The Royal Marine cemetery was established with the first marine death in 1863 on the slopes of Young Hill. The climate may have been healthful, and maladies few on San Juan Island, but nothing could help marines unable to contend with deep water.
Of the seven men memorialized in the cemetery halfway up 650-foot Young Hill, four perished by drowning.Two of the seven in the fenced enclosure, Private Joseph Ellis, from Devon, and Private Thomas Kiddy of Suffolk, drowned on April 1, 1863. Both were with the original camp contingent having served in the 2nd battalion in China and numbering among the "China brigades" (150 men) that crossed the Pacific aboard HMS Tribune from November 1858 to February 1859. Their mission was to bring order to the Fraser River gold fields, then overwhelmed by thousands of American miners.
That Ellis and KIddy died by drowning was ironic because Tribune's crossing was cursed by high seas and howling winds throughout. The ship was overloaded, normally accommodating 330 crew, but even so, she was considered a "wet ship," leaking at every seam with water crashing through the gun ports even in normal seas. Seven (included one marine) died in the crossing and were buried in Nagasaki, Japan. After Tribune arrived in Victoria a number of sailors and marines promptly deserted.
As the Royal Marine Camp force (originally numbering 84) was whittled down by deaths, discharges and transfers to the fleet, men were not replaced in-kind and by December1866 the returns indicated one captain, two lieutenants, three sergeants, two corporals and 39 privates.
After 1872, the cemetery was tended inconsistently, at least judging from 1903 and 1930 letters critical of its condition posted to the Globe and Laurel, the Royal Marines periodical. Property owner Jim Crook, whose father William claimed the former garrison and surrounding environs in 1875, maintained that the British Government paid him $10 monthly stipend for its care.