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The Bermuda Collections Exhibition
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The Bermuda Triangle History
The Triangle area
The boundaries of the triangle cover the Straits of Florida, the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean island area and the Atlantic east to the Azores. The more familiar triangular boundary in most written works has as its points somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Miami; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda, with most of the accidents concentrated along the southern boundary around the Bahamas and the Florida Straits.
The area is one of the most heavily traveled shipping lanes in the world, with ships crossing through it daily for ports in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Cruise ships are also plentiful, and pleasure craft regularly go back and forth between Florida and the islands. It is also a heavily flown route for commercial and private aircraft heading towards Florida, the Caribbean, and South America from points north.
The earliest allegation of unusual disappearances in the Bermuda area appeared in a September 16, 1950 Associated Press article by Edward Van Winkle Jones. Two years later, Fate magazine published “Sea Mystery At Our Back Door”, a short article by George X. Sand covering the loss of several planes and ships, including the loss of Flight 19, a group of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger bombers on a training mission. Sand’s article was the first to lay out the now-familiar triangular area where the losses took place. Flight 19 alone would be covered in the April 1962 issue of American Legion Magazine. It was claimed that the flight leader had been heard saying “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.” It was also claimed that officials at the Navy board of inquiry stated that the planes “flew off to Mars.” Sand’s article was the first to suggest a supernatural element to the Flight 19 incident. In the February 1964 issue of Argosy, Vincent Gaddis‘s article “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle” argued that Flight 19 and other disappearances were part of a pattern of strange events in the region. The next year, Gaddis expanded this article into a book, Invisible Horizons.
Others would follow with their own works, elaborating on Gaddis’s ideas: John Wallace Spencer (Limbo of the Lost, 1969, repr. 1973); Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle, 1974); Richard Winer (The Devil’s Triangle, 1974), and many others, all keeping to some of the same supernatural elements outlined by Eckert.
Lawrence David Kusche, a research librarian from Arizona State University and author of The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved (1975) argued that many claims of Gaddis and subsequent writers were often exaggerated, dubious or unverifiable. Kusche’s research revealed a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies between Berlitz’s accounts and statements from eyewitnesses, participants, and others involved in the initial incidents. Kusche noted cases where pertinent information went unreported, such as the disappearance of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, which Berlitz had presented as a mystery, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Another example was the ore-carrier recounted by Berlitz as lost without trace three days out of an Atlantic port when it had been lost three days out of a port with the same name in the Pacific Ocean. Kusche also argued that a large percentage of the incidents that sparked allegations of the Triangle’s mysterious influence actually occurred well outside it. Often his research was simple: he would review period newspapers of the dates of reported incidents and find reports on possibly relevant events like unusual weather, that were never mentioned in the disappearance stories.
Kusche concluded that:
- The number of ships and aircraft reported missing in the area was not significantly greater, proportionally speaking, than in any other part of the ocean.
- In an area frequented by tropical storms, the number of disappearances that did occur were, for the most part, neither disproportionate, unlikely, nor mysterious; furthermore, Berlitz and other writers would often fail to mention such storms.
- The numbers themselves had been exaggerated by sloppy research. A boat’s disappearance, for example, would be reported, but its eventual (if belated) return to port may not have been.
- Some disappearances had, in fact, never happened. One plane crash was said to have taken place in 1937 off Daytona Beach, Florida, in front of hundreds of witnesses; a check of the local papers revealed nothing.
- The legend of the Bermuda Triangle is a manufactured mystery, perpetuated by writers who either purposely or unknowingly made use of misconceptions, faulty reasoning, and sensationalism.
When the UK Channel 4 television program “The Bermuda Triangle” (c. 1992) was being produced by John Simmons of Geofilms for the Equinox series, the marine insurer Lloyd’s of London was asked if an unusually large number of ships had sunk in the Bermuda Triangle area. Lloyd’s of London determined that large numbers of ships had not sunk there.
United States Coast Guard records confirm their conclusion. In fact, the number of supposed disappearances is relatively insignificant considering the number of ships and aircraft that pass through on a regular basis.
The Coast Guard is also officially skeptical of the Triangle, noting that they collect and publish, through their inquiries, much documentation contradicting many of the incidents written about by the Triangle authors. In one such incident involving the 1972 explosion and sinking of the tanker SS V. A. Fogg in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard photographed the wreck and recovered several bodies, in contrast with one Triangle author’s claim that all the bodies had vanished, with the exception of the captain, who was found sitting in his cabin at his desk, clutching a coffee cup.
The NOVA/Horizon episode The Case of the Bermuda Triangle, aired on June 27, 1976, was highly critical, stating that “When we’ve gone back to the original sources or the people involved, the mystery evaporates. Science does not have to answer questions about the Triangle because those questions are not valid in the first place… Ships and planes behave in the Triangle the same way they behave everywhere else in the world.”
David Kusche pointed out a common problem with many of the Bermuda Triangle stories and theories: “Say I claim that a parrot has been kidnapped to teach aliens human language and I challenge you to prove that is not true. You can even use Einstein’s Theory of Relativity if you like. There is simply no way to prove such a claim untrue. The burden of proof should be on the people who make these statements, to show where they got their information from, to see if their conclusions and interpretations are valid, and if they have left anything out.”
