Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, Bishop Island was formed in 1912 as spoil from the dredge “Hercules” during the cutting of a new shipping channel. The island took its name from A.G.Bishop, Master of the “Hercules” for this operation. Bishop Island as such no longer exists, having been incorporated into the new Port of Brisbane terminal at Fisherman Island.
Ian Kennedy in his paperCaptain A.F.G.Bishop 1857-1950 presented to theWynnum Manly Historical Society in 2002:
“A total of 4,500,000 tons of material was dredged and the spoil from ‘Hercules’ was directed to a low mud bank on the southern side of the river mouth. This formed an island about two metres above the high water mark, about 17 hectares in area. At the time, the dredge master and his crew did not give much thought to their ‘Island’ appearing on an admiralty chart, and none to its eventual future as a pleasure resort…At first the ‘Island’ was referred to as ‘Hercules Bank’ and later as ‘Wreck Island’ but, in due course, was gazetted ‘Bishop Island’.” (4)
Charles Bateson/Jack Loney:
The ‘Hercules’ was a steel dredge of 895 tons. Built at Walker-on-Tyne, 1900. Lbd 230.5 x 39.3 x II ft. Dredged the Bar Cutting at the entrance to the Brisbane river and used the silt to form Bishop Island in Moreton bay where many vessel were scuttled. She herself lies scuttled between Dunwicch and Myora in Moreton Bay.
In 1954, Bonty Dickson purchased the wreck of the 250 foot ex Brisbane River dredge “Hercules”, and it was towed down and put on the One Mile. He grew oysters on trays inside the hull (after first catching them on the bedsteads), and found they would grow much quicker inside the wreck. However to fatten them up, he still had to put them out in the sun. (1)
Tiny Bird Island, situated just off Dunwich, is now little more than a sandbank that is exposed only at low tide, but up until recently, it was everyone’s idea of a ‘tropical desert island’. Here are some stories from those who remember the island as it once was:
“My mother’s grand parents with her father and six siblings arrived in Moreton Bay in the sailing ship “Wandrahm” on 13th January 1866. There were 49 deaths on the ship coming out and on arrival at Moreton Bay, it was placed in quarantine with the passengers accommodated in tents on Bird Island. During this time, a number of men were in the water trying to bring a log around the island to burn at the camp, but clinging to the log were swept further out and, being unable to swim, four were drowned.” (2)
Thomas Welsby (from his book “Early Moreton Bay”):
“Later on in the day we managed to get to Bird Island, where we had a strange and gruesome experience. In those days the island was a beauty with numbers of high oak trees allover it, and some lovely branches, where a spare rope could be fastened, and a tent and camp easily prepared. We anchored our craft well in in a customary manner when it blows hard. We ran the Vendetta close to the sandy beach, and then took the anchor ashore placing the flukes around the trunk of an oak tree. Our tent was a good one. We camped there for two days, reading and loafing generally until we were informed by a boat. ing party from Peel Island that our camp was immediately above the graves of four fever patients who had died in quarantine about four months earlier. Lucky it was for us that the day was Monday, for that was the last day of our Easter pleasure, and we romped home with the south-east wind behind, never mentioning or seeking conver- sation regarding our camp at Bird. How that pleasant island has changed since then. Few trees, not one of any height, all cut and hewed by the Vandal. How it would look if it were planted with cocoa- nut, that is, if that tree would grow there.”
