A leprosarium was established on the island in 1927. Upon its closure in 1974, it was purged by fire. The island is the site of 200 graves.
The Aboriginal name for this island is Eumilli Island.
In 1932 the head of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, Dr Raphael Cilento, described his vision for Fantome:
The whole (local)population should be worked through Fantome & then regraded into new cases, incurable aged, incurable young & part cured & thence drafted when clean back into Palm from which they can be sent out into the mainland to be (1) assimilated if white enough; (2) employed under supervision & protection; or (3) kept on Palm as minor officials or peasant proprietors working personal strips around a collective farm. (in Yarwood, 1991: 63)
By that year two leprosaria, one at Fantome Island and another at Peel Island, had been established to house lepers. The numbers of people admitted to Peel Island fluctuated during the mid 1920s and rose to 47 new cases in 1928. Although no new cases were reported in 1929 the reason might have been the secrecy with which this whole issue was managed by the Queensland Health authorities and the inability of the health regime to locate and track down the source of infection. This was not a simple problem and it persisted well into the next decade.
Dr Raphael Cilento endeavoured to describe the problem in one of his reports. He wrote that when Kuranda (Mona Mona) reserve started in 1914, the majority of the Aborigines brought there belonged to the Mareeba tribe, a closely knit group. There were a few others from as far north as the Gulf region and some from Mossman, and a large number had been born in fringe-camps and had grown up close to white settlement knowing no other life. The first case of leprosy reported among Aborigines in the region ‘was an old woman, Nellie, who died in 1916.’ According to native accounts this woman’s toes ‘looked as if they would drop off’, she ‘was covered with sores’, and she was avoided by other natives. Her principal contacts and relatives [were] known and she [had] no known descendants at the settlement.
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