pondering photographs

A yummy day with a book delivery from Duke University Press. Seriously, by this point, I should have shares in the company; that’s how many books I buy from them. Today’s haul includes Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, Elspeth Probyn’s Eating the Ocean, and Eli Clare’s Brilliant Imperfection, all of which are destined for this fall’s iteration of the graduate feminist theory seminar. But it also included Tina Campt’s Listening to Images, an extended meditation on the counterstories that images of black diasporic subjects, ostensibly meant for surveillance purposes – identification cards, passports, etc – might tell. As she observes in the introduction, “identification photos are not produced at the desire of their sitters. They are images required of or imposed upon them by empire, science, or the state” (5). And because of the rigid rules that have often governed their production, such photos have rarely been studied in great detail. But by listening closely to them, different stories might emerge, stories that challenge the logics by which they were originally created.

In her book, Campt gets at the heart of my own archival discomforts in this project: how do I work with material designed expressly to dehumanize? And how can I read that material differently? But it also gets at another element of this project: the visual archives that remain of colonial lives and experiences. The online archives in the Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio, for example, include many photos of the so-called Coolie Depot where all incoming indentured labourers were brought to be processed. The Flickr stream of the Surinaams Museum, meanwhile, offers photographs of plantation life. But most of these photos were taken not to support those who toiled on the plantations, or those who were brought – often under extreme duress – to Suriname, but rather, to document the activities of a colonial system. How, then, to read them differently?

I’ve written previously about ethnographic refusal, and Campt, too, draws on the notion of refusal. For Tuck and Wang, refusal is about an approach to research; it’s about methodology. For Campt, however, refusal lies in the photographed subjects themselves: what are they doing – in the way they sit for the camera, in the way they dress, in the very fact that they’ve had their photos taken – to resist the narratives that have been carved out for them.

It was just over ten years ago that I found a stack of old black and white photos in a used bookstore in London, Ontario. All neatly packaged in clear cellophane wrapping,, they were gathered together under a single heading: “Instant ancestors.” I was with my mom at the time. We poked through them, holding up particularly intriguing photos, and had a good laugh. But as I think back to this collection, it strikes me that the ‘family photo’ itself as a particular series of conventions attached to it, and it is these conventions that allow us to find the humour in the photos. These conventions made it possible for us to laugh.

But these photos were out of context. Completely divorced from their ‘real’ families, their stories are much more opaque. How can we read them? And what stories might they tell?

Photographs appear in the most random of places. As a first year university student in Victoria a few decades ago, I found a photograph of a toddler with round cheeks in the middle of a book that hadn’t been taken out in twenty years. More recently, I found another, in an interlibrary loan from the University of Toronto. They’d functioned as bookmarks, I imagine, and then the borrower had come up against a due date, stuffed the books into a bag, and completely forgotten about the photos.

Like the London photos and the discarded passport photos Campt analyzed, these photos were accidents, bits of stories that somehow got away, that ended up in completely different contexts.

Instant ancestors, indeed.

[and yes: p.s., I purposely chose not to include photos.]


Campt, Tina M. Listening to Images. Duke UP, 2017.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “R-Words: Refusing Research,” in D. Paris and M. T. Winn, Eds. Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with youth and Communities. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications, 2014.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Unbecoming claims: Pedagogies of refusal in qualitative research.” Qualitative Inquiry 20.6 (2014): 811-818.


Against KonMari: A Plea for Packrattery

Ok. I’ll start by saying that this is not about Marie Kondo, the famed Japanese organizing guru, as a person. Rather, it’s about the contemporary North American fad for “curating” lives, homes, families, selves, etc. It’s a response to a larger movement that seeks ostensibly to get away from a consumption model of living and to move towards an approach that is simple, streamlined, and elegant.

But what, you might think, is wrong with this? Surely, we want to acknowledge the errors of our capitalist consumption-oriented ways. Absolutely. I’m in total agreement. What do we need more stuff for, anyway?

And hey, I’ve been fed the mantra, too. In grade 2, our guidance counsellor told us that if we wanted to get good marks, we should emulate those who had good marks. And those with good marks generally had neat desks and working environments.

Uncluttered. Organized. Structured. Tidy = Joy. Inspiration. Fulfillment. Intelligence. Success.

That day back in Grade 2, I peered into the nest that was my desk and shrugged. That shit just wasn’t going to happen.


No longer in grade 2. But still a nest on the coffee table.

