Travelogue Bermuda: A country inspiring Shakespeare and Mark Twain but mired by a racist past

It is one of the more curious facts  revealed by Bermuda’s national museum. Bermuda may be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Seafarers tales told in Southwark taverns at the turn of the seventeenth century are thought to have inspired the playwright to create a story about a magical island.

Bermuda is named after an Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez who sailed past them in 1503 but never claimed them. It was a British ship the Sea Venture en route to Virginia which hit a storm- just like the Queen Victoria on this trip – but in this case was wrecked off the island in 1609 that led to the country becoming a British colony. But unlike other islands it was uninhabited and the sailors believed that just like in the Tempest that it was haunted by spirits and couldn’t wait to build new ships to get off it. Only three years later was it settled.

The history of the island is outlined in an eclectic collection of artefacts housed in a former British Royal Navy commissioner’s nineteenth  century mansion overlooking the Dockyard abandoned by the British in 1951. The mansion remained derelict for 20 years until restored by the Bermuda government.It is worth a visit see picture above.

The museum tells a warts and all history of the island, its role in two world wars, the development of tourism, its racist and slave ridden past and the rush to recover sunken treasure  from the numerous ships wrecked on the rocks . It also houses in the old keep ponds a conservation project to save dolphins.It has an extraordinary mural t

Depicting the island’s history by a contemporary artist covering a whole stairwell.

The story of the island’s racist and slave past is graphic. At first there was little racism but the rise of the slave trade in the eighteenth century lead to the removal of rights and restrictions put on the Portuguese who settled there from the Azores . Slavery was abolished in 1834 but attitudes remained. As late as the 1960s the now closed Bermuda Railway had an apartheid system reserving the best seats for whites. The Portuguese settlers ,mainly farmers,were barred from taking some top professional jobs until as late as the 1980s.

Tourism attracts more Americans than Brits with the island being originally popularised by US author Mark Twain who raved about it. The development of air travel, low income taxes and the American connection fostered by new bases set up in the Second World War to fight the German U boat menace, made it a big destination for US tourists. Wealthy Hollywood film stars moved there. So although officially British it is far more American and celeb orientated.

Mind you if history repeats itself it could end up as a new home for Prince Harry and Meghan who have abdicated their Royal roles. Any vacancy coming up soon for the governship of Bermuda?

Bermuda: How shipwrecks can save our dwindling coral reefs 

While global warming and pollution are threatening our coral reefs Bermuda is a rather unusual success story.

Unlike more famous coral reefs like the Australian Barrier Reef which are in decline the coral reef around Bermuda is healthy and expanding.

One reason is that Bermuda is hundreds of miles from the US and other Caribbean islands and has no industry to speak of to pollute the seas.This tiny island has a coral reef far larger than the island itself. The Atlantic Ocean north of the island is in some areas just between three and twelve feet deep.

As a result the area is dotted with shipwrecks. So many ships have ran aground there and many have not been discovered. But here is the interesting point. These shipwrecks are incredibly beneficial to coral reefs. Sunken boats create a structure for corals to grow and are magnets with for fish with plenty of hides holes. And it appears rather surprisingly that the rusting iron of the hulks acts as a fertiliser to help coral establish itself. One of the few cases of human made debris being beneficial.

According to the tour guides who took us there is now growing interest in sinking redundant ships on the edge of coral reefs once they have been decontaminated. They are colonised by the coral which expands the reef.

One example is HMS Vixen a former Royal Navy ship which ran aground a century ago whose hull as the picture shows still sticks out of the shallow water. Here it is a magnet for grey snapper, Chubb and various tropical fish.

Bermuda’s coral reefs are also refuges for turtles which are protected from predators and conservationists have brought back turtle eggs to hatch on the island’s beache to re-establish and expand the population.

Not all Bermuda’s Eco experiments have worked. Just off the coral reef there is an abandoned Eco village. The houses are built on stilts on the coast with canvas rooves and no air conditioning and sound proofing.As a result they are unlettable in the summer when there is high humidity and people’s conversations can be heard from house to house.At the moment the government is desperately trying to flog them off to anybody who might want to use them as a spare summerhouse.

