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A Bermudian miscellanea in watercolours

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In the remarkable Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection of nineteenth-century paintings and photographs at the Bermuda Archives are a number of works for which the author, that is to say, artist, is presently unknown.

Like many family photographs, ancient and modern, the images are sadly not signed by the person who executed what are now considered works of art, or at the least significant historical documents, for the unspoken, thousand-words they each contain in their imagery.

So in this article, we present five such unsigned watercolours from different areas of Bermuda, but it is perhaps erroneous to call them a ‘Bermudian Miscellanea', as the artist may not have been to the Island born.

Many of the fine images in the Elliott Collection were painted by visiting officers, both naval and army, a number of whom were trained in the art of observation and the skills to translate what the eye sees to a record of ink, paint and canvas.

The miscellaneous items presented here as a group are indicative of the calibre of most of the paintings in the Elliott Collection, which Bermuda is fortunate to have, due to the passion of Mr and Mrs Elliott for their adopted home.

The first two images relate to the great Commissioner's House, erected as the first cast-iron prefabricated home in the world, and now the centrepiece of the National Museum of Bermuda, with three floors and some 15,000 square feet of exhibit space.

In this picture, the House sits on the only hill of the old Royal Naval Dockyard that was not much reduced (as in the instance of Casemates Barracks) or quarried away to some six feet above mean high tide to provide the flat ground for the working naval base, started in 1809 as a direct result of the unfortunate revolution in the British American colonies of the East Coast of what became, in 1783, the United States of America.

The high ramparts shown below the Commissioner's House were built to hold the Dockyard against an attack by the newly named “Americans”.

The second image of the House is a painting of what originally was the Commissioner's master bedroom, being on the southern corner of the top floor, looking south over the Dockyard or slightly east to Spanish Point, Admiralty House and Government House, all in Pembroke Parish.

At the time of painting in the late 1860s, an officer of the Royal Marines Light Infantry occupied the room, as the building at that time was used as a barracks for the soldiers of that corps who manned the guns of the Dockyard.

It is the only known painting of the interior of the Commissioner's House and hence of historical as well as artistic interest.

Moving eastward, likely into the vicinity of “Tom Moore's Jungle”, an unknown artist captured the opening to a limestone cavern recorded as “Tucker's Cave”.

The rock and geological formations in that area of Tom Moore's Tavern are some of the oldest strata in Bermuda and in many instances the caves, with their stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones are some of the most beautiful sights on the Island.

Not only the famous poet visited them, but also many are the paintings, photographs and descriptions made of those unusual limestone formations in the later decades of the nineteenth century.

Further to the easternmost point of Bermuda lies one of the island's most important fortifications, which guarded the Narrows Channel, being the only ships' channel through the reefs into the inner harbours of Bermuda, such as Murray's Anchorage, Grassy Bay, the Great Sound and that for the City of Hamilton.

There were seven periods of fortification at Fort St Catherine and the painting from the Elliott Collection, presumably by an army officer, depicts the last remodelling of the site in the 1870s.

At that time, artillery was undergoing a major change from that which fired round cannonballs to guns that launched ‘shells' in projectile form, thereby giving a bigger bang for the calibre (diameter) of the weapon.

The watercolour shows the Fort much as it is today, as it was not rearmed in the early 1900s; it is now a site in Bermuda's UNESCO-designated “World Heritage Site”.

Also included in that area of internationally recognised heritage is the Town of St. George's, the island's first capital and the site of permanent settlement of Bermuda in July 1612.

The moving of the capital to the central City of Hamilton in the late 1700s likely saved St George's from the rampant (and largely ugly) development that took place in modern times in Hamilton and thus allowed the Olde Towne to survive relatively intact to be able to qualify for World Heritage status.

The last painting presented here is a wonderful vignette of St George's from the area known as Stoke's Point on the southwestern perimeter of the harbour for the town.

Probably painted in the 1860s, the ‘glacis', or cleared field of fire, for Fort George to the west of the town is predominant, an area now much covered with housing.

The Town looks very tranquil, as it is nestled into a part of the southern side of St George's Island, a view that to a degree remains the same today, if one removes Penno's and other wharves and excludes noisy jet skis and overpowered power boats.

All in all, the miscellanea represents some of the splendid views of Bermuda that exist in the artwork in the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection and other collections hereabouts.

Such paintings are significant portable heritage that reflects the world that Bermuda once physically was, and which fortunately, to a degree, remains so today, the major asset of the trade in cultural tourism.

So on this holiday, the twenty-four of May — Queen Victoria's Birthday — feast your eyes on these images and take a few moments to reflect on what is important in the land — and townscapes that comprise the beauty and heritage of our home, much of which was created during her long reign in the nineteenth century.

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

On the left, behind the rocky foreshore of Commissioner's Point, Ireland Island North, rise the high ramparts of the “Keep”, the largest (9.5 acres) fort in Bermuda, while on the hill above is the Commissioner's House, bounded by rows of cedar trees. On the right in 1869, another unidentified artist painted the only known image of the interior of the Commissioner's House, being of the bedroom of an officer of the Royal Marines Light Infantry.
Artists were attracted to some of the natural wonders of Bermuda, one of the most evocative being the entrances to limestone caves, such as this one painted in 1871.
In the 1870s, Fort St Catherine on the north eastern tip of St George's Island underwent a major renovation so that the new Rifled Muzzle Loader artillery could be installed at that important defence site.
Painted from Stoke's Point, Fort George dominates the little town of St George's, which is idyllically nestled into the southern side of St George's Island.

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Published May 23, 2014 at 6:49 pm (Updated May 24, 2014 at 9:44 am)

A Bermudian miscellanea in watercolours

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