The Sphinx of Inverurie
For almost 100 years, “Sphinx” presided undisturbed over the tranquil scene of a forest of cedars, a rolling lawn and grass tennis court and the Frith house, “Inverurie”, opposite on the north side of Harbour Road in the northwest corner of Paget.
Made of semi-hard Bermuda limestone and appropriately painted with whitewash on a 5ft red plinth, the statue was Colonel Henry John Wilkinson’s commemorative statement for the ages of his beloved and “noble English mastiff”, an obviously superior female Great Dane.
Rumours of the demise of Sphinx abounded and two local writers, Wendy Soares and William Zuill, gave weight to a couple of solutions: 1) the dog died rescuing someone from drowning at Salt Kettle and 2) more dramatically, Wilkinson’s jealous wife poisoned the brute.
The truth may be more mundane, if romantic, as it does appear that the Quartermaster for the British Army at Bermuda in the later 1870s was just in love with his dog. How that reflects on the absence of such a memorial to his wife in Florence, Italy (where they had retired), may simply be because the Colonel died first.
Delving into their lives with my colleagues, Linda Abend and John McQuaid, the Wilkinsons and three of their children took part in art exhibitions at Government House and in all aspects of putting on plays at the Prospect Garrison Theatre, while they lived at the rented Inverurie.
Colonel Wilkinson, it transpires, was a considerable artist in watercolour and other media from an early age at Durham in the northeast provinces of England, at a noble pile called “Harperley Park”, now, its façade unchanged from the 1840s, a police training school.
Over 100 of his paintings of the Crimean War have survived at the National Army Museum, Chelsea, but sadly none of his local images are known, including one that was at a Bermuda display in the British Empire Building of the 1876 World’s Fair at Philadelphia. The sculpting soldier and his cohort also left behind a great Medici Lion at Gun Hill in Barbados in the late 1860s, which has become an icon of the Barbados National Trust and has been celebrated on several postage stamps.
Sphinx has yet to make her mark with the GPO in our City of Hamilton.
Fast forward to the 1950s and the site became the Inverurie Hotel (now condos). In a Royal Gazette photo of June 1960, the late, famous hotelier, Conrad “Connie” Engelhart, is seen with another man, sawing through the top of the plinth, thus separating Sphinx from her tomb, although the inscribing plaque was fortunately saved.
Thus did Sphinx give way for a swimming pool and a building block that contained more hotel rooms, shops, and amenities, such as the hairdresser.
Many with us today knew Sphinx, as they played on her while mum was having a perm.
Fast forward again, and the hotel block on the corner of Cobbs Hill became condos, but the remains of Sphinx were then rescued by the Roy Thomases, who eventually donated her to the National Museum in 2014. By that year, developments were taking place on the surviving block of the old hotel, now appropriately renamed the Inverurie Executive Suites, completely renovated by its new owner, Philip Akeroyd. As a part of those renovations, Mr Akeroyd kindly agreed to take the remains of Sphinx home to Inverurie and today she sits on the seaside of the hotel, keeping watch over the comings and goings in Hamilton Harbour. Writing an e-mail of thanks to Roy and Maria Thomas in 2015, Mr Akeroyd noted:
“After 137 years, Sphinx has finally made it back home to her kennel at the Inverurie, and has a wonderful view over the harbour towards Hamilton. She still misses her original owner, Colonel Wilkinson, and most particularly her recent guardians Roy and Maria, but she is well fed and glad to be home.
“She is a little slimmer now, as we had to remove quite a lot of white paint to get back to the original Bermuda stone, and then we found some erosion on her body which we repaired with a special mix of lime and sand and then painted all with lime wash, which will stop the water getting in and corroding her again. The lime stone expert, Larry Mills, showed us how to do that. Finally, we gave her two more coats of whitewash and basically she is as good as the day she was carved.”
Then in early 2017, Linda Abend found descendants of James Ware Bryce (later a famous scientist at IBM) whose in-laws, the Koster Family, had rented Inverurie for some years early in the last century.
James took photographs of Sphinx around 1910 and his grandson (of the same name) and his wife Kay Bryce, very generously donated his camera, tripod and 33 glass plate negatives to the National Museum. Jamie Bryce’s father, Henry, and his sister Delia, feature in some of the images. Upon meeting him at home in Cape Cod recently, he opined that: “My father spoke of the statue of Sphinx all his life, such was the impression it made on him as a young boy living at Inverurie: Kay and I are delighted that my grandfather’s collection is now at home in Bermuda.”
Edward Harris is executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda (email@example.com)
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