Islets on the island

MANY PEOPLE VISIT Madeira to improve their health or to retire. Some of these people die on the island and are buried there. Today (5th of May 2023), we took a look at the small English Cemetery in central Funchal. This well tended burial ground, founded in 1770, contains graves of British and some Portuguese people – Protestants mainly. In addition, there are graves of men and women born outside Portugal in places including Germany, Finland, Romania, USA, Holland, Sweden, and Poland.

One of the Americans buried in the cemetery is Harry C Stone “Late Captain Cavalry USA”. His simple yet moving gravestone bears the date 1972 and the words:
“He believed in God”

Three graves particularly intrigued me. One of them marks the burial place of Lady Sarah Bonetta Davies (née Forbes). She was born in Ogun State in 1843 and died in Funchal in 1880. The gravestone informs that she was: “Princess of the Egbada Omoba people, West Africa. God-daughter of HM Queen Victoria.”
She was born an aristocratic member of the Egbada clan of the Yoruba people and was enslaved by King Ghezo of Dahomey, who ‘gifted’ her to Captain Frederick Forbes of the British Royal Navy. She became a god-daughter of Queen Victoria, and later married the Nigerian businessman James Pinson Labulo Davies of Lagos in West Africa. She died of tuberculosis in Funchal.

Another black African, George Oruigbiji Pepple, also lies buried in the cemetery. Between 1866 and 1883, he was the King of Bonny which was a small state in the Niger River delta. He was deposed in 1883 and restored to the throne in 1887. Why he was buried in Funchal , I have not yet discovered.

The third grave that interested me greatly is that of Paul Langerhans (1847-1888). This German pathologist and physiologist is best known for his discovery of the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Although he was unaware of the function of these distinctive cells, they have been named in his honour as The Islets of Langerhans.

Langerhans came to Madeira in 1875, having contracted tuberculosis. He recovered a little, researched marine worms, and practised medicine. In 1885, he married the widow of one of his patients. They lived together until his death. According to his wishes, he was buried in the English Cemetery in Funchal.

The cemetery is a lovely place to visit. It has plenty of flowers and is peaceful. On a future visit to Madeira, I would like to spend more time investigating the biographies of those whose remains lie there.

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