“Island Flames” - a major new book on the murders, 
execution and racial riots of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


Retired Commissioner Jonathan Smith was never one to stand still, from the first moment he put on a police uniform to today.  He is still actively involved in politics, leads a busy life with his family, and in his “spare time” has just written his second book, “Island Flames” which is sure to be of great interest to any members of the Bermuda Police who served during the tumultuous events of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Exclusive extracts of "Island Flames”

have been published on the Today in Bermuda news website and can be seen online (see details below).  

We are also publishing details of how you can order advanced copies of “Island Flames” which we believe will prove to be fascinating to anyone interested in Bermuda’s history, but particularly so for those who were an integral part of it.

We asked Jonathan to describe how he came to write a book which covers perhaps the most critical period in our history.

Commissioner of Police Jonathan Smith


“Few events in Bermuda during the past fifty years have evoked as much sheer energy, damage, fear and violence as the 1977 riots and the week immediately preceding them. Almost everyone who lived through those dramatic days at the end of November and early December 1977 has a story to tell about what they saw, how they felt, how they feared and, in some instances, what they did. So, after all these years, what more needs to be said about those dark days nearly forty years ago?

During 2012, I read Mel Ayton’s book, ‘Justice Denied’ – the story of the assassinations of Police Commissioner George Duckett in 1972 followed by the assassinations of Governor Richard Sharples and his ADC Captain Hugh Sayers in 1973. In an instant, I realized that the story of the assassinations went far beyond the Black Beret Cadre’s association with the politically-charged murders. That story, remained untold.

The under-lying story was more intriguing and steeped in the much-darker and racially-charged legacy that Bermuda had not resolved.  No book had been written that captured the aftermath of those tragic murders, the executions of Erskine Burrows and Larry Tacklyn and why, five years after the first of the politically motivated murders, Bermuda erupted in violence and destruction. I was fresh off the success of my first published book, ‘In the Hour of Victory,’ a WWII based non-fiction work, the documentary film version of which was just about to hit the International Film Festival market in early 2013 and a new project beckoned!

But, the imperatives ran deeper than that. It was more than a ‘somebody’s got to do it’ moment that inspired me. You see, I was born, in 1959, in what was then a racially segregated Bermuda. Only as an adult, did I come to the realization that I had lived through each of the significant events which marked what was to become the modern-day Bermuda. The theatre boycott, to protest racial inequities took place in 1959 – the year I was born. Political parties were launched commencing in 1963. As a young boy, I had recollections of the 1965 BELCo riot and the 1968 riots.

Bermuda’s Constitution was approved in 1967 and during the following year the first election under universal adult suffrage took place minus the 17th century-inspired property vote which was cast into the dustbin of electoral history.

As a nine year old, I recall watching the election results in black and white on television, too young to comprehend the irony of how racially motivated the ‘black and white’ election really was. Periodic disturbances in 1970 and 1971, partially fuelled by the increasingly influential Black Beret Cadre movement became etched in my now pre-teen years.

And then, the murders. I vividly recall where I was in London when the TV news broadcasted the details of Commissioner Duckett’s murder in September 1972. Then, just six months later, during a break from classes, the dulcet tones of the BBC Radio 1 broke the news of the assassinations of Sharples and Sayers. Naively, I saw the 1977 riots, which followed the executions of Burrows and Tacklyn, through the prism of how many whites saw them; just unnecessary death and violence which damaged our economy carried out by largely black offenders who didn’t have Bermuda’s best interests at heart.

But, the Pitt Commission, established to examine the causes of the riots, found that decades, if not centuries, of racial injustice were significant contributory causes to those riots. Blacks in Bermuda had had enough – and the message that reform was needed was clear.

By the time the Pitt Commission completed its work in 1978, Bermuda would learn that the causes of the riots ran far deeper than just the executions, themselves borne out of the criminal assassinations earlier in the decade. Race; an economic system that favoured whites and disadvantaged blacks; problems in education, social policy and immigration; and an electoral franchise system that systemically and deliberately excluded blacks for centuries and much more, were all found to be contributory causes to the social upheaval that Bermuda experienced in the years leading up to 1977.

And so, “Island Flames” attempts to add a little more to the fabric of those incredibly turbulent and deadly times and tells the story of how key decisions were made, by whom, how a country rioted, then reflected and began to heal. In amongst that, there were petitions, protests and politicians who stood firm in some instances, aggravated in others, and railed against a legacy of racial injustice.

The riots and the deaths during the riots along with the desperate calls for UK military assistance at a time when the local security services could no longer cope with the violence is covered in detail.

There was much intrigue about the role of UK politicians in the executions – and much of what they knew, or thought they knew, about Bermuda is spelled out mostly in their own words. The connectivity between the riots of 1965, 1968 and 1977 is explored and analysed. The very controversial decision regarding the executions is traced to the upper echelons of the UK political halls of power with no less than then-Prime Minister James Callaghan and members of his Cabinet having a pivotal role in those decisions.

”Island Flames” draws on previously classified documents and files which are now available to the public from the UK National Archives, Cabinet Memoranda, original research, Hansard records, press reports, other published books, research by Dr. Benedict Greening, official reports, Commission Reports, published interviews by others, research at the Bermuda National Archives, correspondence with the author, first-hand accounts recorded online and interviews conducted by the author. Close to 200 separate sources were used, including retired Police officers in Bermuda and several residing overseas and well over 1,000 citations are recorded in this book. The aim was to shed additional light on these significant events of Bermuda’s past, attribute the causes of those events where possible, learn from them and to draw conclusions to how we, collectively, can resolve to build a more harmonious and nurturing society. I am indebted to the many others, who like me, researched this fascinating yet tragic segment of Bermuda’s recent past. Their work is appropriately cited within this book. 

In the penultimate chapter, former Government Statistician, researcher and race relations advocate, Cordell Riley B.Sc., M.Sc., J.P. contributes his view on how an island, once in flames, has changed since 1977. He provides some contemporary data and raises questions about Bermuda’s future trajectory. “ 

Exclusive extracts of "Island Flames”

Starting in May, the Today in Bermuda news website, www.todayinbermuda.com carried the exclusive extracts of the book. Three extracts have been published and there are two to follow.

Here are the links to the first three extracts:




How to order:

”Island Flames" is hard-back, 360 pages with more than 40 photographs - many never published previously and over 1,000 references, making it one of the most comprehensive books ever written on the 1960’s and 1970's in Bermuda.

It is being printed in Hong Kong and will be available in Bermuda in the coming months.

It is a limited edition book and so far, interest has been high. Order your copy now to avoid missing out on this ground-breaking new book.

Bermuda's leading book-seller, The Bookmart, is the exclusive distributor.

Local orders can be made by emailing Martin Buckley mbuckley@psl.bm or by phone 279-5443.

Overseas orders can also be placed with Martin Buckley. Bermuda Post Office rates will apply. The Bookmart will handle all aspects of the shipping for you.