Four centuries have passed since the Sea Venture was shipwrecked, centuries that underline the rich heritage where Bermuda’s prosperity and culture are inseparable from the sea.
“It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – President John F. Kennedy, in his speech at the Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews on September 14, 1962.
Legend has it that fish chowder was invented on the beaches of St. George’s, in cauldrons placed above bonfires, around which everyone sat, presumably, to drink and talk at the end of the day. Fish chowder was provincial in its make-up: it used meat stock instead of milk (which can spoil), simple root vegetables (they were the few crops Bermuda’s farming environment could support) sherry peppers (known for their preservative qualities) and, of course, fish. Anthropologically, fish chowder hints at a people making the best of what they had, especially the sea.
Taken from Bermuda’s Best Fish Chowder by W.C. Stevenson
A Whale of A Time
Whaling in Bermuda began in the 17th century, and, research reveals, it was an altogether improvised affair. In true Bermuda spirit, a historian notes “boat crews were treated to rum punch at the end of the day, regardless of whether they had brought in a whale.” Like many industries in Bermuda, whaling was on island time.
Ambergris and spermaceti were the most valuable whale products at the time, and because Ambergris turned out to be rare, Bermudians instead focused on oil. One adult whale could yield up to a thousand gallons of oil, which fetched a hefty price overseas. This oil was used to light lamps, and thousands of gallons of the oil were exported over the island’s whaling years, after domestic lighting needs were satisfied.
In the 1800s, the invention of the whale-gun allowed whaling to become much easier and less dangerous, with the success rate of captures much higher.
In these early days, all whaling activities took place under the “The Adventures of Whale Fishing,” a subsidiary of the Bermuda Company, which was financially backed by primarily English and a few Bermudian investors. “Pirate whaling” by individuals was strictly prohibited, and would incur fines and prison time.
Eventually, restrictions on whaling relaxed, and competing west and east end companies emerged. When a whale was sighted, a race would commence between the two companies to harpoon the animal. From here, the whale was taken to the shore for processing, where the whale was raised on a winch and stripped.
Conch shells were used by lookouts on the shore to alert people of a whale sighting. Boats also had conch shells to announce the successful capture of a whale.
Multiracial crews, consisting of skilled black slaves and white sailors, were the norm for whaling missions. Slaves were usually in charge of rowing and steering the boat, and were paid two shillings, fourpence per day. Slave harpooners were paid only for the whales they killed, earning £2 per whale.
A larger crew was required for processing the whale. A workforce consisting mostly of black males flensed the whale of blubber. The blubber was boiled into oil at a try-works, and you can still see the whaling station on Smith’s Island today. Whale meat, called “sea beef” was given to the whaling boat crews. Traditionally, the meat was thought of as tough and undesirable, but according to an observer in 1828, “Bermudians have a method of cleansing it, which leaves no fishy flavour, and it is as tender as veal.”
Whaling activities declined very much from the 1900s onwards, but a few whales were captured as late as 1940.
Privateering: The Business of Bermuda Sloops
As the excellent sailing qualities of Bermuda sloops developed and became widely known, it was an easy next step for Bermudians to emulate the wealthy privateers who called at Bermuda on their way elsewhere, and to become privateers themselves. Piracy afforded them a chance of thrilling adventure.
A handful of Bermudian ships were licensed as privateers during King William’s War, with largely unspectacular results but by about 1750 a sizeable fleet of Bermudian vessels were involved in the privateering business. The Anne, the Neptune, the Mary, the Charming Molly, the Delight, the Orange Tree, and the Charming Betty, among many others, had sailed from Bermuda to fight against, and profit from, Spanish forces.
The next opportunity for privateering on any kind of scale was the American War of Independence. But this was different. There was no great rush for privateering licences to go and fight the Americans. There was good reason for that. Bermuda’s leading families, at least, felt a great kinship with their American colonist neighbours. Bermudians traded with the Americans, they were friends with them, sometimes married them and, perhaps most significantly, suffered as they did under the often arbitrary and infuriating yoke of English rule.
Over the years, Bermudians had learned to be thoroughly devious to survive. They smuggled, they lied, they twisted this way and turned that way to get the better of the English (and anyone else who tried to stand in their way).
