Ely’s Harbour, situated between the northwestern tip of Bermuda’s mainland and the southern end of Somerset Island, holds a captivating history. Protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a string of islands dotted around its mouth, it is an idyllic marine haven for boaters, and once upon a time, the mischievous pirate. Here are 5 facts you might not know about this West End harbour.
- Ely’s Harbour was named after English Colonist William Ely who settled in Bermuda in 1621. Not much is known about him, but the name ‘Ely’ carries historical significance in Britain.
- It is widely thought that Ely’s Harbour was Bermuda’s foremost port of entry for contraband goods. Its secluded waters acted as an area of refuge for incoming smugglers to unload their illicit cargo before heading east where they would later declare goods to customs in St. George’s.
- Local lore claims that bonfires were lit deliberately on the top of Wreck Hill to mimic the presence of a lighthouse, in an effort to lure ships into the shoreline where they would eventually wreck onto the northwest reefs. Once it was evident that the vessels and crew required assistance, it is believed that locals generously came to their rescue, and even more generously helped themselves to lucrative goods on board. As William Sydes pointed out in his book ‘Account of Life on the Convict Hulks’, “If a vessel is on the rocks, all the fishing boats make to her, weather permitting, to see what they can purloin. They rejoice as such misfortunes, and call her a “turtle in the net”, and all they try is to cause a confusion in the ship, so as to get a load and off.”
- In addition to the history that Ely’s Harbour holds, there is also some significance to be found in the houses that frame it, the most visible and prominent being ‘Wreck House’. This estate sits in stately grandeur on an expansive peninsula at the end of Wreck Road, and was previously known as ‘Flemish Wreck’ after a ship was wrecked on its shores in 1618. The first occupants included four generations of Jeremiah Burrows from 1663-1851, who had salt raking interests in the Turks Island. In more recent times, the estate has been owned by famous visiting residents such as Australian film producer Robert Stigwood who acquired the property in 1978. Some Bermudians might recall the lavish parties he would host from the properties private beachfront with performances by the Bee Gees, a renowned musical group which he managed at the time.
- While the harbour is home to several isolated islands, two are protected by the Bermuda National Trust. Palm Island and Morgan’s Island offer a historic glimpse into Bermuda’s natural environment pre-colonisation – untouched by mankind and densely populated with endemic plants and species. Today, this tranquil spot is popular among boaters, but if you do decide to drop anchor here, be careful not to leave any trash behind.