Several islands in the Seychelles have been used as leprosy settlements. Around 1817 Providence Island was used to house persons with leprosy from Mauritius and probably from Seychelles as well. The French also used the island of Diego Garcia and at least 10 people with leprosy were isolated there in 1846.
Isle Curieuse was the one most persistently used as a leprosy colony. The island takes its name from that of a French East Indies schooner which was sent to the Seychelles in 1768 to declare French sovereignty. In 1829 the island was acquired by the Seychelles government to support such a settlement. This was, in part, under the suggestion of George Harrison, a civil agent in the Seychelles, who hoped to dissuade visitors to Curieuse in order to protect the rare indigenous Coco de Mer palm. Shortly after the settlement had opened a surgeon from HMS Jaseuse visited the island. At this stage it housed 64 sufferers, including 12 women and 2 children.
In 1835 Dr Patrick Robertson was appointed as medical superintendent and greatly improved the conditions there until his death in 1846. In 1851 there were 50 inhabitants on the island, including 3 men, 9 women and some children who were free of the disease. In 1852 the government decided to close the settlement, but this action was not carried out and the settlement continued.
In 1871 the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Arthur Gordon, visited the colony, and found it in a poor condition. He reacted by recruiting a new doctor for the colony, William MacGregor. A new house was built by and for the doctor on Curieuse in 1873, where it still stands today as a National Monument. During the twentieth century, the leprosarium was repeatedly relocated on different islands. In 1900 the Curieuse colony was closed and its inhabitants were transferred to Isle Ronde (Round Island) off Praslin. However, the Governor considered the settlement to be too far removed from the mainland and, in 1919, the patients were transferred to another 'Round Island' off Mahé. Around this time there was a concerted attempt to bring leprosy under control. The British Leprosy Relief Association supplied aid in the form of information, literature, and 3 pounds of Hydnocarpus Wightiana seeds to encourage the local production of Chaulmoogra oil.
The proximity of the settlement to the mainland proved problematic as patients continually escaped and fraternized with the general population. In December 1930 the male inhabitants were moved back to Round Island, Praslin. In 1934 a decision was made to re-establish lepers on Curieuse as it was larger and had a better water supply than the other islands. Curieuse was subsequently re-acquired by the government and patients transferred there.
The settlement at Curieuse continued from 1938 until 1968, when patients were discharged or relocated to a settlement at Anse Louis, Mahé. The following year Anse Louis was also closed, and converted into an old people’s home. The remaining patients were discharged to be cared for at home, although some homeless patients remained and were cared for in Anse Louis. In 1969 Anse Louis was closed and converted into an old people’s home. Patients were discharged for treatment at home, although some homeless patients remained.
CR Grainger, ‘Leprosy in the Seychelles’, Lep Rev (1980), 51: 43-9.
W MacAteer, The Doctor's House: Curieuse Island, Seychelles. Seychelles: SCMRT-MPA, 2004.
Documents in the National Archives of Mauritius record that slaves with leprosy were held on the island in 1831, 1854 and 1871.