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New Force established after infamous killing

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The History of Policing in Bermuda is the first book documenting the evolution of policing on the Island. This is the second in a series of articles that will appear in The Royal Gazette in advance of the book's sale at local stores.

The Skeeters Murder (1878)

During the late 1870s, Bermuda experienced an upsurge in crime, which culminated with the infamous murder of Anna Skeeters in Somerset Long Bay.

Edward and Anna Skeeters had an unhappy marriage, and Edward resolved to be rid of his wife. It was never determined exactly how he killed her, though Rural Constables did find bloodstained clothing belonging to Anna at their home sometime after the event.

Having committed the deed, Skeeters rowed his punt out into Somerset Long Bay, where he slipped his wife's body, which he had tied by rope to a heavy boulder, over the side.

Some days later, on a rough and windswept afternoon, several fishermen noticed an unusual calm patch in the middle of the bay. They rowed out some 50 yards and jumped overboard to investigate. There beneath the surface, still tied to the heavy boulder, they discovered the remains of 32-year-old Anna Skeeters.

Edward Skeeters was subsequently tried, convicted and hung for the murder of his wife. Today he lies buried on the island in the Great Sound that bears his name (otherwise known as Burt's or Murderer's Island), and the rock that he tied to Anna in order to keep her body submerged, became the headstone on his grave.

Established 1879

With crime on the rise, coupled with grave doubts about the standard of officers appointed to police Bermuda — and whether or not they could even read and write — the Skeeters case became the catalyst which prompted the Government of the day to the establish the Bermuda Police Force in 1879.

The new Force had a complement of just ten full-time men and an annual budget of £600. The very first Chief of Police was Superintendent JCB Clarke, a former army officer, and he was stationed in Hamilton; his second in command, Chief Constable H Dunkley, was stationed in St George's. Three Assistant Police Constables were posted to Hamilton, three more to St George's and the remaining two to Sandys. Twenty-one former Rural Constables were retained and they provided back up for the new Force on a part-time basis.

The Big Shake-Up

Despite the appointment of a Chief of Police and full-time officers, the Force failed to distinguish itself during its early years and by the turn of the century it was apparent to most people that the 21-year-old Force needed a major shake-up — and it got it!

Under the 1901 Establishment Act, the Force was almost trebled in strength. The Superintendent's rank was abolished and the new rank of Inspector of Police was created.

Pay and conditions were also improved across the board. The revamped Force now consisted of one Inspector of Police, three Chief Constables, 15 Constables and 21 part-time Rural Constables.

How much did a full-time Constable earn in salary in 1901 on the new pay scales? To be precise, between £78 and £85 per annum (roughly between $128 and $140 today). An unusual provision of this Act allowed for “the employment of a detective in cases of public emergency”; the first one however was not appointed until some 18 years later in 1919!

Further Increase In Men

Just two years after the big shake-up, the size of the Force was increased yet again through the addition of seven Constables. One of the prerequisites for their appointment was that the applicants must be able to read and write legibly. Uniform and boots were supplied free of charge.

As many as half a dozen of the Rural Constables serving at this time were believed to have originated from the West Indies, although there was no specific recruiting drive in the Islands at that time. One of the first West Indians to join the Force was Henry Montgomery Beach, who was born in St Kitts, and who came to Bermuda in the 1890s. Beach served as a Rural Constable in Devonshire Parish and retired in 1919.

The Early 20th Century

The early years of the 20th century prior to the outbreak of the First World War were quiet for both Bermuda and the Police Force. Serious crime was still a rarity and only one murder was recorded between 1905 and 1917. That murder in 1913, however, caused a huge stir at the time.

Next week: We continue with the story of the interwoven murders within the Armstrong and Paul families, and Bermuda gets its first Detective.

The History of Policing In Bermuda will be available in both softback and limited edition hardback versions through the Bookmart at Brown & Company, and other book distributors.

A detachment of police officers outside the first Hamilton Police Station in 1899 with magistrate WAM Frith (seated) (Photo supplied)
The History of Policing in Bermuda will soon be available in local bookstores

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Published April 16, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 15, 2015 at 11:21 pm)

New Force established after infamous killing

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