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Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House
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Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House
The ultimate symbol of colonial authority was Government House, the governor's residence. At the entrance stood a little white kiosk and an immaculately uniformed but unarmed Belize policeman. The constable on duty was invariably polite and helpful to any visitors, though insistent on knowing their business with the governor.

Photograph courtesy Neal Fraser             
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Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Erected in 1812 to 1814 under the supervision of Superintendent Colonel George Arthur. Sir James Hennessy, 1980 – 21 September 1981 was the last Governor to serve at the Government House prior to Belize's Independence in 1981. Dr. Dame Minita Gordon was the first Governor General of an Independent Belize.

Facts about the Government House/ House of Culture

1. The property was supposed to have been the site for the Court House.

2. The area was known as Roque's Point.

3. On September 1st, 1786, the lot was offered for the Superintendent’s house.

4. The house was built in 1814, under the supervision of Superintendent Colonel George Arthur.

5. The Government house, the residence of the Colonial Administrators, is one of the oldest houses in the country.

6. There were 37 Colonial Administrators that lived and worked in the house between 1814 and 1981.

7. Over the years several alternations and additions have been made, but the basic structure dates back to 1814.

8. The original house had a veranda running completely around it.

9. It is of interest to note that in a community where records and buildings of the past have suffered from innumerable fires, no large fire has been recorded at Government House.

10. In March 1884, the Legislative Assembly, proposed to make provision for rendering Government House fit to receive a family.

11. Government House served not only as a residence to the colony’s leaders but also as the center of the country’s administration, where important decisions, treaties and laws were made and signed.

12. It was the meeting place for the Executive Council for about a 100 years.

13. In the tragic hurricane of September 1931, in which 2500 people lost their lives, Government House suffered from winds and tidal waves and became a shelter for some of the people.

14. Visitors included Princess Margaret who slept at the house in1958, Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) in 1965. Queen Elizabeth II attended a banquet here in 1994 and ate the “Royal Rat”.

15. In 1996 the Governor General handed over the maintenance of Government House to the Museum Trust.

16. In 1999, the state took control of Government House and it became the House of Culture.

17. As part of the Downtown Rejuvenation Project the Government House was to become a Historical Museum.

18.There was a swimming pool at Government House, I believe it was the first swimming pool on the Southside of Belize City. The original swimming pool used by the GovernorS and was in use up to the time of Governor Dame Minita Gordon is still there under the restroom facilities that were installed in 1996. For more information about the pool, click here.

19. The design for the house was gotten from a Colonial Caribbean design designed by the famous English architect Christopher Wren.

20. The house has had its fair share of tragedy when three Colonial Administrator’s family members died in the house. Governor Sir Cornelius Alfred Maloney’s (1891-1897) wife (Yellow Fever), Governor Sir Ernest Bickham Sweet-Escott’s (1904-1906) daughter Sarah (Yellow Fever), and Governor William Hart-Bennett in 1918 as a result of the Court Fire.

21. The Carriage House which was built under Governor Cockburn in 1830 was partially razed and rebuilt and today houses the head office of NICH. Some of the original brick structure was incorporated into the new building.

22. Baron Bliss’s tender boat, the Sea King, is on display on the property.

23. The property maintains six cannons of varied sizes that were saved from the fours forts that graced the town prior to 1798.

24. The Government House property was fully repaired and rebuilt in 2020.

25. Under the Downtown Rejuvenation Project, the House of Culture which was formerly located in the Government House, was relocated to a new building constructed on the property in 2020. It was thought that it was time to retire the historic house to a more mundane existence since the house had become too old to handle lots of dancing and music.

26. There originally was a Tavern on the property, possibly called Rogues Tavern, it was the one and only building that survived the 1787 hurricane when it hit what is now Belize City. The tavern survived with most everyone in it, the rest of the houses were pimento with thatched roofs. Unfortunately that hurricane destroyed all our archives/ records back then which perhaps would have included written words on the birth of the European settlement and perhaps a word on the illusive Wallace. The first major hurricane in our recorded history.

