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Dolphin Quest
Swim with the dolphins at the Maritime Museum

 

 

 


Virtual Site Map

Museum buildings of the Lower Ground Buildings of the Upper Grounds
1 Queen’s Exhibition Hall 9 Dainty Exhibit/Westminster Palace Stone
2 Shifting House 10 Artifact Conservation Laboratory
3 Shifting Office 11 Commissioner’s House / Restrooms
4 Shell House 12 High Cave and Magazine
5 Forster Cooper Building A- G Bastions A to G and Magazines
6 Boatloft  
7 Restrooms  
8 Dolphin Quest  
   

VISITING THE MUSEUM

GUIDE TO EXHIBITIONS

Commissioner’s House Exhibits

Ground Floor
Bermuda’s Defence Heritage: The dynamic history of Bermuda’s fortifications, local military forces and war veterans.

First Floor
The Slave Trade and Slavery in Bermuda: The legacy of slavery and its dramatic impact on Bermuda.

The Azores & Bermuda: Five hundred years of Portuguese-Bermudian connections and culture.

Bermuda & the West Indies: The maritime, economic, and cultural links between Bermuda and the Caribbean.

A History of the Bermuda Race: The story of the century-old Newport-Bermuda Race, a tale of seaworthy oceangoing yachts, amateur sailors, and adventure at sea.

Destination Bermuda: A History of Tourism traces the Island industry's rise, decline, and ongoing reinvention.

Coin Collections: Major collections are displayed alongside intriguing vignettes on their production and significance to Bermuda history.

Note Collections: A new exhibition of Bermuda's paper money is coming soon!

The Pillared Hall: An exciting new installation in this dramatic stairwell is coming soon!

Second Floor

Historic Bermuda Collections: Temporary thematic exhibitions showcase selections from the Fay & Geoffrey Elliott Collection and other important collections of Bermudiana.

Rare Books: A growing collection of historic Bermuda, maritime, and military volumes on public display in an open storage library.

Royal Navy Collections: Items and furniture relating to the Royal Navy at Bermuda.

US Forces Collections: A tribute to the US Forces who served at Bermuda from 1941 to 1995.

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1850 Ordnance House / Queen’s Exhibition Hall
This magazine once stored 4,860 kegs of gunpowder beneath its exceptional raised-point vaulted ceiling. The non-sparking bitumen floor still shows impressions of the gunpowder keg racks that lined 10 bays, each bay with its own entrance and air vents. This hall is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II, who opened it in 1975.

NEW EXHIBIT: 'Shipwreck Island: Sunken Clues to Bermuda's Past

Find out about Bermuda's discovery and early settlement through a collection of 16th- and 17th-century shipwreck artifacts recovered from local waters.

1837 Shifting House / Treasure House
This building provided safe storage for ordnance stores–muskets, gunpowder–removed from ships, while they were being repaired or refitted in the outer yard. Facing the Keep Pond, it would have been a relatively easy operation to transport the stores in the ship’s boats to and from it. On exhibit is historic diving equipment, and artifacts recovered from 17th-Century wrecks, including the Sea Venture, which foundered at Bermuda in 1609 leading to the first settlement.

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1837 Shifting House Office
Exhibition hall closed.

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Keep Pond / Dolphin Quest
This enclosed waterway once served to transport ordnance stores from ships anchored in Grassy Bay to storage houses within the Keep, safely allowing for ship repairs or refitting in the outer Dockyard. The hanging portcullis gate operated by pulleys and a winch maintained security.

The Keep Pond is now the residence of the dolphins of Dolphin Quest. All Museum visitors may view the dolphins. Interactive programmes can be booked with Dolphin Quest at their office at the Keep Pond or contact www.dolphinquest.org / email dqbermuda@dolphinquest.org / Tel 441-234-4464 / Fax 441-234-4992

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1849 Shell House
Exhibition hall closed.

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1852 Ordnance House / Forster Cooper
A smaller version of the 1850 Ordnance House, this ammunition house has interconnected chambers with vaulted, whitewashed stone ceilings. This exhibition hall is dedicated to the memory of the late Forster Cooper, a Bermudian dedicated to the preservation of original Dockyard artifacts and the early development of BMM. The Royal Navy exhibit, Gibraltar of the West, describes the fascinating story of the Dockyard.

