His Majesty's Antigua Naval Yard  at English Harbour dates from 1725. Its function was to maintain the Royal Naval warships that captured valuable sugar islands of the Eastern Caribbean thus cutting off enemy trade and increasing Britain's own wealth.

By 1889, the Yard had completely wound down, and released by the Admiralty to the Colonial Government in 1906.

From the beginning of restoration in 1951, the yard became known as Nelson's Dockyard in honour of Admiral Horatio Nelson who had served as a Captain from 1784-87.

The DOCKYARD MUSEUM in the Naval Officer's House interprets the story of English Harbour and of the people that toiled in this famous Georgian Royal Naval Yard. It also explains the 20th century return of sailing ships and the aims and aspirations of Nelson's Dockyard National Park. There is also a small "Nelson's Room" with a life sized portrait of Nelson researched through archaeological means.

A LIBRARY, with copies of original documents and a database of Caribbean naval history, is available for researchers.

  • The history of the yard shows that it was built from 1725 and was abandoned by the navy in 1889.
  • There are many interesting buildings of fine Georgian architecture. They began to be restored in 1932 and the work continued from 1951.
  • Many points of interest both naval and military, within the Dockyard and surrounding areas, will fascinate the visitor.
  • The gift shop next to the museum in the Naval Officer's House is one of the best in Antigua.
  • The Dockyard is now a National Park, an important tourist attraction and a regional yachting centre with a fine yacht marina and many facilities.

For enquiries, address the National Parks Authority, Box 1283, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies.

Tel: 1 268 460-1379 or fax: 460-1516 or E-Mail c/o: mailto:

A Thumbnail History of the Dockyard

THE FIRST PEOPLE, TOOLS & BOATS - The harbour's history started about 500 BC when Archaic Indians settled in the harbour living on marine resources. Later, around 500 AD, the Arawak Indians actually lived where the Dockyard is today and at Freeman's Bay near the entrance to the harbour. Their artifacts are shown in the Museum.

THE FIRST SHIP ... A YACHT - The first recorded naval ship was when a yacht, chartered to the Governor of the Leeward Islands "to chase ye pirates", was safe in a hurricane in 1671. Warships then began to use the harbour for careening and self refits. It was not until about 50 years later that the first buildings were established on the east side of the harbour (where the yacht slipway is today).

BLACK LABOURERS - The Dockyard was used by the Royal Navy during the French wars that persisted on and off throughout the 18th century until peace was finally declared in 1815. During its heyday the labour force was 5 officers and 327 men, most of whom were enslaved African shipwrights, caulkers, sail makers and labourers.

THE OFFICERS & SHIPS - Many famous officers visited Antigua including Admirals Rodney, Cochrane, Hood, and Nelson. The latter had been the 26 year old Captain of HMS Boreas in 1784. The Americans had recently become independent and thus a foreign nation. The Navigation Act prohibited trade with foreign countries using foreign or American ships. Nelson therefore became unpopular with Antiguans for he enforced the Navigation Act. The ships most often seen under repair in English Harbour were frigates, brig-sloops, schooners and cutters.

DECAY & LATER RESTORATION - After the peace of 1815, the running down period commenced, so that by 1889 the station was officially closed down. Then decay of the buildings set in. In 1931, the colonial Governor took pity on this most historic site and organised funding from a Canadian insurance company to repair some of the buildings. Tourism and yacht chartering had not yet started, so restoration failed. In 1951, however another Governor founded the Friends of English Harbour Society and Lady Churchill sponsored an Appeal Committee in London, and from then on restoration grew from strength to strength..

TODAY - The National Parks Authority has full responsibility for the running and well being of the Dockyard and environs. Much funding has been forthcoming from the Canadian International Development Agency and the British Development Division. In 2004, restoration of the stone wharfs was accomplished with funds from the European Union and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. English Harbour is being operated as a successful tourist attraction and as a yacht marina.

