Bermuda, also referred to in legal documents as the Bermudas or Somers Isles, is a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean, located off the east coast of the United States. Its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about 1,030 kilometres (640 mi) to the west-northwest. It is about 1,239 kilometres (770 mi) south of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, and 1,770 kilometres (1,100 mi) northeast of Miami. Its capital city is Hamilton.
The first European to discover Bermuda was Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez in 1503, after whom the islands are named. He claimed the apparently uninhabited islands for the Spanish Empire. Although he paid two visits to the archipelago, Bermúdez never landed on the islands, because he did not want to risk crossing over the dangerous reef surrounding them. Subsequent Spanish or other European parties are believed to have released pigs there, which had become feral and abundant on the island by the time European settlement began. In 1609, the English Virginia Company, which had established Virginia and Jamestown on the North American continent two years earlier, established a settlement. It was founded in the aftermath of a hurricane, when the crew of the sinking Sea Venture steered the ship onto the reef so they could get ashore.
The island was administered as an extension of Virginia by the Company until 1614, when its successor, the Somers Isles Company, took over and managed it until 1684.
At that time, the company’s charter was revoked, and the English Crown took over administration. The islands became a British colony following the 1707 unification of the parliaments of Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain. After 1949, when Newfoundland became part of Canada, Bermuda automatically was ranked as the oldest remaining British Overseas Territory. Since the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, it is the most populous Territory. Its first capital, St. George’s, was established in 1612 and is the oldest continuously inhabited English town in the New World.
Bermuda’s economy is based on offshore insurance and reinsurance, and tourism, the two largest economic sectors. Bermuda had one of the world’s highest GDP per capita for most of the 20th century and several years beyond. Recently, its economic status has been affected by the global recession. It has a subtropical climate.
Bermuda is the northernmost point of the so-called Bermuda Triangle, a region of sea in which, according to legend, a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared under supposedly unexplained or mysterious circumstances. The island is in the hurricane belt and prone to severe weather.
The Flag of Bermuda
The Flag of Bermuda was adopted on October 4, 1910. It is a British Red Ensign with the Union Flag in the upper left corner, and the coat of arms of Bermuda in the lower right.
The flag is unusual for a British overseas territory in that it is used on land in a red ensign form. The other British overseas territories use a version of the blue ensign for general use ashore. Bermuda’s use of a red ensign on land is in keeping with Canada (pre-1965) and the Union of South Africa (pre 1928), both of which used red ensigns ashore as local flags in the early part of the 20th century.
Bermuda’s flag is an appropriate civil ensign for vessels registered on the Bermuda portion of the British Register, by virtue of the Bermuda Merchant Shipping Act of 2002.
The Governor of Bermuda uses a Union Flag defaced with the coat of arms, a design traditional for Governors of the British overseas territories. For the state ensign, a blue ensign is used.
Coat of Arms of Bermuda
The coat of arms of Bermuda depicts a red lion holding a shield that has a depiction of a wrecked ship upon it. The red lion is a symbol of England and alludes to Bermuda’s relationship with that country. The wrecked ship is the Sea Venture, the flagship of the Virginia Company. The ship was deliberately driven on to the reefs of Bermuda, by Admiral Sir George Somers, in 1609, to prevent it from foundering in a storm. All aboard survived, resulting in the settlement of the island. The Latin motto under the coat of arms, Quo Fata Ferunt, means “Whither the Fates Carry”.
In the twentieth century, the coat of arms—without the banner holding the motto—was added to the Red ensign to create the distinguishing colonial flag (the national flag is the Union Jack, which appears in its upper, left corner), and on the Governor’s Flag. The coat of arms features on the cover of the 1624 edition of The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (the Somers Isles is another name for Bermuda, commemorating Admiral Somers), by Captain John Smith.
The coat of arms replaced a badge which had been in use before 1910. The badge was based on a sketch, made in 1869, of the 1817 seal, which depicted a wet dock of the time showing with some boats in the background. It is assumed that the scene alludes to the fact that the islands were a stopover base for the sailing ships when the badge was approved by the Admiralty.