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1853/1890 Ordnance House / The Boatloft
Construction started in 1853, but was soon halted due to the Crimean War and Dockyard’s periodic epidemics of yellow. The building stood for about 40 years with only the lower floor complete. Around 1890 the second storey was added and finished with a wooden truss roof. It was used primarily as a workshop and for light stores, with a storekeeper’s office at the north rear.

Bermuda fitted dinghies, renowned worldwide for their large racing sails and spars and quick speed, are on display alongside other local watercraft. The Great Store House Clock, and exhibits on local maritime traditions such as fishing and turtling are also on display here.

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The Dainty-- Ocean Racer
This beautifully-restored 100-year-old Bermuda yacht enjoyed a colourful career as a racing vessel, an open water fisherman, and cruise ship.

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Artifact Conservation Laboratory
Museum staff only
Artifacts from the Museum’s collections are carefully conserved and restored in this facility.

Curatorial Department
Museum staff only
The Museum’s extensive collections are catalogued, cared for, researched and stored here.

Museum Offices
Museum staff and official business only

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High Cave Magazine

Prisoners in Paradise

 

Bastion A
Overlooking the Keep Yard and Keep Pond, Bastion A defended access to the watergate from the south, as well as the ditch and its caponier (a covered passage) at its immediate southwest flank. It once carried five 8-inch shell guns, and on the curtain towards Bastion B were three more guns of that calibre. On the curtain approaching Bastion A were a 24-pounder cannon and three 24-pounder carronades.

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Bastion B
This bastion provided the second and more northerly defence of the watergate and Keep Yard, protecting the southeast access. During the 1850s, it was also mounted with 8-inch shell guns.

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Bastion C
Five to six 24-pound cannons could have easily been situated at Bastion C, which protected access to the Dockyard from Grassy Bay. A 19th-Century drawing, made from Commissioner’s House, shows three cannons lined at the northern section of the fort, defending access from the reef-lined sea path into the Great Sound. Today two 10-inch RMLs found at the Dockyard Keep in the late 1980s stand at Bastion C.

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Bastion D
Six 24-pound cannons were once located at this bastion, designed to guard the northeast passage into Grassy Bay and the channel. In the late 1980s a spare 6-inch BL barrel was moved from St. David’s Battery by the US Navy for display at Bastion D.

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Bastion E
Marking the very tip of Ireland Island and Bermuda, this Bastion protects the northeast entrance from the natural entrances or ‘Cuts’ into the islands. It was once defended by one 32-pound cannon and one 24-pound cannon on the surface of the rampart behind the parapet. Two 6-inch BL barrels, a Mark II and possibly a Mark IV of the 1880s are now mounted at Bastion E.

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Bastion F
The bastion defends the northwest of the Dockyard. It shares, with Bastion G, a stone fortification wall that was mounted with eight 5-inch shell guns. On the south flank there were once two 24-pound cannons.

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Bastion G
Originally mounting six 32-pounders, Bastion G, located on the far side of the drawbridge to the Northwest Rampart, revealed a 24-pounder carronade in an embrasure.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Royal Naval Dockyard
The British naval base at the western end of Bermuda was constructed as a direct result of the independence of the English American colonies in 1783, when the British were left without a base between Halifax and the West Indies. The British soon identified Bermuda as a strategic mid-Atlantic location where a secure anchorage for the Navy’s fleet and a dockyard, victualling yard and ordnance depot to maintain the ships could be developed.

In 1795 a base was commissioned in the island’s east end at St. George’s, but it soon proved inadequate and the area known as Ireland Island in the west end was purchased by the Navy for the major naval base. Construction of the North America and West Indies Station, as the base eventually became known, began in 1809 and continued into the early 20th Century. Construction of the Dockyard–including its breakwaters, fortifications, storehouses, workshops, and barracks–was a monumental effort that involved large land reclamations and the labour of thousands of convicts from Britain.

