Bermuda Heritage Month
Bermuda Heritage Month

Bermuda Heritage Month

In celebration of Bermuda Heritage Month, we are highlighting three Bermudians who have contributed greatly to UK society. Below you will find the impactful stories of Earl Cameron, Mary Prince and Charles Wotton.

Earl Cameron, born in Pembroke, Bermuda, was a Bermudian actor who lived and worked in the United Kingdom. After appearing on London’s West End stage, he became one of the first black stars in the British film industry.

With his appearance in 1951’s Pool of London, Cameron became one of the first black actors to take up a starring role in a British film.

According to Screenonline, “Earl Cameron brought a breath of fresh air to the British film industry’s stuffy depictions of race relations. Often cast as a sensitive outsider, Cameron gave his characters a grace and moral authority that often surpassed the films’ compromised liberal agendas.”

He starred alongside Sean Connery in Thunderball (1965). He made appearances in many 1960s British science fiction programmes, including Doctor Who, where he was reportedly one of the first black actors to play an astronaut on television, The Prisoner, and The Andromeda Breakthrough. His film appearances continued until 2013, when he was 96.

His father was a stonemason who died in 1922, after which Cameron’s mother took on various jobs to support the family. As a young man, Cameron joined the British Merchant Navy: “I was working on a ship, going from Bermuda to New York and back. I always had a great desire to travel as a kid, and so I transferred to another ship called the Eastern Prince sailing to South America. On our second trip, the war started. The British Admiralty sent for the ship, and that brought me to London.”

Cameron faced difficulties as a black person trying to find employment; he was reluctantly taken on as a dishwasher in a hotel and had to accept whatever casual work came his way. In 1941, his friend Harry Crossman gave Cameron a ticket to see a revival of Chu Chin Chow at the Palace Theatre. Crossman and five other black actors had bit parts in the West End production. Cameron, who was working at the kitchen of the Strand Corner House at the time, was fed up with dull jobs and asked Crossman if he could get him on the show. He told Cameron that all the parts had been cast, but two or three weeks later, when one of the actors did not show up, Crossman arranged a meeting with the director Robert Atkins, who cast Cameron on the spot.

According to Cameron, he had an easier time than other black actors because his Bermudian accent sounded American to British ears. The following year, he landed a speaking role as Joseph, the chauffeur in the American play The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood. He encountered fellow Bermudian Ernest Trimingham still working in the West End.

In 2009, Cameron was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to theatre. The Theatre at City Hall in Hamilton, Bermuda was named the Earl Cameron Theatre in his honor in 2012. Additionally, the Earl Cameron Award was established in 2019 by the Bermuda Arts Council for Bermudians of exceptional talent in theatre and film. He has also been recognized for his humanitarian efforts.

Earl Cameron sadly passed away in July 2020 at the age of 102. He has been described as a ‘pioneer’ and an ‘icon’. 

Mary Prince was born in 1788 in Brackish Pond, Bermuda, into the brutal system of slavery. The vivid chronicles of her experiences would later be published as “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave,” the first account of a black woman’s life to be published in the United Kingdom, which would play a crucial role in galvanizing the abolitionist movement.

Throughout her life as an enslaved woman, Mary was subjected to intense physical and psychological suffering. She labored in salt ponds in Turks Island, where the saltwater severely affected her rheumatic limbs. She endured sadistic treatment from her mistresses, who frequently whipped and mistreated her.

Despite the adversities, Prince was determined to gain her freedom. She married a free black man named Daniel James in 1826, hoping this union might grant her liberty. However, her enslaver, refused to let her go, even when her husband offered to buy her freedom.

In 1828, her enslaver moved to London, bringing Prince with him. England’s environment offered a contrast to her past experiences. Enslavement was not legally permitted on English soil, leading Prince to believe she was free. However, her enslaver refused to emancipate her, leading her to seek help from the Anti-Slavery Society.

With the assistance of the Anti-Slavery Society and Susanna Strickland, who transcribed her account, Prince’s life story was published in 1831. Her graphic descriptions of the abuses of slavery shed light on the institution’s inhumanity, revealing the dark underbelly of the British Empire’s economic prosperity. Prince also became the first woman to petition Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The narrative met with both acclaim and controversy. Abolitionists saw it as undeniable proof of the brutalities of the transatlantic slave trade, while enslavers and their proponents tried to discredit Prince and her account. Despite the backlash, Prince’s narrative stood firm, serving as both personal testimony and a broader indictment against the institution of slavery.

Her account was more than just a narrative; it was a revolutionary act. By sharing her story, Prince defied the oppressive system and gave a voice to countless others who couldn’t speak for themselves. The legacy of “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave” continues as the narrative is studied and revered by scholars, historians, and anyone interested in understanding the depths of human resilience and the pursuit of freedom. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, the year of Mary Prince’s passing.

In 2012, Prince was named as a Bermudian National Hero.

Charles Wotton was a Bermudian Merchant Mariner, born in Somerset in 1895. At 15 years old, Mr. Wotton set sail to the UK where he served in the Merchant Navy during WWI as a ship’s fireman. After his discharge, he settled in Liverpool, an area that has multiple Bermudian connections to this day.

The Merchant Navy was made up of repurposed civilian fleets & supported the British forces during WWI & WWII. There was a very high casualty rate for Merchant Mariners. Many Black Bermudians joined the Merchant Navy. These Bermudians, and their role in the British Navy, convey Bermudian contributions to the war effort beyond enlisted soldiers at a time well before the arrival of HMT Windrush.

Mr. Wotton was tragically murdered by a racist mob during the 1919 Race Riots in Liverpool. He was 24 years old.

The Charles Wotton College for Further Education was founded in his namesake in 1974, which eventually placed a gravestone mark on Mr. Wotton’s previously unmarked grave in 1989. The College became a place frequented by Liverpool’s Black community. While the College no longer exists, the legacy remains. A BBC Series Black and British: Forgotten History (2016) told Mr. Wotton’s story which saw a plaque erected in his honour on Queen’s Dock, where Mr. Wotton lost his life.

Wotton has relatives in Bermuda to date. To read an article from the National Museum of Bermuda written by his family and Dr. Kristy Warren, who is researching Charles Wotton and other Bermudian Merchant Mariners please see – https://nmb.bm/research/charles-wotten/.