With a population of a bit more than 64,000 people the islands of Bermuda from the air look like a large crayfish in the ocean – a long narrow set of islands and rocky outcrops with St Catherine Fort and a Cruise Terminal at the town village of St George's at its head with the International Airport nearby on David's Island and a narrow body where the main city of Hamilton is located followed by an upward sweep of the scorpion's tail leading to the old British Royal Naval Dock where Cruise liners also dock at King's Wharf or Heritage Wharf.

Most people would know 'Bermuda' due to its status or notoriety as a Tax Haven for companies registered here or on its association with the 'Bermuda Triangle' – an area of the North Atlantic Ocean off the US Coast, where story has it that a number of ships and also aircraft have simply disappeared in this part of the ocean. Whether these stories of mysterious extra-terrestrial disappearances are true or not is debated, but there are certainly many wrecks on the reefs off the coast of Bermuda, making Bermuda a popular dive site. Some of the ship wrecks that can be located here are the Mary Celestica – a Confederate paddle wheeler from time of the American Civil War; the Constellation schooner that sank in 1943; Lartington freighter that sank in 1879; Cristobal Colon that sank in 1936 and there are many other shipwrecks lying at different depths off-shore. There are estimated to be about 200 ship wrecks off the Bermuda Coastline, including a few ships that have been purposely sunk to create an artificial reef for divers and HMS Vixen, an 1860's British 'ironclad' gunboat that was purposely sunk in 1896 off Daniel's Head off Somerset as part of the island's defence to block the entrance to the Royal Navy Dockyard at the time. As a matter of interest, the ironclad sides of the hull were sheathed with teak timber in the hope of stopping the iron from rusting, but the teak in fact created more drag in the water, making the ship extremely slow and difficult to manoeuvre.  

Bermuda is also known worldwide for a particular style of clothing too – giving its name to 'Bermuda Shorts'. These formal men's shorts evolved from the British Army's khaki shorts that were British Army approved dress for officers working in the tropics.

During World War I, Bermuda became the North Atlantic Headquarters for the British Army and an enterprising teashop owner by the name of Nathanial Coxon cut down trousers to create shorts for his staff to wear in the shop. Their fashionable tailored finish and appearance led to them becoming known as 'Bermuda Shorts' - a new style of dress for men. Officially 'Bermuda Shorts' should be worn with long naval blue socks to below the knee, the shorts to be ideally 2 to 3 inches above the knee, no more than 6 inches, with a long sleeve shirt and tie and a Blazer coat worn too to set up the whole attire. Bermuda Shorts compete with other clothing styles like Cargo Pants/Shorts, Board Shorts and other clothes, but are still seen as a more stylish alternative to other short pants – due to their tailored finish.

Bermuda covers an area of about 53 square kilometres across its 138 islands (most uninhabited) and lies to the north of the Equator in the North Atlantic Ocean a little over a 600 miles east (1000 kilometres) off the east coast of the USA roughly parallel with the state of North Carolina and about 870 miles (1400 kilometres) North East of the Bahamas. It is a British Independent Territory and where the Bermudan Dollar (BMD) is the currency, each BMD being the same value as a US Dollar.


The islands of Bermuda were first discovered by the Spanish Explorer, Juan de Bermudez in 1505, with the name of the islands derived from the explorer's name but it was the British Admiral, Sir George Somers (1554-1610) who first landed here with 150 crew and passengers on-board, claiming ownership over the island in the name of their Company, the Virginia Company and Britain.

Sometimes Bermuda is called the Somers Islands in recognition of Sir George Somers. The Fleet of 9  ships were  actually heading to the Jamestown Colony in America, but were forced to run their ship, the Sea Venture onto the reefs of Bermuda during a massive storm in 1609 in order to save themselves.

With the ship wrecked but partly salvageable, they ended up staying here for 10 months, before most setting out once again to sail the rest of the journey to Jamestown, having built two new ships using cedar timber from the island and what could be salvaged from the Sea Venture – the newly built ships named Deliverance and Patience – virtues that were greatly needed at the time. On the island they had managed to save the provisions that had been on-board the Sea Venture and also to find wild pigs (Hogs) on the island which along with fish helped them survive.

The settlers who had managed to reach Jamestown earlier had not fared well and of the 500 or so settlers that had first come to settle in Jamestown, only 60 of them had survived and they were at the point of abandoning the settlement. The arrival of the Deliverance and Patience brought some relief and then another fleet of ships from England under the leadership of Baron Lord De La Warr (1577-1618), also an investor in the Virginia Company arrived too, taking on the role of Governor of the Jamestown settlement. The river, bay and state of Delaware are named after him.   

Sir George Somers set sail again on the Patience heading back to England by way of Bermuda, but he died after reaching Bermuda from food poisoning. At his request, his heart was left in Bermuda, but then his body was placed in a barrel and returned to Dorset in England where he was finally buried.

Interest in Bermuda continued and 1612 more settlers were sent by the Virginia Company to the island and in 1615 British King James I granted a second Royal Charter this time to the Somers Isles Company, which brought more settlers to the islands. By 1620 they had established a ruling Council over the island and became self-governing, with the Company only being dissolved in 1684.

While initially they tried to establish plantations on the islands, the islands were small in size, and fishing, building and repairing wooden boats using the island's timber became a bigger industry, with a smaller number of slaves being transported here than on the islands in the Caribbean. Slavery was abolished in Bermuda in 1807 and all slaves were Manumitted (Freed) in Bermuda in 1834. Being in the North Atlantic also meant that the islands had closer access to the Cod Fishing grounds to the north, with salt used as the means of preserving the fish that were caught. Most of the salt was sourced from the Turks Islands, but Bermuda Merchants (and Privateers) laid claim to it, as did those from the Bahamas to the south.

When the relationship between Britain and the 13 colonies in America deteriorated leading on to the American Revolutionary War 1775-1783 (The American War of Independence) the location of Bermuda eastwards from Virginia, south of Halifax in Nova Scotia and north of the Caribbean led to the British recognizing that Bermuda was a very strategic location in which to base its Navy and build forts and a dockyard. This was also further seen during the American Civil War, when British ships could be stationed here to evade the Union blockade of southern ports, and later during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) Bermuda became a British encampment for captured Boers, with around 5000 Boer Prisoners held here. It similarly played a role in both World War 1 and World War II as a military base in the North Atlantic for the British and then in 1941 by the American and Canadian Allied forces too.

It was only in 1995 that the bases of the US, Canadian and British forces closed down, with the Naval Dockyard now revitalised as a shopping precinct and the docks used for Cruise Ships.

Early defence of Bermuda, as with other Military locations facing the ocean was by means of establishing Fortifications and today you can visit some of the forts that are here in Bermuda.

Happy travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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