There’s a lighthouse in the tiny Central American country of Belize whose colorful origins make it unique. It’s called Fort George Light on official lists and charts, but the gracefully tapered white and red tower is best known to locals and tourists as the Baron Bliss Lighthouse after the unusual character buried in a tomb near its base — the nation’s greatest benefactor, Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss.
Bliss was born in England with the original surname Barretts in 1869. He became an engineer by profession, and nobody seems to know how he acquired a large fortune of almost a million pounds. He also picked up the title of the “Fourth Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal,” apparently as a direct descendant of the first Baron Bliss.
At the age of 42, Baron Bliss became paralyzed and was unable to walk for the remainder of his life. This turn of events led him to acquire a yacht and to spend five years fishing in the Bahamas. He left some of his fortune with his wife back in England.
He then took his yacht, the Sea King, to Trinidad. He became ill from food poisoning, but his health improved enough for him to head to the waters off Belize, a sliver of a nation slightly smaller than Massachusetts bordering Mexico and Guatemala. He never visited the mainland in Belize but fished extensively around the area for several weeks. There was obviously something about the place and its people that captivated the Englishman.
Shortly before his 57th birthday, the Baron’s health took a severe turn for the worse, and doctors told him he had only a short time to live. He invited the local governor aboard the Sea King and told him that he intended to will his fortune to the nation of Belize. He died soon after aboard his yacht, on March 9, 1926.
In his will, Baron Bliss expressed the wish to be buried by his beloved sea near an obelisk or lighthouse. His wish was carried out with the establishment of the 50-foot concrete lighthouse by the harbor of Belize City.
A trust was formed to manage the funds of nearly two million Belize dollars (minus a large portion removed to pay taxes in England) from the estate of Baron Bliss. The funds provided by the trust have been used to found the Bliss Institute — a major cultural center — and the Bliss School of Nursing, along with many other improvements.
Also in the Baron’s will was the stipulation that 100 Pounds Sterling from his fortune would be used each year for a regatta. Each year, March 9 (or the closest Monday) is celebrated in Belize as Baron Bliss Day with parties, boat races and fishing events.
The Baron Bliss Lighthouse stands as a welcoming beacon and as a fitting memorial to a man who deeply loved the sea and demonstrated great caring for those who showed him kindness and hospitality in his last days.
This story appeared in the
July 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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