The Island’s Story

Quarantine Island / Kamau Taurua has a rich history.

QIKT with first building ~1864 in a clearing in the bush. Watercolour by William Handcock, 1864. Hocken Pictorials.

This is a brief outline of the history expanded in other pages. The Island lies within the takiwā of Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou and their mana whenua is recognised.

Geographically the island and its neighbour Goat Island/Rakiriri indicate the centre of the volcano that formed Otago Harbour.  If you imagine a ridge line extending from Port Chalmers across both islands and finishing on the Peninsula.  The islands mark the approximate halfway point up Otago Harbour.

Maori, the tangata whenua (people of the land), Kai Tahu, named it Kamau Taurua (or Kamautaurua). The island was, and is, a significant place for them on Te Wai Ōtākou. This is an ancestral name, the name of an ancestral canoe, and also has a literal meaning of ‘a place where nets are set.’ Its official name is Quarantine Island / Kamau Taurua as agreed as part of the Ngai Tahu settlement (1996).

The island was Otago‘s quarantine station from 1863-1924.  It was awarded the status of a Historic Area by the Historic Places Trust in 2001, and the Community makes as much information as possible available to all those visitors interested in the history of the Island.

Early after the Community’s purchase of the island’s lease and buildings from the crown in 1958, they considered changing the name to St Martin Island, after St Martin of Tours.  The thinking was that ‘Quarantine’ had sad memories and negative connotations.  However, St Martin Island was never officially registered as the new name and the older name of Quarantine Island stayed until the 1990’s.  The significant history of the island is embraced and acknowledged in this name and it is now given equal significance with its Maori counterpart Kamau Taurua.

The book ‘Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua (St Martin Island)– A Short History’ was written by long-time community member, Lyndall Hancock, and was first published in 2008. It is currently out of print but copies may be available from libraries and online book sellers. In 2023, Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua Community Inc. Council would like to help with a small revised reprint. If you are interested in owning a copy (or two or more!) and/or donating towards printing costs, please complete this Pre-order Form or email secretary.quarantineisland@gmail.com if you are not able to access the form.

Much of the information on the history of the island found on this website has come from Lyndall, either through her book or first hand. As the Community’s eldest member, Lyndall has contributed so much and is an abundant source of historic knowledge.

A new book ‘Seaswept Twelve Years in Quarantine‘ (published in 2021) has been written by former island Keeper Kathy Morrison and is Kathy’s personal and beautiful account of stories and events during her 12 years as Keeper.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Seaswept Twelve Years in Quarantine you can either contact secretary.quarantineisland@gmail.com or email Kathy directly at grannyisland@yahoo.co.nz 

Cost: $35 (plus $7 for postage).
Pay to: Seaswept 38-9011-0178251-03