The Principal Buildings

This was once the Store Keeper's residence and office. The Dockyard Museum is on the ground floor of this balconied Victorian building while the military story of English Harbour is told upstairs.
A row of rooms once used for housing careening ship's officers is built over 12 water cisterns with a capacity of 1,200 tons of rainwater. Today these rooms are shops and restaurants.
Under the dormer roof, sailors used to hang their hammocks, while below, copper for ship's bottoms and lumber was stored. Today, the building is a hotel of the same name.

There are two bays to this building, built at different times. The upper walls of this store were considered unsafe in 1949, so were dismantled.


Above the Boat House was the Joiner's and Turner's Loft. The building is near the Main Gate and once held the Yard clock high up on the south side and there was once a small "Engine House" for fire engines below. Bare boat charter offices are below.


On the top floor were the engineer's offices and below pitch, tar & turpentine was stored over brick-lined pits. Today it houses the Admirals Inn.

72 black masons built its large circular stone pillars in 15 months. A waterway between the massive greenstone pillars was used for hoisting sails from boats through a trap door in the sail loft floor. The building has been roofless since a hurricane in 1871, after which concrete caps were placed on top to guard against erosion..
Above was the Pay Office and on the south side the Commissioner's Room. Below were stores. Today there are three shops in the building.
Seamen were fed here when their ships were being careened. Today the building is a boutique and restaurant.


Seaman's Galley



Cordage Store



Mast House

 Pay Office



Officer's Quarters



Copper & Lumber Store

The stone wharf almost completed, December 2003

Dockyard Gate & Joiner's Loft in 1950   Cordage & Canvas Store in 1949
The 1855 Naval Officer's House (Museum) in 2000   The 1797 Boat House & Sail Loft pillars in 1954

Points of Interest

  • THE CAMELFORD ANCHOR - Legend has it that the anchor marks the spot where Lt. Lord Camelford shot Lt. Peterson over an argument of seniority. The anchor weighs about 7,000 lbs and would have been used on large ships-of-the-line (battleships).
  • THE THREE CAPSTANS - were used for careening warships. A fiddler would play on a capstan top to put heart and soul into the jolly tars hauling down the masts of their ship. Today, yachtsmen congregate around them on Christmas Day to celebrate with champagne.
  • CAULDRONS - Here and there can be seen upturned kettles or cauldrons which were used for boiling tar for caulking ship's seams. They were also used aboard ships as a receptacle to boiling stews.
  • UP-ENDED CANNON - Captured and unserviceable cannon were re-utilised as bollards to which ships were secured when alongside the wharfs.
  • INCLINED PLANE - Next to the museum can be seen a stone inclined plane. It is the oldest part of the Dockyard, dating to 1769. It was used for sliding large pieces of lumber up to the saw-pit for sawing.
  • THE TARTAR BELL - Over the main gate is a ship's bell once belonging to HMS Tartar and given to the yard when it was beginning to be restored in the 1930's. An earlier ship Tartar had taken the bell when the Yard was shut down in 1889.
  • SEEN ABOUT THE DOCKYARD - Two mounted Carronades, two cannons once bollards around the wharf. One is marked "Liberté et Égalite", 1796.  Another is one of the oldest in Antigua and marked with the Tudor Rose. Also seen are several 7,000 lb. anchors found under the stones of the 1820's stone wharf when it was being restored. Their rings had been used extended from under the stone wharf for mooring ships alongside.
  • SAILOR'S GRAFFITI - Outside the Dockyard above Malone's shop on the walls of the water catchment built in 1732, can be seen fine examples of sailor's graffiti carved as early as the 1740's.

The Library and Research Centre

There is a small Research Library upstairs of the Museum with documents appertaining to the history of the Dockyard.

Some documents:

Naval Officer’s Antigua Navy Yard Correspondence in the Dockyard Library:

          Vol. I - From Naval Officer Antigua Yard                 1755 - 1794

          Vol. II -                   ditto                                           Jun 1795 - May 1800

          Vol. III -                  ditto                                           May 1800 - Jun 1810

          Vol. IV -                  ditto                                          Jun 1810 - Jan 1824

          Vol. V - Navy Board                                                1758 - Dec 1781

                                                                                           Jan 1824 - 1825

          Vol. VI -   ditto                                                          Dec 1781 - 1784 (Some ref. Capt. Nelson)

          Vol. VII - Expense Book  (on ships under repair)       1781.


