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Bermuda FlagNavy

Bermuda's Royal Navy base at Ireland Island from 1815 to the 1960s

Once a naval defence against the USA, then became an Allied Atlantic bastion from World War 1

line drawing

Royal Navy in Bermuda

By Keith Archibald Forbes (see About Us) at e-mail exclusively for Bermuda Online

To refer by e-mail to this file use "bermuda-online.org/rnd" as your Subject

Other files on Bermuda by this author relating to military matters and civil aviation include Airlines serving Bermuda - American Bases in Bermuda from 1941 to 1995  - Bermuda Aviation History Pioneers Civilian and Military - Bermuda International Airport.

History

Royal Navy Dockyard, Bermuda

Royal Navy Dockard, civilianized in the 1950s

Royal Navy buildingsRoyal Navy off DockyardAbove, centre. As it looks today, a far cry from its original purpose dating back to 1795 as a fortified Royal Navy Dockyard following Britain's defeat by the USA in the 1776 to 1783 American Revolution

1794. With the Militia Act 1794 and the end of the American War of Independence, Bermuda began to assume an importance to the Admiralty that would see it become the base of the North America and West Indies Squadron, and the site of the only full Naval dockyard West of Portsmouth, England except for Halifax in Nova Scotia and of possibly more strategic importance in the event of invasion of Canada by the USA.

The Royal Navy Dockyard subsequently built in Bermuda  was designed not primarily for defence but for attack, from which to launch a Royal Navy invasion of the USA. The French Navy, which caused the blockade that was the major factor in the British defeat by the Americans, had been smashed. That part had been avenged. This was why Ireland Island in Sandys Parish, the former separate, narrow serrated island that pushes out into the Atlantic at the extreme north west of Bermuda, formally started to become, from 1809 when it was officially acquired by the British Admiralty, a Royal Navy base of one-time huge significance. 

It began life in 1814 as the idea of Arthur Wesley - later Wellesley -  the 1st Duke of Wellington (once a colonel in the 33rd Foot in 1795). The British Government needed to retaliate in the event of any invasion of Bermuda or any further attempted invasion of Canada by Americans or their allies, as the Americans had tried to do in 1812, and occupied what is now Toronto which directly caused the War of 1812-14, before being beaten back. After the War of 1812-14 between Britain and the USA, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was considered too vulnerable to attack from America. In 1818, the Royal Navy Dockyard in Halifax was formally moved to Bermuda.  Halifax suffered a further economic malaise for a few years, that had started when peace was declared in 1815 between the USA and Britain. Bermuda, well beyond the operating range of the United States Navy, isolated but in the strategic mid Atlantic, was ideal for a surprise Royal Navy attack. 

Admirals & Commanders in Chief, Bermuda

They were the first Bermuda based commanders of this Station.

North America & West Indian Station (as it then became)

North America Station (re-named)

North America & Lakes of Canada Squadron

St. Lawrence River and Coast of America 

North America & N.F.L.D

North America & West Indies Station

(Included Halifax).

1907-1914. Appointment lapsed officially

Held temporarily by Admirals commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron

America & West Indies Squadron (established 1 July, 1927, as the station HQ then became)

Western Atlantic Squadron

Station ended, but HMS Malabar continued. It shut  down officially in stages from 1953. Commanding Officers included Commander J. A. Startin, RN who served from 1986 to 1990.

Admiralty House, Pembroke Parish

Admiralty House, in Pembroke Parish, where the Admirals lived and had their offices

Royal Navy ships under the overall command of the Admirals based at Admiralty House, Bermuda

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Royal_Navy_ships_in_North_America 

Early history of this Royal Navy Base

Before the base was built, The Royal Navy invested heavily in a Bermuda-based program of building small, fast vessels out of Bermuda cedar. Such vessels had been used in Bermuda since 1609. 

In rapid succession in 1803, the British Admiralty issued draught no. 3275, issued by the Navy Office in July for building two sloops of war in Bermuda; draught no. 3276, for building the two sloops Bermuda and Indian (the brother of famous British writer Jane Austen, later an Admiral, commanded the latter from her commissioning in Bermuda); draught No. 3278, as an addition to No. 3276, for fitting out the Bermuda and Indian; draught No. 4540, for work on the navy schooners Dispatch and Advice; and draught no. 4541, for supplementing the building of the Dispatch and Advice.

Admiral Horatio Nelson

Bermuda sloop early 19th century

Bermuda-built sloops - similar to the one shown above - had unique advantages. Their construction from Bermuda cedar ensured they were durable and resistant to shipworm. Cedar was plentiful then and unlike oak, from which many of the larger ships were made in the United Kingdom, did not require seasoning. 

One such Bermuda-built schooner established her own special claim to fame in 1805. She was the small warship HMS Pickle of the Royal Navy. Earlier, she had been the civilian vessel Sting. She played a unique role in the Battle of Trafalgar in which the Royal Navy, with 448 dead and 1,241 wounded, soundly defeated the French. Their navy had 4,408 dead, 1,545 wounded and lost 23 of their 33 ships in the battle. HMS Pickle was the fastest and one of the hardiest ships in the Royal Navy. Thus it was chosen to cover the 1,000 mile journey from Cape Trafalgar to England with exclusive news of the battle. It was a 9-day journey, during which the ship ran into a gale. On arrival at Falmouth, the officer with the dispatch raced to Whitehall in London by horse and carriage. He arrived at 3 am. Prime Minister William Pitt, the King and Royal Family and newspapers, were awoken to hear the news of the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

In 1808, three years after she achieved her claim to fame at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Bermuda-built cedar schooner HMS Pickle struck a shoal when entering the Spanish port of Cadiz and was lost.

The Royal Navy started moving in from 1809 when the Ireland Island was acquired. It has a separate history from the rest of Bermuda. It is named after an individual, not a country. Because there was a fear of leprosy, all on the island had to leave their jungle of cedar and swine and wooden houses thatched with palmetto. Until it became a major Royal Navy base there were no roads and only a few inhabitants. Then it was completely separate from Main and Somerset Islands. (It became connected to other islands via several bridges first built in the late 1800s). When work began here in 1809, main weapons were light.

