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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Mysterious Benefactor of Belize: Baron Bliss e Barreto of Portugal

Updated: Mar 13



Baron Bliss on the Sea King II

 

Belize’s largest individual financial benefactor never alighted on the country’s soil.

 

Baron Bliss, who was wheelchair-bound, lived on his yacht, anchored off Fort George Point in Belize City harbor, taking in the breezes and bounty of the waters, and fishing for one month before taken fatally ill for three weeks.

 

So, why did Baron Bliss (February 16, 1869 – March 9, 1926), an engineer by profession, leave the bulk of his estate, a financial legacy of one million pounds, to the then-colony of British Honduras?

 

“He found the people to be down-to-earth, modest and hospitable,” according to Adelina Pereira, a journalist in Britain and an activist for the Portuguese language, in Jovem Português descobre as suas raízes aristocrátitas Luso-Britânicas! (Young Portuguese discovers his aristocratic Luso-British Roots!), in adiaspora, around 2007.


This year, Baron Bliss Day, amended in 2008 to become National Heroes and Benefactors Day, a public and bank holiday, officially March 9, will be celebrated on Monday, March 11. Those who have given to Belize are honored for their public service and/or financial support. Other honorees include George Cadle Price (1919-2011), a Belizean statesman who served as head of government from 1961 to 1984 and 1989 to 1993; Robert Sidney Turton (1877-1955), a millionaire who backed independence, and Sir Isaiah Morter (1860-1924), the Belizean “Coconut King” millionaire, who supported Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.

 

Yet, no other hero nor benefactor possesses such a hazy past or motive as the Englishman who lived on his yacht in the Caribbean Sea for six years before his death in Belize City, then the capital of British Honduras, at the age of 57.

 

Pereira, the Portuguese journalist, tells a fascinating story about Adelino José Dias Barreto, whose friends call him “Joe Barreto” (b. 1975 Viana do Castelo, Portugal). He had graduated in naval engineering at Nova Scotia, Canada; joined the Canadian Sea Cadets, and served in the Portuguese military. Eventually, he joined an international naval construction firm based in London, and traveled all over Europe.


However, after sustaining injuries from a shipyard accident, he was left paralyzed from the waist down. He scouted around Britain for a salubrious new home for himself, his wife and his two children. He chose Watton, a town in Norfolk, England, where he found that people were spontaneous and open, which he had not found to be the case in the busy capital.

 

A local historian tracked down Joe Barreto and arranged to meet him in bordering Suffolk County at Brandon Park.

 

From among dozens of locals, the historian recognized Joe, which the engineer thought strange. The historian announced to the crowd that Joe resembled the Baron Bliss Barreto in features and physique.

 

Baron Bliss, on the right, with an unidentified person on the left

 

Whether or not they are related, both were seafarers, both were adventurers and, coincidentally, both had been paralyzed from the waist down. Baron Bliss had suffered from polio and became paralyzed at the age of 42, forcing him to use a wheelchair.

 

Unbeknownst to him, Joe had chosen to move himself and his family 16 miles from Brandon Park, which was bought by Baron Bliss’ great-uncle, Edward Bliss, in 1820, with wealth that he generated from selling gunflint during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), specifically the Peninsular War (1807-1814) fought in the Iberian Peninsula by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the invading and occupying forces of the First French Empire.


Edward Bliss and his wife are buried in a mausoleum at Brandon Park, which is no longer owned by the family.

  

Joe knew vaguely about an English ancestor from stories told to him by his parents when he was a child.

 

Bliss Family

 

Edward Bliss, Baron Bliss’ great-uncle, of Brandon Park, Suffolk County, Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff for that county in 1836, had married and died “without issue”, or children, according to The History of Rochford Hundred (Together with the Parishes Comprised Within the Union) Volume 1 (1867).

 

Edward Bliss (December 20, 1774 - April 2, 1845), ”was extremely wealthy, his property being valued at nearly half a million, some of which was acquired as an army contractor. Brandon Park and the whole of the other property passed under his will, subject to annuities, to his nephew, Henry Aldridge, a barrister, son of James Aldridge by Elizabeth, his wife, and grandson of John Aldridge, of Hampshire J.P. (Justice of the Peace), Deputy Lieutenant of the county, who by royal sign manual assumed the surname and arms of Bliss, on succeeding to the property of his uncle.”

 

About Baron Bliss’ father:

 

“His seats are Brandon Park, Suffolk; Northcombe Hall, Devon; The Elms, Sussex; and Berkeley House, Hyde Park Square, Middlesex. He is J.P. for the same county, F.R.S.L. (Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature), and was created a baron of the kingdom of Portugal, in 1855. The Baron has lately married the eldest daughter of the Rev. R. Baker, M.A., rector of Frisdon-cum-Snape, in the county of Suffolk, and by his marriage has male issue to inherit this and other estates.”

 

The “male issue to inherit” would be his first child and son, Baron Bliss.