Rowland ” Snow” Port:
“Once in the 1920s while netting mullet with my father on the eastern side of Bird Island, we hauled in a lot of metal coffin hinges and handles in our nets.” (When the quarantine station was in operation on Peel Island, it was reported that many of the victims of the more virulent strains of disease were buried on nearby Bird Island. Time and tide had evidently eroded the sand from the coffins, and rotted the wood, leaving only the metal hinges and handles).” (1)
“Alex”, a patient at the Peel Island Lazaret:
“Keith Spencer’s grandfather planted the trees on Bird Island. When I was on Peel (1940s), Bird was tree-less.” (1)
Vivian Cooms (nee Ruska):
“Doctor Turnbull, the Superintendent of the Dunwich Institution, was a man of fiery temperament, but was always polite to me and always raised his hat in greeting. As a doctor though, he never knew anything about bringing babies into the world and always made sure that expectant mums were sent to Cleveland for the birth. One of the Institution’s nurses, Mona Davis, had done maternity and used to accompany the patients on the “Karboora” to Cleveland. However, on one occasion, when May Martin had her first baby, they cut things a little too fine and the boat was forced to pull in to tiny Bird Island where the birth duly took place. May named the baby Mona after her midwife. Incidentally, it must have been a great worry for May’s father, Alfie Martin, who was the engineer on the “Karboora” for the trip!” (1)
In last week’s post ‘Stories From Mud Island – 3‘ I noted the death and burial on Mud Island of Elizabeth Roache, one of the ill fated passengers of the ‘Ophelia’. Now, a reader, John Hildyard, has kindly supplied an account of that 1875 voyage, as recorded in the diary of one of his ancestors, William Marlborough Davis. Here is an extract from that diary in which he recounts the arrival of the vessel in Moreton Bay, and of its subsequent quarantining at Peel Island:
Friday 13th August 1875.
I am glad to say we got into the bay last night, and about 8 o’clock we had fresh meat, bread and vegetables brought to us in a small steam cutter. After the cutter had discharged the provisions, it took us in tow as far as the Anchorage. This morning we had beef steak for breakfast and roast pork and potatoes for dinner. They came to us with the Government Doctor and Inspector police. They wanted to know how many deaths we had, and if there were any cases of fever on-board. Our Doctor replying in the affirmative, we were ordered to run the yellow flag up the mainmast, which is a signal for quarantine. We expect to go on an island, which is about 25 miles further on.
Saturday, 14 August.
The Inspector of Police came to us again this morning, he brought official orders for us to go into quarantine one Peel Island. I am sorry to say that we had another death this morning. A single girl died of consumption. The ships carpenter made a coffin for her and a boat’s crew took her to a small island and buried her. We had 16 deaths at sea and one here in the bay.
Sunday 15th August.
The Government tug came this morning and took us in tow Peel Island. When we had gone about 10 miles, we were stuck fast the three hours and 20 minutes; the tug at last succeeded in getting us off. As soon as we were in deep water, she left us at anchor. We passed the island of St Eleana (sic) this morning where all the convicts are sent from the colonies. They are employed in various ways, some on sugar plantations, others are taught to make tools, shoes, clothing etc.
Monday 16th August.
The tug took in tow early this morning and by 9 o’clock, we were lying off Peel Island. The single girls had orders to immediately get ready to disembark, the ships boats were lowered for that purpose.
Tuesday 17th August.
The married people are going off this morning, but they are loath to leave the ship to go onto an island, but of course they are bound to go. The doctor gave orders for the single men to get ready, and I can tell you in less than 10 minutes, they were all ready with their beds and baggage, waiting for the orders to man the boats. In about half an hour all single men passengers were clear of the ship. We had a very awkward place of landing, the shore was all rocks which we had to climb over as best we could. When we reached the island, our first orders were to fix tents, then we were numbered off, ten to each tent. The next orders were to go and get our boxes from the shore for fear they might get washed away. I think it is a piece of nonsense sending all the boxes ashore, some passengers have got as many as three and four heavy boxes containing tools furniture etc, which of course would do no more harm in the ship then her cargo. But orders have been given by the Queensland Government that all passengers luggage of whatever description, was to be taken to the island, so that the ship my have a proper cleaning. We took a short walk about the island just before dusk. It is very thick with bush, there are also a great many large birds and the shores are covered with shellfish different kinds.
Wednesday 18th August.
It was sometime last night before we could sleep owing to the mosquitoes, they were troublesome. Where I woke in the morning, I found myself covered from head to foot with mosquito bites; they raise great lumps on you and if scratched, swell times the size. Last night the cabin passengers set off some fireworks from the ship “Ophelia”, it had a nice effect and was answered with ringing cheers from the island.
Thursday 19th August.
While here, we are allowed a pound of mutton and a pound of flour or bread a day; when we get flour we make dampers, we mix the flour with water and then make a good wood fire, and put them in the ashes to bake.
