white man's grave

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Referring to the high mortality rate among white missionaries and colonists in Africa, due to the tropical climate, diseases, and sanitation.


white man's grave (plural white men's graves)

  1. (archaic) Africa, or more specifically, western Africa or Sierra Leone. By extension, any other land subject to Western colonialism or missionizing that is comparably deadly.
    • 1847, William Whitaker Shreeve, Sierra Leone: the principal British Colony on the Western Coast of Africa[1], Simmonds, page 2:
      [...]for, until some great revolution in nature or some great and gradual human exertion takes place, it must ever prove the "white man's grave," of which we have many lamentable proofs in the deaths of so many worthy and adventurous spirits who have fallen victims to research and humanity—Park, Peddie, Buchardt, Lander, Lang, Clapperton, Denham, Cooper, Thompson, &c. &c. &c.—all fallen through ferocity, treachery, or climate[...]
    • 1861, Francisco Travassos Valdez, Six Years of a Traveller's Life in Western Africa[2], volume 1, Hurst and Blackett, page 277:
      I was informed that, sometime since, a young man—I think his name was John Hooke, Brazilian consul—had retired thither, in hopes of avoiding the baleful influence of disease; but, alas! how futile are all human hopes and purposes—he, too, became a victim, and now lies in the white man's grave.
    • 1899 June 17, Crito, “THE DEATH-RATE IN DUBLIN.”, in Notes and Queries[3], volume 99, number 77, page 468:
      Not only this, but it is also much higher than the death-rate of such insanitary places as Borne, Venice, Hamburg, and Munich, and actually falls not far short of the rate recorded in that white man's grave Calcutta.