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Bermuda FlagNavy

Bermuda's Dockyard at Ireland Island, a Royal Navy base from 1815 to 1950s

Once protected British Atlantic and Caribbean islands from the USA, a convoy center in WW2, now chief cruise ships port

By Keith Archibald Forbes (see About Us) exclusively for Bermuda Online

line drawing

Royal Navy in Bermuda

Other files on Bermuda by this author relating to military matters and civil aviation include Airlines serving Bermuda - American Bases in Bermuda from 1941 to 1995  - Bermuda Aviation History Pioneers Civilian and Military - Bermuda International Airport.

Royal Navy Dockyard, Bermuda

Royal Navy Dockard, civilianized in the 1950s

Above, centre. As it looks today, a far cry from its original purpose dating back to 1795 as a fortified Royal Navy Dockyard following Britain's defeat by the USA in the 1776 to 1783 American Revolution. 

Early history as a Royal Navy Base

Royal Navy off Dockyard Admiral Horatio Nelson Royal Navy buildings

1783

1794

1795

1802-1804

St. George's was abandoned as a Royal Navy Base, then temporarily reopened with Mr. Dunsier in charge.

1803

Bermuda sloop early 19th century

1804

Thomas Moore arrived in Bermuda. During his four month stay and work as an official with the Admiralty he met and had a love affair with Hester Tucker, whom he called "Nea" in his love poems. Otherwise, he was quite bored. Unfortunately for him, his Bermuda stay led to many financial problems for him, through no fault of his own but for which he was blamed for the cheating of another. Tom Moore's Tavern was later named after him. In Ireland, he is never referred to as "Tom Moore, always as Thomas Moore.

1805

The Bermuda-cedar built in 1799 HMS Pickle, original merchantman or privateer, acquired by the Royal Navy in 1803 in Jamaica and fitted with cannon as a  sloop of war (known as Sting when constructed) played a unique role in the Battle of Trafalgar in which the Royal Navy, with 448 dead  and 1,241 wounded, soundly defeated the French. Their navy had 4,408 dead, 1,545 wounded and lost 23 of their 33 ships in the battle. HMS Pickle, built of Bermuda cedar wood, was the fastest and one of the hardiest ships in the Royal Navy. Thus it was chosen to cover the 1,000 mile journey from Cape Trafalgar to England with exclusive news of the battle. It was a 9-day journey, during which the ship ran into a gale. On arrival at Falmouth, the officer with the dispatch raced to Whitehall in London by horse and carriage. He arrived at 3 am. Prime Minister William Pitt, the King and Royal Family and newspapers, were awoken to hear the news of the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. The Bermuda Sloop, developed on the island, was the fastest boat afloat in the 1700s and became highly desirably to seaman, particularly those in illegal trades such as piracy, and for privateering and as advice vessels for the Royal Navy. Bermudians used their ships for commerce and travel between the island, the Caribbean, the continental Americas and wider afield and they were manned by men from all sectors of the community, free and slave, the latter until Emancipation in 1834.

1806

HMS Tourterelle, formerly a French warship until captured, anchored at St. George's as a Receiving Ship.

1807

1808

1809

1810

1811

The Royal Navy's first Bermuda Commodore Superintendent, Commodore Andrew Evans, hoisted his Broad Pennant on HMS Tourterelle. 

1812

1813

1814

Fleet of Dockyardwooden Royal Navy ship 2

Royal Navy ships en route to attacking the USA at anchor off Dockyard, 1814

White House August 25, 1814, burnt by British forbes

The White House after it was torched by British forces in revenge for the US burning of Yorktown now Toronto

1815

1816

Dockyard fortifications 1818

Dockyard Fortifications 1818 as completed by Colonel James Robertson Arnold, son of Benedict Arnold, in 1816.

1817

1818

1819

1820

A Steam factory, Smithery and Storehouses were established at Dockyard.

1821 

1822

1823. British Convicts began to arrive on Prison Hulks

Dockyard 1828

Dockyard with prison hulk

Bermuda Marime Museum 2

1824

Painting of prison hulk by Edward K. James, 1863Painting of burning prison hulk by Edward K. James 1963Royal Navy at Dockyard

1825

1826 

1827

1828

Prison hulk Weymouth arrived.