27. Thomas Paslow got the contract for the construction of the House. While I doubt he personally did construction he oversaw the building.

Dora Riverol: In 1931 the Burdon archives made up of 3 books had not as yet gone to print... Governor Burdon saved the drafts and supporting documents by rushing them to the upstairs or second floor of the building during the 1931 hurricane... so glad that 1) they were at the GH and 2) that as sick as he was he saw the importance of saving it... .today these 3 books which incorporate our history from about 1786 thru 1888 from records in Belize( many of which no longer exist) Jamaica and London gathered over roughly a 5 year period with our national hero Monrad Metzgen doing a lot of the heavy lifting and Governor Burdon using his influence to enlist the help of archivists in Jamaica and London is rich with our history all found in these 3 books used over the years by scholars and writers of Belize history and am sure our ICJ team are spending a lot of their time pouring over their pages... the books are extremely rare ... not sure if the Belize Archives or our National Heritage library have all three copies ... they are mostly held by prestigious Universities in the U.S. , London and elsewhere ... so you members abroad can try borrowing them if you or your kids are attending one of the schools... look up World Cat ... those living in Belize cannot borrow these books but you can read them at the Heritage... I am lucky that they are in my 2000 Belize/British Honduras book collection... have multiple books for the period 1786 thru 1800... one each for the periods 1800 to 1840 and 1841 to 1888.

Below are three photos of the inside of Government House, taken by John Hutchinson, in the mid 1960s.

There is only one house I know of that has a semi-circle bay window like that and that is the Government House. There are very few photos of the inside of the Government House. There are two ground floor rooms that are identical. The one on the left facing the sea was where the Governors had his office and the one on the right would have been the dining room. Albert Paul Avila

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Queen Elizabeth will give her Historic Speech near where the lady is in Orange in a few years after this photo was taken, in 1985 to be precise. The Governors at that time would have been Stallard, Paul or Posnett. That table was in the left room up to 2020. Albert Paul Avila

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

One can see the sea through those windows.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Check out the old radio.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

This room as it appears now... with the table, but no ketchup, or radio.

The construction of the Government House was started in 1814 and it was completed around 1815. The task of deciding the location and design was given to Colonel George Arthur upon his arrival as Superintendent in 1814. He chose an area across from the Anglican Church (Construction was in full swing at the Cathedral which had started two years before in 1812) known as Rogue's Point where a famous historic tavern by the name of Frost's Tavern used to be located. The Colonel being an aristocrat himself, realized that the monarchy needed a structure that would exemplifies the status and power of the British Empire. The design he chose was based on the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren's English Colonial Caribbean design.

Sir Christopher Wren was an English Architect that lived in London between 1632 and 1723. He designed 54 churches including St Paul's Cathedral, as well as many secular buildings of note in London after the Great Fire.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

The Government House you see today has been through two major rehabilitations not including the ones in the 90s and 2019. The original structure may have been a little smaller without a verandah.

For more information on the last rehabilitation of the building, click here!

Major repairs were demanded in 1830 by Colonel Francis Cockburn since the building had fallen into disrepair. He demanded that the house be refitted with furniture as is the custom with other English Colonial residences around the world. The Magistrates of the Public Meeting approved 2,000 pounds for furniture. They also approved a new roof, added an open verandah, improved the interior and built servants' quarters (This would have been the floor over the Carriage House). The Carriage House was built at this time.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

The rear of Government House, southeast corner. At one time the rear was the front and front was the rear.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Government House 1907

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Governor General guard hut. The guard house at the old Goverment House, currently the House of Culture Museum. The British style pillar box needed a restoration when I last saw it. The royal cipher E II R still legible, we all know it as "Elizabeth II Regina". Regina is Latin for Queen. Photo by George Villanueva.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House

Here’s a couple of looks from the upper level of the House of Culture, looking outside the former Government House. Photos courtesy George Villanueva.

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House
Government House 1907

Entrance to Government House, 1940's. Facts about Government House
Pay phone that was once inside Government House Compound.

Government House, Belize Oral History

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