World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 21, December 1995

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Reviews
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Conferences

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 21, December 1995, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Our first year working on the Newsletter has been a period marked by numerous "ups" as well as occasional frustrations. Among the former was the initial enthusiasm shown for our plans to revive the Newsletter. We received a large number of supportive letters and e-mail messages as well as books, pictures, articles, references, and other submissions from readers that indicated the continuing interest in the history of sugar and the belief that there was a niche for a publication of this sort.

As for the latter, the subscriptions have been somewhat disappointing. Only twenty-one people/institutions have demonstrated their support for the Newsletter by taking out subscriptions (although two of those have shown their confidence by taking out subscriptions tor four years). We thank all of you, but it is obvious that we cannot continue to survive on this rather limited financial base. Our efforts to find financing within the University of Toronto have had only limited success, and the likelihood of future institutional backing is not very bright. This university, like other institutions in the province of Ontario, is facing rather severe cuts at the present time so that money is going to be extremely tight. As a result. we are going to have to depend on you for our financial existence, for the time being at least.

The situation is made more difficult because the Newsletter has to find its support from a much more limited financial base than the 225 names on the mailing list suggest. About a quarter of the readers live in either "developing" or eastern European countries where even $15 can be an extremely large amount. Moreover, sending the money from these countries is often either extremely difficult, prohibitively expensive, or impossible (although we have received subscriptions from readers residing in these countries, indicating that the obstacles are not always insurmountable). Recognizing the problem, some readers have sent copies of their own and others' publications to indicate their continuing support. We were hoping that readers in the "developed" countries would pick up the slack, but so far this has not occurred. Perhaps, these latter readers prefer to read the Newsletter on the World Wide Web, a possibility that caused us some concern when we first considered providing the Newsletter electronically. It leads to the situation where readers in developed countries who can afford the Newsletter have access to computers and, thus, can read the Newsletter free of charge, while those without access to computers and the Web have to purchase the published product but lack the cash or the means to do so.

The problem continues, unresolved, but we thought it only fair to let you know the situation that we face. We are committed to publishing the Newsletter for as long as readers are interested in it and paying subscriptions, but we shall have to stop providing free copies to those who can obviously afford it. We would appreciate it if those of you who no longer wish to receive the Newsletter would let us know so that we can remove your names from the mailing list. This will reduce our expenses significantly as the major cost we face is postage. And if anyone has any suggestions that might assist us in our dilemma, we would be delighted to hear them.

In the meantime we urge you to keep the flow of information on sugar heading this way so that we can send it out in forthcoming issues of the Newsletter. We are also interested in receiving short articles or essays on any relevant aspect of the industry to make the Newsletter even more useful and informative for readers.


Kathleen Mary Butler. The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica & Barbados, 1823-1843 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Pp. xviii + 198. $34.95 (hardcover), $16.95 (paperback). ISBN 0-8078-4501-9.

Historians of the British West Indies have for a long time speculated about the impact of the 20 million pounds compensation granted to slaveowners at the time of emancipation in 1834. Like many contemporary observers, scholars have assumed that much of this money remained in Britain to help pay the debts of a declining planter class. Kathleen Mary Butler has now published her research on the compensation question and confirms this view.

Butler documents the shift to mercantile dominance of the West Indian plantations. Often buried under a mountain of accumulated debt, made worse by annuities, legacies, and other encumbrances, many of the plantations in the West Indies were no longer owned by planters. Instead, merchants had been forced to take over a significant number of these estates. With the development of the abolition movement, it was clear that the West lndia Interest would seek compensation for the loss of its slaves. Indeed, the West Indian planters and merchants painted an overly bleak picture of their economies to increase the levels of compensation. They blamed the abolitionists for the decline in colonial property values and demanded an outright grant of 20 million pounds rather than the loan of 15 million pounds which the British government first proposed. Butler is right to emphasize the continuing power of the West India Interest, despite its economic decline in this period.

Butler also deals with the mechanisms of the award of the compensation money. She notes that the compensation was paid in London, much to the advantage of the West India merchants and of the absentee owners living in England. This caused difficulties for the large number of slave owners who had relatively few slaves. Butler calculates that there were 90,000 owners of slaves who had three or fewer slaves. Overall, there were 44,000 individuals who owned slaves in nineteen colonies, making the problems of payment and often subsequent litigation that much more difficult.

