Saint George's Island, Bermuda
The "Somers Gardens" were opened in 1920 to commemorate Sir George Somers by England's Prince of Wales, who was later to become briefly King Edward VIII, during his first visit (voyage) to Bermuda.
This very pleasant and serene park has an excellent setting quite close to town. The waving palm trees and fountains give it an open, airy sort of atmosphere which invites visitors to sit and enjoy their surroundings, especially on warm humid days. The garden is park-like and does not resemble an arborteum, in my opinion, because it doesn't feature lots of specimen plantings. However, I found it particularly peaceful and beautiful. The lovely "Moon Gate" -- one of at least two that I know of, but there may be more, in Bermuda (one also exists in Par-La-Ville Park) -- is supposed to be good luck to those who pass through it.
Of particular interest is a crypt near the front of the Gardens next to the wall. Sir George Somers became ill on the return journey from Virginia and succumbed to that illness on November 9, 1610, aged 56, in Bermuda. Local legend has it that Somers "loved Bermuda so much that he requested that his heart be buried there." The crypt in Somers' Gardens is thought to mark the approximate location where his heart was supposed to have been buried. The remainder of his body was taken back to England and buried in his home town of Lyme Regis.
A memorial tablet was erected at the site in the Somers Garden, with the following inscription: "Near this spot was interred in the year 1610 the heart of the heroic Admiral Sir George Somers who nobly sacrificed his life to carry succor to the infant and suffering Plantation now the State of Virginia. To preserve his fame to future ages, near the scene of his memorable shipwreck of 1609, the Governor and Commander in Chief of the Colony for the time being caused this tablet to be erected, 1876." ~ Governor Lefroy
Admission is free to the public. Open sunrise to sunset.
Following our visit to the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo in Flatts Village, we too the bus to St. George's where I hoped to have time to explore more of this quaint little town. Walking over to King's Square where many town activities take place, I found the City Hall which I had missed seeing on our first visit to Bermuda.
The exterior of this two-story, double-staircase building with palm trees on either side and painted in hues of deep tan and white dates to 1782. St. George's was the capital of Bermuda until 1815, so it is likely that this building had an important role to play during the early days of the country. However, the fact that this building is still in use today makes it all the more interesting. Note in the accompanying photos the beautiful interior woodwork much of which, and perhaps all of, is made from Bermuda cedar. The special seating arrangement has the "Mayor's Throne" in the center flanked on each side by chairs for council. Many portraits/photographs honors the service of past Mayors.
One of the most interesting pieces in City Hall will be found in the entrance to the building -- it is a flagstone embedded in the threshold which is said to come from the original home of Sir George Somers himself in Lyme Regis, England. See the accompanying photo below. Look for other artifacts of note also within this interesting building.
Open to public 10a.m - 4p.m, Monday-Saturday. Admission free!
It is thought that the meaning of "diaspora" is generally considered to mean "scattered" and was a term originally connected with the dispersion of Jews across the world after their exile form Babylonia. In modern times the term has been applied to black people of African decent who were part of the transatlantic slave trade and transported from Africa by the millions to the Western hemisphere.
In 2001, Bermuda's Department of Tourism and the "international body of AFRICAN DIASPORA" created the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Bermuda which traces the legacy of Bermuda's historical connections to slavery and preserves the history of it as it related to Bermuda itself.
One of the major sites is "St. Peter's Anglican Church" itself in St. George's. The St. Peter's, being the oldest Anglican Church in the Western hemisphere, is significant because from the earliest days it constructed a separate gallery inside the church enabling slaves to attend services, and although separate, a church graveyard was established for Christian blacks, whether free or enslaved. This was quite advanced thinking and compassionate for the era.
Other sites on the trail include:
Commissioner's House ~ Sandy's Parish - Royal Naval Dockyards
Cobbs Hill Methodist Church ~ Warwick Parish
Barr's Bay Park ~ Hamilton City
Verdmont Historic House Museum
Jeffrey's Cave at Spittal Pond ~ Smith Parish
Gibbet Island ~ Near Flatt's Inlet
Lost at Sea Memorial ~ St. David's Island at St. George's
St. George's Historical Society Museum ~ St. George's
Bermudian Heritage Museum ~ St. George's
Tucker's House Museum ~ St. George's
Pilot Darrell's Square ~ St. George's
According to online information, all the sites on the trail, including monuments and museums, have been designated as part of the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Sites are found in several of Bermuda's Parishes, although most are in St. George's. Each site has an interesting history linked in some way to Bermuda's early days of slavery, and many are connected to significant personalities. A guide from the Bermuda Department of Tourism should be available from Tourist Information Centers. Some sites may have admission charges and others are free.
From the ADHT website: "In 1834, Bermuda’s Black population became free citizens. We commemorate the event each summer with a gala celebration featuring open-air concerts, exotic foods, Gombey dancing, and much more. The highlight of the event? Our beloved Cup Match cricket tournament—a two-day match between our East and West End clubs. It’s more than a game—it’s one of the Island’s most eagerly anticipated parties." For more information, see the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Bermuda website at: adhtbermuda.com.
