April 2002 Bermuda (Peppercorn Ceremony)
Bermuda: The Peppercorn Ceremony

We arrived in Bermuda in mid-April, just in time for the annual Peppercorn Ceremony in the town of St. George. St. George's (as everybody writes it) was founded in 1612, and was the seat of government until 1815, when the capital was moved to Hamilton. St. George's has preserved its character and smallness so well that in 2000, it was selected to be one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are a series of places (towns, objects, natural phenomena) of international interest, well-reserved and worthy of preservation. (Lisa: link to photos St. George Bermuda street; town crier; Ordinance Island; and Bermuda garden).

When the capital moved to Hamilton, St. Georges was left with the former State House, itself built in the 1600s. So the Crown decided to let the local Masonic Lodge use it, and so as to be nice and legal about this, they drew up a formal rental document, in which the Masons are granted permission to use the Hall for the annual rental of one peppercorn. That's right: One of those dried peppers that fill the big shakers that pretentious waitpersons offer to grind onto your steak. And the Masons are to pay this rent to the Governor of Bermuda on the Feast of St. George's Day (or now, in modern times, the Wednesday closest to that day). This year, it happened to be on April 24th.

Bermuda has a new Governor this year, recently appointed by the Queen, and a Brit, to the disappointment and disapproval of a number of the citizenry. However, no such reservations were evident on the day of the ceremony. And the new Governor was clearly enjoying this as one of his first official acts.

Early that morning, the Royal Bermuda Regiment and its band began arriving and getting into formation, quite near where we were moored. (Lisa: Link to photo Regimental Band assembles). The town square was cordoned off in readiness. The flag bearers were the first to arrive, and positioned themselves around the square. Then the band, led by its impressive drum major (Lisa: Link to photo drum major) arrived. We were particularly impressed with the leopard skin that the bass drummer wore (Lisa: Link to photo Back of Bermuda drummer), and so were the schoolboys, for a while (Lisa: Link to photo schoolboys). The Regiment itself then marched in spiffily and assembled (Lisa: Link to photo Bermuda regiment). All the town dignitaries arrived, as did the Masons, in their regalia (light blue satin sashes and aprons) and led by bagpipes. Alas, there weren't many Masons; they're getting older and not bringing in new members. Next came a 15 gun salute for the Governor from Ordinance island, with pretty big modern day cannons, causing all of us to jump and scaring kids and dogs. Then the Governor and his lady arrived in a horse-drawn open carriage (Lisa: Link to photo Governor arrives). In his impressive uniform and plumed Napoleanic-looking hat, he reviewed the troops (Lisa: Link to photo Gov reviews...) We wondered if he asked the young men he stopped to talk to, "Hello soldier, where are you from?" as U.S. functionaries commonly do, but it was pretty obvious where all of these guys came from.
The Governor mounted the podium that was set up in front of the stocks, with the mayor of St. George (really short guy in top hat and tails) (Lisa: Link to photo Governor and mayor...) . The history of the Ceremony was explained, and the Gov. gave a gracious speech, noting that the excellent band had to be one of the only military bands in the world equally at home with Bob Marley and God Save the Queen. Also present was the mayor of Lyme Regis, a village in England which is the sister city of St. George's, because George Somers, who founded St. George's as a result of a shipwreck, came from Lyme Regis. Then the Governor demanded that the Masons deliver their rent. With great ceremony, the head Mason reached into a red velvet purse and handed over the peppercorn. (Lisa: Link to photo Masons deliver...)

The ceremony ended with all the officials trooping off to the Masonic Hall to inspect it and have a meeting, then lunch somewhere. The troops marched off, the band marched off, and it was all over for another year. We were delighted.

The next day, we met the mayor and mayoress of Lyme Regis (Ken and Jen) in a pub, learned more about their small village which is on the south coast of England, and received a personal invitation to visit it. They may have just been being polite, but we intend to take them up on it!