1847 Dockyard hulk02

Weymouth and other prison hulks in 1828

1829

1830

1831

1832

1833

1834

1836

A hurricane breached the North East Breakwater and stopped work on Timlin's Narrows.

1837

1838

1839

1840

1841

1842

dockyard 1856

Image shows dockyard further taking shape, with Victualling Yard being built

1843

1844

1845

RN Dockyard May 1847 by Captain Sir Michael Seymour

1846

1847

RN Dockyard May 1947 a

Royal Navy Dockyard by Gaspar Le Merchant Tupper

Royal Naval Dockyard again by Gaspar Le Merchant Tupper

Royal Navy Dockyard, Bermuda, May 1847

1848 

1848 woodcut of HM Dockyard at Ireland Island, Bermuda

1848 woodcut showing Medway and other prison hulks moored off Ireland Island, Bermuda

1849

1850

Dockyard fortifications 1840s

1851

1852

1855

1856

Clocktower Mall

1857

1858

1859

1865

1869

Royal Naval Dockyard 1865

Above and below. Royal Naval Dockyard 1869, showing the Floating Dock

Bermuda Floating Dock 1869

Bermuda's first Floating Dock for HM Dockyard with vessel inside. Thomas Dutton, artist and engraver. Original in the National Maritime Museum, London

Floating Dock 1

Floating Dock 2

Floating Dock arrives in Bermuda 1869

Royal Navy floating dock in Bermuda (37252 bytes)

Bermuda Floating Dock

Location of the Bermuda Floating Dock

She was towed out by the HMS Agincourt and HMS Northumberland as far as Porto Santo, Madeira, where HMS Warrior (Britain's first iron-hulled battleship, built in Blackwall on the River Thames in 1860 as a counter to the naval ambitions of Emperor Napoleon III of France, the fastest, largest, strongest and best-armed warship in the world but by 1869 she was obsolete (but in May 2018 this author saw her in Portsmouth Harbour, restored) and HMS Black Prince took over. With HMS Terrible and a small gunboat fast astern, the voyage took 35 days. The ships and the floating dock arrived off Ireland Island on July 28. The floating dock lay in Grassy Bay until the following April when it was brought to the North Basin and moored against the Great Wharf.

As a functioning Dockyard, this facility had ammunition depots, deep water berths, barracks, chapels, soldiers and sailors to guard it. The soldiers were based at the fort here, the largest in Bermuda (now the Bermuda Maritime Museum).

Bermuda Floating Dock 1902 Royal Navy in Bermuda

1870s

1880-1885

Royal Navy Dockyard Bermuda,  Penny's Drawing

1881

1887

1900

1901

HMS Hotspur

HMS Hotspur at Bermuda 1901

1902

1903

1914 World War 1 or Great War

1917

RN personnel Admiralty House Bermuda 1917

Bermuda Dockyard 1920s

How the Dockyard looked then

Admiralty House, Pembroke Parish Royal Navy officer

Admiralty House, in Pembroke Parish, where the Admirals lived and had their offices

1928

1933 

HMS Malabar

1939. New Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) on Boaz Island

May 25. When the Fleet Air Arm was reconstituted as a branch of the Royal Navy, rather than an RAF detachment, the process of replacing them with naval personnel began. Its purpose as a station was to oversee the equipment and detachments to the naval vessels operating from the colony, within the Dockyard proper (on the dock beside the Stores building, on Ireland Island. It was how the new small Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) in Bermuda began. From then on, all Royal Navy military aircraft became part of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). They included a number of Hawker Osprey, Fairey Seafox and Supermarine Walrus seaplanes. Because the facilities at HMS Malabar referred to above was far too limited, and placed in the busiest part of the base, it was decided to relocate it to Boaz Island, one of the under-used appendages to the Ireland Island facility. Here, two slipways were built, allowing the use of the Great Sound or the open waters to the west, depending on whether the winds blew from West or East. Two hangars were also built, and a workshop, though the full plans for the facility were never realized. The RAF handed operations over to the Royal Navy on 3rd September, 1939-co-incidental with the re-location to Boaz Island ( and the same day volunteer units were mobilized in preparation for declaration of war on 8 September). Some RAF personnel were to remain until 1940 when 718 Squadron was disbanded and the remainder of its personnel were posted elsewhere. Fleet Air Arm (FAA) members were key players. See the book "The Flying Boats Of Bermuda" by Colin A. Pomeroy

1939 to 1945 World War 2 years Battle of the Atlantic

On patrolSinking ship Supply ship Aviator from base WW2 defence

1946 

1902-1946 Bermuda Floating Dock

Departure of 1902-1946 Bermuda Floating Dock.

