Category Archives: Days past

Historical flavour

Walking Bermuda

Now the weather has cooled down a little we have been getting out for some walks.

The most important was the PKD walk along South Shore beaches to raise money for research into Polycystic Kidneys. I hear there are 17 families with ADPKD on the island which places quite a demand on the island’s renal services. it was the first walk for PKD that I have done, but won’t be the last – they happen in UK as well. Beautiful weather, friendly company and not too long – brilliant for first walk of my walking season.

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Halfway point for PKD walk

Halfway point for PKD walk

Our next walk was Coopers Island, the old NASA observation station at the end of St David’s Island. On a Sunday afternoon we found it deserted, had the beach to ourselves.

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island

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Looking back towards St David’s from Coopers Island

This is all for a purpose – my walking boots are coming out from under the bed back home.  So I need some practice.  One of my Bermuda friends who “went back home” earlier this year has begun walking around the coast of Britain – in stages over time, she’s not completely nuts – and as I may have said before in this blog, I am competitive – so if she can do it then so can I ….. (might live to regret saying that)

Last weekend we continued the East End explorations and started at Ferry Point. This is where the ferry took people from St George’s across to the mainland before the causeway was built in 1871. The gap between Ferry Point and Coney Island was bridged by the Railway Line in the 1940s but today it is rough parkland surrounding ruins of 3 forts and one impressive Martello Tower, built in 1820s by a Major Thomas Blanchard.  Apparently it was restored in 2008 and for a period was open to the public – sadly no longer so.

We took the path from Whalebone Bay keeping close to the edge of the bay itself, an overgrown footpath coming off the Railway Trail.

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Despite having fallen in the hurricane, the casuarina tree stubbornly grows in a sideways reorientation

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Military cemetery for the Queen’s Royals, 1864

The military cemetery to the side of the trail  – 18 graves of soldiers from the Second Battalion of the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment.  That regiment was first raised in 1661 to protect Tangiers, becoming one of the senior regiments in the British Army.  The regimental history  doesn’t say what they were doing in Bermuda in 1860s, but sadly they fell to the outbreak of yellow fever in 1864.

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette - paragraph about yellow fever

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette – paragraph about yellow fever

The above exert from the Royal Gazette digital archives made me curious – not the commentary on the epidemic, but the sentence that follows – what, exactly, is a “Day of General Humiliation”? Google   comes up with Queen Victoria  calling for Wednesday 7th October 1857 to be a day of general humiliation to pray for “tranquility in India” .  So it is a day of prayer, “humbling”.  It seems early humiliation days were accompanied by fasting and penitence, but later ones seem to have morphed into thanksgiving type of celebrations.  I cannot find out at all why they had one in Bermuda on August 30th, 1864.  It was not yet the end of the epidemic, there were no wars or battles in close proximity, it is not a current national holiday  – could it have been a late recognition of Emancipation Day which is more commonly held at the beginning of August?

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That yellow thing on the rocks looks rather like a Minion

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Lovers Lake

Lovers Lake is further along the trail, a land-locked brackish pond some 400 by 200 feet.  It is fed by subterranean channels from the ocean and so the level of saltiness is variable.  Despite the low oxygen content of the water there is here a specific, and protected, species of Killifish found only in this pond – Fundulus relicts.  

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Railway Trail

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The lime kiln is very overgrown

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Please can someone name this flower? A bit like buttercup?

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In case you cannot recall your O level chemistry

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

So that was last week. Tomorrow we are heading out to Dockyard, the west end of the island. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu's Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger

Once upon a time in Southern India there lived a Sultan of Mysore. His name was Tipu.

Tipu had two passions – he hated the British, quite reasonable since at the time they were  trying their best to annexe parts of India for themselves, and he adored Tigers:  he kept Tigers as pets, decorated his home with pictures of tigers, made his soldiers wear uniforms adorned with tiger symbols, had his cannons shaped like sitting tigers and his weapons decorated with golden tiger motifs. Sultan Tipu saw himself as the Royal Tiger of Mysore, defending his province against the British.

