World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 32, November 2002

In this issue:

  1. Book Reviews
  2. Sugar Beet
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Conference Reports

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, No. 32, November 2002, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Ian Mackintosh Hillock, Broken Dreams and Broken Promise – The Cane Conspiracy. Plantation Agriculture in the Northern Territory, 1878-1889 (Darwin, Australia: Northern Territory University Press, 2000). Pp. xi + 128. ISBN 1-876248-48-3.

Australia’s enduring ‘northern myth’ was that the high-rainfall north was a potential agricultural utopia, merely needing investment, expertise, and commitment to become an antipodean version of Louisiana. In this northern vision, sugar, with its high value-weight ratio, figured prominently. The reality of generally poor soils, distance from markets, and high development costs meant that this vision has been realized only in a few places, mostly in north Queensland. Western Australia’s first sugar industry commenced finally in 1995, some 23 years after the completion of the Ord River Dam, and was immediately assailed by crop disease and low prices.

Hillock’s handsome monograph deals with an early and obscure attempt to realize this vision. His thesis can be summarized thus: the most disadvantaged of the original mainland Australian colonies, South Australia, successfully lobbied for control of land to its north (until 1911, the Northern Territory of South Australia), hoping that rapid development there would boost its wealth and influence. However, a combination of poor planning, insufficient appraisal of land and soil characteristics, ignorance of cropping potential, government ineptitude and corruption, and private-sector incompetence meant that a potentially viable sugar industry on the Daly River, some 200 km. south-west of Darwin, failed.

These themes are developed in fourteen short chapters, focusing largely on the Daly River region. It is a story largely populated by self-seekers, scoundrels, and incompetents, with perhaps only one anti-hero, W. Owston, who, after a promising start, abandoned attempts to develop a diversified plantation with sugar as its principal crop. In contrast, the other major plantation owner, B. C. Delissa, comes across as a familiar type: the self-aggrandizer, adept at separating other people from their money. We also meet the Darwin newspaper editor who constantly ‘puffed’ any development attempts while playing favourites with the actual developers, and a litany of colonial bureaucrats and politicians who were variously incompetent or mendacious.

Failure is often more interesting than success. Hillock has an interesting story to tell and generally tells it well. Clearly originating in a higher-degree thesis, his research is thorough and the results presented logically. His thirty years of experience in land and resource management is evident in his confident treatment of agricultural issues, particularly his coverage of soil conditions and cropping potential.

Hillock himself cannot totally shake off the ‘northern myth’, believing that the most favourable parts of the Daly River environs could have sustained tropical agriculture, albeit not necessarily through large plantations. There is scope for debate here. The counter-factual proposition – that if the parties had been capable, honest, and better informed, tropical agriculture could have flourished around the Daly River – understates the problems of isolation, discomfort, and high costs that Queensland also faced to a lesser degree. Labour recruitment and retention problems, which were endemic in Queensland, might have thwarted even the best efforts in the Northern Territory.

While Hillock’s opus deals with a small geographical area during a relatively brief period, it illustrates why the northern myth was destined to remain largely mythological. For this reason his work is important beyond its modest scope as a contribution to the historiography both of the Australian sugar industry and the country’s (excruciatingly slow) northern development.

Geoff Burrows,
University of Melbourne

Antonio Santamaría García, Sin azúcar no hay país. La industria azucarera y la economía cubana (1919-1939). Prologue by Carlos D. Malamud. (Sevilla: Universidad de Sevilla, Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) y Diputación de Sevilla, 2002). Pp. 624 + xxxix. Pictures, tables, maps, statistical appendix, indices, and glossary. €25.96. ISBN 84-472-0701-3.

