Scenic Shelly Bay, with its panoramic view extending from Hamilton Parish to Dockyard, has for decades been a favourite park for families. Its sheltered curve of bay and shallow blue waters are ideal for small children enticed by the wonders of sand and sea. The children’s playground near the beach is an attraction, too, especially in wintry weather when the water cools. And across the way, beyond the car park, a stretch of field hosts cricket and soccer games as well as cyclocross races during the season. But Shelly Bay, together with its surrounds, did not always comprise a park, nor was its geography exactly as it is now. According to the National Trust’s Hamilton Parish, the present-day beach was originally a mangrove swamp and later the site of a road built between Flatts and St. George’s. But cutting too many trees for firewood exposed the swamp and the road to the sea, which after a number of hurricanes eventually submerged them both. The stretch of North Shore Road leading to Shelly Bay we know now was built much further inland.
The bay’s name goes back at least to Norwood’s survey of 1663, recorded in Governor Lefroy’s Memorialsin which 13 acres are divided equally among 26 shareholders. Historians, such as W. E. S. Zuill, agree it was named after Henry Shelly, a name listed as one of the passengers aboard the Sea Venture which was shipwrecked in Bermuda in 1609. Zuill says “Shelly discovered the bay ‘swarming with mullets and excellent pilchards’” but does not give a source. Henry Shelly is not named in either Strachey’s or Jourdain’s account of the shipwreck and the crew and passengers’ subsequent stay in Bermuda. Neither is it marked on Sir George Somers’s map, nor on Norwood’s published by John Speed in 1626-7. Norwood did inscribe the Staggs, though, a row of rocks north of the bay which do indeed resemble a line of peering deer. Over a hundred years later, Antonio Zatta’s map of Bermuda also omits Shelly Bay while including the Staggs which he called “Scoglia,” Italian for “rocks.” However, Suzette Harriet Lloyd uses the name on a map included in her Bermuda Sketches, published in 1835, although she does not describe it in any of her letters. A Henry Shelly in the records of geni.comwas born in 1582, in Warminghurst, West Sussex, England, and could be the one who set sail with Sir George Somers.
Whatever the origins of its name, Shelly Bay, together with its surrounds, has been a centre for different activities at each stage of its history and a walk along a stretch of the old railway trail leading to and through the park offers clues to its past, clues which will be explored more fully in different sections of this article. The trail itself, of course, reminds us that it had a track and a station in the days of the Bermuda Railway, as Bushell’s Picturesque Bermudahandbook of 1939 points out. Just next to Bethel AME Church in Hamilton Parish, you can see Studio Lane on the right of North Shore Road. The lane’s name commemorates the studio of famous and beloved Bermudian artist Charles Lloyd Tucker who lived not far up from the road and whose Morrox Studio was a magnet for tourists and local lovers of art.
Opposite the Bethel AME, is a bus shelter which, like the church, wears a cross. It’s possible to park a car nearby and pick up the trail following the rocky shoreline, sometimes half-hidden by a tamarisk hedge which was planted in the early 1900s as a piece of First World War stealth technology. Thanks to the tamarisk hedge, British convoys could travel up and down the coastline, feeling secure in the knowledge they were invisible to possible enemy ships. Other plants include bay grape, whose plate-like leaves carpet the path at various times of the year, pittosporum, tassel plant (Suriana maritima) and stands of mother-in-law tongues. An old milestone declares it is two miles to Devonshire and six to St. George’s. Nearer the bay is a Gothic-looking stone ruin consisting of wall and chimney. There is also an old Bermuda-stone boat slip, with scored cuts offering proof this was the great shipyard of Shelly Bay whose beginnings go back to 1664. That year the first recorded vessel in Hamilton Parish, theBermoodian Aventure, was launched at Shelly Bay before going on voyages to London and the West Indies during the 1660s and taking part in the salt trade. At the time the shipbuilders would have seen the western tip of the island but it would take about 200 years for the Royal Naval Dockyard to appear.
