Baron Bliss and his boat The Sea King
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Monday March 7, 2016

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The National Institute of Culture and History was created by the Government of Belize in 2003 to bring together diverse government departments, which had historically worked to preserve and promote Belizean culture and to allow for the management of newer endeavors. We are committed to the preservation of Belize's ancient and historical era monuments and artifacts; the interpretation of Belize's documented, photographic and oral history; and the promotion of contemporary visual, literary and performing arts.
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Baron Bliss and his boat "The Sea King"

"Baron Bliss" - Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss The Fourth Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal.

The 9th of March used to be known as Baron Bliss Day, now known as Heroes & Benefactors Day, a public and bank holiday, and was set aside to commemorate the memory of Belize's biggest financial benefactor. Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, JP was born in the Buckingham County of England on the 16th of February, 1869. The day is celebrated as a public and bank holiday, and a harbor 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.

The Sea King dropped anchor in the harbor of Belize on January 14th, 1926. While in Belize, Baron Bliss took every opportunity to sample the fishing of the nearby waters. Every morning the crew of “Sea King” lowered him in his chair to the small boat, also named the “Sea King”, and friendly local fishermen took him out to the cayes and barrier reef, where he seemed very happy and contented, and pleased with the helpfulness and friendliness of the local fishermen. This must have seemed to him all he wanted to make him happy and lively.

In his will, Baron Bliss expressed his wish to be buried by a lighthouse hence the establishment of The Baron Bliss Lighthouse in Belize City. Also in the Baron’s will was the stipulation that 100 Pounds Sterling should be used each year for a regatta.

Photograph courtesy NICH

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Belize Celebrates National Heroes and Benefactors Day

National Heroes and Benefactors Day (previously known as Baron Bliss Day) is a public and bank holiday in Belize celebrated on March 9. This year, the holiday will be on Monday March 7.

This day was dedicated to Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, who willed a large sum of money to Belize. Baron Bliss was born in 1869 in England. At the age of 42, he became paralyzed from the waist down, but continued to live an active life spending several years in the Caribbean before settling down in British Honduras where he spent the rest of his life, living on his yacht. He died on March 9, 1926 and was buried in Belize City and a lighthouse was built in his memory. According to his will, most of his fortune was placed in a trust fund for the benefit of the citizens of British Honduras. He left specific instructions on how to spend the money, one project being the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts.

The anniversary of his death was declared a national holiday. It was originally named Baron Bliss Day, but in 2008 the name was changed to National Heroes and Benefactors Day. Some other Belizean Heroes and Benefactors that we celebrate on this day include:

Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, 4th Baron Bliss, commonly known as Baron Bliss (16 February 1869 – 9 March 1926), was a British-born traveller who willed nearly two million Belize dollars to a trust fund for the benefit of the citizens of what was then the colony of British Honduras, now Belize.

He was born Henry Edward Ernest Victor de Barreto and lived in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, as a youth. He was an engineer by trade and on the death of his father in 1890, inherited the title 4th Baron de Barreto of the Kingdom of Portugal. (His father had inherited lands in Spain and Portugal from an uncle, Colonel Carlo Antonio Barreto, on the condition that he change his name). However during the First World War he reverted to his family name of Bliss, and was known afterwards as Baron Bliss. He was apparently successful in his career, but it is not known how he obtained his fortune, whether due to business acumen or inheritance, or a combination thereof.

Bliss became paralysed from the waist down in 1911 at the age of 42, likely due to polio, and was confined to a wheelchair. Despite this, he remained active. He was apparently an avid sailor, but had his yacht confiscated for war purposes during the First World War. When the war ended, he was wealthy enough to retire to a lifetime of fishing and leisure, so to that end he ordered a new 120 ft twin screw yacht from the famous Scottish yacht designer Alfred Mylne, which he christened Sea King II. In 1920, he sailed the yacht to the Bahamas, where he stayed for five years. Meanwhile, his wife Baroness Ethel Alice Bliss stayed in England, living off a portion of his fortune. The couple had no children

Although he had some property there, he eventually grew tired of Bahamanian society and decided to move on. Leaving the Bahamas behind, he sailed to Trinidad and was there for a short while when he came down with a serious bout of food poisoning. Deciding to accept a previous invitation from his friend Willoughby Bullock, who was then Attorney General of British Honduras, he sailed westward, stopping briefly in Jamaica likely for medical attention, and arriving in the Belize City harbour on 14 January 1926.

