Known as Deadman’s Island, the stretch of land opposite the Isle of Sheppey on Kent’s River Medway has long been the subject of gruesome folklore with whispered talk of dead bodies, headless skeletons and red-eyed devil dogs.
Deadman’s Island, a small, uninspiring stretch of land that contains a dark secret. Over generations, this uninhabited mud bank has inspired tales of supernatural devil dogs, bodies buried without their skulls, and brain-eating ghouls to scare the local children from venturing to close to its lonely shores.
Within the Chatham area, historical records show at least ten prison hulks throughout the late 18th and 19th century, including the HMS Canada, HMS Cumberland, HMS Dolphin, and HMS Euryalus, HMS Ganymede, HMS Leven, HMS Leviathan and HMS Edgar.
The hulks had filthy conditions and were a festering ground for disease and illness. Outbreaks of cholera were commonplace, caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with Vibrio cholera, which often resulted in death.
They denied the inmates a proper burial. The authorities had to dispose of the many infected corpses and prevent further outbreaks, so they placed the bodies in unmarked graves in isolated locations on the Medway mudflats such as Deadman’s Island.
The bodies weren’t buried there recently; with most of them being placed there somewhere between the 1600s and 1800s. In 2016, they found the remains of over 200 people on the island. Whilst there is still uncertainty as to each individual’s circumstances, it’s agreed that most of them died on the many prison hulks that were anchored nearby. Because of the cramped and squalid conditions on the prison ships, disease was rife, with outbreaks of cholera and typhoid being commonplace. They have also suggested it that plague victims could have been buried there too. Initially buried in wooden coffins under six feet of mud, coastal erosion and rising sea levels have washed away the mud to expose the remains at times of low tide.
The island consists primarily of mud banks and is uninhabited. Owned by Natural England, they lease it to two people and is also a Special Scientific Interest Site because of its importance as a nesting and breeding site for birds.
If all of this doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary, you’re probably wondering how this piece of marshland gained its somewhat macabre name.
It’s not just visitors that are prohibited, no-one lives on the island, so it remains untouched by modern civilisation. This has spurred ghostly folklore about it. Locals have warned travellers of hounds with glaring-red eyes that ate the heads of buried bodies, a skin-crawling atmosphere and ‘an island solely occupied by the dead.’
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