About Our Collection

The Museum collection is as diverse in subject matter as it is in material. NMB holds over 75,000 objects, which include historic documents, photographs, plans & maps, art, archaeological finds (including shipwreck artifacts), small watercraft, large cannon, and relics of Bermudian activities spanning over four centuries.

Even the historic military buildings that house the Museum are part of the collection! What ties everything together is that all the objects relate to aspects of Bermuda’s unique cultural heritage.

Featured Exhibit

Golden Rule, 1849

In 1849, 58 emigrants from the island of Madeira arrived in Bermuda on the brigantine Golden Rule. This, the first of many such voyages from Madeira and other Portuguese Atlantic islands, was underwritten by the Bermuda government to promote the importation of agricultural labourers. Thousands of Portuguese immigrants followed over the next century and a half.

Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Juan de Bermúdez, a Spanish captain who spotted the uninhabited island on his way back to Spain after dropping off slaves in the West Indies. Bermuda, however, was not colonised for another century, although numerous ships came to grief on her treacherous encircling reefs. This Ligurian blue on blue majolica plate was recovered from the San Pedro, which shipwrecked at Bermuda in 1596 on her return voyage to Spain from Cartagena, Columbia.

Majolica Plato, c. 1570s

After Bermuda’s settlement by the English in 1612, Bermuda was prominently featured in many maps, because it served as a colonial way station. English merchant ships and privateers stopped at Bermuda to re-provision, discharge cargo and passengers, and load colonial products bound for England and the American and West Indian colonies.

This rare map of the northeastern seaboard of America is the first time the name Manhattan was included on a printed map.

Map of Bermuda, c.1630 By Johannes De Laet

This sterling silver mace of the Bermuda Court of Vice Admiralty was made in 1697 by London goldsmith Anthony Nelme, and brought to Bermuda in 1701 by Governor Benjamin Bennett. Bennett, who arrived after a period of lawlessness and weak government, also used the oar in the absence of any other token of his legal supremacy, and it became the ceremonial mace of the Island Council. The Court of Vice Admiralty had jurisdiction over ship and sea related matters, including crimes at sea, piracy, privateering, ship wrecks and other claims against ships and their owners.

Silver Admiralty oar, 1697

The Bermuda Sloop was the foundation of Bermuda’s 18th-century maritime economy. These single-masted, cedar vessels were fast, light and resistant to rot and shipworm, making them ideal trading vessels. They were highly prized by merchants, as they could carry heavier cargoes, draw less water and were much faster than rival carriers. They were equally sought after by privateers, pirates and navies for the same reasons.

Bermuda sloop model, 2005 By Deryck Foster

Rear Admiral Cockburn gave this brooch to a Mrs. Outerbridge to commemorate her husband’s daring feat of piloting the Royal Naval fleet through the difficult North Rock Passage during the War of 1812. The fleet carried the troops responsible for the attack on Washington in August 1814, when the British occupied the city and set fire to many public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. Pilot Outerbridge was likely a King’s Pilot, one of a select few entrusted with bringing the Royal Navy’s valuable and vulnerable warships through Bermuda’s treacherous reefs.

Silver and glass brooch, 1814

The seal is a remnant of the first venture in racially integrated schooling in Bermuda. St. Paul’s was established in 1853 through the efforts of Reverend William C. Dowding, and was an inspiration to the founders of The Berkeley Educational Society some 25 years later. It offered a curriculum of Latin, Greek, Euclid, French, Spanish, Geography, History, Drawing and Vocal Music, but closed three years later in 1856.

The Seal of St. Paul’s College, c. 1853

Shore whaling in Bermuda was carried out for 340 years as a seasonal small-scale industry. Whales provided oil for lamps, bones for tools, meat for food, skin for leather and occasionally ambergris which commanded a high price in the overseas perfume and cosmetics industries. Once a whale carcass was stripped of its meat—known as “sea beef”—the blubber was boiled in vats to extract oil for burning in lamps. This ladle was used to skim the oil from the vat as it rose to the surface.

Whaling Ladle, c. Late 19th Century

A set of standard weights was kept in every parish in Bermuda to check the accuracy of weights used by local merchants for measuring bulk goods such as flour, sugar and grain. The ‘C A’ stamp with the broad arrow indicates that the measure was procured for the Bermuda Government by the Crown Agents, who acted on behalf of the colonies.

