Historical site: The former Maritime Museum site has now been expanded from a 10-acre to a 15-acre site making it one of the largest museum sites in this hemisphere. *Photo supplied
Historical site: The former Maritime Museum site has now been expanded from a 10-acre to a 15-acre site making it one of the largest museum sites in this hemisphere. *Photo supplied

If you have never visited the National Museum of Bermuda (formerly the Bermuda Maritime Museum) or it has been a while since you have then the Cup Match holiday is the ideal time.

Where else could you uncover 500 years of Bermuda’s history enclosed within Bermuda’s largest fortress at Dockyard, take in one of the finest elevated walks in Bermuda, and view the dolphins at Dolphin Quest?

Dr. Edward Harris, the National Museum of Bermuda’s director, spoke of the changes being made to the former Maritime Museum. “The first is a geographic change as we are adding five extra acres to the property so the National Museum is now 15 acres, one of the largest museum sites in this hemisphere, and will encompass all the fortifications of the Dockyard and the buildings contained within the boundaries of the fortifications.

“This includes the Casemate Barracks and its ancillary buildings, the upper and lower ordinance yard buildings, one with a gunpowder magazines for the land service, that is the powder magazines used by soldiers manning the guns of the Dockyard, as opposed to the sea service, which were different magazines, so that is at the southern end of the complex. Also included is the Great Northwest Rampart, which connects the Casemate’s area to the present Museum, the original Bermuda Maritime Museum, which was a 10-acre site.”

Dr. Harris reminded us that the present Museum contains seven buildings of outstanding significance “and several of international importance in terms of heritage”.

Of particular importance is the Commissioner’s House, now fully restored and full of exhibits, including the Great Mural by Bermuda artist Graham Foster, which depicts 500 years of Bermuda’s history, and was officially opened last November by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The expansion of the Museum site has now afforded the opportunity for the Museum to encompass more of Bermuda’s history and heritage than before.

 “With the additional buildings, particularly Casemate Barracks, we intend to expand our range of exhibits, which we have been doing for some time, but this will give us the extra space to move beyond purely maritime subjects to other areas of Bermuda's history and heritage that are not covered in other institutions and exhibits,” Dr. Harris explained.

The Museum at present contains fascinating exhibits and collections of rare guns and shipwreck artefacts, which are displayed in eight buildings which once housed the Royal Navy.

In the exhibition halls on the lower floors one can learn about Spanish shipwrecks, the Sea Venture’s role in settling Bermuda, and as you examine the 200-year-old history of the Royal Navy in Dockyard you will understand why it was once called ‘the Gibraltar of the West’.

The award-winning Commissioner’s House

towers over Dockyard at its westernmost point. It has uninterrupted views of the entire Great Sound and North Shore and is the jewel in the crown of the Museum.

This impressive, restored 19th-century building is a major tourist attraction and houses cultural exhibits, where one can learn about the Atlantic slave trade, see exhibits of the United States Navy and its influence on Bermuda’s history, learn how Portuguese culture has impacted Bermuda, as well as exhibits that cover the exploits of our island’s war veterans. Also, there are interesting collections of rare maps and coins.

Walking tour

There is far more to the Museum than simply moving from one exhibit to another. “The whole site is going to be a wonderful area for walking tours,” said Dr. Harris.

“Commissioner’s House at the north end and the Great Casemate Barracks at the other, and the long promenade down the North West Rampart. That promenade is now open to the public  . . . people can now walk from the Museum directly up to the Casemate Barracks. They won’t be able to get into the Barracks until it is restored, but they can get up and have a look. And it is all an elevated area so there are great views over the Dockyard as you are doing your walking tour.”

The National Museum of Bermuda is open every day from 9.30am to 5pm, with the last admission at 4pm. Admission for adults is $10, seniors $8, and children under 13 are admitted free.

There is something for everyone at the Museum. Children have the bonus of seeing the dolphins at Dolphin Quest and coupled with the Museum’s other attractions make this a most interesting and enjoyable exploration of Bermuda’s history.