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Behold the deliverer

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Jane Anne Robinson reportedly had been on call day and night for the entire parish of Devonshire and the surrounding districts

Jane Anne Robinson was born in Prospect, Devonshire, on August 5, 1901 to Charles and Estelle Robinson. She had three brothers. Her father was a private in the West Indian Regiment, often described as “The Bully Roosters” because of their colourful uniforms.

When the British garrison was about to depart Bermuda in 1899, the 1st Battalion of the West Indian Regiment, a division of the British Army, arrived to replace them. They were men of colour from many islands in the British Caribbean and arrived in Bermuda after service in the African Boer War. Many Bermudians assumed that because they were coming from Africa that they were Africans, and were shocked when they heard them speak English.

In 1913 at the age of 37, Charles Robinson died. Jane’s mother, Estelle Layne-Robinson, died in 1944 at the age of 78.

Jane Robinson has been described as a quiet-spoken, dark-skinned and portly woman who wore glasses. She was kind and humble with a smile that put everyone at ease. She trained as a nurse and midwife at the Bermuda Nursing Home on Curving Avenue, and devoted her entire life to midwifery and caring for the sick. In 1927, her name is recorded as the fourth midwife registered to practise in Bermuda and is credited with delivering hundreds of babies in the Devonshire and Happy Valley area. A report in the Bermuda Recorder noted that from the completion of her training, she had been on call day and night for the entire parish of Devonshire and the surrounding districts.

A detailed description of Jane Robinson’s attire was gleaned from a recent conversation with Ruth Thomas.

Nurse Robinson, she said, was always immaculately dressed in a snowy-white uniform with a white nurse’s cap perched securely upon her head, and in the winter she wore a black cape with a red lining over her uniform. In her hand, she carried a black medical bag in which she had her bandages and medications. Upon her feet were perfectly polished, black laced-up shoes with a Cuban heel, often described as “believers”. Her mode of travel was by foot or on her bicycle.

Many of her deliveries took place in the Zuill’s Range, which was part of the North Devonshire apartments commonly called “The Incubator” because of the congested living conditions occupied by the 12 tenants and the number of babies born there. The origins of this now-demolished building are unclear, but it is known that in the 1920s it was owned by Eugenius Foggo Zuill, who housed his agricultural workers in the building.

Delivering a baby in The Incubator must have been challenging for Nurse Robinson, as there was no plumbing until 1975 when basic plumbing was installed by Sir John Cox.

In 1930, a British naval officer and his wife were completing a tour of duty in Bermuda. They befriended Nurse Robinson and requested that she deliver their first child.

On August 5, 1930, she delivered their daughter at the Nursing Home on Curving Avenue. She was born on Nurse Robinson’s birthday and, surprisingly, they named the baby Jane Robinson Montgomery and requested she be her godmother. The family left Bermuda in 1933, but kept in contact. Years later, Jane arrived back in Bermuda to spend her 21st birthday with her godmother and namesake.

Jane Robinson Montgomery, the daughter of Lieutenant and Mrs W. Montgomery, was now living in Nashville, Tennessee, and following in the footsteps of her godmother, was training as a nurse in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father, who had been well known and respected by the Bermudian community, had died during the war in 1941. To celebrate their birthdays, Nurse Robinson held a dinner party and invited 30 of the young men and women of all races and nationalities whom she had delivered. It was a most auspicious occasion marred only by Miss Montgomery having to leave Bermuda the next day to return to her studies.

In 1940, she began employment as the matron of the Devonshire Rest Home, which at that time was housed in a walled-in area beside The Incubator. She was also on call throughout the parish for various illnesses, and retained one room at the home for delivering babies. She held that position for 20 years.

Helen Wilkinson-Bartley was delivered by Nurse Robinson in 1939 and recalled she had delivered her mother’s seven other children. In 1954, her first child was delivered in that special room in Devonshire Rest Home — one of five of her nine children delivered by Nurse Robinson. Mrs Wilkinson-Bartley still fondly remembers the loving comfort, patience and care she received. She will never forget the unpleasant mixture of Epsom salts and orange juice administered as a laxative before every delivery. For anaemia, she prescribed the drinking of milk stout as often as three times a day.

After each delivery, she remained in bed for four to five days with her abdomen bound with unbleached cotton. Once she was allowed up, she was advised to wear a lightweight girdle to support her muscles. She was able to go home after seven days, but Nurse Robinson continued to check on her wellbeing and that of the baby for several weeks.

Several of the women interviewed had been born in the early 1940 — either in that special room at the Devonshire Rest Home, in the apartment complex known as The Incubator or in the Happy Valley area. Many remember her genuine kindness, especially to the very poor, her cake-making skills and the parties she held at The Incubator every summer for mothers and children whom she had delivered. She is also remembered for her love of flowers, her garden and her dog, Pugh.

Nurse Jane Anne Robinson, a Bermudian treasure, from Friswell’s Hill, Devonshire, died of pneumonia in 1981 at the age of 79.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian

• Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian. With thanks to Ruth E.Thomas, Helen Wilkinson-Bartley, Annette Simmons, Linda Abend and Ellen Hollis, of the Bermuda National Library


The Bermuda Recorder (August 1951 and August 5, 1966)

The Royal Gazette (December 18, 1955)

Fame (April 1963)

The Bermuda National Trust Architectural Series — Devonshire 1995

Mosaic (July 2011) by Ruth Thomas

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Published May 05, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated May 04, 2023 at 5:39 pm)

Behold the deliverer

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