Royal Navy Dockyard 1948

Royal Navy Dockyard 1948

1948

1949

1950

1951

September 1960 to September 1961. HMS Rothesay was based Royal Navy Dockyard at Ireland Island. Crew enjoyed periodic station leave at the-then un-used former British Army camp near Horseshoe Beach, in between patrols covering the whole of North and South America. They enjoyed the hospitality of the local people. One crew member spent a few days with a local family over Christmas 1960 (when then was a brief appearance of snow, usually unheard of in Bermuda) and attended Mass with them on Christmas Eve.

When the Royal Navy left, it became the main Bermuda corrections center (prison) for convicted criminals until 1995. There was even an execution or two here in the 1960s and 1970's.  It was such a damp, forbidding, gloomy place that the Bermuda Government built a brand new prison nearby, to make it more humane. The old building is still there, not used at this time. 

1961-62. HMS Londonderry was based at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Ireland Island during her first commission and the ships company have very many happy memories of Bermuda and the hospitality that was afforded them whilst there.

1985. The South Basin was dredged to allow nuclear submarines to come into the South Yard

2017. April 10. The last of Dockyard’s historic naval emblems were painted over as part of the major renovation project on the South Basin. For decades navy crews proudly painted their ships’ crest on the concrete walls surrounding the South Yard where the vessels berthed. Between 1951 and 1995 scores of vessels from across the world passed through Bermuda and left their mark in the West End. Over the years the crests have faded away or were whitewashed during redevelopment of the Dockyard (However, since  2009, available on our website at www.bermuda-online.org/rndshipscrestswalls.htm). Much proud old dockyard heritage was lost in the clearing of the South Yard of the old Royal Naval Dockyard for the erection of buildings for the teams competing in the America’s Cup   Between the 1920s and the 1940s the yard was used for basic repairs on passing naval ships. This continued throughout the Second World War while Bermuda was used as a base for the Allied forces. The South Yard remained the Royal Navy’s base in Bermuda for the next four decades. In 1985 the South Basin was dredged to allow nuclear submarines to come into the South Yard and ten years later the Royal Navy left Bermuda and the South Yard was handed over to the Bermuda Government. Scores of naval ships left their mark in the South Yard between 1951 and 1995 including well known vessels such as HMS Brilliant and HMS Londonderry that have since been decommissioned. And even before then in April 1943 HMS Argonaut famously called into the South Yard for repairs after having her entire stern and part of her bow blown off by an Italian submarine. 

2017. May 20. Renovations to Dockyard’s historic Moresby House have been completed. The building was constructed in 1899 as the residence of the Office-in-Charge of Works. Later called HMS Malabar, it has remained empty since the Royal Navy left Dockyard in 1995. Craig Cannonier, Minister of Public Works, said the “remarkable” restoration was a “fitting tribute” to the building’s history. “I am extremely pleased with the work the contractors have done in such a short space of time,” the One Bermuda Alliance MP said yesterday. “To think that I was here only a few months ago touring a dilapidated building and now to see it today is truly amazing.” Andrew Dias, general manager at West End Development Corporation, said the landmark building had fallen into disrepair. “It was always our intention to make sure this historic building was restored and with the help of a grant from the Ministry of Public Works, work has now been finished,” he said. Wedco received a $3 million grant from the Government for the project. Mr Dias, who previously told The Royal Gazette that the project would be completed by April 20, said he was “delighted” with the final product. Restoration work was completed by Overnight Construction and Strike force, and was completed on budget. The building will be rented as a commercial space after the completion of the America’s Cup.

