Bermuda, 22 monarchs and 507 years

One Bermuda, 22 monarchs and 507 years

By Dr. Edward Harris
The Royal Gazette

Half a millennium and seven years ago, this being the Year of Our Lord 2012, a small Spanish vessel provided the platform from which humans first became aware of the existence of dry land at 65 degrees West by 32 degrees North. Piloting the ship, La Garza, and perhaps the first to spot the archipelago of coral, cedars and cahows, was the island’s namesake, Juan de Bermudez, who was making a transit from the Caribbean Sea to a homeport in Spain in the late autumn of 1505. Prior to that sighting of Bermuda, no one on Earth had any idea that it existed, all alone in the western North Atlantic, some 640 miles from the nearest landfall at what later was called Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

It would, however, take another 107 years before people recruited to such a cause by the Virginia Company of London settled Bermuda, which five years earlier had planted the first successful English colony in the Americas at Jamestown. That place eventually became part of the United States with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and thus lost its connection with the English monarchy, a relationship yet surviving at Bermuda and in the thirteen other ‘British Overseas Territories’. Of the fourteen such territories, eleven are islands or groups of islands and like Bermuda are some of the most isolated places on the globe in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Like Bermuda also, some of those were not found until European sailing technology allowed vessels to explore all of the ocean seas, a very recent occurrence in human history, after the long trek out of Africa and the settlement of most parts of the Earth in recent times, geologically speaking.

Thus Bermuda’s connection with the English monarchy began in 1505, when the reigning Henry VII was in his last four years and is partly symbolized today by its flag, with is a defaced Red Ensign carrying the Union Flag in the upper left quadrant and the Island’s coat-of-arms in the right half. The flag is unique among the Overseas Territories, as most of the others fly a defaced Blue Ensign. Along the way to this anniversary time of 400 years of permanent settlement, Bermuda has passed through the reigns of 21 past monarchs, one head of ‘The Commonwealth’ of 16491669 (Oliver Cromwell) and presently celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In another five years, Her Majesty will become the longest serving English monarch, surpassing the 64-year reign of her ancestor, Queen Victoria.

Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty, which began in 1485, seven years before Columbus reached the Americas, and lasted until 1603, so it spanned the 98 years when Bermuda was but a home for refugees from the wrecking of ships on its natural fortifications of reefs, along with some land crabs. In 1511, two years after Henry VIII (he of not a few wives) sat on the throne, the Island made its first appearance in graphic literature, as an image in Oviedo’s map published that year in Europe. After the short reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, a third child of Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1558 as Elizabeth I, a position she occupied until her death in 1603, the year Captain Diego Ramirez beached his ship for repairs at Spanish Point, have the first recorded African at Bermuda, one Venturilla, among the crew. Elizabeth presided over a dramatic period of New World exploration, but showed no interest in Bermuda, as it had no gold or other goodies, as sought in the Caribbean by her adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake.

The five Tudors gave way to the six monarchs of the Stuarts, who, as the name implies, had much to do with Scotland, for James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was during his reign that Bermuda was settled in 1612 and the significant fortifications erected that are now part of the Island’s World Heritage Site. A possibly unique gun of his son, Charles I, was discovered several years ago at Dockyard and is now restored on a replica carriage at the National Museum, given in memory of Douglas Anfossi by his friends and family. Cromwell and the ‘Commonwealth of England’ interrupted the British monarchy for eleven years, but the Stuarts returned in 1660 and completed their run into 1714 with the passing of Queen Anne.

Thereafter, a German lineage was introduced with George I, with George III reigning for sixty years (17601820) during which period what became the United States was lost to Britain: perhaps that was what drove the old boy mad, though some might demure that it should have preserved his sanity. It was in the reign of his son, William IV (18301837) that slavery was abolished through the worldwide British dominions, including Bermuda. Victoria, a granddaughter of George III began her long reign in 1837 and ushered in the period of tremendous growth in industrial activity and other developments that have come to be termed the ‘Victorian Age’. The House of Hanover ended with Edward VII in 1910, a king long in waiting through his mother’s extended monarchy.

Shortly before the beginning of the Great War, George V started the House of Windsor, of which the present monarch, Elizabeth II is a part. George V had to reside over that terrible conflict, in which some 80 Bermudians lost their lives, while his son George VI (19361952) had to cope with the Second World War, in which the island lost 35 men and one woman in service.

Until the reign of Elizabeth II, daughter of George VI, no reigning British monarch had visited Bermuda, but Her Majesty has alighted here from ship and plane on several occasions, the last in 2009 for the four hundredth anniversary of the wreck of the Sea Venture on our eastern shore. Bermuda, in fact, was the first port of call when in 1953, on the royal vessel Britannia, Her Majesty undertook a world voyage in celebration of her coronation.

As the oldest of the Overseas Territories, Bermuda has thus had a centuries-long relationship with the British monarchy and the Premier of Bermuda, the Hon. Paula Cox, JP, MP, has charged a small committee and the National Museum with the production of a book to mark that association, a volume that will naturally culminate in the period of Her Majesty’s reign and Diamond Jubilee.

The Jubilee Book Committee and the National Museum would like to thank all those members of the public who have responded to an appeal for images and artifacts of royal association and to those individuals and companies that are sponsoring the production of the volume on Bermuda’s 507 years of relationship with the British Monarchy.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard.


Bermuda (the Bermudas or Somers Islands)

Population: 69,080 (July 2012 est.)

