Baron Bliss, Belize's Biggest Public Benefactor
Born February 16th, 1869 in the Buckingham county of England, Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, JP, fourth Baron Bliss of the former Kingdom of Portugal dropped anchor in the harbor of Belize on January 14th, 1926. It was of course, domicile at first smile but in less than two months after arriving, this distinguished adoptive son was dead. Though he had never set foot on land, the Baron's heart adored us and left to the people of Belize, over a million dollars. Little is known about the early life of this generous, yet mysterious nobleman, but there is a theory. The Baron left a wife, and at least one brother who we know of, yet considered neither to any consequence in his will. Judge Justice Rowlatt of the King's bench of the High Court of Justice, and we speak of him some more later, stated on more than one occasion in his adjudication of March 1929, that it was clear that Bliss had left England forever. The Baron first went to the Bahamas where he actually lived for five years and even acquired some property there leading one to believe that he might have in fact, intended to settle there. He left in disgust however and moved all the way over to the other end of the Caribbean where he lived for about a year in Trinidad. Once again the vibes weren't right however, and after hearing about the sleepy little hallow called Belize, he decided to test our hospitality. Obviously, we must have passed with flying colors. A logical assumption then would be that the kind Baron, who at 42 had become paralyzed from the waist down, was spurned at first by his native country of England and then by the Bahamas and later by Trinidad. There is no word as to whether he had tried Cayman. Now according to the same Judge Rowlatt mentioned before, in a ruling of March 11th, 1929 that it was not made out, that the baron had established a British Honduras domicile. The decision of course, cost Belize almost half of the original gift in English taxes, but eve so, we were still left with decent money. I guess it pays to be hospitable. Now, the Baron's funds, according to his will and according to Leo Bradley Sr., will never die, for we are to spend only the interest. That of course, in itself has been a tidy sum and from it we have realized many worthwhile projects, at least one in every district. In Belize City alone we have the Bliss Lighthouse, the Bliss School of Nursing, the Bliss Institute and at the international airport, the now demolished Bliss Intransit Lounge. Granted of course, the difficulty in finding any cavity in the mouth of a gift horse this size, if there is one, it's has to be the fact that there is no provision in the will for repairs to buildings constructed. As we speak, the magnificent Bliss Institute in an accelerating state of decline and the much utilized stage of its auditorium, has been years without a curtain. The Bliss School of Nursing sits in dire need of electrical and plumbing repairs and just the other day, the nurses had to be evacuated due to a fire from faulty wires. According to the stipulations of the Baron's will, all repairs and maintenance must be done by the recipients and in the case of the aforementioned, this would mean the Government of Belize. Both these facilities provide very essential services and it would be a disgrace if we should let them waste away. Anyway Belize, have a happy and safe holidays and remember to exercise the utmost of caution, especially if you go swimming. Many a happy outing has been spoiled by careless avoidable mishaps.
Baron Bliss was an Englishman who held the title of a Portuguese Baron, and spent years in search of a place to call home until he finally found it on the shores, when he dropped anchor in the harbor of Belize on January 14th, 1926.. He was also a big fan of Belize who left not only his heart in the country but also his money. Each year on the Ninth of March a harbor regatta is held in memory of Belize's biggest public benefactor, Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss. Although he might have been forgotten, seventy-three years later he was venerated. But it's not the money he left behind which is so widely appreciated; it is his own gesture of appreciation to those who gave him a sense of contentment in his last days.
The Baron 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 1, Baron Bliss said goodbye to his native England and shoved off, making it clear that he never intended to return.
Little is known about the early life of this generous, yet mysterious nobleman, but as far as we know, Baron Bliss had no children but was married to one Baroness Ethel Alice Bliss, and at least one brother who we know of. He settled covenant with his wife 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.
Judge Justice Rowlatt of the King's bench of the High Court of Justice, stated on more than one occasion in his adjudication of March 1929, that it was clear that Bliss had left England forever. 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.
The beacon from this lighthouse reaches far into the night alerting sailors of the reef and shallows in the Caribbean around Belize. The lighthouse is one of the many legacies to Belize by Baron Bliss, thus the structure is known as the Baron Bliss Lighthouse.
Photo courtesy of Don C. Corn.
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 the country 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. 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.
The will left by Baron Bliss is a meticulously worded document which is quite specific in its dos 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, also for the use of light supply.
According to reliable sources, since 1985, when Leo Bradley Sr. did a compilation of the information on these funds 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. In Belize City alone we have the Bliss Lighthouse, the Bliss School of Nursing, the Bliss Institute and at the international airport, the now demolished Bliss Intransit Lounge. Also a project in every district has materialized, but since that time the purse string seem to have been drawn tight. The trustees of the fund, are the Governor General, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary.
Blease from Belize