So maybe I’m just projecting my own self-righteous spreadery.

Maybe I’m trying to find a way to rationalize the mess that is our house at the very end of term (who am I kidding? this is the mess that is all the time).


Look! It’s genetic. I’ve passed it on to my kids, too. For the record, they are responsible for their own rooms.

Maybe I’m passive aggressively responding to our department administrator’s increasingly pointed hints that it’s time to tidy my office and that she’s going to get in there with dusting supplies. Maybe I’ve amassed too many post it notes in too many places. Maybe my pile of books is too high, my clutter of discarded mugs and plates too large. Maybe I don’t want to look to see if there’s an errant tea bag still floating around in a mug that’s been around so long that it’s become part of the display…

For those of us who work with the past, this messiness, this stuff, is what allows us to understand how societies, cultures, families, worlds… life…. operated.

The discarded selfie.
The notes scribbled onto the back of a receipt.
The doodles drawn during a particularly trying meeting (I’m particularly good at those…).

The school photo that went completely awry?
The kid that weeps all the way to camp (or all the way back to the hotel from Legoland Windsor, as the case may be)?

The frozen Cheemo perogies that you forgot in the car for two weeks when the temperature hovered around zero and tried to revive anyway (oops).

The pile of wrappers, pens, lego, notes, silly glasses, and empty juice boxes under your son’s bed, on his desk, scattered across his floor.


The funniest thing about this picture? It was only after I took it that I discovered the screwdriver that we’d been looking for for months. Magpie kid had absconded with it…[magpie kid has since reformed slightly; however, we still step on lego all over the house because it proliferates and reproduces]

The beginnings of cranky emails that fill your drafts folder.

The mush of dirty socks that never make it into the laundry basket even tough you step over them every day.

This shouldn’t be the stuff we discard. This shouldn’t be the stuff that we clean up, beautify, hide.

This is life.
These are the stories that matter most.


the back side of my attempts at embroidery. pretty sure it’s not suppose to look like this…

One of the things that has frustrated me most in the course of this current research project has been the absence of materials created by those most affected by colonial policies and practices. The colonial infrastructure was enormous, and colonial officials were organized. They’ve left researchers like me endless documents – ledgers, logs, letters, tables, lists – you name it, and it’s there. All of this can tell me an enormous amount about colonial logics.


organized boxes filled with treasures… Maritime History Archive, Memorial University


Ship’s Logs, ca. 1870-1880. Maritime History Archive, Memorial University

But there’s precious little to learn about the lives of those whose names officials listed in their ledgers and logs.

How can we understand histories of migration if we can’t find the voices of those who experienced it, or if we find them only sideways, through hints in formal colonial archives?

This isn’t a problem unique to my project. But it’s a big one.

It matters that we can often only “find” the voices of the enslaved through their resistance.

It matters that the remains of indentured lives exist almost solely in their complaints to ship captains, in their refusal to work on the plantation, in the violence that they enacted towards each other or those in power.

It matters that trial transcripts are some of the only places where we can read the voices of marginalized women.

It matters because while all of this stuff is important, none of it gets us to the everyday. Yes, it matters that the enslaved resisted, that the indentured turned to violence, that those on trial told their stories in those spaces.

But what about their daily lives? What were those like?

What did they eat?
Who did they eat with?

What were they thinking aboard the ships that took them so far from everything they’d known? What were they feeling?

What about the anger, joy, love, despair, longing, frustration, agony?

When I researched the life of Suzanne Necker and later, the stories of those who consulted with Samuel Auguste Tissot, I had all of this. After all, these were privileged folks who wrote letters and confided in friends and colleagues. These were folks whose letters were kept for them, and as a result, folks whose stories are still available to us today. In a world that values the evidence of the written word, these folks had it good. And as a consequence, I had it good, too.

But it shouldn’t be only the privileged whose stories remain.

A few days ago, medieval book historian Bex Lyons posted a short thread on Twitter asking women to write in the margins of their books.

The problem, as she sees it, is that a) we know a lot about men of the period because they wrote in their books, and b) our knowledge systems celebrate the written word over all other. As she points out, there are many reasons why women didn’t – or couldn’t – scribble all over their books. And we do need to find ways of working differently with the material that exists.

But here’s the thing – first we need to have stuff to work with. Not just the curated, tidy stuff. Not just the bookshelves organized by colour (who invented that trend, anyway?). Not just the carefully coordinated paint colours. And not just the stuff that others have organized on our behalf, either.

