Above: A wooden carving of Lord Nelson.
Taking second place only to the island's beaches, Nelson's Dockyard is Antigua's most popular attraction. It centers upon a former Royal Navy dockyard that has been both rescued from ruin and converted to modern use. Not only is it of interest from a historical perspective but it is an area of great beauty and charm.
The dockyard is named after Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, whose victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 ensured British domination of the seas for more than a century. Long before his great victories, then-Captain Nelson was the temporary Commander of the Leeward Islands Station (1784-1787), which was based in Antigua.
The reason Britain had a dockyard in Antigua was to enable it to base a fleet of ships in the Caribbean on a continual basis. Ever since the discovery of the New World, the European powers had fought over the Caribbean islands. Having ships based in the Caribbean gave Britain a strategic advantage and helped protect its valuable sugar and spice colonies.
To protect the dockyard, the British constructed encampments and fortifications on the surrounding high ground. As discussed below, several of these are open to the public and offer spectacular views.
All of the sites discussed on this page are part of the Nelson's Dockyard National Park and are operated by the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks Authority,
The dockyard is located in English Harbour on the southern coast of Antigua. It is next to Falmouth Harbour, home to numerous sailing yachts.
English Harbour is a fine natural harbor, surrounded by tall hills. Consequently, it was used as early as 1671 as a refuge from hurricanes. The British first built a dockyard there in 1725. It continued in use until 1889. In 1951, a group of private citizens banded together to restore the area.
A large parking lot, usually full of taxis and tour buses, lies in front of the the Dockyard. Admission tickets are available at the modern entrance building, which also has stalls where local merchants sell their wares (above).
After a short walk, you come to the original dockyard gate (left). Once inside, you find yourself in a nicely landscaped and well-maintained park-like area (below).
Most of the buildings in the Dockyard were built between 1785 and 1725. Most such as the Sawpit Shed and the Sail Loft (below right) now service the many yachts that are based in or which visit Antigua.
Lord Nelson never lived in the Admiral's House (right). It was not built until 1855, 50 years after Nelson's death. Moreover, even if it had been standing during Nelson's time in Antigua, it is unlikely he would have stayed there. Nelson made himself unpopular with the local planters and merchants by rigidly enforcing the British laws restricting trade with the newly independent United States. As a result, he spent most of his time aboard his ship.
Today, the Admiral's House is a museum with an interesting exhibit about Nelson.
As noted earlier, the British built fortifications on the high ground surrounding English Harbour. One such battery was located on Dow's Hill.
The battery area has been transformed into an interpretation center. Inside the main building, visitors can view is a multi-media presentation on the history of Antigua. Outside, you can explore the ruins of the old encampment. But the highpoint is the spectacular views of English Harbour and the countryside.
Above left: The Dow Hill Interpretation Center. Above: The rampart where the cannons once stood provides a good view of the Dockyard (below).
The fortifications protecting English Harbour also included the battery and signal station at Shirley Heights. I is named after Sir Thomas Shirley, who strengthen the island's defense in 1781.
Here, four cannons protected the entrance to the harbor and signal flags enabled the occupants to communicate to the other British facilities what the lookouts were able to see from this towering position.
Although the cannons are gone the great views remain.
On the south side, you can see far out to sea. Indeed, you can see the island of Monserrat on a clear day. From the west side, you can see English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.
Inside the Guard House, there is a shop and a bar.
Cruise destination - - Antigua - Nelson's Dockyard and vicinity