Opinion

Trading places? Correcting Outerbridge error

  • T H Hastings Outerbridge (Photograph courtesy of Beautiful Bermuda, 9th Edition, 1946)
  • T H Outerbridge (Photograph courtesy of Beautiful Bermuda, 9th Edition, 1946)

The year was 1921. The “expropriation proceedings” of Tucker’s Town land for the Bermuda Development Company were in full swing. The February 24 issue of The Royal Gazette carried the following front-page headline: “Jury Gives £4,750 to Mr Outerbridge”. The article goes on to explain: “The case in question was that of Wor. T.H.H. Outerbridge, MCP, owner of some forty acres of land with a water frontage on Castle Harbour.”

Before rendering their decision, the jury was asked to note that “Mr Outerbridge was not, however, a resident of Tucker’s Town and he was not being turned out of his home”.

Fast-forward to the summer of 1996. The magazine Bermuda (not to be confused with The Bermudian) published its lead story: “TRADING PLACES: At last, the truth about Tucker’s Town.” The author is described at the end of the article: “Duncan McDowall teaches history at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is currently writing a history of Bermuda tourism.”

In describing the 1920 protest of some of the residents against the BDC legislation being piloted through the House of Assembly, Mr McDowall writes (page 25): “A petition signed by 24 freeholders in the Tucker’s Town area was presented to the Assembly by Dr T.H. Outerbridge, who represented St George’s parish.” Later, in reference to the final vote being taken on the BDC Bill, Mr McDowall writes: “T.H. Outerbridge stood by the sentiments of the petitioners in his constituency” (page 26).

Then, after discussing a major settlement made with one large landowner in early 1921, Mr McDowall drops this bombshell (on page 27): “A month later, the champion of the original petition, Dr Outerbridge, himself proffered the company 40 acres on the edge of Castle Harbour and was awarded £4,750 for it. By his own admission, the land had cost him £1,940.”

The inescapable inference by Mr McDowall is that this presumably principled Member of the Colonial Parliament, who was willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his “constituents” against the tidal wave of special interests, in opposition to his own peers, lost no time initiating some good old-fashioned, shameless horse trading to make a tidy profit for himself in the whole affair.

However, in his hasty research into this chapter of the Tucker’s Town saga, Mr McDowall has fallen into two errors:

1, Dr T.H. Outerbridge was not the MCP for St George’s parish and therefore the petitioners were not his “constituents”

2, Dr T.H. Outerbridge was not the person who sold 40 acres of Castle Harbour property to the BDC for £4,750

Unfortunately, these errors have been repeated in recent times — ie, in the former Bermuda Ombudsman’s report, A Grave Error in 2014; and in a reprint of the 1996 article renamed “Creating Paradise in Tucker’s Town” in 2015 — and will continue to resurface if not corrected because Mr McDowall’s original “Trading Places” article is considered to be the authority on Tucker’s Town history.

In 1920, Dr Thomas Heber (T.H.) Outerbridge, a dental surgeon by profession, was the MCP for Smith’s parish, where he resided at “Somerville”. According to his obituary published in The Royal Gazette in 1942, he was first elected to Parliament in 1882 and served as an assemblyman for 44 years — a record in Bermuda that “will probably never be surpassed”. He went on to be appointed a member of the Legislative Council, where he remained until one month before his death at the age of 95.

Dr T.H. Outerbridge accepted the task of tabling the unpopular petition of the 24 freeholders, even though they were not in his constituency of Smith’s parish. In doing so, he was in direct opposition to S.S. Spurling, who was one of four MCPs for St George’s parish and who was the “pilot” for the second BDC Bill, which dealt specifically with the expropriation of the Tucker’s Town properties — Mr Spurling exhibiting a blatant conflict of interest to that of his constituents. The other three MCPs for St George’s — W.J. Boyle, V. Pugh and F.E. Smith — were conspicuously absent from the House of Assembly on the day of the fateful vote on August 6, 1920; completely abandoning their constituents.

Dr T.H. Outerbridge voted for the petition of the Tucker’s Town freeholders, with only one other member in support. He and that other member — W.A. Moore, MCP for Warwick parish — were the only members who voted against the BDC Bill to expropriate the Tucker’s Town lands.

On the other hand, Thaddeus Hiram Hastings (T.H.H.) Outerbridge was the MCP for Hamilton Parish, where he resided at “Norwood”, Bailey’s Bay. The Royal Gazette article in 1940, announcing his death, stated that he had “served his parish in the House of Assembly for over 20 years”. He was 62.

T.H.H. Outerbridge voted against the petition of the Tucker’s Town freeholders. On August 6, he voted in support of the BDC Bill to expropriate the Tucker’s Town lands. This is the T.H.H. Outerbridge who initially gave the BDC a 90-day option to purchase his 40 acres at Castle Harbour for $50,000.

Public records of the day confirm that T.H. Outerbridge and T.H.H. Outerbridge were entirely different individuals with very different agendas. This final quote from The Royal Gazette of March 2, 1920 confirms this and more:

The length of the debate last Friday on the Tucker’s Town proposition and the number of messages received from the Governor, prevented the members from attending to much other business. It was after 2.30 o’clock before the discussion was opened on the Furness, Withy Co’s scheme and this lasted for nearly two hours.

The debate saw the official christening of Dr T.H. Outerbridge by the name of the “Objector General,” his sponsor being Mr T.H.H. Outerbridge. But the doctor refused to be drawn when he heard his name so frivolously prefixed!

It is certain that Dr T.H. Outerbridge would not be amused to know — 76 years after that harrowing debate and his fierce opposition to the Tucker’s Town scheme — that one of those visiting tourists, doubling as a professor of history, would erroneously write him into the historical record as “trading places” with T.H. Hastings Outerbridge. And, for the record, I officially object in support of the good doctor.

•LeYoni Junos is a historical researcher. Records used from the journals of the House of Assembly, The Royal Gazette and the Registry General