No, we need the stuff of daily life itself. We need the messes. We need the chaos. We need the false starts, the bad hair days, the unfortunate accidents.


food porn gone wrong. I think it was supposed to be tofu curry.


recipes escaping their cookbook!


A tangle of shovels, tossed willy nilly by the house.

This is the stuff that matters. This is where we tell our stories. And this is where those who come after us will find them.


somewhere near the PowerPlex in St. John’s, sometime in early spring.

It doesn’t matter how many filters we apply or how many hashtags we use.

Life is #messy.
It’s #chaotic.
It’s #neverneatandtidy, no matter how much we might will it to be.

And so here’s my plea – my #manifesto – for packrattery.

Embrace the chaos.
Revel in the mess.
Write in the margins.
Argue with your authors.


Keep every scrap of paper.

Embrace your failures.
Share your grief.
Take pictures of garbage.
Refuse to clean your room.
Accept the assemblage of random trinkets under your bed.

Laugh so loudly that you make others uncomfortable and then record your joyful noise.

Keep the saggy Ron Weasley sweater that your favourite aunt knitted for you.

This mess is the archive of your life, and I promise that historians of the future will love you all the more for it.


With thanks to Bex Lyons (@MedievalBex) and Will Pooley (@willpooley) whose recent tweets and blog post got me thinking about inspiration, joy, archives, tidying up, and packrattery.

sketch v

When I find one of Shanawdithit’s archived drawings I experience a necessary discomfort.

I go back to my childhood.

All my young life I hear the mythologizing, how she was the last of the Beothuk people. Ten minutes outside my hometown, the provincial Beothuk Interpretation Centre is a place I visit quite frequently as a child. There’s a walking trail, on which I come across a statue of Shanawdithit and the remnants of an ancient settlement. There are crosses that mark graves. My parents teach me that history shouldn’t have been written “this way.”


“Killing of a Beothuk woman at the Exploits River,” by Shanawdithit, 1829. Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Newfoundland Images. http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/compoundobject/collection/cns_images/id/71/rec/26

From this drawing I read memories, encounters, connections to place. I read loss and resistance. I do not read silence.

I know that mythology is also about evolvement – how we get to here from there.

As she “transferred her talent for constructing detailed patterns on bone and bark to the European medium of paper,” (Polack 2013: para 9) Shanawdithit’s drawings opened up a past that cannot be erased, and none of us can overlook or forget colonial encounters and mediations in Newfoundland and Labrador because of them.


Polack, Fiona. 2013. “Reading Shanawdithit’s Drawings: Transcultural Texts in the North American Colonial World,” In Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 14 (3). DOI: 10.1353/cch.2013.0035.

going home

Between 1916 and 1975, all the colonial archives in Suriname were brought to The Netherlands. This material included materials  from 1667, when the Dutch and the English signed the Treaty of Breda, granting the Dutch Suriname and the British New York, right through to 1975, when Suriname became an independent country. This week, on 19 January 2017, the final boxes will be returned to Suriname.

As part of the project, the Dutch National Archives scanned and digitalized some 5.5 million pages, all of which can be accessed via the archives website: gahetnal.nl.

I’ve worked in both Dutch and Surinamese archives. Each has its own personality; each has its own processes, its own rhythms (which I wrote about here). The cities, too, have their own personalities. The Hague feels like a seat of government; it is a bureaucratic city organized by its political function. Paramaribo moves to a different rhythm. Still a national capital, it’s nonetheless shaped by South American heat and humidity and a Caribbean sensibility. Time is more fluid.

While the documents themselves haven’t changed as a result of their oceanic crossings, the way we read them just might.


Slavenregistern Inv. nr. 33, Plantage Sarah. Nationaal Archief Suriname. Photo: Sonja Boon




Fort Zeelandia, Paramaribo. July 2016. Photo credit: Sonja Boon

I’m a story person. I love narrative. I love reading voices and imagining the people behind them. It comes as no surprise, then, that I’m struggling with colonial archives of slavery and indenture. There are few conventional ‘stories’ here; rather, most of the stories remain are told only in charts.

Charts tell me how many people were enslaved at individual plantations.
Charts tell me when the enslaved were born and when they died.
Charts can allow me build odd family trees through the maternal line.

Charts tell me how many indentured labourers came on ships and how many were born or died on the journey.
Charts tell me how many of them had sexually transmitted diseases and how long they were hospitalized.
Charts follow the progress of new immigrants through indenture, detailing criminal cases, reproduction, death, cohabitation, and official immigration.

