Memories of a Childhood in Bermuda
By Lucy Horsfall
Volume IV, Number 1
Eighty years ago Bermuda was a very different place from the playground for American tourists it has since become. There were no large hotels, night clubs or motor cars - no luxury ships, doing the trip from New York in forty-eight hours. Instead, two little steamers, the "Trinidad" and the "Orinoco" took four days to make the passage, rolling and pitching all the way. We had no electric lights, only candles or kerosene (paraffin) lamps - or, as Kate, our cook, wrote in the grocery list . . . Karo-Senile.
The telephone came to the island when I was nine, and we wondered how we ever did without it. Central was a friend of all, and a mine of information, cheerfully answering all questions - "is the steamer sighted, Central?,["] "Just Coming up the North Shore" she would reply. "What time is the funeral this afternoon?" Central knew all the answers.
Once, when asked for a number she said "Is it Miss Hutchings you want? She’s spending the day with her sister - I’ll put you through." Dear Central! How we missed her, when the dialing system was installed many years later.
There was a naval dockyard and a garrison on the island, and the officers and their families rather looked down on us as Colonials but Bermudians were loyal subjects of the Queen, and spoke of "going home" when taking a holiday in England, even if they had never been there.
There was a lively social life in Bermuda, and, once a fortnight in the winter season, my Mother gave a dinner party. This was a dull and formal affair. The invitations sent out well beforehand were large, imposing cards with the R.S.V.P. in the lower right hand corner and "carriages at eleven" in the lower left hand corner. A cook, (Mrs. Bianca) more experienced than our Kate, was got in and probably a coloured butler, Anderson, who worked at the Custom House. He was well known as one met him at most dinner parties.
The ladies, in full evening dress, laid their wraps on a bed in an upstairs room, dabbed their noses with powder - (no lipstick or rouge) and descended to the drawing room. On the arms of the gentlemen assigned to them, they followed my Mother into the dining-room (cocktails were not offered). The long table was covered by damask, there were candles, and an elaborate flower arrangement, done by my Mother.
Some quests would have brought their music and, after dinner, were asked to sing such songs as "Drink to me only" or "We met, ‘twas in a crowd." The words of this song deserve to be better known. They are as follows:-
"We met; ‘twas in a crowd,
And I thought he would shun me.
I knew, by my beating heart
That his eyes were upon me.
I wore my wedding dress,
My cheeks rivalled its whiteness.
Precious gems were in my hair,
How I hated their brightness.
He called me by my name
As the wife of another.
Oh thou art the cause
of this anguish, my Mother!
We children liked dinner parties for, though thought to be safely tucked up in bed, we enjoyed trying on the ladies’ wraps and Kate would bring us up some of the iced pudding.
Of course there were garden parties, for the climate and the place lent themselves to this form of entertainment. My Mother would give such a party once or twice a year, sending out about 300 invitations. The guests would stroll about under the trees. A few would play tennis, there was golf croquet, and a primitive form of lawn bowls. But the chief event of the afternoon was Tea. There was sauterne cup and claret cup, as well as tea and coffee, sandwiches and all sorts of delicacies including angel cakes, a specialty of the house. The whites of eleven eggs went to the making of each cake.
The paying of calls was an important part of the social life. Calls must be returned promptly; and after a dinner, or other formal occasion, cards must be left on the hostess within a week. Husbands and wives shared a card, "Mr. and Mrs. George Robinson" in copper plate with the names of their daughters, if old enough to be "out", underneath - "The Misses Robinson". The name of their house "Bellevue" in the corner. The husband had a small card of his own and this was left on the gentleman of the house. It would be very wrong for Mrs. Robinson to call on him. If you called in person, one corner of the card was turned up.
On a pleasant day my Mother would say "We will pay calls this afternoon". The Victoria would be ordered, with Isaac the coloured coachman, in his old blue coat with brass buttons and top hat, sitting on the box - (Isaac and his wife lived in a small cottage on the place. She was almost white, but their baby, Lily, was as black as Isaac). Off we would go, my Mother, perhaps, carrying a small black, lace trimmed sun shade, which could be tilted on its long handle, to shade her eyes.
