Boer prisoners author Benbow dies at 85

  • Extraordinary contributions: Colin Benbow wrote a number of books about Bermuda history and was curator for the Bermuda Historical Society’s museum for about 12 years

    Extraordinary contributions: Colin Benbow wrote a number of books about Bermuda history and was curator for the Bermuda Historical Society’s museum for about 12 years

Historian and teacher Colin Benbow, who wrote the definitive history about the Boer War prisoners in Bermuda, has died at the age of 85.

Mr Benbow first came to the island in the mid-1950s and quickly became entrenched in researching the island’s history while teaching — first at Warwick Academy and later at Bermuda Technical Institute.

While he wrote histories of Corporation of Hamilton, the Bermuda Telephone Company and local woman’s suffrage leader Gladys Morrell, he was most known for his book Boer Prisoners of War in Bermuda, now in its fourth printing.

The book, which began its life as an essay written for a contest, details the more than 4,600 prisoners of war kept in internment camps in Bermuda between 1901 and 1902. In an interview, Mr Benbow told The Royal Gazette he selected the subject because so little had been written about it.

Over the years it has garnered international attention, with many relatives of the prisoners contacting Mr Benbow personally over the years.

When South African leaders Thabo Mbeki and F.W. de Klerk visited the island in 1989 and 1997 respectively, Mr Benbow led the figures on a tour of the Boer cemetery on Long Island. His love and fascination with history eventually brought Mr Benbow to the Bermuda Historical Society. There, he served as the curator for the society’s museum for about 12 years.

Mr Benbow also made a foray into politics for a period, representing the United Bermuda Party in Devonshire South between 1976 and 1980.

In 2009, Mr Benbow was one of 400 individuals highlighted in Bermuda 1609-2009, a commemorative book celebrating the figures who made extraordinary contributions to Bermudian culture. Longtime friend Andrew Bermingham said that in addition to writing and teaching, Mr Benbow was a stamp collector of note, who donated much of his collection to the Corporation of Hamilton and later the National Museum of Bermuda, and a lover of “unusual animals”.

“He had a small menagerie-come-zoo at his home,” Mr Bermingham said. “He was a great friend of mine and he did a lot for Bermuda in many ways. He was always an advocate of teaching history, particularly Bermuda history, and he wrote lots about it.

“The best way I could describe him was that he was a good man. He didn’t suffer faults gladly, but underneath that he had a genuine and kind heart. He set his goals, and in writing he set a very high bar form himself, which he achieved.”

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Published May 30, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated May 30, 2016 at 6:29 am)

Boer prisoners author Benbow dies at 85

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