History: Gangs Back In The Day

August 22, 2010

[Written by Larry Burchall] Right now, with all the shootings, woundings, and killings, most people are saying that the current level of violence in Bermuda is unprecedented; and that gangs are a new thing. The first part is right. I’m not so sure about the second part. According to ‘old-timers’ Bermuda had gangs ‘back-in-the-day’. However, things were so different then, that what gang activity there was, seemed to be quite unlike any gang activity today.

There is a story that does not unfold through the pages of the newspapers. Nor does it come out through radio or TV. Instead, the story is told through the voice of a little old Bermuda lady, a ‘coloured’ lady as she would have been referred to at the time. She was a nice person, a well-known community and church worker, a teacher, counselor, and was once listed as one of Bermuda’s ten most outstanding businesswomen. She held a BSc from the State University of New York College at Buffalo (NY). at one time she ran the LaNel Beauty School which catered to Bermudian as wells foreign students. She was not known to be a political dragon or spitfire. She was a nice lady doing all the right things to advance the interests of her people.

But what a story she tells.

The story starts with the arrival, in Bermuda on Wednesday 21st September 1927, of HM Troopship Nevasa. HMT Nevas carried about 550 men of the 2nd Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders; a kilted Scottish Regiment sent to Bermuda to do garrison duty at Prospect Garrison – up where the Police are now.

Mrs Nellie Musson – that ‘nice coloured lady’ – picks up the story in a passage headlined LOVE and WAR:-

During this period Black youth from “across the tracks” protected their “girls” from the amourous attention of the “city slickers” who lived on the townside of the tracks. There were at least four “gangs” of youth concentrated in the North Hill, Devonshire Dock, Spanish Point, and Hamilton city areas of Pembroke and Devonshire. The North Shore boys were known for their singing. One of their more rousing songs was directed at the city “boys”:

“If you come again into North Shore, You won’t live to come back no more.”

Although these “gangs” often fought with each other, there was one occasion where they got together.


In the late nineteen twenties, according to reports, Scottish troops landed on the Island. They were stationed at Prospect Barracks. Within hours after the troops arrived a number of North Shore women were raped and their men beaten. According to former residents who lived in the area at the time, “Police were called in, however no arrests were made and the assaults continued.” Therefore, the “gangs” got together and decided to do something about it. They planned their strategy for warfare.

Residents of the North Hill, Devonshire Dock area were told, “when dark comes if you are out of the area, stay out. If you are in, stay in and lock your doors.” History records those (were) times when otherwise troublesome youth came to the rescue of their fellowmen.

The molestations had taken place primarily in the North Village, Dock Hill areas, within minutes of the soldier’s barracks. The “Night of War” began with soft whistling as the various “gangs” took up their positions. When the “war” commenced the hills started to rumble from the sound of heavy (army) boots as more and more soldiers joined their comrades. According to eyewitnesses, “the rumble of boots was interspersed with shouts and rifle blasts”. The next morning the mutilated troops were shipped out (including one or two bodies), the assaults on the women stopped, and the North Hill battleground showed the evidence of victory.”

Mrs Nellie Musson tells this story in her 1979 book “Mind The Onion Seed”

As you might expect, the newspaper of that day, carries nothing about this series of incidents. Neither is there any indication that any persons went to Court during or after.

Remember also that 1927 was before cellphones and camera phones, before radio and TV, and twenty years before cars were even allowed in Bermuda. So the Police of that day were reliant on creaky landline telephones and had to walk or ride around on pushbikes – that’s right, on pedal cycles! Bermuda did, then, have a one track railway that ran along the Island’s spine; so there was a real “across the tracks” situation.

Also, in 1927, the all-white newspaper reporters probably did not spend much time in areas like North Village and Dock Hill. And, with no Internet, there was no Bernews to bring news to you as it happened.

So given the times, it’s reasonable to think that the Police might not respond and also that the newspapers wouldn’t get much information from the two sides – soldiers and North Shore “gangs”.

Today, when an old-timer talks about ‘back-in-the-day”, remember this bit of folk history.

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Category: All, History, News

Comments (7)

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  1. Ms Campbell says:

    Well history repeats itself… Northshore boys (42 crew) soldiers (Parkside) who would have ever known…

  2. Only in Bermuda says:

    Good Day Bernews,

    This is a very interested article that you put on your website.

  3. Asha says:

    Wow!! I would love to make an adaptation of this as a short film.

  4. terry says:

    The irony of all this is that there were no deaths. Just respect.

    My Father told me similar stories about the Regiments et al. Just horny guys that tried to take advantage of our beautiful women. A few black eyes here and there and a few serious assaults but the Onions took care of their seedlings.

    Please don’t shoot the messenger. History supports my comments.

    Good on them.

  5. Taurus says:

    Very interesting story!! At least these gangs were fighting for a good cause.

  6. Lei Lei says:

    As the Good Book states there is nothing new under the sun

  7. D Photo G says:

    The more things change the more they stay the same