1810. May 4. A Royal Navy Captain of H.M.S. Swiftsure jumped overboard, "in a fit of temporary derangement", and was drowned, off the Bermudas. He was Captain John Conn R.N. (August 1764 - 4 May 1810), a senior captain, whose shining career included service at the battles of the Saintes, the Glorious First of June, Copenhagen and Trafalgar ended tragically in a shipboard accident before he could reap the rewards of his long service. Conn could also claim membership of Nelson's "Band of Brothers", a clique of dashing naval officers who participated in Nelson's campaigns during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as a close friendship with the admiral himself, who once said: A better or more zealous officer than Captain Conn is not in His Majesty's service. Born to a Royal Navy warrant officer of Irish extraction in Devon, England, on 1764, Conn gained first hand experience of the sea at twelve on his father's ship HMS Weasel, before securing a place on HMS Arrogant as a midshipman on board which he saw action at the battle of the Saintes in 1782. In 1788 he was made a lieutenant but had to wait five years before being given a good position, during which married Margaret, a vicar's daughter. Serving aboard the flagship HMS Royal Sovereign at the Glorious First of June, he came to the attention of Admiral Lord Howe and further distinguished himself in 1798 in HMS Foudroyant at the battle of Donegal which resulted in the destruction of a French invasion fleet headed for Ireland. In 1801 As a commander at the first battle of Copenhagen, his expertise with bomb vessels caused terrible damage to the Danish fleet, and he participated in Nelson's disastrous attack on the French invasion force in Boulogne shortly afterwards, gaining his commanding officers attention and respect. Promoted to Post Captain in 1802, Conn commanded the veteran ship HMS Culloden accompanied by his nine year old son Henry, before transferring to the French prize ship HMS Canopus and being specially requested by Nelson in the Mediterranean. In 1805 he was given temporary command of the first rate flagship HMS Victory and his old ship HMS Royal Sovereign whilst their commanders were on leave and further contributed to his reputation as a reliable and steady officer. On 10 October he returned the Royal Sovereign to Admiral Collingwood and was given the fast new second rate HMS Dreadnought to command. Eleven days later Conn and his crew where thrown into battle as the Franco-Spanish fleet attempted to break out of Cadiz. Situated halfway down Collongwood's division, Conn struggled to reach the action, only getting there around the time Nelson was mortally wounded in the northern division. Making up for the delay, Dreadnought tangled with the San Juan Nepomuceno, rescuing the battered HMS Bellerophon, killing the Spanish captain Cosmé Damián Churruca and forcing his ship to surrender. Charging on from this victory, the Dreadnought engaged the Spanish flagship Principe de Asturias, mortally wounding the Spanish admiral, but being unable to defeat the enemy, which succeeded in escaping back to Cadiz. Conn even managed to rescue his prize, the San Juan Nepomuceno being one of only four captured enemy ships to survive the storm. Following the battle, in which Dreadnought suffered 33 casualties, Conn continued in service taking over the massive 112 gun HMS San Josef and then the 120 gun HMS Hibernia as flag captain before moving as a commodore to the West Indies in HMS Swiftsure in 1810. Admirals' rank and the honours which came with it were surely not far away when tragedy struck on the 4 May when during the chase of a small French ship near Bermuda, Conn became overeager, slipped and fell overboard. Swiftsure was halted and a search was conducted but Conn had drowned before help arrived. His passing was mourned in Britain and especially in the Navy where he was a popular and respected figure. Sir John Borlase Warren, an old commander and friend, expressed regret at the death of so deserving an officer as Captain Conn.

1814-1868 developments

Fleet of Dockyardwooden Royal Navy ship 2

Royal Navy ships at anchor off Dockyard, 1814

By 1814, construction was well under way to switch the location of the Royal Navy base from Castle Harbour to Ireland Island. In July, after another declaration of war between Britain and the USA, a Royal Navy fleet with Royal Marines and soldiers assembled in Bermuda and sailed to attack and burn principal buildings, including the White House, in Washington DC in revenge for the American torching of Yorktown, now Toronto. Afterwards, off Baltimore as a detainee aboard a British warship, the American lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner" - with its melody from a raucous British drinking song. Colonel (later Brigadier General) James Robertson Arnold, one of the two sons of Benedict Arnold and his Loyalist wife Margaret Peggy Shippen of Philadelphia and - like his mother, American born - went to Canada with his family and was educated at King's College School. He avenged his father's humiliation in America by joining the British Army. 

Dockyard fortifications 1818

Dockyard Fortifications 1818 as completed by Colonel James Robertson Arnold, son of Benedict Arnold, in 1816.

From Halifax, he was the first Royal Engineer to fortify, in 1816, the new Bermuda Dockyard against the USA. In 1818, he did the same thing at the Citadel in Halifax. From 1814, the Dockyard defended the British military machine in Bermuda against any possible attack by the United States and others. Hawkish individuals wanted the USA to seize Bermuda as war reparations or in retaliation for how Bermudians supported the Confederacy and the ships from Britain that preyed on Union shipping.For big guns to defend dockyards adequately, smooth bore cannon, developed in the 1500's, had to be more effective. One temporary British answer was the development of the carronade in about 1779. The Royal Navy brought them to Bermuda as effective weapons.

1818. Construction of the once-grand Royal Navy Hospital near the Dockyard, with the unusual cast and wrought iron building designed by Edward Holl, Chief Architect for the Royal Navy and Scottish engineer, John Rennie (1761—1821). It was built in the same pre-fabricated manner as the later Commissioner's House, initially as a Quarantine unit. British convicts transported to Bermuda to build HM Dockyard, were treated here. When added to substantially later, in addition to more cast iron structural features, such as veranda columns, floor joists, and possibly cast and wrought iron roof trusses, some of the stonework for the building was the hard local limestone. A surgeon, doctors and medical staff were appointed and sent by the Royal Navy. During World War 2, the Royal Naval Hospital, Bermuda, treated and often saved the lives of many brought in from torpedoed ships. The Royal Navy left in the 1950s. That hospital building ended its life as an egg farm, then finally was deliberately burnt to the ground by the Fire Department in November 1972 after it became a battery for producing chicken eggs. Later, it was the site for Lefroy House, for senior citizens. Only rubble is left. 

RN Hospital, Bermuda

1823. British convicts were approved by the British Government in London and its Navy Board for transportation to Bermuda to work on HM Dockyard. See http://issuu.com/penandsword/docs/prisonersinparadise. They began early the next year and did so for many years. 

