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. Although he might have been forgotten, seventy-three years later he is venerated. But it’s not the money he left behind that we appreciate; it is his own gesture of appreciation to those who gave him a sense of contentment in his last days.
It has been suggested that Belize has more holidays than our less than robust economy can afford, and while I tend to agree, there is one holiday that I hope will never be considered redundant. Ninth of March is known in Belize as Baron Bliss Day and has been set aside to commemorate the memory of our biggest financial benefactor. Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, JP, was born in the Buckingham County of England on the 16th of February 1869. His original surname was actually Barretts but was changed to Bliss just about the time that he acquired the title of fourth Baron of the former Kingdom of Portugal. This supposedly through lineal descent from one Sir John Moore, who was a hero in the wars of that domain.
In 1911 and at the prime age of 42, Baron Bliss was struck by paralysis and was for the remainder of his days, confined to a wheelchair. Many will remember a paraplegic who used to move around Belize in a chair that was said to have belonged to the Baron but that fact has been disputed. While no one knows for sure what happened to the Baron’s chair, a popular theory is that then governor, Sir John Alder Burden, would never have given it to a poor and common black man for he was not nearly the liberal that the good Baron was.
By the time of his untimely misfortune, Baron Bliss had amassed enough wealth to realize his dream of retiring to a life of seafaring and fishing. After replacing his first boat, which was commandeered for use during World War I, Baron Bliss said goodbye to his native England and shoved off, making it clear that he never intended to return. As far as we know, Baron Bliss had no children but was married to one Baroness Ethel Alice Bliss, with whom he settled covenant before leaving and for whom he also made provisions in his will, albeit somewhat modest. According to the Baron, his married life had been a happy one but records reveal no attempt by the Baroness to attend the funeral. She died in England in 1945.
After leaving England, Baron Bliss made his first stop in the Bahamas where he acquired some property seemingly indicating that he contemplated staying there. After some five years, however, he grew to dislike the place and in 1925 shifted rudder for the other end of the Caribbean. His next stop was Trinidad but after contracting food poisoning just a short time after arriving, he concluded that neither was that place for him. At that time he decided to heed the invitation of an old friend, Willoughby Bullock, who was then Attorney General of Belize. After a brief stop in Jamaica, most likely for medical attention, the Sea King on January 14th, 1926, dropped anchor in the harbor of Belize and the Baron’s heart was at ease.
Although he never set foot on land and was in fact dead less than two months after arriving in our waters, Baron Bliss was so impressed with the beauty and hospitality that greeted him in Belize, that he decided to leave us the bulk of his fortune. 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, “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 and though outraged at the decision, it was not likely that many would have been surprised. The matter after all, was argued in England, before an English judge and with English lawyers representing both sides; how else could we have expected it to go?
Now the will left to us by Baron Bliss is a meticulously worded document, which is quite specific in its do’s and don’ts. 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 – and for this, no actual reason is given. The money is not to be used for churches, dance halls or schools, except agricultural or vocational, which leaves the door wide open for some aid to CET. The money can also be used for canals, which leaves one wondering if maybe the Collet Canal could not be brought up to the standard of the East Canal. It can also be used for light supply and with many of our parks and playgrounds in dire darkness, one wonders if the illumination of these might not be a worthwhile project?
The problem is that since 1985, when Leo Bradley, Sr., did such a notable job of compiling the information from which I have drawn, no account of disbursements has been given. By the time of Mr. Bradley’s research, quite a few projects had been realized with the interest having yielded well over a million dollars. The Bliss Institute, the Bliss School of Nursing and at least one project in every district had materialized, but since that time the purse string seems to have been drawn tight. One wonders if every Ninth of March would not be a good time to give the public information on interest accrued and some account of money spent, for after all, this was a gift to the people of Belize. The trustees of the fund, in case you’re wondering, are the Governor General, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary.
Now of course we could not have picked a better time to honor Baron Bliss for it is a time when the weather in Belize is blissful. The holiday is timed perfectly to kick off our dry season and the beginning of our fruit harvest. Let us gratefully acknowledge the Baron’s graciousness this weekend and always remember that it pays to be hospitable. To my fellow recipients of this fund, a happy and safe holiday weekend and to the Baron, wherever you are, a heartfelt thanks.
- copyright by Casado Internet Group, Belize – Article courtesy Amandala -