There is little doubt that the compensation money had an effect on the colonies. In the case of Barbados, a colony with a long tradition of a resident planter class, the money helped to prop up land values. It raised the value of Barbadian estates and increased the market in land quite significantly. Although sales of estates were often difficult in the period before abolition, the promise and then the reality of compensation improved the situation considerably. Even in Jamaica, where a high proportion of the owners were absentees, loyal planters often made use of the compensation to buy estates. As Butler notes, women were involved in the plantation economy and also gained from the compensation money. In an important chapter, she highlights the role of women in Jamaica and Barbados as plantation owners, as executrices, and as mortgagees. Although most women owned fewer than ten slaves, women submitted more than one-third of all the compensation claims in Barbados. In Jamaica, some of the largest landowners were women: they owned five percent of the estates in the island. including some of the largest.

There were other noticeable effects of the compensation money in Jamaica and Barbados. The payments led to a temporary rise in imports and also to the establishment of local banks to deal with business generated by the money. Butler also claims that the compensation money helped to solidify white control over land in the case of Barbados. In her view, it increased the price of the land, making it very difficult for non-whites to gain access to it. In Jamaica, years of extensive debt and mismanagement meant that planters sold considerable amounts of land to ex-slaves. There, the growth of a strong peasantry was based on the acquisition of land formerly owned by the planters.

Yet much of the compensation money never reached the West Indies. Butler cites the case of John Gladstone, father of the future British prime minister, who had large holdings, especially in British Guiana. However, he invested much of the compensation money elsewhere, putting a good deal of it in the growing infrastructure in England, especially in railroads and canals, but also in India and South America. Like many other astute businessmen, Gladstone had largely liquidated his West Indian assets by the late 1840s.

So what was the ultimate impact of the compensation money? Butler agrees that it was short-lived. Ultimately, British merchants and financiers controlled most of the indemnity. However, Butler may have given too much weight to the effect of compensation on landholding patterns after emancipation. Even without compensation, it is quite likely that planters in Barbados would have remained dominant and that ex-slaves would have had little chance to acquire land. This was a function of the political and economic power of the Barbadian planter class as well as its control of land, and it is likely that compensation reinforced existing patterns. In Jamaica, the development of a peasantry was unaffected by the compensation payments. Still, Butler has provided us with an understanding of the mechanisms of compensation and carefully documented its effects. But, as she notes ruefully in her conclusion, there was no chance of a proper compensation: slaves received no money and had to wait another four years for full freedom.

Gad Heuman
University of Warwick

K. O. Laurence, A Question of Labour: Indentured Immigration into Trinidad and British Guiana, 1875-1917 (Kingston and London: Ian Randle Publishers and James Curry Publishers, 1994). Pp. ix + 648.

Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993). Pp. xix + 370. $39.95.

Marianne D. Soares Ramesar, Survivors of Another Crossing: A History of East Indians in Trinidad, 1880-1946 (St. Augustine: University of the West Indies, 1994). Pp. xiii + 190. $30. ISBN 976-620-036-X. (Available from School of Continuing Studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.)

Sugar and slavery sometimes seem like Siamese twins. Nonetheless, after the abolition of slavery, the Caribbean plantations continued to produce sugar, even though it was hard for most planters to envision, as they could not imagine sugar production without slave labour. So they resorted to the "next best thing": indentured immigration, with Asia the most suitable place to acquire these contract workers. More than half a million British Indians arrived in the Caribbean. British Guiana (1838-1917) received 238,909 migrants; Trinidad (1845-1917) 143,939; Guadeloupe (1854-1885) 42,326; Jamaica (1854-1885) 36,420; Suriname (1873-1916) 34,000; Martinique (1854-1889) 25,509; St. Lucia (1858-1895) 4,350; Grenada (1865-1885) 3,200; and St. Vincent (1861-1880) 2,472. In Guyana, Trinidad, and Suriname in particular the descendants of these migrants form 35 to 50 percent of the population and play important roles in society. Besides the British Indians, 18,000 Chinese entered the British Caribbean.

In the last two years three books on indentured immigration into the British Caribbean have been published, a rich crop indeed. Yet, despite the fact that these publications have a common topic, it is not easy to compare them. The titles make it plain that each author covers a different territory and a different time period: from Marianne Ramesar who focuses on Indian migrants in Trinidad from 1880 to 1946, when indentured immigration was a 30-year-old memory, to Walton Look Lai who discusses the whole of the English-speaking Caribbean, even though he concentrates on Trinidad and Guyana, and the complete 80 years of indentured immigration from India and China. Besides these geographical and chronological differences, these books also vary in outlook and extent.

One learns not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Ramesar's book it makes an excellent beginning. The cover design and format make it clear that this is not a "dry" scholarly monograph, but rather a richly illustrated history intended for a more general audience. Ramesar skips the first decades of immigration and concentrates on the fascinating period when the Indians adjusted to life in the Caribbean and became permanent settlers. The author has accomplished her task in style: Survivors of Another Crossing is a pleasure to read.