Extracts from Letter Books of Hood & Cochrane, 1803 - 1805.

C-in-C. Leeward Islands correspondence to the Commissioner, Antigua Yard.

Vol. I -  1803 Hood

Vol. II - 1805 Cochrane.


Extracts from the Journal of Boatswain Francis Fox of the Antigua Naval Yard, 1820 – 1823.


Several volumes of Yacht Visitor's books, 1950's to c. 1970.

A drawer of maps, plans and large documents.


Much of the above material is indexed in a Naval History database of about 1,925 records.

There are also databases of Dockyard building histories and Dockyard employees.

The Museum possesses the valuable Weiss archive of Antiguan Geology left by a researcher  from DeKalb University.


An archaeological research centre collects, catalogues and preserves artifacts from English Harbour and those found when the stone wharf was restored in 2004. This room may be visited by appointment.

Nelson's Dockyard Gift Shop

There is well stocked gift shop attached to the Dockyard Museum in the Naval Officer's House. It carries old maps, plans and charts of Antigua as well as a quantity of local handicrafts.
Buy a memento of your visit of this famous heritage site, by doing so you will be supporting it!

Some of the items in stock are:-

  • 18th century maps of Antigua
  • The 1863 Admiralty chart of English Harbour
  • Various prints of Antigua
  • Hand carved fishes of Antigua
  • Nautical and natural history books
  • English Harbour printed china and mugs
  • Special Tee-Shirts
  • Pottery
  • Cards
Nelson's Dockyard, Box 1283, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies

Nelson's Dockyard National Park

Today the Dockyard is part of a large National Park and a historic landmark of the Caribbean. It is administered by the National Parks Authority.

Some of its aims and aspirations are as follows:-

  • To create a world class tourism destination
  • To coordinate development in the area
  • To develop and maintain its historic resources
  • To complete inventories of natural resources and of archaeological sites
  • To research African heritage relating to the historic development and use of the area.
The Park is open all year round

Chairman NPA: Ms. Valerie Hodge
Parks Commissioner: Mrs. A. Martin,

Archaeologist: Dr. Reg A. Murphy.

Box 1283, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies.


Tel: (268) 460-1379 Fax: (268) 460-1516


Today - A Yacht Marina

Over the last 300 years or so the harbour has been known for its safety. It is not surprising, therefore, that sailing ships have returned and now, together with Falmouth Harbour, it has become a world renowned yacht centre. In December each year, a Yacht Show takes place and in April, the Harbour becomes the headquarters for Antigua Sailing Week one of the ten largest regattas in the world, sponsored by the Antigua Hotel Association . The Antigua Yacht Club sponsors the famous Classic Yacht Regatta also held in April.

Some of the facilities available to visiting yachtsmen are:

A marine railway

Engineering shops

Ship chandlers

Inflatable service

Yacht brokerage

Sail makers

Water makers


Many restaurants

Web Site Design

Car rental



Travel Agents

Post Office


Painting & spraying



Laundry & Laundresses

Electronic repairs

Diesel specialists

Spare part orders

Three marinas


Gelato Ice Cream

Cake maker

Liquor stores

Wine merchants 


Nautical books

Yacht storage

Salvage & Towing

Water taxis


Massage & Therapy


Carpet cleaners

Marine surveyors

Art Galleries

Cellular phones


Nautical clothing

Marine photographer

Yacht club

Laser Racing

Massage, hairdressing


Yoga classes

Weather service

Tennis & squash

Computer repairs

Computer sales

Internet access

Video rentals

Signs & Lettering


Rigging services

Osmosis treatment

Real estate


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Revised: July 1997, 2003, 2004, 17 March by Desmond Nicholson