Bliss's health appeared to improve over the next few weeks, and he spent much of this time sailing around the area in his launch, exploring the coastline and fishing. However, just days before his 57th birthday, his health took a turn for the worse, and doctors advised him that he was terminally ill. It was at this time that he decided he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the country, and signed a new draft of his will, dated 17 February. Several weeks later, he died on his yacht, never having landed on the Belize mainland. He was buried in Belize City, in what is now known as Bliss Park. This was a temporary arrangement, and he was later interred in a granite tomb near the sea, with a lighthouse nearby, built with funds from his estate.

The burial instructions were explicitly stated in the will.

The Bliss bequest

At the time of his death, Bliss's fortune was worth nearly £1 million (about BZ$1.8 million). About $480,000 was claimed by the United Kingdom in inheritance taxes. His will gave specific instructions on how the money was to be used to the benefit of the citizens of British Honduras. Aside from small lifetime annuities to his wife and relatives in England and to his personal staff, the remainder of the funds was placed in a trust, executed by the Governor, the Colonial Secretary, and the Attorney General.

The original monies were to be invested in British stocks and securities, and only the interest earned could be spent, and even that could not be spent on churches, dance halls or schools, except agricultural and vocational ones. One-hundred pounds sterling was to be set aside annually for a regatta, which has since been held every year on Baron Bliss Day. A peculiar condition attached to the money was that no American may be a trustee or an employee of a trustee. No explanation was given.

Over the years, the trust has provided more than $2 million to fund projects, including the Bliss Institute, Bliss School of Nursing, and other capital projects across the country. As of 2011, the fund was still worth roughly $1.5 million.

Soon after his death, the government declared 9 March to be Baron Bliss Day, a national public holiday. In November 2008 this was renamed to National Heroes and Benefactors Day, and is now observed the Monday closest to 9 March, unless it falls on a Saturday.

The Weekend is full of cultural traditions and festivities, with the main commemorative event being the wreath laying ceremony at the Baron Bliss Grave. Other highlights of the weekend include the annual harbor regatta which is a sporting event consisting of sailboat races. The Baron requested that funds be put aside specifically so that this tradition could be kept up every year. Another event is the annual Kite festival, where families, children, young and old, get together to create and build fun kites in all shapes sizes and colors to decorate the sky!

The annual Ruta Maya Challenge is also traditionally held on this weekend, and it consists of a four day canoe race, the longest of its kind in Central America.

A Time of Bliss

By G. Michael Reid

In the same way that Memorial Day opens the summer season for our neighbours up north, Benefactor’s Day heralds the arrival of our dry season. This holiday was initially given in honour of Belize’s biggest benefactor Baron Bliss and I thought it appropriate, timely and educational to republish this piece that I did several years ago.

Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, JP was born in the Buckingham County of England on the 16th of February, 1869. His real 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. That title was acquired 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 hand propelled wheelchair. By the time of his medical misfortune, Baron Bliss had amassed considerable wealth; enough 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. As far as we know, Baron Bliss had no children but was married to Baroness Ethel Alice Bliss, with whom he settled a covenant before leaving and for whom he made a modest provision in his will. According to the Baron, his married life had been a happy one but records suggest otherwise. There is no record of the Baroness making any attempt to contact Bliss or of attending his 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 seemingly concluded that neither was that the 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 arrived and dropped anchor in the harbour of Belize on January 14th, 1926. It was love at first sight and the Baron’s heart was finally at ease.

Although he never set foot on land and was dead less than two months after arriving, 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 total bequest was valued at a million, eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars; quite a tidy sum in those days. Before we had quite done counting however, England dropped a bombshell. Although 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 in Belize could 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 that 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 where the money is used as security. An interesting stipulation, and one quite specific in its noting, is that no American citizen was to be a trustee of the fund or even an employee of any trustee. No actual reason was given for this. The money is not to be used for churches, dance halls or schools; except agricultural or vocational. This seems to leave the door wide open for funding to projects like CET or ITVET. The money can also be used for canals and light supply and it would seem that many a lightless village could be considered here.

The Baron’s will is quite specific and even stingy in the things for which the money can be used. Neither provision for sports or education are allowed and the Baron was quite clear in stating that there are some things which he believed that government should be responsible for. He was clear that none of his money should be used for any repairs or maintenance of any projects or building from his fund. He was adamant that for such, government should take up the responsibility.

Interestingly enough, since 1985 when Leo Bradley Sr. compiled the information from which I have drawn, no account of disbursements of this fund have been made public. 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 seem 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 how these monies are being spent, after all, this was a gift to the people of Belize not to politicians. The trustees of the fund, in case you’re wondering are the Governor General, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary. Keep your eyes open Sir Colville, keep your eyes open. Happy dry season Belize and to the Baron, a heartfelt thank you!


Barron Bliss Revisited

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