In a solitary grave on Burntwick Island lies the body of Sidney Bernard.

The island is close to:

  • Stangate Creek - where infected sailors were quarantined
  • Deadman’s Island - where infected sailors and French prisoners of war were buried.

The HMS Éclair

In 1845 a notorious infection took hold of the HMS Éclair. It was returning to England after finishing an anti-slavery mission off West Africa.

A particularly virulent form of yellow fever was rife on board and had already killed the:

  • captain
  • surgeon
  • assistant surgeon.

When the ship stopped at Madeira, Sidney Bernard volunteered to serve on board as the temporary surgeon.

The Éclair arrived at Stangate Creek on 2 October 1845.

The following day, five more men died, and in the evening Sidney Bernard fell ill.

He died of yellow fever on 9 October 1845, aged 27.

There were 74 deaths from yellow fever on the Éclair - over half of the crew.

Yellow fever

The cause of the disease was unknown. Some argued it was caused by ‘marsh contagion’ whilst others believed it was from contact with the sick.

It would be another 30 years before it was proved that the disease was spread by mosquitoes.

A lonely grave

In 1951 Surgeon Captain R W Mussen of the Royal Navy wrote that he had visited the grave:

The lonely grave was originally marked by an upright inscribed stone which over the course of time was broken. The stone was then laid horizontally over the grave, and surrounded by concrete, in which the iron railings were embedded… it seems that later, as the mud encroached on and covered the stone, a plaque with a similar inscription was attached to the railings."

Twenty-five years later the grave was surveyed again. The photo below was taken and the inscription was recorded.

The grave of Sidney Bernard. MAC reference VF MED 920 BERN 2

The grave of Sidney Bernard. MAC reference VF MED 920 BERN 2