BERMUDA FIVE CENTURIES BY ROSEMARY JONES CHAPTER 15 The New Tourism ADVENT OF AIR TRAVEL AND LUXURY CRUISES
As such the First drastically World War neared its end, Bermuda’s tourism industry hit a major snag. Visitor numbers had been declining, and in 1917, Canadian Steamship Lines decided not to renew the island’s regular service, citing high costs and the not insignificant dangers of sailing in war-troubled waters.
Moreover, Bermudian, which had been kept on the New York-to-Bermuda route, was requisitioned in March that year as a British troop carrier. Suddenly, Bermuda had no way to export its agricultural goods or to bring in visitors. The island needed to attract another large shipping company.
In the summer of 1919, the New York arm of British steamship company Furness Withy came to the rescue, promising to refit Bermudian in return for a five-year, $15,000 annual subsidy from the island government. The deal signed in June, marked the beginning of a long and mutually fruitful relationship between the island and Furness that would continue until 1966.
By 1920, it was decided by government By 1920, it was decided by government and subsidiary Furness Bermuda Line officials that the answer to Bermuda’s tour- ism question lay in giving America’s ruling classes what they wanted – an exclusive enclave where the mega-rich could rub shoulders while they wintered in Bermuda.
All eyes eventually fell on Tucker’s Town, the quiet peninsula community overlooking Castle Harbour which had been named for Governor Daniel Tucker (whose early 17 th Century aim to relocate Bermuda’s capital there never went ahead).
The plan envisioned a self-contained neighbourhood of more than 500 acres for America’s aristocracy, complete with golf- courses, tennis courts, a country club, and hotels and cottages for both winter and summer visitors.
Furness, led by local merchants, petitioned the government to buy the land and after lengthy negotiations, got the green light. The area had long been abandoned by The area had long been abandoned by most white families, but there remained a community of black farmers, boat-builders, and fishermen with two churches, a cricket pitch, a school and a post office.
During that time, the shipping company acted as a partner in the business of Bermuda tourism, providing not only luxury liners such as Bermuda, Monarch of Bermuda and Queen of Bermuda to bring thousands of visitors, but also investing in capital projects such as new hotels to modernise the island’s infrastructure. Above all, Furness helped generally to hone Bermuda’s image as an upscale resort— to hone Bermuda’s image as an upscale resort— a “Mid-Ocean Playground”– that would attract the a “Mid-Ocean Playground”– that would attract the type of American visitor who would fuel the island’s economy throughout the 20 th century.
A group of 24 angry residents petitioned the government to stay on their land, though many Bermudians, excited by the prospect of a post-war tourism revival, were in favour of the project. The black landowners ultimately lost their fight to keep their Tucker’s Town properties. Under a special act, the hold-outs had their land forcibly taken; in return they were paid market value or offered homes in other parishes.
The last objector was a woman by the name of Dinna Smith, who was physically evicted in 1923 and moved to Smith’s Parish. Before long, the elegant homes of Before long, the elegant homes of millionaires crowded Tucker’s Town, surrounding the 18-hole golf-course of the exclusive Mid-Ocean Club.
Baseball legend Babe Ruth was photo- graphed playing the links, one of many stars who helped boost Bermuda’s monied image, including scientist Albert Einstein, actor Harpo Marx, composer Irving Berlin and child movie star Shirley Temple. Tourist arrivals flourished in the next few years as other Americans followed the lead of their super-rich countrymen.
Suddenly Bermuda was the place to be, and not just in the winter time. in the winter time. Furness, meantime began investing in the island’s Furness, meantime began investing in the island’s hotels. The company bought the St. George’s Hotel in 1921, and the Bermudiana in Hamilton three years later. But its flagship property would be the Castle Harbour, which, with a golf-course, docks, and beaches, demanded a massive labour force that resulted in the recruitment of 600 Azorean contractors.
The project took two years and on November 30, 1931, Governor Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Astley Cubitt opened the 400-room hotel, the latest star in Bermuda’s expanding tourism firmament. Tourism’ was truly coming of age. With the Tourism’ was truly coming of age. With the horrors of the Great War behind them, western societies embraced the new freedom and affluence, which, with the advent of modernised transport, led to a whole new breed of traveller.
Throughout the 1920’s and ’30s, the whole concept of travel would evolve—from a solitary pursuit to a collective mentality shaped by careful marketing that created and sold Bermuda to the world at large.
Along with its relaxed lifestyle and Along with its relaxed lifestyle and pretty aesthetic, Bermuda lured American visitors with yet another advantage: alcohol. Prohibition – a US policy banning liquor sale or consumption – stretched from 1919 to 1933, and like their predecessors throughout the centuries, Bermudian entre- preneurs were not about to miss a lucrative opportunity.
Rum-runners used the island as a trans- shipment headquarters to smuggle liquor into the States. But tourists were not complaining; in the face of a ‘dry’ America, they turned to Bermuda, where during the 1920s, bars, restaurants and hotels had become, according to a British associate of the Trade Development Board, “one continual carousal.”