Charts tell me how much the government spent on provisioning the “koelie depot” and how much they spent on medical care.


Contractarbeiders uit Brits-Indie in het zgn. koeliedepot te Paramaribo. Onderdeel van het fotoalbum Souvenir de Voyage (deel 5), over het leven van de familie Dooyer in en rond de plantage Ma Retraite in Suriname in de jaren 1906-1913. Public Domain. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.490031.

Charts list names.
Charts list villages of origin.
Charts list bodily markings – scars, burns, birth marks.

It’s all interesting information but there is so much about this that is frustratingly impersonal. And thisi is how it’s meant to be. The colonial officials didn’t care about these people as individuals. All they were interested in was labour and how that labour would benefit the wealth of the colony, and from there, the wealth of the motherland.

And so, I’ve had to read between the lines, finding stories from the gaps and silences, from the details that don’t seem to fit the conventional narratives.

If the average enslaved woman had four children, then what do we make of enslaved women with nine or ten? How do we reconcile those who had none?

Why did so many men try to escape from one plantation, while a neighbouring plantation recorded no escapes at all?

Even here, however, the personal eludes me. The enslaved and the indentured remain nothing more than numbers on a page. I can’t learn about their loves, passions, desires, joys, griefs, sorrows, angers, and frustrations here. And for a scholar of life writing, this has been and continues to be a challenge.

But there are some records that gave me pause.

For colonial record keepers, numbers needed to provide certainty; they needed to be clear and unambiguous. And this is why I was struck by numerical discrepancies in the logbook of the Medea, a ship that travelled from Calcutta to Paramaribo in 1873.

The Medea’s logbook is a large, mouldy document that is designed to record extensive detail about all the incoming “agricultural workers.” The different columns require information about the following: last name, first name, mother’s name, gender, age, religion or caste, region of origin, city of origin, village of origin, height, and any bodily markings. Each of these columns is carefully filled in with fine black ink. The original bureaucrat also took care to mark out families, bracketing units together.

At some point after the labourers’ arrival in Paramaribo, another colonial official added new markings. Using a thicker blue or red pencil, this individual assigned the emigrants to their various plantations, according to the plantation requests that had been received by the colonial office.

But there is also a third set of annotations, added in pencil. These annotations translate heights from imperial to metric, add data about skin colour, and, in some cases, add extra information about bodily markings.

But in some cases, the unknown official has changed some of the ages originally marked in the logbook.

On the surface, this isn’t necessarily surprising; after all, it’s not uncommon to find that numbers have been incorrectly transcribed and need adjustment.

But these adjustments are not minor ones: sometimes it’s a matter of a decade or two.

Thus, for example, Goolam Daibee, a Hindu man indentured at the combined Leasowes-Sarah plantation along with his wife and two daughters, is originally listed as being 28 years old.  The penciled marking, however, lists him as 45.

Doorjun Gungoo, sent to Zorg en Hoop with his family, was also originally listed as 28 years old. By the time he arrived in Paramaribo, however, his age had changed – to 38.

More striking is the record of one Rampersad (last name unclear), who arrived with his wife and two sons, all of whom went to Groot Chatillon plantation. Originally, he’s listed as 36. His revised age? 60.

How can there be such great chasms in the records? What happened in those spaces between 36 and 60, 28 and 38, 28 and 45? How could the record keepers have gotten things so very wrong?

What I do know is this: such annotations mark complicated encounters between emigrants and colonial officials. They mark points at which the colonial bureaucracy broken down, points where the colonial drive for transparency, clarity, and certainty couldn’t be guaranteed; indeed, where this drive was fundamentally undermined.

Perhaps translation failed.
Perhaps stories changed.
Perhaps birth records went missing.
Perhaps they never existed to begin with.

How was age determined? Who decided how old a labourer was?
Perhaps these are the wrong questions; I’ll never be able to trace back exactly what happened.

More important is that something went awry. Something didn’t make sense. Something didn’t work within the metrics of colonialism. It’s in these cracks – in that space between 36 and 60 – that new questions might emerge, new stories might be told.


Nineteenth-century officers’ residence. Fort Zeelandia, Paramaribo. February 2015. Photo credit: Sonja Boon


Scheepslijsten: Medea (1873), Agent Generaal (Immigratie Departement) 1853-1946. Inv. Nr. 616A Nationaal Archief Suriname.


