The Royal Naval Dockyard was established as a direct result of Britain’s loss of the American colonies in 1783. Bermuda’s strategic location was ideal for bridging the distance between the Royal Navy’s Halifax and West Indies bases and providing support for the fleet.
Land was purchased in 1809, and construction of the Dockyard, involving extensive land reclamation and quarrying, soon began and continued for almost a century. At first, the work was carried out by local labourers and skilled workmen, slave and free, augmented in the first two years by captured French Caribbean slaves.
The War of 1812 briefly brought refugee and captured slaves from the American States and Spanish Florida to the workforce, but grander plans necessitated greater manpower, supplied from 1824 to 1863 by thousands of British convicts.
In its heyday, Dockyard provided storage and repair facilities for the Royal Navy fleet, supported a thriving naval and civilian community, and trained Bermudians in skilled trades.
The base was much reduced in size after 1951, when most of the Dockyard was transferred to the Bermuda Government, but the Navy maintained a small base at Bermuda until 1995. After decades of decay, Government began restoration of the Dockyard in the early 1980s, building on the success of the then 10-year-old Maritime Museum. By 2001, Dockyard was the most visited site in Bermuda, underscoring the value of built heritage to the tourism industry.
The Dockyard is currently under the management of the West End Development Corporation.