Skeptical researchers, such as Ernest Taves and Barry Singer, have noted how mysteries and the paranormal are very popular and profitable. This has led to the production of vast amounts of material on topics such as the Bermuda Triangle. They were able to show that some of the pro-paranormal material is often misleading or inaccurate, but its producers continue to market it. Accordingly, they have claimed that the market is biased in favor of books, TV specials, and other media that support the Triangle mystery, and against well-researched material if it espouses a skeptical viewpoint.
Finally, if the Triangle is assumed to cross land, such as parts of Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, or Bermuda itself, there is no evidence for the disappearance of any land-based vehicles or persons. The city of Freeport, located inside the Triangle, operates a major shipyard and an airport that handles 50,000 flights annually and is visited by over a million tourists a year.
Triangle writers have used a number of supernatural concepts to explain the events. One explanation pins the blame on leftover technology from the mythical lost continent of Atlantis. Sometimes connected to the Atlantis story is the submerged rock formation known as the Bimini Road off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, which is in the Triangle by some definitions. Followers of the purported psychic Edgar Cayce take his prediction that evidence of Atlantis would be found in 1968 as referring to the discovery of the Bimini Road. Believers describe the formation as a road, wall, or other structure, though geologists consider it to be of natural origin.
Other writers attribute the events to UFOs. This idea was used by Steven Spielberg for his science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which features the lost Flight 19 aircrews as alien abductees.
Compass problems are one of the cited phrases in many Triangle incidents. While some have theorized that unusual local magnetic anomalies may exist in the area, such anomalies have not been shown to exist. Compasses have natural magnetic variations in relation to the magnetic poles, a fact which navigators have known for centuries. Magnetic (compass) north and geographic (true) north are only exactly the same for a small number of places – for example, as of 2000 in the United States only those places on a line running from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico. But the public may not be as informed, and think there is something mysterious about a compass “changing” across an area as large as the Triangle, which it naturally will.
Deliberate acts of destruction
Deliberate acts of destruction can fall into two categories: acts of war, and acts of piracy. Records in enemy files have been checked for numerous losses. While many sinkings have been attributed to surface raiders or submarines during the World Wars and documented in various command log books, many others suspected as falling in that category have not been proven. It is suspected that the loss of USS Cyclops in 1918, as well as her sister ships Proteus and Nereus in World War II, were attributed to submarines, but no such link has been found in the German records.
Piracy—the illegal capture of a craft on the high seas—continues to this day. While piracy for cargo theft is more common in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, drug smugglers do steal pleasure boats for smuggling operations, and may have been involved in crew and yacht disappearances in the Caribbean. Piracy in the Caribbean was common from about 1560 to the 1760s, and famous pirates included Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Jean Lafitte.
The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and then flows through the Straits of Florida into the North Atlantic. In essence, it is a river within an ocean, and, like a river, it can and does carry floating objects. It has a surface velocity of up to about 2.5 metres per second (5.6 mi/h). A small plane making a water landing or a boat having engine trouble can be carried away from its reported position by the current.
One of the most cited explanations in official inquiries as to the loss of any aircraft or vessel is human error. Whether deliberate or accidental, humans have been known to make mistakes resulting in catastrophe, and losses within the Bermuda Triangle are no exception. For example, the Coast Guard cited a lack of proper training for the cleaning of volatile benzene residue as a reason for the loss of the tanker SS V.A. Fogg in 1972. Human stubbornness may have caused businessman Harvey Conover to lose his sailing yacht, the Revonoc, as he sailed into the teeth of a storm south of Florida on January 1, 1958.
Hurricanes are powerful storms, which form in tropical waters and have historically cost thousands of lives lost and caused billions of dollars in damage. The sinking of Francisco de Bobadilla‘s Spanish fleet in 1502 was the first recorded instance of a destructive hurricane. These storms have in the past caused a number of incidents related to the Triangle.
An explanation for some of the disappearances has focused on the presence of vast fields of methane hydrates (a form of natural gas) on the continental shelves. Laboratory experiments carried out in Australia have proven that bubbles can, indeed, sink a scale model ship by decreasing the density of the water; any wreckage consequently rising to the surface would be rapidly dispersed by the Gulf Stream. It has been hypothesized that periodic methane eruptions (sometimes called “mud volcanoes“) may produce regions of frothy water that are no longer capable of providing adequate buoyancy for ships. If this were the case, such an area forming around a ship could cause it to sink very rapidly and without warning.
Publications by the USGS describe large stores of undersea hydrates worldwide, including the Blake Ridge area, off the southeastern United States coast. However, according to another of their papers, no large releases of gas hydrates are believed to have occurred in the Bermuda Triangle for the past 15,000 years.
Flight 19 was a training flight of TBM Avenger bombers that went missing on December 5, 1945 while over the Atlantic. The squadron’s flight path was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base, but they never returned. The impression is given that the flight encountered unusual phenomena and anomalous compass readings, and that the flight took place on a calm day under the supervision of an experienced pilot, Lt. Charles Carroll Taylor. Adding to the intrigue is that the Navy’s report of the accident was ascribed to “causes or reasons unknown.”
Adding to the mystery, a search and rescue Mariner aircraft with a 13-man crew was dispatched to aid the missing squadron, but the Mariner itself was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion at about the time the Mariner would have been on patrol.
