When planning our trip to Bermuda, several people said that we simply had to visit the town of St. George’s. The first town settled on the island, this colorful, quaint piece of the island has been around since 1612 & is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some of the quirks of colonialism are still around town, including a form of modern day cruel & unusual punishment: the weekly dunking of the wench. If you find yourself in St. George’s on a Wednesday at noon, this is certainly something you don’t want to miss.
Actors in period clothing pander to the assembled crowd & announce that one of the town’s wenches (wench: a girl or young woman) has been charged with the crime of gossiping. Luckily for you, assembled crowd of tourists, her trial has just ended & her punishment has been handed down: dunking in the St. George’s harbor. Dunking was used as punishment during the medieval period & is perhaps best known as punishment during the witch trials. However, early Bermudan settlers were also fond of the method & had their very own dunking stool right there in the middle of town.
The wench is brought out, wrists bound with rope, struggling against the oppressive white colonial man, & is led to the dunking stool. Some chasing & antics ensue before she’s finally seated on the stool & given one last chance to repent. We had a particularly showy wench, who incorporated posing for pictures into her act, & profusely refused to repent.
With the help of several strong men from the audience, she was wheeled out over the harbor, raised up on the end of what is basically a giant see-saw & splash!
This happens several times, until the wench finally gives up & repents for her gossiping sins.
While historic reenactments can sometimes be boring, this one is both hilarious & shocking at the same time. It gives you an appreciation for our modern day judicial system & a glimpse into how things were long ago.
If you go…
- the dunking of the wench takes place weekly on Wednesday afternoon’s at noon
- get there about 15 minutes early to grab a spot on the bridge, close to the action. If the bridge is already full, stand on the opposite site of the harbor, under the giant palm tree for an equally good view.
- if you’re a big strong strapping man, stand as close to the dunking stool as possible to increase your chances of getting picked to help out.
- after the wench dunking, pop across the street to the White Horse Tavern, for a nice fish sandwich with a view – & a Goslings Dark n’ Stormy.