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Queen’s 1975 visit reveals a much changed Bermuda

Happy to see you: the Queen is escorted by Sir Edwin Leather, the Governor, in Bermuda in 1975 (File photograph)

Twenty-two years after her first visit, Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Bermuda on February 16, 1975.

Bermuda had seen the desegregation of theatres after a boycott, organised by the secret Progressive Group, which pushed the island towards the end of formal segregation.

That time also saw the creation of political parties, riots and the assassination of the Governor, Sir Richard Sharples, his aide-de-camp, Hugh Sayers, and the police commissioner George Duckett, by Black Power activists.

Much had changed, with the abolition of the “plus” and property votes and introduction of universal adult suffrage, a Black man had been premier, Blacks were progressing in business, education, the Civil Service and military.

But on the day the Queen arrived, Bermuda was in the middle of an industrial dispute among the workers at four government departments, and related sympathy strikes by other divisions of the Bermuda Industrial Union.

The strikes began the day before the Queen’s arrival, and ended during the royal visit. Many of the workers picketed the narrow approaches to Ireland Island for the royal visit.

Planning for the visit was otherwise little modified as a result of the strike.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were met on the tarmac by the Governor, Sir Edwin Leather, who presented high-ranking locals.

In one obvious change in 22 years, the Queen inspected a Bermuda Regiment guard as the band played Hubert Smith’s Bermuda Is Another World.

On her first visit, she inspected two units segregated by race, but the Regiment was created in 1965 with the amalgamation of the all-White Bermuda Rifles and the Bermuda Militia, the Black unit.

The royal couple were then driven to Langton Hill, commonly called “Government House”, in a $150,000 open-backed Rolls-Royce, borrowed from a Philadelphia businessman.

The car was reputed to have once been owned by Czech Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek.

Knighthoods were conferred on Sir George Ratteray and Sir Dudley Spurling at Government House.

The Duke, meanwhile, toured Castle Harbour’s Nonsuch Island, to see the Cahow restoration project.

A gala dinner at the Southampton Princess Hotel was attended by more than 500 guests, who heard the Queen urge Bermudians to show what could be achieved when people “of different race and ancestry are determined to live together under the rule of law, and in mutual respect and tolerance”.

The 1975 visit was marred by the disappearance of the famed “Tucker Cross” from the San Pedro wreck, believed to have been lost on the reefs in 1594 and recovered by diver and treasure hunter Teddy Tucker in 1955.

Mr Tucker had sold the cross to the Bermuda Government in 1959 and it was to be the showcase of the new Maritime Museum.

Just hours before the Queen was to open the museum, it was discovered that the cross had been replaced by a fake, prompting an international investigation. The real cross has never been recovered.

Looking at underwater displays of Mr Tucker’s other treasures, the Queen was heard to remark: “Amazing!”

The visit was wrapped up the next day with a mini-tour of the East End, and lunch at St George’s Dinghy Club.

In 1976 and 1983, the Queen made brief stopovers at the Civil Air Terminal for refuelling for visits to the US, and to US and Canada, respectively.

During a 4½-hour visit while on her way to the US for its bicentennial celebration — for revolting against her ancestor — the Queen was driven from the airport to Hamilton.

Again, thousands of people crowded Front Street as the royal couple rode in a landau to the royal yacht Britannia.

After listening to music from the Regiment Band they were introduced to Bermudian sports figures, including a young Clarence Hill, fresh from Montreal Olympics, where he won a heavyweight boxing bronze medal.

The yacht then sailed out of Hamilton Harbour as a Royal Marine band played Auld Lang Syne. The Royal Gazette summarised the trip as “an unqualified success”.

There was an 80-minute stopover on 1983 for refuelling.

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Published September 09, 2022 at 7:32 am (Updated September 08, 2022 at 9:24 pm)

Queen’s 1975 visit reveals a much changed Bermuda

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