An inquiry was launched yesterday after the grim discovery of human bones as excavation work for a children’s sailing area was carried out at a sailing club in the West End.
The Bermuda National Trust is to investigate after the 19th-century remains were uncovered at the West End Sailboat Club in Somerset, which is close to the Watford Island Military Cemetery.
Bill Zuill, the BNT executive director, said the charity was the leaseholder for the cemetery, once a burial site for soldiers and convicts.
Mr Zuill said: “We are obviously very concerned to have received this news and have it under active investigation.
“To the best of my knowledge, we were not aware that this excavation was taking place, which is very concerning as we are the leaseholders of the cemetery and given the delicate nature of the site itself.”
He added: “We have not ruled out that the remains may have come from unmarked graves located outside the boundary of the cemetery.
“At this point, it is not possible to say precisely whose graves have been disturbed.
“It is our policy to respectfully reinter the remains when the investigation is complete.”
The West End Development Corporation is the owner of the land the club is built on.
It was still unclear yesterday whether the Trust or Wedco is responsible for the area of land where the remains were discovered. Island law means that human remains found on land or washed up on shore must notify the Office of the Coroner.
Wornell Steede, the club commodore, said he had told Wedco the club was to start excavations on the site. He added: “We were just making some more room for the children, we are starting a youth sailing group. “We were just taking down the rubble, not doing any building. I only found out about this in the last couple of hours, we are putting everything on hold until things are sorted out and make sure we do things the correct way.”
Trucks full of rubble and dirt at the site yesterday showed bones sticking out as West End Construction diggers excavated at the edge of the cemetery.
Mr Zuill said that the 0.09 acre property was consecrated in 1888 and used for about ten years. About ten graves and headstones are those of convicts who died in Bermuda between 1848 and 1863.
Mr Zuill said: “These were transplanted from elsewhere on Watford Island and are located in the northeast section of the graveyard. The remainder of the graves belong to servicemen and members of their families who were buried there between 1888 and around 1900.”
The Royal Gazette was at the scene yesterday and saw human bones, including a jawbone with some teeth still attached.
One eyewitness said: “We’ve seen bones, skulls, everything. There were direct burial graves.”
The eyewitness added: “This happens all the time in Bermuda. I know operators who dig up bones all the time. It’s a small island, it’s bound to happen. They usually take the lumber out, burn it at Tynes Bay and rebury the bones. “There are more around the back of St James’s Church”.
Police were sent to the club after the discovery was made and workers covered the area with a tarpaulin.
Andrew Dias, managing director for Wedco, said the organisation had contacted the club to make sure the appropriate government agencies had been informed.
Mr Dias added: “Whatever assistance we can give them, we will, because we want this dealt with as quickly as we possibly can. This area is not depicted in any way on any signage. I am not sure at this stage if it is BNT land, but I don’t think it is.”
Elena Strong, the executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda, said: “This highlights the need for legislation that protects land archaeology in Bermuda.”
Mr Steede said it was not the first time human remains had been dug up at the club.
He added the BNT was informed after bones were found about five years ago after members cleared sone trees.
The BNT website said the cemetery was created on Watford Island in 1887 as a graveyard for soldiers and their families.
It added: “Earlier in the century the whole island had been used as a burial ground for the dead of the army
of convict labour that built Dockyard between 1824 and 1863.
“They lived in rotting hulks of ships moored just offshore, in crowded and filthy conditions. The mortality rate from dysentery and yellow fever was high.
“Convicts were buried in the Glade, Ireland Island until 1849 when it seemed to be filling up.
“Then Watford Island was used to bury dead convicts and convict officers.
“In 1855 it was reported that the island had received 458 bodies and was almost full.”