While the basic facts of this version of the story are essentially accurate, some important details are missing. The weather was becoming stormy by the end of the incident, and naval reports and written recordings of the conversations between Taylor and the other pilots of Flight 19 do not indicate magnetic problems.
The mysterious abandonment in 1872 of the 282-ton brigantine Mary Celeste is often but inaccurately connected to the Triangle, the ship having been abandoned off the coast of Portugal. The event is possibly confused with the loss of a ship with a similar name, the Mari Celeste, a 207-ton paddle steamer that hit a reef and quickly sank off the coast of Bermuda on September 13, 1864. Kusche noted that many of the “facts” about this incident were actually about the Marie Celeste, the fictional ship from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s short story “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” (based on the real Mary Celeste incident, but fictionalised).
The Ellen Austin supposedly came across a derelict ship, placed on board a prize crew, and attempted to sail with it to New York in 1881. According to the stories, the derelict disappeared; others elaborating further that the derelict reappeared minus the prize crew, then disappeared again with a second prize crew on board. A check from Lloyd’s of London records proved the existence of the Meta, built in 1854 and that in 1880 the Meta was renamed Ellen Austin. There are no casualty listings for this vessel, or any vessel at that time, that would suggest a large number of missing men were placed on board a derelict that later disappeared.
The incident resulting in the single largest loss of life in the history of the US Navy not related to combat occurred when USS Cyclops, under the command of Lt Cdr G.W. Worley, went missing without a trace with a crew of 309 sometime after March 4, 1918, after departing the island of Barbados. Although there is no strong evidence for any single theory, many independent theories exist, some blaming storms, some capsizing, and some suggesting that wartime enemy activity was to blame for the loss.
Theodosia Burr Alston
Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of former United States Vice President Aaron Burr. Her disappearance has been cited at least once in relation to the Triangle. She was a passenger on board the Patriot, which sailed from Charleston, South Carolina to New York City on December 30, 1812, and was never heard from again. The planned route is well outside all but the most extended versions of the Bermuda Triangle. Both piracy and the War of 1812 have been posited as explanations, as well as a theory placing her in Texas, well outside the Triangle.
In 1909, Slocum set sail from Vineyard Haven bound for Venezuela. Neither he nor Spray were ever seen again.
There is no evidence they were in the Bermuda Triangle when they disappeared, nor is there any evidence of paranormal activity. The boat was considered in poor condition and a hard boat to handle that Slocum’s skill usually overcame.
Carroll A. Deering
A five-masted schooner built in 1919, the Carroll A. Deering was found hard aground and abandoned at Diamond Shoals, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on January 31, 1921. Rumors and more at the time indicated the Deering was a victim of piracy, possibly connected with the illegal rum-running trade during Prohibition, and possibly involving another ship, S.S. Hewitt, which disappeared at roughly the same time. Just hours later, an unknown steamer sailed near the lightship along the track of the Deering, and ignored all signals from the lightship. It is speculated that the Hewitt may have been this mystery ship, and possibly involved in the Deering crew’s disappearance.
On December 28, 1948, a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, number NC16002, disappeared while on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami. No trace of the aircraft or the 32 people onboard was ever found. From the documentation compiled by the Civil Aeronautics Board investigation, a possible key to the plane’s disappearance was found, but barely touched upon by the Triangle writers: the plane’s batteries were inspected and found to be low on charge, but ordered back into the plane without a recharge by the pilot while in San Juan. Whether or not this led to complete electrical failure will never be known. However, since piston-engined aircraft rely upon magnetos to provide spark to their cylinders rather than a battery powered ignition coil system, this theory is not strongly convincing.
Star Tiger and Star Ariel
G-AHNP Star Tiger disappeared on January 30, 1948 on a flight from the Azores to Bermuda; G-AGRE Star Ariel disappeared on January 17, 1949, on a flight from Bermuda to Kingston, Jamaica. Both were Avro Tudor IV passenger aircraft operated by British South American Airways. Both planes were operating at the very limits of their range and the slightest error or fault in the equipment could keep them from reaching the small island. One plane was not heard from long before it would have entered the Triangle.
On August 28, 1963 a pair of US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft collided and crashed into the Atlantic. The Triangle version (Winer, Berlitz, Gaddis) of this story specifies that they did collide and crash, but there were two distinct crash sites, separated by over 160 miles (260 km) of water. However, Kusche’s research showed that the unclassified version of the Air Force investigation report stated that the debris field defining the second “crash site” was examined by a search and rescue ship, and found to be a mass of seaweed and driftwood tangled in an old buoy.
SS Marine Sulphur Queen
SS Marine Sulphur Queen, a T2 tanker converted from oil to sulfur carrier, was last heard from on February 4, 1963 with a crew of 39 near the Florida Keys. Marine Sulphur Queen was the first vessel mentioned in Vincent Gaddis’ 1964 Argosy Magazine article, but he left it as having “sailed into the unknown”, despite the Coast Guard report, which not only documented the ship’s badly-maintained history, but declared that it was an unseaworthy vessel that should never have gone to sea.
The Japanese vessel Raifuku Maru (sometimes misidentified as Raikuke Maru) sank with all hands in 1925 after sending a distress signal which has never been fully understood. She left Boston for Hamburg, Germany, on 21 April and was caught in a severe storm in the North Atlantic, nowhere near the Triangle. RMS Homeric unsuccessfully attempted a rescue, and a photograph of the vessel sinking appeared in the New York Times. Nonetheless, some writers speculated that a waterspout was the likely cause of the sinking (Winer).
