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


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.


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


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?


That yellow thing on the rocks looks rather like a Minion


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.  


Railway Trail


The lime kiln is very overgrown


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


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.


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.


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

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. ( 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


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.


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 :
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.


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.


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.


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.


I don’t know about you, but the idea of climbing through a 14 inch window to be sealed into a metal sphere just 4’6” across and allowing this to be lowered to 3,500 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean can be classified in the “not for me” section of my imagination. Don’t worry, it isn’t something I have tried or intend to do while I am out here. The connection to Bermuda is that this occurred off Nonsuch Island in the early 1930s.

A few months back on a rainy Sunday the local TV was showing a short documentary film about the underwater pioneers William Beebe and Otis Barton. I was intrigued.

I found out more from a book “Descent”
(not the horror film, board game or role-playing MMO, a plain old fashioned book)

I’ve given you a link because it seems to be a popular title for a book.

Then another book by William Beebe himself

Half Mile Down – available on Open Library

This one is more fun to read and has pictures:

Beebe's drawing of a diver

Beebe’s drawing of a diver

William Beebe was a scientist and for many years had worked for the New York Zoological Society. He was in fact 55 when he undertook the Bathysphere project. He was the David Attenborough of his day, described as “enthusiastic, charming and charismatic” . But he was also “intolerant of mediocrity”, which comes across in his book when he claims that divers should be “inarticulate with amazement” at what they had seen or they didn’t deserve to dive again.

He needed the specific knowledge of Otis Barton, an engineer, for Beebe’s plan was to use a steel cylinder 7 foot long with a glass window. If I had done better at my A level physics I might have been able to explain why that wouldn’t work, but it involves maths and the very thought of it takes me back to exams in the school gym with the impossible-to-climb ropes dangling menacingly above as my sweating hands struggle with the impossible-to-solve problem.

History simplified

History simplified according to William Beebe

The historical context to the Bathysphere is that diving bells had been used successfully since the 17th century. Halley, of comet fame, had designed one to hold 5 people and descend to 60 feet. The deepest a submarine had reached was 383 feet. No living man had sunk below 600 feet. Beebe and Barton reached a depth of 1426 feet on their first dive – ¼ mile.

The Bathysphere off Nonsuch Island, Bermuda

The Bathysphere off Nonsuch Island, Bermuda (illustration from Beebe’s book)

The windows were made of quartz, 3” thick and 8” diameter, through which they perceived the diminishing spectrum and thimble-sized jellyfish. I would have been disappointed with jellyfish. Further down they were rewarded with iridescent lanternfish, flying snails, pilot fish, puffer fish – all of which might seem commonplace now we can visit aquariums with 8-million gallon tanks. Of course they didn’t have iPhones to take photos so Beebe drew what he had seen after each dive. Some of the creatures such as the “pallid sailfish” and “3-star angelfish” haven’t actually been seen since so maybe his drawings contained an element of imagination.

By the mid 1930s the depression meant they ran out of money. The deepest they reached was 3028 feet on August 15th 1934.

William Beebe lived long enough to know about the later designed Bathyscaphe Trieste reaching a depth of 35,797 feet in 1960. He died in 1962 aged 85.  Otis Barton died in 1992 aged 93.

Their legacies include:

Titans of the Deep – a semi-documentary made in 1938 starring themselves

Sounding the Deep – inspired by the story of Beebe
a musically uncomfortable performance from Hull Philharmonic Orchestra
(not to be confused with the meditation music of the same name by David Williams)

More than 20 publications by Beebe on submarine life

Benthoscope – designed by Barton, an updated version of the bathysphere in which he reached a depth of 4500 feet in 1949.

Now in 2014 there are plans for a manned exploration of the Mariana Trench and other projects on how to live underwater for longer periods of time. It is as exciting as outer space, but seems to get less publicity.

You can find out more about the bathysphere at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute: BUEI, a museum almost hidden away, but well worth a visit, especially if its raining outside.

A Puzzle … and half an answer ….

In the corner of the Library at Verdmont, the historic house belonging to Bermuda National Trust, there is a framed print:

The framed print from the Library at Verdmont. Photo courtesy of Bermuda National Trust.

The framed print from the Library at Verdmont. Photo courtesy of Bermuda National Trust.

There is a green folder in each room that informs the docent or the enquiring visitor just what each item on display is and where it comes from. But with this picture I came unstuck – the description given just didn’t quite fit. And so I have been puzzling over this intermittently for a few months now, am a little closer to an answer but haven’t quite got there. I am now handing it over to .. well, to anyone who can help!

What I have discovered so far:

The style of the image
It appears to be a bookplate or similar, a print from an engraving commonly found inside books from the late 17th and 18th century.

Richard Blome (1635-1705)
Blome was a prolific publisher of cartographic and heraldic material in the second half of the seventeenth century. He was a pioneer of the subscription method to finance his productions: by paying in advance a subscriber was rewarded by his coat of arms being placed within the work. This page was dedicated by Richard Blome to Robert Clayton.

An early publication by Blome was a book of maps entitled “Brittania” which was criticised for plagiarism from similar maps by Camden and Speed. Then in 1667 he had a new series of maps engraved for “A Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World”. These were engraved by Francis Lamb, Thomas Burnford and Wenceslaus Holler.

in 1680s Blome moved away from maps and published “The Gentlemans Recreation”, part encyclopaedia and part treatise in gentlemanly sports of the day. It was printed in 1686 and contained 85 engraved plates, many of which are dedicated to specific gentlemen. “The History of the Old Testament”, another by Blome, consisted of 2 volumes with 238 engraved plates done by Johannes Kip.

Could this plate be from one of these books? There IS one plate in an edition of “The Gentleman’s Recreation” dedicated to Sir Robert Clayton but the image is called “Pomona” and is of apple picking – definitely not the one I am looking for.

It was common to change the dedications in subsequent editions of a publication, using the same picture but substituting the new subscribers details.

Sir Robert Clayton (1629-1707)
Sir Robert Clayton came from a poor background but his successes in life include being instrumental in establishing deposit banks in England. He became Lord Mayor of London in 1680 – referred to in this engraving. As Lord Mayor he was known for extravagant entertaining and his cedar dining room was reportedly decorated with classical scenes painted by an English artist Robert Streater. The facade of Clayton’s London home in the Old Jewry was the subject of engravings in 1679, copies are held in The British Museum.

Clayton was also a major benefactor to St Thomas’s Hospital and Christ’s Hospital.

Sir Robert Clayton by John Smith. Image courtesy of National Picture Gallery.

Sir Robert Clayton by John Smith. Image courtesy of National Picture Gallery.

He owned an estate, Marden, in Surrey and was MP for Bletchingley in Surrey from 1690 until his death in 1707. A monument in Bletchingley Church depicting him and his wife was erected during his lifetime and subsequently both were buried there.

He married Martha Trott in 1659. She was the daughter of Perient Trott. Their wedding gift or dowry was one share of Trott’s stock in the Somer’s Island Company. They had one son who sadly died shortly after birth on 16 August 1665. At this time the Claytons fled the plague in London to stay with Robert Vyner in Middlesex.

Perient Trott (died after 1670)
Perient Trott was a London merchant in Vine Court. His unusual first name came from his Mother’s surname “Perient”. His father was Martin Trott and mother Anne Perient.

In 1658 Trott purchased 20 shares of land on Bermuda from Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick. He never visited Bermuda himself but mixed in the circles of merchants who traded with Bermuda and further afield in South Carolina and the West Indies. But Trott was sometimes controversial – once being censured for illicit tobacco trading and another time protesting against the Bermuda Company who were restricting trading ships to the island. However, by 1671 his wealth had increased substantially and he had taken warehouses in St Botolph Without at Bishopsgate. He now owned land on Bermuda in parishes of Hamilton, Pembroke, Paget and Warwick.

He had two sons, Samuel and Perient Junior, as well as his daughter Martha. Both of his sons spent some time living in Bermuda. The Christian name “Perient” was passed down through the family for several generations. Between 1726 and 1739 one Perient Trott was Speaker of the House of Assembly in Bermuda.
Samuel’s son, Nicholas Trott, became a renowned 18th century judge in South Carolina.

The Coat of Arms
The engraving bears a coat of arms, the left side depicting the arms for Sir Robert Clayton and on the right side are the vertical stripes of the Trott family.