Bermuda is a group of low-forming islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, near the western edge of the Sargasso Sea, roughly 580 nautical miles (1,070 km (665 mi)) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and roughly 590 nautical miles (1,100 km (684 mi)) southeast of Martha’s Vineyard of Massachusetts. It is 898.2 nautical miles (1,663.5 km (1,033.7 mi)) northeast of Miami, Florida, and 667.374 nautical miles (1,235.976 km (768.00 mi)) from Cape Sable Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada. The island lies due east of Fripp Island, South Carolina.
The archipelago is formed by high points on the rim of the caldera of a submarine volcano that forms a seamount. The volcano is one part of a range that was formed as part of the same process that formed the floor of the Atlantic, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Indeed, it formed as part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The top of the seamount has gone through periods of complete submergence, during which its limestone cap was formed by marine organisms, and during the Ice Ages the entire caldera was above sea level, forming an island of approximately two-hundred square miles.
It has 103 km (64 mi) of coastline. The two incorporated municipalities in Bermuda are the City of Hamilton and the Town of St George. Bermuda is divided into nine parishes, which have some localities called villages, such as Flatts Village and Somerset Village.
Although usually referred to in the singular, the territory consists of 181 islands, with a total area of 53.3 square kilometres (20.6 square miles).
The largest island is Main Island, sometimes called Bermuda. Compiling a list of the islands is often complicated, as many have more than one name (as does the entire archipelago, which has also been known historically as La Garza, Virgineola, and the Isle of Devils. Somers Isles is often rendered “Somers Islands”, or mistaken for “Summer Isles”).
Despite the small land mass, place names are repeated; there are, for example, two islands named Long Island, three bays named Long Bay (on Somerset, Main, and Cooper’s islands), two Horseshoe Bays (one in Warwick, on the Main Island, the other at Morgan’s Point, formerly Tucker’s Island), there are two roads through cuttings called Khyber Pass (one in Warwick, the other in St. George’s Parish), and St George’s Town is located on St George’s Island within St George’s Parish (each known as St George’s). There is a Hamilton Parish in addition to the City of Hamilton (which is in Pembroke Parish).
Aerial view of Bermuda
Bermuda has a humid subtropical climate on the border of tropical climate. It is warmed by the nearby Gulf Stream, due to the westerlies, which carry warm, humid air eastwards over Bermuda, helping to keep milder winter temperatures.
The climate is humid and, as a result, the summertime heat index can be high, even though mid-August temperatures rarely exceed 30 °C (86 °F). Winters are windy, with average daytime temperatures in January and February around 20 °C (68 °F), although cold fronts bring Arctic air masses that can result in rapid temperature drops.
Atlantic winter storms, often associated with these cold fronts, can produce powerful, gusting winds and heavy rain. Factoring in the wind chill, the felt air temperature in winter can fall below freezing, 0 °C (32 °F), although the actual temperature hardly drops below 10 °C (50 °F). The lowest temperature recorded between 1949 and 1999 was 6.7 °C (44 °F), in February 1950.
Bermuda is within the hurricane belt. Located along the Gulf Stream, it is often directly in the path of hurricanes recurving in the westerlies, although they usually begin to weaken as they approach the island. The island’s small size means that direct landfalls of hurricanes are rare. The last hurricane to cause significant damage to Bermuda was category 3 Hurricane Fabian on 5 September 2003.
The only source of fresh water in Bermuda is rainfall, which is collected on roofs and catchments (or drawn from underground lenses) and stored in tanks. Each dwelling usually has at least one of these tanks forming part of its foundation.
The average annual temperature of the Atlantic Ocean around Bermuda is 22.8 °C (73.0 °F), from 18.6 °C (65.5 °F) in February to 28.2 °C (82.8 °F) in August.
Flora & Fauna
Juvenile Bermuda Cedar at Ferry Reach
When discovered, Bermuda was uninhabited and mostly dominated by forests of Bermuda cedar, with mangrove marshes along its shores. Only 165 of the island’s current 1000 vascular plant species are considered native. Of those, 15, including the cedar, are endemic.
Settlers have introduced many species of palm trees to Bermuda. Coconut palms are found on Bermuda, making it the furthest north location for the natural growth of this species. While coconuts grow on Bermuda, the lack of heat does not usually allow them to properly set fruit.
