’White power’ forced through ’land grab’ Commission hears
An “international matrix of white power” was behind the company that developed land in Tucker’s Town for tourism purposes, a Bermudian historian said yesterday (MON).
Theodore Francis said the Bermuda Development Company was formed in 1920 by representatives of the British-owned Furness Withy Steamship Company and members of ”Bermuda’s oligarchy”.
He said their interests “coalesced around some shared ideas or shared economic plans to develop Bermuda for tourism in the interests of Furness Withy’s steamship business”.
Dr Francis was speaking as he appeared by tele-link at the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses.
He said the First World War had disrupted trade and Bermuda’s leaders recognised a need to re-establish steamship contact with the rest of the world to boost the agriculture industry and the tourism sector.
He said a delegation from the Bermuda Trade Development Board led by politician Salisbury Stanley Spurling, visited New York in 1919 to meet representatives of Furness Withy in a bid to draw up a new contract with the Government.
Dr Francis said the steamship line wanted to develop the destinations where their vessels sailed to create a stronger market for tourist traffic.
Dr Francis said the owner of the line, Sir Frederick Lewis, wanted to discover if Bermuda had “the kind of charm he believes would appeal to American tourists”.
Mr Lewis visited Bermuda in 1919 aboard his private vessel and invited renowned New York architect Charles Wetmore of the firm Warren and Wetmore, top golfer and golf architect Charles Blair Macdonald and Henry Curtis Blackiston, the head of Furness’ North American operations, to join him.
Dr Francis said Mr Macdonald had visited Bermuda before, and had spoken to golf colleagues and Mr Wetmore about the prospect of a golf course development on the island.
The commission heard a reception for the group was held at the Hamilton Princess and James Willcocks, the Governor, hosted a tea at Government House where Mr Lewis said he wanted to create an 18-hole golf course on the island.
Dr Francis said the group was shown around the island by Mr Spurling, a member of the Colonial Parliament, and Francis Goodwin Gosling, who had also had an interest in the development of tourism on the island.
Dr Gosling said they “happened on Tucker’s Town”, where Mr Gosling owned a 100-acre hunting and fishing plot.
Dr Francis said Mr Macdonald, later wrote that the group “was told it could get 500 acres for between $150,000 and $200,000”.
He added a petition was made to the House of Assembly in February 1920, which was “shepherded through” by Mr Spurling.
Dr Francis said the “unprecedented development” covered just over 500 acres, including the whole of Tucker’s Town and parts of Hamilton Parish to the west and north of Tucker’s Town.
The area was equal to almost one square mile of the island.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the decision by the House of Assembly to back the Bermuda Development Company Act (2) 1920.
The law passed in August that year and allowed a compulsory purchase order for a private company to take over the area for tourism development.
The commission hearing continues.