Towards the top of the image is a banner that reads: Book1 Part 10 Chap 34

This could be the chapter heading of the book in which the engraving sat or it could be a description of the picture itself. It is a classical drawing and there are several classical works that run to ten parts and 34 chapters but after browsing some such as Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars and Livy’s History of Rome the text doesn’t fit the picture. Plato’s Republic has a Book 1 that deals with justice and one of the figures seems to represent Justice but, since it is not an obvious link, I am more inclined to think the banner refers to the book published by Blome.

I have found similar images on an auction website, with an accompanying description suggesting they might come from “The Gentleman’s Recreation” since they are of similar size and format.

The Figures
One seated, three standing. The one to the left of the throne appears to be a depiction of Justice with balancing scales and a sword. Could they depict the four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance? One is sewing, another holds a wreath and seems to have fruits on her shoulder while the seated figure has no distinguishing features apart from looking sternly at the figure of the young black boy who seems to be presenting himself, cap in hand and hand on chest. The boy has a collar around his neck perhaps indicating he is a slave although he seems well shod.

Another possibility for the figures is that they represent Roman Goddesses – for example the aforementioned Pomona was often drawn with fruit,

The signature
At the bottom of the engraved image appear two names – one to the left and one the right side. The one on the right is similar to that of Johannes Kip, a Dutch engraver who arrived in England in 1688. He was known for engravings of country mansions.
The left hand signature I cannot make out. Kip sometimes did engravings after work by Leonard Knyff but although the first initial looks like an ‘L’ the second name seems to start with an ‘I’.

The connection to Verdmont is through the Trott family, a descendant, Samuel Trott, owned the house from 1803, and his son after him. It is an engraving typical of those that would have decorated homes around that time period and so may actually just be representative of this, without any particular significance to the place or even to Bermuda. My search for the origin of the image has led in many directions but not yet to an answer!

Suggestions welcome …..

Further Information:

Sir Robert Clayton

British History

Bermuda Settlers of the Seventeenth Century Julia Mercer



Blow me down with a feather, but just as I am about to post this on the blog, checking through the references and …. there it is:

Well, this is a screenshot

Well, this is a screenshot


Not exact, but the image is the same with just the banner at the top and the dedication section that differ.

The book is entitled : The History of Nature in Two Parts
Apparently published in 1720 which is after the apparent dedication date of 1680 and after the deaths of Clayton, Blome and Trott. This makes it seem that maybe this book was not the original for the image, just using it again!

You can see the whole book on the Open Library website, the book reference is

The picture is entitled “Duties of Masters and Servants” and the writing beneath is one possible explanation for the figures portrayed.
Open Library: The History of Nature in Two Parts


I am left with some unknowns still –

Who drew the original picture from which Jan Kip made his engraving?
In which book did the dedication to Robert Clayton appear with this image?
How did the picture find its way to Verdmont?

The Sea Venture

The Sea Venture

The Sea Venture

May 15th 1609, Woolwich, London:
A flotilla of 7 ships set off from Woolwich, the Third Supply heading for Jamestown, Virginia.
The Swallow – Capt. Moone and Master Somers
The Diamond – Capt. John Ratcliffe and Capt King
The Unitie – Capt. Wood and Paster Pett
The Falcon – Capt. John Martin and Master Francis Nelson
The Lion – Capt Webb
The Blessing – Capt Gabriel Archer and Capt. Adams
and the flagship:
The Sea Venture – Capt. Christopher Newport

The Sea Venture carried Sir Thomas Gates, who was to be Governor of Virginia. Woolwich was one of 6 Royal Naval dockyards of the time, about 5 miles East of the City of London.

Woolwich Shipyard by Nicholas Pocock

Woolwich Shipyard by Nicholas Pocock

June 2nd 1609, Plymouth, England:
Two more ships joined the fleet
The Virginia – Capt. Davis and Master Davis
The Catch – Master Matthew Fitch
Admiral Sir George Somers joined the Sea Venture at Plymouth. His plans were to remain in Virginia in charge of the new colony’s fleet of ships.

June 2nd-8th 1609, Falmouth, England:
Strong winds forced the ships to stop at Falmouth.

June 14th 1609, off the coast of Cornwall:
Admiral Somers decided to use the shorter northern route, supplies would last and they wouldn’t meet the Spanish. The more usual southern route was down from the Canary Islands to the West Indies and then up to Virginia on the east coast.

June, 1609, Somewhere in the Atlantic:
Sickness broke out on several of the ships, perhaps yellow fever or plague, 32 people were thrown overboard (presumably after they died).
The small pinnace in the fleet could not keep up so it was towed by the Sea Venture.

July 23rd 1609, mid-Atlantic:
Crews were struggling, it was hot, and after 8 weeks at sea they were tired.

July 24th 1609, mid-Atlantic:
Caught in bad weather. Pinnacle cast adrift. Sails furled.

July 25th 1609, 30 º N:
With hurricane-strength winds the Sea Venture began to leak having lost caulking from between the planks as the ship was tossed about. The water in the hold was rising.
St Elmo’s Fire, a glowing ball of light was seen through the rigging, the sailors were scared.
Crew and passengers were divided into 3 groups, one hour shifts, watching, bailing, lightening the load. The starboard guns were jettisoned.
The ships were separated, The Sea Venture was on it’s own.

“For four-and-twenty hours the storm in a restless tumult had blown so exceedingly as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence; yet did we still find it not only more terrible but more constant, fury added to fury… Winds and seas were as mad as fury and rage could make them … I had been in some storms before … Yet all that I had ever suffered gathered together might not hold comparison with this: there was not a moment in which the sudden splitting or instant oversetting of the ship was not expected.”  William Strachey

“Our ship became so shaken, torn, and leaked that she received so much water as covered two tier of hogsheads above the ballast.” Silvester Jourdain

July 28th 1609, 32.30 º N 64.78 º W:
Land ahoy!
Bermuda. The Isle of Devils. Or, as Strachey (1625) described it :
“the dangerous and dreaded island, or rather islands, of the Bermuda”

The reef was difficult to navigate and the ship fast sinking so Admiral Somers ordered Captain Newport to ground the ship on rocks just off the eastern end of the island, in sight of land. About ¾ mile offshore, they were at least safe from the storms. The ship, however, was in a bad state, not at all seaworthy, so they abandoned the ruins and took what they could.

150 people and 1 dog* (reportedly – see below) came ashore.

The Ship
Most accounts describe the Sea Venture as built at Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1608 but a book published in 2013 by JR Adams, “A Maritime Archaeology of Ships”, concludes there is no evidence to support this. Certainly a ship “Seaventure”, a cloth-trading ship in the lowlands, was built in 1603 and the name was not all that common at the time. Perhaps it was this ship that was commissioned by the Virginia Company.

A 300 ton vessel with a broad beam well suited to carry passengers and supplies. She was bigger than the more famous Mayflower. She was armed with 20 cannons, and four handheld firearms like muskets.

Sadly for people who like to build model ships from kits, there is no kit for building The Sea Venture.

A model of Sea Venture in Bermuda Maritime Museum

A model of Sea Venture in Bermuda Maritime Museum

On Board
Sir Thomas Gates, Governor for Virginia
Sir George Somers, Admiral of the flotilla
Sir George Yeardley, another Captain, veteran of Dutch wars
Robert Rich, a shareholder, steward of family interests, returned to Bermuda later.
Rev Richard Bucke, chaplain
William Strachey, Secretary-elect of Virginia, wrote account, from which story is known
Silvester Jourdain, wrote account of the storm
Thomas Powell, cook
Robert Walsingham, cockswain
Robert Frobisher, shipwright, has a bay named after him on Bermuda
Nicholas Bennit, carpenter
Henry Ravens, master mate; believed lost at sea when he sailed for help
Thomas Whittingham, believed lost at sea along with Ravens.
Edward Eason and his wife – baby boy born on Bermuda
John Rolfe and his wife – his 2nd wife was Pocahontas
Christopher Carter – sailor from Buckingham, England; Bermuda’s first long term resident
Robert Waters – stayed on Bermuda (deserted the main group)
Edward Chard – stayed on Bermuda (deserted the main group)

There is no complete list of the people on board, others not listed did not return to the island. Some, including Jeffrey Briars, Henry Paine and Richard Lewis, are reported to have died on Bermuda – they may have been in the group that sailed for help in the long boat. One Elizabeth Persons married Thomas Powell while stranded on the island.

Apart from the last 3, the survivors subsequently sailed onto Virginia, a tale of 2 much smaller ships, mutiny, murder and desertion.