Standard Weight, 1888

The famous English author Rudyard Kipling, best known for writing Jungle Book, visited Bermuda in 1895 and stayed at the Princess Hotel. Writers, artists, socialites and intellectuals were making their way to the island after reports of Princess Louise’s visit in 1883 piqued the interest of America’s elite. This letter from Kipling was written to his friend Captain E T Bayley, who had left Bermuda a matter of days before Kipling arrived. Kipling wrote about his disappointment and noted that “Bermuda must be a particularly god forsaken hole as a military station but it is amusing to play in for a few weeks…”

Letter from Rudyard Kipling, 1895

During the Boer War, the British POW camps in South Africa were at bursting point, and Britain began to use its colonies for housing surplus prisoners. In 1901, 4,619 Boer prisoners of war were shipped to Bermuda to be incarcerated on the islands of the Great Sound. This cedar bugle was carved by a POW detained on Burts Island, which was reserved for the “Irreconcilables”— the prisoners who protested most ardently against British rule in South Africa.

Cedar Bugle, 1901

In 1900, a wave of West Indian immigrants arrived in Bermuda to work on a massive renovation and extension of the Royal Naval Dockyard, involving land reclamation, harbour dredging, and bridge, breakwater and wharf construction. The ‘Dockyard Extension Works’ took five years and required scores of skilled carpenters, masons and other labourers. By 1901, West Indians numbered almost 20 percent of Bermuda’s population.

Photograph of Building the Dockyard Extension, 1902

For over a century, sailors have raced to Bermuda from the US east coast in the Bermuda Race, the oldest regularly scheduled amateur ocean race. It was started in 1906 by Thomas Fleming Day, the controversial editor of The Rudder magazine, who set out to prove that amateur sailors could race offshore in boats under 80ft in length. This 1909 trophy was presented by George S. Runk, Esq., and was won by Dr. Leedom Sharp on the schooner Restless.

Bermuda Race Trophy, 1909

Bermudian Sgt Granville Burton Williams served in Co B, 317th Eng Bn, 92nd Inf Div of the US Army (the Buffalo Soldiers), the only African American unit to see action in World War 2. Williams was poshumously awarded the Purple Heart after he lost his life on May 2, 1945 in northern Italy while he and others in the 317th Engineer Corp were clearing mine fields. That same day, a ceasefire officially ended hostilities in Italy.

The Purple Heart Medal, c. 1945

Horse and carriage rides were an iconic part of the 20th century Bermuda tourism experience, and a regular mode of travel for wealthier Bermudians, until the passage of the Motor Car Act in 1946. Public carriages—defined as horse drawn vehicles for hire—were required under law to be registered: this licence plate indicated that the carriage had passed inspection and was structurally and mechanically sound and in reasonably good order and condition.

Public Carriage Licence, c. 1950

Byllee Lang, an established Canadian sculptor, arrived in 1945 for a vacation and fell in love with Bermuda. The following year, she made the island her home. For over 20 years she was an integral part of the arts scene, breaking down racial barriers by holding Bermuda’s first mixed-race art classes in her studios, at a time when schools were segregated. She trained and inspired a generation of local artists including Vivenne Gardner, Shirley Pearman, Elizabeth Ann Trott, and Carlos Dowling.

Pig Statuette, c.1960 by Evelyn Fay ‘Byllee’ Lang (1908-1966)

Swizzle sticks were typically used in hotel bars in the mid-20th century—the Swizzle Inn at Blue Hole is said to have served its first rum swizzle in 1932. This unusual five-pronged example, made out of a Surinam cherry twig, was used to mix drinks at the Bermudiana Hotel in Hamilton.

Swizzle Stick, c. 1960

From the San Pedro, 1596

This indigenous combat weapon, capable of causing massive head trauma, is thought to be from the coast of Guiana and represents early contact between Europeans and indigenous South Americans. Indigenous weapons were highly prized in Western Europe for their rarity and exoticism and were often sent back with returning European gold and trading fleets.

The San Pedro wrecked on Bermuda’s reefs in 1596 while homeward-bound from Cartagena, Columbia to Cádiz, Spain. The 11-year old, 350-ton nao was sailing in the Nueva Espana Fleet, one of two Spanish fleets carrying most of Spain’s trade with the Americas, and was heavily armed. Her passengers and precious cargo included gold, silver, jewelry, and other New World products and souvenirs.

War Club

From the San Pedro, 1596

This bowl represents some of the earliest Chinese export plates and bowls intended to be shipped through the New World to Spain. Unlike fine porcelain produced in imperial kilns for the Chinese Emperor and his court, export porcelains were roughly finished and often feature flaws and imperfections. The base of the bowl bears the Chinese mark meaning ‘beautiful vessel of highest grade’.

Chinese Porcelain Bowl

From the San Pedro, 1596

Standard gear in the ship surgeon’s kit, mortars, and pestles were used to grind and mix ingredients to make medicine. The Latin inscription around the mortar translates to ‘Peter Vanden Ghein made me in 1561’. Beyond revealing the mortar’s maker to be from a long line of renowned Dutch founders, the mortar offers a terminus post quem—or earliest possible date—for the wreck.

Bronze Mortar & Pestle

From the Sea Venture, 1609

Tobacco was first brought to Britain in 1573 by Sir Francis Drake and was still considered a luxury item in the early 17th century. The small bowl of this pipe reflects the high price of tobacco: as tobacco prices decreased, the size of pipe bowls increased.