Some facts on tax haven Bermuda which free market Tories might like and Socialists hate. Income tax minimal at just six per cent or nothing for 65000 inhabitants.As a result there is a 17.5 per cent tax on everything that is sold there which is already expensive because it has to be imported. Average house prices are $800000. Cheapest one bed flat $300000. Some affordable houses for $300000 – these are ex Royal Navy homes. Lucky to get a beer for £7 and to eat out for two could cost over £100.

Not much chance of Liam Fox negotiating an independent trade deal – unless he wants to expand its tax haven status with the City. Bermuda doesn’t make anything except rum cakes. So apart from flying them in on direct services between Gatwick and Hamilton don’t expect anything special.

Bermuda until 1960’s had a naval presence. Plans by Gavin Williamson the defence secretary to bring back Royal Navy bases in the Caribbean should make it the ideal centre. A few slight problems.The Royal Navy commissioner ‘s house is a museum, the deep water berths are now cruise ship terminals and the port buildings a shopping mall. Apart from that it should be plain sailing.

Own Goal by the Revenue:Why we must foot their bill

gordon brown:His watch saw inept off shore tax deal for revenue -pic courtsey apoliticus

If you have just had a new tax code or VAT demand, it is likely that the Revenue and Customs office that issued it is managed in a tax haven.

And if you have recently visited an old Abbey National office of Santander Bank you are on the premises of an off shore managed office.

You probably didn’t know either. Today an analysis by Parliament’s watchdog the National Audit Office reveals the off shore company that managed both deals are legally set to avoid paying hundreds of millions of tax to the very offices making tax demands on you.

The findings by the Commons Public Accounts Committee is the latest revelation on signing an outsourcing contract 8 years ago which MPs describe today as “ highly damaging to the Department’s reputation”.

 In effect to save an estimated £1.2 billion Revenue and Customs signed a £3.3 billion contract with a firm now called Mapeley to hand over for 20 years the ownership and management of 591 tax offices including the freehold of 132 offices to an offshore company then based in the Cayman Islands.

Today the cost of contract has risen to £3.87 billion, the maximum potential savings have dropped by £300 million and the department has found that it cannot recover its own VAT from the rent. It will have to draw up contingency plans costing over £100m should the company walk away following a decision to close 130 tax offices as part of the first wave of efficiency savings.

But the most extraordinary revelation is the rare glimpse given into tax avoidance by auditors from the NAO. After a stormy hearing at the Commons public accounts committee, the company allowed the NAO access to its offshore books to see the effect of the loss of tax revenue to the government. The figures, hidden at the back of the report, are staggering.

If Mapeley, now part of the US offshore Fortress Group was based in Britain rather than Bermuda, the tax coffers would be swelled by £184m. Easily enough to build a teaching hospital or renovate a lot of schools. In fact the company is expected to pay £14m –saving £170m. That is hardly enough to renovate a big secondary school. Furthermore Gordon Brown’s efficiency savings by closing down tax offices is going to give the offshore company a tax bonanza if it can get a good price for them. Only the recession is stopping them.

These tax savings are only on the Revenue and Customs contract. The company has a similar deal with the old Abbey National and if branch closures follow bank mergers under Santander, logic dictates even more tax savings.

No wonder the NAO concludes in its prosaic way; “There is unlikely to be any overall benefit to the Exchequer from such arrangements as any apparent savings for the Department are accompanied by reduced tax revenues.”

With everybody living in this country having to pay more tax and face cuts in services to pay for the bail out of the banks, the prospect of the Treasury being deprived by the  Revenue of extra tax is obscene.

The people who negotiated this deal should hang their heads in shame and the politicians, and that includes Gordon Brown, chancellor at the time, should be brought to account for such an inept negotiation.

For while we debate the scale of tax rises and cuts in the general election campaign, the directors of the company involved must be laughing all the way to their offshore bank.

This blog is also on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website.