It was delightful driving along the white coral roads, shaded by cedar trees, beside the blue waters of the harbour. We would turn into a drive, between stone pillars to the front steps of the verandahed house. "Not at home" the maid would say, and we would deposit our cards on the silver tray she held - then on to the next house. One usually arranged about tea time to visit a house where the mistress, perhaps an old lady, would be at home. In the dim, cool, drawing-room we would be given thin slices of bread and butter and fruit cake. As the shadows lengthened we would drive home. "Well, we killed off quite a few" my Mother would sigh contentedly, as she entered in her Visitor’s Book the names of those who had called on her that day. It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
The Weekly Wash
My Mother, who loved giving parties, once thought up on entirely new form of entertainment - bathing parties on a grand scale. One summer she sent out invitations to all her female friends, asking them to come every Wednesday afternoon during the summer for a bathe - no men allowed, if course, and my father had to keep well out of sight for the afternoon.
Our house was on the harbour and the sheltered cove was ideal with its clear water and sandy bottom. Unfortunately it was much liked by sea-urchins and sea slugs. At low tide the gardener, Flood (he named his eldest son Noah) with trousers well rolled up and garden rake in hand, would bring as many as possible of these undesirable objects to the shore. My sister once slipped on the steps leading to the water, and sat on a pile of sea urchins. It took some time to extract all the prickles from her little behind. There were two small bath houses, but more room was needed for the guests, so part of the long verandah was screened in by canvas and this space was curtained off into dressing rooms each furnished with two chairs, a table and looking glass. This was another of the gardener’s duties. Wednesday was a busy day for Flood.
Our bathing costumes were elaborate - high necked, trimmed with braid, and always with a full skirt. Some even wore black stockings. Those who did not bathe sat on the lawn, and watched the aquatic performers. Then came a sumptuous tea - sandwiches, scones, and, of course, angel cake. The weekly wash was a feature of several summers.
In my young days, practically everyone went to church on Sunday mornings. Not because we were more religious than now (less so than now I believe) - but because it was the thing to do. In 1882 the Cathedral burned to the ground so we went to the little parish church of St. John. We drove there in the surrey which had a fringed canopy, and the road passed through Baalim’s Lane, a narrow cutting through rock, just room for the surrey. I long thought this was the very place where Baalim’s ass saw the angel.
(Besides the surrey and the victoria, we also had a high dog cart, and a low phaeton, drawn by old Major).
The church was a low cruciform building in a green valley, surrounded by the church yard. Inside, the walls were whitewashed, and the windows of clear glass, so that place seemed full of light. The three-decker pulpit was placed near the intersection of the transepts and nave. The ten commandments, in gold letters, were on each side of the altar which bore neither cross, nor candles. We were very low church. My Mother, who loved a joke, once told her neighbour that on Palm Sunday the vicar came into church with a crown on his head and a palm in his hand. The neighbour was deeply shocked, until he realised that he, too, had a crown on his head and a palm in his hand. The coloured people sat at the back, and the coloured Sunday School in the gallery, where the slaves used to sit.
There was a cock-and-hen choir, not vested, of course, and none very young. One could not repress a smile when, on Christmas morning, the old maids sang, "Unto us a son is given," and the men responded "Wonderful! Marvellous!" - at least it sounded like that. At the morning service, banns were read and my sister thought the Spinster family must be a very large one.
When the re-building on the Cathedral was sufficiently advanced to allow services in the nave, we transferred our worship thither. One rented a pew, and my Mother, like others of the congregation was furious if a stranger were put in her pew - "Who is occupawing my pye?" asked an irate lady of the sidesman. However on Assize Day and other public occasions the seating was strictly according to rank.
Behind the Governor and the Admiral were the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Colonial Secretary, the Speaker of the House, members of parliament, and so on, with lesser fry at the back. "Well" said an astonished visitor, "Of course I knew God was an English man, but I had no idea He was stickler for precedence."
The verger was the town lamp-lighter, very lame, for one leg was shorter than the other, but he could run nimbly up his little ladder to light the street lamps.
In summer each pew was supplied with large palm leaf fans, and their rhythmic swaying must have been rather distracting to the preacher. Half way through the sermon, the twelve o’clock gun from the nearby fort would be fired, and every man in the congregation would take out his watch to check the time - no wrist watches in those days.