Largest city Hamilton (capital) 12,000+

Video: Bermuda Census 2010- Premier Paula Cox Bermuda Census Report October 14, 2011

The Premier of Bermuda

The Premier of Bermuda is the head of government in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. The Premier is appointed by the Governor of Bermuda on behalf of the Monarchy of the United Kingdom, currently Queen Elizabeth II. In 1973, The Constitution Amendment (Consequential Amendments) Act 1973 changed the Government Leader’s title to Premier.


Paula Cox is the current Premier of Bermuda, and leader of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party (PLP). She was appointed Premier of Bermuda, on October 29, 2010 by Governor Sir Richard Gozney.



The House of Assembly is the lower house of the Parliament of Bermuda. The house has 36 members, each elected for a 5 year term in a single seat constituencies.

 The Senate is the Upper House of the Parliament, and serves as a House of Review. The Senate consists of eleven members appointed by the Governor. Five  Senators are appointed on the advice of the Premier. Three Senators are appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Assembly. The final three Senators are appointed at the discretion of the Governor.

Cabinet Building and Sessions House- The Sessions House is home to the House of Assembly and the Supreme Court. The Cabinet Building, built in 1833, houses Bermuda’s Senate and the offices of the Premier.

The Government House in Bermuda announced on January 31, 2012 that George Duncan Raukawa Fergusson has been appointed Governor of Bermuda in succession to Sir Richard Gozney who will be retiring from the Diplomatic Service. Sir Richard will leave in May 2012. Fergusson was seriously injured in a mugging attack on April 20, 2012 in London. Bermuda’s new Governor George Fergusson had surgery on his left eye after being attacked in Hammersmith Cemetery, west London, but his sight could not be saved.  The 56-year-old received other facial injuries in the attack but managed to walk to a nearby hospital. A small quantity of cash was stolen. Police arrested a 29-year-old man on suspicion of robbery.

Sir Edward Trenton Richards was the first Black Bermudian to head the government of Bermuda and the 2nd Premier of Bermuda. He was the leader of the United Bermuda Party (UBP) between 1971 and 1973.

The pound was the currency of Bermuda until 1970. It was equivalent to the British pound, alongside which it circulated, and was similarly divided into 20 shillings each of 12 pence. In 1970, coins were introduced in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents. Prior to changing to the dollar, the Government of Bermuda had not issued its own coins.

On June 22, 1972, the United Kingdom unilaterally ended its sterling area based exchange control laws, hence excluding Bermuda from its sterling area membership privileges. Bermuda responded on June 30, 1972 by amending its own exchange control laws accordingly, such as to impose exchange control restrictions in relation to Bermuda only. At the same time, Bermuda realigned its dollar back to one-to-one with the US dollar and formally pegged it at that rate. The Bermudian dollar is not normally traded outside of Bermuda.

Blacks in Bermuda

The first enslaved Africnas were brought to Bermuda in 1620s soon after the British colony was established in the island. The indentured or debt bonded contract labor in Bermuda continued until 1684. 
White population in Bermuda remained the majority until the 18th century. The first Blacks to come to Bermuda in real large numbers were free West Indians, who emigrated from territories taken from Spain.

As the size of the Black population started growing, the administrative company made many attempts to reduce the number of blacks in the island. They changed the terms of indenture for the Blacks and raised it to 99 years in order to discourage blacks to come to the island. An indenture of 99 years meant that one became enslaved for life.

European Jews in Bermuda

Historically, few Jews moved to Bermuda because of the harsh policies of the English toward Jews on the island in the 18th century. There is one place on the island, Jews Bay, which proves Jewish origins in Bermuda. The name of the bay dates back to the early 1600s, and is considered to be named after a group of Jews who did business on the island. A Jewish congregation was formally established in the 20th century in the capital of Hamilton.

In 1694, the law “An Act Laying an Imposition on all Jews, and reputed Jews, Trading or Merchandising on These Islands” levied a five pound tax on any Jew attempting to execute business in Bermuda. This bill declared that Jews “have come to and resided in these islands, and have sold and vended great quantities of goods, wares, merchandizes and commodities, and the monies thereby received and gotten do still send out and carry away from these islands into foreign and remote parts and places, to the great impoverishment, hurt and prejudice of their majesties subjects in these islands.” In 1760, the previous bill was revoked on the grounds that it was bad for Bermudian business, because Jews were taking their trade elsewhere.

Following the war, many European Jews immigrated to the island, especially in the 1950s and 60s, but they were not well received by the people of Bermuda. Bermudian travel agents discriminated against Jewish travelers, often limiting the number of Jews who could travel to the island. There were even a few hotels that would not permit Jews to stay. Many Jews on the island did not declare their religion for fear of discrimination. For instance, Puisne Judge Hector Barcillon was elected to the highest Bermudian office held by a Jew, but would not disclose his religion. In 1967, Barcillion was so stirred by the Six Day War in Israel that he wrote a letter to the newspaper revealing that he was Jewish.

The Jewish Community of Bermuda (JCB) emerged as a result of a United States Naval Base situated on the island during World War II. In the past, the JCB consisted mainly of naval officers and their families. Other Jews on the island were always welcomed to join in the Services provided by the Base. In the last 20 years, the percentage of civilians to officers and their families gradually changed. In 1994, due to US budget cuts, the Base was closed. 

 Portuguese in Bermuda

Portuguese immigrants to Bermuda began arriving in the 1840’s and 1850’s.

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