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Family stories inspire book on eccentrics

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Frances Cox Williams found a strange man laying in her coffin and was not pleased.

She kept it under her bed, had it regularly polished and frequently took naps in it.

“Get your own!” she shouted, chasing the man out of the house.

Mrs Williams, who lived in the early 1800s, is one of the colourful characters profiled in John Cox's book, Early Bermuda Eccentrics.

He wrote it after a cousin pointed out that many of his books were filled with wacky people.

“I've been told I am an eccentric myself,” he said with a smile, “so maybe that's why I'm drawn to them.”

He admitted there was a fine line between eccentric and crazy.

“I define eccentric as staying within societal norms but living life on your own terms,” he said. “These eccentrics' lives didn't necessarily go off the rails. Granted, Mrs Williams may have crossed that line a bit.

“A lot of the people in the book were what was called, in those days, ‘gentle folk'.

“They were not rich by any means, but lived within families that supported them with money from shipping. If they didn't have the money behind them, then society might not have been so tolerant, and labelled them crazy.”

Another character profiled is Maria Louvilla Outerbridge, a Bailey's Bay schoolteacher in the late 1800s. She went deaf, and began wearing several hats on her head.

“The bigger the social occasion, the higher the stack of hats,” said Mr Cox.

Much of his information comes from old family stories.

“Maria was a cousin of my grandmother, Dorothy Darrell. On the cover of my book there's a photo of her taken Christmas Day 1908.

“She is wearing one hat and has another on her lap. My grandmother is also in the photo at the bottom.

“She said Maria was going to wear both hats for the photograph, but her brother urged her to take one off and put it in her lap as otherwise the photo would look too bizarre.”

He admired Miss Outerbridge's bravery.

“She lived by herself in a little cottage at Mount Wyndham in Hamilton Parish,” he said. “She had to stop teaching school when she began to lose her hearing.

“One evening she saw a hand come through the window. She took the kerosene lamp over to the hand, put it under and turned up the flame. You can imagine the hand disappeared quite quickly.”

Mr Cox believes genetics may have been behind many unusual personalities in the book.

“Maria's parents were first cousins and her grandparents second cousins,” he said.

“The population in Bermuda in days gone by wasn't very big, and so people tended to marry cousins.

“It's not really very good genetically for close cousins to marry, and I think that might have been the reason behind some of the eccentrics in the book.”

Several other members of Miss Outerbridge's family were also eccentric, such as her nephew Ernest Darrell.

“He was obsessed with ships and could tell you anything you wanted to know about them,” said Mr Cox.

“He lived in the basement at Mount Wyndham and had 30 cats. They were all named after local parliamentarians. In those days the parliamentarians were all male, and a lot of his cats were not male, but they got male names. He died in 1955, the year I was born.”

The characters aren't limited to Hamilton Parish, Mr Cox said. The book moves “from parish to parish digging up eccentrics along the way”.

Mr Cox is the author of several books about Bermuda. Early Bermuda Eccentrics is in stores now.

Left field characters: writer John Cox at home with one of his many books about Bermuda folklore. His latest book is called 'Old Bermuda Eccentrics'.

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Published December 07, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 06, 2015 at 11:45 pm)

Family stories inspire book on eccentrics

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