A well-known slogan that was frequently repeated by Cuban hacendados during the 1940s and 1950s serves as the title for this book that examines the Cuban sugar industry during the years between the two world wars. It was precisely in those years that the structural distortion of the Cuban economy peaked, and at the same time various solutions were formulated and implemented to conserve the validity of the island’s existing economic model, a model that involved ties to the United States market. The great sugar boom of the twentieth century arose out of the favourable conditions from 1898 when Cuba came to depend on American decisions and interests. This permitted the marketing of sugar produced on the island without the traditional interference of the fiscal interests of the Spanish metropolis and the free flow of capital from its northern neighbour. Although these conditions came fully into force after 1898, the development of the Cuban sugar industry already had begun to experience a social, commercial, and technological impact from 1878 and the end of the Ten Years’ War. From the beginning of the 1880s, because of internal factors such as the abolition of slavery and the establishment of the colonato, as well as external influences, such as the increase in the demand for raw sugar on the part of the American refining industry, the Cuban sweetener industry had to confront new productive and organizational challenges that reached their apogee with the American intervention in the Cuban war of independence.

An interesting problem has attracted and at the same time guided the steps of the author in the formulation of his central hypothesis: that during the years of critical readjustment of the world economy and the local Latin American economies, Cuba followed its own model, different from that assumed by the other countries of the area. That model maximized the structural deformity of the Cuban economy, increasing the influence of its already powerful sugar industry. Santamaría argues that the Cuban sugar industry was especially stimulated by the demand generated during the First World War. Because of it, the flow of capital to Cuba was considerable. Yet, much of this investment proved less than totally profitable during the period of high prices and almost unlimited demand that marked the postwar period. As a result of this, and with the certain belief that the United States government would apply a protectionist policy, that is, raise duties on imported sugar, the industrial and financial interests linked to sugar in Cuba opted to expand production and reduce costs. Thus, they increased production by an additional 1.2 million tons in 1925 and considerably improved the efficiency of the centrales. The attempts at dumping by the island producers, the situation of the refiners with their production interests, and, finally, the negotiations carried out to establish a quota system among the centrales that permitted a large number of them to continue operating although below their capacity for several decades more, constitute other problems that are rigorously treated by this book.

Originating as a doctoral thesis, Sin azucar no hay país preserves all the complexity and formal and scientific requirements of this type of academic exercise. The text, based on a review of bibliographic, documentary, journal, and particularly statistical material, is exceedingly vast and detailed. As a result, the book will likely appeal to two types of reader. One is the specialist who can take maximum advantage of its heuristic abundance and analytical richness, in particular the tables that appear in the work and the graphs that are included both in the appendices and in the text. The second, less focused, more superficial type of reader can be equally fulfilled with the conclusions summarized at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book. These sections contain in an abbreviated but adequate form the fundamental contributions of the work, synthesized to achieve a better understanding of the ideas, hypotheses, and results that appear exhaustively in the chapters. Here the text reaches its greatest clarity and communicability.

Because of its theme, its wealth of information, and its clarification of fundamental elements of the economic history of the Greater Antilles, this excellent study constitutes one of the most important contributions to our understanding of the Cuban sugar industry in the so-called republican stage published during the last decade.

Alejandro García Álvarez
Universidad de La Habana


During the Second World War, thousands of Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their West Coast homes and moved into the interior of the country. Almost 4,000 of them ended up working on sugar beet farms in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. The accompanying photograph is of an unknown boy holding a sugar beet, taken in Coaldale, Alberta, some time in 1942-43. Our thanks to Marion Harris for providing the photograph.


Alfredo S. C. Bolsi & J. Patricia Ortiz de D’Arterio, Población y azúcar en el noroeste argentino. Mortalidad infantil y transición demográfica durante el siglo XX (Tucumán: Instituto de Estudios Geográficos, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 2001). Pp. 117. $10.00. ISBN 950-554-252-6.

Benedita Camara, “A Madeira e o protectionismo sacarino (1895-1918),” Analise Social. Revista do Instituto de Ciencias Sociais da Universidad de Lisboa, 4th series, 33:1 (1998), pp. 117-143.

Matthew C. Godfrey, “The Utah-Idaho Sugar Company: Political and legal troubles in the aftermath of the First World War,” Agricultural History, 75:2 (2001), pp. 188-216.