2016. March 16. Improvements to the Royal Naval Dockyard continue ahead of the America’s Cup with more than $10 million invested into the historic site over two years. Projects include renovations to the Glassworks building, work on the Sail Loft, the Spar Lane apartments and Prince Alfred Terrace, according to the West End Development Corporation. “This last year and for the coming year, Wedco will have spent $10m on improving buildings,” chairman Ray Charlton said. “It has been a busy year and it is about to get even busier.” Mr Charlton was speaking at the sixth annual pre-season breakfast held at Bone Fish Grill, in Dockyard. Wedco General Manager Andrew Dias added that a $900,000 renovation of the Glassworks building would soon be completed and that work on Cross Island was on schedule, with piling in its final phase and the area should be completely finished by the end of June. “We have stayed on deadline and on budget,” he added. According to Wedco, improvements on the Sail Loft cost $500,000, while the Spar Lane Apartments has seen a $300,000 investment. Meanwhile, Prince Alfred Terrace will have benefited from $3.5 million, the hangar building on Boaz Island from $300,000, North Basin building 4 from $1 million, Detached Cottage 7 from $300,000 and Moresby Plains Road will have seen a $200,000 investment. Mr Dias added: “Wedco’s mandate is to look after and improve the beautiful and historic buildings in the Royal Naval Dockyard and these projects, including the infill at Cross Island, have been in the pipeline for several years and I am delighted that people can now see the benefits of all our work.” Mr Dias said that by the end of 2016, Wedco will have reached a milestone in that every historic building inside the North Basin will be wind and waterproof, apart from the Victualling Yard and associated buildings, which are being looked at under a Memorandum of Understanding. “In Bermuda, that is an extremely large task and we, at Wedco, are very pleased with that. It has been a busy and challenging eight or nine months for us but this is going to be a great season. The season will continue to build towards the America’s Cup and we want to deliver a product for Bermuda that all of us can be proud of.”

2017. March 9. More than $10 million has been invested in renovating historic buildings at Dockyard ahead of the America’s Cup. The money has been used to make new office space and upgrade homes. Andrew Dias, General Manager at the West End Development Corporation (WEDCO), said: “The work was always in the pipeline but was given fresh impetus as a result an insurance payout from recent hurricanes and the America’s Cup. Many of the buildings being renovated will be used by people from the America’s Cup as well as the ACBDA team, but after that, they will be available to locals. We always wanted Dockyard to be a vibrant, 24/7 place and hopefully these developments will go some way towards that ambition. We are investing an enormous sum of money and we will see the transformation or protection of many buildings. When finished, we anticipate that it will be home to a range of commercial activities adding even more life and more attractions to Dockyard. People will be able to work, rest and play in the Royal Naval Dockyard.” Some of the major restorations include work on Prince Alfred Terrace which is being renovated and restored to apartments at a cost of approximately $4.5 million. Once the renovations, which include a complete interior restoration including additional bathrooms and layout improvements, have been completed, first use will go to the ACBDA until the end of the America’s Cup. The Spar Lane Apartments are being given a new lease of life and once work is finished they will again be used as homes. Moresby House, or HMS Malabar, is being restored and will be office space, the Sail Loft has been restored and will also be available for use after the America’s Cup. The old Police Barracks is enjoying a new life as home to Artemis Racing, one of the teams taking part in the America’s Cup. As well as major work, Wedco has tended to less obvious projects including roof upgrades, asbestos removal and electrical, plumbing and painting work. North Basin Building #10 — the Canvas Shop — on Smithery Lane, has been restored over a four-month period and North Basin Building #14 — West End Yachts — on Camber Road, has been restored. The North Basin Building #3 — the Anchor Restaurant — has also undergone renovation work including a roof replacement. Mr Dias added: “Dockyard is a very important part of Bermuda’s tourism product and it is imperative that we at Wedco do not stand still. We have to continually invest and reinvent ourselves to keep us ahead of the competition.”

Also see  WEDCO's http://www.thewestend.bm

Royal Navy ships under the overall command of the Admirals based at Admiralty House, Bermuda

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Royal_Navy_ships_in_North_America 

HMS Bermuda - ships by that name

From the 1800s to 1942, eight ships of the Royal Navy were named after Bermuda, including the mammoth Floating Dock of 1869, now rotting at Spanish Point. 