Convicts labored at Dockyard dawn to dusk from 1824 to 1863

1847 Dockyard

hulk021824 marked the arrival in Bermuda on February 4 of the first ship of the white convicts labor force, on the Antelope, 300 of them with guards. From 1824 to 1863, the British Government shipped thousands of British convicts from London prisons or English prison hulks to Bermuda to build the Dockyard. 

The hulks were once ships of the line that had fought at Trafalgar and elsewhere. Masts were taken off and extra decking and roofs were erected to make places on incarceration. 

British convicts who were exiled in chain gangs to Bermuda at that time included debtors, unemployed mill hands goaded into riots in Britain by starvation, Irish nationalists, Welsh debtors, Scotsmen defiantly and violently protesting the Clearances from the northern Highlands of Sutherland and Caithness in particular, defaulting bankers, sheep steelers, poachers and petty thieves. 

They all wore the Broad Arrow - used to identify property of the government and probably best known on convicts' uniforms. It has its origins from when Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney, Master of Ordnance to William and Mary, was asked to mark all government property to reduce theft. He chose to use his family emblem which is a broad arrow, or Pheon, and this is still in use today by the UK government 300 years later.

The decision to send them to Bermuda had an interesting origin. 

Painting of prison hulk by Edward K. James, 1863Painting of burning prison hulk by Edward K. James 1963Royal Navy at Dockyard

After the War of 1812 to 1814, there were continuing disputes between the British and Americans over the boundaries between Canada and the United States. The military authorities saw this as future trouble. They were informed that work on building the dockyard was proceeding far too slowly. Providing the convict labor force was a cheap and effective way to overcome the problem, get the base built cheaply and isolate the trouble-makers. Bermuda was selected as a convict station in preference to Sierra Leone in Africa or Canada. Without the Dockyard, Bermuda would have had none, all would have been sent to Australia instead. As it was, it received 8 for every 1 sent to Bermuda. Transported to hard labor in the colony for six to eight years in the same way British convicts had been once been condemned in Virginia and elsewhere in the USA until the American Revolution in 1776, the prisoners lived on rotting Royal Navy prison hulks - including some from the Battle of Trafalgar 20 or more years earlier - and worked from sunrise to sunset to build the naval bastion and fortress. Most were still wearing chains of bondage as convicts when Bermuda's blacks were freed from all vestiges of slavery in the 1840s. Only when the sentences of the convicts was served if they still lived - because 20% died in Bermuda or on the way there - were they allowed to remain as free colonists. 

The British convict cemetery is behind Albert Row on Ireland Island South, via a left turn onto one way Cochrane Road (named after Admiral Cochrane). About 2,000 of the 9,000 convicts died here from yellow fever or other diseases and were buried there, but the graves of many are no longer visible. Note the Redman headstone in the grave yard at Boaz Island which reads "Killed One Day, Died the Next." Nearby, past a tall stone chimney, is a weathered limestone formation known as Pulpit Rock, from the convicts who were denied freedom of worship. Because of the social stigma in Bermuda attached to the convicts, 98% of those who survived elected to go back home to England or Wales or Scotland or Ireland, or emigrate to Canada or USA if they wished after they had served their sentences and at least partly at their own cost. (See below). 

Bermuda convict hulkPossessions of the convicts from the 19th century found much later were of value only to the convicts who made them illegally. The Colonial Times of 1826 reported the situation then prevailing as follows: "At the termination of the assizes or sessions, the keepers of the various gaols throughout the kingdom are required to transmit to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, a list of prisoners who have received sentence of transportation, and an order is then forwarded, directing to which of the hulks they are to be conveyed. On their arrival, they are immediately stripped and washed, clothed in coarse grey jackets and breeches, and two irons placed on one of the legs, to which degradation everyone must submit, let his previous rank have been what it may. They are sent out in gangs of a certain number to work on shore, guarded by soldiers. A strict account is kept of the labour performed by each gang, there being a scale by which it is calculated, and out of each shilling earned for the Government by the prisoner, he is entitled to a penny, which is carried to his credit; but of this he receives only one third part weekly, the remainder being left to accumulate until the expiration of the term which he is doomed to serve. "Thus it sometimes happens that a man who has been six or seven years on board the hulks, on his discharge is put in possession of ten or twelve pounds, and is also supplied with an additional sum of money to defray his travel expenses to get back home. The strictest discipline is maintained, and extreme cleanliness enforced in the vessels. The diet daily allowed is a pound and a quarter of bread; a quart of thick gruel, morning and evening; on four days of a week, a piece of meat weighing 14 ounces before it is cooked; and on the other three days in lieu of meat, a quarter of a pound of cheese, also an allowance of small beer; and on certain occasions, when work peculiarly fatiguing and laborious is required, a portion of strong beer is served out; no where [except in the Colonies] does a good behavior meet its reward more than at the hulks. A chronicle is kept of the conduct of each, and the Captain and Chaplain have the privilege of recommending annually a certain number as fit objects for a mitigation of punishment, so that it frequently occurs that a man sentenced to seven years transportation, serves only three years and a half or four years; there are also other inducements to orderly conduct, such as having the irons lightened and being promoted to little appointments which relieve from severe labour. Besides those who are retained to serve out their term of transportation in England, thousands are every year sent to these colonies, upon an average about six transports arrive annually in Van Diemen's Land; and about twelve in New South Wales. Amongst others who are actually transported to the Colonies, such are invariably selected as are known to be old offenders, and those who appear to be incorrigible. One ship, the Bellerophon, at Sheerness, is appropriated exclusively to a reception of boys, not exceeding 16 years of age, most of whom are not expatriated, but are taught various trades, such as shoemaking, tailors work, bookbinding and etc. The morals of these youthful delinquents, some of whom are not more than ten years old, are very carefully attended to; it is, however, a lamentable fact, that not withstanding the severe lessons taught by the discipline of the hulks, very many instances occur of prisoners who have been discharged, again returning to habits of dishonesty, and, again incurring the penalty of transportation, eventually banished to these Colonies. The Penitentiary, at Millbank, was erected in order to serve some measure as a substitute for the hulks or exportation, but it is sufficiently notorious that this gigantic establishment which has cost the Mother County near a million of money, has hitherto most lamentably disappointed the expectation of its projectors, both in a moral and political point of view. About two years back, when much sickness prevailed in the penitentiary, an Act of Parliament was passed, to enable His Majesty to remove the prisoners from thence to the Hulks, and a certain number were drafted to each ship. These are said to have exhibited little symptoms of reformation, but, on the contrary, were generally found to be the most refactory. We have drawn this statement ,and we place it before the Public to convince them of the difference between the usage of American prisoners, and those subjected to a penal bond in the Colonies we inhabit; and we are the more eager to do so at the present period, from the influx of prisoners from England and the penal settlements, otherwise we should not have been induced to have entered thus fully into this subject." Source - Colonial Times,  Sept 1 1826.

