Bones of ‘19th-century convicts’ discovered in Portsmouth

The remains of at least four people thought to have died in the 19th century have been discovered on the beach of a Ministry of Defence (MOD) site in Portsmouth Harbour.

The remains, revealed following recent storms and flooding, were spotted by a member of the public at Burrow Island, also known as Rat Island. The site is a known convicts’ burial ground.

It is thought that the individuals were either convicts or prisoners of war (PoW) of French or American origin and that they likely came from the floating prisons that were once moored in the harbour.

DOI-skull-1-eb0842a

The remains of at least four people thought to have died in the 19th century have been discovered on the beach of a Ministry of Defence (MOD) site in Portsmouth Harbour.

Advertisement

The remains, revealed following recent storms and flooding, were spotted by a member of the public at Burrow Island, also known as Rat Island. The site is a known convicts’ burial ground.

It is thought that the individuals were either convicts or prisoners of war (PoW) of French or American origin, and that they likely came from the floating prisons that were once moored in the harbour.

DOI202_0-501e42c

The remains were excavated in February by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), after the Ministry of Justice gave the go-ahead. DIO archaeologists work as part of a wider conservation team, which advises on MOD-owned scheduled monuments, listed buildings, sites of special scientific interest and nature conservation sites.

The DIO believes the remains belong to seven different individuals, but have as of yet only been able to confirm four.

These finds have been sent for cleaning at Wessex Archaeology. They will then be analysed by forensic archaeology and anthropology researchers from Cranfield University’s Forensic Institute.

Researchers hope to be able to identify the sex, age and stature of the individuals. The team will also look for any evidence of disease and injury.

DOI20skull201_0-a30814b

Cranfield University’s Dr Nicholas Márquez-Grant and Dr Kelly Domoney said: “It has been a great opportunity to work alongside our MOD partners in this project. Our small team of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists were privileged enough to provide an input into search and identification of human remains on site.

Advertisement

“Post-excavation work in our laboratories should contribute to shedding light on the living conditions of those individuals and the history of ‘Rat Island’.”