Author falls short in covering worthy subject
‘Peace, Prudence and Prosperity: a History of Bermuda (1919-1939)’
Jonathon Land Evans’ account of Bermuda in the inter-war years covers a period not often touched by historians, and could be a valuable resource for those interested in the subject. However, it is let down in many places by the author’s tendency to editorialise, and a lack of sufficient research.
Consider prohibition, the American attempt to create an alcohol-free nation that lasted from 1919 to 1933. We know that alcohol smugglers visited Bermuda, and with such frequency that the British Government had to get involved. We also know that alcohol duty revenue in Nassau, Bahamas shot from a little less than £1,000 before Prohibition to more than £1,000,000 during it, and that when Nassau imposed a tax intended to discourage smuggling, a substantial portion of Nassau’s liquor trade relocated to Bermuda. Yet Evans makes little mention of this, nor is there a significant analysis of the effect of prohibition on the nascent tourist trade, beyond a reference to tourists too snookered to know which Front Street bar they happened to be in.
There are many points where the reader could wish Evans had been more forthcoming. There is much mention of Tucker’s Town, for example, with its luxuries and world-class golfing; but of the eviction of the people who used to live there before the redevelopment very little is said, except that the compulsory purchase of their land was lawful. Lawful it may have been, but the reader can’t help thinking there is more to the story than that. Or take the case of Amy J Baker, author of ‘The Painted Lily’, whose “stridently hurtful comments” earn Evans’ displeasure; Evans makes no mention of the fact that the protagonist of Baker’s story is a woman passing for white, which throws a completely new light on those hurtful comments.
Equally there are times when Evans could be less forthcoming, particularly when he indulges in his dislike for conditions in present day Bermuda. There are times when Evans’ polemicist instincts overcome him, to the detriment of his work. His description of Doctor EF Gordon, for example “a kind of serpent in the Bermuda Garden of Eden” should perhaps be seen in this light. As perhaps should his disagreement with Rosemary Jones over the segregation or not of the Bermuda Railway. Evans says that Jones cannot prove her claim that it was segregated; he fails to see that neither has he proved his.
Evans does touch on some difficult subjects. His coverage of anti-Semitism, particularly as it relates to the tourist trade, is interesting; again, the reader is left wishing there was more analysis, but there is much here of use. There is also much to admire in the coverage of the career of Chief of Police John Howard Semphill, and the state of the Police Force generally, particularly in the early 1920s.
His descriptions of early Bermuda’s limestone roads and architecture can be fascinating, as is the slow development of the colony from sleepy backwater to a more developed paradise. Moreover the depiction of Bermuda’s development as a tourist destination is well worth reading, particularly when Evans starts talking about the Furness-Bermuda connection. The growth of the banks and the Island’s financial services’ connection is also well described.
The study of Bermuda in the inter-war period is worth doing, and it is a pity that, on so many fronts, this study falls short. Though there is much to admire here, further research and perhaps fewer polemics would have made this an excellent history.
n “Peace, Prudence and Prosperity: a history of Bermuda from 1919 to 1939”, is available for purchase on the www.lulu.com website.