In the American War of Independence, Bermudians who were prepared to temporarily set aside their loyalty to the Crown—and there were lots of them—saw a red-hot money-making opportunity. The Americans needed supplies more than they had ever done before—not just the usual supplies, but guns and ammunition and other material as well. The 13 colonies had decided to rely on privateers rather than building a big navy, so they needed ships. And not just any ships, but those that privateers loved best, Bermuda sloops.
Wilfred Brenton Kerr, in his book Bermuda and the American Revolution 1760–1783, published by Princeton University Press in 1936, said Bermuda’s Governor Bruere discovered that “ingenious Bermudians had discovered…a number of ways in which they could carry on business…They built or secured ships which could leave the island in perfect legality and become merchandisable commodities in neutral ports. In 1780, there were said to be one hundred vessels on the stocks in Bermuda intended for sale to the Americans by this method, and Bruere calculated that since 1775 over one thousand craft had reached the same purchasers by way of St. Eustatia, most built in the islands, the rest fast-sailing prizes bought and refitted for the traffic. The Bermudians were, in fact, the mainstay of American privateering.”
At the same time, Bermudian merchants were heavily involved in moving merchandise of one type or another, bought in Caribbean islands like St. Eustatia and Martinique, to the American mainland by a variety of routes and stratagems, often using false papers to keep out of the clutches of the Royal Navy, or English privateers, or American loyalist privateers. The Caribbean nwas so clogged with ships involved in the conflict in one way or another that the captain of a ship in a convoy moving supplies from Bermuda to Barbados saw more than 150 ships on the way down. He described the sea as being “alive with privateers…circling the transports like wolves.”
During the War of Independence, Bermudian supporters of the American Revolution were, as Wilfred Brenton Kerr said, the mainstay of American privateering. It was American privateering that beat the English. So forget the gunpowder Bermudians stole and supplied to George Washington. That was merely a trifle. It was Bermudian shipbuilders and their Bermuda sloops that did the trick for the American Revolution.
Taken from Bermuda in the Privateering Business by Gavin Shorto
In spite, or perhaps because of Bermuda’s tiny area of about 20 square miles set far out in mid-ocean, the islands have been the scene of a startling number of shipping disasters. It has been estimated that during the 400 years of the island’s recorded history about a thousand vessels have been wrecked on the phalanx of reefs which surrounds Bermuda.
Writing in 1924, one Bermuda historian discussing these disasters said: “Tomorrow, the thousand wrecks will be a thousand and one.” Two years later a hurricane sank H.M.S. Valerian off Bermuda, with heavy loss of life, and the Canadian freighter Castaway turned turtle and sank in the same vicinity. Since then there have been others, including the Canadian National Steamship’s Prince David, which ran aground here in March, 1932, and lay half-submerged. Ultimately she was patched and refloated, and lived to give honourable service in World War II as an armed merchant cruiser. On October 24, 1936, the Spanish passenger ship Cristobal Colon (10,833 tons) ran aground on the northeast reefs and became a total loss. Five months later the Aristo (1,821 tons) of the Ocean Dominion Line piled up on Curlew Boiler, where she remained fast for four hours. Refloated, she was taken in tow by two tugs, but when a half-mile outside Northeast Breaker Buoy she suddenly sank by the bow and became a total loss.
The popular phrase for a ship impaled on the reefs offshore was “a turtle in the net,” and it is generally believed that some of the early colonists were not above planting bogus navigation lights for the purpose of luring ships to their own destruction. That the old game of “salvaging” from wrecks had not died out entirely became clear after the grounding of the Spanish ship Cristobal Colon in 1936. By that time, of course, the law frowned severely on such activities. One enterprising islander down Bailey’s Bay boarded the wreck one moonless night and made a nice haul of seven eiderdown mattresses. For a few nights his family slept on the most comfortable couches they had ever laid on, then he got word via the grapevine that the cops were suspicious and on the prowl. That night he roused his wife and children and told them he was taking no chances on being caught with the evidence. The mattresses were going on a sea voyage. In the dead of night the family carried the mattresses down to the beach, and there the eiderdown flotilla was launched.
But it isn’t fair to assume that Bermudians only took from sinking ships what they needed, as was evidenced when the Pollokshields, a 25-year-old Hamburg-built ship crashed upon Bermuda’s south shore reefs just off Elbow beach in 1915. Onshore, Bert Johnson, owner of the South Shore Hotel (now the Elbow Beach Hotel) heard the ship’s siren and immediately left for Hamilton with the news. Hundreds of locals gathered on the shore, including soldiers, sailors, riflemen and civilians.
