Searching for Governer Luyt’s records of the 1964 Wismar Atrocity in Guyana
Sir Richard Edmonds Luyt was the last Governor of British Guiana. He arrived there on March 7th 1964 and remained in post throughout the upheavals of independence. He was then invited to stay on for a short time as Governor General of the newly-independent Guyana.
When I was asked by anthropologist Dr. Kumar Mahabir to assist him to research the events of the Wismar Ethnic Cleansing Atrocity that took place in May 1964 for a future monograph he plans to write on the subject, an obvious place to turn for some primary source material from that period was the personal papers of the then-Governor.
When he left Guyana, Sir Richard took up the post of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT). On his death, his widow donated all his personal papers – diaries, notebooks, correspondence, etc. from his lengthy military and diplomatic career and from his years in the university – to the university.
I wrote to the UCT library to request access to these records, but sadly, a few months prior, a wildfire on Table Mountain had destroyed part of the Jagger Library, one department of the university’s multi-library complex, and the records that had until-then been stored in the basement had now been moved to safe storage and were inaccessible. Worse yet, until the records could be assessed for possible damage, we would not know if they would ever be accessible again.
This was a blow, but it turns out that some records of that period are also preserved in the UK National Archives and we were able to acquire some of the papers relevant to that time from that source. We were also able to access some files from a well-wisher with invaluable scanned records from the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that was held after the events of May 1964.
Nevertheless, I hope that one day Luyt’s original papers will be available to us. In the meantime, I wish the University of Cape Town all the best in their efforts to rebuild their facilities and preserve the literary treasurers that they have in their care.