The Wreck
But that wasn’t the end of the Sea Venture, as in 1958 Ned Downing found the wreck off St George’s island. He was guided in where to look by William Strachey’s first hand account of the voyage that had been published in 1625: “within a mile under the southeast point of the land”. The discovery came fortuitously one year before the 350th anniversary. Teddy Ticker was commissioned to excavate the wreck. There was some argument about whether this actually was the correct wreck, not laid to rest until 1978 by Allan Wingood.

The treasure was sparse – much of the usable timber and furnishings had been ferried ashore by the original crew in 1609 and then later 2 cannons were hauled ashore to provide defences when they returned and settled the island. Confirmation seems to have come from a pewter spoon, a German stoneware jug and a single 4-pounder gun. There were some puzzling issues such as the amount of cast iron shot found seemed too little for a ship of this size but maybe this was jettisoned during the storm.

The Tempest
Then there is the debate about Shakespeare’s play The Tempest – was it based on the story of the Sea Venture or not?

The Tempest was written probably in 1610/1611 since the first performance was 1st November 1611. The news about the Sea Venture reached England in late 1610, first with an account by Silvester Jourdain, A Discovery of the Barmudas. Strachey’s A True Reportery was not published until 1625, after his death, but it was dated July 15 1610 and some argue that, as a friend of members of the Virginia Company, Shakespeare would have had earlier access to this account. Having just read through the play (the things I do for this blog) it seems that the only connection is the storm and I am quite happy to accept that Shakespeare could have got the ideas from accounts of the Sea Venture and used poetic licence to write the rest of the story. But people have written their dissertations on this and it has triggered a degree of academic mud-slinging:
Yes he did
No he didn’t

*The dog?
When I first looked at this, the only place a dog was mentioned was wikipedia, which immediately cast some doubts. But The Mary Rose had a ship’s dog – the skeleton is on display at Portsmouth, so why not the Sea Venture? Ships had cats since Egyptian times, until the Royal Navy banned them in 1975 (health and safety of course). So why didn’t the ships cat survive? And what about the ship’s chicken? A few hours and several web pages later:
“…our people would go hunting with our ship dog…” Strachey

So it is true – 150 people and a dog!










Further Information:
A Maritime Archaeology of Ships by Jonathan Adams
Sea Venture: The Downing Wreck Revisited by A Mardis Jr 1981
Royal Museums Greenwich 
A True Reportory by William Strachey, 1625

The Great Seal of the Confederate States of America

The story of the Great Seal would probably make a good film, with spies, secrets and deceits. You might wonder why it is part of a display in The Globe Museum, St George’s, Bermuda. The museum houses a replica of the seal and a screw press of the age, though the actual press is on Bermuda in the hands of a private collector. So what is it doing there?


Setting: late 19th, early 20th century, the story commences in 1864, a couple of years into the American Civil War

Background: In 1861 South Carolina seceded from the Union because they believed it no longer represented the ideology of the Southern states, they had joined by choice and so were free to leave. Soon after, 11 other states followed and thus the Southern Confederate States were set against the Northern Unionist States. The South was greatly outnumbered, 9,000,000 people, over 3 million of which were slaves) against 22,000,000 from the industrial North, that held all the cards – transport links, foreign trade, a trained army, a navy. The Unionists placed blockades along the Southern ports, to stop them trading. Bermuda, sitting in the mid-Atlantic and British, was officially neutral, but found a rewarding role enabling blockade-running i.e. it was a convenient port from which to deliver goods to Confederates, though not without risks.


JAMES MASON, Confederacy Diplomat in London. He was a central figure in the Trent Affair, another story entirely but one that almost brought GB and US into full blown war in 1861. If Wikipedia links are anything to go by he was well-connected: no less than 15 of his relatives have Wiki pages. I was disappointed to see his picture – nothing like the homonymous actor.

James Mason (1798-1871)

James Mason (1798-1871)

James Mason was requested by the Confederate Government to source a die-engraver in Britain

JOSEPH S WYON, Chief Engraver of Seals, whose previous work included a seal for Queen Victoria. He inscribed the margin of the seal with his name and address (287 Regent St London – now a newsagents)
JS Wyon engraved the seal in silver. The cost was £122.10.00



Lt ROBERT T CHAPMAN, of the Confederate Navy, of the CSS Sumter then CSS Alabama, both of which ended up stuck in European waters, which is how he happened to be in England at just the right time.

Lt Chapman was tasked with carrying the seal and press to Richmond, Virginia. He travelled first to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the Cunard Liner Africa, where he then boarded a steamer Alpha bound for Bermuda. He was told in no uncertain terms that this item could not be captured and was prepared even to throw it overboard. It is said that he abandoned the presentation box and fine leather satchel and carried it instead in his pocket. Chapman was held up in Bermuda for some time, three failed attempts to leave the island, so it wasn’t until September 1864 that the Great Seal arrived in Richmond, Virginia. The press, however, did not reach Virginia at all, too bulky and probably a dead give-away to what Chapman was carrying.

Why did the press never get shipped off Bermuda?

Why did the press never get shipped off Bermuda?

The Seal was in Confederate hands for 8 months until April 1865 when the war ended.

WILLIAM J BROMWELL was the state department clerk charged with moving the departmental records and storing them when the Confederate offices were cleared.


Bromwell kept many of these records with him when he moved to Washington DC in 1866. Mrs Bromwell reported carrying the Seal in her bustle out of Richmond when the Union forces took possession!

JOHN T PICKETT, Lawyer in Washington DC.

Bromwell qualified and practiced law in Pickett’s firm. Realising the risk of possessing the Seal -Bromwell had after all in effect stolen it – Pickett acted as agent in an attempt to sell the Seal either to the government or to interested southerners, he was asking $75,000.

Lt THOMAS O SELFRIDGE, an inspector requested by the state department to confirm that the Seal was genuine.

In 1872 the US Government paid $75,000 for the Confederate Seal.


Selfridge kept the Seal, and for many years it’s whereabouts was unknown.

At some point Pickett borrowed it temporarily in order to have copies made.

SAMUEL H BLACK, an expert in electrotyping (electroplating), pledged to secrecy under a masonic oath.

In 1885 1000 copies in bronze, silver or gold colour and housed in handsome cases were sold to raise money for Southern widows and orphans.

Copy of Seal

Copy of Seal

Browell died in 1875 and Pickett in 1884; for the next 20 years nothing was heard of the original Seal.

In 1905 the Confederate Museum of Richmond commenced a search for the Seal. It is unclear who actually discovered it again, reports give both a MISS LT MUNFORD and a Judge WALTER A MONTGOMERY, but it was not until 1910 that Selfridge, now and Admiral, was proven to hold the Seal.

Selfridge was demanding $1,000 for the Seal – curious amount given the Government had valued it at $75,000 some 40 years before. Nobody seems to have been much concerned that Selfridge did not actually own the seal himself. I don’t wish to upset any descendants, but maybe it had something to do with him being an Admiral?

THOMAS P BRYAN, EPPA HUNT Jr and WILLIAM H WHITE were three wealthy Richmond residents who each contributed $1,000 to purchase the Seal from Selfridge.

In May 1915 the Great Confederate Seal was displayed at the Confederate Museum of Richmond, the loan converted to a gift in 1943.

Deo Vindice:
The image on the Seal is of George Washington astride a horse, copied from the statue in Richmond. Equestrian figures had appeared on royal seals from the time of Edward The Confessor.

The surrounding wreath was planned to include the major crops from the Southern states: cotton, corn, sugar, wheat, rice and tobacco. James Mason actually altered the design to omit wheat and corn, both grown also in the North.

The adoption of a motto provided lengthy debate: Deo Duce vincemus (under the leadership of God we will conquer) was thought to imply that the state of war would be permanent and use of the future tense added uncertainty; Deo vindice majores aemulator (under the guidance and protection of God we endeavour to equal and even excel our ancestors) was thought just too much of a mouthful. In the end it was a Mr THOMAS J SEMMES, Senator for South Carolina, who chose the simple phrase Deo vindice (God will judge – sometimes translated as God is our Defender – I defer to my classically educated friends)

Visit the museum to get your own imprint!

Visit the museum to get your own imprint!

