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Stamps of approval for Casemates

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Without question, Dockyard is considered to be one of the most fascinating areas in Bermuda. Its buildings and architecture are timeless and over recent decades the old Royal Naval Dockyard has certainly enhanced Bermuda's reputation of being one of the most culturally attractive locations in the world.

Senator Kim Wilson, JP, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry

ON 21 July, 2011, roughly 170 years after the Casemate Barracks was erected, the now-historic monument received a stamp, or rather, stamps of approval when the Bermuda Government released a set of postal items commemorating its history and place in the old Royal Naval Dockyard.

A ceremonial evening was held for the event at the Commissioner's House at the National Museum and Senator Kim Wilson, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (pictured), made the congratulatory speech, in these approving words.

“I am pleased to be here to highlight yet another fine addition to our Stamp Series the stamps depicting some of Bermuda's most iconic structures Commissioner's House, the Casemate Barracks and other structures of the Royal Naval Dockyard.

“So much has been written and recorded about the Royal Naval Dockyard, its cultural importance and its buildings that it seemed only appropriate that we honour that historical legacy in a Stamp Series.

“History tells us that the Bermuda Dockyard of the Royal Navy was established in 1809 as a result of the American Revolutionary War (17751783), which ushered in the independence of 13 British colonies of what became the United States of America. History also tells us that the construction of the Dockyard took over 50 years.

“Casemate Barracks, the second oldest standing building in Dockyard, was built during the period 1839-43 by a large number of British convicts. For many years it housed the Royal Marines Light Infantry and other military personnel and later served as Bermuda's maximum-security prison from the early 1960s until 1994. It conjures up thoughts of a rich and exciting history, which will forever be etched in our imagination.

“In recent times, Cabinet sanctioned its approval for the Casemate Barracks, along with the Commissioner's House and the fortifications of the Dockyard to become the 'National Museum of Bermuda'. So we are thrilled with the work that is taking place at Casemates, as we know that the final result will be a special historical gem that our residents and visitors alike can enjoy and appreciate for many years to come.

“And it has already yielded some exciting developments with the discovery of a major piece of local heritage, buried in the lower yard of the Casemate Barracks complex. The feature proved to be a military tunnel that runs underneath an existing building and courtyard for some 60 feet. Casemates thus continues to have significant historical relevance, revealed further through archaeology.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Casemates is a wonderful piece of our history, and as we earnestly take time to look around and explore this part of Bermuda, we cannot help but be struck by the combination of past and present images these formidable architectural structures and the new, modern, bustling seaport community that is now Dockyard. Our past and our present seem to embrace each other in this beautiful place that is the Royal Naval Dockyard: may we continue to preserve our historical legacy for our generations to come.

“I want to commend the members of the Stamp Design Advisory Committee, in particular the former chair and now Minister of Education, the Hon. Dame Jennifer Smith, DBE, JP, DHUML, MP, for recognising the Casemates aspect of the Dockyard's historical significance and taking the steps to create a series of stamps in honour of that legacy.

“I also wish to thank the members of the Stamp Design Advisory Committee, the members of the Philatelic Bureau, the Bermuda Archives and the National Museum for their images, and the Creative Design team at the Department of Communication and Information for the final works of art you see today in the form of the new stamps.”

Two of the images in the commemorative stamps (35 and 70 cents) are based on watercolours from the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection, Bermuda Archives, and present on one hand a tranquil view of the Dockyard a few years before the American Civil War (186165) raised the tempo of naval activity in the Western Atlantic.

On the other hand, a view from the Commissioner's House shows the completion of the western warehouse of the Victualling Yard and construction work progressing on the main buildings of the Dockyard as we know them today; both images also feature the Casemate Barracks.

The image in the 85-cent stamp is of Casemates and the Great Eastern Storehouse, another building of significance in the heritage of Royal Naval dockyards worldwide. For the practically minded, in terms of customs of yore, an outhouse perches over the waters of Grassy Bay from the Breakwater in the foreground of the painting of the late 1850s.

The highest value stamp ($1.25) is a photograph of the late 1800s taken from the top of the iron floating dock

Bermuda, which was a great feature of the Dockyard from 1869 until it was partly broken up at Spanish Point in 1902; its bones yet there rot.

The Casemate Barracks complex of three massive buildings, all having 'casemated roofs' of brick, mortar and stone to make them bombproof against incoming American cannon fire, replaced the first defensive ditch and central, hilltop fort, of the Bermuda Dockyard.

Archaeological finds and the small painting of 1828 produced here finally confirmed that whole period (180935) of works and building at the Dockyard, for which nothing exists above ground today.

With the exception of the Casemate Barracks, the Com missioner's House and the massive fortifications now at hand, all the other great historic buildings of the Bermuda Dockyard were built between 1847 and around 1862, with one final structure being erected in 18745.

Unfortunately most of the magnificent quadrangle of buildings that comprised the Smitheries were demolished some decades ago, but the surviving structures give architectural credence in hard Bermuda limestone to the value of the Dockyard as Britain's most important and largest naval station in the Americas.

The value of the buildings and fortifications of the Bermuda Dockyard to international heritage, rather than the British hegemony of old, suggests that they should be added to the island's World Heritage Site, along with other fortifications and structures like Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, west of St George's Parish. The architectural heritage of the Bermuda Dockyard deserves that Stamp of Approval.

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

1. Dockyard in 1828 before the construction of Casemate Barracks on the hill where a little fort stood in the cross-island ditch.
2. The 35-cent stamp depicts a tranquil day at the dockyard in 1857, with Casemates on the left.
3. The 70-cent stamp shows the Victualling Yard completed in 1857, but few of the large buildings of the main Dockyard have been constructed.
4. The 85-cent stamp is a detail of a watercolour of the late 1850s with Casemates on the hill to the left.
5. The $1.25 cent stamp reproduces a photograph of the 1890s of the Lower Ordnance Yard above which rises the great Casemate Barracks.
6. An aerial view of Casemate Barracks in 1941 in the last decade of its long life as a barracks for soldiers
Photo by Mark Tatem The Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Senator Kim Wilson, speaks at a press conference yesterday. 7.2.11

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Published August 06, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 06, 2011 at 9:25 am)

Stamps of approval for Casemates

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