The military ruins along the Ridge above the Dockyard are an integral part of the World Heritage Site and our public interpretation program. The spaces were used by European and African soldiers, enslaved labourers, women, men, and children for more than 70 years. In 2019, the ruins at the Blockhouse were evaluated and a conservation plan drawn up to establish a stabilization and interpretation program for that area.
Conservation and interpretation go hand in hand. To bring awareness of the history, archaeology, and conservation efforts, a weekly interpretation program, Rum in the Ruins, was started by the Heritage Department. Running December to May, Dr. Waters takes visitors through the Blockhouse ruins in a special Friday afternoon tour.
On 8 March 2019, on the lawn between the Dockyard Museum and Copper and Lumber, the Park held its first public “Dockyard History is African History” event. The event commemorated eight enslaved Africans who were killed in an explosion during the construction of the Dockyard. These eight men are some of the earliest known names of enslaved individuals who were forced to work in the Dockyard on 8 March 1744. They are Billey, London, James Soe, CaramanteeQuamono, Dick, Joe, Scipio and Johnno. This event launched a sustained public history project to better incorporate the African experience in our interpretation within the Park. This project and the research involved is a deeper exploration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Criteria (iv) inscription of a continuous cultural landscape.
The Dockyard History is African History Project is a multicomponent research and interpretation project by the Heritage Department. The first component is archival and archaeological research into the daily lives of the enslaved and free Africans who lived around and worked in the Dockyard starting in the 1740s. The second component is an expansion of interpretation of African history in the Dockyard through the addition of a new guided tour, updated exhibit in the Dockyard Museum, and an annual public commemoration event held on 8 March. The third component is a genealogical and oral history project integrating the Falmouth and English Harbour communities.
Hurricane Omar in 2008 washed out part of the beach at Freeman’s Bay (Galleon Beach). As a result, a small collection of human remains were carefully excavated by Dr. Reg Murphy and several volunteers. By the end of their three-day excavation, they had identified several more possible graves, however, time did not permit further investigations. In 2010, Hurricane Earl caused more damage to the beach, this time revealing more human remains. Volunteers, led by Dr. Reg Murphy, rushed to the site to try and recover and record as much as possible before the gap was filled in and the beach stabilized. Recognizing the importance and huge size of the site, more controlled excavations were planned. Between 2012 and 2019, under more scientific conditions, archaeologists from partner institutions in the US, Canada and Europe, returned to the beach. More information on the 2012 excavations can be found in the Dockyard Museum and in the BBC4 documentary “Nelson’s Caribbean Hell Hole.”
In 2019, the team turned to Hospital Hill, a known Naval Hospital cemetery, to recover historic remains prior to a construction project. This was a return to an earlier study of the cemetery there undertaken between 1998 and 2001, led by Dr. Reg Murphy.
The research results from these two excavations to date show several interesting things about daily life and death in the Dockyard. First, the cemeteries are not segregated by race, with Africans and Europeans interred together in the Naval Hospital cemetery. Archival evidence from the local parish confirms this, with low ranking sailors and enslaved Africans in the Royal Navy buried there together.
Second, synchrotron radiation, which is a brilliant source of light that can be used for x-rays and is found at facilities such as the Canadian Light Source and the Advanced Photon Source, helped to determine where lead and other heavy metal deposits were located in tiny samples of bone. Unlike most lead poisoning today, these individuals were so heavily exposed to lead over such a long period of time, researchers are able to see layers of lead as it gets sucked into the bone structure and stored there. Now, research is focusing on identifying the different sources of toxic exposure, and looking more closely into the lives and identities of these individuals. The research into these individuals remains exciting and ongoing. As more results become available, we will continue to share them here and on our social media pages.
The Clarence House renovation project turned the old Naval Commissioner’s residence on Clarence Hill into a historic house museum and event space overlooking the Dockyard.
The house served as the Naval Commissioner’s residence from 1805 until the mid-nineteenth century. Thereafter, it was used as the country residence for the governors of Antigua. In the mid-1990s, the island was hit with several major storms, causing considerable damage to the house. After several years of fundraising efforts, in 2009, Sir Peter Harrison, committed to donating the necessary funds to rehabilitate the space. In 2016, Prince Harry officially reopened Clarence House as a historic house museum and events space.
Blockhouse Gunpowder Magazine
In 2007, the Park undertook a pilot stabilization project at the Blockhouse. Using historic masonry techniques, the Gunpowder Magazine walls and roof were stabilized, preventing the entire structure from collapsing. While this stabilization project was necessary, it was also used to train local masons and carpenters in historic techniques. This helps retain the authenticity of our sites, provide a pool of talented and skilled artisans for future projects, as well as create opportunities for traditional crafts to remain relevant and viable.
Dockyard Sea Wall Stabilization
The original stone quay in the Dockyard was laid down in the 1820s. By 2003, the walls had started to collapse. Designed for wooden sailing ships, the engineering could not withstand the trust from modern yacht engines. To strengthen and stabilize the walls, each stone block was carefully numbered, its location noted, and taken up and stored. Heavily eroded stones were replaced with material from the original quarry, and the solid original stones were carefully integrated back into their original spots. Under water, archaeologists excavated the rich material culture found at the edge of the dock. Centuries of debris, including bottles, plates, cutlery, and every type of ammunition imaginable, were recovered. Behind the archaeologists, marine engineers raised the stone blocks, replacing those which were particularly worn, and reset the entire structure.
Many of the artifacts from this excavation are on display in the Dockyard Museum.