World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 36, July 2007

In this issue:

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


This is the first on-line edition of the World Sugar History Newsletter. As we noted in our last issue, the cost of mailing the paper edition has become prohibitive, forcing us to the conclusion that on-line distribution, which is essentially cost-free, is the sensible way to distribute our news. It should also permit more frequent issues and perhaps more relevant information, as we can publish immediately material becomes available. Those readers who appreciate a “paper” record for their files can easily down-load each issue.

We hope readers will circulate the website to colleagues and thus increase our readership and numbers of potential contributors for we continue to rely on you to send us the details of your publications, whether journal articles, chapters, or books. Please also send details of any publication you come across that you think should be reported in the Newsletter, or any other information that you think might be relevant. And if you send us your e-mail address we will be able to notify you of the publication of the next and subsequent newsletters.

As always, many thanks.

Peter Blanchard and Jock Galloway


Clem Seecharan, Sweetening Bitter Sugar. Jock Campbell the Booker Reformer in British Guiana 1934-1966 (Kingston, Jamaica, and Miami: Ian Randle, 2005). 673 pp. Tables, notes, references, photos, index. $60 hardback; $30 paperback. ISBN 976-637-199-7 (hbk); 976-637-193-8 (pbk).

This book is a brilliant mix of company history, colonial history, and biography. The linking theme is the life of Jock Campbell who for more than thirty years was heavily involved in the management of the sugar industry of British Guiana and in the politics of the colony. When his family’s company, Curtis, Campbell and Co., was acquired in 1939 by Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co. Ltd. (Booker), he joined a company which had come to dominate the British Guiana sugar industry. He rose rapidly, becoming a director in 1943 and Chairman in 1952 when he was only 40 years old. He remained in that position until 1967. Throughout his time at Booker he was concerned for the welfare of those who worked on the company’s plantations and strove to improve their lot which, over time, he succeeded in doing. This sympathy for the sugar workers influenced his politics: unusual among successful businessmen, Campbell voted Labour and made no secret of the fact. But at the same time as carrying out reforms, he had to meet the expectations of directors and shareholders for financial returns. His career at Booker was, indeed, a balancing act, made even more complicated during the 1950s and 1960s by the machinations of Guianese politicians in the run-up to independence in 1966. The frustrations of trying to satisfy all, as well as fatigue and health concerns, led to his decision to resign. His achievements earned him the thanks and respect of many in British Guiana, in the wider Caribbean and in the UK. Public recognition came in the form of a knighthood and later a peerage.

Jock Campbell was a sixth-generation member of a family that had enjoyed a flow of wealth from its sugar plantations in British Guiana since the late eighteenth century. The founders of the fortune were Glasgow merchants, brothers who entered the West India trade in the second half of the eighteenth century and acquired plantations through foreclosure for debts along the Essequibo and Demerara coasts, at that time Dutch possessions. In 1803 these territories became part of British Guiana. Campbell grew up in the lap of luxury, enjoying a privileged youth at Eton and Oxford that was marred by a period of illness. He was aware through the family company that sugar was the source of his family’s wealth, but he had not had the curiosity to look into the history of the sugar industry in British Guiana or, indeed, elsewhere. After Oxford, the ques-tion of a career arose. At parental suggestion he went to British Guiana to learn the family business, arriving in 1934 when he was twenty-two. He remained for the better part of three years. His parents could hardly have anticipated the consequences of this extended visit, which proved to be a formative time for Campbell, turning his thinking towards the “left”. His realization that his family had employed slaves and later indentured labour produced in him a deep sense of disquiet. He was shocked by the living conditions of the workers on his family’s plantations, by the rudeness to servants, and particularly by the reply of a plantation manager to his question why the mules were better housed than “your coolies.” “Mules cost money, sir!” (p. 4). The improvements being introduced on a plantation owned by another family were to provide him with an example of what could be done. The experiences of these three years not only decided him to make his career in the sugar industry but also to rank its reform as a top priority. “Demerara was his Damascus” (p. 46).

Following this introduction to Jock Campbell and his world, Seecharan turns to examine Campbell’s work at Booker. World War II limited what he could accomplish, but by 1946, forty-one percent of the Booker plantation workers had been re-housed. Two years spent in the Colonial Office during the war gave him valuable understanding of issues in sugar production throughout the British colonial empire, an understanding that proved of great benefit to him in the large role he played in the negotiations that led to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement of 1951. This Agreement “guaranteed a price for ‘efficient sugar producers’ as well as quotas to provide producers protection for a reasonable portion of their output.” The CSA “ensured a degree of security necessary for long-term planning in the sugar industry” (p. 287).