A pleasure yacht was found adrift in the Atlantic south of Bermuda on September 26, 1955; it is usually stated in the stories (Berlitz, Winer) that the crew vanished while the yacht survived being at sea during three hurricanes. The 1955 Atlantic hurricane season lists only one storm coming near Bermuda towards the end of August, hurricane “Edith”; of the others, “Flora” was too far to the east, and “Katie” arrived after the yacht was recovered. It was confirmed that the Connemara IV was empty and in port when “Edith” may have caused the yacht to slip her moorings and drift out to sea.
frame Three :
The Bermuda Historic Collections
First map of the island of Bermuda in 1511, made by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera in his book Legatio Babylonica
Bermuda was discovered by Juan de Bermudez in 1505. The island is shown as “La Bermuda” in Peter Martyr‘s Legatio Babylonica (1511). Bermudez returned again in 1515, with the chronicler Oviedo y Valdés. Oviedo’s account of the second visit (published in 1526) records that they made no attempt to land because of weather.
In 1609, Sir George Somers set sail aboard the Sea Venture, the new flagship of the Virginia Company, leading a fleet of nine vessels, loaded with provisions and settlers for the new English colony of Jamestown, in Virginia. The fleet was caught in a storm, and the Sea Venture was separated and began to founder. When the reefs to the East of Bermuda were spotted, the ship was deliberately driven on them to prevent its sinking, thereby saving all aboard (150 sailors and settlers, and one dog). The survivors spent ten months on Bermuda. Several were lost-at-sea when the Sea Venture’s longboat was rigged with a mast and sent in search of Jamestown. Neither it nor its crew were ever seen again. The remainder built two new ships: the Deliverance, largely from the material stripped from the Sea Venture (which sat high-and-dry on the reef, and was still being cannibalised in 1612 – its guns were used to arm a fort) and the Patience. The latter was made necessary by the food stores the survivors had begun to collect and stockpile in Bermuda, and which could not be accommodated aboard the Deliverance. It was built almost entirely from material sourced on the islands. When the two new vessels were complete, most of the survivors set sail, completing their journey to Jamestown.
They arrived to find the colony’s population almost annihilated by the Starving Time, which had left only 60 survivors out of the 500 who had preceded them, and most of these survivors were sick or dying. The food the Sea Venture survivors brought with them was woefully insufficient, and the colony seemed unviable. It was decided to abandon it, and to return everyone to England. Loaded aboard the two ships, they were prevented from making this evacuation by the timely arrival of another relief fleet, bearing Governor Lord De La Warre, among others. The Sea Venture survivors had brought pork from the pigs that had been found wild on the island, which had presumably been left by previous visitors. This led the Jamestown colonists to refer to “Bemuda Hogs” as a form of currency. Somers returned to Bermuda with the Patience to obtain more food supplies, but died there from a surfeit of pork. The Patience, captained by his nephew, Matthew Somers, returned to England, instead of Virginia. Somers left three volunteers – Carter, Chard and Waters – behind on Bermuda (two when the Deliverance and Patience had departed, and the third following the Patience’s return) to maintain the claim of the island for the England, leaving the Virginia Company in possession of the island. As a result, Bermuda has been continuously inhabited since the wrecking of the Sea Venture, and claims its origin from that date, and not the official settlement of 1612.
Returning to Somers’ hometown of Lyme Regis, in Dorset, his body (which had been pickled in a barrel) was landed via The Cobb, the notable breakwater which protects town’s harbour. His heart, however, was left buried on what would subsequently also be known as The Somers Isles. After reaching England, the reports of the survivors of the Sea Venture aroused great interest about Bermuda. Accounts were published by two survivors, William Strachey and Sylvester Jordain. Two years later, in 1612, the Virginia Company’s Royal Charter was officially extended to include the island, and a party of 60 settlers was sent, under the command of Sir Richard Moore, the island’s first governor. Joining the three men left behind by the Deliverance and the Patience (who had taken up residence on Smith’s Island), they founded and commenced construction of the town of St. George.
Bermuda struggled throughout the following seven decades to develop a viable economy. The Virginia Company, finding the colony unprofitable, briefly handed its administration to the Crown in 1614. The following year, 1615, King James I granted a charter to a new company, the Somers Isles Company, formed by the same shareholders, which ran the colony until it was dissolved in 1684 (The Virginia Company itself was dissolved after its charter was revoked in 1624). Representative government was introduced to Bermuda in 1620, when its House of Assembly held its first session, and it became a self-governing colony.
Bermuda was divided into nine equally-sized administrative areas. These comprised one public territory (today known as St. George’s) and eight “tribes” (today known as “parishes”). These “tribes” were areas of land partitioned off to the “adventurers” (investors) of the Company – Devonshire, Hamilton, Paget, Pembroke, Sandys, Smith’s, Southampton and Warwick (thus far, this usage of the word “tribes” is unique to the Bermuda example).
Initially, the colony grew tobacco as its only crop. The Company repeatedly advised more variety, not only because of the risks involved in a single-crop economy, but also because the Bermuda-grown tobacco was of particularly low quality (the Company was frequently forced to burn the supply that arrived back in England). It would take Bermuda some time to move away from this, especially as tobacco was the main form of currency.