Knowing that because of its length and narrowness, the only vessel capable of getting through the rough seas to the wreck was a whaling boat, one was procured from Southampton and 12 men launched themselves from the shore toward the sinking ship.
It took hours to transfer all crewman to shore, with swimmers led by the Reverend Peyton-Burbery, a naval chaplain, carrying life preservers and lines through the waves from the survivors and exhausted crewmen. Locals thrust tumblers of whiskey into the hands of the survivors once they reached land, in an effort to warm them.
All but the captain made it to shore safely. In an effort to procure a lifejacket for one of his crewmen, he was swept overboard by a powerful wave and drowned. His body washed ashore two weeks later at Christmas Bay, Southampton.
ISLE OF A THOUSAND WRECKS by Peter Brook
THE TRUE STORY OF THE 1915 POLLOCKSHIELDS SHIPWRECK by Park Preck
THE PILOT GIG
While the Sloop gave Bermudians access to the world, it is the Pilot Gig, and the crews that ran them, that allowed the world to come to Bermuda.
For centuries, ships approaching Bermuda were met by the sight of several onrushing Pilot Gigs locked in a grueling and often dangerous race to deliver a qualified pilot to the deck of the ship. That team would thus earn a piloting fee for safely delivering the ship through Bermuda’s treacherous reefs.
Writing in the Royal Gazette, historian Dr Edward Harris noted that, “It was piloting that facilitated Bermuda’s early forays into the maritime trade of the Western North Atlantic, and indeed supported the 19th-century development of the agricultural economy and the tourist trade.”
The industry seems to have emerged naturally from Bermuda’s seafaring people who, aboard their sleek and manoeuvrable row/sailboats, were regularly engaged in fishing, whaling, wreck rescues and salvage, transportation and even some recreational racing.
The crews onboard these local boats were primarily enslaved black people who were clearly skilled mariners, with the pilots recognised as particular masters of the sea.
Thirty-two feet long and often no wider than five feet, Gigs were built for speed, not stability, and required deft teamwork to succeed on the open ocean.
Locally built, they sported two or three stayless spars with triangular mainsails and a jib, i.e. the Bermuda Rig. They were rowed, by six to eight oarsmen, to windward, sailed in a following breeze and helmed by the pilot himself.
One can only surmise that the men operating these boats were hard. Hands like vice-grips wrapped around the handles of 12 to 16 foot ‘sweeps’ powered by a full body exertion that could last hours.
Later, with the advent of the Marconi tower and radio transmissions, there are stories of Gigs racing 30, 40 and even 50 miles offshore in search of the piloting fee.
In 2015, the Bermuda Pilot Gig Club was formed to highlight Bermuda’s maritime heritage and promote the sport of Gig racing. The club now operates several of the traditionally designed Gigs and has participated in and hosted international regattas. Appropriately the Club’s Gigs are named after some of Bermuda’s most renowned and accomplished pilots.
THE BERMUDA PILOT GIG – Written by Peter Backeberg
THE BERMUDA RIG
The Bermuda Rig, that innovative sail design that is still, some 400 years after it emerged on local waters, being used on the vast majority of recreational and racing sailboats around the world. But why did it develop here? What were the conditions so special to Bermuda that precipitated such an outstanding and lasting technical advancement? The answer, at least in part, can be found in a local phrase used frequently and frequently used incorrectly.
In Bermuda, if you are standing in Somerset you are “up the country”, conversely when trying to get your bearings in St. George’s just know you are “down the country”.
Is that because Somerset is higher than St. George’s? Well yes, but only in sailing lexicon. The phrases would have made much more sense to a 17th Century courier with a package, or perhaps some contraband, that they needed to get to the other end of the Island.
Sailing around Bermuda back then could be, and still is, a lovely experience, except for the fact that our archipelago lines up lengthways with the prevailing South Westerly breeze. Without getting too technical, one need only understand that sailing straight into the wind is beyond the laws of physics. Instead, wind-driven mariners have to sail off in one direction for a while, at an angle to wind, and then turn back the other way, gradually working back and forth and “up wind” to their destination. The more acute the angle to the wind the shorter the trip. Coming the other way the wind is behind that boat and pushes it pretty much straight “down wind” (to St. George’s).
So most of the time Somerset was a very long trip “up the country” from St. George’s and Bermudians, therefore, had a lot to gain from sailing as efficiently as possible towards the direction of the wind.
