Antigua and Barbuda

Posted on February 23, 2021 / 47
Listing Type : Naval Port or Anchorage
Location : Caribbean Sea

Antigua and Barbuda was controlled by the British from 1632  and quickly became established as a sugar producing area, largely reliant on slave labour. Numerous coastal defence batteries were built around the Islands to deter potential attack.  English Harbour was established as the Naval Base for the Royal Navy in the first decade of the 18th Century and it became the operational base for the Caribbean Fleet of the Royal Navy. English Harbour was found to be a safe anchorage during hurricanes and initially a careening wharf was built on the east side of the harbour.  This site was found to be too restricted in size and from the 1740’s work began on a Naval Dockyard on the west side of the bay adjacent.

With peace in 1815 the Dockyard lost much of its’ importance.  The old careening area on the east side of the harbour was used as a coaling area from 1850 but the Dockyard continued to decline in importance.  By 1889 the Royal Navy had closed the Dockyard with its’ operations switch to Saint Lucia and Port Royal, Jamaica,

The Islands remained under British control until independence in 1981.

The Dockyard

The initial building of the English Harbour Dockyard began in 1728 at an area known as St. Helena on the east side of the harbour.  This was a simple shore facility with a careening area, storage buildings and a capstan.  British naval operations in the Caribbean rapidly expanded during this period and a new dockyard was built on the opposite side from about 1741 onwards.  By 1745 some storage buildings were on site, and between 1755 and 1785 quarters, kitchens, more storehouses were completed. Additional building took place and in 1773 a new brick boundary wall in the present positions, a Guard House, the two Mast Houses, and other related building were built.  At this time the first Naval Hospital was on a site outside the Dockyard but has now been lost.

Many of the surviving buildings in the Dockyard were erected between 1785 and 1794. In was during this period that Nelson was at the Dockyard (1784 to 1787). In 1815 with peace the dockyard staff was reduced from a total of 333 employees and never really recovered.  In the 1850s it was used as a coaling station but in 1889 the Royal Navy abandoned the dockyard, and it fell into decay.  Port Royal in Jamaica was used as an alternative up to 1904 and then the Royal Navy switched to Bermuda which had a modern floating dock.  In 1906 the Dockyard was handed over to the Antigua Government.

The whole complex today provides a superb example of an early British Naval Station with coastal batteries, magazine, a hospital, water catchment and associated infrastructure.


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