The first person to write about Bermuda was Gonzalo Fernandez who described the island’s “flying fishes… and fowles called mewes and cormorants” in 1515. The adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh followed up with talk of its “hellish sea for thunder, lightning and storms”. The weather remained a source of inspiration, with Poet John Donne popping it into a 1597 sonnet called The Storme; “Compared to these stormes, death is but a qualm / Hell somewhat lightsome, the Bermudas calm.” But Bermuda hit the heavyweight literary headlines when Shakespeare used the island as a template for The Tempest. His imaginary island might be based in the Mediterranean, but it was filled with pigs, noisy birds and a drink made of cedarberries (early settlers were reduced to making liquor out of whatever they could get their hands on…. And Bermuda had a lot of cedar trees). Shakespeare’s island could only really be Bermuda.
The Bard might have only imagined the island, but Irish poet Thomas Moore set foot on it in 1804 and wrote, “Oh! could you view the scenery dear / That now beneath my window lies”, while Americans might be more familiar with Mark Twain’s musings on the isle – he published regularly in The Atlantic Monthly and helped to make Bermuda a tourist destination. Eugene O’Neill, Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling all passed through too, drawing inspiration from the island as they went. One of the most influential books from Bermuda was narrated by Mary Price, a slave; The History of Mary Price helped to end slavery in the British Empire.
[Image extracted from page 3 of Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock “Bermuda,” from England to Bermuda …, by N.N.. Original held and digitised by the British Library. This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library.