Journey Down the Rabbit Hole

The other day, as I delved once again into the many disorganized boxes of family photographs, letters and papers, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a document that my grandmother, Jean Wilhelmine Inglis Kaine had written about her trip with a friend to Bermuda in 1920. Based on the style and format, it must have been composed as a presentation to some sort of group.
I admired her clear and descriptive writing style and as I read it, a few things piqued my curiosity. Actually the exercise of going through the family archives has made me wonder about many different things and I spend an inordinate amount of time going down the rabbit hole of research on the internet to better understand the context of the places and times mentioned in the letters and depicted in the photographs. No wonder it can take two days to meet my measly target of 500 words!

Why did Jean choose to go to Bermuda? I discovered that the poor economic situation in Bermuda after the first world war was boosted when in 1919, the Furness Steamship Company picked Bermuda as a destination for their new vacation ships and continued this route until 1966. Then bonanza! In the 1920s, the era of Prohibition in the United States, Bermuda, as the nearest offshore foreign place to New York and New England, became a favourite watering hole and vacation spot for many. Also liquors of all kinds were smuggled from Bermuda into the United States. In Bermuda, this “export” of liquor was to prove very profitable to some Bermudians and the crews they employed. from
I know that the liquor was not what drew my grandmother, though not a teetotaller, I recall only one or two occasions when she had a small glass of wine so it must have been the chance to see a place only recently accessible to the average person and very different to what she was used to. She was quite disappointed that she and her friend could not pick and eat bananas directly from the trees along the roads! They were also taken aback by the lack of knowledge of their tour guide. I expect that as teachers they had high expectations on the information front.

As Jean described the Walsingham Caves, she mentioned a “moving picture” she had seen, “Neptune’s Daughter” starring Annette Kellerman. Obviously a silent movie but as I found out, a huge box office hit!
“The picture was released in April 1914 and was an immediate sensation, grossing nearly one million dollars. Though the scene in Crystal Caves caused wonder in Bermuda – censors and clergy members in the United States took a rather dimmer view. Kellerman, in the era of silent films, wore her “unconventional” swimwear – a body stocking that made her appear nude in many scenes.  The allure of either Kellerman or exotic Bermuda kept the film in circulation for seven months. Its record of 19 successive weeks as top-grossing film stood until 1955.” from

Jean Inglis Bermuda 1920
Jean Inglis Ship to Bermuda 1920

Trip to Bermuda  written by Jean Inglis 1920
most likely for a presentation to a group