Correct mourning was most important, and the unwritten rules strictly observed. A widow, thanks to Queen Victoria’s example, might wear black all her life, but the heavy crepe veil would be discarded after a year. Two years’ mourning was correct for a father or mother, and shorter times for aunts, uncles and cousins. Handkerchiefs, note paper, and calling cards had wide black borders, which narrowed as time went on and finally disappeared. As mourning lightened, one could wear touches of violet or black and white. If one belonged to a large family, one was frequently in mourning.
Our education was decidedly sketchy. There was a Bermuda girls’ school, run by two elderly English ladies, but this was not thought good enough for us. So a series of governesses was got down from "the States". Only one of them (Miss Mary Robinson of Bangor, Maine) taught us anything.
We learned American history and geography - a a[sic] smattering of arithmetic, and Latin, sketching in water colours, and needlework. French was taught by a visiting master. These governesses were always a trial to my Mother, and one winter a resident tutor was engaged. He had been missionary and was in Bermuda to recover his health after arduous labours in China. The young man was an ardent Christian and thought it his duty to convert us from our sinful ways. To this end, he had us, singly, for prayer sessions in the schoolroom, praying that "this, Thy child" might be turned from wrong doing. He told us that my Mother’s evening dresses were immodest, and altogether put us off religion for several years to come.
How foolish and how innocent were my parents! The young man found it much pleasanter to kiss us than to teach us, and, though we hated his fondling, we said nothing to our parents. One day, my father, looking out of the window, saw him kissing my sister, and, in a furious rage, sent him packing, never to darken our door again. This left us, half-way through the school year, without a teacher. There was nothing to do but send us to the girls’ school, which now had a young and modern headmistress from the Cheltenham Ladies College. For the first time we learned what it was to study, to do homework, and to associate with other girls. Alas, this happy time only lasted till the end of the summer term.
In the autumn Miss Mary was recalled, and the next year we went to a boarding school in Northampton, Massachusetts. We were far too precious to be allowed here alone, so my Father and Mother lived in a nearby hotel and we spent every Sunday with them. How much I wished they would go and leave us on our own, and how bitterly I reproached myself for being an unnatural and unloving daughter!
I forgot to mention an important feature of our education. During the governess period, we each had to write a weekly essay, story or poem, on a subject of our own choosing, to be read aloud on Friday morning. Our proud parents showed one of my sister’s stories to the headmaster of the boys’ school, and he thought so much of it that he sent it to the Leeds Mercury, and it was actually printed. Our doting parents finally collected the best of these literary efforts, and had them privately published. How I hated those little grey books which were sent to all relatives and friends. I soon grew old enough to be ashamed of the more childish efforts, and was deeply hurt that my serious poem, "To an Iron Glove" provoked unseemly laughter.
We lead[led] very isolated lives, having no friends of our own age, but we wanted none. We lived in a world of our own. We each had an imaginary family, the Cliffords, and the Motherlys, each with a father and mother and several boys and girls. These children of our imagination were all the companions we wanted. My Mother, however, thought this a bad thing, and cast about for a suitable friend. She selected May, an orphan living with two maiden aunts in a charming little cottage called Ivy Cottage. May was invited to share our lessons and we remained friendly for many years.
I have not mentioned our baby brother who trotted after us but was too young to join in our imaginary games. We would say to him "Pretend you are invisible air." Poor little boy! What did it feel like to be invisible air? When older, he went to the Saltus Grammar School and then to a boarding school in Ashville, North Carolina.
Sally our cat lived to an incredible age, and produced innumerable kittens. One, born under our bed, was named Sous-le-lit and was a pretty little cat, but never as dear to us as Sally.
We had a tame duck, Peter, the only one hatched from a clutch of thirteen. My father brought him into the nursery early one morning, and he swam about the tin bath to our delight. He became our constant companion, went swimming with us, and followed us everywhere, even to the tennis court to our annoyance, as we feared to step on him, until we imprisoned him under my sister’s large straw hat. Too much loving handling had somehow dislocated his wings, so that he could not fold them, but waddled along with them spread like a ship under full sail. We were ashamed of his ludicrous appearance and made a little jacket for him. One evening my Father heard a rustling in the croton bushes by the kitchen window, and, thinking it was a rat, sent the dog in for a kill. Bruno, who had always been jealous of the duck, was only too pleased to obey, and that was the last of poor Peter.
We had a variety of dogs from time to time - Bruno, a black and tan terrier with a terrifying bark, who thought it his duty to keep all intruders off the place. Tighe, a kind of hound, and my Mother’s little white Maltese terrier - Thimble. When Thimble was on heat, she had to be carefully shut up. My Mother thought it cruel to deny her fresh air and exercise so one day we rowed Thimble to a small island off the point, thinking she could safely run about there, but Tighe gallantly swam the intervening water.
In the stable was old Major, who lived to be twenty-seven, and drew my Father in the little phaeton to inspect his fields. There was Prince, an enormous cart horse, and a pair of bays, Star and Grover - named, I suspect, for President Cleveland. There were also cows, hens, ducks, and pigs and, in the fish pond, bright coloured tropical fish and turtles in the lagoon, but one couldn’t make pets of these.
Our dolls were dearly loved. I had a baby doll in long clothes, and I remember rocking her in my arms, and praying that Jesus would work a miracle and make her come alive.
My sister had a "little Lord Fauntleroy" doll, with long hair, a black velvet suit and a lace collar. He was passionately loved but the velvet suit became shabby, and my Mother thought he would look much better as a girl. So, one Christmas, for a surprise, she made him a dress and underwear and Cedric, Lord Fauntleroy, became a girl. My sister was horrified. "Doesn’t Cedie look funny in girls’ clothes" she said, and off came the dainty dress, and on went the shabby velvet. I think this showed a great lack of imagination on my Mother’s part.
I must describe the house in which we lived, built by my Father in 1883, on a point of land stretching into the harbour. It was of white stone, with a white stone roof, green shutters and a wide stone verandah, a lawn shaded by cedar trees ran down to the water. Inside, the rooms were large and high ceilinged, with plate glass windows, and furnished in the worst Victorian style. The drawing room had hard, uncomfortable chairs, upholstered in cut velvet in depressing shades of olive green, light brown and dark blue, and the silk curtains were in the same drab shades. The mantel piece was draped in a black velvet lambrequin decorated by a spray of morning glory, done in oils by an aunt. The only beautiful thing in the room was the glass chandelier. In the library were heavy glass fronted bookcases containing an odd collection of books, or rather, a collection with odd gaps.
There were complete editions of Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, but no Emily, and no Jane Austen. There was George Eliot beside Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). There were de Quincy, Nathaniel Hawthorne and W.D. Howells, Prescott the historian (but no Carlyle) and Sir Walter Scott - all the works of Tennyson but no Browning; Shelley but no Shakespeare! There was the "children’s bookcase" containing all the Rollo books by John Jacob Abbott, the Prudy books, the Susy books and Little Women and Little Men. Especially loved was Jackanapes and The Story of a Short Life, by Juliana Horatia Ewing and there was a wonderful edition of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with coloured illustrations by Kate Greenaway. We were allowed free run of the library and devoured all but the most indigestible of the books.
The entrance drive was beautiful. First a straight level road between tall hedges - on one side hibiscus, gay with red flowers, and on the other side, acalifa with its rich varied foliage - and a few cocoanut palms. The road then wound past a lagoon, edged by mangrove, and finally arrived at the front steps. It then continued around the "Circle", a half acre of lawn, planted with royal palms, pandanus, tall candelabra cactus, and a flame tree.
There was a crumbling old stone house on the place, which must once have been of some importance for there were traces of slave quarters and possibly stables. The driveway, grass grown in our time, was bordered by cedar trees, and there was a mounting block. Beside the house grew a large mulberry tree, palmettos and a surinam cherry. There was a cookhouse with a large fire-place for roasting meat on a spit, and beside the fire-place was a stone oven lined with brick. A fire was lighted in this, and, when the oven was hot the ashes were raked out, the loaves of bread, or cake, put in and the iron door shut. I have been told this made delicious bread. Beside the lagoon was the ladies’ bathing place - a long rectangular pool, enclosed with low stone walls, which became our fish pond. At one end was a small bath house with a roof half fallen in.
