It was nearing sunrise - a time for romantic strolls along the secluded pink beaches of this island paradise - when two young black men were led from their prison cells to a set of wooden gallows.

One of the men, Erskine Burrows, a member of an underground group called the Black Berets, had been convicted of assassinating Bermuda governor Sir Richard Sharples, his aide and the island's police commissioner in 1973; the other, Larry Tacklyn, had been found guilty of mudering two prominent supermarket owners.

In late summer, some 13,000 Bermuda residents - ministers, teachers, sociologists, in all nearly a quarter of the population of this self-governing British colony - sent a petition to Queen Elizabeth, asking her to call off on moral and legal grounds what would be the first executions here in 30 years.

Their plea went unheeded last week, and as the morning sun turned red-orange, Burrows and Tacklyn were hanged.

Within hours of their execution, the Casemates Prison "grapevine" was spreading a graphic and horrifying account of the deaths across the island.

According to inmates and trusties, Burrows and Tacklyn had been unable for weeks to keep their food down. As a result, they said, when the hangman's trap door gave way beneath Burrows, his weight - now only 80 pounds - was not enough to make the noose snap his neck. He remained alive dangling and wrenching about pathetically, for several minutes before losing consiousness, they said.

Despite family requests for the remains, the bodies of both men were then placed in bags and lowered into the graves dug on the prison grounds. The graves were later filled with cement.

Leo Mills, a government spokesman, denied inmate reports that Burrows had been buried alive. He said the Bermuda Minister of Health was aware of the "rumored accounts" and would issue an official version of the executions later.

But that night, some 350 young blacks, many of them apparently friends of the executed men, took to the streets of Hamilton. For three days, they hurled Molotov cocktails and set fire to stores and businesses in the worst cutbreak of violence here in almost a decade.

With damage estimated at $5 million, the selective burning of non-union warehouses and stores owned by whites could hardly be compared to the devastation of Watts, Detroit or Washington during the 1960s.

But the disturbances did focus worldwide attention on the problems and grievances of the mostly black residents of a resort island governed by a white elite.

The mini-riot may also have hastened the day of Bermuda's independence.

"The incidents of recent days could speed up independence blacks more politically active," one high-ranking government official observed.

The official noted that the island's older middle-class blacks - life-long laborers in the white-owned tourist industry who wave managed to buy modest homes - tend to be quite conservative. They send their children abroad to study and though last bars on voting in island elections were lifted in 1968, many have never even bothered to register.

Until now, many older blacks regarded the Progressive Labor Party, the opposition that has been leading the drive for independence, as "communistic."

"Hanging these men was a severe moral blow to these older people," a black official said. "They prayed and cried, and were as outdone as anyone."

The violence that followed the execution awed and confused many of the island's white businessmen. Few saw any reason to protest the deaths of two men convicted of murdering five residents, including the island's governor.

Besides, they argue, most blacks here enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Unemployment in Bermuda is among the lowest in the world. Businessmen contribute generoulsy to welfare and scholarship programs that benefit both races.

But, as one businessman admitted privately, in thinking that whites could "give blacks 10 per cent before we got to the bargaining table so they wouldn't ask for 50 per cnet," the establishment here had dangerously lost touch with the country's young black population.

Hanging out on corners along Court Street, known as the Block, the young ruffled blacks, wearing platform shoes and shoulders bags, strike [WORD ILLEGIBLE] poses that are not to be [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Bermuda post cards.

Even more [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of how Bermuda has too [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "in the grips of white domination. They feel whites have maintained control over the island - and reaped the benefits of its multi-million dollar tourist industry - through such practices as voter registration based on land ownership, questionable electoral boundary changes, and the speedy granting of resident status to white immigrants.

Over one-third of the Bermuda work force of 27,000 has been "mported" to fill the choice technical and management level jobs, while scores of educated blacks - some even with advanced degrees from schools like Stanford and Howard - pack crates and drive taxis, "working their way up."

Many whites fail to see this is a problem.

"We have a black gal, she was 19 when we met her, and she made a tremendous impression on us," said K. Fenton Trimingham, Jr., President of Trimingham Bros. Ltd., and exclusive Front Street department store.

Trimingham, dressed in the traditional sportcoat, tie, Bermuda shorts and knee socks, told how his firm had trained her in "every aspect of our business.

"Now, at 23, she is an assistant buyer in the largest department of our store," he said . "This is the kind of thing that can happen if we work together."

In Trimingham's view, the problem facing Bermuda is that "race is politics.

"There are elements on the island that are fanning racial flames, making statements that are racially abrasive to all. A good ideal of this racial unrest is being imported from other parts of the world," he declared "I would say that most of them [Bermuda's blacks] don't realize how good they really have it here."

But while this may look on the surface as if it is indeed the case, an influential Commonwealth study group called the Round Table disputed this view last year.

The group, headed by professor Jeyaratan Wilson, a lecturer in political science at the University of New Brunswick, produced a "Black Caucus report" that concluded:

"Affluence and racial disharmony characterize the artifical society that is Bermuda. Until the end of the Second World War, Bermuda was essentially a farming and fishing community.

"Then came tourism, the tax haven and internation finance which changed the economic situation to one of boom and prosperity. But wealth does not descend to lower levels of the social structure which is largely black. Therein lies the potential for conflict."