The 9th of March is known in as Baron Bliss Day and has been set aside to commemorate the memory of its 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.
At sometime in his adult life, Baron Bliss acquired the title of the 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal, succeeding to ancestor relatives who held a position before. At this time he changed his surname from Barretts to Bliss. The Peninsular War occurred in Portugal from 1809 to 1814. Britain had always shown friendship to the kingdom of Portugal, and at this time sent British troops to fight against the incursions of Napoleon. One recalls the famous poems, “The Burial of Sir John Moore” who died in the battle of Corunna in Portugal. Most likely an ancestor of Baron Bliss was awarded the title of the 1st Baron of the former Kingdom of Portugal; and Baron Bliss succeeded to this title as the 4th Baron.
It is known that Baron Bliss was”..a man obviously of active mind and great courage to the last moment; he liked deep sea fishing and he was fond of working on a lathe.”
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 had left a settlement covenant before traveling abroad, and about whom he stated in his will that “…my married life had been a very happy one.” Records reveal no attempt by the Baroness to attend his farewell. She passed away in England in 1945.
In 1911 and at the prime age of 42, Baron Bliss contracted polio and was for the remainder of his days, confined to a wheelchair.
By the time of his untimely misfortune, Baron Bliss had amassed enough wealth (speculating in petroleum shares) to realize his dream of retiring to a life of seafaring and fishing. One of his nephews on a visit to Belize revealed that his uncle, while having a handsome income as an engineer, inherited some real estate which he promptly sold. The Baron invested these monies in Shell Oil and that is what made him a fortune. He acquired a yacht which was built as a house boat, being towed by another boat. During the First World War (1914-1918) his boat was commandeered for war purposes. After the war, he acquired his famous yacht “Sea King No.2” which was a shallow draft yacht built to his specifications, for use in tropical waters. He intended to live on this yacht, and to enjoy tropical sea fishing. In 1920 he sent the “Sea King” to the Bahamas and followed it to live on it while fishing , even if crippled. As far as we know, Baron Bliss had no children.
After leaving England, Baron Bliss made his first stop in the Bahamas where he acquired some property seemingly indicating that he contemplated staying there. Baron Bliss stayed in the Bahamas for five years, living on his yacht, even devising a means of pumping fresh water from land straight to the “Sea King.” He never returned to England. He acquired lands and buildings on Hog Island and Man Island in the Bahamas. Stationed mostly at Nassau, he had a long chance to see the social and administrative life of the islands, which he eventually got to dislike. In the middle of 1925 he went to the other end of the Caribbean to Trinidad, where he lived in the Sea King.
After his health began to fail the Baron decided that Trinidad was not the place for him and 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.
From the arrival of Baron Bliss and the Sea King to Belize City Harbor (it anchored just off Fort George Point), Baron Bliss sampled the friendly courtesies and sampled the cool climate and sea breeze of Belize. He was given every courtesy and assistance from customs officials. The Governor, scholarly Sir John Alder Burdon, who produced a booklet titled Brief Sketch of British Honduras as well as digested archives in three volumes, paid him a courtesy call aboard the Sea King and tendered every assistance that would be necessary. The health of ailing Baron Bliss seemed to improve for the next few weeks; and he 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 yacht tender, 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.
Baron Bliss Will – Financial Benefactor
Although he never set foot on land Baron Bliss was so impressed with the beauty and hospitality that greeted him in Belize, that he decided to leave the bulk of his fortune to the colony. At the time of his death, the Baron’s bequest to Belize was valued at some one million, eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars but before Belize had quite finished counting, England had dropped a bombshell.
Even though it is specifically stated in the first line of his will that Baron Bliss considered himself domiciled in British Honduras, 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 and I quote, “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 the country 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; how else could we have expected it to go?
The will left by Baron Bliss is a meticulously worded document which is quite specific in its dos and don’t s. Only the interest is to be spent and no loans can be raised on the security. An interesting stipulation is that no U.S. national 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. Any project over $500. should be submitted for plans to a British or maybe Canadian Engineer, but not through the Crown Agents. 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.
Over the decades, the Baron Bliss Fund has used money from the savings accumulated on many projects for the benefit of the country. The projects completed have benefited all parts 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 the country. 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 the City 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. The trustees of the fund are ex oficio the Governor General, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary.
Since 1985, when Leo Bradley Sr. did such a notable job of compiling the information from which the article has drawn, 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. 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, account and public audit of money spent, for after all, this was a gift to the people of Belize. (As of 2022 the Baron Bliss Trust Fund stands at a little over $2.2 million held in Government of Belize Treasury Notes, according to notes read in public at the Baron Bliss Day ceremonies in Belize City broadcast on national radio.)
This article had its genesis as a newspaper article written by George Michael Reid in 1999. It has been updated with additional research 2015-2022 by Manolo Romero. Any corrections or additions to this article may be submitted for consideration using our contact form below.
References: George Michael Reid political activist and writer, Leo Bradley former Chief Librarian, Belize Archives Department, Baron Bliss And His Bounty To Belize, the Belize.com editors and M.A. Romero Chief Information Officer to the Government of Belize (RET).