EuroSt­orie research sem­inar: Stefan Vogenauer 3.9.2021

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Time: Friday, 3 September 2021 at 1:00pm - 2:00pm EEST
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Stefan Vogenauer (Max Planck Institute, Frankfurt): Creating a Legal Order in a Colonial Setting: the Dutch Colonies in Guyana

Abstract

In 1814, the Netherlands ceded three colonies on the northern coast of South America to the United Kingdom: Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. Later, the three territories were united and called ‘British Guiana’, and since gaining independence in 1966 they have been known as ‘Guyana’. In the Articles of Capitulation the British and the Dutch agreed that ‘the laws and usages of the colony shall remain in force and be respected’. It is therefore generally assumed that British Guiana was, like South Africa and Ceylon, a mixed legal system where ‘Roman-Dutch law’ applied to the extent that it was not supplemented or superseded by English law. However, the reality on the ground was more complex because the ‘laws and usages’ in force under Dutch rule were much more varied. Roman-Dutch law was but one of the relevant normative regimes. It is the purpose of this paper to show the multitude and richness of other legal sources that applied in these territories before the transfer to the British occurred. It is argued that, despite the difficulties of organising small communities of settlers in a hostile environment more than 4,000 nautical miles from the metropole, the framework of rules and regulations put into place by the Dutch amounted to a comprehensive overseas ‘legal order’ that cannot be captured by mere reference to Roman-Dutch law.

About the speaker

Professor Stefan Vogenauer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt.