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Queen’s triumphant 2009 visit marks 400th anniversary

A gift: Queen Elizabeth smiles as she is presented with two Bermuda Gombey figurines by Ewart Brown, the Premier, as the Duke of Edinburgh and Dr Brown’s wife, Wanda Henton Brown, look on (File photograph)

The Queen’s fourth official visit to Bermuda was the culmination of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of English settlement.

The visit, from November 24 to 26 in 2009, came 56 years to the day since the Queen first travelled to Bermuda, but now, the heir to E.F. Gordon’s Bermuda Worker’s Association, the Progressive Labour Party, held the reins of government, and was asserting its agenda after more than a decade in power.

Bermuda now had a government that was a far cry from the closed, cloistered club that ran the island during her first visit.

The previous year’s worldwide economic collapse had struck Bermuda hard, new larger “mega” cruise ships had forced a focus on the completion of the over-budget King’s Wharf, on Ireland Island North, and abandoned for the most part the familiar ground of Hamilton Harbour.

The PLP had long had a pro-independence stance, despite encouraging its members to not participate in the 1995 referendum.

Ewart Brown nevertheless stepped into the role of head of government, heartily welcoming the Queen to Bermuda and toasting her at a state dinner at The Point restaurant at Tucker’s Point on her final night.

Earlier that summer, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and Vanity Fair speculated that the Queen had snubbed the ceremonies on the actual anniversary of the wrecking of the flagship of The Third Supply for the Jamestown, Virginia colony, The Sea Venture, on July 28, 1609.

The newspapers and magazine also speculated that Dr Brown also snubbed the event, citing his pro-independence stance.

Weeks later, tensions rocketed between Dr Brown, Langton Hill and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office over the arrival of four Muslim men from an ethnic minority from the far west of China.

The four Uighurs had been cleared of terrorism suspicion, but had languished in the Guantánamo Bay base in Cuba because US law prohibited their return to China, where it is presumed they would be tortured.

The negotiations, deliberations and move were spearheaded by Dr Brown at the behest of Barack Obama’s State Department and were conducted in secret, and by midday had invoked the wrath of Sir Richard Gozney, the Governor, and Whitehall officials over lack of consultation with Britain.

Press secretary Glenn Jones commented on the Queen’s response to renewed speculation, saying the Premier “warmly welcomed the announcement” and was “looking forward” to welcoming the Queen and Duke “in the spirit of hospitality that Bermuda is famous for”.

All was forgotten as they alighted from the British Airways Boeing 777 on to a red carpet at the now fully Bermuda-controlled LF Wade International Airport.

Thousands of people descended on St George to welcome the Queen and Prince Philip to Bermuda within an hour of her arrival.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband accompanied the royal couple — a sure signal of the importance of the visit to London.

Sir Richard said: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have a full schedule, and events from St George’s to Dockyard. This is a historic event.

“We have worked to ensure the public is given opportunities to see the Queen and the Duke while they are here.”

Children in school uniforms, Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Sea Cadets and members of the public stood waving as the Queen stepped out of her Range Rover.

They were among some 2,000 people crammed into King’s Square, as the Queen did a short walkabout, escorted by Dr Brown and his wife, Wanda Henton Brown.

In King’s Square, Conchita Ming, chairman of the Bermuda 2009 Steering Committee, said: “I am thrilled. I think this is absolutely thrilling to have Her Majesty come.”

A 21-gun salute took place just before the Queen arrived — catching much of the crowd off guard.

Her attire, a bright fuchsia suit and hat with lavender trim, black patent leather shoes with a matching handbag, black gloves and a gorgeous silver brooch, was all people could talk about.

As soon as she stepped out of the car, she began waving to the people and was escorted to a platform in the middle of the square by Bermuda Regiment officers.

The regiment band played God Save the Queen.

She then inspected the regiment’s guard of honour and was introduced by Sir Richard to Sir Richard Ground, the Chief Justice, and his wife, and then to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Stanley Lowe OBE.

Dr Brown introduced her to members of his Cabinet, as well as Kim Swan, then the Leader of the Opposition, of the now-defunct United Bermuda Party, and his wife, Cindy.

The Queen then went into the Town Hall to sign the guest book and was met outside by two girls and a boy, who presented her with three bouquets of flowers.

To the delight of the crowd, the Queen then strolled to Ordnance Island, where she stopped and chatted with schoolchildren and many people standing behind the barriers.

Megan McIntyre, Sydney Richardson and Jenn White were so excited to see the Queen they brought along their babies — each wearing a crown.

The babies, Philip Hanekom — who was looked after by Ms White — Sadie Jiminez and Kyla White each had on a homemade silver crown and Ms Richardson said: “In all honestly, we thought it might be a chance that the Queen might see them.”

Ms McIntyre, a tourist, said: “We are all excited. Probably the most exciting thing of our vacation. Just seeing her. We’ve never seen her before.”

The Queen left soon afterwards for a reception at Langton Hill, the seat of state affairs in Bermuda.

The next day, nearly 35 years after formally opening the Maritime Museum in 1975, the Queen returned to inaugurate a mural in the Commissioner’s House by Bermudian artist Graham Foster.

The mural depicts, in intricate detail, all the major events from the island’s history, from its association with Spanish explorers in the 16th century to the wreck of The Sea Venture, to a tiny image showing how police used to measure the lengths of girls’ shorts.

Lunch was taken at Commissioner’s House, at the northern tip of Ireland Island North, with sweeping views of the archipelago.

Thought to be the world’s first prefabricated cast and wrought-iron house, the restoration of Commissioner’s House has earned a conservation award from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The Duke then visited The Spirit of Bermuda and then rejoined the Queen for a tour of the Clocktower where they were met by Walter Lister, the chairman of West End Development Corporation, and Member of Parliament Walter Lister.

In the Clock Tower, they enjoyed an historical re-enactment of a Bermudian wedding by pupils from Sandys Middle School and met former Naval Dockyard apprentices and cedar carver and former premier David Saul.

The royal couple also heard 102-year-old Hilda Smith play the national anthem on a piano.

Maritime Museum director Edward Harris, an archaeologist famed for writing the leading textbook worldwide on the science of stratigraphy, greeted the Queen and her party at the building he had painstakingly restored.

Dr Harris later said: “Her Majesty was very relaxed and was introduced to several dozen major donors and trustees of the museum, all of whom were impressed with her straightforward manner.

“According to all the accounts I have heard, everyone was delighted with the visit and see it as one of the highlights of Bermuda’s 400th anniversary year.”

That night, the Queen was treated to a state dinner to mark the royal visit. It was a convivial, gentle affair, as dignitaries joined Her Majesty in toasting Bermuda.

Guests included government ministers, the Opposition leader, Bermuda Democratic Alliance member MP Mark Pettingill, independent MP Wayne Furbert, former premier Sir John Swan, former PLP candidate Jane Correia, US congressman G.K. Butterfield, whose father was Bermudian, and other overseas dignitaries.

As the Queen arrived at Tucker’s Point Hotel, the Premier presented her with two handmade glass Gombey dancers on a Bermuda cedar base.

The artwork, entitled Bermuda Gombey Dance, was created by local craftsman Jeremy Johnson.

In a gift exchange, the Queen then presented Dr Brown with a copy of A History of Golf: The Royal and Ancient Game by Robert Browning. Mrs Brown was given a blue enamel pill box.

Her Majesty then entered The Point restaurant to a fanfare by trumpeters of the Bermuda Regiment.

This was followed by a soaring rendition of Amazing Grace by Bermudian soprano Toni Robinson.

In the intimate setting of The Point restaurant, ten circular tables covered in white silk and bathed in candlelight seated the 90 guests.

At Her Majesty’s table, the Queen sat next to the Premier and Mr Lowe, while the Duke enjoyed the company of Mrs Brown and Carol Anne Bassett, the President of the Senate.

They were joined by the lead courtier Baroness Farnham, the Lady of the Bedchamber, Baron Geidt, the Queen’s personal secretary, Mr Lowe’s wife, Edwina Bowen-Lowe, and Mrs Bassett’s husband, Roderick.

Sir Richard, Mr Miliband, Members of the House of Assembly and senators were among the guests seated at the other nine tables, each named after a Bermuda parish.

The dinner consisted of Bermuda-caught rockfish and cassava pie, accompanied by a feast of local produce, ranging from corn soup to carrots, broccoli and squash. It was all rounded off with a dessert of mixed berries.

Eighty-foot murals provided a cosmopolitan setting for the state dinner with their depictions of seafaring days gone by.

Winding around the room, they took the observer on a journey from Hong Kong in the 1800s to Canton, Lahaina in Maui, Beirut, old Constantinople, London, Rio de Janeiro, Gloucester in New England, and New York City.

Originally commissioned for the Pan Am Building in Manhattan, the works, by Eurasian artist Gerard Henderson, were brought to Bermuda at the close of the Pan Am Sky Club in 2005.

