A ghost island in the middle of the ocean

Ross Island, an abandoned British settlement in the remote Andaman archipelago, is being taken over by its rightful owner: nature.


India’s idyllic islands (Credit: Credit: Neelima Vallangi)

India’s idyllic islands

Situated in the Bay of Bengal, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands are an isolated group of 572 tropical islands, of which only 38 are currently inhabited. Nautically located closer to South East Asia than India, they are known for stunning beaches, thriving marine life, rich coral reefs and largely undisturbed primary forests. But beyond the idyllic views lie a dark past. (Credit: Neelima Vallangi)



Eerie remains of a colonial settlement (Credit: Credit: Neelima Vallangi)

Eerie remains of a colonial settlement

One of the islands, Ross Island, is a morbidly fascinating ghost town, where the remnants of a 19th-Century British settlement lie in ruins. Abandoned in the 1940s, the island is being reclaimed by nature. Lavish bungalows, a massive church, ballrooms, even a graveyard, all are in varying stages of dilapidation, being taken over by an unyielding forest. (Credit: Neelima Vallangi)



An isolated penal colony (Credit: Credit: Neelima Vallangi)

An isolated penal colony

In 1857, reacting to an unanticipated Indian revolt, the British Empire chose these remote islands as the site of a penal colony for Indian mutineers. When the British first arrived in 1858 with 200 Indian convicts, the archipelago was covered in impenetrable primeval jungle. Ross Island, measuring barely more than 0.3 sq km, was chosen as the first convict settlement due to availability of water. The deadly task of clearing the thick jungle fell upon the inmates, while the officers stayed on the ships. (Credit: Neelima Vallangi)



New beginnings (Credit: Credit: Neelima Vallangi)

New beginnings

As the penal colony expanded, the convicts were moved to prisons and barracks on neighbouring islands. Ross Island became the administrative headquarters, as well as an exclusive settlement for high-ranking officers and their families. Since the isolated islands had a high mortality rate due to water-borne diseases, no stone was left unturned in making Ross Island an enticing place to live. Grand mansions replete with period furniture, manicured lawns and tennis courts were constructed, along with a Presbyterian church (pictured), water purification plant, military barracks and an infirmary. (Credit: Neelima Vallangi)