The Old Casemates Prison
Casemates: A Harsh History
Written by W.C. Stevenson.
Casemates, the second oldest stone building in Dockyard after the Commissioner’s House, was originally built as barracks for the Royal Marines Light Infantry that were stationed at the Royal Naval Base for fear of retribution by the United States after the War of 1812.
It was built during the late 1830s by a large number of British convicts brought in from England. The convicts lived in extremely poor conditions in old and abandoned warships that were crudely modified for bare living, ironically unaware that the building would eventually be used as a prison. They were, essentially, constructing a keep for their own criminal descendants.
The two storied building was designed to house 13 officers and 307 men from the marine defense complete with officers rooms, a mess, canteen and offices. The roof of the building with vaulted ceiling (called a casemated roof, hence the name Casemate Barracks) is eight feet thick, made of bricks and concrete so that it could withstand enemy bombings and cannon shots. The walls of the building are also several feet thick and made of hard limestone rocks.
In 1951 when the dockyard lost its significance as the Royal Naval base and the British navy left the island, the Building was left vacant until it was developed into Bermuda’s maximum security prison in 1961. It remained as the main prison for decades until 1995 when a new prison Westgate was built on Pender Road just outside the Dockyard. Since then the Casemates facility has been lying idle and vacant.
In the recent times, an underground tunnel has been discovered right under the place where the prison’s visitor centre used to be. It is strange that at the time of excavation work taking place during the building of the visitor’s centre, no one noticed this 60-foot tunnel. The tunnel was used for transit during the days the British Navy occupied the grounds.
The entire dockyard area including the Casemates is under the administration of the West End Development Corporation of Bermuda (WEDCO). In 2009 the Bermuda Government transferred Casemates and its adjacent fortifications to the Bermuda Maritime Museum, creating the National Museum of Bermuda.
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