By 1861, twenty-seven years after the end of slavery, the Bahamas government was in a desperate place, money wise. Once productive plantations had been abandoned, especially on the Out Islands, as they were called back then. Imports to New Providence were increasing and exports were decreasing. Population levels were rising as the colony’s revenues became more precarious.
This era (early to mid 1800s) would mark the beginning of something which would come to affect the Bahamas, over the next century and a half, and beyond. This era marks the beginning of an oversupply of labour in the Bahamas. As more and more ships with slaves bound for Cuba, or other slave colonies, still operating elsewhere in the West Indies, were landed in Nassau, liberated Africans with little prospect for paid work, pushed the unemployment numbers upward. Enslaved Africans were simply declared free, and pointed to the farthest point away from the Nassau city limits. Not only were Africans and other free negroes finding their way to the Bahamas under horrendous circumstances, white settlers were coming as well. Those seeking to escape from the American Civil War came, as well as Europeans seeking their fortunes. Opportunities were still to be had for those coming with money, looking to start businesses in the islands.
The government of the Bahamas started its own business. It was called tourism! A new winter tourism season began in Nassau, as a means of providing revenues for the colony, as well as much needed jobs across the labour spectrum.
The tourist hotel business in the Bahamas wasn’t for the faint of heart. Even for the most seasoned hotelier, you needed wide expertise, a good product and capital to fund the business. In 1861, when the government of the Bahamas built the the Royal Victoria Hotel, at a cost of £20,000 to the colony, it had only one of those three. It had a good product – sun, sand and sea. It didn’t have real expertise or the capital to fund the business during the lean times. The government went into the hotel business anyway. It appears that at some point, they leased the premises to a private operator.
Without question, it was an extraordinarily profitable business for the colony, while it lasted. Americans, Europeans, Canadians, the rich and famous, all came to New Providence just to stay at the Royal Victoria. This hotel put Nassau on the map for would be holiday seekers around the world.
By 1877, the hotel was up for auction, as an outright sale. The auction was to be held the following year, on February 11, 1878. Advertisements were put in newspapers across England, Canada and America. The government needed a buyer, a wealthy foreign investor, who wanted to go into the winter tourist business. Interestingly, they were not leasing the land, they were intending on selling the land outright to the purchaser. The Royal Victoria was located on Shirley Street, Nassau, New Providence. They were also offering to provide a mortgage to the purchaser. Purchase terms on the whole, for the hotel, were extremely generous. The government must have been desperate to sell.
FOR SALE —- AT NASSAU, New Providence, BAHAMAS,
by public auction (unless and advantageous offer is in the meantime made), on Monday, February 11, 1878, at noon, on the premises, in accordance with an act of the Bahamas Legislature, all the Lands, Buildings and Appurtenances known as the ROYAL VICTORIA HOTEL, erected in 1861 by the Bahamas government at a cost of £20,000. The building is unequaled by any structure of the kind in the West Indies and will be sold subject to an existing lease which expires in 1880 and on condition that the premises shall be used by the purchaser for the keeping and maintaining a hotel from the 1st day of November in and every year until 31st May in each succeeding year at least, and for no other purpose during any other period aforesaid or during any other period of the year.
One-half of the purchase money is to be paid in cash and the other money, if desired, in five years, a mortgage being given on the property as security, and interest payable at the rate of six per cent per annum. The Royal Victoria is a substantial stone building, four stories high, three of these are surrounded by a piazza ten feet wide, forming a covered promenade 900 feet long. It contains 121 double and single bedrooms, with lofty ceilings and can accommodate 200 guests. It is situated on an elevated site, from which a view is commanded of the city of Nassau and a large portion of the island; the ocean lies just before it, studded with numerous islets.
Any further information will be furnished by the signed Chairman of the Board of Public Works of the island of New Providence.
E. B. A. Taylor.
Nassau, N. P., Bahama,
Sept 25, 1877