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Places to Visit in Nevis


The Bath Hotel, Nevis
by Suzanne Gordon

It’s hard to imagine Nevis without tourists, but years ago that was the case. Then along
came the Bath Hotel.

The imposing building perched on a hillside at the south end of Charlestown was the focus of the fashionable life of the English landowners on Nevis who grew cane and manufactured sugar, molasses, and rum, primarily for export. They would gather in the dining and ball rooms for grand affairs, dressed in their imported finery. British and European guests would arrive by ship to partake of the social whirl and benefit from the restorative powers of the Bath’s mineral springs which were purported to cure gout, rheumatism and other debilitating conditions.

Built about 1787 by local Nevis merchant John Huggins, the grand hotel is believed to be the first tourist hotel in the Caribbean. Clerk of the local assembly, Huggins took care of the springs, and determined that it would make sense to build a hotel nearby. His grave marker, located in the floor of the nave of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Charlestown, reads: “Not many years before his death he became proprietor of the neighbouring hot springs over which out of good will towards his fellow creatures and not for any advantage of his own he erected convenient baths and at a short distance a large and expensive stone edifice for the accommodation of invalids.”

Visitors would sail from Europe, taking a month or more to reach the island; others would travel from other Caribbean ports. The well-known guests included writer Henry Nelson
Coleridge; physician Sir Frederick Treves, author of The Elephant Man, who wrote a Victorian travelogue of the island; Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence; and
poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. British Naval Admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson and his bride, Fanny Nisbet of Nevis, celebrated their marriage at the hotel entertaining 100 guests for a wedding dinner.

Treves, in his book The Cradle of the Deep, compared it to Royal Tunbridge Wells, an elegant Georgian spa-town set in the heart of the beautiful Kent countryside in southeastern England. The hotel, he wrote, attracted “all the fashionable of the
West Indies—the rich merchants with their wives and daughters, the planters, the majors and captains who were invalided or on leave, and the officers of any ship of war that could make an excuse to anchor within sight of Booby Island (a tiny, uninhabited isle just off Nevis).”

He said “the great people arrived in schooners, with heaps of luggage and a tribe of black
servants. From early to late they whirled round in one unending circle of gaiety.” He describes “dinners where heated men with loosened cravats proposed the toast of succeeding beauties, and dancers were kept up until sunrise, and indeed until the ponies were brought
round to the door again.”

Henry Nelson Coleridge wrote, after a visit to Nevis in 1825, “…an invalid with a good servant might take up his quarters here with more comfort than in any other house of
public reception in the West Indies.”

Now a staid government building, the early years of The Bath Hotel were quite grand and its exterior plantings were compared to the Gardens of Jericho or Babylon. British author
Gertrude Atherton, wrote in “The Gorgeous Isle,” a novel set in Nevis, that the hotel, which could hold 50 guests in its bedrooms, “was surrounded by wide gardens of tropical trees,
ferns and flowers…Its several terraces flamed with color, as well as its numerous little balconies and galleries, and the flat surfaces of the roof: the whole effect being that of an Eastern palace with hanging gardens, a vast pleasure house, designed for some extravagant and voluptuous potentate.”

Atherton said the hotel had a ballroom and dining hall furnished with mahogany furniture, rich brocade hangings, and thick rugs on polished floors. An important Caribbean Georgian-style structure, with simple, straight lines and symmetry of design, the hotel was built of the local grey volcanic stone, cut into square blocks. In those days, construction cost 40,000 pounds sterling, about US$200,000 in today’s currency. The structure is 130 feet long and 60 feet wide, built using a system of arched buttresses
strong enough to withstand major earthquakes.


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