HMS Bermuda 1939 to 1965. A light cruiser of the Colony Class, launched in 1941, decommissioned in 1962, scrapped in 1965. Built by John Brown & Company at Clydebank, laid down in November 1938 and commissioned on August 21, 1942. Originally, the ship had 12 six-inch guns, anti-aircraft pieces and six torpedo tubes. During the war, she served in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic and Arctic and finally in the Pacific theatre. In later years, the vessel was a part of NATO, but was taken out of service in 1962. Some silver objects given to HMS Bermuda by the island are now at the Bermuda Maritime Museum. She visited Bermuda 3 times:1958, Jul 1959, and Feb 1962.

HMS Bermuda 1939-65

HMS Bermuda, Royal Navy photo

Admirals & Commanders in Chief, Bermuda of the Royal Navy

They were the first Bermuda based commanders of this Station.

North America & West Indian Station (as it then became)

North America Station (re-named)

North America & Lakes of Canada Squadron

St. Lawrence River and Coast of America 

North America & N.F.L.D

North America & West Indies Station

(Included Halifax).

1907-1914. Appointment lapsed officially

Held temporarily by Admirals commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron

America & West Indies Squadron (established 1 July, 1927, as the station HQ then became)

Western Atlantic Squadron

Station ended, but HMS Malabar continued. It shut  down officially in stages from 1953. Commanding Officers included Commander J. A. Startin, RN who served from 1986 to 1990.

Royal Naval Cemetery (The Glade)

Royal Navy Bermuda gravesIreland Island South in Sandys Parish. On Malabar Road, near Lagoon Park, approaching the former RN Dockyard. Phone: (441) 236-6483. Bus Routes: 7, 8.  Admission is free. The Royal Navy purchased the land where the cemetery sits in 1809 and consecrated the ground in 1812. It reverted to the Bermuda Government in the late 1950s when the Royal Navy Dockyard here finally closed after approaching two centuries in Bermuda. Hallowed ground for officers and men Royal Navy in Bermuda from the 18th to 20th centuries. The cemetery grew in size and was open for burial to all until 1849 when convicts were excluded. Also known as ‘The Glade,’ it has memorials to many Royal Navy personnel from warships stationed here who died of the yellow fever that ravaged the British military in Bermuda during the mid-19th century. Maintained by the British War Graves Commission. Four Admirals were buried here. One was Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey, KCB, RN. He died in 1841 on May 28 at Bermuda at the age of 66. He had been stationed in Bermuda as Commander in Chief of the North American and West Indies Naval Forces. He was 66 years old. He was entombed under a fine monument later erected by his family, and subsequent descendants who added a text engraved on a brass plaque in 1957 (see larger photo below). His monument shows an 19th century warship wedged between two cannon and cannonballs.

Small photo above by this author Keith A. Forbes.

RN Cemetery 1957

The cemetery also records the numerous accidents that befell the young servicemen in Bermuda, including deaths during World War 2 when Bermuda was a transit point in the Battle of the Atlantic. Close to the road are final resting places of Royal Navy seamen who died on their ships in mid Atlantic actions near Bermuda during World War II against German pocket battleships and U-boats.

Prince Albert Terrace

Cockburn Road. 

2015. September 15. Bermuda's West End Development Company (Wedco), a Bermuda Government quango, is seeking planning approval to make improvements to Prince Alfred Terrace, while replacing the former Royal Navy Club with apartments. According to a planning application, viewable at the Department of Planning offices, Wedco is seeking to tear down the former Royal Navy Club — one part of the what had been the HMS Malabar shore station. The documents show two new buildings being erected on the Pender Road property, each containing two two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. The project would also include a parking area and a communal outdoor space between the new buildings. The Royal Navy Club building, erected in the 1880s, had served as the officers club before turning into the fleet canteen. While the building had been a Grade 1 listed building, it was formally delisted earlier this year. Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said the delisting was a “difficult decision”, but the building was in a considerable state of disrepair and plans were afoot to restore the neighboring historical buildings — the Bungalow, Star of India and Moresby House. Meanwhile, in a separate application, Wedco sought planning permission to make renovations at Prince Alfred Terrace. The project will include removing the existing asbestos roof, replacing all of the external doors and windows, installing new wooden pergolas and making other external improvements to the ageing building. Prince Alfred Terrace was first built in the 1840s to serve as married officer quarters for the Dockyard. The building reportedly suffered hurricane damage in last year’s twin hurricanes, and the proposed refurbishments are to bring the building to a “low to mid-level standard” for rental purposes. Wedco had previously announced that it had hoped to upgrade the Grade I listed building into 14 three-bed, two-bath units through a $3 million investment.