 

“During the present year, 1869, the Baron has notified the public, that in compliance with the will of Colonel Carlos António Barreto, of the kingdom of Spain, dated 3rd day of January, 1867, in which he bequeathed him, the Baron, his heirs, and assigns forever, all his estates, vineyards, plantations, lands, and all his other property in the kingdom of Spain, and in all other kingdoms, he has adopted the surname of Barreto, in those countries where the testator possessed estates.”

 

So, Baron Bliss’ father, who already had changed his surname from “Aldridge” to “Bliss”, in accordance with his uncle’s will and testament, only used the surname “Barreto” in places where Colonel Carlos António Barreto had property, Spain and Portugal being likely places.

 

The unanswered questions about Baron Bliss begin with his name. Some say that he was born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss; others that he was born Henry Edward Ernest Victor de Barreto. Or maybe some have just gotten it wrong. Still, Baron Bliss’ country of birth is not clear.

 

Portuguese Title

 

Barão de Barreto (Baron of Barreto) was a Portuguese title created by the Regent Dom Fernando II, in the name of Dom Pedro V, by Decree of June 6, 1855, in favor of Henrique Bliss e Barreto, a British subject, according to Review of the Titular and Large Families of Portugal, Volume I (1883).

 

The first child of Baron Henrique Bliss e Barreto is listed as Ernesto Victor, who is Baron Bliss.

 

The title was originally created as Baron de Bliss, with the transfer of the designation of the same title to Baron de Barreto being determined by Decree of July 3, 1873, due to the recipient having inherited an important House in Spain, which had been bequeathed to him by Colonel Carlos António Barreto, imposing on him the obligation to use the surname Barreto.

 

The First Baron of Barreto is listed as Henrique Bliss e Barreto (1818) and the Second Baron as Henrique Eduardo Vitor Barreto (1869), according to Nobreza de Portugal e Brasil (Nobility of Portugal and Brazil), Volume 2 of 3 (1989), reported Geneall. The Second Baron of Barreto was Baron Bliss.

 

The First Baron of Barreto, Baron Bliss’ father, also inherited a title and estates in Portugal from his cousin. According to A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire by John Burke (1846):

 

“Henry, Baron de Bliss, of Brandon Park, Suffolk, and of Berkeley House, Hyde Park, London, lord of the manor of Brandon, D.C., to the title and estates in Portugal of his cousin, Baron de Alreyo, by permission of the King of Portugal’s royal letters, granting him the privilege to succeed to the title in the name of Bliss, on account of his being unable to use, and being strictly prohibited from using any other surname than Bliss, under the terms of his late uncle’s will, by which he assumed by royal licence, the surname of Bliss, in lieu of his patronymic, Aldridge.” 

 

The Portuguese and British have a political alliance that dates back to 1372. In medieval times, a complex historical web was weaved by kingdoms organized by feudalism, and intertwined, shaped and consolidated through alliances, mostly based on marriages between Royal Houses and high-ranking nobility.

 

In more recent centuries, according to Pereira, commercial relations developed around cod fishing on British coasts; vinho verde (effervescent wine), whose grapes are cultivated in the Ribadávia; port wine, which is a fortified wine that could survive the long journey to Britain, and other business interests.

 

Baron Bliss (February 16, 1869 – March 9, 1926) lived in the Town of Marlow, on the Thames River, 33 miles (53 kilometers) west of central London, in the County of Buckinghamshire. The Marlow Regatta is an international rowing regatta. Since 1856, it has taken place annually.

 

Baron Bliss Harbor Regatta Committee Chairman Collett “Bunas” Maheia with Optimist class competitors, ages 8 to 17, in 2023     (Photo from Amandala)

 

The sailor stipulated uses of the trust, from which he allocated 100 pounds for an annual sea or river regatta in one or two towns of the country, reported Amandala (February 28, 2014).

 

The dying man also left instructions that he be interred in a granite tomb near the sea, surrounded by an iron fence, and an obelisk or lighthouse should be built nearby. His requests have been carried out. Today, he is buried near Baron Bliss Lighthouse.

 

On a visit to Belize, one of his nephews revealed that his uncle, while earning a handsome income as an engineer, also had inherited some properties, which he had sold and invested those profits in Shell Oil, according to Belize. By 1920, Shell was the largest producer of oil in the world, according to The Rise and Fall of OPEC in the Twentieth Century (2019). The petroleum shares made him a fortune.

 

In 1907, the Royal Dutch Shell Group was created through the amalgamation of two rival companies: the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, of the Netherlands, founded in 1890 to develop an oilfield in North Sumatra, according to Jakarta: Portrait of a Capital (1950-1980) (2015) and the Shell Transport and trading Company Limited of the United Kingdom, founded in 1897 by brothers whose father had owned an antique firm that expanded into importing seashells, after which the company “Shell” took its name, according to The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991).

 

In World War I, Baron Bliss’ yacht, Sea King I, had been commandeered for the British war effort. After the war, in 1919, he commissioned a 120-foot twin screw yacht from the famous Scottish designer, Alfred Mylne who had been apprenticed to the designer of the Royal Yacht HMY Britannia. Baron Bliss christened his shallow draught vessel, suitable for sailing in tropical waters, Sea King II.

