Many of us know the British-born traveler willed two million U.S. dollars to a trust fund for the benefit of the citizens of what was then the colony of British Honduras simply as Baron Bliss and yearly we look forward to the holiday that marks his death, but today 16 February 2009, we would like to mark the 140th anniversary of his birth.
The national benefactor of Belize, was born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss in Marlow, county of Buckinghamshire with a family lineage that went back to Edward Bliss, an Englishman who gained the Portuguese title Baron Barreto in the1820’s. The English Barons Barreto considered that, being Bliss’ too, they could legitimately use the name Baron Bliss. It was during his early adulthood that Bliss became the Fourth Baron of the Former Kingdom of Portugal. It is generally accepted that Bliss received his title of Fourth Baron through a family lineage with one Sir John Moore, a war hero of battles past.
As an adult living in Quarry Court in Marlow, he was an engineer by profession and had been appointed a Justice of the Peace. A marriage to Ethel Alice Bliss produced no children. By the end of the first decade in the new century, Baron Bliss was wealthy enough to retire to his love of seafaring & fishing. However, in 1911 at the age of 42, the Baron was stricken with a paralysis, probably polio, that left him paralyzed from waist downward, confining him to a wheelchair. Though paralyzed from the waist down from 1911, Baron Henry maintained his love of sailing and fishing. Undeterred, the Baron remained active and acquired a yacht, the Sea King, using it for leisure travel around the United Kingdom. After the start of the First World War in 1914, the Baron’s yacht was commandeered for the British war effort. Once the War had come to an end in 1918, Baron Bliss commissioned the building of the Sea King II. She was a yacht for meant for tropical waters, built to the Baron’s specifications. When the Sea King II as competed in 1920, the Baron prepared left England, never to return, he left his wife and his native land for the Caribbean, spending the next six years living aboard his yacht Sea King II off the Bahamas and apparently spending time at Dunmore House (now the official Governor’s Residence), on New Providence. He had purchased property on some of the islands, but whether he intended to settle in the Bahamas is open to speculation.
By late 1925, the Baron had grown tired of the social & administrative life that had become his routine so he decided to move on. His next stop was Trinidad where he contracting food poisoning shortly after arriving. This sickness coupled with a dislike of the general atmosphere led the Baron to hoist anchor again. This time he would head for Belize (then British Honduras), following up an invitation from the Attorney General, Willoughby Bullock. After a brief stop in Jamaica, most likely for medical attention, the Sea King II on January 14th, 1926, dropped anchor in the Belize City harbor. After arriving in Belize, the Baron’s health seemed to improve. He took every opportunity to venture forth in his small launch to go fishing, to visit the cayes and to visit the barrier reef. Unfortunately, about a month after arrival, doctors called to the yacht to attend to the Baron found him to be gravely ill. Baron Bliss asked that the Governor of Belize, Sir John Burdon, visit him aboard his yacht. When the Governor arrived, the Baron informed him that he wished to bequeath the bulk of his estate to country of Belize. And on 17 February, one day after his 57th birthday, the Baron’s will to that effect was signed & executed aboard the Sea King II.
The Baron’s will was meticulous. It called for the formation of a trust fund, and dictated whom the main bankers were to be, Messers Coutts & Co., of London, England; the auditors, Messers Alexander Clapperton, C.A., also of London, England; and the Board of Directors, initially the Governor, the Colonial Secretary & the Attorney General of Belize. The Baron Bliss Trust was to invest his money, and all income generated from the principal would be used for the permanent benefit of Belize and all its citizens.
The principal amount of the Trust, consisting mostly of British stocks, securities & term deposits was not to be touched. The value of the Baron Bliss Trust stands at about US$800,000. The money is not to be used for churches, dance halls or schools, except agricultural or vocational. Only the interest is to be spent and no loans can be raised on the security. An interesting stipulation is that no American is to be a trustee or an employee of any trustee — no reason is given. At the time of his death, the Baron’s bequest to Belize was valued at some one million, eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but before we were quite finished counting, England had dropped a bombshell. Even though it is specifically stated in the first line of his will that Baron Bliss considered himself domicile in Belize, and while he even wrote a letter to his brother to that effect, the British government decided to contest the matter in court. On March 11th, 1929, a decision was handed down by a Mr. Justice Rowlatt of the King’s Bench which read and I quote, “I must find that it is not made out that this gentleman acquired a British Honduras domicile.” As a result, at least a quarter of the original amount given to us by Baron Bliss was taken out for British taxes.
Part of the trust was designated for an annual boat regatta which is held every year in honor of the Baron. This regatta is the focus of Baron Bliss Day activities in Belize City. Other towns in Belize celebrate the day by having small boat races and parties.
The Baron also left instructions that he be permanently interred in a granite tomb near the sea, surrounded by an iron fence, and an obelisk or lighthouse should be built nearby. The Baron Bliss Lighthouse stands as a welcoming beacon and as a fitting memorial to a man who deeply loved the sea and demonstrated great caring for those who showed him kindness and hospitality in his last days.
The entire inscription on his tomb, shown to the right, reads:
In memory of Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss J.P. Of Marlow in the county of Buckingham, England.
4th Baron Bliss of the Former Kingdom of Portugal.
Born 16th February 1869, Died 9th March 1926 on board his yacht “Sea King” R.Y.S. in Belize Harbour.
A generous benefactor of this colony.
We would like you to remember a man who spent years in search of a place to call home and finally found it on our shores. But it’s not the money that he left behind we appreciate; it is his own gesture of appreciation to those who gave him a sense of contentment in his last days; Happy birthday Mr. Bliss.
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