On April Fool’s Day, 1930, a seaplane On April Fool’s Day, 1930, a seaplane carrying three Americans left New York City on what would later be hailed as an “epochal flight.” The Stinson cabin mono- plane powered by a 300 horsepower Wright engine, would become the first airplane to cross the 666 miles of water between cross the 666 miles of water between North America and Bermuda.
Its three crew, navigator Captain Lewis Its three crew, navigator Captain Lewis Yancey, pilot William Alexander and radio engineer Zeh Bouck, made history at 1O o’clock the following morning, a Wednesday, when they swooped down for a landing on Hamilton Harbour aboard the Pilot Radio. It had not been the smoothest flight.
The trio had departed New York at 9:39 a.m. the previous day, expecting to reach the island in eight hours. But strong winds delayed them and they decided to land and spend the night at sea rather than risk missing Bermuda completely in the darkness. At one minute to six that evening, they had set the plane down 60 miles north of the island, notifying the New York Times of their decision.
The Canadian National Steamship Line’s Lady Somers, en route to Halifax, turned back to offer the plane assistance, but when it found the trio in no difficulty, the liner continued its trans-Atlantic journey as scheduled.
Early the next morning, pilot Alexander Early the next morning, pilot Alexander took off again, braving the heavy swells in what the Bermudian magazine would later describe as “a great feat of airmanship.” At 6:30 a.m., ebbing fuel forced the plane down once again, this time just four miles off the island. The three Americans swapped gasoline between the plane’s various tanks and managed to make another take off.
Finally, after five more minutes of Finally, after five more minutes of flying, the pioneering Pilot Radio came down in Murray’s Anchorage, off St. George’s. After refuelling, the plane, carrying a handful of local VIPs including Trade Development Board chairman John “J.P.” Hand, flew down the South Shore and
finally came to a triumphant stop on the Hamilton waterfront. Their maverick journey won the trio $1,000 each and headlines around the globe.
The race now began to bring the first visitors by air. There had been a short aviation company in Bermuda in 1919 offering charters to fly over the island, but the first air arrival did not occur until 1926, when an American dirigible, an airship named Los Angeles, made a long, slow journey to the island, buffeted by high winds.
It was Charles Lindberg’s trail blazing solo flight across the Atlantic the following year that ignited a new fervour for aviation; the glamour and novelty of airplanes attracted rapt media coverage and public interest. It would be years before commercial airliners braved the distance from the American mainland, but the Bermuda government
realised the potential and in July 1927, the Trade Development Board offered £2,000 to the first non-stop flight from America in the next four months. No one claimed the prize.
Nine months after Pilot Radio’s Nine months after Pilot Radio’s expedition, floatplane successfully completed the journey without a hitch. On Wednesday, January 7, 1931, the Bellanca seaplane Tradewind, piloted by Beryl Hart and navigated by Lieutenant William S. MacLaren, flew from Norfolk,
Virginia to Bermuda in about seven hours. It marked the first leg of “a journey calculated to demonstrate the commercial possibilities of trans-Atlantic flight between America and Europe, with Bermuda and the Azores as intermediate refuelling points,” according to The Bermudian.
Unfortunately, Hart and MacLaren never Lived to see that dream become reality. After a celebration in Bermuda, they departed for the Azores – and were never seen again.
Such early pioneers paved the way for Such early pioneers paved the way for the coming travel revolution. Anticipating the new era on the horizon, Bermuda’s the new era on the horizon, Bermuda’s Assembly voted in 1934 to subsidise a seaplane base at Darrell’s Island – a prelude to a deal signed by Pan American Airways and Imperial Airways that year to establish
a New York-Bermuda passenger and mail service. Finally, on June 12, 1937, the first Empire-class flying boat, Imperial’s Cavalier left the Great Sound (where it had been assembled) for Port Washington, Long Island. Almost simultaneously, Pan Am’s Clipper touched down at Darrell’s Island
after completing the same flight in the opposite direction. Bermuda found itself in the vanguard of trans-Atlantic air travel. Tourist air arrivals began in earnest Tourist air arrivals began in earnest over the next few years as both airlines launched regular services to the island aboard luxurious passenger flying-boats.
Not only was the new mode of transport quick and easy – five hours as opposed to 40 during a three-day steam from New York but it also gave Bermudians a spectacular – but it also gave Bermudians a spectacular – aerial view of the island few had seen before. “Around the reefs swirl whorls of blue water in all the shades from turquoise, jade and emerald to aquamarine, cobalt and Prussian blue.”
wrote the Bermudian editor Ronald Williams on the Cavalier’s inaugural flight. “ So breathtaking is the sight that like every other man on board the flying boat I am desperately aware that adequate description is beyond me.”
Tragically, the Cavalier went down in Tragically, the Cavalier went down in the Gulf Stream in 1939 during its 290 th scheduled trip to Bermuda, killing three of it 13 passengers and crew. But the clock could not be turned back. American travellers for the most part had faith in the safety of the seaplanes and visitor numbers began their predicted upswing by 1937, the island welcomed more than 82,000 tourists
a year aboard planes and cruise ships, compared to just 13,000 in 1920. Bermuda was well on its way into the age of aviation.