In contrast, the more general studies by Laurence and Look Lai aim at an academic audience. Even though the books overlap each other thematically, geographically, and chronologically, their orientation is different. Laurence is primarily interested in the political, legal, administrative, and financial aspects of the contract labour system. He recounts in great detail the seemingly endless negotiations between the administrations in Georgetown and Port of Spain, the Colonial Offfice in London, and the Indian officials. If one, however, wants to learn more about the living and working conditions of the Asian immigrants, it is better to turn to Look Lai. Not that Laurence does not pay attention to this aspect of the immigration, but Look Lai's account is a bit livelier and more in depth.

Both authors discuss extensively the all-important recruitment procedures in India, and in the case of Look Lai's book. China. Who was recruited by whom, where, and why did migrants leave for a destination they probably had never have heard of? Both conclude that push factors were more important than pull factors. Once aboard ship it is Laurence who again in great detail discusses the conditions encountered. Not surprisingly, both Laurence and Look Lai take an in-depth look at the character of the indenture system on the Caribbean plantations. The very foundation of the indenture system was the contract, which curtailed the mobility of the worker as he or she was not free to leave his/her employer if better opportunities presented themselves. Moreover, the so-called penal sanction made non-work or transgressions of the disciplinary code a punishable breach of contract. In those cases, the migrants were subject to fines, hard labour, or imprisonment. It is questionable whether prospective migrants were ever told about these criminal sanctions. In all likelihood they learned the hard way. Look Lai adds another dimension to this discussion by comparing the life and labour of the British Indians and the Chinese.

Laurence and Look Lai both draw upon an impressive array of sources which, in view of the similar topics, overlap: archival records in London and the Caribbean, official documents, newspapers and periodicals, contemporary publications, and secondary sources. With regard to the latter it should be added that Look Lai's bibliography is much more up-to-date than Laurence's. This may be explained by the fact that Laurence finished his manuscript in 1975 but it took almost twenty years to see it in print.

A Question of Labour and Indentured Labour, Caribbean Sugar are carefully researched, well balanced books that overlap and complement each other. For those who want to know everything about Imperial policy and administration, read Laurence. More interested in British Guiana? Read Laurence. Yet (and with relevance to this Newsletter), for the sugar addicts among us, the choice of preference may be Look Lai. To be sure, Laurence includes a chapter on the sugar industry and the labour market. But as Look Lai's book title suggests, his interest in the sugar industry is somewhat more extensive. For example, his first appendix includes several tables on annual sugar cultivation, production, and export in the British Caribbean. Best, however, would be to read all three books: they are worthy contributions to Caribbean history.

Rosemarijn Hoefte
KITLV/Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology

María Elvia Bonilla, Museo de la Caña de Azúcar (Cali: Saenz Editors, 1995). Pp. 83. No price.

One of the highlights of the recent pre-congress programme of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists was a visit to the Sugar Cane Museum in the heart of the Cauca Valley of Colombia. Delegate visitors to the museum were each given a copy of the reviewed book, and a very handsome volume it is.

The book contains ninety-five photographs, all but one in colour. These add immensely to its impact. While the volume is not a detailed historical study of the Colombian sugarcane enterprise with its social implications, it is a worthwhile introduction to the subject. The book is written more for general readership than for the scholar, but it will entice both.

Museo de la Caña de Azúcar is broken into six chapters. The first is titled "Four Centuries of Cane". In 1550 the Peruvian chronicler Pedro Cieza de León registered the existence of stands of cane in the Cauca Valley, and a decade later Don Gregorio de Astigarreta had organized the first water-driven mills on the Rio Amaime. From that time the sugar industry in the area expanded steadily. This chapter touches upon the extinction of the native Arrapunimas tribe and the introduction of blacks by 1622. In the eighteenth century the expulsion of the Jesuits by the Spanish king led to the growth of haciendas and larger mills. Also briefly covered in this chapter are the sections, "Slaves, symbol of power," "From bloody slavery to free labour," "The three principal liberal reforms," and "New mentality and new developments." Also, some production statistics are provided.

The next chapter is a technical one, covering the evolution of cane factories from simple hand or animal-driven mills and open pan boiling to the complicated multi-discipline operations of today.

The third chapter, called "Beginning the journey," mostly reviews the field processes, both old and current, involved in cane cultivation. These include planting, cutting, burning, harvesting, and record keeping. Milling information is briefly noted also.

