Infirmary 1845 – 1847

European leper ward. On the stoep are to be seen the visiting doctor and the matron (Mrs. Keet), who put in 9 years of work on the island.
A few people with leprosy from Caledon were sent to the Island at the end of 1845 and were joined by others from Port Elizabeth in January 1846. Most of the chronically sick people sent to the Island were old ex-slaves and the ‘lunatics’ were overflows from prison infirmaries on the mainland.
The female asylum building as it is today.
The lepers were housed in the old stables, “lunatics” occupied the old prison next to the church, chronically sick men in the guard house, overseer’s house, a converted lime kiln and another two cottages. Chronically sick females were housed in the Commandant’s residence after he left the Island. By May 1847 the total number of patients on the Island was 194. Seventy two (72) of these were chronically ill people, 68 were ‘lunatics’ and 54 were people with leprosy.
A portion of one of the old native female wards.
Map of Robben Island during the leprosy period (left) and the patient population on the island between 1847-1905 (right).
The male leprosy settlement (left). Native female lepers were allowed to build shanties (right).
The number of staff on the Island was small and all three patient groups were expected to assist with nursing, carrying water and landing stores, mending and washing clothes and performing other general chores. Medical attention and the diet that was provided was reportedly inadequate. Given the overall isolation of the Island, staff members were able to exercise great control over the lives of patients. All in all, the social and medical profile of the patients shows that the Island as a General Infirmary was used more as a place of exclusion than of healing.
Male leper christmas party.
Female leper Christmas party.

Tour Details


Cape Town
Light Rain
05:4019:19 SAST
Feels like: 15°C
Wind: 18km/h NW
Humidity: 90%
Pressure: 1017.27mbar
UV index: 0


South Africans
R400 per adult
R210 per child (U/18)

Non South Africans
R600 per adult
R310 per child (U/18)

Tour Times
09:00  |  11:00  |  13:00  15:00