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A voyage to a coronation

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All voyages begin somewhere, usually at a fixed position such as a wharf or dock, or on the ground below the last step of the front stairs of a home.

Behind one voyage usually lie many others and they take various forms, sometimes starting before the appearance of a baby in a crib, while others are journeys through the vicissitudes of life, in some instances through the transition from a state of slavery to that of the jubilee of freedom, at least from the direct ownership by another being.

One day, Thomas Roland Spicer, of Bermuda, made a voyage to an epic event in faraway London for the first coronation of a British monarch in sixty-four years, as the long reign of Queen Victoria gave way in August 1902 to the crowning of one of her sons as King Edward VII, after whom our hospital is named in memoriam.

The King had an earlier connection with Bermuda through his sister, Princess Louise, the fourth of Victoria’s girls in a brood of nine children.

The hotel on Pitt’s Bay was, and remains, named for the Princess, who is said to have been instrumental in the start of tourism at Bermuda, following a stay here in 1883, an early example of the frenzy and magnetism that attaches to the royal, rich and just not so plain famous.

Hers was a voyage that instigated thousands of others that sustained most people of the Island into the Second World War.

Another of Edward’s connections with Bermuda was of a military nature, as a battery then erecting on the east coast of St George’s parish was named for his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, whom he married in 1863.

Alexandra Battery was later rebuilt late in the nineteenth century to take two six-inch Breech Loaders, shortly to be rearmed with such guns taken from the Second World War battery at Warwick Camp.

Perhaps the most famous and enduring relationship with Bermuda resides in one of the most prestigious sailing trophies in the world, the King Edward VII Gold Cup, originally presented in 1907 and given to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club several decades later by the winner, C Sherman Hoyt (‘the best known yachtsman in the world’), to be raced for annually in local waters: ‘Maritime Tourism’ at its best perhaps.

The King gave the Cup for a yacht race in the United States of America to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, which led to the creation of that country in 1783.

Meanwhile, a few years before Edward’s mother ascended to the throne in 1837, a voyage began in a Bermuda slave family that culminated in the lad who would go to London for the 1902 coronation as one of the representatives of the Island.

Isaac Virgil (or Virgin) and Margaret Burrows had a daughter Joanna Virgin, who had a daughter with Jacob Catlin Smith, called Susan Jane Smith.

She in turn had two daughters, one of whom had the extended name of Laura Mary Edwater Smith Dudgeon and she was the mother of Thomas Roland Spicer, or ‘Rollie’, as he was known with considerable affection by his two sisters.

One of those girls was Emily Millicent Spicer, the grandmother of Roslyn Ann Macgregor of Montreal, who continued her voyage into her family past when she kindly gave the National Museum pictures, letters and information on her ancestral Bermudian family.

Thomas Roland began his journey into manhood in the early 1890s, when he signed on as one of the first Bermudian apprentices at the Dockyard, which meant relocating from the family home in St George’s to become a boarder with families in Somerset, and walking three miles to work each day.

One of the families was that of his lifelong friend, Harry Roberts, also to become a ‘fitter’ and an apprentice with Rollie.

On weekends, the apprentices from the east end ‘finished work at 12 on Saturdays. They’d take the ferry to Hamilton, about seven or eight miles, then they’d pedal 12 miles to St George’s. They had to be up around 4am on Mondays to get back to the Dockyard for 7am.’

Very late in the century, Thomas joined the newly formed Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, which was a white infantry troop, as opposed to the first-formed local volunteer force, the gunners, being the black Bermuda Militia Artillery, they who manned the guns at St David’s Battery into the Second World War.

When news of the Coronation circulated, Rollie put his name into the hat to represent Bermuda in London and was chosen from the BVRC ranks, along with men from the BMA and the West India Regiment, stationed here at the time.

Via Halifax, the Bermuda contingent arrived in Liverpool on June 16, 1902, but the Coronation was delayed until August, for Edward developed appendicitis on the eve of the ceremony slated for June 26.

The actual Coronation took place on August 9th, with Rollie and the troops from Bermuda on parade.

As related to his mother, but recorded by his sister: “The day of the Coronation they were up at 3am, and fell in at 4am. They were to take a lunch, but to have it absolutely inconspicuous.

“They were wearing Aussie-type hats turned up on one side with high crowns. They decided the hats would hold a pork pie nicely.

“As the morning wore on it got hotter and hotter and they began to mop their brows more and more.

“Then the awful truth dawned on them. The pork pies were melting and there they were lining the road for the King in plain view of thousands of eyes. They stood it as long as they could, then, one by one, they quickly removed their halos and dumped the soggy messes on the ground behind them.

“The crowd just roared and all joined in a hearty laugh, but like London crowds everywhere they good-naturedly shared their lunches with our boys.”

A few years after his voyage to the Coronation, Rollie moved to Canada and there married, but he died of head injuries in 1910 from hitting a rock while diving into a lake, leaving behind a son of three and a pregnant wife.

Thus ended a journey related to one Bermudian that began with an ancestry in slavery, transitioning to a home in St George’s, to duties at Dockyard, and a privileged spot in a parade for a coronation, pork pie and all.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

A medal for the Coronation of Edward VII was given to all troops who attended the ceremony in 1902.
Rollie Spicer's mother, Laura Mary Edwater Smith Dudgeon, a descendant of slaves, with Freddy Taylor on the veranda of a home thought to be in St George's, Bermuda, about 1930.
Lance Corporal Thomas Roland Spicer photographed in London in 1902 with a cap badge of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps.
Rollie Spicer wrote home to his mother from the Colonial Troops Club after he arrived in London for the coronation of King Edward VII.
Young men are shown washing clothes. They are thought to be a part of the first class of Bermudian apprentices at the Bermuda Dockyard on Ireland Island in the mid-1890s.

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Published June 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 28, 2013 at 6:12 pm)

A voyage to a coronation

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