In the Mysore Wars, there were 4 of them, the East India Company, representing the British, fought against Tipu, at the same time as Mysore was being attacked from the North by armies from Madras. Tipu’s sons were taken as hostages and Tipu was forced to sign a treaty with the East India Company.  He didn’t actually get his sons back at this point, they were used as pawns to make sure he kept to his side of the treaty.  Tipu was humiliated and angry.  He ordered that houses in the capital city Senngapatam, were painted with scenes of tigers mauling Europeans.

In 1793 the news reported that the son of the British General Sir Hector Munro was carried off by an “immense riyal tiger four and a half feet high and nine long” .  Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, celebrated the event with the construction of a life-sized model of carved and painted wood in which a mechanical pipe organ replicated both the growls of the tiger and the moans of the soldier victim.  This is Tipu’s Tiger.

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Why am I telling you this story?

For a while we owned our own version of Tipu’s Tiger – a simply carved, folk-art style model.  We found it at a craft fair on the island, a little battered, quite strange amongst the pastel water colours, cedar pens and sea glass jewellery.  At the time we knew nothing of Tipu, but somewhere deep in memory was a fleeting glimpse from childhood visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the actual Tiger sits now.  We never learned the history of our own model, few clues came with it.

But as our Bermuda adventure is coming to an end (more about that later) I have been making tough decisions and some things will not be shipped back to England. This one was on and off the packing list for several days, finally finding for itself a new home on the island with someone who tells me she has a collection of folk art. I found it hard to part with.

The actual Tipu’s Tiger was shipped to London when Sultan Tipu of Mysore died in 1799.  He would have hated that.

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Richard Norwood, Surveyor of Bermuda in the 17th Century

Bermuda: town planning of the 17th century

Bermuda: town planning of the 17th century

School geography lessons taught me the basis of English town development: growing outwards from a small crossroads, extending along rivers, canals and railways, concentric circles becoming more residential as they expand away from an industrial centre.

Bermuda developed along very different lines.  Although it began in the 17th century the island urban geography was as planned and deliberate as Milton Keynes. If you don’t know Milton Keynes, it is a grid of roundabouts connected by identical sections of dual carriageway, designed in the 1970s. So Bermuda is essentially a long road from end to end with “tribe” roads coming off in perpendicular fashion.

For this design we have to thank one Richard Norwood, a 17th century opportunist who happened to be on Bermuda in 1616 when Captain Tucker was wanting someone to do a survey of the island.  Norwood negotiated a fee of 2lbs tobacco or 5d per share.  There were 400 shares in the Bermuda stock.  At 12d per shilling, 20 shillings per pound, this amounts to £8 and 6 shillings.  Or about £800 ($530) of 2015 purchasing power.

At the age of 49, Richard Norwood wrote a journal.  This came to light in 1945 and was transcribed by the Historical Monuments Trust.

Text of Norwood's journal.

Text of Norwood’s journal.

Looking at the scrawled page – apparently typical of Elizabethan secretary script – this cannot have been an easy task.  That and some unfamiliar spelling:

  • turkell = turtle
  • rowle = roll
  • pilloberes = pillowcases
  • cushings = cushions
  • cokernuts = coconuts
  • puter = pewter
  • horeglase = hourglass
  • trinilts = tree nails
  • secticles = spectacles
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From “The Journal” (thanks to Wesley Craven and Walter Hayward and Bermuda National Library)

The focus of the journal is spiritual castigation, but from within the “catalogue of sins” we catch glimpses of the 17th century Bermuda.

Richard Norwood was forced to finish his formal schooling at the age of 12, when a fellow schoolboy with the memorable name of Adolphus Speed, won the only scholarship by a small margin.

He became apprenticed to a fishmonger in Stony Stratford.  this little town is quite close to my UK home and today is a charming place, but Norwood described it as

“much given to deboistness, to swaggering, brawling and fighting, to swearing and drunkenness” 

Whether dislike of the town or of the fish, he left his job somewhat abruptly at the age of 15 and served a short prison sentence for failing to honour his apprenticeship.

Thereafter he found work in the docks at Lymington and gained some fame when he fashioned a primitive diving bell from a hogshead barrel and used it to recover a large ship’s gun that had been accidentally dropped overboard into the harbour.  His innovation came to the attention of the Bermuda Company.  the adventurers commissioned him as a technical specialist for “there was a great store of pearls in the Summer Islands” or so it was thought.