The success of the Colombian industry is owed in part to the Cauca Valley's unique environment. Chapter 4 clarifies this fact when it discusses "Water and land." In connection with this, the author writes about cane nutrition, irrigation, environmentalism, and the biological control of insect pests.

The history of the museum's site is the focus of Chapter 5, which is titled "Piedechinche," the name of the hacienda created by Capitán Lázaro Cobo. Its eighteenth-century construction and architecture are detailed. The substantial and practical edifice was to be followed in the next century by the construction of a brick-arch aqueduct (still extant) that powered a small mill and a boiling house consisting of open pans for the production of panela. The latter are also on-site in the shadow of a large and impressive brick chimney for venting the smoke of the wood fuel.

The last chapter consists primarily of photographs and captions. These show the technical evolution of mills (trapiches) as they presently are exhibited under thatched-roof structures along a winding path in an expansive and beautifully landscaped site. This is an absolutely outstanding part of the museum, as the visitor may move from the most primitive two-roller wooden mills to more advanced designs with stone mill rollers and finally an iron one constructed in Ohio. It is instant history reinforced by three-dimensional objects. For the many individuals who will never visit the museum, the last chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Nowhere else have I seen such a diversity of antique mills in photographs, let alone illustrations.

Information on purchasing this book may be obtained by writing the Museo de la Caña de Azúcar. c/o Ingenio Providencia. El Cerrito, Colombia.

Norman Rozeff
Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers. Inc.
Santa Rosa, Texas

Glen R. Conrad and Ray F. Lucas, White Gold: A Brief History of the Lousiana Sugar Industry, 1795-1995 (Lafayette: The Center for Louisiana Studies of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1995). Pp. v + 89. Notes, bibliography, photographs. $5.00 soft cover. ISBN 940984-92-X.

The Louisiana sugarcane industry has had a rollercoaster ride: this could well be the main message that comes across in White Gold, number 8 in the Louisiana Life Series. An advertisement for the book succinctly states, "It is a story of survival against the odds. For two hundred years, the industry has endured natural and political disasters to emerge, in the mid-1990s, as a major force in Louisiana's economy." While neither an academic treatise nor a gem of literature, White Gold does serve its purpose "to review the course of the industry during the past two hundred years and to examine the technological advances and human determination that have brought it to the dawn of the twenty-first century".

The authors begin their history in 1682 with a brief account of La Salle's expedition down the Mississippi, an epic voyage which aliowed France to claim the river's watershed in the name of Louis XIV. Sugarcane followed in 1720 when the military outpost of Louisiana was transformed into a settlement colony. Iberville likely introduced the crop, but the Jesuit fathers, in the 1750s in New Orleans, were the first to produce sugarcane syrup. The intrigues of European politics brought shifting alliances and subsequently, starting in 1767, a period of Spanish rule for Louisiana. During this period, Etienne Bore in 1795 was the first in the colony to produce crystal sugar. The authors note that Joseph Villars Dubreuil had done so also, although imperfectly, around 1756. The authors then quickly move the reader through a series of events and challenges that faced the pioneer cane growers. These included floods, the actions of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Louisiana Purchase, and the War of 1812. During this turbulent period, cane growers arrived, refugees from the revolution in Haiti.

Chapter 2 covers a boom period: Louisiana's Antebellum Sugar Industry. The details of cane growing, harvesting, and processing for that period are set forth. Equally interesting is the exposition of the relationship between planters and their brokers (factors) and bankers, the importance of tariffs, custom charges, foreign imports, and, lastly, the technological advances, mostly in processing, that kept Louisiana competitive.

The United States Civil War wrought major changes. Chapter 3, entitled "Politics and Civil War: The End of an Era", covers the subject of slave labour and then labour shortages, first with freed blacks and later with immigrants; state politics involving Democrats, Republicans, and Whigs; the war campaigns and their effects on the area; and the staggering retrenchment of the industry during the mid-1860s.

During the fifteen-year Reconstruction period, the industry was stagnant, but it arose once in what is termed the Bourbon era. It was during this period that the pattern for Lousiana's erratic politics was established, to continue to the present day. The whys and wherefores of this pattern are fascinating. These are covered in "Rebirth: The Beginnings of Modernization". There is also considerable explantion in this chapter of the consolidations and technical breakthroughs made in factory and field. Bounties, quotas, and duties came into play as the country flexed its new-found imperialistic muscles in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, and Hawaii. Louisiana was not immune to these repercussions.

In the twentieth century, more ups and downs followed. These included two world wars, depressions, loss of bounties, plant diseases, world competition, early freezes, drought, and labour shortages. It was World War II that promoted mechanization in the field, first with the development of grab loaders, then whole stick cane harvesters and, most importantly, improved highway transportation.

