Designed in 1822 by Edward Holl, the chief architect for the Royal Navy, Commissioner’s House was the first residential structure to use a cast iron frame. The prefabricated cast iron components, together with similarly pre-made fittings and joinery, were shipped out from England; the walls are of hard Bermuda limestone.
Work began in 1823, using slave and local labour, replaced in 1824 by British convicts. The House was largely completed by 1827—except for the verandahs—and for a few years provided the resident Commissioner or head of the Dockyard with private quarters, a ceremonial residence, and administrative offices.
Only a decade later the House was turned over to the Army, ending its short period as the Commissioner’s residence. The House served as a Royal Marine barracks from 1862 to 1914, and as married quarters and barracks for naval ratings during the First World War. In 1919, in keeping with its use as a naval establishment, the Commissioner’s House was formally commissioned as a ship, HMS Malabar. During the Second World War, Malabar served as Allied headquarters for North Atlantic submarine radio interception.
Commissioner’s House was abandoned when the Royal Naval Dockyard closed in 1951; by 1975, when the Museum took over the property, it was derelict. Restoration of the House—the largest such project ever undertaken in Bermuda—took 25 years, and the House was re-opened in 2000.
Exhibitions on display at Commissioner’s House