Although it was removed from the rest of Bermuda in many ways, the Dockyard became a major factor in Bermuda’s economy, employing on average more than 1,000 Bermudians at one time in the 19th Century, accounting for more than 15 percent of Bermuda’s income. As a centre of marine technology and inventiveness, the Dockyard afforded generations of Bermudians first-rate training in plumbing, carpentry, and other trades.

In the early 1950s, the Royal Navy left the main Dockyard and most of the area was transferred to the Bermuda Government, though the naval base was not officially closed until 1995. After 1953 the Dockyard was used very little and left to various degrading forces. Yet as early as the 1960s the idea of a museum at Dockyard was ripening in some minds, and in 1975 Bermuda Maritime Museum was officially opened to the public in the fortress known as the Keep. By the early 1980s, the government began to restore the Dockyard as a cultural tourism destination, based in part on the success of the Maritime Museum. Today Dockyard is the most visited site in Bermuda, underscoring the value of architectural heritage to the tourism industry.

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The Keep
Separated from Dockyard proper by its massive bastions, the six-acre Keep is an enclave within an enclave. This enormous fortress, the largest in Bermuda, is the home of Bermuda Maritime Museum. Once the citadel of the Royal Naval Dockyard, the Keep was a proud symbol of British naval might, built to guard–in conjunction with other forts–the entire naval base against attack, whether by land or sea, and to be an arsenal.

The Keep’s seven irregular bastions and ramparts, reinforced at intervals by casemated gun emplacements, were designed by the Royal Engineers to offer sweeping views of Bermuda and the Atlantic. The lower grounds of the Keep contain a level area carved out of the hillside ranged around by long stone Georgian magazines and workshops. In 1857 the Keep’s sea service stores comprised two bombproof magazines for 6,540 barrels of powder, a shell store, a filling room and a shifting house. Lighters dispatched from the Keep Pond served the fleet at anchor in Grassy Bay by transporting munitions between ships and the Keep stores, so that ships were stocked with ammunition for combat, or conversely, safely empty of it while undergoing repair at the Dockyard.

For safety visitors must stay off and well away from rampart walls. The underground magazines are closed to the public at this time.

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Commissioner’s House
Edward Holl, Chief Architect of the Royal Navy, designed this extraordinary structure in 1822. Construction of Commissioner’s House began in 1823 and was complete by 1827. Like the White House in Washington DC, it was intended as a combination of private quarters, ceremonial residence and administrative offices for a high state official–in this case, the civilian resident commissioner in overall charge of the Dockyard. The House was occupied by Dockyard Commissioners from 1827 to 1837 and was then turned over to the Army, which retained control of it until 1862. The House served as the Royal Marine Barracks from 1862 to 1914 and as married quarters and barracks for naval ratings during the First World War. In 1919, the Commissioner’s House was formally commissioned as a ship, as per the naval tradition. The name HMS Malabar remained the Commissioner’s House designation until 1951 at the closing of the Dockyard. Prior to this, during the Second World War, Commissioner’s House served as Allied headquarters for North Atlantic submarine radio interception.

Commissioner’s House was designed with cast iron replacing all structural wood, and was the first residential building in history to utilise cast-iron framing. The floor framing, trusswork and verandah pillars are iron castings fabricated in England that were transported to Bermuda aboard sailing ships for assembly according to Holl’s plan. Like many other Dockyard buildings, the walls of Commissioner’s House are hard Bermuda limestone, which was quarried and shaped into blocks by convicts from Britain, and lesser numbers of local workers and slaves.

When the British left the Dockyard in 1951, the six-acre Keep and Commissioner’s House were left to decay until 1974 when the Bermuda Maritime Museum took responsibility for the historic buildings and grounds. Early on, the Museum committed to the restoration of Commissioner’s House. After 25 years and the efforts of many private and corporate donors and volunteers, the restoration of the building was achieved in 2000, adding elegant new exhibition and special events space to the Museum. Now seen as a major new asset for the cultural heritage of the Island, Commissioner’s House was the largest restoration project ever undertaken in Bermuda.

A variety of new exhibitions on Bermuda’s social and military history, and special collections are now on show inside. The Commissioner’s House is available for events rental.

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Visiting the Museum Exhibits Publications Membership Rentals Contact Us