The Paris exhibition
Kaieteur Falls, from: British Guiana at the Paris exhibition: catalogue of exhibits; to which are prefixed some illustrative notices of the colony. London: Edward Stanford, 1878 [FCO Historical Collection T802.G1 BRI]The Paris international exhibition of 1878, held to celebrate France’s recovery from the Franco-Prussian War, was the largest exhibition the world had yet seen, occupying 66 acres. France’s own exhibits formed half the items on display, while those of the British Empire made up another third.
The exhibition was attended by thirteen million visitors from all over the world and was seen by exhibitors as an important means of attracting trade and investment, of showing off new technological or artistic achievements, of celebrating the riches of their respective cultures and of stimulating both national pride and a spirit of international co-operation.
At the time of the Paris exhibition British Guiana’s economy was dominated by cane sugar, though some diversification was beginning to emerge, a trend that would sharpen in the 1880s, as sugar prices fell and efforts were made to exploit the mineral resources of the colony, such as bauxite.
In 1876 British Guiana exported a total of 213,951,360 pounds of sugar (as opposed to 66,667,776 pounds 25 years earlier) and the colony as a whole enjoyed a modest revenue surplus. Public expenditure on managed immigration schemes (principally indentured labour from India) was beginning to fall, but health and social welfare expenditure was on the rise.
This catalogue to British Guiana’s exhibits, while naturally devoting a large amount of space to sugar production, suggests that the colony was anxious to present itself as rich in other natural resources and full of potential for the investor.
Exhibits included not only different types and grades of sugar and rum, but other crops, such as cassava, coffee and cocoa, around 90 different timbers and examples of Carib and Arawak craftwork, such as pottery, baskets and table mats.The introduction uses statistical data to stress the colony’s economic health and potential and takes pains to counter the prevalent perception of its climate as ‘unhealthy, and prejudicial to Europeans.’
The frontispiece shows the Kaieteur Falls, one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. In 1870 Charles Barrington Brown, a British government surveyor, became the first European to see the Kaieteur Falls.
In this exhibition
- The challenge to Spain
- International rivalry
- Indigenous peoples
- Revolts and revolution
- The road to emancipation in the British colonies
- The 'mighty experiment': Britain's Caribbean colonies after emancipation
- Natural history
- Nineteenth century Caribbean colonial life