Two sections of black and white photographs bring the industry alive. Unfortunately for the reader, the photos are not dated, so that one may only guess at the decade in which they were taken. The book contains some factual errors, mainly in the realm of technology, but these are not serious. The book, on the whole, is an excellent and easily-absorbed introductory history of Lousiana's sugarcane industry.

The bibliography contains some interesting sugar references that were new to me. One item is Michael Schalits' Guide to the Literature of the Sugar Industry(Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier, 1970)). Academics may be able to find leads in this and other references.

Norman Rozeff
Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc.
Santa Rosa ,Texas


Catherine C. LeGrand, "Informal resistance on a Dominican sugar plantation during the Trujillo dictorship," Hispanic American Historical Review, 75:4 (1995), pp. 555-596.

Stephen V. Marks and Keith E. Markus, eds., The Economics and Politics of World Sugar Policies (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1993).

Brian H. Pollitt and Gerhard B. Hagelberg, "The Cuban sugar economy in the Soviet era and after," Cambridge Journal of Economics, 18 (1994), pp. 547-569.

Guy Robinson, "Deregulation and restructuriny of the Australian cane sugar industry," Australian Geographical Studies, 33:2 (October 1995). pp. 212-227. This article deals with the contemporary scene.

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade (James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, 1991).

Michael G. Wade, Sugar Dynasty: M.A. Patout and Son, Ltd. 1791-1993 (Lafayette, Louisiana: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1995). We hope to review this book in the next issue.

For a post-modern alternative, try Charlotte Sussmann, "Women and the politics of sugar, 1792," Representations, 48 (Fall 1994), pp. 48-69.

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Daniel Campi of the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán has sent us copies of the following publications on the Argentine sugar industry:

María Celia Bravo, "Cañeros industriales y mecanismos de arbitraje azucareros en la década del '20," Población y sociedad, No. 1, (Dic. 1993), pp. 35-46.

Daniel Campi, "El noroeste argentino y el modelo agroexportador, 1870-1914. Reestructuración regional y producción azucarera," Jujuy en la historia. Avances de investigación (Universidad Nacional de Jujuy), 2 (1995), pp. 143-171.

Daniel Campi (comp.), Estudios sobre la historia de la industria azucarera argentina, Vol. 1 (Tucumán: Facultad de Ciencas Económicas, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1991).

Daniel Campi y Marcel Layos, "Auge azucarero y mercado de trabajo en el noroeste argentino, 1850-1930," ANDES. Antropología e historia (Salta), No. 6 (1994), pp. 179-208.

María Silvia Fleitas, "Desarrollo regional, azúcar y política en el noroeste argentino, 1910-1930," Jujuy en la historia. Avances de investigación (Universidad Nacional de Jujuy), 1 (1993), pp 151-165.

Marcel Lagos, "Estructuración de los ingenios azucareros jujeños en el marco regional (1870-1930)," Jujuy en la historia. Avances de investigación (Universidad Nacional de Jujuy), 1 (1993), pp. 111-132.

María Celia Bravo, "Cuestión regional azúcar y crisis cañera en Tucumán durante la primera presidencia de Yrigoyen," Ruralia. Revista argentina de estudios agrarios, No. 4 (Oct. 1993), pp. 45-60.

Daniel Campi, "Captación forzada de mano obra y trabajo asalariado en Tucumán, 1856-1896," Anuario IEHS (Tandil), No. 8 (1993), pp. 47-71.

These last two articles have been reprinted by the Cátedra de Historia, Instituto de Estudios Socio-Económicos, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1993.


Roger Munting writes that at the International Congress on Economic History, to be held in Seville, Spain, in August 1998, a "C" session will be devoted to "the changing pattern of production and demand for sugar and other sweeteners in the 19th and 20th centuries". For further information, write to Dr. Roger Munting, School of History, the University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, England. Fax: 01603 593519. We shall publish more information as it becomes available.

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A conference entitled "Slaves With and Without Sugar" is being organized by the Centre for Atlantic History, Madeira, to be held from June 17 to 21, 1996. Further information can be obtained from the organizer, Alberto Vieira, at Rua dos Ferreiros 165, 9000-Funchal: FAX 230341: e-mail

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. The subscription rate is $15 for two years (four issues). The date listed on the address sticker is the subscription expiration date. Personal cheques made out to World Sugar History Newsletter and drawn on Canadian or American banks are acceptable. 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 Back issues of the Newsletter can be found on the World Wide Web at