Few in Bermuda or the United Kingdom will admit they are descended from convicts, unlike in Australia where it has become a source of pride that many there are descended from men sent there as convicts for offences that today are so minor no-one is imprisoned at all.  But it is known that some - not many - of the wives and children were voluntarily transported to Bermuda so as not to completely break the family ties.

In addition to building the Dockyard, they also constructed parts of Pembroke Parish, for example, the caves and secret hideout at Admiralty House. 

Trial records for convicts tried in England can be found primarily, not in Bermuda but at the London Public Record Office (PRO) in Kew or at the County Record Office responsible for the place where the trial occurred. Generally in the UK, for British convicts sent to Bermuda, Assizes Court records are held at the PRO while Quarter Sessions records are held in local County Record Offices.

For more information in Bermuda on the convicts, see the books:

Hulks sent to Bermuda as convict prison ships included

1848 woodcut of HM Dockyard at Ireland Island, Bermuda

1848 woodcut showing prison hulks moored off Ireland Island, Bermuda. Sent in 1989 by a Royal Navy contact who believed it was commissioned by and for the Royal Navy and crafted aboard a Royal Navy pinnace based in Bermuda

Other events at Dockyard 1820s/1830s

Dockyard 1828

Dockyard 1828 with prison hulks

In 1829, the 118-ton Bermuda-built cedar privateer, completed in 1825, also with the name Pickle in honor of the vessel of 1803, took part in a severe Royal Navy action of the northeast coast of Cuba that resulted in the capture of a Spanish slave-trading ship, the Boladora and the release of 330 slaves aboard. By the 1830s the Dockyard and forts elsewhere in Bermuda were fully armed. The Old Cooperage building was built by the Royal Navy in 1831 for navy storage (now the Bermuda Arts Center, the creative workshop of local artisans and artists, open 7 days a week).

Mid 1800s

Dockyard fortifications 1840s

Bermuda Marime Museum 2One of the buildings usually completely overlooked by visitors is Lefroy House, named in the 1960s (after the Royal Navy left in the 1950s) after the famous Bermuda Governor and historian in later life. See "Friends of Lefroy House." Ireland Island, Sandys. Phone 234-0525. Fax 234-2152. Adult day care center for seniors. Registered charity 393. But its significance here is that it was built in 1819 as the Royal Naval Hospital, Bermuda, in its Dockyard days and was its shore-based hospital. (It served heroically during World War 2). It is before you get to the Dockyard proper.

From the mid 1800s on, the exploding shell and use of rifling inside a gun barrel improved range and accuracy. Rifled muzzle loading and rifled breech loading guns were also much easier, safer and quicker to load and fire. The Royal Navy brought them to Bermuda in quantity to fight off an enemy.

Commissioner's House in Bermuda was begun in May 1823 when Samuel Wade Smith was sent out to Bermuda by Edward Holl, the Surveyor of Buildings for the UK's Navy Board. He brought with him the plans for the Commissioner's House at HM Dockyard which Holl had designed. The former was responsible not only for the building of Commissioner's House, but also all of the quarrying and leveling of the dockyard site, the construction of the breakwater and the great wharf walls, and all the other buildings which constituted what became known as ‘The Works. Commissioner's House was restored in 2000 after long years of neglect.  The Bermuda Government contributed US$ 500,000 in a new partnership with the Maritime Museum. It has now been reopened as a second museum. It is identical in name to properties at other Royal Navy bases. It is so-called because it was the home and office of the Royal Naval Dockyard Commissioner. It has the distinction of being the oldest cast iron building in British military history (it is exceeded in age only by a few buildings in the USA where cast iron buildings were pioneered). 

It was an iron and steel framework shipped from the United Kingdom. It caused a monumental scandal because of its huge cost to British taxpayers. It became HMS Malabar VI and remained so until paid off. In front of and below it - see picture above - is the replica of the original bowsprit of a one famous Royal Navy vessel (with the author next to it).

Clocktower MallThe Great Eastern Storehouse, huge - pictured - with 3 foot walls and 100 foot towers, was built in 1856. 

The clock on the south tower was cast in England in 1857 by John Moore and Sons. 

What seems to be a single hand clock on the eastern side of the north tower is a rare "tide clock." 

In Royal Navy days, the hand was set daily to indicate the time of high tide. Grassy areas lead to deep water berths. Today, it is a shopping mall - the Clocktower Mall

By 1857, the Keep at the Dockyard surrounded on three sides by sea water - had 68 guns, mostly of 24 and 32 pounds in ammunition size and range. In those days of Imperial sea power, one gun in the latter weight could fire a 32 pound ball for a distance of 1,000 yards. From these, shells were carried to the guns on special systems. 

The grim building of Casemates (below - described by name in Somerset Parish  - was once solid rock. It is one of the most important - and second-oldest of the Dockyard buildings. It was built from convict labor in the 1830s as a barracks for Royal Marines. 

Casemate Barracks - as it was then called - was so named after an English military facility and was a barracks for the men of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, then responsible for the defence of the Dockyard.  

The "casemate" refers to the fact that  its roof, vaulted in brick and concrete some eight feet thick, was built to make it bomb-proof against the incoming cannon balls and mortar shot of the day. 

At one time (1848), Casemates was the barracks of the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch). They were then guarding the convicts building the Dockyard.

  Its yard is a flat, white wasteland created by the blasting away of its hard limestone, to give slaves (until 1834), free men and jailbirds from England (until 1863) the raw material from which they laboriously shaped each and every rock that made up the fortifications. The walls are several feet thick and made of specially-treated local limestone needed no plastering to make them waterproof.