The only indigenous mammals of Bermuda are five species of bats, all of which also occur in the eastern United States: Lasionycteris noctivagans, Lasiurus borealis, Lasiurus cinereus, Lasiurus seminolus and Perimyotis subflavus. Other commonly known fauna of Bermuda include its national bird, the Bermuda petrel or cahow. It was rediscovered in 1951 after having been thought extinct since the 1620s. It is important as an example of a Lazarus species.
The government has a program to protect it, including restoration of a habitat area.
The Bermuda rock skink was long thought to have been the only indigenous land vertebrate of Bermuda, discounting the marine turtles that lay their eggs on its beaches. Recently through genetic DNA studies, scientists have discovered that a species of turtle, the diamondback terrapin, previously thought to have been introduced, predated the arrival of humans in the archipelago. As this species spends most of its time in brackish ponds, some question whether it should be classified as a land vertebrate to compete with the skink’s unique status.
Bermuda was discovered in 1503 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez. It is mentioned in Legatio Babylonica, published in 1511 by historian Pedro Mártir de Anglería, and was also included on Spanish charts of that year. Both Spanish and Portuguese ships used the islands as a replenishment spot to take on fresh meat and water. Legends arose of spirits and devils, now thought to have stemmed from the calls of raucous birds (most likely the Bermuda Petrel, or Cahow) and the loud noise heard at night from wild hogs. Combined with the frequent storm-wracked conditions and the dangerous reefs, the archipelago became known as the Isle of Devils. Neither Spain nor Portugal tried to settle it.
Settlement by the English
For the next century, the island is believed to have been visited frequently, but not settled. After the failure of the first two English colonies in Virginia, a more determined effort was initiated by King James I of England (James VI of Scotland), who granted a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company.
It established a colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Two years later, a flotilla of seven ships left England under the Company’s Admiral, Sir George Somers, and the new Governor of Jamestown, Sir Thomas Gates, with several hundred settlers, food and supplies to relieve the colony of Jamestown. Somers had previous experience sailing with both Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. The flotilla was broken up by a storm. As the flagship, the Sea Venture, was taking on water, Somers drove it on the reef and gained the shores safely with smaller boats – all the 150 passengers and a dog survived. (William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is thought to have been inspired by William Strachey’s account of this shipwreck.) They stayed 10 months, starting a new settlement and building two small ships to sail to Jamestown. The island was claimed for the English Crown, and the charter of the Virginia Company was later extended to include it.
In 1610, all but three of the survivors of the Sea Venture sailed on to Jamestown. Among them was John Rolfe, whose wife and child died and were buried in Bermuda. Later in Jamestown he married Pocahontas, a daughter of the powerful Powhatan, leader of a large confederation of about 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes in coastal Virginia. In 1612, the English began intentional settlement of Bermuda with the arrival of the ship Plough. St. George’s was settled that year and designated as Bermuda’s first capital. It is the oldest continually inhabited English town in the New World.
In 1615, the colony was passed to a new company, the Somers Isles Company, named after the admiral who saved his passengers from the Sea Venture. Many Virginian place names refer to the archipelago, such as Bermuda City, and Bermuda Hundred. The first English coins to circulate in North America were struck in Bermuda.
Because of its limited land area, Bermuda has had difficulty with over-population. In the first two centuries of settlement, it relied on steady human emigration to keep the population manageable.
Before the American Revolution more than ten thousand Bermudians (over half of the total population through the years) gradually emigrated, primarily to the Southern United States.
As Great Britain displaced Spain as the dominant European imperial power, it opened up more land for colonial development. A steady trickle of outward migration continued. With seafaring the only real industry in the early decades, by the end of the 18th century, at least a third of the island’s manpower was at sea at any one time.
The archipelago’s limited land area and resources led to the creation of what may be the earliest conservation laws of the New World. In 1616 and 1620 acts were passed banning the hunting of certain birds and young tortoises.
In 1649, the English Civil War raged and King Charles I was beheaded in Whitehall, London. In Bermuda, related tensions resulted in civil war on the island; it was ended by militias. The majority of colonists developed a strong sense of devotion to the Crown. Dissenters, such as Puritans and independents, were pushed to the Bahamas.
Bermuda Gazette of 12 November 1796, calling for privateering against Spain and its allies; it has advertisements for crew for two privateer vessels.
