Breaking away into a new tradition
“Webbing: a nocturnal activity peculiar to a now extinct bipedal male species on the remote Bermudas” — Oxford Bermujan Dictionary.
History happens quickly and in every second of every day, someone, or something, somewhere is weaving a strand into the complicated web of human heritage. Perhaps in no other Age, however, has it been possible to record history as it happens and in so many ways, due to the Digital Epoch, which some might claim is the latest phase in the proposal geological period, the ‘Anthropocene Era’, or the age of man, sorry, of people.
In the old days, what you did in God’s Country of Somerset could be relied upon to take at least half a day to reach Hamilton, but now with a ‘webcam’, it is less than half a second and your misdeed will be known not only in the capital of Bermuda but in every nook and cranny of the globe where Wifi is available. Of course, in these islands of misinterpretation, we cannot refer, with regard to such cameras of the internet, as ‘webbing’, for although the webcam is spying on you without your consent, in Bermudianese, webbing has a connotation not fit for gentler ears or polite company. The refrain, ‘He was out webbing’, did not have, I can assure you, any relation to homeland security.
Leaving such discussion in the pre-digital age in which it hopefully succumbed, history sometimes happens quickly because good men act swiftly, when presented with a good idea. Such gentlemen in this instance were unknown to each other, until they were connected by the “Worldwide Web”, a sinuous, but quite invisible network that now covers the globe, a spider’s snare designed to catch every insect of communication that departs from the almost ubiquitous personal computer or ‘smart’ phone. So credit goes to Willy Freeman and PTZtv’s Lou Gnandt and David Balmforth for extending the web to the Bermuda Dockyard by way of a ‘cam’.
Willy, who runs the marina at Dockyard, had observed the use of webcams in other ports, specifically in cities in East Coast America and contacted Lou, the co-founder of PTZtv, about our harbour at the west end of Bermuda. One thing immediately led to another and presto, a donated web camera was almost instantly installed on the south corner of the upper veranda of the Commissioner’s House at the National Museum, with internet access provided by North Rock Communications, due to the enthusiastic interest of Tom and Vicki Coelho. The Minister of Tourism, the Hon Shawn Crockwell, greeted the presence of the webcam, which looks over the cruise ship docks as well, as a valuable new tourism feature, giving Bermuda worldwide exposure. So the history of the Dockyard is being recorded instantly, if not for all 24 hours, at least during those of daylight.
So it was in the early morning of Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the web camera caught several historical events at one moment, namely the firing of cannon from the ramparts of the Keep and the docking for the first time of a mega cruise ship, viz., the Norwegian
Breakaway (www.portbermudawebcam.com). The two were of course related, as the West End Development Corporation, which runs the historic old Royal Naval Dockyard, engaged the National Museum to salute the new ship as it entered the ‘Port of Dockyard’, the last a phrase once current when the British fleet brought soldiers rather than sojourners to the Island. As smoke from two firing of the cannon wafted eastward for the edification of its passengers (some perhaps rudely awoke by the bangs), the 18-storey vessel came alongside ‘Heritage Wharf’, built by the former government to take smaller mega-ships and now being revised so that the even larger ships stay put and are not inclined to break away.
The Dockyard was originally built for ships of war, intended to be a long term presence in the western waters of the North Atlantic, to ‘web’ upon the activities of the United States, its naval and other shipping, especially in time of war, such as in 1812—15 and in the 1860s. One of the first cruise ships to visit the island was in fact a gunboat built during the American Civil War and then converted to passenger and cargo usage and subsided by the Bermuda Government in the late 1860s. The
SS Fah Kee could accommodate 40 first-class individuals and was ‘safe, convenient and comfortable’, but passengers were reportedly very seasick: the
Breakaway carries over 5,000 souls, hopefully, with modern stabilisers, in good health.
In later years of the 1800s and into the 1920s, the Quebec Steamship Line operated the first consistent cruise ship service to Bermuda, primarily for visitors, or tourists, as they became known. These were followed by the ‘Lady Boats’ of the Canadian National Steamships, named for the wives of the famous admirals Drake, Hawkings, Nelson, Rodney and Somers. Starting in the late 1920s, the ‘millionaires’ ships’ of the Furness Bermuda Line, such as the Queen of Bermuda also entered the cruising trade to the Island, those ships being the finest afloat, as far as interior decoration and accommodation was concerned.
Time moves on and economy of scale apparently dictates the advent of the mega-ship, now, as of a few days ago, a historic part of the tangled web we have woven for our tourism trade. In the warp and weft that should be our tourist cloth, it remains to be seen by historians as to whether the funding that has been channelled into the cruising trade will be matched on the coasts of the staying trade, the latter residences being of fundamental importance to the Bermuda economy and our survival as a people on this historic house of sand.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480.