would accept a swap of its 37 acres for an
80-acre chunk of the still-unutilised former
military base at Morgan’s Point. An intricate
negotiation followed, buffeted by the 2008
economic crisis. Good politics is about
finding the middle ground and in 2010 the
Morgan’s Point Resort Act struck that balance. Bermuda would get its glittering, high-end resort—the Ritz-Carlton Reserve Resort
at Caroline Bay on Morgan’s Point—while
Southlands would be reserved in its own
right as a piece of Bermuda’s natural heritage.
As if to sanctify the deal, the Bermuda National Trust staged its Palm Sunday Walk at
Southlands that year, allowing Bermudians to
take in the still-evident natural beauty of its
paths and exotic plants.
Seven years have passed since the politicians and developers put down their pens.
Architects have now finalised the design of
the hotel, spa and restaurants that will soon
grace the shore of Caroline Bay. A grand
marina on the bay was ready for the America’s
Cup festivities, giving proof of what the 2010
deal promised would be “a glorious future
for Bermuda’s tourism product.” Alas, on
Bermuda’s south shore the news is not as encouraging. Despite being designated in 2014
as a “listed” historic building, Southlands still
stands pretty much as it did in 2006. A few
more shutters have fallen off the Morgans’
once-grand home, more quarry gardens have
subsided and the overgrowth of the paths and
gardens continues. A group called the Friends
of Southlands has initiated a programme
of community gardens on the estate. But
there has been precious little evidence of a
concerted effort by Bermuda’s government to
turn Southlands into an accessible national
park. The rhetoric is still there, but the purse
would seem to be currently closed. Is it not
time for Bermuda to see in Southlands what
Anna and James Morgan saw in it a century
ago? Or what the poet Andrew Marvell long
ago saw in the beauty of a garden:
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy dear sister!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow,
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.
The ultimate indignity came when vandals
raided the Morgan mausoleum, presumably
in vain search of pharaonic loot. Horrified
Morgan relatives had their forebears’ remains
brought to Canada. Southlands was left to
intrepid naturalists who explored its now-tangled wonders.
In 2005, Bermudian businessmen Craig
Christensen, Nelson Hunt and Brian Duperreault purchased Southlands from Willowbank.
Their company, Southlands Ltd., then began to
craft a new vision for the remaining 37 acres of
the estate, one that capitalised on the property’s
intrinsic beauty by marrying it with a vision of
five-star tourism. The Bermuda government,
recognising the acumen of the investors and
acutely aware of the island’s faltering tourism,
enthusiastically engaged the process of possible
redevelopment. In due course, negotiations
were opened with the Jumeirah Hotel group, a
Dubai-based operator of luxury hotels famed
for their daring hotel designs and high-spending
clientele. Many Bermudians, however, recoiled
at the idea of turning one of the last unspoilt
tracts of natural Bermuda into a gated sanctuary. Petitions were circulated and widely signed.
Letters to the Royal Gazette described the hotel
proposal as a “monstrosity.” Bermuda thus
found itself at a crossroad: nature versus job
creation and the rebranding of Bermuda as a
It took a flash of inspiration from then-
Premier Alex Scott to cut the Gordian knot.
In 2006, Scott suggested that Southlands
might be saved for posterity if the developers
she had a Bermuda buggy bell installed on the
hood of her Cadillac.
War broke the Torreys’ idyll in Bermuda. The
menace of German submarines made crossing
the Gulf Stream risky and ultimately impossible
for tourists. In 1942, Southlands was leased to
the United States Army as an anti-aircraft training school. Ack-ack guns arrayed along Southlands’ once-tranquil beach pumped round after
round of munitions out over the south shore.
Magazine sheds, control towers and instruction
halls blighted the garden. In 1945, the Americans transferred the school to Guantanamo Bay
in Cuba and Southlands soon passed into the
hands of an eccentric retired British military
engineer, Brigadier Harry Dunbar Maconochie.
The brigadier, it is whispered, embraced the
bottle more than the beauty of Southlands
with the result that the Morgans’ garden never
regained its Edenic majesty.
In 1977, Southlands was bought by the
Willowbank Foundation, a Canadian nondenominational Christian trust. Earlier, Willowbank had bought a beachfront property in
Sandys, which it turned into a resort dedicated
to low-key, restorative visits by harried North
Americans. Willowbank’s acquisition of
Southlands was predicated on a vision of building a 130-unit retirement complex for a similar
constituency. The plan never advanced; Willowbank lived with perpetual financial troubles
(its hotel would eventually close in 2011). In
its absence, Southlands deteriorated. Quarry
walls collapsed. Fiddlewood overwhelmed the
gardens and its rustic paths became encroached.
Ariel view of Southlands property showing the beach and vast unspoiled acreage.