Did the Confederate Government ever use the Seal?
With the press remaining in Bermuda and the short length of time for the administration then it was long thought that the seal was unused in any official capacity. However the US National Archives reportedly hold a document signed by President Jefferson Davis dated February 7th 1865 that bears the impression of the Seal. I say reportedly because I cannot track it down on their online archives (more than willing to go in person should Bermuda National Trust consider funding a discovery!)

The press and seal (copies) at The Globe, Bermuda National Trust Museum, St George's.

The press and seal (copies) at The Globe, Bermuda National Trust Museum, St George’s.

Digging up the past in Bermuda

One of my favourite TV programmes when back in UK is Timeteam – Tony Robinson (Baldrick) talks through a 3-day targeted dig somewhere in Britain and you learn small fragments of history while wishing you had considered archaeology as a degree instead of whatever.  It is one of the things I have missed since being in Bermuda, the familiarity of his voice as a background to Saturday afternoons as we watched back-to-back episodes on Channel 4.
Bermuda TIme Team

Bermuda TIme Team

I did did not take much persuading therefore to join a National Trust Visit to the Smith’s Island Archaeology Dig last Sunday afternoon.


Smith's Island (picture from Prof Jarvis's blogspot)

Smith’s Island (picture from Prof Jarvis’s blogspot)

Smith’s Island sits in St George’s Harbour, 60 acres, unconnected to the main islands, a few houses in the middle section but mainly undeveloped and very overgrown.  It is important historically because way back in 1610 some of the first settlers made this island their home for a while.  The story goes that three men, Christopher Carter, Edward Waters and Edward Chard, declined to return to England with other survivors of the Sea Venture expedition and they remained to establish themselves in the hope of growing tobacco and perhaps other crops which might make them rich when traders next called in on Bermuda.  I am not quite sure why but they are sometimes referred to as the Three Kings, though they were just ordinary sailors and not noble or rich, I guess they were the effective kings of Bermuda for a couple of years.

Sir Thomas Smith, after whom the island is named, was one of the Adventurers of the Virginia Company (later Somer’s Isles Company) – I don’t think he ever lived there, owned it or even landed there himself.

In 1612 when the first intentional colonists came over from England they stayed to begin with on this island, moving later to St George, most likely because they realised they would need more space.  A few families set up farms on the island, during the 17th and 18th centuries the Pitcher, Asser and Sharp families were known to live here. 1786 saw a Dr George Forbes build himself a substantial home and he is also ought to have set up a building for temporary housing smallpox victims. The darker aspects of the island continued when a whaling station was established there in 1920.  However the Bermuda National Trust now own one third of the island and the government have set up a reserve on another third.

The only way to get there

The only way to get there

Twenty or so of us boarded the BIOS boat across the harbour to Smith’s island.  It was hot and humid so the breeze and spray was welcome, the barrel of ice cold water even more so (thanks to Peter for realising none of us would bring sufficient for our needs and carrying the barrel)

Pretty much overgrown

Pretty much overgrown

The Dig

Professor Michael Jarvis, a modern version of Indiana Jones, leads a group of students from University of Rochester; for them it’s a credit-bearing five weeks of hard work, not cheap either – $4000 plus air fares – but they aren’t all history or archaeology majors, one I spoke to was doing business studies and her friend was a psychology major.  Then there are volunteers, both Bermudian and from elsewhere.  It began in 2010 and will probably continue until 2018, always the last week of May and the month of June so quite hot for digging.  But if you fancy five weeks on Bermuda ….


The group blog about their excavations on and if you go to that site you can see images of some of the finds and a lot more technical detail.

To date they have looked at one site that probably had a wooden framed house on it, another they hope will be the home of Christopher Carter, a cave site where there is evidence of people living at some point and a small building near a bay the map refers to as Smallpox Bay.  Some of the artefacts include a military button and an animal bone, cherts from non-local stone and pieces of glass.  I realised that an awful lot of digging, brushing and sweeping goes on for every small piece of evidence and came to the conclusion that neither my knees nor my patience would cope with this sort of work.

This was probably the last visit to the site for 2014 but if you get a chance to take this trip next June I would strongly recommend it.  It was a very pleasant if dusty afternoon!

The images below are my own photographs.


Under a blue tarpaulin

Under a blue tarpaulin

Wall of smallpox hut with possible GR inscription carved into wall (look very carefully for that!)

Wall of smallpox hut with possible GR inscription carved into wall (look very carefully for that!)

An oven, possibly at the site of the home of Christopher Carter

An oven, possibly at the site of the home of Christopher Carter


The Globe Hotel


This is where I am today – it is nothing to do with Shakespeare and isn’t a hotel either despite the name. This is the building that holds the National Trust Confederate Museum, which in plain English, is all about what Bermuda got up to during the American Civil War.


1861, Bermuda was a quiet island with about 11,000 people, British territory. Queen Victoria called the American Civil War a ” conflict of belligerents” and declared that Britain would remain neutral. And so we did – officially.

In a nutshell, the northern states were highly industrialized and more populated while the southern states remained agricultural with a heavy reliance on slavery. Since slaves did not vote the northern states were over-represented politically and the southern states felt that the Unionist government no longer protected their ideologies and values. So in 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union, claiming its rights as a sovereign state (sounds a bit too much like Scotland and England). The north responded by blockading the southern ports, hoping to cripple the southern economy. This would have a knock on effect for Europe and specifically England.

At that time, England obtained most of its cotton from the southern states, so had an interest in maintaining trade. This led to the need for ships that could get past the union blockades: blockade runners. (BBC did a good programme on the Robert E Lee ship in their series Clydebuilt)

So this is where the Globe Hotel comes in – it was a hotel back in 1861 and in one of the rooms the Confederate Agents set up their headquarters for the blockade running activities.


So I have found myself a gentle volunteer role manning the admissions and the Trustworthy Shop on Thursdays between 10 and 4.

It is blustery out today so lots of people have stepped inside for a moment’s respite. The 2014 calendars on special offer have almost all gone. Some visitors have been upstairs into the display rooms, one a Bermudian who said she had no idea the museum was here – I guess it takes time for the news to get around and the Trust has only been here since 1961. So if you are on the island and are wondering what to do, take a trip to St George’s and drop in. I won’t be here next Thursday, we are moving home, but someone will be here and it is really interesting.

Bermuda Samples

Almost hidden away on the top shelf of the Bermuda reference section of the library is a small book that one might easily overlook – just 5 inches tall in mid-blue cloth-covered hardboard with various stamps inside indicating it once occupied a shelf in Somerset Library and was for 14 day loan only. Sadly it is now never borrowed and possibly rarely read, “Bermuda Samples” by William Zuill sits between a volume of island-inspired poetry on one side and a large “Bermuda Development Plan for 2000” on the other.

William Zuill put this book together in 1937, selecting extracts from the Gazette (was Bermuda, now Royal) between 1815 and 1845.  His choice suggests an eclectic mind and definitely a sense of humour:

  • From November,1816 a warning to women wearing low-cut dresses that an “elderly gentleman of venerable appearance and correct manners” was imprinting their bare shoulders or backs with a “stain similar to that from lunar caustic” the words NAKED BUT NOT ASHAMED; washing would not remove it so the ladies were forced to cover it up with more respectable clothes.  [Lunar caustic is silver nitrate, used in the past to treat warts and in photographic developing, it darkens on exposure to light. My thoughts on reading that were that the elderly gent was not so correct in his manners.]
  • From June 1818, a letter to the editor bemoans latecomers to church services, for lying in bed on Sundays was “un-Christian-like“. The writer continues to comment on lowering of standards that permitted “ladies at the breakfast table in night or dressing gown” and “men with chins like a pigs back”.  [which I took to mean unshaven but was less clear as to whether this was lamentable at breakfast time or in church]

The selections that caught my eye were cures or remedies for various illnesses.