After a 5 week voyage during which Norwood studied maths, navigation and religion, the ship stuck fast on the rocks.  The enforced 2 weeks on the offshore reef were enough for the conclusion that there were no pearls to be found.  So for the next year, 1614 or thereabouts, Norwood found himself at a loose end on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

He cannot have had much respect for authority , for he ignored Governor Moore’s restrictions that nobody should venture beyond Burnt Point, some 3 miles from the town of St George and built himself a boat from a hollowed tree with logs aside to balance it (basically a trimaran) and sailed 16 miles from Longbird Island to Somerset, where he gathered palmetto berries.

Governor Moore gave way to Captain Tucker and in 1616 Norwood began his island survey.

His journal describes how he began first in Bedford Tribe, which is now Hamilton Parish.  In order, he surveyed Smiths, Devonshire, Pembroke. But then a geographical leap across to Somerset was prompted by the need to plant the season’s crops away from a “plague of rats” brought to the mainland by Spanish ships. Reverting to order, Paget, Mansill’s (Warwick) and finally Southampton to discover an ‘Overplus’ of excess land between the westernmost parishes.  St George’s was not divided into tracts, it was maintained as an administrative parish.

The division of land

At this time Bermuda had a population of 600 people.  It had now been divided into 8 parishes, each of 50 shares of 25 acres per share.  each share had a stretch of coastline and a plot inland.  The land was allocated to the Adventurers according to the size of their investments.

During this time Norwood claimed to have read the Old Testament 5 times and the New Testament, 10.  Whilst this seems an honourable thing to do, it also sounds boring. I am reminded to be grateful for my Kindle.

Monkey island of Bermuda

The Island

One of the islands in Harrington Sound has a controversial history:

Harrington Sound

Harrington Sound

Hall’s Island (Latitude: 32.339167 / Longitude: -64.713056) was, for a short period in the 1970s, home to an experimental group of gibbons. It is indeed a very small island at just 1.5 acres, and at the time was a mix of trees, rocky outcrops and low growing vegetation. Today it looks quite abandoned, no obvious evidence of its previous occupants.

Hall's Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

Hall’s Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

The controversies

It seems quite reasonable to rent out your island if you are lucky enough to own one, and, as recent news from Nonsuch Island shows, local scientific research is a popular and newsworthy topic. So why was this episode in Bermudian History controversial? My reading suggests that to begin with there were no issues of concern, it was reported in the local news as “research into epilepsy” and gibbons were housed for a while in the zoo so the public could see them. The project was endorsed by local charities, the Governor of Bermuda and several other Bermuda dignitaries.

However, there were concerns over the source of the animals, the nature of the experiments and the conditions on the island.

In 1965 the capture, trade and export of gibbons was banned in Thailand. There is no proof that these gibbons came from Thailand but a 1971 memo from one of the chief investigators to the staff of the Hall’s Island project told them to anticipate the arrival of 20 gibbons from Thailand. (IPPL.org). In the end only 6 came to Bermuda at that time, imported through an intermediary in Canada. At that time Canada had no legislation to control trade in rare animals, only a health permit for the transported animals was needed. It was not until 1973 that US ratified the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species. Prior to this time the method of capture of these gibbons was to kill the mother and export the infant. In a species with a family-based social structure this seems particularly cruel.

The experiments were not about epilepsy. The initial documents stated the purpose of the research was to observe gibbon behaviour in open field situations.

Proposed research title

Proposed research title

What was not made clear to either public or any scientific research boards, was that half of the gibbons had stimulating devices implanted into their brains and that one line of research was to “induce lasting modifications of free-ranging behaviour by means of long term stimulation of the brain”. One of the researchers subsequently wrote a book entitled “Physical Control of the mind; towards a psychocivilised society”. This book is available today, if you have $150 to spare, but the reviews include words “appalling” and “disturbing” – Delgado also experimented on humans.

The death rates among the Hall Island gibbons were high – of the first ten subjects, 2 died in the first 3 months and a further 3 in the next nine months and one was “sacrificed due to aberrant behaviour”. It was at this point that 4 “spare” gibbons were kept in outdoor cages at the Bermuda Aquarium.