 

Fishing was his joy.

 

In 1920, Baron Bliss set sail for the Caribbean Sea. Meanwhile, his wife, Ethel Alice, stayed in England living off a portion of his fortune. The couple had no children.

 
 

His first stop was the Bahamas, where he spent about five years, according to most accounts. By that time, he was ready to leave his social and administrative life, apparently spending time on New Providence island, according to My Belize. He also had purchased property on some of the islands.

 

Baron Bliss’ next stop was Trinidad, where he contracted food poisoning shortly after his arrival according to My Belize. (However, food poisoning is not confirmed, and the Baron’s cause of death is not clear). He stopped briefly in Jamaica, most likely for medical attention.

 

Finally, at the invitation of a friend, British Honduras Attorney-General Willoughby Bullock, who had lured him with the promise of excellent fishing, the Sea King II dropped anchor in B.H. on January 14, 1926.

 

“After arriving in Belize, the Baron’s health seemed to improve. He took every opportunity to venture forth in his small launch (also named the Sea King) to go fishing, to visit the cayes and to visit the barrier reef.

 

“Unfortunately, about a month after arrival, doctors called to the yacht to attend to the Baron found him to be gravely ill. 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 the country of British Honduras.

 

“On February 17, the day after his 57th birthday, the Baron’s will to that effect was signed and executed aboard the Sea King II.

 

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, reported Amandala (February 28, 2014).

 

Baron Bliss had two younger siblings: Carlota Alberta (b. February 21, 1870) and Harold Antonio (July 16, 1871), according to Review of the Titular and Large Families of Portugal, Volume I.

 

According to My Belize, Baron Bliss had written a letter to his brother, stating that he was domiciled in British Honduras as was stated in the first line of his will. Less than two months in the country as compared to how many years in Britain?

 

“On March 11th, 1929, a decision was handed down by a Mr. Justice Rowlatt of the King’s Bench, which read and I quote, ’I must find that it is not made out that this gentleman acquired a British Honduras domicile.’ As a result, at least a quarter of the original amount given to us by Baron Bliss as taken out for British taxes.”


The Baron Bliss Trust

 

Still, the Baron Bliss Trust was set up. The main bankers were Coutts & Co., the bank of the Royal Family. Initially, the Board of Directors consisted of the Governor, the Colonial Secretary and the Attorney-General of British Honduras.

 

All income generated from the principal would be used for the benefit of the country and all its citizens. The principal, consisting mostly of British stocks, securities and term deposits, was not to be touched.

 

The money was not to be used for churches, dance halls or schools, except agricultural or vocational.


The trust has funded the building of the cultural Bliss Institute; the construction of the Bliss School of Nursing; improving the water supply system by pumping water from artesian wells near the Belize International Airport to Belize City; adding the former In-Transit Lounge at the International Airport; purchasing land for the building of the capital at Belmopan; constructing Corozal’s Town Hall and Health Center along with purchasing an ambulance; building the library at Punta Gorda, the Library Town Hall Building for San Ignacio and the Library Town Hall Building for Benque Viejo del Carmen, and many other capital projects, according to research done on behalf of the Baron Bliss Trust by Leo H. Bradley, Sr., M.B.E., J.P.

 

Racing dories in Baron Bliss Day Regatta (From Baron Bliss Pictorial (1981), Brukdown, No. 1)

 

Four Oarsmen of Hillsdale


An unusual stipulation of the trust was that no American was to be a trustee or an employee of any trustee. No reason was given for this exclusion.


Could it be that the exclusion was tied to regatta history?

 

There was once an American crew from Michigan, who caused a stir in the United States and England, because they were not to the manner born and took it upon themselves to enter “the gentlemanly sport of rowing”, according to the Hillsdale County Historical Society.


In Michigan’s Hillsdale County Fair Museum hangs a newspaper article with a picture of four young men posing in a parlor, wearing what looks like long underwear with black shoes in 1879, according to the Hillsdale County Historical Society.

 

The four were firefighters and played on the same baseball team. One was a clerk in a bookstore. They had no crew experience, but they figured out their own rowing style. Only two months after training, they won the prestigious National American Amateur Rowing Championship at Saratoga, New York. They won it for two more consecutive years.

 

England awaited and the winning of the Athletic Amateur Contest. Money was raised for their passage, oars, other equipment and, perhaps, uniforms. They did not win the title.

 

However, according to the Marlow Regatta:

 

“The Hillsdale crew from the USA (in 1882) competed in the Senior IVs and this is the first recorded overseas entry. Unfortunately, there was a dispute about their amateur status . . .  All clubs boycotted them at Marlow, except the Marlow Rowing Club, who were defeated easily.”

 

Baron Bliss, who lived in Marlow, would have been 13 at the time. Were the Four Oarsmen of Hillsdale responsible for the Baron’s exclusion of Americans from his trust?

 

Was It Fate?


Why did Baron Bliss leave most of his fortune to Belize?

 

Perhaps, it was as much kismet as Joe Baretto’s settling near Baron Bliss’ great-uncle’s estate in England.

 

 

 

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