  • March 31, 1829, Cure for Consumption:  In the month of May gather flowers from the thorn bush and boil two bunches of blossoms in half a pint of milk. Let it stand until it is about as warm as milk from a cow. Drink it first thing in the morning and take a walk immediately afterwards, if the weather is favourable, and a cure will soon be effected. [Maythorn or hawthorn has its main effects on the heart and is unlikely to do much to help TB, but it might be beneficial to cholesterol levels] 
  • July 19, 1823, To remove pins and bones: Any person who may swallow a pin or the bone of a fish will find almost instant relief by taking four grains of tartar emetic dissolved in warm water and immediately afterwards the white of six eggs. So effectual is this remedy, that it has been known to remove no less than twenty-four pins at once. [who would swallow 24 pins?] [tartar emetic is antimony potassium tartrate, nasty stuff once used for treating alcohol intoxication, known as an emetic since the middle ages. The egg white protein would protect the patient to a degree from poisoning by binding with the antimony. ]
  • July 3, 1832, Recipe for Cholera: 1oz of cinnamon water, 35 drops of tincture of opium, 1 drachm spirits of lavender, 2 drachms tincture of rhubarb.  [1 drachm or dram = ⅛ fluid ounce or approximately one teaspoonful.  If it is a solid measure then 1 drachm = 3 scruples or 60 grains, almost 4grams. I rather suspect the opium might slow the diarrhoea but the rest is just to make it taste pleasant. ]
  • April 1, 1834, Simple Cure for Consumption: this distressing complaint which carries of so many of our valuable young men annually has been cured by a very simple remedy, viz:- the inhaling of the gaseous perfume of chloride of lime. [ Consumption = TB. Chloride of lime is calcium hypochlorite and was used then to bleach laundry, now for swimming pools; the gas given off would be chlorine but is not going to cure TB] 
  • April 21, 1835, Cure for the whooping cough: Take one fourth of a pint of sweet or olive oil, the same quantity of common leeks, cut them fine and simmer them moderately two or three hours; add honey to make it palatable; half a teaspoon full a portion for an adult if taken four or fibre times, it will in a few days remove this distressing disorder. [Cabbage water was also a well-known remedy for coughs] 

The final sample that caught my attention was a report from December 1840 documenting the occurrence of ice “a full quarter inch thick” on the low lying ground in the central parishes of Bermuda. Unbelievable?

Tribe Matters: Devonshire

The Tribes of Bermuda

The Tribes of Bermuda

Tribe:  a social division of people defined by a common characteristic

Early on in the colonial history Bermuda was divided into tribes which were further subdivided into shares.  The painstaking work that this entailed fell to Richard Norwood, a teacher from England.  Each tribe was 1,250 acres and each share was 25 acres – the divisions in straight lines across from North shore to South shore making plots of land of varying width but crucially each with access to a portion of coast. There were 8 tribes divided in this way, with St George’s and several other discrete islands remaining as company land. The tribe was then named after the Adventurer who had purchased most share within that tribe.

Thus the tribes were named:

  • Sandys – Sir Edwyn Sandys
  • Southampton – Henry Wrothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Mansil’s – Robert Mansell aka Mansfleid (who later sold his shares to Earl of Warwick)
  • Paget – William Paget, Fourth Lord Paget
  • Pembroke – William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke
  • Cavendish – William Cavendish who became First Earl of Devonshire
  • Smith’s – Sir Thomas Smith
  • Bedford’s – Lady Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford (later sold to James Hamilton)

They were referred to as Tribes up to 1684, presumably as churches were established within them. The remnants of the earlier naming is seen in the multiple “Tribe Roads” that dissect the island perpendicular to the long roads.  To call them roads is somewhat ambitious – some only wide enough to roll a barrel.

I have focussed first on Devonshire because that’s where I am living.

William Cavendish is, I have discovered, a common name – the one in question was born 1552 and died 1626 and was the First Earl of Devonshire, but research is complicated by unimaginative naming of children, all William, with the occasional Henry thrown in randomly.

William Cavendish must have had a large extended family – his father had three wives and his Mother married four times, dissatisfaction as much as death prompting the changes.  Anyhow, he was the second son of (predictably) William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick.  Second son? Yes, Henry was an embarrassment to his Mother who disowned him so William became her favourite.

William Cavendish, First Earl of Devonshire. (1552-1626)

William Cavendish, First Earl of Devonshire. (1552-1626)


















Some of my English readers will recognise the “Devonshire ” and correctly link him to Chatsworth House (in Derbyshire, just to confuse everyone).  This now enormous estate was originally purchased by William’s father for £600; his money came from land he had amassed in his name during the dissolution of the monasteries – he was Privy Councillor and Treasurer to Henry VIII.  Sadly William the elder lived only long enough to conceive three sons and spend just five years owning Chatsworth – maybe three wives is not such a good idea. So at the age of 5, our William was left fatherless, with two not-so-very-nice stepfathers to come.

He was educated at Eton, Cambridge and Gray’s Inn.  He didn’t inherit his vast estates until he was 56 when his mother died leaving him four impressive estates in the English Midlands.  William was a Member of Parliament for two years – first for Liverpool (1586) and then for Newport, Cornwall (1587).  It might seem odd that he represented areas so far from his family home, but explained by the acrimonious relationship with his stepfather George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  In 1605 William became Baron Cavendish, step one on the ladder to peerage. Debrett’s informs that he advanced to the dignity of Earl of Devonshire in 1618.

William married Anne Keighley, a fecund lady who gave birth to 6 children in 8 years; of course they named the eldest William. They hired Thomas Hobbes, later philosopher, as tutor to the young boy, a relationship lasting over 20 years and enabling Hobbes himself to invest in The Somers Island Company.  Inevitably this new William became Earl of Devonshire and so on almost ad infinitum (current incumbent is called Peregrine, and it’s a Dukedom now)

All that is preamble to explaining how he managed to own 10 shares of land in the parish of (now) Devonshire.  fellow parishioners included Pennistone, Dike, Barnard, West, Lukin, Ditchfield, Nicholls, Fletcher, Delaune, Roger, Palmer and Rich.  Of course, it is unlikely that many if any of them actually came to Bermuda, preferring absentee landlord status – the rules are tighter these days.

It has been hard to find anything pertaining to the character of  William Cavendish. One small extract from “History of The Virginia Company” by Edward Duffield Neill describes how Cavendish quarrelled with Earl of Warwick, each calling the other a liar over a matter not detailed.  It is said that he challenged Warwick to a duel and that the Privy Council subsequently blocked the ports of England to prevent them reaching the continent (were duels perhaps banned in England ?)  Cavendish was apprehended at Shoreham, Essex , but Warwick reached Ghent.  The whole incident contributed to the Virginia Company Charter being declared null and void in 1624. It is said that their wives remained friends throughout.

Devonshire has for its coat of arms that of the Cavendish Family.

Bermuda stamp

Bermuda stamp

Sable (black) shield

3 stags heads caboshed (cut of behind the ears)

coronet of an Earl – silver balls on points with gold strawberry leaves between

Cavendish green serpent

2 rampant stag supporters



This is the sign along South Road approaching Devonshire from Smiths (needs a soapy brush)IMG_2062

HMS Bermuda Floating Dock

When you first explore Spanish Point you may be forgiven for wanting to go home and contact Greenpeace about dumping at sea. For, sitting in the mouth of Stoves Bay is a rusty hulk, which, if not quite of Brobdingnagian proportions, dominates the view across to Dockyard.  If it wasn’t there you could see past Long Point to Cobblers Island, Lapstone, Nets Rock and beyond Hogfish Beacon across the Great Sound Ledge to Pepperpot Beacon and Cockburn’s Cut. It is from across the water that this sad skeletal shell originated. Once, tidily tucked behind the safety of the South Breakwater, it was HMS Bermuda Floating Dock.

Installation at Dockyard 1869

Installation at Dockyard 1869


If you think of Bermuda as a giant fish-hook then Ireland island is the tip of the hook, the far end of Middle Road, the last of the rocky outcrops connected by short bridges, reaching out into the deeper waters of the oddly named Grassy Bay.  Ferry across the Great Sound is the quickest route.





A patient explanation from my husband told me that while small boats can be careened (nautical jargon for tilted) to one side for repairs and cleaning, larger ships require some form of dry-docking. Bermuda limestone is too soft and porous for a water-tight dry dock construction (which is also the explanation of occasional wet walls indoors in old Bermuda homes) so an alternative solution was necessary.

The floating dock was proposed by Lord Clarence Paget in 1866:

The only further work connected with this Vote relates to the proposed dock at Bermuda, We propose to construct a great iron floating dock, and there have been various plans before us for the execution of this work. One of these is quite of a novel and ingenious character. I do not venture to describe it, but I intend to lay a model of it in the Library, that hon. Members may see it for themselves. The plan, although it is one of a hydraulic first-class dock, dispenses almost altogether with any steam machinery; and, what is still more remarkable, the inventor proposes to build it here and to go out in it. (from Hansard, Commons Sittings)

The model mentioned in the above paragraph is kept at the Science Museum, London.  The design was patented by James Campbell and construction began at Woolwich in 1866.

