Leper Yakuts (Eastern Siberian people) in Viluisk (1905)

At a recent meeting of the Friends of Peel Island Association Inc. a colleague showed me the following extract from ‘The Friendship Book’ that had been published in 1976:

‘Wednesday July 7

 ‘Very few people in this country (England) have heard of Kate Marsden, yet in parts of modern Russia she is famous. For in the 1890’s this trained nurse and dedicated Christian began to inquire into the lot of lepers in Russia. Armed with a letter of introduction from the Princess of Wales, she personally interviewed the Empress of all the Russias and learnt of the lepers of Viluisk, expelled from their homes to a living death in the frozen forests of Siberia.

‘Kate Marsden went to see for herself, enduring terrible hardships on the journey which were to leave her an invalid for thirty years. What she saw made her badger the Russian authorities until, six years later, a leper hospital was built.

‘That same hospital was closed down not so many years ago because, thanks to one determined woman, there are now no more lepers in Viluisk.’

Notwithstanding that the term ‘lepers’ was no longer in use in 1976 except in derogatory terms and jokes, the article surprised me because I had never considered Russia to have had such patients. However, as leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease, as it is now known) is thought to have originated in China, it would have been brought by traders along the Silk Road all those centuries ago and thence into what is now known as Russia.