In St George’s Cathedral, a colonial relic just up from the waterfront in Sierra Leone’s sultry capital, Freetown, a series of plaques lines the walls of the nave. The panels record the untimely deaths of British administrators, sailors and soldiers, and serve as a telling reminder of the lethal nature of Sierra Leone’s muggy climate in an age before yellow fever vaccination and chemoprophylaxis for malaria.
But the old stones also preserve another phenomenon. The lives are commemorated in language that is distinctly Victorian. One, erected by the parents of a 21-year-old sailor who died in 1838, records ‘their untimely and irreparable loss from the effects of a season sickly beyond example in a