The dock was 381 feet long by 123 feet wide and 74 feet deep. This was big enough to take ships of the Bellerophon class.

HMS Bellerophon 1866

HMS Bellerophon 1866

The building was completed by 1868.  It cost  £247,589 5s. 7d. to build. (Hansard)

Two steam-sail ironclads, HMS Agincourt and HMS Northumberland towed the dock as far as Madeira, then HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince, the most powerful ironclads of the fleet, took it across the Atlantic.  A sail was placed inside the U-shaped dock to make use of following winds and HMS Terrible guided the stern for the whole journey.

35-day Atlantic journey, 1869

35-day Atlantic journey, 1869


July 4th 1869 as they left Ponto Santo

(National Maritime Museum)





There is a picture of HMS Warrior resting inside the floating dock with the dock in an elevated position – this is taken from an engraving by Thomas Dutton, but is historically inaccurate – it never happened – more a product of his imagination.

Thomas Dutton Engraving

Thomas Dutton Engraving

The dock was used through until 1906; more than 78 lifts are documented in the Dockyard records.

Intrepid in bermuda Dock  ? date  from

Intrepid in Bermuda Dock (?date)








But after 40 years service she was no longer big enough to manage the Royal Navy Dreadnought class of the early 1900s. (Confusingly the navy re-use ship names so the famous Flagship HMS Dreadnought of 1906 was actually the sixth ship of that name)










The next part of the story, how the dock ended up ay Spanish Point, has two versions and I have not been able to unravel the truth.  Two Bermudian experts, Edward Harris and Richard Gould, have tried before me.  The former describes the arrival of the floating dock at 

But it is Richard Gould who provides detail of the dismantling process and proposes a story to explain how it becomes abandoned. In 1996 Gould and Souza published results of an archeological exploration of the wreck  – History and Archaeology of HM Floating Dock Bermuda, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 1996 25,1:4 20. They quote from an unpublished diary of a dock worker at the time, D Barrit, who described the arrival of German ship-breakers in January 1907. It took over a year to remove the copper, bronze and brass which was done in-situ at the dockyard, then in March 1908 tugs hauled the remains to the opposite shore and secured it with anchors and hawsers.  Subsequently it seems the hulk broke free of the restraints during storms and drifted to block the mouth of the bay.

In April 1908 a Certificate of Abandonment was issued.

The wreck of the floating dock

The wreck of the floating dock

In the mid twentieth century attempts were made to reduce the wreckage with dynamite. It was partially successful and opened up a channel through for small boats, but the remains are still clearly visible. When we were there this weekend a heron was using the elevation to find its lunch, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

Does it fall under UNESCO’s underwater heritage protection rules?

Is it heritage or an eyesore?


Dr Luke Blackburn


Munificent or Malefactor?

It was 1864 and Bermuda faced an epidemic of yellow fever.  Not for the first time, more than five outbreaks had devastated the islanders, in 1817 it had taken 213 people from St George’s town alone.  They had tried refusing landing to ships that carried disease and buried the victims in separate cemeteries, but they were no closer to a solution.

The illness began with fever, aching and weakness. Then briefly you might feel slightly better, but the short-lived reprieve was followed by jaundice and bleeding with progressive liver failure.   Vomited blood is customarily black as coffee-grounds and the stools become loose, tar like and offensive.  Few recovered from this point, kidney failure following rapidly and death usually within 10 days. Altogether pretty unpleasant.

Man with yellow fever Image from Wellcome Library

Man with yellow fever
Image from Wellcome Library

Pages from Nineteenth Century Textbook

Pages from Nineteenth Century Textbook









This was all going on during the American Civil War and although Bermuda was officially neutral it did play an important role in blockade running to enable trade with Southern states (for more on this you should visit The Globe National Trust Museum).  Amidst all the politics and fast ships, along came Dr Luke Pryor Blackburn.

You need some background in order to judge him fairly, he features on many websites, some clearly written to support the guilty verdict. I mean to be balanced but as I began to write that I realised I wanted to show him to be innocent.  Misguided physicians allegiance or hindsight that  what he did would not have worked?

Luke Blackburn was born in 1816, in Woodford County, Kentucky.  He was one of 13 children, born into a Presbyterian family strongly involved in politics. Apprenticed at 15 to his physician uncle, Churchill Jones Blackburn, he gained his degree in medicine at the age of 19 in 1835, which seems young by todays standards but was probably not that unusual at the time. Maybe he was primed to develop an interest in what would today be the field of Infectious Diseases – he witnessed cholera and yellow fever as it swept across the southern states.  His finals dissertation was on cholera:

Dr Luke Blackburn's Dissertation

Dr Luke Blackburn’s Dissertation

He married shortly after becoming a doctor, and had a child within a year (a son who later went into medicine) and for a while he cultivated his political interests.  His CV would have either been impressive with its variety of roles in working life or showed lack of sticking power to any one thing.  It was enough to impress the mayor of New York in 1854 who called upon Dr Blackburn to treat yellow fever patients – this seemed to be in exchange for a New York medical apprenticeship for his son so maybe not completely altruistic.

Kentucky was one of the border states during the civil war, while trading heavily in slaves for the southern states and being officially represented by the central star on the Confederate flag, they diplomatically tried to remain neutral. But Luke Blackburn was open for his support of the Confederates.

How he turned up in Bermuda is not exactly clear – some sources have the Canadian authorities sending him as a Confederal Agent, others claim he volunteered and had already devised his wicked scheme.  They report that he refused payment for his medical services, but far from intending to boost his credentials in generosity it is written as if to underline his evil intent.

Perhaps my favourite source is “The Biography of a Colonial Town” by Sister Jean de Chantal Kennedy, 1961. Not for its unbiased writing, but for the element of storytelling she manages to incorporate.  Luke is described as having “subdued an outbreak of yellow fever” and ‘stemming the onslaught” of cholera.

So, on arrival he took quarters in The Hamilton Hotel where the local medical men asked him to address their meeting.  One took offence at the suggestion that he used the “application of onion with tobacco to the stomach” as a remedy for yellow fever.  Luke Blackburn impressed upon them the need for strict quarantine procedures, a reasonable idea even if it would not have reduced the mosquito carriers of the disease. He began treating the fevered patients and again is noted for not charging a fee.

V0010538 A girl suffering from yellow fever. Watercolour.

A girl suffering from yellow fever. Watercolour. From Wellcome Institute.




V0011984 A parodic cosmological diagram showing opposing aspects of t








What happened next may or may not be true.

Dr Blackburn reportedly (the nurse and the barman were witnesses) took the bedding and clothes from those who had just died of yellow fever and packed them into his trunks. In one instance he is supposed to have sent the relatives out to arrange burial while he himself laid out the deceased in an unknown nightgown, the patients own clothes “mysteriously” disappeared.  According to other sources he was in league with an Edward Swan whose role in this was to ship the trunks of (possibly) infected clothing to the northern states, to New York and Unionist ports.     It is even suggested that Blackburn himself selected particular fine shirts from amongst the dead persons’ clothing which he addressed to the President.

Note I have moved from referring to him as Luke, through Dr Blackburn and now Blackburn – and so they did on Bermuda as he fell from grace.  A man who might have been a federal agent or a double agent or a Unionist spy, Mr Fred Buckstaff, tracked the trunks and on finding them awaiting shipment challenged Edward Swan, who soon squealed.  Then another came forward , Godfrey Hyams, claiming he had been involved and had received shipments of infected clothing in Boston, Philadelphia and other ports, that the intent was a “cunning plan” to spread the contaminated clothes amongst the Unionists and so bring the Northern war effort to its knees.

The doctor’s supporters dwindled as the evidence seemed to mount against him.  It didn’t help that this was shortly followed by President Lincoln’s assassination so talk of conspiracy plots dominated the headlines.

No one seems to know quite how, but Dr Luke Blackburn left Bermuda and found himself in Canada. Here he was actually charged, but not with germ warfare or the equivalent of the time, but with damaging Canada’s neutrality.  His defence was reputed to be:  “it is too preposterous for intelligent gentleman to conceive”  The charges were dropped.

One might expect a guilty man to lay low, so perhaps it speaks well of him that he soon after travelled to the southern states when yellow fever took a hold in New Orleans.