It had two floors with accommodation for 120 officers and men, along with canteens, messes and offices. There was a veranda - needing restoration - on three sides of the building on the ground floor. The well that forms the roof has unparalleled views of the Dockyard to the northeast and the building, given its construction,  was capable of being used as a fort. On either side of the Barracks was an ordnance yard, still with gunpowder storage buildings, or magazines. 

Casemates
(In World War II from 1939 for Britain and its Commonwealth, the Royal Canadian Navy had an Anti-Submarine warfare training base here). It was under Royal Navy auspices. 

When the Royal Navy left, it became the main Bermuda corrections center (prison) for convicted criminals until 1995. There was even an execution or two here in the 1970's. 

It was such a damp, forbidding, gloomy place that the Bermuda Government built a brand new prison nearby, to make it more humane. The old building is still there, not used at this time. 

In recent years, but without success to date, there have been proposals to create a hotel from the prison. It has also been suggested that the Bermuda Archives be relocated here.

Hulks sent to Bermuda for non-convict purposes included

How used initially and subsequently. 

1847

Gaspard Le Merchant Tupper, posted to Bermuda in 1845 to 1848 bas a Major with the Royal Artillery (he became a Lieutenant General, later, on his return to England), was a hugely talented amateur artist. He painted the first three of the paintings below.

RN Dockyard May 1947 a

Royal Navy Dockyard by Gaspar Le Merchant Tupper

Royal Naval Dockyard again by Gaspar Le Merchant Tupper

Royal Navy Dockyard, Bermuda, May 1847

RN Dockyard May 1847 by Captain Sir Michael Seymour

 Captain Sir Michael Seymour, RN painted the distinctive watercolor above in Bermuda when his vessel toured ports of the North America and West Indies Station 1845-1848. He commanded HMS Vindictive. They have been on display at the Bermuda Maritime Museum and its Commissioner's House. This one shows the Dockyard from Commissioner's House, including prison hulks on the left. The Victualling Yard had not yet been built.

1856

dockyard 1856

Image shows dockyard further taking shape, with Victualling Yard built

Maria Hill Fort was demolished, with the hill partly quarried away to supply the Dockyard with soft Bermuda stone, a quality of the rock indicated in several military reports. In the following year, in his report titled Defence of Bermuda" Colonel A. J. Hemphill, Royal Engineers, included this comment about the defence of the Dockyard:  "There are mounted altogether on the Land Front and its outworks four 32-pdrs, fourteen 24-pdr guns and eleven 24-pdr carronades, and in rear of it, covered by its ramparts is a Bombproof Barrack, constructed for 13 officers and 307 men, with tanks underneath for 120,000 gallons of water; and on the flanks of the barrack, but at a lower level, bombproof magazines for 2500 barrels of gunpowder, (but now unused owing to the dangerous proximity of the Dockyard new blacksmiths), and a range of bombproof buildings, containing Commissariat offices, storehouses, bakery, etc., and barrack stores."

1865

Royal Naval Dockyard 1865

Royal Naval Dockyard 1865, showing the Floating Dock

To help in it's battle against yellow fever that was then becoming an epidemic in British Army and Royal Navy units then based in Bermuda, the Royal Navy sent Dr. Henry Domville, of the RN's medical service, to the Royal Naval Hospital, Ireland Ireland. It is believed he and his wife were there for several years.

Floating Docks 1869 and 1902

The earliest dock proposal was made in 1823 but in 1827 the Clerk of the Works argued that the local rock was too heterogeneous and porous for an efficient coffer dam. But a slip was started to careen the hulls of ships and is still there. The idea of a floating dock was discarded for a generation. It was stated that the new slip had to be capable of accommodating two 46-gun frigates. Correspondence was renewed in 1852 on the relative merits of a dry-dock, a slip and a floating dock. At that time, it was specified that the largest vessel to be considered would have the bean of the Terrible and the length of the Simoom, or the size of an 80-gun ship as these were the largest that could come through the Narrows in the channel widened for ships.

In 1854, a 600-foot slip was proposed at a cost of 35,000 pounds sterling but considered too costly. Three years later there was a plan for a dry-dock and yet another slip in 1862. Then it was decided Bermuda should have a floating dock. It was built by English floating dock engineers Campbell & Johnstone at Blackwall on the River Thames and completed on June 23, 1869.

Bermuda Floating Dock 1869

Bermuda's first Floating Dock for HM Dockyard. Thomas Dutton, artist and engraver. Original in the National Maritime Museum, London

Floating Dock 1

Floating Dock 2

Floating Dock arrives in Bermuda 1869

Royal Navy floating dock in Bermuda (37252 bytes)

Bermuda Floating Dock

Location of the Bermuda Floating Dock

She was towed out by the HMS Agincourt and HMS Northumberland as far as Porto Santo, Madeira, where HMS Warrior (Britain's first iron-hulled battleship, built in Blackwall on the River Thames in 1860 as a counter to the naval ambitions of Emperor Napoleon III of France, the fastest, largest, strongest and best-armed warship in the world but by 1869 she was obsolete) and HMS Black Prince took over. With HMS Terrible and a small gunboat fast astern, the voyage took 35 days. The ships and the floating dock arrived off Ireland Island on July 28. The floating dock lay in Grassy Bay until the following April when it was brought to the North Basin and moored against the Great Wharf.

As a functioning Dockyard, this facility had ammunition depots, deep water berths, barracks, chapels, soldiers and sailors to guard it. The soldiers were based at the fort here, the largest in Bermuda (now the Bermuda Maritime Museum).

Bermuda Floating Dock 1902

From the 1870s

Royal Navy in BermudaThe Keep was freshly equipped in the 1870's until 1905. Concrete emplacements for 10 inch rifled muzzle loading guns were built on five of the bastions. One could fire a 400 pound exploding shell for a distance of 4,800 yards. Two new magazines for ammunition were also built. In the 1880s, the Royal Navy brought modern breech loading guns with steel barrels to Bermuda, in accordance with the rearmament at British dockyards in Britain, Canada and Malta.

What is now the Queen's Exhibition Hall was a magazine built in the late 1800s for 4,860 kegs of gunpowder. The Shifting House once handled ordnance for naval vessels.

