Features — 28 February 2014

Very little is known about the early life of Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss. He was an Englishman born on 16th February, 1869. 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 before travelling abroad.

Nothing is known about how Baron Bliss acquired his wealth of almost a million pounds, whether through his profession, business, or inheritance, or all three. At the time of his death, he had, besides his properties, a large amount of securities and shares. He must have been community-minded, as he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.

At some time in his adult life, Baron Bliss acquired the title of the 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal, succeeding his ancestors, who held the position before him. At this time, he changed his surname from Barretts to Bliss. 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.

Tragedy struck the Baron when, in 1911, at the age of 42, he was attacked by paralysis, which affected him from the waist downwards, consigning this brave man to a wheelchair. However, he was still active and later acquired a yacht for leisure travel in the United Kingdom. This yacht was commandeered for war purposes during the First World War. After the war, he acquired his famous yacht the “Sea King II,” which was built to his specifications for use in tropical waters.

In 1920, he sent the “Sea King” to the Bahamas and followed it to live on board while fishing, even if he was physically handicapped. Baron Bliss stayed in the Bahamas for five years, acquiring property there. However, he grew weary of the social and administrative life in those islands, and in 1925, he traveled to the other end of the Caribbean, to Trinidad, where he again lived aboard the “Sea King”.

While in Trinidad, his health began to fail from a bout of food poisoning. Trinidad did not appeal to him and he began thinking of elsewhere to go where he could enjoy fishing, and where the atmosphere was more to his liking. After hearing of the fishing potentialities of Belize and after learning about its coastline, barrier reef, and small cayes, he decided to sail to Belize. Still a sick man, he stopped in Jamaica for a few days, and arrived in the Belize City Harbour on 14th January, 1926.

For the next few days, the Baron’s health appeared to improve, and he took every opportunity to sample the fishing of the nearby waters. He often used his small launch, also named the “Sea King”, and in the company of local fishermen, visited the cayes and barrier reef, where he seemed very happy and content.

But soon the Baron’s health began to deteriorate. Just a few days before his 57th birthday, he took seriously ill and his doctors advised him that the end was near. He asked the Governor, Sir John Burdon, to visit him aboard his yacht, and informed that he wished to leave the bulk of his estate for the country of Belize.

On the 17th of February, one day after his 57th birthday, his will was executed and signed aboard the “Sea King”.

A few days later, on the 9th March 1926 Baron Bliss died aboard his yacht in the Belize City Harbour, never having set foot on Belizean soil.

After a funeral, attended by the Governor and his staff, the Chief Justice, members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, and a wide-cross section of the Belize City society, the Baron was buried in the Bliss Park on the evening of 17th March, 1926.

This location was a temporary arrangement. In his Will, the Baron had ordered that his body should be permanently buried near the sea in a granite tomb surrounded by an iron fencing, with an obelisk or lighthouse nearby which would be available for visitors and citizens.

In his Will, the Baron meticulously set out the arrangements under which his executors would invest his money and use the income from such investments for the permanent benefit of the country Belize and all Belizeans. His will called for the formation of a trust, headed by the Governor, and comprised of the Colonial Secretary and the Attorney General. He stipulated that the trust’s main bankers should be Messrs Coutts & Co. of the Strand in London, and that Messrs Alexander Clapperton, C.A. should be its auditors. Almost 75 years later, the Baron Bliss Trust is still dealing with these two firms.

After allowing for lifetime annuities for his wife, a few close relatives, and his faithful staff, the bulk of his estate was left to Belize. At the end of the first year, the estate was valued at about $1.8 million Belize dollars. However, a ruling in the British courts ordered that the Baron’s estate was liable for the payment of estate duties in the United Kingdom, which claimed some $480,000 of the legacy.

He also stipulated that a sum of 100 pounds sterling should be set aside annually for a sea or river regatta in one or two towns in the country.

Shortly after his death, the day, March 9th, was declared an annual public and bank holiday in this country. In the ensuing years, the trust has spent well over two million dollars on various capital projects across Belize. The Bliss Institute, the Bliss School of Nursing, the old Intransit Lounge at the International Airport are but a few of the contributions of the Baron’s trust.

In more recent years, a multipurpose center in Punta Gorda, a library in Santa Elena, and a bathing pier in Progresso have all been funded by the Baron Bliss Trust.

Three years ago, the Belize Maritime Trust, with financial support from the Baron Bliss Trust, rehabilitated the Baron’s small launch, which accompanied the “Sea King II”, and has placed it on permanent display on the grounds of the old Government House for all to see.

Today, the capital of the trust remains at about BZ$1.5 million, most of which is held in UK stocks and securities and other term deposits, as required by the Baron’s will.

In 1995, through the efforts of His Excellency the Governor-General, Chairman of the Baron Bliss Trust, and with the assistance of Belize’s High Commissioner in London, contact was established with the surviving relatives of the Baron, living in the United Kingdom. This resulted in a visit to Belize by the Rev. Rupert Bliss, a nephew and most direct descendant of the Baron, and his wife in March, 1996. While in Belize, Rev. Bliss participated in the annual Wreath Laying Ceremony on the 9th March.

As we gather for the short and simple ceremony of laying wreaths on the Baron’s tomb, we indicate by our actions the respect that thousands of Belizeans have towards Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, J.P., the 4th Baron Bliss of Portugal. The annual Harbour Regatta is another sign of the honour and respect that Belizeans, over the years and through the generations, have had for the Baron.

By his entry to the Belize City Harbour on January 1926, and by the impressions he quickly formed of Belize and Belizeans, a great bounty was inherited by Belize for countless years.
We would like to believe that Baron Bliss could not have left his money for a more deserving country and people. He is indeed Belize’s greatest benefactor.

(Ed. NOTE: The above article is extracted from Baron Bliss and His Bounty to Belize, by Leo H. Bradley, J. P., Government Printery, 1986. The article was first published in the Sunday, March 9, 2003 issue of Amandala.)

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