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Martin’s a mover and shaker

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What on earth!: Martin Brewer with one of the seismograph machines he built in his basement (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Martin Brewer has two seismographs in his home.

It’s not often that it happens but when the Earth shakes, people call him.

“One time I was having lunch in town,” said Dr Brewer. “Journalist Brian Darby turned up. He’d tracked me down. He said I had to go home and check my seismograph – people felt something.”

That was in June 2011. As it turned out, the tremors weren’t imagined. An earthquake registering a magnitude of four had hit the island; its epicentre was only 17 miles away.

Dr Brewer said small tremors and quakes happen here more than people realise.

He built his seismographs in 1997, while a geology professor at the Bermuda College. He thought he could put them to use and his students might be interested in how they worked.

“I built them for about $400 each,” he said. “It is basically a pendulum, and not difficult to build. I bought the horseshoe magnet and the coil already done and the electronics from a firm in California.

“When you build one you see activity right away, because there are lots of little earthquakes that happen that we don’t normally feel.”

Ironically, he never planned to study geology.

He turned up at Newcastle University expecting to study science, but the school wasn’t impressed with the Cambridge Higher School Certificate he’d received here.

“They said they hadn’t seen those in 15 years. The admissions officer said, ‘Physics and chemistry, you’re not very good at them, are you?’ I thought I was, I’d gotten a distinction in physics.”

He was presented with a choice: botany or geology.

“I knew what a rock was so I chose geology,” said Dr Brewer.

As a teenager he got a job with the Sound Fixing and Radar Station, an American military post in St David’s that monitored Russian submarine activity.

Dr Brewer became part of a project hoping to locate a bomb dropped in the ocean thousands of miles away. The experiment tried to tap into a naturally occurring ocean sound channel. It failed.

“My job was to calculate the timing of the bomb drops,” he said.

“There were just too many variables to make it work. But it was fun.”

SOFAR operated a seismograph station out of Fort George Signal Station in St George’s. It got him interested in seismology and he convinced the Bermuda College to take it over when SOFAR closed down.

The college continued to monitor quakes until 1992, when BIOS took over. There was, however, a gap of several years when Dr Brewer was the only person checking for quake activity on the island.

Ironically, one of his earliest memories is of being woken up by an earthquake in Bermuda.

“It was 1951 and I was about 7,” he said.

“It shook me out of bed. People weren’t frightened but people noticed it.”

In 1996 his career took a turn when he joined the Bermuda Government, eventually becoming Chief Immigration Officer in 1996.

“I am an import myself,” he laughed.

Dr Brewer was born in Woking, Surrey. His father, Douglas Brewer, was in the Royal Engineers and was posted to Bermuda during the Second World War. Dr Brewer and his mother followed at the war’s end when he was 2. He now has Bermuda status.

“I wouldn’t say that gave me more sympathy for immigrants,” he said.

“I try to have sympathy for anyone having a hard time. If people have a right, I like to see that honoured.”

People often expressed surprise that the Chief Immigration Officer was a geologist.

“People would say, ‘How can a geologist work in immigration?’ Geology is about problem identification and problem solving. That is what you are taught. I am most proud of the people I’ve helped. I’ve worked with people distraught over their situations.”

He retired in 2009. According to him, he “was ready for it”.

He used his new free time to finish a book on Bermuda earthquakes he started writing in 1982.

Shakers and Movers: Earthquakes and Tsunamis Felt in Bermuda was published in 2014.

“When I finished I was very happy as I felt like I had given birth,” he said. “It was a very long labour. Now I’m at a bit of a loose end.”

Now, to occupy himself he volunteers at the Bermuda Historical Society where he is the treasurer.

“I open up the museum and talk to visitors,” he said.

He and his wife Prudence have been married for 48 years.

They first met when he was 14.

“She lived near me. Some boys from my school, Saltus, said I should stop by her house on Fridays. She baked cookies for the Red Cross. It was love at first bite,” he admitted with a laugh. “She still makes good cookies.”

They have two children, Matthew and Judith, and two grandsons.

•Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.

Bright career: geologist and former chief immigration officer Martin Brewer (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)