Michael R. Hall, Sugar and Power in the Dominican Republic: Eisenhower, Kennedy and Trujillo (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2000). Pp. 176. $62.95. ISBN 0-313-31127-7.

Detlef Kantowsky, Zucker aus Benares. Zur Ausbreitung sussen Lebens am Beispiel von Mauritius (Konstanz: Detlef Kantowsky, 2002). Pp. 133. This is a curious volume, the result of personal experience with sugar production. In 1945 the author’s family fled Berlin for the countryside and found refuge among sugar-beet farmers. Also the author once lived near Benares in India where he observed the manufacture of gur. On a recent visit to Mauritius he came across a large plantation named Benares and became interested in it. This book is in large part an informal history of sugar production on Mauritius with a focus on the Benares plantation. This he follows with a “photo essay” on gur production near Benares, India, and concludes with a brief introduction to the history of sugar beet in Germany. It is obtainable from the author, at Universitat Konstanz, Fach D 38, D78457, Konstanz, Germany, and from

Antonino Morreale, “La produzione Siciliana dello zucchero (1550-1650): Ipotesi e stime,” Società e Storia, 89 (2000), pp. 421-445.

Jack R. Preston, “Heyward G. Leavitt’s influence on sugar beets and irrigation in Nebraska,” Agricultural History, 76:2 (2002), pp. 381-392.

José Antonio Sánchez Román, “Industriales de Buenos Aires e industriales del interior. Los manufactureros y los azucareros tucumanos a finales del siglo XIX y principios del XX,” Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 27 (2001), pp. 191-217.

José Antonio Sánchez Román, “Tucumán y la industria azucarera ante la crisis de 1890,” Desarrollo Económico. Revista de Ciencias Sociales 41:Oct-Dic (2001), pp. 467-494.

Pedro Ramos & Tamás Szmrecsányi, “Evoloução histórica dos grupos empresariais da agroindústria canavieira paulista,” História Econômica e História de Empresas, 1 (2002), pp. 85-115.

Ernest Sánchez Santiró, Azúcar y poder: estructura socioeconómica de las alcaldías mayores de Cuernavaca y Cuautla de Amilpas, 1730-1821 (México, D.F.: Editorial Praxis, 2001). Pp. 331. ISBN 9706820736.

Marie-Louise von Wartburg, “The archaeology of cane sugar production: a survey of thirty years of research in Cyprus,” The Antiquaries Journal, 81 (2001), pp. 305-335.

Mark Finlay of Armstrong Atlantic State University has kindly provided these references on beet sugar in Germany:

Peter Joerissen & Rita Wagner, Süsses Rheinland: zur Kulturgeschichte des Zuckers (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1998). Pp. 120. ISBN 341602771X.

Manfred Pohl, Die Geschichte der Sudzucker AG, 1926-20001 (München: Piper Verlag, 2001). Pp. 399. €39.90. ISBN 3492043305.

Vulcan Ironworks locomotive, built in 1920, at work in Usina de Queimado, Campos, Brazil, July 1977.


The Centro de Estudos de História do Atlântico (CEHA) in Madeira held a conference on the technology of the sugar cane industry in March 2000. The proceedings have been published as a book, under the title História e Technologia do Açúcar. The nineteen papers range over a broad swath of time and territory from 15th-century Granada and Sicily to 19th-century Brazil and Argentina. The final paper compares the terminology used in sugar production in Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands at the present time. The papers are in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. The one contribution in English – by Christian Daniels – discusses roller mills in the Dai cultural area during the 19th and 20th centuries. This area extends from China through Laos and Thailand to Myanmar. The papers have a strong unifying theme and make a significant contribution. Copies of the book are available from CEHA, Rua dos Ferreiros, 165 – 9000, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. E-mail:

The proceedings of a conference with the theme “Rotas e Mercados do Açúcar”, held in Madeira in April of this year, will be published shortly.

Alberto Vieira, of CEHA, organized both conferences.

The World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. The subscription rate is $15 for two years (four issues). The number listed on the address sticker indicates the subscription expiration. 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 WSHN can be found on its website at