Just at this time of year when the temperature begins to wander down near the zero mark and our walls are banked in snow then it is that most of us would like to be able to sail southward to the Bermudas, called by a 17th century poet– the Summer Islands – and find in exchange warmth and golden sunlight and the bluest water in the world. Juan de Bermudez, a famous Spanish navigator first sighted the island in 1522 and named them after himself. He feared however that they were inhabited by savages, so did not land. Some 40 years later, an Elizabethan sea rover was wrecked with his crew and found that group ” like unto the garden of Eden” but lacking any human kind whatsoever. He returned to England, but later brought out a shipload of settlers and from then on many emigrants came.
The group numbering over 100 islands and bays, is formed of coral reefs rising from the immense summit of a gigantic underwater mountain. The main islands form a narrow strip of land nowhere wider than three miles, and it is possible to drive twenty-five miles along splendid roads-but not by automobile-these are not allowed. Neither are there any trains or trolley cars, but you must ride in carriages or on bicycles. The drivers who are negroes or so commonly called there “dark people” are very amusing sometimes. The first driver we had had been driver for Mark Twain for nine years-and he spoke perfect English, but we were not so successful in choosing our second one. He was using a street term-“real dumb”. He could tell us very little more of the islands than we already knew. For instance, he repeated so many times that certain trees along the way were date palms, or sago palms, or banana trees or orange trees. In speaking of the bananas we were somewhat disappointed. We expected to be able to go along and help ourselves to the odd banana, but they are picked when very green and packed in straw or hay. They really do grow the opposite way to which we see them hung in our stores-so that the sun may get in among them to ripen them. We asked many questions of our driver to which he invariably gave the reply, “I just don’t know, rightly”. After a time we passed along on a road very close to the sea, -in fact the water had come in, and was carried underneath the road forming a pool of water on the other side. Just then our driver showed great signs of life, and his face shone as he leaned back and said with great satisfaction, “That’s a POND.” It was with difficulty that we were able to suppress a real hilarious laugh, but we realized that this bit of information was as important to him as any other.
There are just two towns of any size -Hamilton the Capital and chief port, and St. George’s, a very old town with very narrow streets and old fashioned houses which are right against the street. Hamilton is quite pretty, altho only one part of it looks at all like a street. The stores are small and crowded and all prices are marked and given in English money so that when we went to buy anything we had to figure it all out and see how much it would be in our money. I remember in crossing in the ferry from our hotel to Hamilton, the fare was sixpence.  We finally made it up having a pile about an inch high —a couple of American cents (they accept American money but not Canadian), a thrupence, a hapenny and a couple of farthings.
The foliage of Bermuda is beautiful. Hedges of red hibiscus, or of poinciana or of pink oleanders overgrown with blue morning glories give the scene an air of unreality. There are stretches of cedars, palms, india rubber, orange, lemon and other trees. It is quite common as you drive along to have tiny youngsters throw brightly coloured flowers into your carriage and run along behind for quite a distance until someone throws out some money.
A visit to these islands would not be complete without seeing the famous Walsingham caves. It is about 90 feet under the earth, being discovered and owned by three brothers. The hundreds of clinging stalactites, brings one’s study of physical geography into play. They vary in size from hundreds looking just like macaroni to one many inches through. We were urged to be careful not to break any of them off as it took 100 years to grow 1” of the slender ones. After being led down a long incline path, we came to two large ponds of water -water of a beautiful brilliant blue through which you can see distinctly even where it is 40 feet deep. Two pontoon bridges are built over the water -these can be lowered or raised as the tide flows and ebbs. Perhaps some of you have seen that moving picture of Daughter of Neptune (Neptune’s Daughter) featuring Annette Kellerman. I had seen it just previous to going to Bermuda and wondered where such clear water could be found in the world. One of the brothers showing the cave, said the pictures were taken there and Annette Kellerman had dived from the spot where we were standing. Electric lights are installed throughout and a great deal of clever arranging of lighting -having some of the stalactites look like great cathedrals etc.
G;ass bottomed boats are another feature of Bermuda. I must say I got somewhat of a shock with regard to these. I had expected to see a full glass space forming the bottom of the boat , but instead there was just a little square of glass, at which each one could take his turn in viewing the marvellous life existing under the water-angel fish, star fish, corals etc.
Visitors always go to see the quaint cedar and coral limestone house that was the home of the poet Tom Moore when he was there in the service of the Vice-Admiralty.
A thrilling experience one can have in these enchanted islands is to go on a moonlight sail. The sailboats are small accommodating from 8 to 10 people. Some daring racing is done by the persons managing the sails and when you get out of the protected bay to where the winds from the sea strikes the sails, if you are inexperienced sailor (as I was), you’ll think it is your last trip on this earth.
The people are very friendly and have the custom of wishing you “Good morning, or good night” when they pass on the road, whether they know you or not. Everyone walks on the road, as there are no sidewalks except along a few streets in Hamilton.
I have said nothing of the ocean voyage which takes 2 days and 2 nights. We experienced fine weather to Bermuda, noticing it rough only while going through the Gulf Stream which made the large waves very choppy. But on the return trip we encountered quite a sea -in fact so much so that nearly everyone had six meals a day-3 down and 3 up. A baby shark was caught not far from shore but just as we stood breathless to see it hauled in it snapped the hook off the line and departed. There really are flying fishes to be seen too.
Now, are you all ready to start off for a trip to these enchanted isles -or does skating hold a greater attraction just now.

Jean Inglis Coney Island 1920
Jean Inglis Coney Island 1920

3 thoughts on “3b. A Trip to Bermuda 1920

  1. Hi Karen
    You are doing a marvellous job with the blog. I love it and read each one.
    Kim Robertson (wife of Harry Robertson, cousin to Great Aunt Jean Inglis and cousin to Helen Mepham. Let see, Harry’s Mom, Jean Robertson was Great Aunt Jeans niece.

    Liked by 1 person

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