Soon the trail incorporates footbridges and a boardwalk, replacing the trestles of the old railway, and walkers can enjoy the views of rock-edged, brilliant blue sea on the way to Shelly Bay itself and the playground. Once, according to Bushell, there was a bathing pavilion nearby. In recent memory there was also a restaurant with changing facilities that has been demolished. The trail continues on the eastern side of the bay, passing a mangrove swamp. Running parallel is Old Road where West Point stood, the home of the West family until it too was demolished to make way for condominiums. Eventually, the trail takes you to the Shelly Bay playing field. But parts of the old stands on the hillside give the clue that as far back as 1864 Shelly Bay had a racing track, which according to Zuill, was laid out by a group of sportsmen. The Bermuda Board of Trade described it as “more like the kind one sees at small county fairs on the mainland, than the sleek and highly commercialized racing parks of other resorts.” The track included the site where the children’s playground is now, drawing hundreds of locals and tourists into a world of risk and excitement. It was also supported as a tourist attraction by airlines, such as Pan American Airways, which donated a trophy, and by a Mr. H. C. Blackiston, former head of the Withy and Furness Line, who also donated a cup to the winner of a mile-and-a-half race that began in 1920. The track closed in the 1950s, then reopened in December 1959 until its demise in 1961.
Charles Lloyd Tucker
Across the road from the Shelly Bay stretch of trail is the home of Theresa Tucker, who for just eight years was married to Charles Lloyd Tucker, Bermuda’s first black professionally trained artist, until his untimely death in 1971. He was born in Shelly Bay on a property overlooking Harrington Sound belonging to his mother’s family, the Steedes. His father, John Edgar Tucker, operated a lime kiln there. Although Charles became famous for his art, he was taught by his pianist mother, Ada, to play the piano and organ (for some time he played the organ for the neighbouring Bethel AME Church), and his first love was music. And so in 1938 he attended the Guildhall School of Music in London with the aim of becoming a concert pianist. A year later, the outbreak of the Second World War thwarted his plans and he returned to Bermuda. Like many Bermudians of the time, Tucker took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the creation of the US base in St. David’s by playing in the clubs and at their base church. According to bermudabiographies.bm, he also gave private piano lessons, was a hotel steward and a base watchman. He was known for his brilliant rendering of Chopin, though Theresa recalls that Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonatawas one of his favourite pieces to play. During that time he discovered another talent—drawing and painting—and once the war ended, decided to pursue an artistic career instead, eventually attending the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting where he was exposed to different artistic styles. The only black student there, he found easy acceptance, winning prizes, including one for flower painting, and a scholarship. Back in Bermuda, Tucker became a greatly loved art teacher at his alma mater, the Berkeley Institute, and an inspirational mentor for many students, including Robert Barritt and professional artist Otto Trott, Dame Jennifer Smith and Arthur Hodgson. Travels to the Caribbean, to Haiti in particular, continued his artistic exposure, influencing his use of light and colour. There, he exhibited, taught and studied, continually developing his craft. He also regularly exhibited in the US. Tucker built his house and studio on the family property, jokingly calling it Morrox or “More rocks” after the stone walls and terraces he loved to build in his garden. Here he enjoyed painting, of course, but also gardening, keeping bees, and entertaining. In a time of racial segregation, he had friendships across the racial barriers and from all walks of life. He lived with his mother and both would welcome art buyers at the studio. One fateful day Theresa and her mother visited the studio. The visit led to romance and a year later in June 1963, Theresa and Charles were married in the garden at Morrox. Guests included his best man, Robert Barritt, and John Swan and possibly another former premier, Alex Scott. Ada lived with the couple and is depicted in one painting wearing a hat. As well as teaching at the Berkeley Institute, and private students, Tucker also taught art in the prisons. But he never stopped painting his own pictures and could often be seen at the roadside with easel, brushes and palette. His wife would accompany him to the Hamilton Princess where he sold paintings each week. He worked in watercolour, pen and ink, and oils, and many of his works reflected Bermuda’s scenery and its people. However, one painting, Storm in a Teacup, was inspired by the theatre boycott of 1959 and was more modernist in style. His renown as an artist took him again to the Caribbean where, supported by the University of the West Indies, he carried out a lecture tour.
He and his wife had two children, Hans (after water colourist, Hans Hagedorn with whom he had studied) and Sarah-Anne. In 1970, Tucker received the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Sadly, just one year later he died of a sudden heart attack as he was preparing to go to school. His funeral at Bethel Church was attended by hundreds of friends and admirers. Today, art lovers are still welcomed at Morrox where many of his paintings, including the one of his mother, still hang. His piano is also there, a reminder that he never gave up his enjoyment of playing music.
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 theBermoodian Aventurewas launched at Shelly Bay. And another early Bermudian vessel most probably launched from Shelly Bay was the Betty, a shallop owned by Anthony Jenour.
