The Dark Island

The Dark Island

Leprosy in New Zealand and the Quail Island Colony

From 1906 to 1925 Quail Island was the site of New Zealand’s leprosy colony. The colony began by accident, as it were, after the discovery of a leprosy sufferer in Christchurch. As further patients arrived from across the country, it grew into a controversial and troubled institution – an embarrassment to the Health Department, an object of pity to a few, a source of fear to many. It was a place that some people wanted to forget, but its stories are worth remembering: among them are stories of remarkable generosity and selflessness, as well as of violence and great suffering.

This fascinating narrative from a talented young historian reveals a little-known aspect of New Zealand’s past. Through the tale of the Quail Island colony, the book shines a light on wider society in that period, both in New Zealand and beyond. Elegantly and engagingly written, The Dark Island heralds the arrival of a significant historical voice.

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Print publication:
Ebook publication: Oct 2019
Pages: 208
RRP: $39.99
ISBN: 9781988545981
DOI: 10.7810/9781988545981


'Eloquent and evocative, Kingsbury’s meticulously researched narrative of Quail Island reveals the epidemic fears, race politics and personality clashes behind New Zealand’s solitary leper colony. As colonial microhistory, The Dark Island makes for compelling reading.'
– David Arnold, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Warwick, UK

'Ben Kingsbury expertly illuminates how expediency shaped public policy to do with leprosy, but also how the sufferers – Māori, Pakeha and Chinese – responded to the isolation and niggardly resources devoted to their treatment. The public’s fear of the disease, out of all proportion to the possibility of infection, meant quarantine for sufferers who endured isolation, boredom, and eventually relocation from Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour to Makogai in Fiji. Kingsbury puts the sufferers at the centre of this poignant history, making their suffering vivid in elegant prose. Sensitively piecing together the scant available sources, he shows how stigma worked to stymie compassion.'
– Barbara Brookes, Professor, Department of History, University of Otago