by Hilary Beckles, second edition (Kingston: The Canoe Press, 1994), US$27.00. Canoe Press is an imprint of the University of the West Indies Press. Its address is 1A, Aqueduct Flats, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica. Fax (809) 977-2660. E-mail:

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On the sugar industry of Mauritius and La Réunion, J.M. Chastel of the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement, La Réunion, has supplied the following titles:

Sudel Fuman, Une colonie île à sucre: l'économie de La Réunion au XIXe siècle (Saint André, La Réunion: 1989).

Alfred North-Coombes, A History of Sugar Production in Mauritius (Mauritius: Mauritius Printing Specialists, 1993). A reissue of North-Coombes' 1937 book, The Evolution of Sugar-Cane Culture in Mauritius, with a new opening chapter.

Claude Wanquet (ed.), Fragments pour une histoire des économies et sociétés de plantations à la Réunion (Saint Denis de la Réunion: Université de la Réunion, 1989).

Sudel Fuman has also written L'esclavagisme à La Réunion, 1794-1848 (Paris: L'Harmattan; Saint Denis: Université de la Réunion, 1992.

See also:

William Kelleher Storey, "Small-scale sugar cane farmers and biotechnology in Mauritius," Agricultural History, 69:2 (1995), pp. 163-176.

Richard B. Allen, "The slender, sweet thread: sugar, capital and dependency in Mauritius, 1860-1936," Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 16 (January 198 8), pp. 177-200.

Peter Griggs has provided the following list of items on Australia's sugar industry history:

G. Bindon and D. Millder, "'Sweetness and light': industrial research in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, 1855-1900," in R. Home (ed.), Australian Science in the Making (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 170-194.

A. Corkhill, Queensland and Germany: Ethnic, Socio-Cultural, Political and Trade Relations, 1838-1991 (Melbourne: Academia Press, 1992). Contains details about the German immigrant contribution to the development of the Queensland sugar industry.

F. Galassi, Sotto La Croce del Sud (Under the Southern Cross). The Jumma Immigrants of 1891 Studies in North Queensland History, No. 16 (Townsville: Department of History and Politics, James Cook University). A study about the first Italians who were brought to North Queensland to labour on the sugar plantations.

H. Gregory, Making Maroochy (Brisbane: Boolarong Press, 1991). Contains details about the growth of the sugar industry in the Maroochydore Shire in Queensland.

J. Kerr, A Century of Sugar: Racecourse Sugar Mill (Mackay: Mackay Sugar Co-operative Association Limited, 1988).

J. Kerr, Top Mill in the Valley: Cattle Creek Sugar Mill, Finch Hatton, 1906-1990 (Brisbane: Boolarong Publications with Mackay Sugar Co-operative Association Limited, 1991).

J. Kerr, Black Snow. Liquid Gold: A History of the Burdekin Shire (Ayr: Burdekin Shire Council, [n.d.]). Contains details on the sugar industry.

V. Robertson and J. Guglielmi, "The history of Colonial Sugar refinery's Goondi Mill, 1881-1987," Innisfail & District Historical Society Series 7 (1991), pp. 3-11 and 60-69.

G. Smith, Sweet Beginnings: A History of Sugar Cane Growing on the Richmond River, New South Wales (Coraki, NSW: G. Smith, 1991).

We must add Peter's own paper, just off the press: Peter Griggs, "'Rust' disease outbreaks and their impacts on the Queensland sugar industry, 1870-1880," Agricultural History, 69:3 (1995), pp. 413-437.

Peter has also sent us copies of several photographs illustrating various aspects of sugar cultivation and harvesting in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a photocopy of a page from the Town and Country Journal in 1887 showing a series of line drawings of the Richmond River Sugar Company's sugar plantation and mill. One has been reproduced in this issue and we hope to include others in the future. Peter writes that he has "heaps" of photographs, so that anyone interested should contact him at James Cook University of North Queensland - Cairns Campus, P.O. Box 6811, Cairns, Queensland 4870.

Cane wagons loaded with harvested cane, Giru, Australia, c. 1950. A portable tramline (visible in the right foreground) was placed into the paddocks to allow the loaded wagons to be moved to the main tramlines, where they were hauled by locomotive to the sugar mills. This system was replaced following the introduction of mechanical cane harvesting.

Museum Notes

The Australian Sugar Industry Museum:

Located at Bruce Highway, Mourilyan, Queensland, the new museum, that opened in 1988, houses many and varied exhibits from the earliest cane-growing days through to modern times. On display are two locomotives, a steam mill engine, the first computer used in a sugar mill, horse-drawn equipment, antique trucks, tractors, and machinery. Modern visual displays explain the production of sugar from planting and cutting through to crushing and eventual export. A modern air conditioned theatre shows a video on the sugar industry. For further information contact the secretary, Mrs. Val Robertson, P.O. Box 39, Innisfail, Queensland, Australia 4860. Tel. 070 63 2656.