Agriculture was not a profitable business for Bermudians in any case. The land area under cultivation was so small (especially by comparison to the plots granted settlers in Virginia), that fields could not be allowed to lie fallow, and farmers attempted to produce three crops each year. Islanders quickly turned to shipbuilding and maritime trades, but the Company, which gained its profits only from the land under cultivation, forbade the construction of any vessels without its license. Its interference in Bermudians livelihood would lead to its dissolution in 1684.
The first slaves were brought to Bermuda soon after the colony was established. Despite this, Bermuda’s 17th Century agricultural economy did not become dependent on slavery as, unlike in the plantation economies that developed in English colonies in the southeast region of North America and in the West Indies, the system of indentured servitude, which lasted in Bermuda until 1684, ensured a large supply of cheap labour. As a result, Bermuda’s ‘white Anglo-Saxon‘ population remained the majority into the 18th Century despite a continuous influx of Latin American and African Blacks, Native Americans, Irish and Scots. The first Blacks to come to Bermuda in numbers were free West Indians, who emigrated from territories taken from Spain. They worked under seven years indenture, as did most English settlers, to repay the Company for the cost of their transport. As the size of the Black population grew, however, many attempts were made to reduce it. The terms of indenture for Blacks were successively raised to 99 years. Many of the Black slaves brought to Bermuda arrived as part of the cargoes seized by Bermudian privateers.
Slaves could be obtained by sale or purchase, auction debt, legal seizure or by gift. The price of a slave depended on demand. Throughout the 17th century Black children sold for £8, women from £10 to £20, and able bodied Black and Indian men for around £26. Blacks and Indians never willingly accepted their status as slaves and seized any available opportunity to escape or rebel. It was not easy to escape because of the size of the island and the nearest land being more than 700 miles (1,100 km) away, but still slaves ran off from their masters and hid in the caves along Bermuda’s coast. Others sought to plot against their masters. One such plot occurred in 1656 when a dozen Black men, led by William Force, a free Black man plotted to murder their English masters. As the appointed night arrived for the uprising, two of the slaves lost their nerve and reported the conspiracy to authorities. The conspirators were rounded up and tried by court martial. Two were hung and Force was later sent to the Bahamas with most of the island’s other free blacks. In 1673 15 Blacks conspired to kill their masters, Again, one of the conspirators lost his nerve and reported the conspiracy. He was granted his freedom, five were branded, had their noses slit, and were whipped before being executed. The other conspirators were branded and whipped. This conspiracy resulted in the passage, in 1674, of more stringent laws effecting a slave’s freedom of movement. A slave found off his estate without a ticket from his owner could be beaten with a rod or whip. A second offense would result in an ear being cut off. Offending for a third time resulted in being whipped until the skin was broken and being branded.
The local government attempted to legislate the emigration of free blacks, and during times of war, with food supplies scarce, it was considered patriotic to export horses and slaves. The first two slaves brought into the Island, a Black and a Native American, had been sought for their skills in pearl diving, but Bermuda proved to have no pearls. Slaves were also brought directly from Africa, and in large numbers from North America, especially from New England, where various Algonquian peoples were falling victim to English expansion. Native American slaves were brought in large numbers possibly from as far as Mexico. Native American slaves were reportedly preferred as house servants as they proved less troublesome than the Blacks and Irish, who were constantly fomenting rebellion.
Bermuda had actually tended towards the Royalist side in the English Civil War, but largely escaped the effects of the conflict, and the aftermath of the Parliamentary forces’ victory. However, in the 1650s, following Cromwell’s adventures in Ireland, and his attempt to force his protectorship on independent Scotland, Irish prisoners-of-war (POW) and ethnically-cleansed civilians, and smaller numbers of Scots POWs, were also sent to Bermuda. After the uncovering of a coup-plot by Irish and Black slaves, however, the import of further Irish slaves was banned. The slave trade would be outlawed in Bermuda in 1807, and all slaves were freed in 1834. At the end of the 17th century, whites, whether free or enslaved, composed the majority of Bermuda’s population. Blacks and Native Americans were both small minorities. They combined, however, absorbing the Irish and Scots, and no small part of the White English bloodline, to be described as a single demographic group a century later, with the Bermuda’s population being divided into White and Black Bermudians. As 10,000 Bermudians had emigrated, prior to American independence, most of them White, this left Blacks with a slight majority. Portuguese immigration, which began with a shipload of Madeiran families in the 1840s has been offset by sustained immigration from the West Indies which began at the end of the 19th century. Today, about 60% of Bermudians are described as being of African descent, although many may have greater European ancestry, and almost all Bermudians would be able to easily find ancestors and relatives of either African or European descent.
As Bermuda’s primary industry became maritime, following the 1684 removal of the impediments placed by the Somers Isles Company, most Bermudian slaves worked in shipbuilding and seafaring, or, in the case of the most unfortunate, in raking salt in the Turks Islands.