In the 17th century, the Somers Isles Company suppressed shipbuilding, as it needed Bermudians to farm to generate income from the land. Agricultural production met with limited success, however. The Bermuda cedar boxes used to ship tobacco to England were reportedly worth more than their contents.
The colony of Virginia far surpassed Bermuda in both quality and quantity of tobacco produced. Bermudians began to turn to maritime trades relatively early in the 17th century, but the Somers Isles Company used all its authority to suppress turning away from agriculture. This interference led to the islanders demanding, and receiving, the revocation of the Company’s charter in 1684, and the Company was dissolved.
Bermudians rapidly abandoned agriculture for shipbuilding, replanting farmland with the native juniper (Juniperus bermudiana, called Bermuda cedar) trees that grew thickly over the whole island. Establishing effective control over the Turks Islands, Bermudians deforested their landscape to begin the salt trade. It became the world’s largest and remained the cornerstone of Bermuda’s economy for the next century.
Bermudian sailors and merchants relied on more than export of salt, however. They vigorously pursued whaling, privateering, and the merchant trade. Vessels sailed the normal shipping routes, but were required to engage an enemy vessel no matter the size or strength. As a result many ships were destroyed.
The Bermuda sloop became highly regarded for speed and manoeuvrability. The Bermuda sloop HMS Pickle, one of the fastest vessels in the Royal Navy, carried the news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Nelson to England.
Bermuda & the American War of Independence
American independence led to great changes for Bermuda. Prior to the war, with no useful landmass or natural resources, Bermuda was largely ignored and left to its own devices by the London government. By being so deeply involved in trade, Bermuda merchants and financiers had played roles out of proportion to the colony’s size in relation to the development of the Triangle Trade, and the trans-Atlantic English and British empires.
Its people were settlers and founders of new colonies, especially in the American South. Its merchant fleet and a web of expatriate Bermudian merchants dominated trade through a number of American Atlantic Seaboard ports and the West Indies. Bermudians fished for cod on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, and were involved in the lumber industry in Central America. Most importantly, they dominated the North American salt trade with de facto control of the Turks Islands.
Had Bermuda not been so remote from the American coastline, and the Royal Navy not enjoyed supremacy on that part of the Atlantic, it would almost certainly have been the fourteenth colony to join the rebellion. The close economic, family, and historical ties ensured Bermudians were strongly sympathetic with the rebels at the start of the War. They supplied the rebels illegally with ships, salt and gunpowder. As the war progressed, economic realities caused Bermudians to seize opportunities; they turned to privateering against the Americans.
The end of the war, however, was to cause profound change in Bermuda, though some of those changes would take decades to crystallise. Following the war, with the buildup of Naval and military forces in Bermuda, the primary leg of the Bermudian economy became defence infrastructure. Even after tourism began later in the 19th century, Bermuda remained, in the eyes of London, a base more than a colony. The Crown strengthened its political and economic ties to Bermuda, and the colony’s independence on the world stage was diminished.
The war had removed Bermuda’s primary trading partners, the American colonies, from the empire, and dealt a harsh blow to Bermuda’s merchant shipping trade. This also suffered due to the deforestation of Bermuda, as well as the advent of metal ships and steam propulsion, for which it did not have raw materials. During the course of the following War of 1812, the primary market for Bermuda’s salt disappeared as the Americans developed their own sources. Control of the Turks had passed to the Bahamas in 1819.
By the end of the 19th century, except for naval and military facilities, Bermuda was considered a quiet, rustic backwater. It had been superseded in the development of the English-speaking Atlantic world.
After the American Revolution, the Royal Navy began improving the harbours. In 1811, it started building the large dockyard on Ireland Island, in the west of the chain, to serve as its principal naval base guarding the western Atlantic Ocean shipping lanes. To guard it, the British Army built up a large Bermuda Garrison, and heavily fortified the archipelago.
During the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the British attacks on Washington, D.C. and the Chesapeake were planned and launched from Bermuda, where the headquarters of the Royal Navy’s North American Station had recently been moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In 1816, James Arnold, the son of Benedict Arnold, fortified Bermuda’s Royal Naval Dockyard against possible US attacks. Today, the National Museum of Bermuda, which incorporates the “Maritime Museum”, occupies the Keep of the Royal Naval Dockyard, including the Commissioner’s House, and exhibits artefacts of the base’s military history.
