New Brunswick. Commission to Inquire as to Leprosy Disease.

Abstract: Report of the Commissioners appointed by the Executive to visit and examine the Lazaretto and Lepers upon Sheldrake Island, 1848

The Commission that reported in January, 1848 on the Sheldrake Island Lazaretto and Leprosy more generally is one of the most interesting of the early Commissions of Enquiry in New Brunswick. Consisting of William Wilson and Dr. Robert Bayard, the Commission's task was twofold: to generally look into the conditions in which those afflicted with leprosy lived and to examine the epidemiological question as to whether leprosy, which the Commissioners also referred to as "Greek Elephantiasis," was a communicable or a genetic disease. Further, an appendix attached to the report supplies the reader with a detailed, if sometimes grizzly, clinical description of all the member of the Sheldrake, Riviere Du Lache, Big Tracadie, Little Tracadie, Pokemouche, Caraquette, and Grand Aunce Lazarettos.

The report contains some discussion of the inmates' living conditions. It is clear that those living in the Lazarettos would have done anything to go home. There were escape attempts and the inhabitants demonstrated general disgruntlement with their confinement. One inmate noted "that she would rather eat a potato and some meat or fish at home with her family, than the best of food in the Lazaretto." But, the large majority of the report was dedicated to the scientific debate about the manner of the disease's transmission. The Commissioners argued strongly for the genetic explanation, and as a result give a great deal of attention to leprosy and family relations, including a leprous family tree of sorts. We now know that leprosy is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and is thus not genetically transferable, though, in fact, leprosy does occur more frequently in family members, as a result of close physical contact.

William Wilson
Robert Bayard

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Bibliographic Information

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