Paddling off anywhere new is a memorable experience, but some trips have a way of standing out just a bit more than most. Paddling to D’Arcy Island on the eve of Halloween with Jason was one such trip. When we planned our trip, we really didn’t take into account the date of our arrival. Even if we had, who wouldn’t want to camp on an island that was host to a leper colony and still has unmarked graves?
The lazaretto was first established by the municipal council of Victoria in 1891. They did it in response to five Chinese lepers being discovered in a shack in Chinatown. The traditional horror of this disease moved the Council to action.
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease as it is formally called, is an ancient curse of mankind. It goes back as far as recorded history and probably beyond. It is caused by a bacterium and is not very contagious. People living in close and unsanitary conditions, though, can contract it much more easily. It can take many years to manifest itself. But due to the disfiguring nature of the disease, it has always created a revulsion within societies which have dealt with the victims in a variety of ways; none very humanly.
Awakening at perhaps midnight, I became suddenly aware of a feeling that I had never experienced before….It was an inexplicable sensation of loneliness and gloom. As I sat on my bunk, trying to dispel the strange mood, it ceased to be a vague worry, and narrowed to a highly specific focus. I was almost suffocated by a sense of claustrophobia. I desperately wanted to get out of that place. It was as if a voice in my subconscious were calling out, ‘I’ll never get out of here.’ – Philip Teece
So was the case with D’Arcy Island. To be landed on the island was a sentence to die on the island. No medical treatment, no communication with loved ones…it is hard to imagine a more torturous existence. Supplies were provided by the city council whenever passing shipping noticed their flag flying from the masthead.
Obviously our visit was much more pleasant but there is a certain sadness that holds over the island and what remains of the buildings. The beautiful sunrise we watched only added to the loneliness of the place.