Locations of the lazarettos of Sheldrake Island and Tracadie.
4 March 2003
Tracadie and Sheldrake Island


New Brunswick's Sheldrake Island in Canada is situated at the mouth of the Miramichi river which flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Tracadie, New Brunswick, Canada is situated in the North Eastern portion of Gloucester county.


Sheldrake Island(map of J. Davidson, Miramichi)
Sheldrake Island, New Brunswick, Canada


Sheldrake Island spreads out over an area of 32 acres. This Island served as a quarantine post for emigrants. A house of 40' x 20' was built there in 1835 and was used for only one year.


First Bureau of Health in New Brunswick, Canada
Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada


Alexander Key, doctor

Doctor Key was Scottish. He arrived in New Brunwick in 1816. He was the doctor hygienist assigned to the quarantine service for the port of Chatham, as well as practicing as a surgeon. Having been named as doctor at the lazaretto on Sheldrake Island, he was asked to write up a code containing the notices, the appropriate rules for the administration of the lazaretto and the dietary regimes for the sick. It seems that he did none of this. He was convinced that the disease was contagious, but recognized; however, that certain people were more susceptible than others to become infected. He hoped that he would be able to cure a few patients by reguarly changing bandages treated with "bichoride of mercury" and iodine. The patients took this faint expressed hope as a promise. They became disillusioned when it became obvious that these treatments brought no cure. Some continued to apply ointments, but refused to take the oral medicines. Disarray and bitterness quickly settled in Sheldrake and the lepers lost all trust in Dr. Key.

He was a member of the first Bureau of Health for the counties of Northumberland and Gloucester.


Sheldrake Island
15 August 1844
Sheldrake Island, New Brunswick, Canada


The lazaretto of Sheldrake Island

Leprosy was considered incurable, hence the goal was not to cure, but to stop propagation and contagion. A place where "isolating without great difficulty and eliminating all means of escape for the lepers..." needed to be found.

Despite the objections of Father Lafrance, a small island that had already served as a quarantine post at approximately 12 kilometers from Chatham heading downriver on the Miramichi river was chosen. 37 lepers were transferred in July 1844 to a somewhat repaired but deteriorating building. Medical care and treatment had been promised to them. They had been assured of receiving a cure, but few of these promises were kept.
There was no personnel to prepare food, to keep the lazaretto clean and to nurse their wounds. The building became repugnantly dirty in very little time. A spirit of revolt and insubordination grew among the sick. The lepers were left to their own devices.