As a result of Bermuda’s proximity to the southeastern US coast, during the American Civil War Confederate States blockade runners used it as a base for runs to the South to evade Union naval vessels and deliver much needed war goods from England. The old Globe Hotel in St George’s, which was a centre of intrigue for Confederate agents, is preserved as a public museum.
During the Boer War (1899–1902), 5,000 Boer prisoners of war were housed on five islands of Bermuda. They were located according to their views of the war. “Bitterenders” (Afrikaans: Bittereinders), who refused to pledge allegiance to the British Crown, were interned on Darrell’s Island and closely guarded. Other islands such as Morgan’s Island held 884 men, including 27 officers; Tucker’s Island held 809 Boer prisoners, Burt’s Island 607, and Port’s Island held 35.
The New York Times reported an attempted mutiny by Boer prisoners of war en route to Bermuda and that martial law was enacted on Darrell’s Island, in addition to the escape of three Boer prisoners to mainland Bermuda, a young Boer soldier stowed away and sailed from Bermuda to New York on the steamship Trinidad.
The most famous prisoner was Fritz Joubert Duquesne, who escaped from Bermuda during the First World War, settled in the US and became a spy for Imperial Germany. He claimed to have sabotaged and sunk HMS Hampshire, on which Lord Kitchener, the head of the British Army, died in 1916.
Lord Kitchener’s brother, Lt. Gen. Sir Walter Kitchener, had been the Governor of Bermuda from 1908 until his death in 1912. His son, Major Hal Kitchener, bought Hinson’s Island (with his partner, Major Hemming, another First World War aviator). The island had formerly been part of the Boer POW camp, housing teenaged prisoners from 1901 to 1902.
Economic & Political Development
In the early 20th century, as modern transport and communication systems developed, Bermuda became a popular destination for American, Canadian and British tourists arriving by sea.
The United States 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act enacted protective tariffs. It cut off Bermuda’s once-thriving agricultural export trade to the US and encouraged its development of tourism as an alternative.
After several failed attempts, in 1930 the first aeroplane reached Bermuda. A Stinson Detroiter seaplane flying from New York, it had to land twice in the ocean: once because of darkness and again to refuel. Navigation and weather forecasting improved in 1933 when the Royal Air Force (then responsible for providing equipment and personnel for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm) established a station at the Royal Naval Dockyard to repair (and supply replacement) float planes for the fleet. In 1936 Lufthansa began to experiment with seaplane flights from Berlin via the Azores with continuation to New York City.
In 1937, Imperial Airways and Pan American World Airways began operating scheduled flying-boat airline services from New York and Baltimore to Darrell’s Island, Bermuda. In 1948, regularly scheduled commercial airline service by land-based aeroplanes began to Kindley Field (now L.F. Wade International Airport), helping tourism to reach its peak in the 1960s–1970s. By the end of the 1970s, international business had supplanted tourism as the dominant sector of Bermuda’s economy.
The Royal Naval Dockyard, and the attendant military garrison, continued to be important to Bermuda’s economy until the mid-20th century. In addition to considerable building work, the armed forces needed to source food and other materials from local vendors. Beginning in World War II, US military installations also were located in Bermuda.
Universal adult suffrage and the development of a two-party political system occurred in the 1960s. Before universal suffrage, adopted as part of Bermuda’s Constitution in 1967, voting was dependent on a certain level of property ownership.
On 10 March 1973, the Governor of Bermuda Richard Sharples was assassinated by local Black Power militants during a period of civil unrest.
Parishes & Municipalities
Bermuda is divided into nine parishes and two incorporated municipalities.
Bermuda’s nine parishes are:
- St George’s
Bermuda’s two incorporated municipalities are:
- Hamilton (city)
- St George’s (town)
Bermuda’s two informal villages are:
- Flatts Village
- Somerset Village
Jones Village (in Warwick), Cashew City (St. George’s), Claytown (Hamilton), Middle Town (Pembroke), and Tucker’s Town (St. George’s) are neighbourhoods; Dandy Town and North Village are sports clubs, and Harbour View Village is a small public housing development.
