In New Zealand, Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour was set up as a leprosy colony in 1906 until its closure in 1925. Leprosy is a contagious disease and patients were shipped to the island to be kept in isolation. As expected for the time, conditions were spartan.
Mr Benjamin Pratt
Mr Benjamin Pratt, who worked for the Gas Company in Christchurch, started an appeal for Christmas comforts and other needs for the patients on Quail Island. He interested members of the public in assisting with visits of singing groups, church groups and other diversions, as well as providing material comforts. Benjamin Pratt died in 1930 at the age of 80.
Patrick Joseph Twomey
Prior to Mr Pratt commencing his appeal, Mr Twomey had joined an order of his church which sent him to Fiji to teach. While there in the early 1920s, Mr Twomey met many leprosy sufferers who, in those days, were indeed a terrible sight, as little could be done for them beyond ‘tender loving care’ and the use of Chaulmoogra oil, which was dispensed through very painful injections, and which did not effect a cure. In 1911 a leprosarium had been established on the island of Makogai, some 80 miles from the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. The patients were looked after by the smsm Sisters (Soeurs Missionaires de la Société de Marie – Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary).
The tropics were never kind to Pat who was prone to rheumatics and became ill to such an extent that he was invalided back to New Zealand where he went to work for Christchurch Gas Board, and was introduced to the plight of the leprosy patients on Quail Island by Mr Pratt, beginning what was to be a lifelong mission.
With the closure of Quail Island, as a leprosarium, the remaining patients were transferred to Makogai in Fiji where they joined a much larger group of around 750 leprosy sufferers from around the South Pacific. It was obvious that to achieve anything worthwhile for this group would require expanded appeal efforts in New Zealand.
Patrick Twomey dedicated himself to the cause and it wasn’t long before he became known as the ‘Leper Man’. He started by writing appeal letters directly to prospective benefactors in Christchurch city, then around Canterbury and finally, with the support of others, all across New Zealand. The time had come to establish a more formal organisation and the Makogai NZ Lepers’ Trust Board, the forerunner of the Pacific Leprosy Foundation, was set up in 1939.