NOTE: During our visit to Bermuda, the Bermuda Post Office was featuring a series of stamps some of which paid tribute to James Darrell, the island's most respected black boat pilot who was freed from slavery because his exceptional navigational skills so impressed British Admiral George Murray.
One of the main attractions in St. George's is St. Peter's Church, famous because it is believed to be the oldest, continually used Anglican Church in the Western hemisphere. St. Peter's is immediately recognizable because of the many brick-edged steps you must climb to reach it.
Though not old when compared to many of the churches in Europe, the original structure of St. Peter's built in 1612 is considered very old. First constructed of materials available in those days -- indigenous woods and palmetto leaves, the original structure was replaced with a newer version. Almost a century later the existing church was enlarged to include a tower and additional spaces.
The current church is beauty born of simplicity---white-washed limestone, with green details; symmetrical, exterior features including rose windows above the doors. Inside the exposed cedar beams, and wooden pews certainly exude a warm comfortable feeling. Candle chandeliers help bath everything in a warm glow on cloudy days. The large pipe organ seems to overshadow the altar area, but the altar itself does date back to 1615. The Bishop's chair dates back to the 18th century, and a fine collection of communion silver from the 17th century resides in the vestry. It is said that the font (baptismal) font was brought by Bermuda's original settlers and is over 500 years old. I found the church quite beautiful.
A walk around the churchyard reveals two graveyards: one for whites and one for black slaves which is historically significant. Some notable graves at St. Peter's are those of Governor Sir Richard Sharples who was assasinated in 1973, and US Navy Midshipman Richard Dale, the last victim of the War of 1812.
See my tip on The African Diaspora Heritage Trail Bermuda for more information on St. Peter's Church as a one of the key sites on this Trail.
The church is open daily from 10am-4:30pm; Sunday service at 11:15am;
Guide is available from Monday to Saturday. Free admission - donations accepted.
The second day of our first visit to Bermuda was for the most part devoted to discovering St. George's. Being first in line for the ferry that morning allowed us seats of our choice to enjoy the cruise which went by in a flash. We debarked at St. George's just near Ordinance Island.
Though there is plenty to see around St. George's, one of my favorite things was to watch the re-enactment of a dunking! Just by the water's edge near City Hall, the courtyard filled with spectators as St. George's Mayor and Towncrier, garbed in typical period clothing, read aloud the charges against a gentleman accused of over indulging in Bermuda rum, and a poor woman accused of nagging her husband. The gentleman received a light sentence while the poor woman, who failed to "repent", was subjected repeatedly to being dunked in St. George's Sound! It was all well done and most amusing!
While this re-enactment is usually reserved for Market Nights in St. George's, with 3 ships in Bermuda, the crowd must have encouraged the townspeople to provide us with the entertainment both in mid-week and in mid-day.
For more photo ops, don't miss the stocks and pillory in the City Hall courtyard.
St Peter's church dates from the 17th century, with the present building dating to 1713.
The first Bermuda parliament met at this site, in a former structure.
The church is open daily from 10 am - 4 pm, and I'd suggest having a nice chat with the vicar, who's usually on-site. I personally LOVE pipe organs, and I did everything I could to convince the "right reverend" to fire up St. Peter's organ, but I was unsuccessful. Just the same, I was careful to leave a little donation in their "building fund box". :)
The "Unfinished Church" is considered a point of interest in St. George's, but I really consider it more of a landmark. With no particular intention to see it while visiting, nonetheless we did see it as we walked by it on Duke of Kent Street on our way to Tobacco Bay. The "unfinished church" is protected as an historic monument and part of St. George's World Heritage Site.
It does have an interesting story behind it. Originally conceived as a replacement for St. Peter's, building the church began around 1874 continuing til 1899. It had three strikes against it -- poor financial standing, in-fighting among Anglican parishioners, and severe storm damage. Parishioners, in any case a most beneficial decision for St. Peter's, decided to restore the ancient St. Peter's rather than continue on an uncertain path with the "new" church.
Today the "unfinished church" actually looks more like a ruin rather than something that was new but unfinished. The "unfinished church" is perched on an elevated piece of ground and surrounded by a stone wall. Visitors can walk the grounds, but there doesn't seem like much to see. Nevertheless, the grounds are open dawn to dusk. WARNING: the church & grounds have been closed at times because of the hazard of deteriorating and falling masonry. Should you choose to see it up close, be aware of this potential hazard!
St. George's has many interesting places to visit, and one of the
most scenic might be the nearby "Tobacco Bay Beach." Admittedly it is a good walk from the center of town, but very doable on a nice day.