I found one source that explains some of the research that was undertaken with respect to epidemics of fever – it appears that throwing cats from a height was involved …IMG_1044

So for the next ten years or so Dr Luke Blackburn seemed to have been an itinerant medic treating fevers of all descriptions with no little success – Memphis outbreak in 1873 and Florida in 1877.  Until he found himself back in Kentucky in 1879 and running in the election for Governor.   Some of his opponents tried to blacken his name with tales of “Dr Blackvomit” and reporting controversial statements of apparent evidence on a daily basis in the papers, but it seems his good deeds overshadowed any hint of malicious activity and he was selected as the Democrat candidate with a resounding majority of 935 votes to 22 and later on that year he was elected Governor of Kentucky with 56% of the votes.

He remained a controversial figure in this new role, granting pardons to criminals to avoid overcrowding in the prison, capping payments to state officials, reducing the number of jurors. After a tempestuous four years in post he withdrew from public life, set up a sanitarium where he worked until his death from an unknown illness in 1887.

The state of Kentucky erected a granite monument over his grave in Frankfurt (Kentucky town not German) which depicts the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

So what do you think? There is both information and misinformation on websites and it is probably impossible to get to the truth of the matter.  What I conclude is that no trunks were actually shipped from Bermuda with infected clothing; that it would have been a reasonable assumption that yellow fever was infectious and spread by contaminated bedding and clothes so it is logical to remove those items to prevent spread of disease;  that from all accounts it was a busy, scary period of time and fanciful stories tend to spread rapidly when tinged with the element of fear.

The link between mosquitoes and yellow fever was not far away – first proposed in 1881 but not confirmed until 1900.  The virus was isolated in 1927 and a vaccine developed by 1937, for which the South African Max Theiler won the Nobel Prize (1951). The same vaccine is used today and in 2013 WHO announced that one injection will confer lifelong immunity.  You don’t need one to come to Bermuda though 🙂

Postcard from DPLA  (US archives)

Postcard from DPLA
(US archives)

Devonshire Old Church

Devonshire Old Church



This is the church in Devonshire that was built to replace the one destroyed in the 1716 hurricane.  It was an ambitious upgrade for the parish, the original having been a smaller wooden framed build with palmetto thatch.  But in 1851 it too proved too small for the congregation and was replaced by a new church on adjacent ground and renamed “Christ Church” rather than merely Devonshire Parish Church.  For fifty years the old church was left to decay, used only for housing an old hearse. 



This little building is where the new hearse was stored in the late 19th century.  Nowadays the hearses are owned by Funeral Homes or Undertakers, not by the Church but you can still get a horse-drawn hearse

Back in 1612 when the first English colonists arrived on Bermuda, there was not the wide choice for religious worship that there is today – it was Church of England, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London.  In England The Act of Uniformity 1559 specified that everyone should attend church once a week and that the Book of Common Prayer be used for the order of service. If a commoner objected to this Act, by not going to church, they were fined, but if a member of the clergy refused to sign the Act they were shipped out to minister to the colonies – maybe a better lifestyle but certainly a drop in income as the annual stipend was about ⅔ of that in an English parish.  

The early church ministers in Bermuda were appointed from among the unemployed or non-conforming clergy.  So it was that one of the early ministers, Lewis Hughes, had been disciplined for his connection to a witchcraft case back in England.  Records document him as a conscientious and dedicated cleric who travelled across the whole island by foot in his duties. 

If you are interested in the history of the Bermuda Anglican Church there is a comprehensive book “Chronicle of a Colonial Church” by AC Hollis Hallett, covering the early years 1612 to 1826. 

One amusing story from this book is about a woman called Elizabeth Carter who was imprisoned and fined for correcting the preacher, William Edwards, during his sermon on 30 January 1673: he was preaching on the Book of Esther but managed to mix up two of the characters as he told the story so she promptly stood up to tell him he had it wrong. I don’t suggest anyone tries this at home, the penalty may not have changed much. 

I had a pleasant wonder around the church and church yard at Devonshire Old Church.  The grounds and church were restored in 1903, financed by Aubrey Cox, and from 1938 onwards it has been used for Christenings, Weddings and Funerals.  



The building at the top left of this picture is the “new” Devonshire parish church.

I haven’t yet found out why the burial plots are fashioned like they are with whitewashed stones.

And I didn’t explore too closely the one where the stone slab cover appears to have been disturbed! 




For those who are wondering just whereabouts Devonshire is, here is an old map of Bermuda:




As back in UK the Royal Mail float dominates the news ( you hadn’t noticed?) alongside “plans for strikes in the run up to Christmas” (again) I have been finding out about the postal service in Bermuda. Since we were once a British colony, now termed “British Overseas territory”, you won’t be surprised at the similarities between UK mail and Bermuda mail.

For example, the post boxes:




These are Bermuda post boxes.

British ones were not always red – they started off green so as not to be an eyesore. But Bermuda did not get Post Boxes until 1882, some thirty years after the first mainland box at Carlisle and eight years after the introduction of pillar- box red. Anthony Trollope introduced them to England, the author of The Palliser books, The Barchester Towers series and more. ( I love the TV series of The Pallisers, and Barchester Chronicles shows Alan Rickman in a pre-Snape character with a remarkably similar name! watch them if you haven’t already )
Apparently he wrote every morning before going to work at the Post Office ( ). He did also visit Bermuda in his role of Post Office Inspector and even wrote a short story based on the islands, "Aaron Trow", but his reports of Bermuda were not that favorable which is probably why the island makes more of John Lennon’s visit here than that of Trollope.

Back to post boxes – in Bermuda and England alike, the form of a cylindrical stand-alone pillar with a horizontal flap for mail near the top became the standard design. The smaller the flap the older the box. Age is also denoted by the name of the monarch – my photos show two George V boxes, one George VI and a more modern Elizabeth II. On Bermuda now there are 46 post boxes – no, I have not counted them all personally, the fact came from a book published last year celebrating the Bermuda Post Office Bicentennial.

Right back in the beginning, around early 1800s, the island mail was carried by a man on a horse who rode west on Wednesdays and east on Thursdays. If you had a letter to be posted you just waited alongside the main road until he came by. No house deliveries, you would be sent a message and have to walk to the Post office to collect it – and pay for it. The rates were 4d per ounce.

Then a chap called William Benet Perot arrived in Hamilton, Bermuda, built a house that he called "Par-la-Ville" (it means beside the town, it was on the edge of town) from where he ran a Post Office.


The building still stands today, with part of it now the Bermuda Library. The post office itself is still operational – with an interior of cedar wood counters, probably looks much the same as it did back in the 1800s. Keen to provide an out-of-hours service he made a hole in his front door through which customers could post their letters along with the money to pay for postage – like much of the rest of the world, Bemuda now ran a prepaid service. Unfortunately for him when he added up the money it seemed never enough for the number of letters in the box. So he introduced ink “stamps” called “Perot Provisionals” – customers could buy the envelopes in advance with one of these markers on: his signature and the words “paid in Hamilton” or “paid in St George’s”. These were used between 1848 and 1856, but only 11 are known to still exist. The last one that changed hands did so in 2005 for £60,000.


Now the first English stamps were made in 1840, the rate was 1d for a letter. So the charge in Bermuda, by then 5d per ounce, was excessive and they brought the charge down to 1d to match England. The first Bermuda stamps had a left facing Queen Victoria with the country name written across the top and value across the bottom. I know that on British coins the monarch faces in he opposite direction to the previous one – the Queen faces right so Charles will face left – but with stamps I cannot see any rules or pattern to which profile appears (willing to be enlightened).

I inherited a stamp collection from my grandfather, which one day I will sort, catalogue and tidy. I added to it today with a Bermudian First Day Cover that was issued in May this year:


They are Gombey dancers, I will write about them at a later date.

How did the mail actually reach Bermuda?

Obviously this involved boats, The Packet Trade, from Tudor times through to 1823 (nobody on Bermuda until 1609 so maybe no Tudor ships came this way). A “paquebot” was small, fast and lightly armed – against pirates. In 1823 the Admiralty took over the service and from 1850s it employed contract carriers. One of these was “The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company”. It ran boats from Cornwall to Halifax via Bermuda. By steamship in 1850, from Falmouth it was a 40 day journey.

Around 1900 the post office in Hamilton became the General Post Office, there was one at St George’s and a sub post office in each parish, found along the main roads on the island. I think I said before there are only really three roads so if you drive along you are bound to find a post office.