Extract from Royal Gazette

Extract from Royal Gazette

In 1971 one gibbon drowned, one was found with unexplained head injuries and a third died following a bee sting. The scientists’ explanation for the high death rates was that radio frequencies for equipment at the military airport were affecting the brain stimulating equipment. However, two of the technicians involved in the studies reported that the gibbons were left alone for long periods, that the observations entailed a mere 6 days during 1970 and that they were not supplied with sufficient nutritious foods. They suggested in their report that the funds for the research were misspent on an expensive boat with water skis. Clearly boats were necessary to reach the island, but water skis?

But for the most part these concerns did not reach the public or the Bermudian government. A few years later they were well covered in newsletters of the International Primate Protection League.

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall's Island by Esser, 1971

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall’s Island by Esser, 1971

The Gibbons

Lar gibbons are apes from SW China and Thailand who live in trees. They live in families, male and female parents with young who are expected to leave home when they mature. They spend much of their daytime hours in trees and sleep in trees, choosing tall trees near cliff edges. They are territorial, with one troop holding sway over some 30-100 acres. Given that, it is hard to understand quite why such a small island was considered a suitable home for them.

Gibbons on the island, 1973

Gibbons on the island, 1973

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Image from CR Carpenter’s short film on Gibbon Behaviour, 1973

Field studies of gibbons predate those of other apes, with a seminal paper written on them in 1940, by CR Carpenter, one of the Hall’s Island researchers. The 1970s were busy years for the study of animal behaviour – do you recall the book “Manwatching” by Desmond Morris? Gibbons are more closely related to man than other apes and because they are small with relatively short generational gaps then they were considered a suitable substitute for experimenting on man. But in the wild they spend most of their lives high up in tree and they eat fresh fruit – on Hall’s Island the trees were not exactly tall and the diet was Purina monkey chow.

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

The Investigators

In the end some 7 researchers have papers to their name resulting from the Hall Island research. The most prolificly published was Clarence R Carpenter, a Professor of psychology and anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and later University of Georgia. He studied primate behaviour, produced primate films and videotapes, and researched communication processes. Although he was involved in the project, at the time he did express his opinion that there was poor planning and protocols and poor record-keeping. His involvement was limited to observation of the gibbons during the Summer of 1971 and his papers concerned their patterns of walking and their daily activities.

Carpenter did not author papers on the brain stimulation experiments – that was the field of Joseph Delgado, a scientist who had previously left Yale after a dispute regarding his use of human subjects in brain stimulation experiments. It is not clear what his hypotheses were for the Hall’s Island work but he was working alongside a psychiatrist, AH Esser, whose research to that point had been in dominance and utilisation of space in psychiatric patients. Esser worked at Rockland Research Institute, the laboratories attached to Rockland State Mental Hospital, which has been described as a “therapeutic suburb”. However he claimed in the paperwork for the importation of the gibbons that he was doing research for the National Cancer Institute – no papers attributed to him have been published in that field. Esser is apparently still practising psychiatry, though a google search suggests that his license was suspended for malpractice in 2012.

The assistants, Baldwin and Teleki, who exposed the conditions on Hall’s Island, left the study group in 1972 after their request for specific experimental protocols was ignored.  Both continued to study primate behaviour and contribute a substantial body of papers in that field.

The Studies

The Hall’s Island project gets short paragraphs in many current texts on primate behaviour. But you might know that situation where “common papers are cited commonly” and this leads to an overestimation of their scientific worth? Well, that seems to be what occurred here – the actual results of any of the Hall’s island studies can probably be summed up:

  • the gibbons exhibited patterns of semi-vertical trunk orientation in walking and swinging – but without many trees to climb on the island then they really didn’t have much choice
  • play occupied one third of the gibbon waking day
  • they demonstrated complex dominance relationships
  • they may have killed a chicken (one was found with a broken neck – but locals also had access to the island so draw your own conclusions here)
  • one was observed using a leaf to dip for water from a puddle
  • one died of the gibbon-ape-leukaemia-virus, apparently leukaemia is more common in captive gibbons

Were any Bermudian laws breached?

When residents reported hearing screams form Hall’s Island the SPCA investigated but any outcome was not made public. It is an offence on Bermuda to ill-treat or not exercise reasonable care in looking after animals but there are no regulations concerning scientific experimental research on Bermuda that I could find, certainly none appertaining to 1970s.