Bermuda, Salt and The Turks Islands
After the elimination of their indigenous population by Spanish slavers, the Turks Islands, or Salt Islands, were not fully colonised until 1681, when salt collectors from Bermuda built the first permanent settlement on Grand Turk Island. The salt collectors were drawn by the shallow waters around the islands that made salt mining a much easier process than in Bermuda. They occupied the Turks only seasonally, for six months a year, however, returning to Bermuda when it was no longer viable to rake salt. Their colonization established the English (subsequently, British) dominance of the archipelago that has lasted to the present day. The Bermudians destroyed the local habitat in order to develop the salt industry that became the central pillar of Bermuda’s economy, felling huge numbers of trees to discourage rainfall that would adversely affect their operation. This deforestation, a foretaste of the deforestation of Bermuda by shipbuilding a century before the cedar blight, has yet to be repaired. Most of the salt mined in the Turks and Caicos Islands was sold through Bermudian merchant houses on the American seaboard, including in New England and Newfoundland where it was used for preserving cod. Bermudian vessels carried salted cod on their returns to Bermuda, establishing it as a traditional part of the Bermudian diet (at least on Sundays).
Bermuda spent much of the 18th century in a protracted legal battle with the Bahamas (which had itself been colonised by Bermudians in 1647) over the Turks Islands. Under British law, no colony could hold colonies of its own. The Turks Islands were not recognised by Britain either as a colony in its own right, or as a part of Bermuda. They were held to be, like rivers in Britain, for the common use. As a result, there was a great deal of political turmoil surrounding the ownership of the Turks (and Caicos).
Spanish and French forces seized the Turks in 1706, but Bermudian forces expelled them four years later in what was probably Bermuda’s only independent military operation. For many years, the Bahamas (itself originally settled by Bermudian puritans in 1647) and Bermuda fought for control of the archipelago.
The struggle began in 1766, when the King’s representative in the Bahamas, Mr Symmer, on his own authority, wrote a constitution which legislated for and taxed the Bermudians on the Turks. The Secretary of State, Lord Hillsborough, for the Crown, issued orders that the Bermudian activities on the Turks should not be obstructed or restrained in any way. As a result of this order, Symmer’s constitution was dissolved. The Bermudians on the Turks appointed commissioners to govern themselves, with the assent of the King’s local agent. They drew up regulations for good government, but the Bahamian governor, William Shirley, drew up his own regulations for the Turks and ordered that no one might work at salt raking who had not signed assent to his regulations.
Following this, a raker was arrested and the salt pans were seized and divided by force. The Bahamas government attempted to appoint judicial authorities for the Turks in 1768, but these were refused by the Bermudians. In 1773 the Bahamian government passed an act attempting to tax the salt produced in the Turks, but the Bermudians refused to pay it. In 1774, the Bahamians passed another, similar act, and this they submitted for the Crown’s assent. The Crown passed this act on to the Bermudian government which objected to it, and which rejected Bahamian jurisdiction over the Turks. The Crown, as a consequence, refused assent of the Act as applied to include the Turks, and, in the form in which it finally passed, the Bahamas, but not the Turks, were included.
The Bermudians on the Turks continued to be governed under their own regulations, with the assent of the royal agent, until 1780, when a more formal version of those regulations was submitted for the assent of the Crown, which was given. Those regulations, issued as a royal order, stated that all British subjects had the right (“free liberty”) to rake and gather salt on the Turks, providing that they conformed to the regulations, which expressly rejected Bahamian jurisdiction over the Turks. Despite this refutation by a higher authority of their right to impinge upon Bermudian activities on the Turks, the Bahamian government continued to harass the Bermudians (unsurprisingly, given the lucrativeness of the Turks salt trade).
Although the salt industry on the Turks had largely been a Bermudian preserve, it had been seen throughout the 17th century as the right of all British subjects to rake there, and small numbers of Bahamians had been involved. In 1783, the French had landed a force on Grand Turk which a British force of 100 men, under then-Captain Horatio Nelson, had been unable to dislodge, but which was soon withdrawn.
Following this, the Bahamians were slow to return to the Turks, while the Bermudians quickly resumed salt production, sending sixty to seventy-five ships to the Turks each year, during the six months that salt could be raked. Nearly a thousand Bermudians spent part of the year on the Turks engaged in salt production, and the industry became more productive.
The Bahamas, meanwhile, was incurring considerable expense in absorbing loyalist refugees from the now-independent American colonies, and returned to the idea of taxing Turks salt for the needed funds. The Bahamian government ordered that all ships bound for the Turk Islands obtain a license at Nassau first. The Bermudians refused to do this. Following this, Bahamian authorities seized the Bermuda sloops Friendship and Fanny in 1786. Shortly after, three Bermudian vessels were seized at Grand Caicos, with $35,000 worth of goods salvaged from a French ship. French privateers were becoming a menace to Bermudian operations in the area, at the time, but the Bahamians were their primary concern.
The Bahamian government re-introduced a tax on salt from the Turks, annexed them to the Bahamas, and created a seat in the Bahamian parliament to represent them. The Bermudians refused these efforts also, but the continual pressure from the Bahamaians had a degrative effect on the salt industry. In 1806, the Bermudian customs authorities went some way toward acknowledging the Bahamian annexation when it ceased to allow free exchange between the Turks and Bermuda (this affected many enslaved Bermudians, who, like the free ones, had occupied the Turks only seasonally, returning to their homes in Bermuda after the year’s raking had finished).
That same year, French privateers attacked the Turks, burning ships and absconding with a large sloop. The Bahamians refused to help, and the Admiralty in Jamaica claimed the Turks were beyond his jurisdiction. Two hurricanes, the first in August 1813, the second in October 1815, destroyed more than two-hundred buildings, significant salt stores, and sank many vessels. By 1815, the United States, the primary client for Turks salt, had been at war with Britain (and hence Bermuda) for three years, and had established other sources of salt.
