St. George’s Forts – showcasing Bermuda’s military history

So you’ve booked your holiday in Bermuda and everyone you’ve spoken to keeps saying how amazing the South Shore is. Well, they aren’t wrong but Bermuda has so much more than just beaches to offer. With its multitude of historic locations, Bermuda is an amazing destination for those seeking knowledge of the past. From the west end all the way to the eastern point, various forts were established throughout the years as forms of protection from naval threats.

Today, many of remaining forts are located in the town of St. George’s, also known as Olde Towne which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located at the eastern end of Bermuda and is where the founder of Bermuda, Sir George Somers and his crew first landed in 1609. Their ship, the Sea Venture, was the flagship of nine ships on their way to bring a group of settlers and food supplies to Jamestown, Virginia. After being caught in a storm for four days the ship was badly battered and sinking. Sir George Somers, admiral of the ship, saw land on the fourth day and steered the ship onto the reefs, allowing all 150 men and women aboard to escape ashore. Remains of the Sea Venture have been found and are on display at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. During the excavation, two canon guns were recovered; one was used at King’s Castle Fort and the other at Governor’s Island Fort.

For the next nine months, the people were forced to survive off the island’s natural resources and the little that was not destroyed in the wreck. They constructed two ships from what was remaining of the Sea Venture and called them The Patience and The Deliverance. All of the passengers but two left to sail towards Jamestown. Somers returned to Bermuda to collect more supplies but became ill during the journey and died in Bermuda on November 9, 1610. Those who had remained established permanent residence in Bermuda and by 1612 it became an official British settlement and supplier of materials to Virginia. The town of St. George’s was the capital of Bermuda until 1815 when it was changed to Hamilton City.

The first forts were built along the North-Eastern coastline in 1612 using stone instead of timber by Governor Richard Moore to defend against possible Spanish attacks. The use of stone is the reason why several are still standing today. The British over time continued to build forts along the island and out into the west to protect themselves against any naval threats especially the U.S during the American War of Independence. In total 90 forts, 16 of them being mini-forts were built along the island coast. Throughout the years, the forts were only used once during a Spanish attack in 1614. As time went on and the U.S became allies with the British, the American army moved into Bermuda to aid in protecting the island’s coastline during the World Wars. By 1995, both the British and U.S navy left the island as they were unneeded.

The first fort, the King’s Castle, was built by Governor Richard Moore in 1612 on Castle Island by Castle Harbour which is by the north-east shore. This location was specifically chosen as he thought the island was most vulnerable here, the fort also guards the Castle Roads which are the main water channel to Castle Harbour. This was the only fort that was ever attacked. King’s Castle is the oldest fort in Bermuda and is the oldest stone-fort in the entire western hemisphere. In 1621 the Captain’s House was added to the fort and is now the oldest stone house in Bermuda. Castle Island harbour many other forts as well and has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort St. Catherine’s is one of the most popular and impressive forts still remaining in Bermuda. It was built in the early 1600s and sits between St. Catherine’s Beach and Achilles Bay in the town of St. George’s. The fort is defended by five canons, each weighing 18 tons and is surrounded by a dry moat that is accessed by a drawbridge, below there are numerous tunnels connecting its passages. Walking through, visitors can see the antique weapons such as pistols, swords and muskets on display as well as exhibits showcasing island-life in the 17th century. There is even a replica of the British Crown Jewels on display! The fort’s main terrace overlooks the reefs below where Sir George Somers first came ashore and have been the location for many films, most notably the 1950s production of Macbeth. For those travelling with children, there is the exciting opportunity of travelling through the lower chambers which are believed to be haunted. People are so convinced the fort is haunted that in the 1970s an exorcism was held at the fort. Visit on Thursday nights (6:00pm to 7:00pm) to experience the guided lantern tours through the mysterious winding hallways ($25 per person) or during Halloween when there is even a light show hosted. Fort St. Catherine’s is open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and 11 am to 3:00 pm on Saturdays.

Alexandra Battery was built in the 1860s on what was remaining of the old Buildings Bay Battery and is located about a mile from Fort St. Catherine’s. It was named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark wife of King Edward VII. Originally there were nine guns known as the Rifled Muzzle Loaders mounted there. Visitors while walking through will see the only one still remaining at the southern end of the battery. In the early 1900s, the fort was modernized with Rifled Beach Loaders which are all still there today. While there you will be able to climb the 6-inch emplacements and can enjoy the gorgeous views. It was last manned during WWI and WWII and is now open to the public. Next to the battery is the Building Bay Beach (also known as Alexandra Beach), which is where The Deliverance ship was built. This beach is known for its colourful sea glass and nearby caves. For those interested, is no admission fee to enter Alexandra Battery.

If you’re looking to learn about the colonization of Bermuda and how it thrived over the years the forts found all around St. George’s and into the west end of the island are the place to visit. Still standing and filled with exhibits showcasing weaponry and documenting the lifestyle in the 1600s onwards, these forts are not to be missed.

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