Probe into how friendly societies became private needed, expert says
A special commission into historic land losses heard yesterday that an inquiry into how some friendly societies ended up in private hands was needed.
Michael Bradshaw, the president of the Bermuda Friendly Societies Association, told the Commission of Inquiry that he would make no accusations but that he hoped the problem would be looked at.
Dr Bradshaw said: "In all of this, I am not making any specific allegations but it is of national interest and this commission has the opportunity to pursue it.
“These are national treasures, national assets."
Dr Bradshaw outlined the history of friendly societies from their origins in the mid 1800s in the wake of Emancipation to give black people a sense of "pride, self respect, identity and recognition".
He added: "These friendly societies sought to prove that the very qualities that blacks had shown despite their enslavement continued in their Emancipation.
"There was a concern expressed by the government of the day and others in authority that this mass of people would be a burden, that they would need support, they would not work and drain the coffers of the business people.
“But instead these persons were organised to look after themselves through the friendly societies.
"The friendly societies arranged to have burial benefits, pensions, and sick aid – the first forms of insurance. They also looked after distressed members."
Dr Bradshaw said that membership numbers in friendly societies had dwindled in modern times.
He added: "Unfortunately, what has happened as lodge memberships aged, they have not been blooded with new persons coming in."
Dr Bradshaw said friendly societies were overseen by lodges though they retained "local jurisdiction".
He explained that if a Friendly Society became redundant and wanted to dispose of its assets, they should go to another lodge or friendly society.
Dr Bradshaw was asked by the commission if anything had been done by members to check the history of the lodges that were now in private hands.
He said: "We are in the process of doing that. One of the reasons we have survived so long is that we are obstinate about authority and very collaborative.
“We are not a fast moving organisation. But there are lines of inquiry that could arise."
The Commission of Inquiry also heard from Hashim Estwick, a retired police Chief Inspector, who discussed evidence given last month.
Mr Estwick produced documents related to the case of Catherine Howard, who told the inquiry that her late grandfather Henry North, an MP for 40 years, may have been forced to sell his land at Pink Beach, Smiths, under false pretences.
Mr Estwick entered several documents including documents from the land registry, the Bermuda Archives and newspaper articles.
He said that about four acres of Mr North's land was "somehow" acquired by a private owner and "ended up with Tucker's Town".
Ms Howard told the commission last month: “Apparently, my grandfather was forced to sell Pink Beach by the government and he sold it, I think, believing it was in the national interest and then it was turned around and sold again to a foreign developer."
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