Comment

The whole episode took place at a time when, in US, there was a post-war federal funding commitment to civilian science. The field of psychiatry was looking for means of behavioural control at a time when locking people away in asylums was facing heavy criticism. Respected scientists were studying primate behaviour and the papers published in this area were increasing exponentially. It was an expanding field, scientists wanted to do research on the edges of conventional science and in Harrington Sound, on Bermuda there was an island for rent. It was opportunistic, if retrospectively controversial.

Lucy Harington of Harrington Sound

What’s in a name? One ‘r’ or two?

I plan on reading a book entitled “The Noble Assassin”, historical fiction about Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford. But I wanted to find out some of the facts about this lady before the novel inserts itself in my understanding as “this is actually what happened”.

Despite the spelling variation, Harrington Sound, the large inland sea-water lake in the middle of Bermuda, was apparently named for this lady.

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Poets (John Donne and Ben Johnson) and musicians seemed to be falling over themselves in their efforts to honour her, dedicate works to her, write poetry to her – she had over 50 works dedicated to her. Why was she so popular?

  • She was well connected – her father was Sir John Harington, Baron of Exton. This family were said to have the most extensive estates in Rutland in the 16th century. Rutland? It’s a tiny county almost as small as Bermuda in the east midlands, UK.
  • She clearly came from a wealthy family, though some sources suggest her father and brother made huge losses and she inherited debts. She did however have sufficient to buy both Twickenham Park and Moor Park estates. There she became an amateur gardener – a 17th century Charlie Dimmock (you might have to be British to know her – a TV gardener).
  • And she was intelligent – home schooling resulted in fluency in French and Italian and she was knowledgable about classical art and poetry.
  • One author described her as “a fit companion for men” but we need to allow that in 1949 he might not have intended what this could mean today.
  • She performed in court masques, as a Lady of the Bedchamber for Queen Anna of Denmark she would join the other court ladies in these extravagant performances. For one, Masque of Blackness, the ladies all used body paint to blacken their faces and arms, which was actually quite controversial even then. She had speaking parts in some of the dramas and helped with directing others – clearly not just backdrop material.
  • But she wasn’t exactly “available” having been married from the age of 13 to Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford. He made some poor decisions and spent some years in prison and under house arrest after supporting the “wrong-would-be-monarch” but his fortunes picked up somewhat when King James came to the throne. It appears that he was happy to permit his wife an active life at court in her own right.
  • She may have been considered beautiful, though the few portraits that exist don’t really confirm this, but maybe it was like early photographs, smiling was considered inappropriate.
Lucy Harington

Lucy Harington from National Portrait Gallery (online digital)

It seems she never actually set foot in Bermuda, but as a wealthy lady investing in the adventurous Virginia Company she was one of the original shareholders and thus land owners of the island. She was the only woman among the 117 original investors in The Somers Isles Company that was granted a charter to control Bermuda in 1616.

One of the local websites encouraging tourists here states that Lucy Harington “did a lot for the parish”, immediately triggering an image of a parish fete with stalls of home-made jam; but I don’t think she actually DID anything for the parish of Hamilton and probably was only vaguely aware she had a large body of water named after her. After all, which would you prefer, a poem written for you or a salty mid-Atlantic lake that in all likelihood you would never get to see?

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

So why the spelling mistake? In one of the earliest maps of the island they do have the name spelled with just one “r” but modern spelling has morphed to Harrington. I don’t think it is of major importance, after all the Harington family descended from the earlier Haveringtons by a series of typographical variations.

Amazing – Harrington Sound has a Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrington-Sound/135689173130265
Admittedly the person posting most on there seems to be me, and I didn’t even know it existed! How do these pages just appear? Oh well, maybe I will end up “doing a lot for the parish” just like Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627)

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

Around the islands

Bermuda Islands

Map of Bermuda Islands

Last weekend we joined a Bermuda heritage lecture-on-a-boat as it drifted gently around the Great Sound islands. It was indeed a most pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon and unusually I stayed awake through the whole talk. The speaker was Andrew Bermingham, who has a particular interest in military history and the Boer war – yes Bermuda played a role in the Boer war, though separated by 7,188 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

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The Boer war was a series of battles in Southern Africa from 1880 to 1902 between the British and the Boers, descendants of Dutch colonists. The British and Dutch had been fighting over the Cape Colony for nigh on 100 years. By 1900 the British were running out of space and supplies in the Cape Colony so they shipped several thousand prisoners of war overseas, some 1,100 to Bermuda. They were imprisoned on some of the islands in the Great Sound: Hawkin’s, Burt’s, Hinson’s, Long Island, Port’s, Morgan’s and Tucker’s.