What started out as multiple triangle-shaped sails attached to multiple masts eventually became two triangle sails attached to one mast, with the forward sail known as a jib and the aft one as a mainsail. To this setup were added a pole extending backwards from the bottom of the mast (the boom) and a pole extending off the front of the boat (the bowsprit). These two innovations allowed Bermuda rigged boats to carry an extraordinary amount of sail, best demonstrated by the iconic Bermuda Fitted Dinghy that still graces our waters today.
According to an article published by the National Museum of Bermuda, the Bermuda Rig was largely confined to Bermuda until the 1800s when the British Navy took notice.
In 1859 one naval officer remarked, “the Bermudian boat has the best rig in the world for sailing to windward…It would make a washing tub sail.”
THE BERMUDA RIG by Peter Backeberg
THE DARK ’N STORMY
The Dark ’n Stormy is a literal fusion of our merchant and naval traditions. That it is today one of only four internationally trademarked cocktails further reflects Bermudians’ entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of punching above our weight on the international stage.
Of course, before the Dark ’n Stormy became a libation worth protecting it had to be ‘invented’ and that story is what makes the drink uniquely Bermudian.
In the early 1800s William Gosling was selling liquor in London, but the New World beckoned. So, in 1806, his son James, on a chartered ship named the Mercury, set out for America with 10,000 pounds sterling worth of wines and spirits. The voyage of the Mercury, however, did not exactly go to plan and after 91 days at sea, the ship’s charter expired and the beleaguered crew put in to Bermuda.
When James eventually arrived in Bermuda he liked it so much he decided to stay and set up shop on King’s Parade in St. George’s before relocating to Front Street in Hamilton (where they still have a store). In 1860 the Goslings imported their first barrels filled with rum distillate.
Up until 1914 consumers of Gosling’s rum would refill used bottles straight from the barrel. However, during the first World War the Goslings began distributing their rum in champagne bottles collected at the Royal Navy Officers Mess. These bottles were sealed with a particular black wax which would eventually give the rum its distinctive name.
According to various sources this same group of naval officers, and their sailors, either produced homemade ginger beer or the Royal Naval Officers Club ran a ginger beer ‘factory’ in Dockyard. Exactly how rum and ginger beer met in the glass is about as clear as the drink itself, but it seems ginger beer was popular with the navy, possibly because it was good at easing seasickness and rum was ubiquitous at the time.
The discovery of a beverage that both lifted the spirits and soothed the stomach was surely cause for great celebration. Somewhere amongst these celebrations the drink earned its rather ominous moniker when a sailor, allegedly, quipped that his drink was “the colour of a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under.” And that is how legends are born.
THE DARK ’N STORMY by Peter Backeberg
St. David’s Islanders would go fishing in small wooden sloops, some later being specially fitted with tanks filled with seawater to keep the caught fish alive. Often for fishing equipment, they would ingeniously use local materials, such as palmetto plait, cedar roots and sugar cane for the making of pots, and many made their own rope. They would also create fishponds to store live fish. Until the middle of the twentieth century, seafood, such as mussels, conch and clams, was plentiful for harvesting and fishermen would sail to the reefs where fish such as sea bass, grouper and snapper were abundant, and to the open sea for game fish. Many would catch mullet. In St. David’s, An Island Near Bermuda, fishermen describe the delicate process of removing the whole roe—only from mullet in the autumn—salting it overnight and pressing it for several days, then hanging it on a line to dry. William Zuill in Bermuda Journey says it was served with bread and butter and that “its rare and exotic flavour was finer than the finest caviar.” Shark hash was, and still is, another St. David’s speciality, as well as conch chowder and stew, turtle and other delicacies. Thanks to the Lamb family, restaurants in St. David’s, such as Dennis’s Hideaway (which was actually the dining room in his wooden home) and the Black Horse Tavern were for years popular eateries for tasting St. David’s fare.
ST. DAVID’S by Elizabeth Jones
The Significance of Salt
Making a satisfying meal with dried, salted cod at the centerpiece could only have been a challenge for Bermuda’s early settlers.
But necessity is the mother of invention, and to make a meal worth eating with precious few available ingredients resulted in what Bermudians today proudly call their national dish.
Codfish breakfast is simple fare. Its core comprises just a few ingredients: salt cod that has been soaked free of much of its saline preservative, potatoes, ripe bananas and a sauce. The sauces served atop or alongside this much-beloved island dish vary, and opinions range as to which is the most traditional or correct. Recipes for this codfish feast have been passed down through families for generations.
