These days, it’s a low lying, marshy island Medway well known for its masses of noisy circling birds, but I had no idea it had so much history – or was was so ‘infamous’. I guess many small yacht and dinghy may not know either.
But thankfully the Rainham History website has come to our aid – check out the Burntwick Island story and more including this piece about Blower’s Wharf , this one about the HMS Princess Irene Disaster of May 1915 (caused by a faulty mine, it caused 350 or so deaths), and this one about Otterham Quay.
But back to Burntwick. It turns out the island was only cut off by the sea through erosion some time in the mid 18th century – and then became as great place for ships in quarantine – and smuggling and smugglers, who were also at times known as ‘owlers’.
In the early 19th century it became a base for the North Kent Gang, of who were discovered by two government officials unloading contraband in Stangate Creek in 1820 and a fight followed. Eventually three of the gang were executed and fifteen transported to Tasmania.
A grave maintained on the island by the Royal Navy is that of assistant ship’s Sidney Bernard died from yellow fever from the crew of a quarantied ship.
Later shepherd appropriately named shepherd James Woolley and his wife lived on the island, and the remains of their house is said to exist there today. Later it became a rubbish dump, and still later it was the site of gun emplacements and a forces training centre.
PS – Weblogger and across-the-estuary local sailor Nick Ardley has some points (and corrections) to make in the comments below. There’s more about Burntwick Island in his book Swinging the Lamp.
And he kindly sent over this photo of Sidney Bernard’s grave as it appears today. Thanks Nick!
Sunset over Burntwick Island