Built Heritage: Convict Bathhouses
BUILT HERITAGE: April 2022 By Linda Abend and Margie Lloyd, Bermuda National Trust
This post is part of a series of architectural articles by the Bermuda National Trust that highlight some of Bermuda’s endangered historic buildings.
When the building of the Dockyard began in 1809 the British Admiralty had a desperate need for labourers. So, 74 English and 54 Bermudian craftsmen were hired along with 164 labourers and an unspecified number of enslaved persons who were hired from their Bermudian owners. In 1823 it was decided that employing convicts from the over-populated English prisons would be a better solution. The HMS Antelope was fitted out to accommodate 300 convicts to be employed at Dockyard and other fortifications on the island. In 1826 the Dromedary arrived with another 300 convicts, followed by the Coromandel in 1828 with yet another 300. By the end of 1846 the Tenedos and Thames had arrived and the convict population totalled 1,759. In total, some 9,000 convicts were employed and were quartered in old warships known as ‘hulks’.
At Boaz Island and at the southern end of Ireland Island are the remains of some of buildings erected by the convicts in hard Bermuda limestone for use as bathing houses. They appear as small towers, in effect cells open to the sky, but walled in so as to form a room on the water’s edge. They were designed to have sea water flow into them through holes at such a height that there was always water for bathing. The buildings had a single entry consisting of steps down into the water, and convicts were therefore confined during their ablutions. This prevented escapes that might occur if the men were allowed to bath directly in the sea. While most were circular structures, square shaped bathhouses were also built.