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Stella Matutina, Muséum Agricole et Industriel, Piton-Saint-Leu, La Réunion:

The original cane and sugar museum has been integrated into a broader institution that contains displays illustrating the history of sugar on the island, as well as production methods, biology, research, equipment, and so on. Visitors can view and participate in the sugar-making process through a display that contains every machine of the production line. The museum also boasts a documentation centre. Its address is Allée des Flamboyants, 97424 Piton-Saint-leu, La Réunion. Tel. 19 (262) 34 16 24.

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Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, England:

Rory Miller (University of Liverpool) writes:

The long awaited 'Transatlantic Slavery' gallery, subtitled 'Against Human Dignity' opened in the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool in October 1994. This popular and extensive museum complex in the old Albert Dock houses other exhibitions on transatlantic emigration, the Battle of the Atlantic, and HM Customs and Excise, as well as the history of the people and port of Liverpool.

Using a whole range of modern presentational techniques the slavery gallery leads one through the history of slavery in the New World: from the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas and early African cultures; through the expansion of the transatlantic trade, the horrors of capture, the middle passage, and sale; and then to work on the plantations, resistance, and eventual abolition.

The focus is on the British Caribbean and sugar, perhaps too much so at times since little attention is paid to other slave-grown crops such as coffee, tobacco, rice, and cotton. Even on sugar the exhibition could perhaps do more to provide a fuller picture of plantation life and work, for example on domestic slavery, community and culture, everyday resistance, and the contribution of slaves themselves to the abolition process. (The history curriculum in British schools still privileges Wilberforce and other abolitionists and ignores Eric Williams and his successors.) However, the section on the trade itself is excellent, with the basement gallery darkened to resemble the hold of a ship (complete with sound effects). Throughout the exhibition the illustrations and artifacts displayed are well chosen and presented. Perhaps most stimulating for the visitor, though, are the soundsticks providing audio material drawn from ships' logs, slaveowners' diaries, and letters.

How much the casual visitor will gain from all this is difficult to say. The chronology and significance of slavery in different regions of the New World are not especially well explained and, in view of the gender and age of most weekday visitors, more might have been provided on the roles of women and children in slave societies. I doubt whether many of the Liverpool schoolchildren roaming the galleries obtained much idea of the work and community life their counterparts experienced on a Caribbean plantation two hundred years ago. However, this exhibition, like the whole museum complex, is well worth a visit. The curators have made a tremendous effort to recapture this vital aspect of Liverpool's past, even down to the sugar cane growing in the gallery.

Archive Notes

The Rothschild Archive, London, England:

Located at New Court, St. Swithin's Lane, London, England EC4P 4DU, the archive contains the records of the firm of N.M. Rothschild & Sons Limited from the late eighteenth century. It represents possibly the most detailed surviving account of an international banking operation in the nineteenth century and of the family that operated close to the centre of Victorian finance and society. Containing the correspondence between members of the Rothschild family throughout Europe and reports from agents overseas, the archive includes material relevant to the history of the sugar industry. For more information and details about entry into the archive, contact the archivist, Melanie Aspey, at the above address, or by telephone at 071 430 2616 or Fax 071 430 2791.

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SWIERL: Sugar Workers & Industry Education Resource Library, Toronto, Ontario Canada:

This library contains a collection of materials on all aspects of the sugar industry. Its documents, collected over twenty years, relate to the production, distribution and consumption of sugar with a particular emphasis on the social and economic conditions of sugar workers. They are available in a variety of formats including clipping files, monographs, government publications, audiovisual materials and periodicals. Languages include English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. SWIERL has an exclusive agreement with the International Commission for the Coordination of Solidarity among Sugar Workers (ICCSASW), an institution that carries on research and eduction on the sugar industry and promotes communication among sugar workers on a global basis, to manage its documentation and make this information available to the public. Computerized databases listing the library's holdings are produced regularly. The library is open one day a week by appointment with the librarian. A small user fee is charged on a cost-recovery basis. SWIERL is located at 2084 Danforth Ave., Suite 3, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4C 1J9. Telephone (416) 467-8621. Fax (416) 467-9143. E-mail: iccsasw@ ICCSASW is also accessible on the Web at

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. Correspondence and subscriptions should be sent to Jock Galloway or Peter Blanchard, Victoria College, University of Toronto, 73 Queen's Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1K7. E-mail: or to: