Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, commonly known as Baron Bliss (16 February 1869 – 9 March 1926), was a British-born traveller who willed almost 2 MILLION US dollars, more so some one million, eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The British government decided to contest the matter in court. As a result, at least a quarter of the original amount given to the country by Baron Bliss was taken out for British taxes.
Every year, on the 9th March, wreaths are placed on the tomb of Baron Bliss in memory of the great benefactor. The day is celebrated as a public and bank holiday, and a harbour regatta is held in remembrance of a man who loved the sea and who left Belize over a million dollars for its use. Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss was an Englishman born in England. Before leaving England he lived at Quarry Court, Marlow, in the County of Buckingham, England. He was an Engineer by profession, and was married to Ethel Alice Baroness Bliss to whom he left a settlement covenant before traveling abroad.
Nothing is known about how Baron Bliss acquired his wealth, whether through his profession, business, or inheritance, or all three. At some time in his adult life he inherited the title of the 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal, succeeding to ancestor relative who held the position before.
Tragedy struck the Baron when, in 1911, at the age of 42 he was attacked by paralysis, which affected him from his waist downwards. He had always been a keen fisherman, and although confined to a wheelchair, he maintained his enthusiasm for his favourite sport.
It was in search of big game fishing that he came to British Honduras, after spending much time cruising in Caribbean waters. The Baron stayed in the Bahamas for five years until a disagreement with government officials caused him to search for new waters. After a brief period in Trinidad where his health began to fail, he decided to try the fair climate of British Honduras which was recommended to him by his friend and then Attorney General of the colony, Willoughby Bullock. Early on January 14, 1926, Baron Bliss arrived in Belize and took up residence on his luxurious steam yacht the “Sea King“ which was anchored in the Belize City harbour.
Upon his arrival in Belize, he was welcomed by Customs Officials and introduced to the Governor, Sir John Burdon who paid him a courtesy call and tendered any assistance necessary. The health of the Baron seemed to improve over the following weeks and he took the opportunity to sample the fishing in the nearby waters. Every morning the crew lowered him in his wheelchair to a small boat which took him out to the cayes and barrier reef, where he seemed happy and contented.
This period of improvement lasted briefly, and shortly after his arrival his health began to fail. Baron Bliss was just a few days from his 57th birthday when, on February 10, his nurse was sent ashore for a doctor. One report states that “the illness from which Baron Bliss was suffering was not an illness just beginning; things were getting serious, and it must have been in existence for some time. He was ill in Jamaica and he had come from Jamaica in a state of great illness.” During the doctor’s examination, the Baron asked “Is this the beginning of the end?” The doctor advised him of the likelihood. On February 10 he called for the Governor to whom he expressed his wish for a will which would leave the bulk of his estate to then British Honduras.
The Governor consented to the ideas and conditions which were outlined by the ailing Baron. He took the notes ashore and on February 17, one day after the 57th birthday of Baron Bliss, the will was executed and signed aboard the “Sea King”. The will named Governor John Alder Burdon, Colonial Secretary Charles Crawford Douglas Jones and Attorney General Willoughby Bullock and their respective successors as Executors of his will that would comprise a “Baron Bliss Trust”. Baron Bliss wrote to his brother-in-law on the 18th February telling him about the will and his decision. He was visited by the doctor once more on the 25th of February and died on March 9, 1926.
The will of twelve pages of Baron Bliss which was signed abroad the yacht the “Sea King” was probated in the Supreme Court of Belize on the 15th March, 1926. The will surely indicated that Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, 4th Baron Bliss of the Former Kingdom of Portugal, 57 years at his death, was a courageous nobleman, rigid, meticulous, and a well-arranged character, who at all times, in spite of unexpected changes had order in his life style. On top of this, where Belize was concerned, he seemed to have been able to sample and appreciate the sincerity, scenery and society of Belize, the environment of the country and the qualities of its peoples at short notice, and so revoked any former will in order to leave his presence and his money for the good of his newly found home.
Baron Bliss stipulated in his will that his body should be embalmed and brought ashore and buried near the sea in a granite tomb surrounded by iron fencing, with an obelisk or lighthouse nearby which would be available for visitors and citizens. He agreed that he could be buried temporarily in a garden until the tomb by the sea was ready. All expenses for his tomb and for his funeral should be borne by his money. He even left a plan of the tomb and railings. Along with his many requests, the Baron requested that 100 pounds be set aside annually for a sea or river regatta in one or two towns in the country.
The first projects completed from the interest obtained from the Baron Bliss Trust were those that concerned the stipulations of his will. Apart from the annual amount for the regatta, the Baron Bliss Garden was set up and the erection of his permanent tomb and the Bliss Lighthouse was completed.
Over the decades, the Baron Bliss Fund has used money from the savings accumulated on many projects for the benefit of Belize. The projects completed have benefited all parts of Belize in different spheres. The Trustees examine and consider carefully requests for capital expenditure on projects; and they ensure that the project is in conformity with the will, can be maintained by the recipient, and will be of ongoing benefit for the people of Belize. Some projects completed in the past century with the help of the Fund were The Baron Bliss Institute and Promenade, The Bliss School of Nursing, Belize City Water Supply System, Intransit Lounge at Belize International Airport, the Corozal Town Hall and the purchase of land for the building of Belmopan.
The many projects realized by the Baron Bliss Trust have benefited thousands of citizens and were all completed in conformity with the desires of the will of Baron Bliss. It is safe to say that there will be many more ways and projects through which the practical kindness and affection of Baron Bliss will continue to aid Belize, for years and years to come.
Belize celebrates Baron Bliss Day each March 9 in his honour. The holiday was renamed National Heroes and Benefactors day in November, 2008.
Bliss's early personal history as well as the origin of his "Baron" title is uncertain. He styled himself "Fourth Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal"; there is some speculation that the original Portuguese title was Barão de Barreto. He was born into a wealthy Suffolk family and was rumoured to have been disinherited for keeping a hansom cab waiting. He subsequently made a substantial fortune speculating in petroleum shares. Unfortunately, he contracted polio and decided to travel the world in a luxury yacht. After spells in the Bahamas, Trinidad and Jamaica, he arrived in Belize harbour, where he found a climate which suited him. He was extremely fond of the local people and bequeathed the bulk of his fortune for the benefit of the people of British Honduras.