Nickerie District, Suriname
The Nickerie District of Suriname
by Lilian Pickering Neede
Suriname is a small country on the north east coast of South America, with a population of just under 600,000. It is a former Dutch colony, and maintains close links with the Netherlands. In colonial days, it proved to be an attractive location for Scottish plantation owners, such as the Balfour and Kirke families who owned plantations in the Nickerie District.
Nickerie in the 1800s
The old colony of Suriname comprised Paramaribo and all of the plantations along the Suriname, Commewijne and Saramacca Rivers. In the time of the oldest found records of Harriet Balfour as one of James Balfour’s enslaved (1830s), Nickerie was ‘the new colony’ west of the Coppename River: Upper Nickerie, in 1851, became a separate district named Coronie, and Lower Nickerie is the current district of Nickerie (yellow on the map). In the early 1800s under British administration, English and Scottish planters began to settle in the new colony, and many stayed even after Suriname came under Dutch rule again. Between the Nickerie River and the Atlantic Ocean there was a military post on a tip of land, called Gordon’s Punt (Gordon’s Point) or simply De Punt (the tip).
People began to settle around De Punt and a village was formed that later received the name New Rotterdam (1850). To the east of De Punt, on both the sea coast and the riverbank of the Nickerie River, there were some cotton plantations.
Baron Van Heeckeren, a governor-general of those days, described Nickerie as follows:
"Coming out of the sea a very picturesque sight appears at the tip. The houses scattered here and there, including some of distinction, involuntarily give rise to the thought of a new creation, which must undoubtedly succeed in this lush celestial region.
The blossoming cotton fields, occupying that one flat space of a few hours about, form a striking scene which enraptures the traveling stranger upon his arrival. Through these cotton fields there are roads of forty feet wide, well laid out and in the best condition. You imagine yourself to be in Holland while driving through this district or when going to visit friends and neighbors. In the old part of the Colony there is nothing of the kind to be compared with it.”
A painting of New Rotterdam
Though James Balfour owned plantations on the sea coast (e.g. Providence) he had chosen to live on the Waterloo Plantation, which later proved to be a very wise decision, for in later years all the plantations on the sea coast, as well as New Rotterdam, were swallowed up by the sea. Waterloo was situated some hundreds of meters up the Nickerie River on the other river bank and it became Nickerie’s most prominent sugar plantation.
The Sugar Factory and to the left of the photo the house James Balfour had probably lived in.
There were no cars in those days and no bridges across the river. One had to sail up the deep still river and pass by a few other plantations to get to Waterloo.
Nickerie in modern days
When Harriet died in 1858, New Rotterdam was beginning to suffer from flooding. By 1879 the city was moved to the other side of the river, between the Waldeck and Waterloo plantations. It was called Nieuw (New) Nickerie and is the main town of the mostly agricultural district of Nickerie. At first a very small town, it is now the bustling second city of Suriname.
Aerial view of Nickerie, with in the distance the Corantyne River, flowing to the left, and the river mouth to the right. Toward the camera, the former Waterloo, Nursery and Hazard plantations on the Nickerie River. The view shows Nieuw Nickerie, a small dense rectangular town in the bend of the Nickerie River. All of the agricultural land to its right including the part that is now built-up once belonged to the Kirke Family. The wooded land across the river is where the jungle reclaimed the flooded and abandoned plantations. De Punt and the coastal plantations have been swallowed up by the sea. Photo used by permission.
Links to external websites
Google map of Nickerie in the present day
Drone flight from Paramaribo to Nickerie (YouTube, 10 minutes)
Webpage by Iain Sommerville; Help on bookmarking this page.