(c) Sonja Boon, 2016 (sboon @ mun.ca)

They Look Like Dutch Women

I spent some time this weekend looking at the online digital archives of the New York Public Library, and the British Library. I love that more archives and collections are being uploaded, and available as public domain. I searched under the keyword of ‘Suriname’ and found some very interesting images in both collections, some of which I will use at a later date, but I found one this past weekend that I could not get out of my mind.

It is an image of two women walking down a path in light dresses, and holding a parasol. The woman closest to the camera looks a little affronted, or taken aback by having her picture taken, while the woman holding the parasol looks like she is smiling, or proud of being the focus of attention.


Schomberg Centre for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, from the New York Public Library. “The Women Look Like Dutch Women Turned Black.”  The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1915. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-fb44-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

I could not stop thinking about the caption for this image: The Women Look Like Dutch Women Turned Black. The image is from a book called Isles of Spice and Palm, and it is written by Alpheus Hyatt Verrill, a zoologist, archeologist, and adventure writer of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Verrill traveled through the Americas (South, Central, and North) taking part in archeological excavations.

Maybe I was intrigued by this image because I have been reading and hearing the phrase ‘like a man’ so much the past week. Researching women in visual art will eventually lead to seeing the phrase ‘she paints like a man’, and it is meant to be a compliment (Heartney, 2013). I have also seen a lot of news articles about Olympic athletes who are women who ‘swim like men’, or ‘run like men'(here and here).

It is strange to see the comparison between the marginalized and the dominant over the course of a hundred years, and still have some people see it as a compliment. Even though Verrill describes the costumes of the women in Suriname as ‘bright and gaudy’ (Verrill, 1915: 219), he also illustrates the people and the place of Suriname as ‘quaint’, ‘enchanting’, and possibly the most interesting city in the world. He considers that he is writing about his experiences in a positive manner.

I have been thinking about these women, and how they would feel being compared to Dutch women, to be told that they are ‘enchanting’, but ‘gaudy’. I especially think of the woman who looks smiling, and proud. I think about the colonized people, the women artists, and the women athletes, and I wonder why we still consider a backhanded compliment, a compliment.

Heartney, Eleanor, et al. The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. Munich: Prestel, 2013.

Verrill, Alpheus Hyatt. Isles of Spice and Palm. New York; London: D. Appleton and Co., 1915.

© Tanya Nielsen (tjn710@mun.ca), 2016




If there is one thing that is evident from the Slave Registers, it is the amount of speculation in which slave owners engaged. Buying and selling was an art of negotiation and jostling through which slave owners built their fortunes and, of course, their social cachet.

Among these owners was the British-born John Bent, a man who has faded into obscurity even as he played an active role on the Surinamese plantation stage in the first half of the nineteenth century.

I went hunting for John Bent because he was listed as the second owner of Sarah plantation, and was probably the first to develop the land (first acquired by Johan Heinrich Dietzel around the turn of the nineteenth century). My quest started with a desire to see if I could figure out where Frederick Noa Redout, born in 1898 according to the 1830 Slave Registers (Slavenregister, Inv.Nr. 40) but ca. 1800 according to the Royal Treasury records, and the oldest of my ancestors to be freed at abolition in 1863, came from. Unsurprisingly, my search went nowhere; I have not yet found records that detail how John Bent acquired the slaves who would work this property.

But my archival peregrinations did offer more insight about John Bent himself, and ultimately, also about nineteenth-century Suriname.



Warappakreek, at Bent’s Hope Plantation. Suriname. Photo: Sonja Boon.

At a biographical level, little is known about John Bent. Born in 1776 to a relatively low brow English family, he later served as MP for Sligo between 1818 and 1820, and then from 1820 to 1826, as MP for Totnes. But as the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project points out, he was also a slave owner in Suriname and Guyana, becoming, by 1838 , according to A. Halberstadt, “one of the most important planters in Suriname.”

John Bent appears to have begun acquiring plantations in Suriname sometime in the early nineteenth century, perhaps during the periods of British control, a period during which he had also been appointed “the Commissioner in Surinam to sequester the property of nationals of France and her allies”. In the 1820 Almanac, he is listed as the owner of a number plantations in various parts of the colony: Descanzo, Domburg, and Sarah. He also owns a final, as yet undeveloped, parcel of land along what was then known as the “Zeekust,” a range of plantation properties located not along a river, but right next to the ocean in the western side of the country. These lands had only recently been opened to development.