There was also a small stone house, windowless, with a peaked roof rather like a candle-snuffer, which was probably a buttery for keeping milk and butter.
A small and charming cottage of uncertain date on the lagoon, called "Honeymoon Cottage", became our coachman’s dwelling.
The two old ladies who lived in this ancient house (later to become our gardener’s cottage) were delighted to sell these buildings, and a 50 acre peninsula to the west, to my Father for $8,000. The peninsula was a wilderness of cedar trees, palmettos, and sage bush - with no roads. It had two hills, Lookout and Hilltop, with fertile valleys between - what an ideal place it was to roam over and play Indians. My Father built roads, one around the point, and another through Tamarind Valley, so called because a large tamarind tree grew there.
When my Father first came to Bermuda, he noticed how the Easter lily flourished in the little cottage gardens, and he decided to grow the lily commercially. To this end, fields were ploughed in the fertile valleys and gentle slopes of the point, each field surrounded by a tall oleander hedge as a wind-break, which, with their pink blossoms, were unbelievably beautiful in summer.
My Father sent the lily blooms and the bulbs to New York, and the venture proved unexpectedly profitable, but I think it became too arduous for him, and in a few years he gave it up. It is now an important industry of the island. An American lady once said to him, "My friend and I were wondering if it were true that you had made a fortune from the lilies, and I said I would ask you." "Well," said my Father, "you can tell your friend that you have asked me."
My Mother was a vivid character, absolutely fearless, quick in mind and in temper and sometimes had nerve storms. Her Mother died in childbirth, before my Mother could remember her, and I think she had rather an unhappy childhood. Her happiest days were when she visited her uncle, Rutherford Hayes, afterwards President of the United States, and his wife, Lucy Webb, for whom I am named. They lived at Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio. Her uncle became President in 1877, and my Mother lived with them in the White House. It was there she met my Father, and there they were married in the East room, in 1878.
She was not handsome, but had lovely white skin, and beautiful hands. While she was living in the White House, an artist was commissioned to paint a portrait of Martha Washington, wife of the first President and he asked my Mother is he could use her hands as a model. The portrait of Martha now hangs in the White House, with, unmistakably, my Mother’s hands.
She had no interest in clothes and cared not what she wore, as long as it was comfortable, but, of course, had to conform more or less to the prevailing fashion. I remember seeing her tie a small bustle about her waist. I also remember draped skirts, and tight bodices, buttoned down the front.
She wore little bonnets, made of a bit of straw, lace and a flower or two. Some had strings which, if I remember rightly, were usually untied.
She was ambitious for her children (how we must have disappointed her!) and, before the birth of her third child, went back to her old home in Columbus, Ohio, for she was sure the child would be a boy, and if born outside of the United States, he could never become President. It was, indeed, a boy, and dearly loved, though he never became President.
My Father was quite a different character - calm, slow to anger and of great integrity. He was wounded in the knee, towards the end of the American Civil War, and was retired as a brigadier-general. He was never again able to bend his knee, and always limped and walked with a cane. As he was six foot four in height, this long unbonding[unbending?] appendage was sometimes an embarrassment but he bore it with stoicism and philosophy, though often in pain. He was not a stern parent, but aloof, and I was rather in awe of him.
Here end my childhood memories - there are others I could tell - as, when my sister, at a tender age, announced that she was a boy, and, for some time wore a boy’s cap, and wouldn’t answer unless addressed as Singleton Outhewaite, the name of a boy she met one summer in Columbus. Or there was the time we were marooned on Thimble’s little island. The ebbing tide had left our boat stranded and we were not strong enough to push her off.
Then there was the beauty of still moonlight nights, or the phosphorescence in the water on summer evenings which outlined each finger of a trailing hand. But here I end, hoping that my children and grandchildren will be interested in these memories of a happy childhood.
The editors of the "Hayes Historical Journal" wish to thank Lucy Frances Horsfall Green Armytage, Sheffield, England, and Emily Horsfall Liddell, Peinbroke, Bermuda, for their cooperation in the publication of this charming reminiscence of life on Bermuda in the late 1800's.