Baron Bliss Day is a national holiday celebrated across Belize on or about every 9 March. (The actual day of celebration moves around to create the nearest convenient long weekend and is set by the Government.) The holiday is held in honour of one Baron Bliss, the great benefactor who passed away on 9 March, 1926, and whose gift continues to thrive.
Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss was born in Marlow, county of Buckingham, England on 16 February, 1869. Little information is available about his early life, but it is known that he had a brother. As an adult living in Quarry Court in Marlow, he was an engineer by profession and had been appointed a Justice of the Peace. A marriage to Ethel Alice Bliss produced no children. It was during his early adulthood that Bliss became the Fourth Baron of the Former Kingdom of Portugal.
It is generally accepted that Bliss received his title of Fourth Baron through a family lineage with one Sir John Moore, a war hero of battles past. Some suggest that about the same time the Baron received his title, he changed his surname from Barretts to Bliss. The counterargument is that this is mere confusion with the Portuguese version of the title, Baron de Barrato.
By the end of the first decade in the new century, Baron Bliss was wealthy enough to retire to his love of seafaring & fishing. However, in 1911 at the age of 42, the Baron was stricken with a paralysis that affected him from the waist downwards, confining him to a wheelchair. Undeterred, the Baron remained active and acquired a yacht, the Sea King, using it for leisure travel around the United Kingdom.
After the start of the First World War in 1914, the Baron's yacht was commandeered for the British war effort. Once the War had come to an end in 1918, Baron Bliss commissioned the building of the Sea King II. She was a yacht for meant for tropical waters, built to the Baron's specifications, and would be ready to sail in 1920.
Come 1920, with the Sea King II ready, the Baron prepared to leave England, never to return. Arrangements were made, and a settlement was given to Baroness Bliss, effectively ending the marriage. Baron Bliss had the Sea King II prepared and sent to the Bahamas; he would quickly follow to live aboard.
For about five years the Baron stayed in the Bahamas, living aboard his yacht and apparently spending time at Dunmore House (now the official Governor's Residence), on New Providence. He had purchased property on some of the islands, but whether he intended to settle in the Bahamas is open to speculation.
By late 1925, the Baron had grown tired of the social & administrative life that had become his routine. He longed for a more relaxed - read "fishing" - life, so he lifted his anchor and set sail for Trinidad. But his stay on the southeastern Caribbean island was to be a brief one; shortly after arrival in Trinidad, Baron Bliss contracted a severe case of food poisoning that left him in bad health.
Sickness coupled with a dislike of the general atmosphere led the Baron to hoist anchor again. This time he would head for Belize, following up an invitation from the Attorney General of Belize, Willoughby Bullock - and having heard of the great fishing. After a brief stop in Jamaica, he would arrive in Belize in days...
Baron Bliss dropped by his last anchor on 14 January, 1926, in Belize City Harbour.
Upon arrival in Belize, the Baron's health seemed to improve. He took every opportunity to venture forth in his small launch to go fishing, to visit the cayes and to visit the barrier reef. Unfortunately, about a month after arrival and days before he turned 57, doctors attending aboard his yacht found him to be gravely ill and warned that the end was near.
Baron Bliss asked that the Governor of Belize, Sir John Burdon, visit him aboard his yacht. When the Governor arrived, the Baron informed him that he wished to bequeath the bulk of his estate to country of Belize. And on 17 February, one day after his birthday, the Baron's will to that effect was signed & executed right there on the Sea King II.
Three weeks later, on 9 March, 1926, the Fourth Baron Bliss of the Former Kingdom of Portugal passed away. He had never set foot on Belizean soil.
The good Baron Bliss had been in Belizean waters for less than two months in life, yet in passing, would remain with Belize forever. Shortly after his death, 9 March was declared Baron Bliss Day, a public & bank holiday celebrated with parties, fishing tournaments & regattas across Belize.
In a well-attended funeral on evening of 17 March, 1926, Baron Bliss was interred in what is now known as Bliss Park - although this would be a temporary arrangement. It is interesting to note that there are no indications that the funeral was attended by Baroness Bliss.
In his will, the Baron had left instructions that he be permanently interred in a granite tomb near the sea, surrounded by an iron fence, and an obelisk or lighthouse should be built nearby. You can see the whole Baron Bliss Memorial & Fort George Lighthouse in the photo at the top of this page.
The entire inscription on his tomb, shown to the right, reads:
Baron Bliss had accumulated a wealth of almost one million British Pounds - how is not known, but it is speculated to be some combination of professional income, business deals and inheritance. At the time of his death, he held a number of properties and a large amount of securities & shares. His will stipulated for lifetime annuities for the Baroness Bliss - she subsequently passed away in 1945 - a few close relatives, and his faithful staff. Also stipulated was that the sum of 100 British Pounds should be set aside annually for a regatta. The bulk of the Baron's remaining estate, a value of approximately $1.8 million Belizean, was willed to Belize under very specific conditions.
A generous benefactor, indeed!
The British Government decided to contest the fact that Baron Bliss considered himself as resident in Belize, in a bid to collect estate taxes. A 11 March, 1926, ruling in the British courts stated "that it is not made out that this gentleman acquired a British Honduras domicile," and that the estate was liable to pay necessary estate taxes.
The British coffers grew by almost $500,000 Belizean.
The Baron's will was meticulous. It called for the formation of a trust fund, and dictated whom the main bankers were to be, Messers Coutts & Co., of London, England; the auditors, Messers Alexander Clapperton, C.A., also of London, England; and the Board of Directors, initially the Governor, the Colonial Secretary & the Attorney General of Belize. His will left arrangements for the Baron Bliss Trust to invest his money, and all income generated from the principal would be used for the permanent benefit of Belize and all its citizens. Funds from the Trust are also available for a limited number of basic infrastructure projects, such as canal construction or the establishment of street lighting. The principal amount of the Trust is not to be touched, and consists mostly of British stocks, securities & term deposits. The value of the Baron Bliss Trust stands at about $1.5 million Belizean.
As detailed as what was to be done with the money, so was what the Trust couldn't be used for. No churches, dance halls or schools (excepting for agricultural or vocational) were to be built with Trust funds. Also, no money was to be spend on the maintenance or repair that any Trust-funded project may need or require; that is the responsibility of the recipient, generally the people of Belize through the Government, (meaning stretched tax dollars are needed for upkeep - always a contentious issue in any country.)
(There is a curious stipulation in the Baron's will that has no known explanation: No American shall become a Trustee on the Board of Directors for the Baron Bliss Trust, nor shall any American be in the employ of any Trustee.)
Over the years, the Baron Bliss Trust has spent over $2 million Belizean on capital projects across Belize that include: The Bliss Institute Library & Museum, a centre of Belizean culture, it's home to the National Arts Council; The Bliss School of Nursing in Belize City; a number of health centres & libraries around Belize; and the Baron Bliss Regatta & Fishing Tournament. The Trust has also been used to restore the small launch the Baron used with the Sea King II, and it is now on display at the Government House in Belize City.
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1 August 2008
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