Executive authority in Bermuda is vested in the monarch and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor. The governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government.
There is also a Deputy Governor. Defence and foreign affairs are carried out by the United Kingdom, which also retains responsibility to ensure good government. It must approve any changes to the Constitution of Bermuda. Bermuda is classified as a British Overseas Territory, but it is the oldest British colony.
In 1620, a Royal Assent granted Bermuda limited self-governance; its Parliament is the fifth oldest in the world, behind the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Tynwald of the Isle of Man, the Althing of Iceland, and Sejm of Poland. Of all of these, it is the only one that has been in continuous existence since 1620.
The Constitution of Bermuda came into force on 1 June 1967; it was amended in 1989 and 2003. The head of government is the premier. A cabinet is nominated by the premier and appointed officially by the governor. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament modelled on the Westminster system. The Senate is the upper house, consisting of 11 members appointed by the governor on the advice of the premier and the leader of the opposition.
The House of Assembly, or lower house, has 36 members, elected by the eligible voting populace in secret ballot to represent geographically defined constituencies.
Elections must be called at no more than five-year intervals. The most recent took place on December 17, 2012. Following this election, the One Bermuda Alliance took power, with Craig Cannonier succeeding Paula Cox, of the Progressive Labour Party, as Premier.
There are few accredited diplomats in Bermuda. The United States maintains the largest diplomatic mission in Bermuda, comprising both the United States Consulate and the US Customs and Border Protection Services at the L.F. Wade International Airport. The current US Consul General is Robert Settje, who took office in August 2012. The United States is Bermuda’s largest trading partner (providing over 71% of total imports, 85% of tourist visitors, and an estimated $163 billion of US capital in the Bermuda insurance/re-insurance industry), and an estimated 5% of Bermuda residents are US citizens, representing 14% of all foreign-born persons. The American diplomatic presence is an important element in the Bermuda political landscape.
Role in international relations
As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda does not have a seat in the United Nations; it is represented by Britain in matters of foreign affairs. To promote its economic interests abroad, Bermuda maintains representative offices in cities such as London and Washington D.C.
Bermuda’s proximity to the US had made it attractive as the site for summit conferences between British Prime Ministers and US Presidents. The first summit was held in December 1953, at the insistence of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to discuss relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Participants included Churchill, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and French Premier Joseph Laniel.
In 1957, a second summit conference was held. The British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, arrived earlier than President Eisenhower, to demonstrate they were meeting on British territory, as tensions were still high regarding the previous year’s conflict over the Suez Canal. Macmillan returned in 1961 for the third summit with President John F. Kennedy. The meeting was called to discuss Cold War tensions arising from construction of the Berlin Wall.
The most recent summit conference in Bermuda between the two powers occurred in 1990, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met US President George H.W. Bush.
Direct meetings between the President of the United States and the Premier of Bermuda have been rare. The most recent meeting was on 23 June 2008, between Premier Ewart Brown and President George W. Bush. Prior to this, the leaders of Bermuda and the United States had not met at the White House since a 1996 meeting between Premier David Saul and President Bill Clinton.
Bermuda has also joined several other nations in efforts to protect the Sargasso Sea.
Despite lying nearer to the United States and to Canada, to both of which it historically had political and trade links, than to the Caribbean, Bermuda became an associate member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2003.
This is a socio-economic bloc of nations in or near the Caribbean Sea. Other outlying member states include the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname in South America, along with Belize in Central America.
The Turks and Caicos Islands, an associate member of CARICOM, and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, a full member of CARICOM, are in the Atlantic, but near to the Caribbean. Other nearby nations or territories, such as the United States, are not members (although the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has observer status, and the United States Virgin Islands announced in 2007 they would seek ties with CARICOM). Bermuda, at roughly a thousand miles from the Caribbean Sea, has little trade with, and little economically in common with, the region, and joined primarily to strengthen cultural links.
The defence of Bermuda remains the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, rather than of the Bermudian Government, which is effectively a local authority.
Despite this, the Bermuda Government was historically responsible for maintaining Militia for the defence of the Colony.
The Bermuda Regiment is the home defence unit of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda.
