Nelson’s Dockyard: On Becoming a World Heritage Site

World Heritage status is conferred on “a landmark which has been officially recognized by the United Nations, specifically by UNESCO. Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are legally protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.” (Wikipedia)

Nelson’s Dockyard is a Georgian era Naval facility located in English Harbour, Antigua. It is still a working Dockyard and popular tourism site. It became a World Heritage Site in 2016. This document made the case–> It’s our Nomination Document (2014) and I’m happy to see it archived online for research purposes.


cover photo.


My eyes glaze over some of the more technical stuff, but I found it quite interesting reading overall – lots of interesting insights in to the whys and wherefores, but it’s the human stories (in particular the often erased stories of the enslaved Africans living in colonial Antigua and Barbuda, and the complexities of their lives, the individuality of their lives, beyond the designation of ‘slave’) that grab me every time:

‘The records at the Dockyard Museum note that on 17th October 1823, the black sail-maker Tom Spanker died after 14 days illness. Another account found in the diary of seaman Aaron Thomas, who visited the Dockyard in 1798 as a gunner on board the HMS Lapwing, describes his attempts to observe the “negroes dance at Freeman’s Bay,” and his discussions with a Negro woman who was born in Makoko near Lake Zambra East Africa. Thomas also writes of the visit of MacCane, a fellow gunner, to see a healer named Grace, a black girl he had employed to heal his leg. Before leaving the island he wrote of a visit to the Swamp Market in English Harbour where he purchased a 42lb pumpkin. Plantation
slaves, who at this time were permitted to grow and sell their provisions to better
themselves, sold their produce on Sundays at small public markets. Fruit and provisions
were also sold/delivered to the ships and sailors on board by slave women who swam out to the ships with their products secured in baskets that the pushed ahead of them as they swam (Nicholson 2002).

‘…enslaved Africans worked and served in all capacities within the British Naval establishment on Antigua and elsewhere in the Caribbean. They also served on the ships of the Navy and saw action, even at Trafalgar, and were pensioners at Greenwich. However, they are invisible in the historical summaries and publications unless one looks below the surface and follows the obscure threads of history.’

This doc broadens and deepens our outstanding of our role (the role of our African-and-Africa-descended ancestors) in the building and work of the Dockyard (the country really but the Dockyard is a good example of that). And how crucial was that to England. our then colonizer?

“With the loss of its American colony, defending these islands became crucial as the sugar
revenues were vital for the continuing growth of Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution. In this light, the naval facility at the Antigua Dockyard contributed to the survival and future expansion of the British Empire at a significant stage in human history.”

The case has been made.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out Please note that, except otherwise noted, the images also belong to us and ask first if you wish to use them for any purpose. Thanks.


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