Bermuda National Trust’s Hamilton Parish (published, 2002)suggests that the ruin, with evidence of a window, was the chimney of a forge and blacksmith’s shop included in the shipyard. However, Paul Belford in his paper published in 2004 shows how archaeological research can cast greater light on the past than archival research alone. According to his survey, which he describes in his online article “Ships, slaves and slipways: towards an archaeology of shipbuilding in Bermuda,” physical evidence suggests the ruin “was either a domestic building or a workshop associated with activities other than the working of metal.” It is unlikely a blacksmith would have a window or that he would have his forge on the first floor of a house with a wooden floor, with the cellar below. Moreover, the hearth’s lack of fittings suggests it was not used by a blacksmith.
But the shipyard most certainly existed as plenty of archival evidence attests. Michael Jarvis explains in In the Eye of All Tradethat 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), thePearl and the Kohinoor, launched in 1855. The Sir George F. Seymourwas 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.” In 1854, under Captain Thomas Melville Dill, its voyage taking convicts back to Ireland lasted just 15 days. However, on one occasion, it took over six weeks to get back and was taken for lost. When the passengers and crew finally returned to Bermuda, they found their families attired in mourning dress. In 1860 Captain Henry Joseph Watlington took over the ship for 26 years during which time it offered a triangular service between Bermuda, England and the West Indies. In 1862 the Cedricwas launched and two years after that, the Lady Milne.In Bermuda: Today and Yesterday, Terry Tucker argues that the building of these “famous and elegant” ships marked a “resurgence of pride in their own shipbuilding” when steamships started to arrive in Bermuda. Certainly there were occasions when they were as fast as, or even faster than, the steamships. Nevertheless, steamships eventually meant the death knell of Bermuda’s shipbuilding industry. As Jarvis puts it: “The ring of the caulking mallet is no longer heard at these now remote locations that were once the epicentre of the Bermudian economy, now visited only by the occasional hand line fisherman.”
Shelly Bay Racing Track
These days, the Shelly Bay field is quiet on Thursday afternoons with just the occasional tourist exploring further afield from the beach or a group of football players perfecting their game. But until 1961 from November 11 to May 27, on Thursday afternoons and public holidays, particularly Boxing Day, this field was bustling with crowds, hot dog stands and betting tables for games such as crown and anchor, as people and horses thronged together to enjoy the races. Many of the horses in effect worked twice; first they pulled the carriages to the track and then they competed. The carriages would be parked in the middle of the track. A Bermuda flag would fly above the parimutuel building where crowds (adults only) would flock to place ten-shilling bets on the card of running and harness races. In Bermuda Journey, Zuill vividly and amusingly recalls the general atmosphere and the significance of the seating arrangements: “The intense excitement of one’s first Race Day can never be forgotten. The grandstand, admission four shillings, crowded with the frivolous and the fashionable, was regarded as the height of foolish extravagance, and if from the vantage point of ‘the Hill,’ separated only by a low picket fence from high society, one beheld an acquaintance sunning himself in the rarified atmosphere of the stand, this one was forthwith condemned as having embarked on a veritable rake’s progress.
“The Hill, entrance one shilling, was ‘the close preserve of the thrifty,’ who contentedly huddled in discomfort on the sloping hillside, surrounded with alluring cries from proprietors of sideshows like ‘Crown and Anchor,’ Birds in a Cage and other similar distractions. These daring games of chance were considered damaging to morals, and their presence somewhat compromised the otherwise overwhelming attraction of this chosen spot. A trifling penny pool on each race was the sole concession to gambling countenanced by one’s friends; but this made a poor show beside the bold vices going on near at hand, and as the day wore on, rumours would penetrate of how some dashing chancer only a few yards away had won as much as five pounds.
“Obviously frugality and caution could be carried too far. One had but to risk a mite and perhaps the day would end in a shower of gold; so, furtively, one stole away from propriety to taste the delights of sin.”
Oliver Caisey remembers racing days in the early 1950s well. His father, also Oliver Caisey, a maître d’ at the Bermudian Hotel in Hamilton, was Bermuda’s first black jockey, whose horse Fanny won many races. His groom was Claude Furbert, cousin of Malcolm Furbert, the jockey. The Caisey family lived in Claytown, Baily’s Bay, where there was a polo field nearby. Oliver junior remembers being given permission from his elementary school, Francis Patton, to watch his father race on Thursday afternoons and recalls his racing colours—gold and black. An added attraction to the racing were the hot dogs at the stands. “That was a special treat.” Later, he would help out at the track, assisting jockeys to put on their riding boots and helping to wash down the horses after the races. Then he would walk the horses until they dried, and stable them.
