Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, 4th Baron Bliss, commonly known as Baron Bliss (16 February 1869 – 9 March 1926), was a British-born traveller who willed nearly two million Belize dollars to a trust fund for the benefit of the citizens of what was then the colony of British Honduras, now Belize.
He was born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Barretts and lived in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, as a youth. He was an engineer by trade and at some point in his adult life, inherited the title 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal from an ancestor named Sir John Moore. He was apparently successful in his career, but it is not known how he obtained his fortune, whether due to business acumen or inheritance, or a combination thereof.
Bliss became paralysed from the waist down in 1911 at the age of 42, likely due to polio, and was confined to a wheelchair. Despite this, he remained active. He was apparently an avid sailor, but had his yacht confiscated for war purposes during the First World War. When the war ended, he was wealthy enough to retire to a lifetime of fishing and leisure, so to that end he acquired a new yacht, which he christened Sea King II. In 1920, he sailed the yacht to the Bahamas, where he stayed for five years. Meanwhile, his wife Baroness Ethel Alice Bliss stayed in England, living off a portion of his fortune. The couple had no children.
Although he had some property there, he eventually grew tired of Bahamanian society and decided to move on. Leaving the Bahamas behind, he sailed to Trinidad and was there for a short while when he came down with a serious bout of food poisoning. Deciding to accept a previous invitation from his friend Willoughby Bullock, who was then Attorney General of British Honduras, he sailed westward, stopping briefly in Jamaica likely for medical attention, and arriving in the Belize City harbour on 14 January 1926.
Bliss's health appeared to improve over the next few weeks, and he spent much of this time sailing around the area in his launch, exploring the coastline and fishing. However, just days before his 57th birthday, his health took a turn for the worse, and doctors advised him that he was terminally ill. It was at this time that he decided he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the country, and signed a new draft of his will, dated 17 February. Several weeks later, he died on his yacht, never having landed on the Belize mainland. He was buried in Belize City, in what is now known as Bliss Park. This was a temporary arrangement, and he was later interred in a granite tomb near the sea, with a lighthouse nearby, built with funds from his estate. The burial instructions were explicitly stated in the will.
The Bliss bequest
At the time of his death, Bliss's fortune was worth nearly £1 million (about BZ$1.8 million). About $480,000 was claimed by the United Kingdom in inheritance taxes. His will gave specific instructions on how the money was to be used to the benefit of the citizens of British Honduras. Aside from small lifetime annuities to his wife and relatives in England and to his personal staff, the remainder of the funds was placed in a trust, executed by the Governor, the Colonial Secretary, and the Attorney General.
The original monies were to be invested in British stocks and securities, and only the interest earned could be spent, and even that could not be spent on churches, dance halls or schools, except agricultural and vocational ones. One-hundred pounds sterling was to be set aside annually for a regatta, which has since been held every year on Baron Bliss Day. A peculiar condition attached to the money was that no American may be a trustee or an employee of a trustee. No explanation was given.
Over the years, the trust has provided more than $2 million to fund projects, including the Bliss Institute, Bliss School of Nursing, and other capital projects across the country. As of 2011[update], the fund was still worth roughly $1.5 million.
Baron Bliss Day
Soon after his death, the government declared 9 March to be Baron Bliss Day, a national public holiday. In November 2008 this was renamed to National Heroes and Benefactors Day, and is now observed the Monday closest to 9 March, unless it falls on a Saturday.
- "Respect, Baron Bliss". Amandala. 9 March 2003. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "A real Belize benefactor/lover – Baron Bliss". Krem Radio. 4 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- D'Entremont, Jeremy (July 2003). "The Lighthouse and Legacy of Baron Bliss". Lighthouse Digest. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "Belize’s Benefactor: The Super Cool Baron Bliss". San Pedro Sun. 11 March 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "BARON BLISS NATIONAL HOLIDAY IN BELIZE". Western Belize Happenings. 7 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "Laws of Belize Chapter 289" (PDF). Government of Belize. Retrieved 8 March 2014.