With the CSA Campbell and Booker could move ahead with reforms. Through several chapters Seecharan records his achievements in housing, wages, health care, the introduction of new milling and field work technology, along with the cultivation of improved varieties of cane. Campbell also started a policy of bringing Guianese into scientific and administrative positions in Booker. There were two reformers whose work Campbell greatly respected: Sir George Lethem, Governor of British Guiana from 1941 to 1946, and Dr. George Giglioli, a long-time resident who was largely responsible for the eradication of malaria in the colony. Campbell’s policies were not all altruistic. He was not a free agent but rather an agent of the Booker Board. Conse-quently, dividends had to be paid, and thinking of the future, he invested capital outside British Guiana to reduce Bookers’ dependence for its income on one place and one crop. Nevertheless Seecharan makes the point that it is difficult to detract from Campbell’s extraordinary achievement in transforming the working and social conditions on the plantations, indeed his transformation of the entire British Guiana sugar industry, from what he had found as a young man on his first visit there in 1934 to what he bequeathed to newly-independent Guyana and his successors at Booker on his resignation in 1967.

Much of the good that Campbell had done was to be diminished by politics. Campbell was on very good terms with the politicians who were bringing the other British Caribbean colonies to independence. He had been meeting them in London since the 1940s and on his visits to the Caribbean. He had also made a point of meeting the region’s authors and artists. He knew the political and artistic life of the British Caribbean, yet he was unable, try as he might, to establish a rapport with Cheddi Jagan, the principal politician in post-war British Guiana. The basic problem was Jagan’s rigid Marxism, a conviction which eventually led the USA to pressure the British government to manoeuvre Forbes Burnham into leading British Guiana to independence. Subsequently, the Burnham-Jagan rivalry disastrously dominated Guyanese politics for fifty years, but the two did cooperate in the nationalization of Booker in 1976, which Seecharan calls a “massive backward step” (p. 14). His analysis of British Guiana’s politics from the war to independence takes up a good part of the mid to later sections of the book.

Seecharan has read widely in the secondary literature and in archives in London, Guyana, Trinidad, and the USA, and has interviewed many persons who knew Jock Campbell. However, the major source that sets the tone of the book is Jock Campbell himself. He permitted Seecharan to inter-view him on several occasions. During these interviews Seecharan came to like and respect Campbell, and his appreciation of Campbell’s good qualities suffuses his book. The book is perhaps a little long. It is also a book in which a reader may well move around from topic to topic rather than progress from beginning to end. For instance, Seecharan refers to Campbell’s reforms in early chapters, but his major discussion only begins on page 363. It is a kindly, respectful biography of a remarkable and very likeable man. It is also a company history and a major contribution to both the history of Guyana and the history of the sugar industry.

J. H. Galloway
University of Toronto

Norman Rozeff, Sugarcane and the Development of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1875-1922 (Edinburg, Texas: New Santander Press, 2007). Pp. vi + 256. $28 within the USA. ISBN 0-935071-20-2. Available from the author:

Texas is not usually associated with sugar cane. Yet, it is one of the four states of the USA where the crop is cultivated commercially, although its production is the most modest of the four, well below the levels of Louisiana and Florida, but now drawing close to the declining industry of Hawaii. It is concentrated in the Rio Grande Valley. The industry got off to what proved to be a false start in the late nineteenth century, only to fade away fifty years later without having achieved prosperity. Its revival began in 1972 and so far is proving successful. Norman Rozeff is closely associated with Texas sugar. He began his career in Hawaii, has travelled extensively as a consultant to cane growers around the tropical world, and in 1975 settled in Texas where he held until his recent retirement the position of agriculturalist with the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc, of Santa Rosa.

The scope of the book is more than a study of that first attempt to grow sugar cane commercially in Texas. It is also a contribution to the local history of a small, but distinctive part of the nineteenth-century American frontier. The Valley borders Mexico, and Mexican bandits appear in the pages as threats to economic development, their marauding activities leading to the stationing of a considerable army of American troops there in the early twentieth century. The Rio Grande itself is another participant, winding its way through difficult terrain with frequent changes of course on its way to the Gulf: a source of water but a rather frustrating means of transport. Poor transport is a constant refrain, with railroads proposed as the solution. Carpetbaggers were also involved, buying up vast acreages of land. Amidst a great deal of speculation, the successful few could display their wealth by building mansions in Brownsville, the Valley’s coastal metropolis. Cattle raising, cotton, and corn took up much of the land, with a good number of other crops being proposed as possible sources of wealth, of which sugar cane was one.

