The Islands that Disappeared


This article by Edward Harris appeared in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette.

Reading “The Island That Disappeared” will transport you back in time to a Bermuda where the pace was a little slower, the people were a little friendlier — a Bermuda we yearn for today. — Dame Jennifer Smith 2013

In 1979, Mrs Terry Tucker, then formidable head in the research section of the Bermuda Library and prolific author, published a small book that aimed to define The Islands of Bermuda. The tome has 173 islands listed by name, of which, at that time, Mrs Tucker stated 120 still retained their original titles but some no longer existed ‘having been absorbed into one of the Bases, in the Camber [at Dockyard], been blasted out of the ocean-bed, or merged with a neighbouring island’. In other words, some 30 islands and islets were ‘disappeared’ in the national interest for one reason or another, but most for military purposes.

A few days ago, I was privileged to attend the launch of a book about one of those disappeared islands — and one of the largest at 62 acres — namely, Long Bird Island at the western end of what is Bermuda’s ‘International’ (well, our only one) airport, largely ground into dust in the heady days of the third year of the Second World War (1939–45). Bright as a button once was in former military times hereabouts, Mrs Elizabeth Musson Kawaley, in her early 90s, has graced Bermuda with the second edition of her 1995 history book on The Island That Disappeared. Illustrated by drawings by her daughter, Kathy and a number of family and other photographs. Long Bird Press appropriately publishes the volume, for it centres around the Musson house on that island, a home now disappeared too.

The history of the Musson Family on these shores is long and involved and in part harks back to Thomas Driver, an ancestor and the finest known artist of the 1820s in Bermuda. Such is the passage of time that there must exist few people who had the pleasure of living on Long Bird Island in the 1920s, as ‘Betsy’ of the book did, for Elizabeth has written of her family and times in the third person, as it were, with the family named the ‘Masons’ and she and her siblings by pseudonyms.

Life on Long Bird, especially for children, was almost idyllic, as it must have been in most shore-side places in Bermuda of the days before automobiles, aeroplanes and the general degradation of the environment (including islet destruction) that came with the second part of the twentieth century. Mrs Musson, through the eyes of the children, also takes us on a tour of the rest of Bermuda in which the reader may compare those days with these, and probably in most cases, unfavourably.

Dame Jennifer Smith, in her review of ‘Disappeared’, also notes the decline in the friendliness of Bermudians, a degradation as serious as that that has effected the environment, natural and cultural, especially in recent decades as we became severely spoilt in the glory days of tourism and the first generation of the other ‘International Businesses’. Perhaps one may find in ‘Disappeared’ some reminders that the best policy is to treat others as you would be treated and that a return on being the ‘most courteous people on Earth’ is not only possible (unlike the restitution of disappeared islands), but is in our best economic interest, aside from being good for personal health and mental wellbeing.

Indeed such welcoming friendliness should start appropriately on Long Bird Island, where our well-paying visitors still arrive in considerable numbers, despite the unfriendliness that prevails in certain quarters in this paradise, for which we are but trustees, not only of the economy but of every aspect of its history and heritage. So thank you, ‘Betsy’, for your informative recollections of much that has disappeared, not only physically, but also otherwise.

Once I finish writing this, it will be early morning and I intend to try out one of the folk remedies that Mrs Kawaley mentions in her book, that is to say, the cleaning of teeth with sage bush leaves, for at the top of Scaur Hill we have the original plant brought to Bermuda for that purpose, being that with small blossoms in light pink, rather than the later multi-coloured ‘Lantana’. The original variety still grows wild on these hills where Elizabeth and I are privileged to reside and it is, it seems, not in danger of being disappeared, so back to the Market Place, Mr Colgate!

Of the place that disappeared, there were six buildings on Long Bird Island in 1899, when it was mapped for the Ordnance Survey by Arthur Savage, including one named as “Melrose” in the northwest section. All of those structures were destroyed, with the exception of the easternmost house, which became the home of the commandant of Fort Bell, later Kindley Field, and later US Naval Station Bermuda. That historic house sat on a small hill and both were unfortunately demolished when the Bermuda government took over the Station after 1995.

To the east of Long Bird, the following islands were reduced to ground level and buried under the Station and airfield: Pudding, Cave, Little Round, Sandy, Jones, Round, Long, Grace’s, and Westcott, the last having two dwellings upon it. Stocks Harbour, which provided for access between Castle and St George’s Harbours, via a channel between Stokes’ Point on St George’s Island and The Needles and Stocks Point on St David’s Island, was reduced by land reclamation to half its original size. A goodly portion of St David’s Island was ‘disappeared’ by bulldozing and the eastern end of the Fort Bell airfield appeared in place of Easter Lily fields and ancestral homes of a number of Bermudian families, irrevocably gone.

Elizabeth Kawaley’s book will hopefully serve a purpose to remind us of the fragility of Bermuda, so that many more will question the stupidity of disappearing paradise to accommodate those who are but temporary allies. Here one thinks sadly of suggestions to disappear islands at the east end for the accommodation of even more overbearing ships, at very considerable cost (short and long term), while our hotels (‘land ships’) are sinking under debt with many being disappeared in the last generation.

Except to land a plane, no one will come to these hopefully friendlier shores if we turn the place into parking lots, one islet at a time. Perhaps our great neighbour to the west will grant many of us refugee status if our fundamental hotel tourism economy continues its free fall into the oblivion of the ‘disappeared.

The ambience of that is Bermuda in Elizabeth’s book can be preserved and must be sustained, for that is why the discerning visitor came and still comes to these islands.

For the original report go to

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