Not until after 1900 did the USA and Britain become allies, which is why so many land based forts were built in Bermuda in the 19th century. They and their powerful, long range, hill-top coastline cannons discouraged an enemy from seizing Bermuda. All the forts in the Western Parishes were designed to help protect the Dockyard. It was Britain's Atlantic naval base headquarters from Canada's Great Lakes to the Caribbean and remote islands of the South Atlantic. It was the Citadel of the Western Atlantic and Gibraltar of the West.

In the early 1900's, three 4.7 inch quick firing modern breech loading guns - mostly to guard against torpedo boats -and four new six inch breech loading guns were mounted on the bastions. Each was supplied by an underground magazine. Under this further improved system, a six inch gun could fire a 100 pound exploding shell for 12,000 yards.

Also in the 1870s, Cockburn's Cut - named after a former Admiral - was excavated. It is between Ireland Island north and south. The year of construction of the bridge was 1896.

1880 - 1885

Royal Navy Dockyard Bermuda,  Penny's Drawing

From 1880 to 1885, Dr. Edward Lewton Penny was the Dockyard parson, schoolmaster and librarian. A scholar, he described himself in Latin as "unhappily submerged and badly treated in the Bermuda Islands. " In this sketch by him he notes in Greek that the man who borrows a volume and does not return it is committing a sin. He hoped for the best but expected the worst.

1881. April 1. Captain John Moresby, RN, later Rear Admiral, left Bermuda after a three-year assignment at the Royal Naval Dockyard: ‘I handed over my command to another, when parting kindnesses, warm farewells, and much speechifying, poured in on me from all quarters, together with gratifying official recognition; but I think the Commander-in-Chief Sir Leopold McClintock’s last words were my greatest pleasure, when he simply said: “I hope I shall be regretted as you are when I also give up my command.”

1902

Primarily as the result of the economic boom created by the massive Walker Works project of expanding and modernizing the Royal Naval Dockyard, hundreds of West Indians from many Caribbean islands arrived in Bermuda by sea. The scope of that massive construction included Watford Island, Boaz and Ireland Islands, the building of a Watford (Swing) Bridge and construction of a railway to carry tons of fill for the reclamation of land from the sea.

In Bermuda, headquarters of the Royal Navy's America and West Indies Station, with Vice Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas in command of the Station, the following Royal Navy vessels were based at the RN Dockyard: Cruisers: Ariadne; Calypso; Charybdis; Indefatigable; Pallas; Retribution; and Tribune. Torpedo-boat Destroyers: Quail; Rocket. Sloops and gunboats: Alert; Columbine; Fantome. Gigs: 4.

1917

At Admiralty House, Pembroke, Bermuda, residence and headquarters of the Royal Navy's Bermuda-based Admiral of the West Indies and North America Squadron, staff there included individuals in the following photograph:

RN personnel Admiralty House Bermuda 1917

 

1920s

Bermuda Dockyard 1920s

How the Dockyard looked then

World War 1, 1920s and 1930s

Royal Navy officerThe Dockyard was a strategic overseas naval coaling and classified wireless telegraphy transmission station for the Royal Navy. Whole areas of land had tall wireless masts and special fittings. During this period, hundreds of local boys and some lads from the Caribbean became apprentices at the Dockyard when they turned 13 or 14 years old. 

Ships steamed in and out almost on a daily basis. Apprentices helped to service them. Aptitude papers were kept by the Royal Navy. Young electricians were the most called for. 

Then there were pattern making, engineering, machine shop or woodworking areas for trainee shipwrights, joiners or carpenters. In those days, there were many specialist buildings at the Dockyard, including a Spar theater, hospital, cinema, cooperative stores for clothing, pharmaceuticals, canteen, officers' club and quarters, books, cafeterias.

There was also a ginger beer plant and place where rum was imported in 55 gallon casks and dispensed in a British style public house. There were separate schools for boys and girls of locally based servicemen - and where the latter could go for special adult training. In the social scene, there were pantomimes, an amateur naval orchestra and sports events.

From 1933 HMS Malabar and British Military seaplanes 

HMS Malabar

The word Malabar derives from the name of a district of India stretching about 145 miles along the west coast, south of Mangalore, in the general region of present-day Kerala. Its chief towns include Cannanore, Tellicheri, Calicut (Kozhikode), and Palghat. In its older, wider, and popular significance the Malabar Coast includes the whole southwest corner of India as far back as the ghaut line. The ancient form of the name was Male - "where the pepper grows" - thus the name Malayalam for the prevailing language. 

Referred to as HMS Malabar (in honour of a series of floating ships and shore facilities). From 1933, HMS Malabar in Bermuda was manned by RAF personnel, though under Royal Naval control until 25th May, 1939 when the Fleet Air Arm, reconstituted as a branch of the Royal Navy, rather than an RAF detachment, began replacing them with naval personnel.  

Its purpose as a station was to oversee the equipment and detachments to the naval vessels operating from the colony, within the Dockyard proper (on the dock beside the Stores building, on Ireland Island. It was how the small RAF Bermuda station began. Although controlled by the Royal Navy, the base was manned entirely by Royal Air Force personnel. But all British aircraft were all part of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). They included a number of Hawker Osprey, Fairey Seafox and Supermarine Walrus seaplanes. 

The primary duties at HMS Malabar consisted of building up crated sea-planes, servicing, repairing and, when necessary, replacing aircraft from the fleet. These were mostly  used for artillery spotting, reconnaissance and opportunistic attack roles. The anomaly in the command structure referred to in 1933 was rectified when this part of the Royal Navy Dockyard was transferred to the FAA and given this name. (Later, HMS Malabar became the Signal Station in front of the Commissioner's House). 

Its crest was of a flaming sun with the motto "Our Guide" underneath. 

HMS Bermuda ships

From the 1800s to 1942, eight ships of the Royal Navy were named after Bermuda, including the mammoth Floating Dock of 1869, now rotting at Spanish Point. 

HMS Bermuda 1939 to 1965. See http://www.hmsgangestoterror.org/HMSBermuda.htm. A light cruiser of the Colony Class, launched in 1941, decommissioned in 1962, scrapped in 1965. Built by John Brown & Company at Clydebank, laid down in November 1938 and commissioned on August 21, 1942. Originally, the ship had 12 six-inch guns, anti-aircraft pieces and six torpedo tubes. During the war, she served in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic and Arctic and finally in the Pacific theatre. In later years, the vessel was a part of NATO, but was taken out of service in 1962. Some silver objects given to HMS Bermuda by the island are now at the Bermuda Maritime Museum. She visited Bermuda 3 times:1958, Jul 1959, and Feb 1962.