With the destruction wrought by the storm, and the loss of market, many Bermudians abandoned the Turks, and those remaining were so distraught that they welcomed the visit of the Bahamian governor in 1819. The British government eventually assigned political control to the Bahamas, which the Turks and Caicos remained a part of until the 1840s.
One Bermudian salt raker, Mary Prince, however, was to leave a scathing record of Bermuda’s activities there in The History of Mary Prince, a book which helped to propel the abolitionist cause to the 1834 emancipation of slaves throughout the Empire.
Shipbuilding and the maritime economy
Due to the islands’ isolation, for many years Bermuda remained an outpost of 17th-century British civilization, with an economy based on the use of the islands’ Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana) trees for shipbuilding, and Bermudians’ control of the Turks Islands, and their salt trade. Especially as its control of the Turks became threatened, Bermuda’s mariners also diversified their trade to include activities such as whaling and privateering.
Bermudians turned from their failed agricultural economy to the sea after the 1684 dissolution of the Somers Isles Company. With a total landmass of 21 square miles (54 km2), and lacking any natural resources, other than the Bermuda cedar, the colonists applied themselves fully to the maritime trades, developing the speedy Bermuda sloop, which was well suited both to commerce and to commerce raiding. Bermudian merchant vessels turned to privateering at every opportunity, during the 18th Century, preying on the shipping of Spain, France and other nations during a series of wars. They typically left Bermuda with very large crews. This advantage in manpower was vital in seizing larger vessels, which themselves often lacked enough crewmembers to put up a strong defence. The extra crew men were also useful as prize crews for returning captured vessels. Despite close links to the American colonies (and the material aid provided the continental rebels in the form of a hundred barrels of stolen gunpowder), Bermudian privateers turned as aggressively on American shipping during the American War of Independence. An American naval captain, ordered to take his ship out of Boston Harbour to eliminate a pair of Bermudian privateering vessels, which had been picking off vessels missed by the Royal Navy, returned frustrated, saying the Bermudians sailed their ships two feet for every one of ours. The only attack on Bermuda during the war was carried out by two sloops captained by a pair of Bermudian-born brothers (they damaged a fort and spiked its guns before retreating). It greatly surprised the Americans to discover that the crews of Bermudian privateers included Black slaves, as, with limited manpower, Bermuda had legislated that a part of all Bermudian crews must be made up of Blacks. In fact, when the Bermudian privateer Regulator was captured, virtually all of her crew were found to be Black slaves. Authorities in Boston offered these men their freedom, but all 70 elected to be treated as Prisoners of War. Sent to New York on the sloop Duxbury, they seized the vessel and sailed it back to Bermuda.  The American War of 1812 was to be the encore of Bermudian privateering, which had died out after the 1790s, due partly to the build up of the naval base in Bermuda, which reduced the Admiralty’s reliance on privateers in the western Atlantic, and partly to successful American legal suits, and claims for damages pressed against British privateers, a large portion of which were aimed squarely at the Bermudians. During the course of the American War of 1812, Bermudian privateers were to capture 298 ships (the total captures by all British naval and privateering vessels between the Great Lakes and the West Indies was 1,593 vessels).
Naval and military base
Following the loss of Britain’s ports in thirteen of its former continental colonies, Bermuda was also used as a stop-over point between Canada and Britain’s Caribbean possessions, and assumed a new strategic prominence for the Royal Navy. Hamilton, a centrally located port founded in 1790, became the seat of government in 1815. This was partly resultant from the Royal Navy having invested twelve years, following American independence, in charting Bermuda’s reefs. It did this in order to locate the deepwater channel by which shipping might reach the islands in, and at the West of, the Great Sound, which it had begun acquiring with a view to building a naval base. However, that channel also gave access to Hamilton Harbour.
With the buildup of the Royal Naval establishment in the first decades of the 19th century, a large number of military fortifications and batteries were constructed, and the numbers of regular infantry, artillery, and support units that composed the British Army garrison were steadily increased. The investment into military infrastructure by the War Office proved unsustainable, and poorly thought-out, with far too few artillery men available to man the hundreds of guns emplaced. Many of the forts were abandoned, or removed from use, soon after construction. Following the Crimean War, the trend was towards reducing military garrisons in colonies like Bermuda, partly for economic reasons, and partly as it became recognised that the Royal Navy’s own ships could provide a better defence for the Dockyard, and Bermuda. Still, the important strategic location of Bermuda meant that the withdrawal, which began, at least in intent, in the 1870s, was carried out very slowly over several decades, continuing until after the Great War. The last Regular Army units were not withdrawn until the Dockyard itself closed in the 1950s. In the 1860s, however, the major build-up of naval and military infrastructure brought vital money into Bermuda at a time when its traditional maritime industries were giving way under the assault of steel hulls and steam propulsion. The American Civil War, also, briefly, provided a shot-in-the-arm to the local economy. Tourism and agricultural industries would develop in the latter half of the 19th century. However, it was defence infrastructure that formed the central platform of the economy into the 20th century.
