Heritage enthusiasts in Saint John are calling on Ottawa to stop the vandalism happening on Partridge Island.
The island, belonging to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is a national historic site, but it's not accessible to visitors.
Harold Wright, a Saint John historian, said that apparently hasn't stopped vandals from crossing the rocky breakwater to enter the abandoned island.
He visited Partridge Island over the weekend with a screenplay writer researching the property, and said they were overwhelmed by what they discovered.
'It was disturbing to know people would make the effort to get out to the island, only to do something like that.'—Mariel Hunter, screenwriter
In addition to toppled gravestones, Wright said someone recently tried to dig up one of the burial plots.
"I guess it's the desecration … of the graves out there … that really makes me boil," said Wright. "Fortunately they didn't finish. But they're literally only inches away from uncovering the coffin."
He said as the owners of the property, the federal government should do more to protect Partridge Island from further vandalism.
Budding screenplay writer 'heartbroken' by damage
Vancouver film school graduate and Saint John native, Mariel Hunter, said she hopes to write a feature-length movie on Partridge Island, which was an entry point and quarantine station for newcomers to Canada.
More than 1,000 people died there when typhus broke out in the late 1840s.
Over the past two centuries, the island was also a military post for soldiers and home to lighthouse keepers.
Hunter said it was "heartbreaking" to see grave markers moved, a memorial headstone overturned, and "extensive spray paint damage."
"It was disturbing to know people would make the effort to get out to the island, only to do something like that," said Hunter. "You have to wonder what the motivation could be for these acts.
"It's not as though there would be any riches expected to be on anyone coming through the quarantine station, or who died on the island … it's so peculiar for someone to go out there and do these things."