The beach area itself is a little small compared to the famous Horseshoe Bay Beach and other southside beaches, but it does have advantages: Tobacco Bay Beach is a sheltered, cove-like area which means most likely you will have no large wave action or undertow thus being a bit safer; there are nice facilities available unlike some of the more natural beaches; every beach in Bermuda seems to be scenic but Tobacco Bay Beach is particularly so and happens to be within walking distance of St. George's or a short ride away.
When you get to historic St. George, the first place you might want to stop is at the World Heritage Centre. There, you can watch a 15 minute video of the island history, get a map for a walking tour and visit the small exhibit of the island history. There you learn about how the shipwreck that led to colonization, the role of whaling, the design of the town and building of the forts etc. It is a good primer since most people who arrive in St. George will knnow that it was founded roughly 1605 and little more. The exhibits and video really dramatize how deeply Bermuda has been tied to events in North America and how events in the latter have determined the development of the island.
The attendant at the centre turned out to be very well versed in history, not just of his island, but of colonial North america as well. He knew all sorts of interesting things and seemed great with children.
Historic St. George Town (St. George was the second English town established in the New World (after Jamestown, Virginia)) has lots of things to see. A 2 hour walking tour (not counting going into buildings) on any day except Sunday (when some things are closed) might include
1. King's Square with a replica of a pillory and stocks
2. Ordnance Island with the Deliverance, a replica of the vessel that carried the shipwrecked Sea Venture passengers on to Virginia. (fee)
3. White Horse Tavern
4. Town Hall which has antique cedar furnishings and a collection of photographs of previous lord mayors. Bermuda Journey, a multimedia audiovisual presentation, is shown here several times a day. (free)
5. Bridge House which was once the home of several governors of Bermuda.
6. Old State House - the oldest stone building in Bermuda, dating from 1620, and was once the home of the Bermuda Parliament. It's the site of the ancient Peppercorn Ceremony, in which the Old State House pays the government a "rent" of one peppercorn annually.
7. Somers Garden -The heart of Sir George Somers, the admiral of the Sea Venture, is buried here. (free)
8. St. George's Historical Society Museum
9. Featherbed Alley Printery
10. St. Peter's Church The present church was built in 1713, with a tower added in 1814. You can wander around the church and graveyard for free.
11. Bermuda National Trust Museum
12. Carriage Museum (free)
St. George Tips
Located on the eastern side of King's Square is the St. George's town hall. Quite honestly, this part of town looks a little bit like a DisneyWorld set. But, don't be deceived...quaint as it may be, the town hall is still a functioning governmental edifice. The mayor and council meet here regularly.
The Town Hall was erected in 1782 (one year before the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown over in America) and is constructed, both inside and out, of native Bermuda cedar. The interior, in particular, is asthestically pleasing, and there are numerous portraits of past and present St. George mayors.
Open 10 am - 4 pm, Monday-Saturday, and admission is free.
Talk about your "fixer-upper", St. George's "Unfinished Church" does need a bit more work...OK seriously, this is a church that was started, but due to a continuing run of obstacles, never reached their "grand opening"...
Construction of the church started in the 1870s, and the magnificent Gothic structure was meant to be a replacement for St. Peter’s Church, which is still "in business" in St. George, and an attraction in its own right. Following a series of problems, including parish infighting, financial difficulties and a damaging storm, it was abandoned on the eve of its completion. Today, the picturesque ruins are a protected historic monument and part of the St. George's World Heritage Site.
For more information, contact the Bermuda National Trust, below.
At the far eastern end of Bermuda lies the historic city (more like a town) of St. George. Founded in the early 17th century, St. George is Bermuda's oldest settlement, and until the early 19th century, served as Bermuda's capital. In its early days, St. George was very much tied, via trade and personnel exchange, to the Virginia Company colony at Jamestown, VA.
St. George has been a pivotal part of US history as well, serving as smuggler's headquarters both during the Revolutionary War. And, St. George was a haven for the Confederate States privateer navy during our Civil War.
Today, St. George is primarily a tourist attraction and port...the business expanse that defines the Bermudian capital Hamilton has not affected St. George. This is a place consisting of narrow lanes and historic homes. Down at the harbor, they still have an old "dunking stool", a colonial times punishment fitting such crimes as gossip, etc.
St. George has pubs, shops, historical museums, a nifty parfumerie, and one of the "new world's" oldest churches at St. Peter's. In 2000, St. George was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This historical church isn't much to look at from either the inside or the outside, but it is one of the cornerstones of the city's world heritage status. The baptismal font is Scottish and 900 years older than inhabitatiojn on the island. Modest in size and decoration, the church is rich in historical detail.
One interesting thing about this church is the graveyard. Bermuda never had segregation, though they did have slavery. Nevertheless, the church buried whites of any status inside the churchyard, while blacks, slave or free, were buried on the other side of the wall.
St. Geoprge tried for a hundred years to build a church to replace St. Peter's. They suffered from splits in congregation, diversion of funds, and a lot of problems in general. Eventually, the project was abandoned.