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.

It is silent on the role of Britain’s abdicated monarch Edward Windsor who became governor to be kept out of the way and on the tax haven status of the self governing  territory which is its real other main income.

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?