Salt cod came to Bermuda as part of the great trading route that stretched from the Turks Islands in the Caribbean – once a Bermuda possession – up to the Canadian Maritime provinces, beginning in the seventeenth century.
Knowing that American colonists depended on salt at harvest time, Bermuda’s salt merchants worked the market to their advantage. In fact, when harvest time came they often increased their prices by lessening the supply of salt to drive up the price. Bermudians reaped the benefits. Timing was everything.
According to Michael J. Jarvis, author of In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783, salt was a huge component of the island’s economy in the 100 years preceding the American Revolution. Further, he writes that Bermuda’s Turks Islands salt comprised around a fifth of North American supply in the early 1770s.
As with the salted meats that featured in the diets of myriad generations before refrigeration, it would have taken much skill and creativity to make salted cod edible. No doubt everyone would have been grateful to dine on fresh fish and seabirds, which were more abundant in those early days.
It is likely that the additions of some ingredients simply began because they were ripe and available. Certainly, the sweet banana – an integral part of this meal – joined the party because it counters the saltiness.
IN COD WE TRUST by Judith Wadson
Boat Building at Shelly Bay
Along the north shore, especially in Hamilton Parish, it is still possible to see archaeological signs that two hundred years ago the region was the centre of busy shipyards. The cuts in the rocky slipways are common but perhaps the most dramatic vestige is the ruined stone chimney and wall still standing near the trail, just west of Shelly Bay beach itself. It is a reminder that an important shipyard was here, extending from the chimney to the Somers Gardens condos on Green Bay Road, formerly the site of the Outerbridges’s home, Mount Pleasant. Here the Outerbridges, beginning with Thomas Outerbridge, began their shipbuilding dynasty. In 1664 the Bermoodian Aventure was launched at Shelly Bay. And another early Bermudian vessel most probably launched from Shelly Bay was the Betty, a shallop owned by Anthony Jenour.
Michael Jarvis explains in In the Eye of All Trade that Hamilton Parish, as well as Devonshire and Smiths parishes, had the most shipbuilding families, perhaps because they had the most cedars (and also the poorest soil). Bermuda’s cedar trees were key to Bermuda’s successful maritime industry. The wood was long lasting and its high content of bitter resin protected it from organisms such as teredo worm. Also, cedar needed no seasoning; it could be used for shipbuilding while still green, unlike oak, which had to be seasoned for ten years. One can imagine Thomas Outerbridge following the practice of planting cedars and selecting for his boats individual trees still growing. Then he might wait five years before cutting them.
Before Emancipation, black slaves played an important role in Bermuda’s maritime heritage, becoming skilled shipwrights, as well as mariners and fishermen. As the eighteenth century wore on, more black men than white were involved with maritime activities. The stages of boat construction would involve whole families and their slaves who would pass down the generations the specialised skills involved in framing, planking, caulking, rigging and finishing sloops till they were ready for voyage.
According to Jarvis, islanders shared their cedars, knowledge, money, labour and materials to build each sloop. Contributing families had a share or more in each vessel. As an early form of insurance, this meant risk was spread so a ship loss did not ruin any one individual. Shareholders would benefit from dividends from profitable trading (and privateering) voyages, or from the sale of a ship.
By 1853 the Shelly Bay shipyard was owned by partners Joseph Outerbridge and Thomas Davis and it became famous for the building of five extremely fast clippers:the Sir George F. Seymour (108 feet long and 267 tons), the Pearl and the Kohinoor, launched in 1855. The Sir George F. Seymour was launched in May 1853 and on her maiden voyage went to the West Indies. Zuill amusingly recounts how Outerbridge went along. “The voyage was beset with calms and poor Mr. Outerbridge frequently bemoaned his imprudence in leaving home.”
SHELLY BAY by Elizabeth Jones
THE BLACK SEAFARER: MARINER, MERCHANT, ENSLAVED PERSON by Angela Barry
For the ordinary seamen of European origin, the newly emerging Atlantic world presented possibilities of adventure, wealth and freedom from the chafing strictures of home. For enslaved black mariners, while life on the open ocean did not erase the experience of slavery, it did sometimes offer them the means by which to negotiate improvements to their lot. It was a wild, often dangerous ride for everyone, but particularly so for the enslaved Bermudian sailors whose daily lives required them to maintain the unlikely balancing act of being mariner, merchant and enslaved person.
