Formerly Bermuda Maritime Museum, this institution packing in five centuries of Bermuda’s heritage makes its home in The Royal Naval Dockyard. Housed in one of the few west-end forts, the museum is the largest in Bermuda and has extensive artefact collections. Exhibits include Bermuda’s shipwreck past, the history of the island’s defense, local history in the slave trade, the story of the first Portuguese settlers in Bermuda, how Bermudian culture was shaped by West Indian immigrants and how Bermudians colonised the Caicos Islands. Antique maps and historic Hogge Money – Bermuda’s first currency – are on display. The grounds are also home to a roaming flock of sheep that provide natural landscaping. The museum’s social media pages often lightheartedly chronicle the sheep’s adventures.
The National Museum of Bermuda is a non-government, not-for-profit Bermuda Registered Charity (No. 136), created by the Bermuda National Trust in 1974 as the Bermuda Maritime Museum. In 1978, an Act of Parliament formally established the Museum to promote, collect, preserve, research and exhibit Bermuda’s maritime history and restore the buildings of the Keep Fort.
Taking up the entirety of Dockyard’s 19th-century fortifications, the museum is divided into two main parts. The impressive Queen’s Exhibition Hall showcases the treasures found on 18 key shipwrecks. On the upper grounds, the world’s first cast-iron building – the Commissioner’s House – features displays on all aspects of Bermuda’s history, from slavery to Bermudian participation in WWII. Don’t miss the floor-to-ceiling mural inside the Commissioner’s House, a three-year labour of love by Bermudian artist, Graham Foster.
The shipwrecks – including the Sea Venture, which carried the original colonists – date between the 16th and 18th centuries. Pottery, armaments and goods from the Orient and South America have been salvaged from them, and a video allows you to watch underwater archaeologists in action.
The Keep fort was designed by the Royal Engineers to defend the channels and approaches to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Since 1975, the Keep has been transformed into an award-winning cultural and educational institution. The buildings, many of which are former ammunition storehouses, have been converted into exhibit, storage, office and event spaces.
Over the years, the Museum’s scope has expanded to encompass more than just maritime history. Today it is a vital custodian of Bermuda’s heritage and a champion for the preservation of Bermuda’s underwater and land-based cultural heritage through collecting, exhibitions, restoration, conservation, research, publication, education, public outreach and archaeology.
In 2009, the Government of Bermuda recognised the Museum’s national role with a change of name, formalised in December 2013 with the passage of the Museum Amendment Act, which officially created the National Museum of Bermuda. The Act also brought the remaining Dockyard fortifications under the Museum umbrella, including Casemates Barracks and the North West Rampart.
Throughout the entire month of February, local residents can take advantage of free entry to The National Museum of Bermuda.