Although he never had a close relationship with his father, especially after his parents separated when he was ten or eleven, Caisey spent more and more time at Shelly Bay and at the stables where the Radnor Road Christian Fellowship church is now. The racing season ran from November through the 24th of May, but the horses were kept year-round in these stables. From the age of 15 to age 20 he would get up every day at daybreak to feed and exercise the horses, and to help muck out. Then he would continue his apprenticeship as a plumber and later ply his trade. He was not paid for his work with the horses; he did it out of love. Unlike his father who was short, he was always tall for his age so becoming a jockey was out of the question. Instead, he became a harness-horse racer, the youngest black one in Bermuda. But working with the horses exposed him to rivalries in the horsing world and to the jockeys. There was great rivalry, he says, between the Stubbs and the Pitman families. Jockey Malcolm Furbert rode the Stubbs’s horses. Other jockeys he remembers include the late Albert “Shorty” Churm, also a volunteer firefighter in St George’s, Raymond Semos from Paget, and a jockey nicknamed “Spikey” whose real name he does not remember.
Gwen Robinson, Malcolm Furbert’s sister, clearly remembers her brother’s horse-related activities. “I used to make his jockey pants,” she says. “Every day he would get up to train before going to school. He would always take apples for the horses.” His favourite horse was called Alzoria whom he rode for the Stubbs family. Robinson recalls her brother being presented with a winning trophy by American Christine Jorgenson. Born George William Jorgensen Jr., she was the first person to become widely known in the US for having surgery to change her gender. She became a celebrity, admired by many for her wit and directness, particularly on rights for transgender people.
However, Alzoria had a sad but touching end as Robinson recalls. “There was a slight rise in the track. Alzoria stumbled and Malcolm fell off and was knocked unconscious. He was in extreme danger from being crushed by the other horses still running the race. Alzoria noticed her rider was missing and turned back to stand guard over Malcolm. Tragically, the horse’s leg was broken and so she had to be shot. Malcolm was heartbroken.”
In an interview conducted in 1992 for Bermuda Recollections, Raymond Semos, nicknamed “Blocker,” recalled, “In the centre of the race track was all marsh. They used to shoot horses in the head, in the stomach. Put them in the quick sand and they’d sink out of sight…That’s where my horse, White and Cream, was shot. That’s where the horses were buried.”
During that interview, he also recalled his experiences as a jockey when from the age of 11 he would ride four or five horses belonging to other people, including the Pitman family. The Derby, was particularly important to Semos, especially in 1959 when he won it “before a crowd of four thousand people on the hillside at Shelly Bay.”
As he explained, in Rhode Island where he also raced there was a straight run for half a mile. At Shelly Bay, “you got to ride a circle—two circles. People don’t realise that running straight is easier—the reason is the horse has to change strides…the horse was running away from the rail so you got to hit him on the shoulder and make him shuffle and throw hisself inside, inside. So he’s running on this foot, this foot here, pulling into the rail. You’ve got to make him change strides, to bring him in, which you don’t have to do on a straight track.”
Like Furbert, he had his falls, as did many jockeys. In fact, Al Perkins tells of one of Semos’s falls in his article for The Bermudianabout a race held in 1959 on Boxing Day. “‘Spills, thrills, and chills’ were the words used in a local newspaper to describe the day’s card, and for once a sports writer was not guilty of exaggeration. We missed the first spill, when a well-named nag, Stir-It-Up, headed for the stables during the second race of the morning and scraped his jockey, Ray Semos, off along the rail. Bruised and weary, Ray slumbered briefly as the other bangtails galloped over and around him, but was revived in time to finish out his day’s work.”
Semos also recalled one time when his horse Ugar “wanted to go in the library and read a book.” Apparently, there was a library on the road across from the track. “When he turned the corner, he went right over the top of the bank on the other side and I was still on his back!” In another incident he was riding a horse named Slammerhead. “He came down the home stretch and ran right up the steps to the Parimutual and the whole Parimutual cleared. Everyone had drinks in their hands. They all cleared. This horse came down and ran right up the steps. He didn’t even finish the goddamned race!”
In 1961 another horse’s fall was the reason for Caisey’s one and only win in a harness race. “I was dead last. Green Paint was winning but then he fell and all the horses behind him fell too. I was so far behind, I avoided the collision and came in first.” He smiles. “I got a slow clap!”
The Shelly Bay Racing Track finally closed in 1961 to the relief of many residents in the area who disliked the noise and the betting, but to the sorrow of many a jockey. “I made a lot of money down Shelly Bay,” Semos said. “I made a lot of money. When the racing finished the second time around, I bought a taxi.”