Ed Trippe, son of Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe and the president of Tucker’s Point Club, commissioned US artist Doug Bowman to create an eighth mural portraying Hamilton Harbour in the 1880s.

After the royal toast, the Queen praised the ingenuity of the Bermudian people over the centuries.

She also reflected with fondness on their friendliness, and referenced the recently deceased lawyer and politician Dame Lois Browne-Evans’s depiction of their “common sense”.

Her Majesty said: “Prince Philip and I are delighted to have returned to Bermuda to join you in your celebrations of the 400th anniversary of settlement.

“My first visit to these islands was exactly 56 years ago to the very day and was a memorable part of my first Commonwealth tour.

“In 1609 the storm-lashed crew and passengers from the shipwrecked Sea Venture could not possibly have imagined the future Bermuda.

“Their preoccupation was with finding a way to continue to the relatively harsh conditions of Virginia where supplies and people were desperately needed.

“No one could have anticipated how Bermudians would repeatedly and successfully reinvent themselves over the following 400 years.

“In that time, Bermudians excelled among other things as tobacco farmers, traders in salt, privateers and builders of fast schooners.”

Dressed in a pale pink gown and tiara, she said her visit of Dockyard had also exemplified Bermudians’ prowess in sailing as she met the crew of The Spirit of Bermuda.

“Bermudians can also be proud of their enterprise, whether selling onions and Easter lilies to New York or promoting subtropical tourism, which was known to my grandfather in his days as a naval cadet,” she said.

“Tourism in this mild climate and so close to North America remains a vital part of your economic life.

“More recently, Bermuda has been a successful pioneer of the highly specialised reinsurance business.

“Indeed, in spite of the challenges of the global economy, modern Bermuda has made a great success of these two most competitive industries, relying on some very special attributes.”

She said: “On my second visit here in 1975, the Premier, Sir Edward Richards, memorably described Bermuda as having two principal resources: ‘A land fetching and beautiful, which we must keep fetching and beautiful; a people renowned for their friendliness and courtesy whom we must keep friendly and courteous’.

“On another occasion, Dame Lois Browne-Evans said: ‘Our Bermuda people exercise good common sense of which we have an abundance’.

“Just as Admiral [George] Somers would have struggled to predict the future in 1609, so it would be unwise to predict where Bermuda’s natural beauty, friendliness, courtesy and common sense will lead it next. But one thing is certain: the United Kingdom will continue to follow and support Bermuda’s progress to the very best of her ability.

“After 400 years of common experience, we can be confident in placing our faith in Bermuda’s future, whatever it may hold.”

The Queen then said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you to rise and drink a toast to Bermuda.”

Commenting on the evening, Dr Brown said: “It was a tremendous honour for my wife and I, and our desire was to do Bermuda proud.”

Mr Pettingill described the dinner as “a brilliant and classy occasion, wonderfully hosted by the Premier and his wife”.

“I was honoured to be there and to be Bermudian,” he said.

He added that Prince Philip had taken an interest in local politics, asking him as he stood in the receiving line, “How is the new party?”.

Mr Pettingill said: “I replied, ‘Going very well, thank you’.”

On their final day, the Queen planted a tree at Langton Hill before she and the Duke were driven to the airport.

The three-day tour ended with a farewell ceremony at the airport attended by Sir Richard and Lady Gozney, and Dr and Mrs Brown.

In 2012, St Peter’s Church in St George was redesignated — with Queen Elizabeth’s approval — as Their Majesties Chappell as part of the landmark’s 400th anniversary.

The term was originally used to refer to the church in the 1690s during the reign of William III and Queen Mary.

Government House announced the royal consent to the redesignation, with an “intituling” service scheduled to take place to mark the occasion.

Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, was sent “at the Queen’s request” to celebrate St Peter’s Church’s new status, and delivered a letter to the Governor, George Fergusson, during a special service celebrating his visit.

The Queen wrote: “I am very glad to be able to contribute to your celebrations by reviving the historical designation of the Church of St Peter founded in 1612 as “Their Majesties Chappell”.

“The visit of the Bishop of London, as the Dean of Chapels Royal, underlies the continuing significance of the link between the Church and the Crown in the unfolding story of Bermuda.

“I am most grateful for the continuing support and loyalty of the people of Bermuda, who have always welcomed me so warmly during my visits to the islands.

“I hope that this year’s commemorative events, in which you have played such a significant part, will be memorable for years to come.”

The letter is signed Elizabeth R.

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Published September 09, 2022 at 7:30 am (Updated September 08, 2022 at 10:07 pm)

Queen’s triumphant 2009 visit marks 400th anniversary

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