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A Bermudian inventor par excellence

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A man before his time: Horace Musson, master inventor whose lineage has served him well (Photograph courtesy of Carl Musson)

I returned to Bermuda in 1961 after my graduation from boarding school in Jamaica. I was a young woman without any definite career plans and was looking forward to a few months of relaxation. My father had other ideas and quickly found me a position as a teacher’s assistant at The Central School. This was not what I had expected and I balked at the idea of taking public transport from Somerset into Hamilton every morning. Before I could complain, my father informed me that Basil Lindsay, originally from Jamaica, had been asked to transport me to my new job. Mr Lindsay was employed at Horace Musson’s Machine Shop on Court Street.

Travelling with Mr Lindsay turned out to be a very pleasant experience. One morning he showed a new addition to his already fancy Morris Minor. He now had a record player fitted into the glove compartment. Evidently, he had ordered it and installed it himself. Until today, I still remember his favourite song, A Hundred Pounds of Clay, sung by Gene McDaniels. The records were 45s and how they played music that was not affected by the bumpy roads I have no idea — but I did know they were not found in other cars at that time. Only now, 63 years later I realise, he was employed by Horace Musson, a man who he always said was interested and encouraged others to try new things — to improvise and invent.

I had forgotten about Basil Lindsay and Horace Musson until 2005, when I researched a house of historical importance in Salt Kettle, named Sealandia, on behalf of the Bermuda National Trust. This house had been owned since 1870 by generations of the Musson family, and it was the late electrical contractor Sylvan Musson, whom I interviewed.

Mr Musson mentioned that his father, Henry Gould Musson, had invented a slate-cutting machine and that his uncle, Horace Musson, owner of the eponymously named machine shop, had invented a stonecutting machine. He felt that the stone should be sliced from the top of the hill instead of chopping into the stone, which left unsightly quarries. He said that on one occasion his uncle had ordered wire screening so fine that the British manufacturer was unable to produce it, and so he sent details on how it should be made. He did not take out patents on most of his inventions and tended to invent according to his needs.

For this writing, I have been fortunate to be provided with information on this brilliant man by his grandsons — economist Craig Simmons and electrical engineer Carl Musson — as well as William Young and Quinton Butterfield Sr.

Horace Francis Leopold Musson, son of Thomas Driver Musson, was born in 1880. He was the great-grandson of the famous British artist Thomas Driver.

Mr Driver had arrived in Bermuda in 1814 at the age of 25 as the assistant to the agent that supplied provisions to the British naval ships. He remained in Bermuda focusing on his painting until 1836. These paintings are now extremely valuable and of historical importance to the island.

Mr Driver fathered two daughters by women of colour. One of his daughters, Althea Driver, whose mother’s name is unknown, married Horatio Musson, a skilled mason. They were the parents of Thomas Driver Musson. In the slave register, the parents are recorded as “Coloured”.

Horace Musson, attended Jairus Swan’s primary school held in the Alexandrina Hall on Court Street in Hamilton. For six years he served as a Dockyard apprentice, completing his term of apprenticeship as a mechanic and engine fitter. He never travelled abroad, but read voraciously and joined the library. The Bermuda Library was segregated at that time, but there were several thriving libraries within the Black community, some established as far back as 1843.

Musson's Machine Shop in the vicinity of Court Street where Swinging Doors now resides (Photograph courtesy of Carl Musson)

Before opening Musson’s Machine Shop in Hamilton, he was employed at Meyer’s Boatyard in St George’s as an engineer. During the war, he repaired everything related to ships — even those that had been torpedoed.

At that time, Meyer’s Wharf and the shipyard were located below Barrack Hill off Cut Road in St George’s. Because access was by sea, Mr Musson suggested a more convenient land access. He devised a chainsaw that created the road that now leads off Cut Road to the water. He had originally designed this saw to reduce a hill and build a house on land he had purchased at Ferry Reach.

Although Mr Musson opened his own business, he was still called upon by his former employer, Meyer, to travel to St George’s for the purpose of repairing ship’s engines and propellers. On some occasions, he was called out to sea to repair a ship in distress.

Mr Musson had an inventive mind and was by all accounts far ahead of his time. He often discussed inventions and procedures in the medical field, including organ transplants and skin grafting, which were unheard of in Bermuda during that era.

He was always considering and planning a new invention. He even believed it possible to invent a reading machine in which you could fit a book and have it read to you. He talked of jet engines and the development of hovercraft long before others considered them possible. At age 83, he submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office a design for a life-saving suit.

In 1941, nine-year-old William “Billy” Young was a student of The Central School. He worked in Musson’s Machine Shop after school, on Saturdays and on holidays. He learnt to sharpen saws and repair lawnmowers. He continued to work there until 1950 when he travelled to England as a Dockyard apprentice. In England, he trained as a ship’s fitter, working on aircraft carriers, submarines, heavy cruisers and the royal yacht Victoria and Albert.