HMS Bermuda 1939-65

1939. New Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) on Boaz Island

The facility referred to above was far too limited, and placed in the busiest part of the base. It was decided to relocate it to Boaz Island, one of the under-used appendages to the Ireland Island facility. Here, two slipways were built, allowing the use of the Great Sound or the open waters to the west, depending on whether the winds blew from West or East. Two hangars were also built, and a workshop, though the full plans for the facility were never realized.

The RAF handed operations over to the Royal Navy on 3rd September, 1939-co-incidental with the re-location to Boaz Island ( and the same day volunteer units were mobilized in preparation for declaration of war on 8 September). Some RAF personnel were to remain until 1940 when 718 Squadron was disbanded and the remainder of its personnel were posted elsewhere. Fleet Air Arm (FAA) members were key players.

See the book "The Flying Boats Of Bermuda" by Colin A. Pomeroy

From 1939 to 1945

On patrol Although primarily intended as a maintenance facility, on the advent of war, the FAA at Boaz Island found themselves tasked with more active roles. Bermuda quickly became a major form-up point for trans-Atlantic convoys and U-Boats were a constant menace. Establishing regular patrols proved to be very difficult as RNAS Boaz Island lacked its own aircrew. Patrols were flown with whatever pilots were on hand, including aircrew from the two RAF Commands at Darrell's Island, and pilots from the Bermuda Flying School (BFS). The Chief Flying Instructor of the BFS, Captain Edward Stafford, a US citizen, flew a number of such patrols in the navy's Walrus amphibians, as did other local pilots. In May 1942, the last FAA assets on Ireland Island moved to Boaz Island, now, technically, RNAS, Bermuda (HMS Malabar II--though it had been preceded by at least four or five others of that name). The FAA would lose a number of aircraft in the colony over the years, though primarily from visiting vessels. There is still an FAA Swordfish floatplane sitting at the bottom of the Great Sound. A Skua dive bomber crashed on the Port Royal golf course after a sudden drop in wind speed prevented her returning to HMS Illustrious, anchored in the Sound, and a Walrus met her end in the Great Sound). When the BFS was closed down in 1942 due to a surplus of aircrew, Captain Ed Stafford joined the RAF Ferry Command. Shot down, he was captured by the Germans and not liberated until 1945). Although RAF Transport Command was soon flying many Catalina maritime patrol aircraft through the colony at RAF Darrell's Island, the FAA provided the only aerial patrols of the surrounding Atlantic until establishment of a US Naval Kingfisher unit on the colony in 1941.
Sinking ship They flew target towing sorties for ship and shore based AA guns, maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols. Personnel of all occupations and ranks often worked 24 hours a day, This Royal Navy base was one of the two most strategic British and Allied facilities in the North Atlantic. Its floating dry docks, towed across the Atlantic from Britain, provided the repairs most in demand by ships of all sizes. The cruisers HMS Ajax and Exeter which took part in the Battle of the River Plate, did so with aircraft serviced at RNAS Bermuda, having sailed from Bermuda before meeting the Graf Spee in December of that year. In six years of the conflict, artificers and engineers worked on merchant, Royal Navy and Allied ships damaged by German cruisers, pocket battleships and U-boats prowling Atlantic shipping sea lanes between Bermuda and New York. Nearly 600 vessels from all navies and merchant marines were repaired here and put back to sea. 
Supply ship Dockyard based Royal Navy sea patrols rescued, processed and transported to Britain and Canada thousands of men, women and children from torpedoed Allied ships, many after days or nights at sea in open lifeboats. German prisoners of war were sent via Bermuda under naval guard to POW camps in Canada. The Royal Canadian Navy was also prominent in Bermuda then. There was an anti-submarine warfare training base under Royal Navy auspices. Part of it was at Casemates Barracks.  It spread east to Convict Bay in St. George's Parish, with the establishment in 1944 of HMCS Somers Isle.  Royal Canadian Navy ships also played a major role in the War of the Atlantic. When Britain signed its "50 Destroyers for Bases" deal with the USA, once again the dockyard was twinned with Halifax for strategic military purposes. 

Aviator from base

Thousands of Royal Navy officers and men were conveyed from Bermuda to Halifax to take over 50 previously mothballed American naval ships. Many Swordfish aircraft were based here or at nearby Boaz Island and one crashed into the sea. There were also several Walrus torpedo bombers based in Bermuda to help the war effort. One crashed at Daniel's Head. A ditty was sung to the tune of "Meet Me in Dreamland" every time a ship steamed from the Dockyard. It went:  "Good bye, Ireland Island. Farewell the floating dock. Good-bye to spuds and onions. Chin chin the Dockyard Clock. And when the boat you go home in steams out of Grassy Bay, you'll love this place dearer when you're no nearer than three thousand miles away. "No defensive air or sea action was seen from either RNAS Bermuda or the Royal Navy based here, however (though the presence of locally-based aircraft overhead and the Royal Navy's Bermuda-based heavy guns may well have thwarted German attacks on vessels in local waters), When the worst of the Battle of the Atlantic was over - especially with the entrance of the United States into the war from December 1941 and with the build up of the US Navy and USAAF air bases on the island from 1941, the FAA facility became somewhat superfluous and was placed on a 'care and maintenance' footing in  April, 1944. It was never re-opened, but was used for a time, after the war, by civil float plane operators. Some remnants still survive.

In the Cold War years

Royal Navy Dockyard 1948

Royal Navy Dockyard 1948

Then, the Dockyard played a strategic NATO role as a naval base for Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and other NATO navies' ships. Many clandestine operations in submarine surveillance were conducted to keep the Soviets from regarding the Atlantic as "their ocean" for any warlike designs against the US East coast. By then the whole original purpose of the Dockyard had been reversed. Instead of being used as earlier to attack the USA and defend Bermuda, it became - with the former US Naval Annex in Southampton Parish - a principal naval base to defend the USA from Soviet attack.