It is a single territorial infantry battalion that was formed by the amalgamation in 1965 of two originally voluntary units, the all white Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (BVRC) and the mostly black Bermuda Militia Artillery (BMA).
In 1970 the country switched its currency from the Bermudian pound to the Bermudian dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar, similar to Hong Kong. US notes and coins are used interchangeably with Bermudian notes and coins within the islands for most practical purposes; however, banks levy an exchange rate fee for the purchase of US dollars with Bermudian dollars. Bermudian notes carry the image of Queen Elizabeth II. The Bermuda Monetary Authority is the issuing authority for all banknotes and coins, and regulates financial institutions.
The Royal Naval Dockyard Museum holds a permanent exhibition of Bermuda notes and coins.
According to the Bermuda Government’s Economic Statistics Division, Bermuda’s GDP was $5.85 billion in 2007, or $91,477 per capita, giving Bermuda the highest GDP per capita in the world.
The affordability of housing became a prominent issue during Bermuda’s business peak in 2005 but has softened with the decline of Bermuda’s real estate prices.
The CIA World Factbook lists the average cost of a house in June 2003 as $976,000, while real estate agencies have claimed that this figure had risen to between $1.6 million and $1.845 million by 2007, though such high figures have been disputed.
Bermuda is an offshore financial centre, which results from its minimal standards of business regulation/laws and direct taxation on personal or corporate income. It has one of the highest consumption taxes in the world and taxes all imports in lieu of an income tax system. Bermudas’s consumption tax is equivalent to local income tax to local residents and funds government and infrastructure expenditures.
The local tax system depends upon import duties, payroll taxes and consumption taxes. The legal system is derived from that of the United Kingdom, with recourse to English courts of final appeal. Foreign private individuals cannot easily open bank accounts or subscribe to mobile phone or internet services.
Having no corporate income tax, Bermuda is a popular tax avoidance location. Google, for example, is known to have shifted over $10 billion in revenue to its Bermuda subsidiary utilising the “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” tax avoidance strategies, reducing its 2011 tax liability by $2 billion.
Government employment, off-shore business, and tourism are the largest sectors of Bermuda’s economy.
However, in September 2009, the Irish press reported that a growing number of companies were moving from Bermuda to Ireland as part of a search for “a more stable environment”.
Large numbers of leading international insurance companies operate in Bermuda.
Those internationally owned and operated businesses that are physically based in Bermuda (around four hundred) are represented by the Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIC). In total, over 15,000 exempted or international companies are currently registered with the Registrar of Companies in Bermuda, most of which hold no office space or employees.
There are four hundred securities listed on the stock exchange, of which almost three hundred are offshore funds and alternative investment structures attracted by Bermuda’s regulatory environment. The Exchange specialises in listing and trading of capital market instruments such as equities, debt issues, funds (including hedge fund structures) and depository receipt programmes. The BSX is a full member of the World Federation of Exchanges and is located in an OECD member nation. It also has Approved Stock Exchange status under Australia’s Foreign Investment Fund (FIF) taxation rules and Designated Investment Exchange status by the UK’s Financial Services Authority.
Four banks operate in Bermuda, having consolidated total assets of $24.3 billion (March 2014).
Tourism is Bermuda’s second-largest industry, with the island attracting over one-half million visitors annually, of whom more than 80% are from the United States. Other significant sources of visitors are from Canada and the United Kingdom. Tourists arrive either by cruise ship or by air at L.F. Wade International Airport, the only airport on the island.
Bermuda’s 2010 Census put Bermuda’s population at 64,237 and, with an area of 53.2 km2 (20.5 sq mi), it has a calculated population density of 1207/km². To get this in a wider context, an average population density of 53/km² was found for the “World (land only, excluding Antarctica)” as of July 5, 2014.
The ethnic makeup of Bermuda is 54% black, 31% white, 8% multiracial, 4% Asian, and 4% other races.
Native Bermudians made up 67% of the population, compared to 29% non-natives; 79% of residents had Bermudian status.
A significant segment of the population is of Portuguese ancestry (10%), the result of immigration from Portuguese islands (especially the Azores) during the past 160 years.
