VISITING THE MUSEUM
GUIDE TO EXHIBITIONS
Bermuda’s Defence Heritage: The dynamic history of Bermuda’s
fortifications, local military forces and war veterans.
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!
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
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.
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.
Shifting House Office
Exhibition hall closed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
/ Tel 441-234-4464 / Fax 441-234-4992
1849 Shell House
Exhibition hall closed.
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.
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.
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.
Museum staff only
Artifacts from the Museum’s collections are carefully
conserved and restored in this facility.
Museum staff only
The Museum’s extensive collections are catalogued, cared
for, researched and stored here.
Museum staff and official business only
High Cave Magazine
Prisoners in Paradise
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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