September 1960 to September 1961. HMS Rothesay was based Royal Navy Dockyard at Island Island. Crew enjoyed periodic station leave at the-then un-used former British Army camp near Horseshoe Beach, in between patrols covering the whole of North and South America. They enjoyed the hospitality of the local people. One crew member spent a few days with a local family over Christmas 1960 (when then was a brief appearance of snow, usually unheard of in Bermuda) and attended Mass with them on Christmas Eve.

1961-62. HMS Londonderry was based at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Island Island during her first commission and the ships company have very many happy memories of Bermuda and the hospitality that was afforded them whilst there.

Naval Crest Walls

From November 29/30, 2008 - our special and unique Bermuda Online web site solely on these crests - photographed personally by this author

Royal Naval Cemetery (The Glade)

Royal Navy Bermuda gravesIreland Island South in Sandys Parish. On Malabar Road, near Lagoon Park, approaching the former RN Dockyard. Phone: (441) 236-6483. Bus Routes: 7, 8.  Admission is free. The Royal Navy purchased the land where the cemetery sits in 1809 and consecrated the ground in 1812. It reverted to the Bermuda Government in the late 1950s when the Royal Navy Dockyard here finally closed after approaching two centuries in Bermuda. Hallowed ground for officers and men Royal Navy in Bermuda from the 18th to 20th centuries. The cemetery grew in size and was open for burial to all until 1849 when convicts were excluded. Also known as ‘The Glade,’ it has memorials to many Royal Navy personnel from warships stationed here who died of the yellow fever that ravaged the British military in Bermuda during the mid-19th century. Maintained by the British War Graves Commission. Four Admirals were buried here. One was Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey, KCB, RN. He died in 1841 on May 28 at Bermuda at the age of 66. He had been stationed in Bermuda as Commander in Chief of the North American and West Indies Naval Forces. He was 66 years old. He was entombed under a fine monument later erected by his family, and subsequent descendants who added a text engraved on a brass plaque in 1957 (see larger photo below). His monument shows an 19th century warship wedged between two cannon and cannonballs.

Small photo above by this author Keith A. Forbes.

RN Cemetery 1957

The cemetery also records the numerous accidents that befell the young servicemen in Bermuda, including deaths during World War 2 when Bermuda was a transit point in the Battle of the Atlantic. Close to the road are final resting places of Royal Navy seamen who died on their ships in mid Atlantic actions near Bermuda during World War II against German pocket battleships and U-boats.

Epitaph

After World War 2, when the Royal Navy Dockyard in Bermuda played such a vital role in the Atlantic, it was clear that the Royal Navy was unlikely ever again to require the immense repair facility embodied in the Dockyard. While many anticipated it would be reduced to a care and maintenance level, few were prepared for the Admiralty announcement in 1950 that the Dockyard would close within 12 months. It closed officially on 31 March 1951 after being in operation since 1809. It took a while for this to take effect. The dismantling was virtually completed when the large floating dock left Bermuda on July 11, bound for England. It was towed by the Royal Navy tugs Wanden and Reward, with the tug Prosperous in reserve. All reached Falmouth, England, on August 11. Most buildings were offered to the Bermuda Government and in 1953, when the great majority of the Royal Navy left, title of the Dockyard buildings was officially transferred to the Bermuda Government for 750,000 pounds sterling. A limited number of buildings and other facilities, mainly in the South Basin area, were retained by the Royal Navy (until 1995) for the support of visiting British, Commonwealth, NATO and foreign naval vessels calling in from time to time. They were administered by a small permanent Royal Navy staff under the Resident Naval Officer with the rank of Commander. The post of SNOWI (Senior Naval Officer West Indies) was established on 29 October 1956. In June 1965, HMS Malabar was re-commissioned as Malabar VII. Moresby House, close alongside, and the Magazine House on Boaz Island, became a sort of Supplies and Signals center but without official accreditation. Things were again cut back in December 1967 to a single Lieutenant Commander, RNO (Supplies). He left, with his SNOWI post, when Bermuda as a base for the Royal Navy was officially abolished on 1 April 1976. In 1980, the Bermuda Government underwrote an ambitious rehabilitation scheme covering the 214 acre site. Massive rehabilitation for civilian occupation and use began in 1982, after nearly three decades of Bermuda Government inactivity and crimes galore against property. In March, 1995 all remaining buildings were turned over to Bermuda as well. To date, the restoration and conversion to public use has cost more than $21 million in public funds and $42 million in private investment. The Royal Canadian Navy and United States Navy continued to have a base in Bermuda until 1993 and 1995 respectively, at separate naval bases. Now, they too have gone.

Bermuda Maritime Museum Old Royal Naval Dockyard. Telephone (441) 234-1333. Open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm, with last admission at 4:30 pm. There is a Board of Trustees, with local and overseas members; a Bermuda Maritime Museum Inc. in New York; and a Bermuda Maritime Museum Trust in London.
Bermuda Maritime Museum Association P. O. Box 73, Somerset, Sandys MA BX. RC 136
Royal Naval Association (Bermuda Branch) Meeting, Bermuda Sailors' Home, Richmond Road, Pembroke, call 236 6089 or 236 7177. Meets monthly. 

Today, longer a dockyard, it still uses the name. The berths and all buildings are civilian. It still handles the occasional hydrographic survey and cable laying ships. The facilities include locally owned shops and restaurants. Access is free, except to the Bermuda Maritime Museum. Go by bus, ferry, moped or taxi. 

Bibliography

"The Andrews And The Onions", by Lt. Commander Ian Strannack, RN, formerly based in Bermuda. The story of the Royal Navy in Bermuda.

West End Development Corporation (Wedco)

Dockyard. P. O. Box MA 415, Mangrove Bay, MA BX. Set up in 1982 to manage and develop 214 acres of Government-owned land in the West End, including Watford Island, Boaz Island, Ireland Island South and North, the small islands forming the Crawl off Ireland South and the North and South basins and breakwaters. Directors are political appointees. Revenue is generated from residential and commercial tenants plus berthing fees from the commercial and cruise ship docks. Mega cruise ships now dock there.

Also see  WEDCO's http://www.thewestend.bm

Bermuda's Royal Navy Ships Crests Walls

Other military files by this author include

American military quit Bermuda in 1995

Bermuda Forts built by the British Army

British Army in Bermuda

line drawing

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Last Updated: November 23, 2014.
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