Guns for the Princess of Denmark

In 1956, coastal defence was declared obsolete throughout most of the British possessions, including Bermuda. When the detachment of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry embarked at Hamilton in the early summer of the following year, the departure of the garrison signaled the end of a military purpose for the remnants of Bermuda's guns and fortifications. With the closure of the Royal Naval Base, HMS Malabar, on 31st March 1995, Bermuda's direct connection with a British military presence in the islands ceased, ending an association that began with the posting of a small garrison in 1701 and had endured nigh on 300 years. E.C. Harris, Bermuda Forts 1612-1957.

The year 1956 was a major turning point for military heritage at Bermuda, as the British garrison embarked for England, leaving behind in the hands of the then government of the island all of the fortifications built by the Royal Engineers from the 1790s until 1940. In 1956, the maintenance of those forts largely ceased and is from that date that their decay began, since there was little appreciation in Bermuda, or in many other places, of the heritage value of artillery fortifications.

Fortunately, the large works were immensely built and, until the removal of Fort Langton in 1984, resisted demolition and consignment to the dump of oblivion. A full appreciation of the legacy handed over to the Bermuda Government by the British for less than a million pounds would be some decades in the future.

  • <b>One of the two</b> 6-inch guns in position at Warwick Camp.

    One of the two 6-inch guns in position at Warwick Camp.

  • <b>Lowering one</b> of the 6-inch guns onto a trailer at Warwick Camp.

    Lowering one of the 6-inch guns onto a trailer at Warwick Camp.

  • <b>Alexandra,</b> Princess of Wales, in a portrait of 1864.

    Alexandra, Princess of Wales, in a portrait of 1864.

  • <b>One of the</b> 6-inch guns at Alexandra Battery in 1902.

    One of the 6-inch guns at Alexandra Battery in 1902.

  • <b>An aerial view</b> of Alexandra Battery for two 6-inch guns.

    An aerial view of Alexandra Battery for two 6-inch guns.


In 1956, coastal defence was declared obsolete throughout most of the British possessions, including Bermuda. When the detachment of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry embarked at Hamilton in the early summer of the following year, the departure of the garrison signaled the end of a military purpose for the remnants of Bermuda's guns and fortifications. With the closure of the Royal Naval Base, HMS Malabar, on 31st March 1995, Bermuda's direct connection with a British military presence in the islands ceased, ending an association that began with the posting of a small garrison in 1701 and had endured nigh on 300 years. E.C. Harris, Bermuda Forts 1612-1957.

The year 1956 was a major turning point for military heritage at Bermuda, as the British garrison embarked for England, leaving behind in the hands of the then government of the island all of the fortifications built by the Royal Engineers from the 1790s until 1940. In 1956, the maintenance of those forts largely ceased and is from that date that their decay began, since there was little appreciation in Bermuda, or in many other places, of the heritage value of artillery fortifications.

Fortunately, the large works were immensely built and, until the removal of Fort Langton in 1984, resisted demolition and consignment to the dump of oblivion. A full appreciation of the legacy handed over to the Bermuda Government by the British for less than a million pounds would be some decades in the future.

However, in the last years of the 1950s, the then government department responsible for tourism took an interest in Fort St. Catherine and Gate's Fort in the east end and Fort Scaur in the west, and those works were refurbished as tourist attractions, for "heritage" was not yet a concept in vogue. Fort Hamilton was sold to the Corporation of Hamilton some time later, its main purpose being to serve as a plant nursery, while being open to visitors, without much in the way of explanatory exhibitions.

The great guns from Fort Langton were moved there, though inappropriate to the site, while in like manner the appropriate guns at Fort Albert were removed to Fort St. Catherine. That approximately sums up the state of fortification heritage preservation into the later 1970s, when the Bermuda Maritime Museum Association was granted a lease from government for the "Keep" at Dockyard, at ten acres the largest fort on the local scene.

Then in the 1980s, Lance Furbert returned to Bermuda and became Curator of Forts at the government Parks Department, working first at Scaur Hill and later at Fort St. Catherine, while adding Whale Bay Battery to the short list of military monuments under care. Mr. Furbert much enhanced the fortifications, but his talents and passion of such sites was lost when he had to retire much too soon for heritage ends.

Later on under the then Premier, now Dame Jennifer Smith, in 2003, a report was compiled on the state of all the fortifications in Bermuda, which study contained recommendations for the future. That was further to an earlier report made by Collin and Jenny Carpenter for the Maritime Museum on all of the cannon and historic artillery at Bermuda: that paper indicated the wealth and rarity of that national collection.

Arising, not to say out of the wood-, iron- or stonework, of the Smith report came a Park Planner, Andrew Pettit, who, with the Director of Parks, Ms Lisa Johnston, and a small team of Parks people, revived government interest in the fortifications on Park properties and something of a renaissance took place, with major government-funded refurbishments taking place at the Scaur Hill, the Martello Tower, Fort. St. Catherine, Gate's Fort and St. David's Battery. Unfortunately to the view of some, Mr. Pettit has moved to a senior position in government, but one that may positively affect some of our earliest forts.

One of Mr. Pettit's last achievements was the removal of the guns from Warwick Camp in July 2010; these weapons will be remounted at the St. George's work named after a Princess of Denmark, the then young wife of Edward, a son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, later to be Edward VII (like the Hospital), King of Great Britain and Emperor of India, among many other honorifics.

Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia was the daughter of Christian IX of Denmark and married Edward at the age of 17 in March 1863, Alexandra Battery at Bermuda being built a few years later. During her long marriage to the Prince of Wales and later king, Alexandra put up with Edward's continued association with other women, such as the famous Lillie Langtry and the Countess of Warwick. Perhaps not much appreciated on the home front, Alexandra was immensely popular with the population of Britain at large right into 1925, the year of her death.

Alexandra Battery, a cannon-shot from Gate's Fort or Fort St. Catherine, was erected on the site of Buildings Bay Battery, a work probably of the 1840s of which little is known. The Princess' battery was built for a new type of gun, the Rifled Muzzle Loader, of which one is at the site, and its gunports were unique in Bermuda, being made in wrought iron in the "Gibraltar Shield" pattern, one of the emplacements is on display. At the beginning of the 1900s, when Alexandra became Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, the battery was modernised and armed with two 6-inch Rifled Breech Loaders, being in turn the latest type of weaponry for coastal fortifications.

It was that very type of gun that was mounted at the last British "fort" at Bermuda, being the emplacements and magazine at Warwick Camp on the south shore of the island. The guns there have markings on the barrels that indicate that they were erected in 1939 and 1940, sitting atop the most poorly constructed powder magazine of the previous century.

Out of sight and not likely to be in sight to tourists, given the nature of Warwick Camp, it was agreed that the guns should be moved to Alexandra Battery where they could be seen and appreciated for years to come.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum of Bermuda, incorporating the Bermuda Maritime Museum. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

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