With Bermuda’s limited land resources, the island’s settlers had made an early decision: The Atlantic Ocean would be a gateway, not a barrier to its survival. The Bermuda sloop, legal and illegal trading and privateering were all part of this far-reaching decision. The enslaved Bermudian seaman became inextricably enmeshed in that template. Unlike their counterparts further south, enslaved Bermudian men had to cultivate the field of the ocean. It was not their choice, but they became major contributors to Bermuda’s maritime success. In 1719, a law was passed that curtailed the number of white seamen on a single ship. The law did not place any equivalent restriction on seamen of colour. Enslaved Bermudian seamen understood the subtext of this legislation—that there was a demand for their labour. There was a good reason for this. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, they had already made themselves virtually indispensable.
Bermuda’s enslaved seamen possessed a range of skills that they added immense value to any Atlantic expedition. They were exceptional swimmers and free divers whom French-American writer Hector de Crevecoeur described as exhibiting “enough ability, coolness and audacity to attack sharks while swimming.” It was no surprise that they felt so at home on Bermuda sloops. Chances were that they or some family member had built them as, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the local shipbuilding industry flourished in the hands of skilled labour of enslaved Bermudians and Africans.
In addition, black seamen developed an unsurpassed knowledge of the waters around their island. Pilots such as James “Jemmy” Darrell, Jacob Pitcarn and Tom Bean sounded the ocean, measuring its depths armed only with their lead lines tied at regular intervals with strips of calico, serge and leather. Their expertise was crucial to the successful completion of the Hurd Survey in 1797. The resulting map of Bermuda, encircled by reefs and nestling in the crater of the extinct volcano, was a triumph that has perhaps been matched by high-tech imaging—but not bettered.
While the black seamen anticipated the journey’s end and its promise of payment, it was entirely up to the owner whether or not he paid. Nothing in law or custom required him to do so. Often he did, to create or consolidate a stable and compliant workforce; but sometimes he didn’t, if the profit margins were insufficient or if he felt the need to remind his crew of the absolute power he wielded. Wages for slaves acted as an incentive, if given, and a punishment, if withheld. Bermuda’s enslaved mariners had travelled enough to know about the extreme physical brutality meted out to their counterparts in places like Jamaica and Saint Domingue. But Bermuda’s slave system was no less corrosive, based as it was on psychological coercion, with the carrot and the stick held simultaneously over the heads of the enslaved.
THE BLACK SEAFARER: MARINER, MERCHANT, ENSLAVED PERSON by Angela Barry
Salt in our Blood, Sweat and Tears
Slaves arrived in Bermuda from ships trading in the West Indies, from pirate ships, shipwrecks and directly from Africa. Shipowners would often give their sailors an African or an Indian to sell as payment for a successful voyage to the West Indies or Central America. Many early slaves had Spanish names because they had been captured by pirates from Spanish ships and taken from islands possessed by Spain. Frequent shipwrecks on Bermuda’s reefs caused destitute sailors and passengers to sell their valuables, which included Africans and Indians, to provide for lodging and passage. Many of those slaves were born in the New World and the Indians were the indigenous people from the Caribbean Islands and America. Only a few ships carrying slaves arrived in Bermuda directly from Africa.
Slaves were sold on the auction block to the highest bidder, unless they were imported for the Somers Island Company, specific landowners, or were kept by the shipowners for their own use. The main slave market was located in St. George’s until it moved to the town of Hamilton, after it was incorporated in 1793. The auction block saw the cruel separation of husbands from wives, and children from parents. Mary Prince, a slave, who had her life story published by the Anti-Slavery Society in 1831, vividly described the inhumane experience of being sold on the Hamilton auction block. The vendue master “took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words – as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up for sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.”
This Island’s African-Bermudians had arrived from Africa through a number of countries and by various ways – capture, trade, shipwreck, sold by stranded owners, pirates, etc. Initially employed as indentured servants then as chattel slaves for more than 200 years, African-Bermudians not only survived, but rose to become an integral part of the Bermudian community.
THE ORIGINS OF AFRICAN-BERMUDIANS by Cyril Packwood
SHARK OIL BAROMETER
Gilbert Lamb, like many Bermudians, relied on a peculiarly unscientific instrument, known as the “shark oil barometer” for his weather forecasts. It is a simple device, which behaves in complex ways to give those experienced in its use a two or three day preview of the weather.
