Gold Miners and Bootleggers

Family legends are just that, legends. Sometimes, they might contain a grain of truth, but often they are just stories, with no basis in fact. There are 2 legends in my mum’s Guyanese family that I wish I could prove.

The only thing I know for sure about my great grandparents, Manoel Jose Nunes and Adelaide Florenco is that they lived in Georgetown, Guyana. I don’t know when they were born or when they married. I know they had 6 children. My grandmother, Maria Philomena, was the oldest, born 30 May 1906. Francis Paul, born 22 June 1920, was the youngest. My uncle told me that Manoel & Adelaide both died when the children were young, so sometime after 1920.

My great grandparents

My uncle also told me that Manoel was a bootlegger. Presumably, he sold rum but I have know way of knowing. One amusing coincidence, is that my husband’s 2 x great uncle, Morgan Lloyd was a wine merchant in Caernarfon, who just happened to sell Guyanese rum.

Morgan Lloyd rum label

I know even less about my other great grandparents, Carlos Florenco and Mary Fernandes. I only know their names because they appear on my grandfather’s Social Security death index record. My mum was sure that Carlos was a gold and diamond prospector.

For the record, if he was a gold miner, the profits didn’t pass down to us!

Guyanese gold miners were known as pork-knockers. The name was to do with their diet of pickled wild pork. Most miners worked in goldfields as labourers. They didn’t usually own the claim. When the claim owners stopped working the mine, the labourers stayed in the area to work for themselves on the abandoned claims.

Gold and diamonds are still mined today but it isn’t easy. This video shows how it’s done using methods very similar to those used by miners 100 years ago.

Gold mining camp (British Guiana Handbook, 1922)
Washing for diamonds (British Guiana Handbook, 1922)

The table gives an idea of how lucrative the gold and diamond trade was.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to prove these legends. Watch this space!

– In the shadows of the jaguar: the legendary porknocker by Dmitri Allicock : accessed 20 January 2021.
– Bid for El Dorado: The Guyana-Venezuela border problem. Henry Jeffrey. Guyana Historical Journal Vols. IV & V 1992-1993. pages 52-71 : accessed 20 January 2021.
– The British Guiana Handbook, 1922. pages 105-116 [available at the British Library]

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