It was Halloween, 1931, when a ceremony outside Number One Shed in Hamilton set in motion a short-lived, but beloved addition To Bermuda’s landscape that became dubbed “Old Rattle and Shake.” Some 150 Invited guests gathered on Front Street to take part in the inaugural run of the Bermuda Railway to Somerset. The dignitaries
including the governor and his wife, British Royal Naval officials, the American consul, the police chief and the bishop of Bermuda – climbed aboard four coaches and waited excitedly. Crowds of spectators lined the sidewalk and leaned over shop balconies as Lady Cubitt entered the train’s
motor compartment and pressed the engine’s electric starter. The train, which would be described by one journalist as “an iron serpent in the Garden of Eden,” rolled into action.
The fanfare had been a long time The fanfare had been a long time coming. As far back as 1899, the railway idea had been proposed, but it was not until the 1920’s that plans began to take shape. The privately-financed Bermuda Railway built the line from Somerset to St. George’s, through Hamilton, amid a slew of problems, controversies and delays.
When the 22-mile line opened on October 31, it was already three years late, but Bermudians embraced it as a huge step forward on an island where motor cars were banned and transportation between parishes had, until then, been restricted to boats, carriage or bicycle along primitive roads.
The train by contrast, offered The train by contrast, offered all-weather comfort, travelling the length of Bermuda via 33 bridges which linked the islands and crossed the coastal inlets. Once aboard, passengers got a whole view of Bermuda. Service was racially segre- gated. The train’s first-class coaches offered wicker chairs, while benches were provided for
cheaper seats. Locals could now easily commute to work in Hamilton, and tourists could load on their bicycles ready to use once they reached their destination. Unfortunately, the railway glory days Unfortunately, the railway glory days were soon to be over. Bermuda’s climate corroded the train’s iron parts and the cost
of importing diesel fuel was exorbitant. Wartime use by the military also left the line and rolling stock in poor shape. Engineers also discovered the railway needed extensive, and expensive, repairs totalling an estimated £1 million. Eventually, the Bermuda government stepped in and bought the railway, which had
never made a profit, for a mere $115,000. They operated the line at a loss for a while time before finally selling the whole operation to British Guyana. The long delayed advent of the automobiles to Bermuda after the Second World War also helped put the nail in the railway’s coffin and just after 17 years in operation, Old Rattle and Shake was no more.
The impact of changes brought about The impact of changes brought about Surging post-war tourism, modern modes of transport, new hotels and new –fangled technology during these years was keenly felt by everyday Bermudians. Many feared the quickening speed of modern life and resented the steady invasion of foreigners.
Even those who realized change was inevitable worried the new pressures on the island could quickly erase the quaint character that had made Bermuda unique. “If she continues her progressive pace “If she continues her progressive pace the pleasant slogan stamped on outgoing mail – “come to the Isles of Rest -- may
soon become a quaint joke,” commented Hudson Strode in his book, The Story of Bermuda published in 1932. “The Bermudi- ans themselves are more or less dazed by the rapid development in their little country. Those few not in trade and those not owning houses to rent to Americans are
justified in resenting tourists, for the Islands stand perilously in danger of becoming merely the rich American’s playground and the ‘tripper’s delight.’ American gold is tempting and progress insidious.
And ‘progress’ continued. On December And ‘progress’ continued. On December 21, 1931, the Bermuda Telephone Company opened its new automatic telephone exchange. A series of conversations took exchange. A series of conversations took place between Washington DC and Bermuda to commemorate the milestone – with the governor sending greetings to the under
secretary of state, and the American consul in Bermuda exchanging pleasantries with the British ambassador in Washington. The dial telephone would replace the central system between 1932-1933.
Another project that garnered public Another project that garnered public interest and debate was the so-called “Watlington Waterworks” project in which Hamilton Mayor Sir Harry Watlington tapped into a natural lens in a Devonshire hillside in a bid to alleviate the island’s perennial water shortage. Pipelines were laid in
Hamilton and construction began on a purification plant with a reservoir capacity of 240,000 gallons, allowing residents and businesses to purchase water during times of drought when their own water tanks ran dry. It became the island’s first public water system.
Bermuda’s improving facilities and Bermuda’s improving facilities and increasing attraction to tourists insulated the island from the Depression when most parts of America and Europe were suffering from the economic and social castastrophe. The island’s allure as an unspoiled “Fairyland” stayed intact throughout the 1930s – a testament to the painstaking ‘branding’ of Bermuda as an elite escape.
Yet just as all signs pointed to unstoppable success for the island’s tourist trade, a dark cloud was just around the corner. The Second World War would wreak havoc on Bermuda’s tourism aspirations and on Bermuda’s tourism aspirations and bring both personal triumph and tradegy to island families and their relatives. But it would also change Bermuda as never before, hurling the island from the idyllic isolation it had embraced for centuries, and into the modern world.