Kent

Deadman's Island: Six things you wanted to know

  • 30 January 2017
  • From the section Kent
Media captionDeadman's Island off the coast of Kent

The remains of dozens of people who were buried more than 200 years ago are being slowly exposed on an island in Kent.

Horror stories have been handed down the generations about the mysterious site, known as Deadman's Island, so the BBC's Inside Out South East programme took a boat across to investigate whether any of the rumours were true.

Lots of people have since been talking about it on social media sites.

Here are the answers to six things you wanted to know.


1. Where is Deadman's Island and who owns it?

It lies at the mouth of The Swale, opposite the town of Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north Kent coast.

The uninhabited mudbank is owned by Natural England, who lease it to two people.

The wetland site is protected land, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and recognised to be of international importance under the Ramsar convention.

It is also an important bird breeding and nesting site.


2. Can anyone visit?

No, the island is completely out of bounds to the public.

The Inside Out team was only allowed to visit after receiving permission from the leaseholder and because it was not the bird breeding season.


3. Who were the people buried there?

The remains are believed to be those of men and boys who died of contagious diseases on board floating prisons, known as prison hulks, which were moored off the Isle of Sheppey more than 200 years ago.

They were buried in unmarked coffins in six feet of mud.


4. Why are their remains being exposed?

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion over the years have begun to slowly wash away their final resting place, leaving wooden coffins and skeletal remains sticking out of the mud.

They are only visible when the tide is out.


5. Will the bodies be reburied?

The remains are being washed out into the sea, and would be difficult to re-bury.

Coincidentally, during the Napoleonic wars, many French prisoners of war were held around the coast at Chatham, with those who died buried on the nearby marshes.

When erosion started to reveal the bodies, they were exhumed and reburied on St Mary's Island.

When the land was later needed for redevelopment, they were disinterred again and reburied at St George's Church, now the St George's Centre, at Chatham Maritime.


6. Have archaeologists visited the island?

Kent archaeologist Dr Paul Wilkinson was taken to the island by Inside Out, and confirmed the bones were human remains.

It is not known if any archaeologists have surveyed the area as nothing has been made public.


You can see the full story on Inside Out, on BBC One South East and London on Monday 30 January at 19:30 GMT, and later on the BBC iPlayer.

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