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Manning the ‘Keep’ ramparts

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Its central position in that ocean, within three days steaming distance of the shores of North America, its dockyard, and capacious deepwater harbours, together with its natural capabilities for defence, contribute to render it the citadel of our naval power in the western world’ — W.F. Drummond Jervois, Defence of Bermuda 1865.

In some countries, wounds to military heritage are self-inflicted, of which there is a considerable trail of bloody injuries in Bermuda, starting in the 1950s and continuing into modern times. The loss of such monuments is a suicidal blow to tourism, for they were part of the architectural landscape that makes Bermuda unique.

Such buildings are usually of more, sometimes great, interest to male travellers and the remaining fine corpus of forts and military sites should be advertised that tourist sector worldwide.

We are fortunate that none of the wars since settlement in 1612 have resulted in an invading force bent on fortification demolition, but some destruction has taken place here of necessity when new methods of defence and gunnery impacted an otherwise peaceful heritage scene.

At the Dockyard, some important elements of the original fortifications, built in a forty-year period from the start of the naval facility in 1809, were unfortunately demolished by the British military, when the South Yard was constructed in the decade following 1901.

Two of the lost features were the original fort at the entrance to the Dockyard on Pender Road near the present oil tanks, and the adjacent Ravelin Tower, of which only two known photos exist, one presented here for the first time.

Along with the surviving Right Advance to the west, those three outwork fortlets were the first line of defence for the Dockyard, should the Americans be attacking from Somerset way, having landed on the pink sand beaches of the south shore.

At the other end of the Dockyard, most of the fortifications have survived relatively intact, though the “Keep”, or place of last defence in medieval terminology, has been altered by two later periods of emplacing new cannon and guns, as occurred in the 1870s and 1890s.

In the 1870s, the new guns were of two types of the ‘Rifled Muzzle Loader’, being the smallest 64-pounder, and the 18-ton babies that fired a 10-inch calibre shell weighing upwards of 400 pounds.

The disposition of those new weapons, part of the era that invented rifled guns and iron ships and began the modern Arms Race, is seen in the plan of the Keep. Five of the big guns were constructed at Bastions ‘B’ to ‘D’ and ‘F’ and ‘G’, while seven of the little 64-pounders were spread about the ramparts of the Keep (now part of the National Museum).

The smaller gun existed in two varieties, one looking like the 18-ton piece, while the other was the last form of a 32-pounder smoothbore cannon, bored out to accept a rifled sleeve for the 64-pound shell.

Until a few weeks ago, we were unable to determine which gun type was used at the Keep during the rearmament of its ten acres in the 1870s.

Thanks to the art dealer, Nicholas Lusher, the Museum now has a unique picture of a converted 64-pounder on the ramparts of the Keep, between Bastions ‘B’ and ‘C’.

From that view, it can be ascertained that it was the converted RML that was used, of which two remain in Bermuda, one at the Keep and the other at Scaur Hill Fort, the latter wonderfully emplaced on a replica Moncrieff Disappearing Carriage several years ago by the National Parks Department and its then parks planner, Andrew Pettit.

The seven small RMLs, like the one in the circa 1880 photograph, are ‘Coastal Defence Traversing Siege Guns’ on wooden carriages, as identified by historic artillery experts, Austin and Jenny Carpenter.

In addition to adding to the knowledge of the fortifications and weapons of the Keep in the 1880s, the photograph is of great interest as it shows three military men of various rates, as depicted by their uniforms, the officer standing astride the gun carriage.

This is the only known detailed photograph of a gun at the Dockyard in the nineteenth century and the only one, bar one at Fort Victoria, for all of the fortifications of that period in Bermuda to show the men presumably responsible for the manning of the weapons, standing by their charges, so to shoot verbally.

Also of interest in the photograph are the masts and drying sails in the background to the right, rising above the ramparts of the Keep.

By comparison with another photograph of the Keep and the Dockyard, likely taken from the roof of the Commissioner’s House, and also recently obtained but from a London photographic dealer, Miss Janet Rosing, it is possible to identify the ships and to date the gun image to the decade between 1876—1886.

There are two masts without rigging in the gun photo and those belonged to the hulk, HMS

Irresistible (from whence the figurehead of King Neptune came) and were likely used for signal flags.

The rigged masts and drying sails are from HMS

Druid, which was stationed at Bermuda during the period. Not apparent in the gun photo is HMS

Fantome, which was docked on the Breakwater between

Irresistible and

Druid. Records relating to those ships thus give the bracket date of 1876 to 1886 for both photographs.

Additionally, because of the drying sails, it may well be that the two photographs were taken by the same photographer within days of each other, though we may never known the exact date and year when these superb shots of Dockyard were captured, now, as it develops, for the edification of Bermuda’s military heritage.

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

The RML gun emplacement in 2013 and inset the 64-pounder RML in the National Museum collections.
The circa 1902 demolition work at Dockyard, with the doomed Ravelin Tower in the background.
Three men of the Dockyard disport themselves by a 64-pounder RML at the Keep, about 1880.
Three warships of different periods were moored on the Dockyard Breakwater around 1880.
1. The gun emplacement of the photograph of the 64-pounder RML is indicated in green.

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Published January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm)

Manning the ‘Keep’ ramparts

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