The Sea Venture, the flagship of a fleet sailing from Plymouth to Jamestown Virginia with colonists and much-needed supplies, survived a hurricane only to wreck on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609. The castaway crew and colonists spent the ensuing 10 months at Bermuda building two vessels to resume their voyage. Their arrival would save Jamestown, and their accounts of the storm and Bermuda would capture England’s attention, leading to the Island’s permanent colonisation in 1612.

Clay Pipe

From the Sea Venture, 1609

‘Bellarmine’ jugs like these were imported to England from production centres along the river Rhine in Germany. The smaller jug dates to 1580, and the larger to 1600. The stylised face on the jugs came to be associated with Robert Bellarmine, an Italian Cardinal who opposed the Protestant split from
the Catholic Church.

Salt-Glazed Stoneware Jugs

From the Sea Venture, 1609

Used for medicines, salves, ointments, and plant material. Similar sherds are the most common items found in the earliest parts of Jamestown Fort, Virginia.

English Delft Gallipot or Ointment Pot

From the Sea Venture, 1609

Typical of weights used by merchants to measure out bulk goods, this 1 lb weight is marked with a crowned ‘EL’ for the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), and the sword of St. Paul—the mark of the City of London.

Lead Merchant Weight

From the Sea Venture, 1609

The clasped hands or ‘hands in faith’ are symbolic of a contract between two people, representing commitment, friendship, and love.

Gold Ring

This is a urethral syringe, used to administer doses of mercury for treating syphilis. Long-term or frequent use led to poisoning, loss of balance, and blurred vision. Larger syringes were used for enemas in the treatment of constipation or dysentery.

Pewter Syringe

From the San Antonio, 1621

Olive jars were mainly used as liquid and small victual shipping and storage containers for items such as olives, grapes and wine. By examining the shape and form of an olive jar, an archaeologist can determine a precise date range of manufacture, making olive jars important tools for dating shipwrecks.

San Antonio, a Spanish nao, sailing home to Spain from Cartagena with a New World cargo of hides, timber, dye and treasure, was driven onto the western reefs during a storm in 1621.

Olive Jar


From the San Antonio, 1621

This fine dining salt cellar (salero) would have been used by the elite. Majolica, a blue and white tin-glazed decorative pottery, was quintessentially Iberian, and symbolic of high status in 16th century Spain and Portugal.

Majolica Salt Cellar

From the Galgo, 1639

Gold signet rings became increasingly popular from the 17th century as the ultimate portable mark of distinction. The ring bears a coat of arms of a crown sitting above a shield and may have been used with sealing wax to stamp letters.

The small, fast, pattachuelo El Galgo and the much larger store ship La Viga, two of the support vessels in the Tierre Firme Flota, were driven onto the Bermuda reefs by a hurricane on October 22, 1639. The 160 survivors stayed in Bermuda until February, and on their return to Europe, told of their treatment at the hands of their Bermudian hosts who charged exorbitant rates for room, board, and passage off the Island.

Gold Signet Ring

From ‘Manilla’ wreck site, c. 1730s

Trade beads were made in Europe—mainly in Venice, Bohemia (Czech Republic), and the Netherlands—and used as a trading currency in Africa by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly in, the slave trade. African exporters sold products such as ivory, palm oil, and captive humans in exchange for inexpensively manufactured beads. Glass was rare in Africa, making the beads unusual and precious.

The wreck site is named after the number of excavated ‘manilla’ bracelets as no ship remains were found. Based on the material objects from the site, the wrecked vessel is thought to have been involved in the slave trade with the Dutch West Indies Company as an armed escort rather than a carrier of slaves.

Glass Beads

From the L’Herminie, 1838

L’Herminie was one of the last frigates built before the shift to auxiliary steam power in French warships. She wrecked at Bermuda in 1838 after providing naval support to the French when diplomatic relations soured with Mexico. She was part of a squadron that blockaded Veracruz and other Mexican ports.

Many of her contents spilled onto Bermuda’s reef and included military-related objects, such as this officer’s gorget or ornamental armour collar, marked with an anchor.

Gorget Breast Plate

From the Constellation, 1943

Six of 400,000 drug ampules containing adrenaline, anti-tetanus serum, opium, morphine, and penicillin were part of the cargo of the Constellation—a four-masted schooner that transported lumber, coal, and other commodities along the eastern seaboard.

In 1943, the Constellation wrecked on Bermuda’s reefs near Western Blue Cut after attempting an unplanned stop for repairs en route to Venezuela from New York.

Drug Ampoules, c. 1940s

Browse Exhibits

Experience the stories of Bermuda’s past—all housed in the island’s largest fort.

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Learn more about NMB’s beautiful and unique spaces and venue hire options.

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