Over the next decade, Bent actively engaged in buying. By 1828, for example, he’d added Breedevoort, and de Herstelling to his holdings, and developed his previously unnamed land into Totness Plantation, perhaps in honour of his parliamentary role.


Walking into what remains of Bent’s Hope Plantation. Warappakreek, Suriname. Photo: Sonja Boon

At a certain point, he acquired what appears to have been his dream plantation, which he named Bent’s Hope. Formerly known as Limieshoop, Bent’s Hope lies along the Warappakreek, right at “the confluence of the water from the sea and the creek” (Anonymous); that is, the point where salt water met fresh water. This was prime real estate; according to a late nineteenth-century eyewitness nostalgic for the plantation days of yore, this region lay at the heart of Suriname plantation culture. The Warappakreek was one of the oldest plantation areas and had some of the most gracious houses filled with the grandest things.

 na mijne bescheide mening is de Warappakreek de mooiste landbouwstreek geweest en de rijkste ook. Prachtige woonhuizen en loodsen, groote, geplaveide drogerijen (voor katoen en koffie) steenen bruggen over de loostrenzen, majestueuze sluis werken …. Langs beide oevers van de kreek liepen welonderhouden communicatie-weg, die het gezellig verkeer bevorderde …. De streek werd ‘de kleine stad’ genoemd wegens het grootscheepsche waarop alles ingericht was.

In my humble opinion the Warappakreek was the most beautiful agricultural region and also the wealthiest. Beautiful houses and sheds, large, paved drying areas (for cotton and coffee), stone bridges over the canals, majestic lock works …. Along both banks of the creek lay a well-maintained communication path, which promoted social intercourse …. The region was called the “small city” because of the large scale with which everything was decorated.

( E.J. Bartelink Hoe de Tijden Veranderen: Herinneringen van een Oude planter Paramaribo: H. van Ommeren, 1916, 29)

Here, Bent decided to set up a modern sugar cane plantation, ordering the latest in sugar producing technology: a James Watt steam-powered sugar mill. But to make this work, he needed money, and lots of it. While he managed to acquire the necessary funds through creative arrangements with financial institutions, it’s clear from early newspapers and other records that this gamble had not necessarily paid off. Bent’s properties, among them Sarah plantation, were placed under sequestration numerous times and threatened with public auction. Over time, he abandoned most of his other plantations, apparently focusing his energies almost solely on Bent’s Hope.


James Watt Steam Powered Sugar Mill, Bent’s Hope, Warappakreek, Suriname. Photo: Sonja Boon


Bent’s Hope Sugar Mill. Photo: Sonja Boon


But all was still not financially well with John Bent. In addition to the various sequestrations, an intriguing hint of this can be found in the Slave Registers of 1830.

Folio 5064, detailing the slaves registered to the names of J. Mackillop, R. Dent and J. Young, consists of a list of over 260 slaves, all purchased from John Bent in December 1833 “on condition of re-purchase over a period of three years” (Slavenregister Inv.Nr. 42). Mackillop and co. appear to have functioned like a pawn shop, guaranteeing the possibility of re-purchase even as they also gave out money that Bent clearly desperately needed.

John Bent died in October 1848. Today, the only thing that remains of Bent’s Hope are the ruins of his sugar mill, a heap of rusting metal in a tangle of dark, damp jungle alive with the sounds of insects. Was Bent’s Hope actually Bent’s Folly?


The dock at Bent’s Hope, Warappakreek, Suriname. Photo: Sonja Boon



Anonymous, “Mattapica en Warappa” De West: Nieuwsblad uit Suriname, 24 December 1909.

Halberstadt, A. Vrijmoedige gedachten over de oorzarken van den tegenwoordigen staat van verval der Kolonie Suriname en over de gebreken in het stelsel van regering dier kolonie. 1838.

Hall, Catherine et al. Legacies of British Slave Ownership. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/.

Nationaal Archief Suriname, Slavenregister, Inv. Nr. 40 fol. 2397-2795

Nationaal Archief Suriname, Slavenregister, Inv. Nr. 42 fol. 4801-5200

Surinaamsche Almanak voor het Jaar 1820. Paramaribo & Amsterdam: E. Beijer and C. G. Sulpke.

Surinaamsche Almanak voor het Jaar 1828. Departement Paramaribo der Maatschappij Tot Nut van ‘t Algemeen, z.p. 1827.


(c) Sonja Boon, 2016. sboon @ mun.ca