St Mary's Island History Group


History and sad circumstances


GILLINGHAM AND ITS PIER:  Chatham Observer 20 6 1896


Just over thirty years ago the land which now comprises the Dockyard Extension was a marsh with a creek known as St Mary or Swinborough Creek running through it. This creek was sufficiently deep to allow the Dockyard tugs to come through at full tide, and barges could pass up or down when the tide was at half flood.

Being somewhat narrow, the water used to rush through with great velocity and many a boy and youth met with their death whilst bathing there.

Across the creek were two wooden bridges known as Prince’s Bridge and Gillingham Bridge. These were practically in a straight line with Bridge House at the corner of Pier Road, and the river, and there was a ferry across to Upnor.




Rochester Gazette 12 7 1836

Drowned last Sunday.


Stephen May, tailor, Cross St, Brook, witness at inquest:

“’I went yesterday to bathe in St Mary’s Creek. I found Savill, Floyd and Shotwater there. Floyd was in the water before. I was quite undressed; I swam down the creek about a quarter of a mile, and on my return Floyd, the deceased called to me and asked me to show him the motion of swimming. I did so and then held him by the chin while he struck out to learn; he did so twice. I left him standing in the water and went up towards my clothes. On leaving him he said, ‘I shall have a dabble about by myself now’.


When I had swam (sic) about half way towards my clothes, I heard Floyd call out, ‘Stephen, for God’s sake come and save me’. I turned round and got to him in about three minutes.


Savill (the deceased) and Shotwater were near him, but within their depths. I took hold of Floyd round the waist, and while doing so, Savill caught hold of the hair of my head and my right arm, with which I was swimming. Shotwater also caught hold of me and we all went under together.


On rising, two of them let go of me and I had hold of Shotwater only. I assisted him a few strokes and pushed him towards the shore. I saw the other two while I was engaged in saving Shotwater; they were just in the act of sinking.


A peter boat passed us; I called out to a man on board to assist Shotwater. The man merely called out to him to make the point and sailed on.


Floyd was picked up by a waterman in about three quarters of an hour and Savill in about half an hour of the accident’.


Edward Shotwater of Chatham, tailor, corroborated the foregoing witness.


John Elliott of Gillingham, waterman, deposed as to picking up the bodies.


VERDICT: Accidentally drowned while bathing. The jury requested the coroner to recommend Stephen May to the Royal Humane Society, as they considered he deserved a reward.

What is a timeline?  It is a way of following history through important and significant moments.


The line is drawn and those moments added from research and recollections.


Michael Bates has begun creating a timeline for St Mary's Island and we will be adding to it as we find out more especially on recent events.


If you feel there should be more entries then send us details via the Contact page.  Click here to view.




St Mary's Island History Group has delivered on its main project for 2014, “St. Mary's Island 1914

to 2014”


The proposal was to  contribute to the national awareness of World War One and fill in the gaps for our island history during the hundred years to date.  


This was achieved with an exhibtiion in St Mary's Island Community Centre on 15 November, 2014, which was also displayed at the Medway Local Archives and  History Centre from March to May this year.



See the 1914 to 2014 pages and we have begun to include extracts from the exhibition in this web site which will regularly change.


St Mary's Island

1914 to 2014