Excavation at Haslar reveals horror of life in Nelson's navy

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An excavation of a former military hospital graveyard has revealed the harrowing deaths of some sailors from Nelson's navy.

The dig is being carried out in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Haslar in Gosport, where the unmarked graves date back to 1755.

The work, which is being filmed for a Channel 4 Time Team documentary, is to reveal what life was like in the navy hundreds of years ago.

A total of 29 skeletons will have been carefully removed and analysed by Sunday, when the excavation comes to a close.

Some of the incredible cases that have been revealed so far include a skeleton from a man in his mid-20s, which has seven broken bones, a broken jaw and one side of his skull smashed.

Analysis from the team of 60 who have been working on the project shows he would have survived in hospital for about three months being fed through a straw before passing away from an infection.

It is believed he would have fallen from the rigging or crows nest of a ship and smashed face first into the deck.

They also found the skeleton of one man, also in his mid-20s, who had his leg amputated below the knee.

Dr Andrew Shortland, who runs the Centre for Archaeological and Forensic Analysis at Cranfield University, which is jointly behind the project with the MoD, said: 'The excavation is taking place so that we can gain more knowledge of how naval hospitals were at the time, in particular Haslar.

'We also want to know how people died, and we are really discovering what life was like in the navy at the end of the 18th century.

'It's hit home that there just wasn't any safety net for these people.

'Seeing how these people died, having it stare you in the face, is really quite sobering.'

The dig has also shown that there are an estimated 8,000 bodies buried, many from Nelson's navy and battles such at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

The analysis has been carried out through observation and measurement. Over the coming weeks chemical tests will be carried out to see what the diet in the navy was like.

All skeletons will be given full military burials when the research is complete.


After the excavation has come to a close and the results have been compiled, academic papers will be published on the findings.

It is also hoped that a book on life in Nelson's navy and treatment at Haslar hospital will be published.

During Gosport's Big Day Out on June 14, there will be guided tours of the site by and discussions of the excavation.

These will be carried out by George Malcolmson, archivist at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, who has been helping with the project.

For more information on these tours visit rnsubmus.co.uk or call (023) 9251 0354.

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