“About the only time I watch it closely is from the 15th of August to the 15th of October – that’s the hurricane season.”
The liquid in Lamb’s barometer is the oil gently extracted from the liver of a young shark – a puppy shark as it’s called here. Sealed in a bottle, preferably a bulbous-bottomed wine bottle, the oil behaves in ways, which do seem to herald changes in the atmosphere. On Bermuda’s numerous clear, calm days, the oil is as transparent as water, with a thin layer of sediment lining the bottom. If the winds increase from one direction, the sediment banks itself on that side of the bottle. Foul weather is forecast by the oil taking on a cloudy appearance as the sediment is stirred up. The experts can be even more specific in their forecasts by examining peaks and valleys in the sediment or crystals forming in the neck of the bottle.
“Of course, the first sign of your hurricane is the ocean swell,” Lamb admits, “but later, the scum in the shark oil makes up like a mushroom.”
There is little data on why shark oil performs the way it does, but the phenomenon has been observed in Bermuda for years. Lamb learned to read the oil by listening to his father and grandfather, both firm believers in the oil’s meteorological properties.
Gilbert Lamb also admits he has no idea what makes his shark oil “act up”; he only knows it works for him. “I’ve never in my life had the shark oil barometer fail me, and as a fisherman for 55 years I relied on it,” Lamb says staunchly, “Whatever the oil forecasts, that’s what the weather comes out to be.”
SHARK OIL BAROMETER by Eric Johnson
COMPETING ON THE WATER
Whether it be dingey, dinghey or dinghy, Bermuda’s sailing history is irrevocably linked to these fitted boats.
The first recorded dinghy race was on July 7, 1853 in St. George’s. The Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club (RHADC) Centennial Brochure states the competitors being those who had small family boats, which were used to travel between St. George’s and St. David’s Islands or along the shore of the main island.
These boats could either be sailed or rowed, depending on how Mother Nature was behaving. The sail was lashed to the mast and rolled up when not in use, thus using a loose-footed boom. Bermuda cedar usually comprised the hull with a three to four inch cedar keel along the length of the bottom.
A family would distribute themselves in the boat in such a way as to act for ballast, or, when there were only one or two people aboard, sandbags or pieces of lead tied to rope would be used as shifting ballast so they could be moved side to side on successive tacks.
The Centennial Brochure goes on to add that when they were used for racing, the boats would be “specially fitted for the day.” This fitting became more and more intricate as dinghy racing spread across Bermuda. The Minors of St. David’s and the Smith’s of St. George’s were regular competitors in these early races and would use a larger set of sails, and, possibly, a longer mast. This would be counterbalanced by a crew of four to six plus the shifting ballast.
Jack Arnell notes in Sailing in Bermuda; Sail Racing in the Nineteenth Century that the next dinghy race was held just a few months later on September 13 in Hamilton Harbour as part of a much larger regatta. The dinghies were limited to 10 feet in length.
But by the 1870s professional crews were dominating the sport, thus making it too expensive. So Dinghy races that were restricted to amateur crews was proposed as an alternative and the first official race was held on August 26, 1880.
This could be seen as a case of Bermuda’s history of racism raising its ugly head. As most of the professional sailors were black and had competed in sloop racing, they were now banned from the competition. On top of that, dinghy racing was restricted to certain clubs, whose membership were historically restricted to white people.
Blacks formed their own sailing groups like the Paget Union Club and over the course of the 1880s dinghy clubs sprang up all over the island including the Southampton Union Dinghy Club, Harrington Amateur Dingey Club, Shelly Bay Dinghy Club, Flatts Club, Crawl Club., Hamilton Parish Amateur Boat Club, St. George’s Amateur Boating Club and the Sandys Amateur Dingey Club to name but just a few.
The sport was still developing and in 1883 Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria, visited the island and donated a trophy which was competed for on March 8. After this competition, a purse race was held which restricted the hulls of the boats to 12 feet of keel and 14’1” overall. This has become the standard ever since.
Today the sport is contested between four clubs – RBYC (Contest III), RHADC (Elizabeth II), Sandys Boat Club (Challenger II) and St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club (Victory IV). The traditional dinghy season starts on May 24, Bermuda Day, and ends in September with the boats competing in a variety of locations including Granaway Deep, Mangrove Bay as well as Hamilton and St. George’s Harbours.
THE BERMUDA FITTED DINGHY by Don Burgess