Bermuda Maritime Museum Old Royal Naval Dockyard. Telephone (441) 234-1333. Open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm, with last admission at 4:30 pm. There is a Board of Trustees, with local and overseas members; a Bermuda Maritime Museum Inc. in New York; and a Bermuda Maritime Museum Trust in London.
Bermuda Maritime Museum Association P. O. Box 73, Somerset, Sandys MA BX. RC 136
Royal Naval Association (Bermuda Branch) Meeting, Bermuda Sailors' Home, Richmond Road, Pembroke, call 236 6089 or 236 7177. Meets monthly. 

Today, longer a dockyard, it still uses the name. The berths and all buildings are civilian. It still handles the occasional hydrographic survey and cable laying ships. The facilities include locally owned shops and restaurants. Access is free, except to the Bermuda Maritime Museum. Go by bus, ferry, moped or taxi. 

Bibliography

"The Andrews And The Onions", by Lt. Commander Ian Strannack, RN, formerly based in Bermuda. The story of the Royal Navy in Bermuda.

Visitors Information Centres  (VIC)

West End Development Corporation (Wedco)

Dockyard. P. O. Box MA 415, Mangrove Bay, MA BX. Set up in 1982 to manage and develop 214 acres of Government-owned land in the West End, including Watford Island, Boaz Island, Ireland Island South and North, the small islands forming the Crawl off Ireland South and the North and South basins and breakwaters. Directors are political appointees. Revenue is generated from residential and commercial tenants plus berthing fees from the commercial and cruise ship docks. Mega cruise ships now dock there.

Hulks sent to Bermuda as convict prison ships included

Hulks sent to Bermuda as convict guard ships or hospital ships included: 

How used initially and subsequently. 

British Convict cemetery in Bermuda 

The British convict cemetery is behind Albert Row on Ireland Island South, via a left turn onto one way Cochrane Road (named after Admiral Cochrane). About 2,000 of the 9,000 convicts died here from yellow fever or other diseases and were buried there, but the graves of many are no longer visible. Note the Redman headstone in the grave yard at Boaz Island which reads "Killed One Day, Died the Next." Nearby, past a tall stone chimney, is a weathered limestone formation known as Pulpit Rock, from the convicts who were denied freedom of worship. Because of the social stigma in Bermuda attached to the convicts, 98% of those who survived elected to go back home to England or Wales or Scotland or Ireland, or emigrate to Canada or USA if they wished after they had served their sentences and at least partly at their own cost. In addition to building the Dockyard, they also constructed parts of Pembroke Parish, for example, the caves and secret hideout at Admiralty House. 

Few in Bermuda or the United Kingdom will admit they are descended from convicts, unlike in Australia where it has become a source of pride that many there are descended from men sent there as convicts for offences that today are so minor no-one is imprisoned at all.  But it is known that some - not many - of the wives and children were voluntarily transported to Bermuda so as not to completely break the family ties.

Trial records for convicts tried in England can be found not in Bermuda but at the London Public Record Office (PRO) in Kew or at the County Record Office responsible for the place where the trial occurred. Generally in the UK, for British convicts sent to Bermuda, Assizes Court records are held at the PRO while Quarter Sessions records are held in local County Record Offices.

For more information in Bermuda on the convicts, see the books:

Bermuda's Royal Navy Ships Crests Walls

Other military files by this author include

American military quit Bermuda in 1995

Bermuda Forts built by the British Army

British Army in Bermuda

line drawing

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Last Updated: December 11, 2018
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