Fantome Island Lazaret Cemetery

Photo added by John Winterbotham

Fantome Island Lazaret Cemetery

Fantome Island, Palm Island Shire, Queensland, Australia
Memorials 110 added (3% photographed)

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The Fantome Island Lazaret, in the Palm Island Group off the coast of Townsville, was established for the detention and treatment of non-European suffers from Hansen's Disease, more commonly known as leprosy. Run by the Queensland government, it opened in 1939 and closed in 1973.The Fantome Island Lazaret (or leprosarium) was run by the State government and operated between 1939 and 1973. The State government policy for dealing with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander people who suffered from sexually transmitted infection (STI) and leprosy, was to isolate them from the rest of society. Aboriginal people were removed to Fantome Island under the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 that allowed the government to set up reserves to detain Aborigines.
By 21st September 1939, six of the twelve huts erected were occupied by Hansen's lepers from North Queensland. On 10 January 1940, 49 Aboriginal patients from Peel Island arrived on Fantome Island to join the 26 local patients already there. The government Director-General of Health and Medical Services within Queensland's Department of Health and Home Affairs, Raphael Cilento, suggested using nuns from the nursing branch of a religious body to overcome the difficulty of finding staff willing to work with Hansen's disease or STI patients. On 1st March 1940 four nuns of the Order of Our Lady Help of Christians (OLHC) arrived on Fantome Island to assist with the medical treatment of patients. In December 1944, seven nuns of the Order of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) replaced the OLHC nuns on Fantome Island.European staff accommodation was segregated from that of non-European staff and patients and unmarried male and female patients were housed separately. Although the residents on the island endeavoured to be self-sufficient during the 1940s, external supplies of food were required. Many complaints related to the quality of food supplied to patients and staff were received by government health authorities. The lack of proper nutrition in conjunction with inferior medical treatment was thought to contribute to the high mortality rate on the island. In September 1941 Fantome Island was divided into two reserves. The northern portion became a reserve for lepers; while the central and southern portions became a reserve for Aborigines suffering from venereal disease. The Fantome Island Lock Hospital closed on 31 August 1945 and 13 patients were transferred to the existing hospital on Palm Island. Fantome Island.
In January 1940, a train carrying 49 people who were afflicted with leprosy arrived in North Queensland in a transfer from the Peel Island lazaret (or leprosarium) in Moreton Bay, to Fantome Island, near Palm Island.
They were moved because medical and government officials of the day decided that Peel Island should only be used to treat “white” patients with leprosy, and chose Fantome Island as the location to isolate “coloured” patients suffering from the disease. The majority of these “coloured” patients - as they were referred to - were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island origin, although some were South Sea Islanders or Chinese. There were already 25 Indigenous patients at the hospital when the Peel Island group arrived at Fantome Island, which meant the new lazaret had to cope with 74 patients, all before it was even fully completed.
Remarking on the transfer to Fantome Island, the State Government Minister for Health, Mr Hanlon, said that now that only white patients (26 of them) remained at Peel Island, he would be able to make big improvements to the lazaret there, “which obviously could not be undertaken while mixed races were there.”
Establishing a lazaret on Fantome Island was touted as an “important step in the investigation and treatment of leprosy” among the Indigenous population. At this time, Fantome Island was already in use as an isolation hospital for treating Indigenous patients with sexually transmitted illnesses. The leprosarium was to be located on the opposite side of the island. Queensland Director-General of Health and Medical Services, Sir Raphael Cilento’s official view was that as the majority of the “coloured lepers” from Peel Island were originally from the North Queensland region, it was in their own best interests to be moved to Fantome Island, nearer to their “tribal origins”.
In truth, Cilento believed that moving the Indigenous “lepers” to Fantome Island would save the government money. At Peel Island the cost of caring for a leprosy patient was £70 per annum, whereas Cilento anticipated that patients at Fantome Island would only cost the government £12 - £15 per annum. In February 1940, four nuns from the Catholic missionary order of Our Lady Help of Christians arrived in Townsville by train, en route to Fantome Island, to commence work at the lazaret. Mother Peter, Sisters Agnes, Catherine and Bernadette spent several months at Peel Island undergoing training in the treatment of leprosy before travelling north.
The Peel Island patients arrived at Fantome Island with a police escort and were also accompanied by Matron O’Brien from the Peel Island lazaret. Matron O’Brien was appalled at the poor quality of the food provided to the patients when they arrived, and complained in a report about her trip that the patients had not been fed any green vegetables during her month-long stay.This does not seem to have been a concern to the Superintendent, Mr F.H. Julian though, and poor nutrition may well have contributed to the 14 deaths that occurred at the lazaret on Fantome Island by the end of 1940. The introduction in the 1940s of Sulphone drugs to treat Hansen's Disease reduced the number of deaths and led to an increase in the number of patients discharged. However, new patients were still sent to the island. In 1945 Joe Eggmolesse was diagnosed with leprosy at the age of seven. He was taken from his family under police escort and transported to Fantome Island where he was incarcerated for the next ten years. The improvement in medical treatment did not extend to other areas in the lives of patients. During the 1950s criticism of the management of Fantome Island increased, with organisations such as the Australian Leprosy Campaign Committee and the Fantome Island Relatives and Friends Association lobbying the government for improved rights and conditions at the lazaret and calling for the end of isolation of patients. Controversy surrounding the administration of the Fantome Island Lazaret continued throughout the 1960s and up until its closure on 3rd August 1973. In mid-August 1973, the complex was burnt by the Health Department. Remains of the Lock Hospital and Lazaret are still visible on the island.
Please Note that there are Death Certificates for all those who died on Fantome Island and can be found at Qld BDMs.


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GPS Coordinates: -18.66726, 146.51324

  • Added: 7 Nov 2017
  • Find A Grave Cemetery: #2654987