New discoveries on Rat Island

These new discoveries could indicate that the harsh treatment on these prison ships was not a punishment solely reserved for men.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and Operation Nightingale recently returned to Burrow Island โ€“ also known as โ€˜Rat Islandโ€™ โ€“ excavating more graves before they eroded into Portsmouth harbour (see CA 339 and 351). The cemetery on Rat Island is believed to have been used for convicts who were imprisoned on hulks moored in the harbour during the late 18th and early 19th century.

Photo: MOD Crown Copyright 2021

The latest work on the island has revealed the remains of a further 12 people, including an infant and possible woman. Previously, all of the other individuals recovered from the site have been identified as male, ranging in age from their late teens to early 60s. These new discoveries could indicate that the harsh treatment on these prison ships was not a punishment solely reserved for men, but further research on the remains will be needed to confirm the circumstances of their life, death, and burial.

Read more about the previous discoveries at Rat Island in:
Current Archaeology 339: Exercise Magwitch and the prisoners of Rat Island
Current Archaeology 351: Return to Rat Island