Tourism in Bermuda first developed in Victorian times, catering to a wealthy elite seeking to escape North American winters. Many also came hoping to find young noblemen among the officers of the Garrison and Naval base to whom they might marry their daughters. Local hoteliers were quick to exploit this, organising many dances and gatherings during the ‘season’, to which military and naval officers were given a blanket invitation.
Due historically to a third of Bermuda’s manpower being at sea at any one time, and to many of those seamen ultimately settling elsewhere, especially as the Bermudian maritime industry began to suffer, Bermuda was noted for having a high number of aging spinsters well into the 20th century. Many Bermudian women had wed to naval or military officers, but, with the arrival of tourism, Bermudian women found themselves in competition with American girls. Most Bermudian women who married officers left Bermuda when their husbands were stationed elsewhere. It was also common, however, for enlisted men to marry Bermudians, and many of those remained in Bermuda, leaving the Army.
In the early 20th century, as modern transportation and communication systems developed, Bermuda’s tourism industry began to develop and thrive, and Bermuda became a popular destination for a broader spectrum of wealthy US, Canadian, and British tourists. In addition, the tariff enacted by the United States against its trading partners in 1930 cut off Bermuda’s once-thriving agricultural export trade—primarily fresh vegetables to the US—spurring the island to pour more of its efforts into the development of its tourism industry,
Although Imperial Airways and Pan-American World Airways both began flying to Bermuda in the 1930s (by which time the summer had become more important for tourists making briefer visits), it wasn’t until after the Second World War, when the first airport for landplanes was built, and the advent of the Jet Age that tourism really realised its potential.
During World War II, Bermuda’s importantance as a military base increased because of its location on the major trans-Atlantic shipping route. The Royal Naval dockyard on Ireland Island played a role similar to that it had during the Great War, overseeing the formation of trans-Atlantic convoys composed of hundreds of ships. The military garrison, which included four local territorial units, maintained a guard against potential enemy attacks on the Island itself.
In 1941, the United States signed a lend-lease agreement with the United Kingdom, giving the British surplus U.S. Navy destroyers in exchange for 99-year lease rights to establish naval and air bases in certain British territories. Although not included in this trade, Winston Churchill granted the US similar 99-year leases “freely and without consideration” in both Bermuda and Newfoundland. (The commonly held belief that the Bermudian bases were part of the trade is not correct.) The advantage for Britain of granting these base rights was that the neutral US effectively took responsibility for the security of these territories, freeing British forces to be deployed to the sharper ends of the War. The terms of the base rights granted for Bermuda also included that the airfield constructed by the US would be used jointly with the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The Bermuda bases consisted of 5.8 square kilometres (2.25 sq. mi.) of land, largely reclaimed from the sea. The USAAF airfield, Fort Bell (later, US Air Force Base Kindley Field, and, later still, US Naval Air Station Bermuda) was on St. David’s Island, while the Naval Operations Base, a Naval Air Station for maritime patrol flying boats, (which became the Naval Air Station Annex after US Naval air operations relocated to ) was at the western end of the island in the Great Sound. These joined two other air stations already operating on Bermuda, the pre-war civil airport on Darrell’s Island, which had been taken over by the RAF, and the Fleet Air Arm’s Royal Naval Air Station, HMS Malabar, on Boaz Island.
Bermuda has prospered economically since World War II, developing into a highly successful offshore financial centre. Although tourism remains important to Bermuda’s economy, it has for three decades been second to international business in terms of economic importance to the island.
On 10 March 1973, the Governor of the island Sir Richard Sharples was assassinated, along with his aide-de-camp and his dog. Erskine Burrows was found guilty of this assassination. His hanging, on 2 December 1977 was followed by three days of riots.
Though Bermuda has been classified as a self-governed colony since 1620, internal self-government was bolstered by the establishment of a formal constitution in 1968, and the introduction of universal adult suffrage; debate about independence has ensued, although a 1995 independence referendum was soundly defeated. For many, Bermudian independence would mean little other than the obligation to staff foreign missions and embassies around the world, which would be a heavy obligation for Bermuda’s small population, and the loss of British passports (which could severely restrict travel, as few enough countries have even heard of little Bermuda, and could regard travellers with suspicion). Another concern, which raised its head during the 1991 Gulf War, was the loss of the protection provided by the Royal Navy, especially, to the large number of merchant vessels on Bermuda’s shipping register. The Bermuda government is unlikely to be able to provide naval protection to oil tankers plying the Persian Gulf, or other potentially dangerous waters. At present, Bermuda is able to take advantage of its status as part of the United Kingdom to attract overseas shipping operators to its register, although it does not contribute to the navy’s budget. With independence, it was feared, a large chunk of the money currently flowing into the Bermuda Government’s coffers would disappear. The current government is promoting independence – by means of a general election (that is, the government of the day would have the power to decide whether to go independent or not) as opposed to a referendum (a direct vote by the people) – by establishing a committee to investigate (though the committee is notably staffed with party members, and without representation by the opposition party). This stance is being supported by the UN, who have sent delegations to the island claiming that Bermuda is being suppressed by the British.
Effective 1 September 1995, both US military bases were closed; British and Canadian bases on the island closed at about the same time. Unresolved issues concerning the 1995 withdrawal of US forces—primarily related to environmental factors—delayed the formal return of the base lands to the Government of Bermuda. The United States formally returned the base lands in 2002.
It was hit by Hurricane Bertha in July 2008
the end @ Copyright Dr Iwan Suwandy 2010