At Musson’s Machine Shop, they sharpened garden shears, machetes, scythes, chainsaws, circular saws, and the saws of stonecutters and carpenters. They repaired anything mechanical from lawnmowers to sewing machines, and from baby carriages to cars. Mr Musson even invented a machine for sharpening lawnmower blades which never broke down.

Mr Young recalled in 1946 that when motorcars were first introduced for general use in Bermuda, doctors were the first to have them. They were American-made cars such as DeSoto made by the Chrysler Corporation. Musson’s Machine Shop repaired the cars of the doctors Leon Williams, V.O.D. King and C.A. Smith.

During that time, Mr Young recalled several relatives worked in the machine shop, including Mr Musson’s sons, Reginald, Thomas and Cyril.

Cyril worked in his father’s business until he left the island to study physics and mechanical engineering in America. He was responsible for the drill press, the lathes and grinders. Cyril’s fiancée, Joan Wainwright, worked briefly in the business. She sharpened the saws of stonecutters, clippers, scissors and other tools.

Other employees were Roy Furbert, Gilbert “Bert” Hill and Prescott “Keg” Minors. Albert Fullwood was a Jamaican who joined the company after the closure of Dockyard. He was an expert machinist. His modern lathe, which was used for making bolts and a variety of machine parts, required a special foundation built through the shop floor. In later years, he moved to Artie Black’s Shop in Middletown, Pembroke. When Mr Musson’s son, Thomas, asked if he could assemble kit cars in the shop, his father widened the shop door for a ramp to accommodate his son’s request. (A kit car is purchased as a set of parts that the buyer assembles. The motor was not a part of the kit.)

Horace Musson was described as looking very much like Albert Einstein. He was a very light-skinned man who had lots of hair and a thick, white beard. He always wore a black, metal mask, which was usually pushed up on to his forehead when he was not working. His clothes were always protected by a canvas apron. The shop had a wide, garage-type opening, which you had to step down to enter, and it was usually quite dark when observed from the sidewalk. Oftentimes, Mr Musson was at a machine with his mask covering his face, sharpening tools that sent sprays of sparks into the air illuminating the otherwise darkened workspace. This fascinated children in the neighbourhood, who even brought their spinning tops for him to sharpen the nails at the base of the top.

Many may recall Musson’s Machine shop for the “dropping down” of cars — a style made popular in the 1960s. According to Alan Cooper, a car that was rear-ended was not taken for repairs. The owner drove around with the rear of the car sloping downwards. Others found this fashionable, so a trend was started. Young men sought out Basil Lindsay, a mechanic and bodywork specialist, who recreated the style. It was considered very “sporty and cool”.

Horace Rollins, a retired prison officer and mechanic, said that in those days cars had springs at the rear near the wheels. By subtracting a few inches from each side, it would lower the rear of the car. He hastened to add that this could be quite dangerous and that one should never consider transporting a heavy suitcase or a “heavy friend”, as the rear of the car would be barely off the ground!

In 1970, after 68 years, Mr Musson retired from his business, and the building that housed Musson’s Machine Shop became the location of Swinging Doors, now a popular bar on Court Street.

Although running a highly successful business, Mr Musson still spent quality time with his children and grandchildren. His example and passion for knowledge has instilled in generations of Mussons a desire to “think outside the box” and be creative. His example has encouraged them to look to the future without fear and, above all, to follow their dreams.

Horace Francis Leopold Musson, respected as an inventor and engineer, died in 1971 at the age of 91.

In preparing for this article numerous people have asked me to remember “Rowley” Musson, the brother of Sylvan Musson and the nephew of Horace Musson.

Rowley, was a friendly, colourful character, who, like his brother, Sylvan, always wore Bermuda shorts. He could be always seen pushing a wheelbarrow from his home at Musson’s Point, or in and around the back-of-town area whistling a happy tune.

He read the Popular Mechanics magazine and had several copies with him in his wheelbarrow. Henry Ming once described Rowley’s wheelbarrow as his “toolbox”. He had an inventive mind and loved airplanes. He often drew detailed plans of how an aircraft could be built. He predicted there would be planes one day called jumbo jets, and even constructed an aircraft that he proudly carried in the Easter Parade.

He was fascinated by the movies and could be always found sitting in the front row of either the Island Theatre or Rosebank Theatre. He was captivated by the beat of the Gombey drums and could not resist dancing and following them throughout Hamilton.

Rowley, much loved and colourful, died in 1996.

Cecille Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, historian, writer and author of The Bermuda Cookbook

Cecille Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, historian, writer and author of The Bermuda Cookbook


Heritage (Kenneth Robinson, PhD, 1979)

The Island that Disappeared (Elizabeth Musson Kawaley, 1995)

Bermuda’s Architectural Heritage Series (The Bermuda National Trust) St George’s 1997, Hamilton Parish 2002, Paget 2010

The Up Town Magazine (article by Cyril Musson, 2009)

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Published February 07, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 06, 2024 at 7:57 pm)

A Bermudian inventor par excellence

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