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continued from page 47
Together with other prominent Bermudians
such as Anna-Maria Outerbridge, Meyer lent
his support to the Boer National Committee, using his steamship connections to help
smuggle Boer escapees off the island.
Nonetheless, Meyer’s businesses continued
to prosper. As a shipping agent, he positioned
himself on the ground floor of Bermuda’s infant
tourism industry. In 1906, for instance, the town
welcomed its first luxury hotel, the 150-room
St. George Hotel. Meyer’s company quickly
offered carriages for tourist outings and ship-to-shore tenders. Sensing tourists’ fascination with
Bermuda’s coral reefs, he built and patented a
glass-bottomed tour boat, the Sea Fern.
The end came in 1912. While hosting a
visit from his old American chum Judge Bliss,
Meyer was stricken by what the Royal Gazette
called “tropical dysentery.” He was taken to
New York for treatment. Things did not go
well and on April 25th he died. His loss was
eclipsed in the newspapers by the galvanising
mystery of why the liner Titanic had foun-
dered two weeks earlier. Meyer’s body was
returned to Bermuda and brought ashore by
the crew of his flagship, the Gladisfen. A huge
funeral at Caledonia followed. At Meyer’s re-
quest, eight working men from Meyer’s Wharf
willingly carried their captain’s coffin. The Ga-
zette remarked that it was “doubtful there has
ever been a previous display of floral offerings
similar in beauty and quality in Bermuda.”
Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic
sent a bouquet of American beauty roses. Brit-
ish troops marched behind the casket as it was
carried uphill out of St. George’s to the town
cemetery. The entire Masonic Lodge marched
in a similar procession.
Meyer’s empire did not go to the grave with
him. William junior took over the reins and
guided the company into new diversifications—travel agency, ship chartering and even
a voice in the arrival of air travel to Bermuda.
Meyer junior himself became mayor of St.
George in the 1930s. Late in the twentieth
century, mergers changed the complexion
of the original enterprises into a “group of
companies” which to this day thrive on the
waterfront of St. George and throughout
the island. The group’s literature and website
today proudly boast that it has been “
incorporated since 1876 by Wm. E. Meyer.” In
our globalised world today, all tied together
instantaneously by the Internet and easy
opportunity, it is hard to image a life so full
of unpredictable adventure, danger and fulfilment as that of Captain William E. Meyer,
the young lad from Prussia who once took a
chance on life.
Dr. Duncan McDowall is University Historian
at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario,
Canada. He has written many books and articles
on Bermuda’s history and heritage, most recently
publishing, with his wife, Dr. Sandy Campbell,
Short Bermudas: Essays in Island Life (National
Museum of Bermuda Press, 2015).