Rozeff has divided his book into two parts. In the first he devotes a chapter to each of the seven attempts to establish and operate a sugar plantation and mill. Not one of these attempts was successful and each one lasted only a short period of time. He looks at the difficulties each attempt encountered: inadequate finances, lack of “know how”, poor irrigation, and difficulties in transporting cane from field to mill and final product from mill to market. Some sixty photographs of mills, machinery, and extensive fields of cane give a good idea of the ambition of these entrepreneurs. In the second half of the book, Rozeff reviews more generally the problems that led to the earlier failure of the industry. One problem was the climate. His search of the weather records reveals that “[o]ver the 44 year period during which sugarcane was being cultivated, freezes of 28 degrees (F) or lower occurred 50% of the harvest seasons” (p. 184). This level of cold lasting only a brief time severely reduces the yields of crops. He reports also on the damage caused by hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods. The international politics of the USA did not help. He argues that the independence of Cuba and the colonizing of the Philippines, as well as the annexation of Hawaii all had unfavourable competitive implications for the Valley’s sugar industry. The decline in world sugar prices after 1921 was a further blow. Another serious problem was the lack of scientific support for the industry. In the Valley the characteristics and quality of the soils vary considerably, but the cane farmers and other cultivators had to work without the benefit of a good soil survey and there was little support from a poorly-funded research station. The Valley also lacked political clout, demonstrated perhaps most visibly by its politicians’ failure to secure the extension of the Inter-Coastal Waterway to make a good port of Brownsville.

The book left this reader with some questions. Was the Valley the only place in the US during the late nineteenth century where sugar cane cultivation was part of the pioneer experience? In Louisiana by that time the sugar industry was long-established, but what about Florida and Hawaii? Are there comparisons to be made? The industry did leave a legacy in the Valley of cleared land, railroads, population, new towns, and experience. Of these, perhaps experience was the most important, benefiting the planners of the successful industry that began in the 1970s. There is another story to be told, and maybe Norman Rozeff will one day tell it.

J. H. Galloway
University of Toronto


Abdul-Latif D. Busari, Sugar-cane and Sugar Industry of Nigeria: The Bitter Sweet Lessons (Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum Books and Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005). Pp. xvi + 286. $29.95. ISBN 978-029-534-9.

Peter Griggs, “Soil erosion, scientists and the development of conservation tillage techniques in the Queensland sugar Industry, 1935-1995,” Environmental History, 12 (2006), pp. 263-268.

Peter Griggs, “‘A Natural Part of Life’: The Australian sugar industry’s campaign to reverse declining Australian sugar consumption, 1980-1995,” Journal of Australian Studies, 87 (2006), pp.141-154.

Peter Griggs, “Defeating cane diseases: plant pathologists and the development of disease controls in the Australian sugar industry, 1920-1950,” Journal of Australian Studies, 18:1 (2007), pp. 43-73.

Gail M. Hollander, “‘Subject to Control’: shifting geographies of race and labour in US sugar agroindustry, 1930-1950,” Cultural Geographies, 13 (2006), pp. 266-292.

Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Pp. x + 275. $48.95. ISBN 978-0-8018-8281-4.

Russell R. Menard, Sweet Negotiations: Sugar, Slavery, and Plantation Agriculture in Early Barbados (London and Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006). Pp xviii + 181. Price $39.50. ISBN 0-8139-2540-1.

Brian H. Pollitt, “The rise and fall of the Cuban sugar economy,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 36:2 (2004), pp. 319-348.

C. Ford Runge & Benjamin Senauer, “How biofuels could starve the poor,” Foreign Affairs, 86:3 (2007), pp. 41-53.

Rebecca J. Scott, Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005). $29.95. ISBN 0-674-01932-6.

Frederick H. Smith, Caribbean Rum. A Social and Economic History (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2005). Pp. xvi + 339. ISBN 0-8130-2867-1.

Elvio Duarte Martins Sousa, Coordinator, A cerâmica do açúcar em Portugal na epoca moderna (Lisboa/Machico: Centro de Estudos de Arqueologia Moderna e Contemporânea, Sítio do Povo, Gaula, Santa Cruz, Madeira). Pp. 83. ISBN 972-99741-2-8. No price. Contact author at: This is a discussion of the ceramic containers (formas) used to make sugar cones in Madeira based on remains unearthed in archaeological digs.

Elvio Duarte Martins Sousa, “Cerâmica de uso industrial: as formas de açúcar,” pp. 146-154 in Arqueologia da cidade de Machico. A construção do quotidiano nos séculos xv, xvi e xvii (Machico, Madeira: Centro de Estudos de Arqueologia Moderna e Contemporânea, 2006). Pp. 223. ISBN 972-99741-1-X.

On-line publication:

Laurent Lachery, Le Blog des Vestiges Industriel de Mayotte (December 2005). It can be found at Mayotte is a French island, one of the Comoro Group, in the Mozambique Channel.


Norman Rozeff reports the opening of a new sugar museum, the Hawaii Plantation and Industrial Museum, 301 Keave Street, Hilo, Hawaii. “At some future date the museum will move up the Hilo coast to a new home in the former warehouse of the long-defunct Honomu Sugar Mill”.

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