Some islanders, especially in St David’s, trace at least some of their ancestry to Native Americans, and many more may be ignorant of such ancestry. During the colonial period, hundreds of Native Americans were shipped to Bermuda. The best-known examples were the Algonquian peoples who were exiled from the southern New England colonies and sold into slavery in the 17th century, notably in the aftermaths of the Pequot and King Philip’s wars.
Today several thousand expatriate workers, principally from Britain, Canada, the West Indies, South Africa and the US, reside in Bermuda. They are primarily engaged in specialised professions such as accounting, finance, and insurance. Others are employed in various trades, such as hotels, restaurants, construction, and landscaping services. Of the total workforce of 38,947 persons in 2005, government employment figures stated that 11,223 (29%) were non-Bermudians.
The Bermuda Education Act 1996 requires that only three categories of schools can operate in the Bermuda Education system:
An aided school has all or a part of its property vested in a body of trustees or board of governors and is partially maintained by public funding or, since 1965 and the desegregation of schools, has received a grant-in-aid out of public funds.
A maintained school has the whole of its property belonging to the Government and is fully maintained by public funds.
A private school, not maintained by public funds and which has not, since 1965 and the desegregation of schools, received any capital grant-in-aid out of public funds.
The private school sector consists of six traditional private schools, two of which are religious schools, and the remaining four are secular with one of these being a single-gender school and another a Montessori school. Also, within the private sector there are a number of home schools, which must be registered with the government and receive minimal government regulation. The only boys’ school opened its doors to girls in the 1990s, and in 1996, one of the aided schools became a private school.
Warwick Academy, one of the oldest schools in the western hemisphere, is in the parish of Warwick, Bermuda.
Prior to 1965, the Bermuda school system was racially segregated. When the desegregation of schools was enacted in 1965, two of the formally maintained “white” schools and both single-sex schools opted to become private schools. The rest became part of the public school system and were either aided or maintained.
At present there are 26 schools in the Bermuda Public School System, 18 of which are primary schools, five are middle schools, two senior schools and one special school. An Alternative Programme is provided for students with behavioural challenges who cannot function in the public mainstream. There is one aided primary school, two aided middle schools, and one aided senior school.
For higher education, the Bermuda College offers various associate degrees and other certificate programmes. Bermuda does not have any four-year colleges or universities.
In May 2009, Bermudian Government’s application was approved to become a contributory member of the University of the West Indies (UWI). Bermuda’s membership enabled Bermudian students to enter the University at an agreed upon subsidised rate by 2010. UWI also agreed that their Open Campus (online degree courses) would become open to Bermudian students in the future, with Bermuda becoming the 13th country to have access to the Open Campus.
Bermuda’s culture is a mixture of the various sources of its population: Native American, Spanish-Caribbean, English, Irish, and Scots cultures were evident in the 17th century, and became part of the dominant British culture. English is the primary and official language. Due to 160 years of immigration from Portuguese Atlantic islands (primarily the Azores, though also from Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands), a portion of the population also speaks Portuguese. There are strong British influences, together with Afro-Caribbean ones.
A second wave of immigration from the West Indies was sustained throughout the 20th century; the more recent arrivals have primarily come from English-speaking countries, also bringing aspects of their cultures. This new infusion of West Indians has both accelerated social and political change, and diversified Bermuda’s culture.
The first notable, and historically important, book credited to a Bermudian was The History of Mary Prince, a slave narrative by Mary Prince. It is thought to have contributed to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Ernest Graham Ingham, an expatriate author, published his books at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 20th century, numerous books were written and published locally, though few were directed at a wider market than Bermuda. (The latter consisted primarily of scholarly works rather than creative writing). The novelist Brian Burland has achieved a degree of success and acclaim internationally.
Bermuda’s proximity to the United States, as well as its origin as part of Virginia, means that many aspects of US culture are reflected in, or incorporated into, Bermudian culture. Many non-Bermudian writers have also made Bermuda their home, or have had homes here, including A. J. Cronin and F. Van Wyck Mason, who wrote on Bermudian subjects.
Actors such as Ernest Trimingham, Oona O’Neill, Earl Cameron, Diana Dill, Lena Headey, Will Kempe, and most famously, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, grew up here or have lived here as adults. Other native or resident film and television figures in Bermuda include producer Arthur Rankin, Jr., and cartoonist and Muppet man, Michael Frith.