If you are coming to live over here, you probably want to know how much it all costs now – sadly a bit more than 1d per ounce.
A letter to England will cost $4.45 (up to 100g), slightly cheaper to US at $4.30. There is no longer any surface airmail, all goes by air.
It is currently £4.60 to post a letter (200g) to Bermuda from London. Note to daughter: it helps to write the correct address, including the surname and add “Bermuda” to the envelope – though I can reassure you it does arrive if you don’t do this, but takes a little bit longer.

To my shock when I first collected a parcel at the Post Office I was handed a Stanley knife on a string – this is to open your parcel, the post office collects import duties and adds a $5 clearance fee on top – please don’t send me Christmas presents, and definitely not ones I might be embarrassed to explain.

Does Bermuda have Postmen?

Yes, and women. They have mopeds rather than push bikes. I did see that bikes are being withdrawn in UK for health and safty reasons – reportedly a postman fell off his bike when the chain broke and was awarded £10,000 for damages. So perhaps it is understandable, they cannot afford to be paying out for injuries at that rate.

The legendary “postman vs dog” situation happens in Bermuda too: last month a vicious (have I spelled that right, I tend to write viscous) dog aptly named “Trouble” bit a postman’s leg “almost off” and only ran off when the quick thinking postie threw a barbecue at it … Yes, I have trouble imaging all of that ( – Sep 29 2013) .

Back in 2005 a dog bite triggered the postal workers to march on the cabinet building and demand more stringent dog control laws (still awaited). Again the paper report is graphic, I won’t repeat it.

Bermuda postmen have it easy in comparison: In Exeter, UK, in October 2012, one postman was “eaten alive by fleas”. (Telegraph)
And the Daily Mail reported that one letter could not be delivered because of the giant spiders:


I do believe that Bermuda Postmen have the better deal – they are allowed to wear Bermuda Shorts in Winter, a practice banned in UK (

I will happily accept responses by mail for this post 🙂
Ask my daughter for the address!







Today is my second day as a National Trust docent at Verdmont. I have just opened up and am eagerly awaiting visitors. On Monday there were just two, and, despite that having no bearing whatsoever on today’s expectations, I am rather hoping for a few more.


Now I am not going to bore you with the whole docent speech, but you need to know a little about Verdmont. If you are English I suspect you will have in mind some magnificent edifice – the likes of Chatsworth or Hatfield – scale it down significantly, even smaller than Sissinghurst, paint it pink ( Bermudian-salmon-pink ) and place it on a hill overlooking the south shore, add a pleasant sunny day with a gentle breeze and now you know why I chose to volunteer here specifically.

Built in the final decade of the seventeenth century it is a Georgian style house, the first of its kind in Bermuda, two storeys with four rooms on each floor. Older houses were generally just one room deep, or built in a cross-like shape so this one shouts about the wealth of its owner – in this case from privateering (licensed piracy).
And the reason it is special is that structurally it has been unaltered for 300 years and even though there was a lady living here until 1952, there is no plumbing or electricity and no modern gadgetry of any sort.


I had to break off then – visitors 🙂
And they were from England (just a small twinge of homesickness)
Although I suffer from the English reticence when it comes to asking for money I managed to sell them a guide book.

So now I am sitting outside in my portable camping chair (after Monday when I fidgeted between uncomfortable chair and garden bench I resolved to bring my own) drinking coffee from my thermos. The weather is just perfect, less humid than a month ago but still a bright blue sky and about 27C. There is a cockerel making a racket somewhere distant down the hill and a Kiskadee has twittered at me a few times, but that’s all I can hear – close to perfect.

So where was I?
I will leave you to look up details of Georgian architecture – basically pleasingly symmetrical with large sash windows, in this case painted white and dark green, traditional for Bermuda windows. If you are really observant you will see in the picture that the back door is offset from the centre – this accommodates a beautiful if creaky, cedar staircase. Bermuda cedar is actually a juniper tree, native to the island, it makes for attractive golden brown furnishings of which there are some priceless examples at Verdmont. A blight in the early twentieth century has decimated the numbers of trees but there are several in the grounds here.


What little I knew of furniture before coming here was garnered from Sunday evening Antique Roadshow programmes. Now I can recognize a “split-splat chair” and marching legs but not yet spot a fake Chippendale. One of the visitors today (it is much later by the way, lunchtime was marked by a stream of people and no lunch), was a curator for a museum collection in Boston and he waxed lyrical about the intricacies of the dovetail joints in the cedar chests. I learnt more from him than he did from me showing him around. The pattern of dovetailing was used as a signature to the carpentry – I have just checked and there are at least four different patterns on the chests here. I am not sure if that was a characteristic specific to Bermuda as he said the chests in his collection were more uniform in style.

Cedar chest

Cedar chest



Well, it is time to close up now, a process that takes forever: the windows have internal shutters which are kept in place with bolts and horizontal bars and then the sill protected by a towel to collect condensation or rain. The lack of any form of lighting makes this all feel rather creepy and although in theory I know ghosts don’t exist, I can’t help feeling a little spooked. I have brought my torch today – the solid heavy one that suggests more protection than just the light it emits.

I shall post this when I get home (no Internet here of course) and tell you more about the national trust here in a later blog.
Where is the torch?


Verdmont, Bermuda

Verdmont, Bermuda

Public Holidays

Public Holidays

Bermuda has 10 public holidays each year. In addition to New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day are

Bermuda Day – May 24th
National Heroes Day – mid June
Emancipation Day and Sommer’s Day (Thursday and Friday preceding the first Monday in August)
Labour Day – first Monday in September
Remembrance Day – 11th November

Then if you are very lucky your company might permit Independence Day (4th July) and Thanksgiving Day ( fourth Thursday in November) in recognition of American roots or links.

Long way to go to match Cambodia’s 20 official public holidays!

So currently (2nd August) the WHOLE island is on holiday – I do mean everything, not just banks – to do business on a public holiday requires a special licence so nearly all shops, restaurants, garages, attractions etc. are closed. But this is a special holiday : it’s the Cup Match between St George’s and Somerset – a cricket match. I have been told that years ago when the two days were normal working days then people took “sick” leave to watch the match so eventually the days were made into a public holiday!

The beaches are crowded and locals are camping out in all and every grassy free space. Even if you have never watched a cricket match you cannot fail to be caught up in the atmosphere.
Choose your team:
Somerset the western end of the island, is blue and red
St George in the east, is dark blue with light blue
I chose St George, but at end of play yesterday they didn’t seem to be doing so well.

The history of Cup Match is given on the sponsors page – HSBC, one of the two main banks in Bermuda.

It marks Emancipation Day, August 1st 1834, as recognised by countries once in the Bristish Empire. I believe American emancipation was some 30 years later and is marked on different days in the various states.
Bermuda was not as dependent upon slaves as some other West Indian islands or the southern states. Many of those that arrived on the island were captured by Privateers (licensed pirating) while others were indentured for periods of time to pay back their passage on ships. They included Native American and Irish as well as Africans. The initial period for indenture was 7 years, but in a blatant move the Governors of the time changed it to 99 years for blacks, so freedom was impossible.

In 2001, Bermuda Department of Tourism and the international body African Diaspora created a trail tracing the legacy of slavery in Bermuda. Certain places are marked by bronze plaques and at the Commissioner’s House at Dockyard there is an exhibit documenting some features of everyday lives of slaves on the island.


There are several books on slavery in Bermuda:

Chained on the Rock by Cyril Outerbridge Packwood
ISBN 0883031752
Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda by Virginia Bernhard
ISBN 0826212271
Bermuda Settlers of the Seventeenth Century by Julia Mercer
ISBN 0806309873
The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince
ISBN 97801404374

Looks like I have some reading!

So how’s the cricket match going?

As of 5.18pm of Day #2: Somerset 370/6 [Declared] – St. George’s 1st Innings 191, 2nd Innings 54/3


(Post weekend note: a draw)

I forgot to mention that this public holiday is the only time that gambling of any sort is permitted in Bermuda. It is also restricted to the game “Crown and Anchor” which appears to be an almost certain way to loose money.


The next public holiday is Labour Day – that probably deserves a page to itself and I am going to have to research local politics to understand it.
If you google “Labour Day Bermuda” one of the top pages is the following

It reminds me of my first week here: we arrived a few days before the End-to-End walk/run and our ever so friendly realtor suggested that next year I could join in ….. It is 21+ miles….. I really don’t want to disappoint her, but the longest I have ever walked is 13 miles along the River Thames (ie flat) … Maybe I should persuade my husband’s office to do it next year – I will be the support bike.