A skeleton of a worker who died constructing Smith’s Fort in the 1790’s was discovered by archaeologists in the 1990s. *Photo supplied
A skeleton of a worker who died constructing Smith’s Fort in the 1790’s was discovered by archaeologists in the 1990s. *Photo supplied

Two of Bermuda’s most iconic forts have been swallowed up by a sea of vegetation that threatens their future, according to historians.

Smith’s Fort and Fort Cunningham in St George’s Harbour are barely visible from the sea today because they have become so overgrown with Casuarina trees and vegetation.

Despite being cleared 20 years ago, the roots of these invasive plants and tress now threaten to completely destroy these two iconic fortifications that once guarded the old channel into Bermuda hundreds of years ago.

Rick Spurling, President of the St David’s Island Historical Society, branded the deterioration of the two forts ‘cultural neglect’.

And he called on Government to establish a plan to clear the Casuarinas and restore the two treasures to their former glory.

Forts expert Dr Edward Harris said it was a pity that these heritage games had been allowed to fall into rack and ruin.

He added:“Bermuda has the earliest standing fortifications of English origin in the Americas and also some of the earliest archaeological remains of such works in the New World. 

“Along with the extraordinary collection of three forts on Castle Island and others of the first decades of settlement, the remains of Smith’s Fort are of national and indeed, international, significance, as the fort is part of Bermuda’s World Heritage Site, designated by UNESCO in 2000. 

“It is a pity that the site has become overgrown once again since the archaeological work was carried out, including the clearance of damaging trees in the early 1990s.

“These fortifications are worth a fortune in the cultural tourism economy if cared for, but worthless if they are allowed to be buried in jungle.

“Such a class of heritage assets are part of our potential gold mine, but they must be kept in good condition to last for generations to come and to help us revive our fundamental tourism economy.

Smith’s Fort on Governor’s Island was built within a year of Bermuda being settled in July 1612, while Fort Cunningham on Paget Island was built in the 1820s.

Dr Harris told the Sun: “Fort Cunningham is one of the most superb nineteen century forts in Bermuda.

“The 1870s alterations were so expensive that a question was raised in the House of Commons as to ‘whether Fort Cunningham was made of gold?’.

Cultural tourism

“The forts of Bermuda are a potential and considerable asset for cultural tourism.

“They should be cared for in such a manner so that they could contribute to our tourism economy, wherein a major plank of the National Tourism Plan is apparently to be grounded in the monuments and events that constitute cultural or heritage tourism.”

Rick Spurling said that the decline of these two forts could threaten St George’s UNESCO status if something was not done to restore them.

He added: “St George’s and her nearby forts are what has been designated as the World Heritage Site.

“And so whereas Fort St Catherine has been very much improved and renovated, and has been well kept and maintained, none of the other forts are, and I mean none.

“Smith’s Fort and Fort Cunningham are still part of this UNESCO designation but they have been left to become overgrown and barely recognizable.

“It’s cultural neglect.

“It is so important that we look after them and ultimately open them up to the public.

“They need to be cleaned up and preserved.

“Casuarina trees have inundated both forts and you can not even see Fort Cunningham or the remains of Smith’s Fort from the water now.

“These trees need to be removed as part of a long-term plan otherwise the roots will eventually destroy any remnants there still are of these old forts.

“It’s a big job and it’s not going to done in a few days.

“But these are the forts that guarded the old channel which goes back to the earliest times in Bermuda’s history so they are of huge historical importance.

“It is such a shame they have just been left to become overgrown. They could so easily form the basis of interesting, historical water tours.” n