Boers in Bermuda reported by Boston News 1901

This wasn’t the first time the islands had been used to contain people – since the 17th century they had proved useful for quarantine in outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever.

As the afternoon wore on I began to lose track and could well have believed there were actually 365 separate islands as Anthony Trollope had claimed in 1858.

An old canning factory?

Some of the islands have interesting stories, though I am not sure they are all entirely true.

Burt’s Island aka Skeeter’s / Murderers’/ Moses Island : just over 7 acres and now used for government youth projects.

The eponymous Mrs Burt was in charge of the isolation cottages in the late 18th century. I assume she was off the scene before the next chapter of the island story – in 1879 Edward Skeeters was convicted of murdering his wife and sinking her body attached to an 80lb boulder. The trial was long, with a long adjournment when a juror fell ill and a doctor pronounced him to be “suffering from a disease for which he might at any moment need surgical assistance”. After numerous days where every neighbour and his dog was called upon to testify, the jury took just 20m minutes to reach a verdict of guilty. For the full version (sorry about the spoiler) read it online in the Royal Gazette of 15th April 1879 and the final instalment in the edition of 10th June 1879.

Edward Skeeters

Extract from Royal Gazette, May 1879

There might in fact be a connection between Burt and Skeeters since one Lydia Burt gave evidence at the trial and she stated she was Anna Skeeters’ daughter – this seems to have been by a previous relationship as Edward and Anna Skeeter’s children died in infancy. It is a sad tale with a somewhat vindictive end – Edward Skeeters was sentenced to the death penalty and he was buried on Burt’s Island with an 80lb boulder as his headstone – yes, the same one he had used to sink his wife’s body.

Burying him on this island seems to have set a precedent as several more murderers were interred there during the early twentieth century. Hence the common name “Murderers’ island”. I cannot find any reason for the alternative name “Moses Island” though Moses is not unusual as a surname or first name on Bermuda.

Argus Island:
Yes, I know, it’s bank, not an island – but it was designated as an island for a short period of time during the 1960s. This seamount is some 30 miles SW of the main Bermuda island and in some narratives is called Plantagenet Bank. During the Cold War over $7 million was spent on projects by the US Navy to construct research and defensive laboratories in connection with Project Artemis. The result of Artemis was a marine sonar system to detect submarines at long range. The Argus Island Tower was 192 feet above the sea surface and designed to stand up too waves 70 foot high. However after 8 years the tower was condemned as unsafe and finally demolished in 1976 and Argus lost its Island status.

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Argus Island Tower 1963 (image from Wikipedia)

Agar’s Island:
I am jumping about a bit geographically as this one is situated on the inside curve of the Great Sound on the left as you approach Hamilton. It was named after Sir Anthony Agar one of the investors in the Somers Isle Company of 1630.

Construction_of_British_Army's_magazine_on_Agar's_Island,_Bermuda_in_1870

Powder Magazine on Agar’s Island 1870 (image from Wikipedia)

This island has 3 separate claims to fame – first in the 1880s it was a huge powder magazine and then in 1908 12 large fish tanks were built into the stone moat and opened as the first aquarium on Bermuda. Then in 1914 the silent film “Neptune’s Daughter” was filmed from Agar’s Island – it featured Annette Kellerman and some scenes have her diving into a lagoon pool which actually looks a bit like the one at Blue Hole (warning – would be called skinny dipping these days and I am sure it is not permitted on Bermuda now).

The Great Sound
Don’t panic, I am not going to comment on all the islands! That was covered in a small book by Terry Tucker, appropriately entitled “The Islands of Bermuda” first published in 1970 – there is a copy in the library. She concluded there were some 120 separate islands aside from the 8 principal ones that are today connected by bridges. I began with a boat trip round the Great Sound, but I have spent the best part of the afternoon captivated by one island in Harrington Sound – for that story you will have to wait, I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet and it goes pretty deep!  Then for my relatives who accompanied me on the tour, I am still looking for the history of the single red-roofed building that stands on the skyline! If any reader can tell me why it is red and not white like every other building ….

Onion feet

You know how when you concentrate on a word or say it several times it sometimes sounds odd, as if it has become attached to the wrong meaning and you worry you have been using it inappropriately for years? Semantic satiation. I went to bed last night thinking about furniture feet, woke up thinking it too, and now the word feet seems such a strange one to apply to things on chairs. Most things with legs and feet use them for mobility, a chair is the very opposite of mobile. They should be called underpinnings with substructures.

An onion foot, a sturdy base for a heavy piece of furniture, not common after 1720.

An onion foot, a sturdy base for a heavy piece of furniture, not common after 1720.

You might have seen the one behind the onion foot is a ball-and-claw foot, but that comes later and I am going to put some chronological order into the post.

Jacobean style, a 17th century chair with unadorned stretchers between the feet. Only the masters of the household had chairs, everyone else had stools.

Jacobean style, a 17th century chair with unadorned stretchers between the feet. Only the masters of the household had chairs, everyone else had stools.

Simplicity of style indicates an early chair. The legs are supported by stretchers.

Simplicity of style indicates an early chair. The legs are supported by stretchers. There are no feet.

Legs are turned and stretchers more ornate. William and Mary  period 1689-1720

Legs are turned and stretchers more ornate. William and Mary period 1689-1720

Queen Anne style overlaps, 1702-1755, more refined and with shapely legs – cabriole legs, an s-shaped curve where the bump near the seat is called a knee. They don’t sound so elegant when one learns that cabrioler is French for running like a goat. The advantage of a cabriole leg is that it doesn’t need stretchers for additional support. That makes the following image unusual -it has both a cabriole leg and stretchers.

Cabriole leg, simple curved knee, pad foot but strangely also with stretcher.

Cabriole leg, simple curved knee, pad foot but strangely also with stretcher.

Hoof-like foot, sometimes called a Spanish foot.

Hoof-like foot, sometimes called a Spanish foot.

Another style of hoof foot

Another style of hoof foot

Simple pad-feet on a cabriole leg

Simple pad-feet.

It was common for the back legs to be simpler and undecorated while the front feet on show displayed the good craftsmanship.

It was common for the back legs to be simpler and undecorated while the front feet on show displayed the good craftsmanship.

Now this is where the ball-and-claw foot comes in. They appear on furniture from both Queen Anne and the later (174-1760) Georgian style.

Beautifully carved ball and claw foot

Beautifully carved ball and claw foot. It is raised off the uneven floor.

Another ball and claw foot.  The similarity with the first one might be indicate a similar origin - both are Bermudian pieces from the early 18th century.

Another ball and claw foot. The similarity with the first one might be indicate a similar origin – both are Bermudian pieces from the early 18th century.

A trifid foot, like an animal paw. These may have been influenced by Irish styles of the 18th century. They are sometimes called Drake feet.

A trifid foot, like an animal paw. These may have been influenced by Irish styles of the 18th century. They are sometimes called Drake feet.

More utilitarian furniture is influenced from Pennsylvanian Dutch style, 1720-1830, and commonly these had straight unadorned legs with no feet.

No feet

No feet

Everyone has heard of Chippendale chairs. They tend to be more ornate than Queen Anne chairs, but they share similar feet. Carving on the cabriole knee is more likely in a Chippendale.

Delicately carved cabriole knee

Delicately carved cabriole knee

American fashion liked brass claw feet. We are now in the early 1800s.

American fashion liked brass claw feet. We are now in the early 1800s.

Not sure this can really be called a foot, a bracket. The draw handles are of batwing design so from Queen Anne or Chippendale.

Not sure this can really be called a foot, a bracket. The draw handles are of batwing design so from Queen Anne or Chippendale.

Marching feet: back and front feet face the same direction

Marching feet: back and front feet face the same direction

Bow legs with stubby feet (note that is not a technical description)

Bow legs with stubby feet (note that is not a technical description)

Rather small brass feet on turned spindle legs

Rather small brass feet on turned spindle legs

Six onion feet

Six onion feet

All pictures taken with permission in preparation of room guides for the Bermuda National Trust property, Verdmont. If you want to see the whole pieces of furniture to which these feet belong then Verdmont is open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm and is just $5 entrance fee. I am sorry that the air fare to Bermuda is a little more costly than that.