Friday 20th August.
We all have orders to shift tents further into the bush. We get some nice fine days here, but very heavy dews at night. We get wet through walking through the high scrub.
Sunday 22nd August.
We had a raging fire through the woods yesterday (Saturday). It burned last night and is still burning. This morning the governor of the island offered a reward of 5 pounds to anyone that would give information that would lead to the conviction of the offender.
Monday 23rd August.
We hear this morning that the ship “Ophelia” has passed the quarantine inspection; this afternoon the government inspectors came to inspect the emigrants on the island, and we hear we are likely to go round to Brisbane tomorrow or the next day.
Tuesday 24th August.
This morning we had orders to get our boxes down to the beach.
Wednesday 25th August.
The time is here this morning and we have all orders to get ready to embark for Brisbane; we were not long in boarding the tug, the single girls went first, married people next and then single men. We went off to the tug in boats and weighed anchor about 12 o’clock. There have been several families left behind, they are too unwell to leave yet. We arrived in Brisbane by 5:30 PM. The single men had orders to get all the luggage out of the tug before they were allowed to go ashore. We arrived at the emigration Depot by about 6 PM, where we were served with tea, after which we were allowed to go out till 9 o’clock. There was very little to be seen by the time we got to town, all the shops being closed; they close here at dusk, we soon made our way back to the depot. A great many of our passengers were the worse for drink. The place was in an uproar and I can tell you it was very late before we got to sleep.
Thursday 26th of August.
We had a great many farmers down this morning to engage those emigrants who were willing to offer their services. Very nearly all the Irish emigrants were engaged, they took the first offer. There was no call for blacksmiths, all the carpenters were engaged at good wages. Smith work is very slack in Brisbane. I in company with several more of our passengers got a Government pass and took a train to Ipswich, where we arrived at about 7 PM. We went to the immigration depot for tea.
Friday 27th August.
This morning we went to look for employment. I went to the Government Railways works and got employment in the smith shop. It is the largest works in Queensland, the Railways works here are under the Queensland Government. We work eight hours a day or 48 hours per week. Commencing at 8 o’clock we work till one, then resume work at 2 o’clock and leave at a quarter to 6, with the exception of Saturdays, when we leave work at a quarter past 12.
(I met Michael Roache at a function of the “Friends of Peel Island”. This time it was a seminar at Fort Lytton).
Michael Roache: He tells of his great aunt, Elizabeth Roache, who was buried on Mud Island. The death was reported in the Moreton Bay Courier. The vessel “Ophelia” had arrived in Moreton Bay in August 1875 with contagion aboard, and was moored at the mouth of the Brisbane River for inspection by the health authorities before pratique could be granted.
Amongst the passengers was Elizabeth Roache who succumbed to ‘the fever’ (rheumatic fever) and died while the “Ophelia” was still moored at the mouth of the river.
Her body was rowed ashore to Mud Island by two of the ship’s crew. They ventured up a creek, and on the nearest ground above high water mark, buried Elizabeth’s body.
The next day the tug “Kate” arrived to take the “Ophelia” and her passengers to the quarantine station at Peel Island, where they remained for six weeks until all was clear. The “Ophelia” was then allowed into pratique (a) and sailed up the Brisbane River to Immigration Depot (b).
Elizabeth Roache’s four brothers survived to start off a new life in Australia.
References: (From “Exiles of Peel Island – Quarantine” by Peter Ludlow)
(a) PRATIQUE is the license for a ship to enter port. It is granted after release from quarantine or on showing a clean bill of health.
The term QUARANTINE originates from the Italian Quaranta which means 40, the duration (in days) of isolation used to help control the Plague in Europe in the fourteenth century.
(b) THE DEPOT referred to here was the Immigration Depot (later known as the old DPI building at 95 William Street, Brisbane). It was used as a hostel for newly arrived migrants while they searched for work or alternative lodgings. Many of Queensland’s major towns had their own Immigration Depots.
The Brisbane Depot was completed in 1865, but as the Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin, noted in his Annual Report of February 28th, 1866, “until the Enoggera Waterworks are completed, the lavatory and other sanitary arrangements cannot be kept in that order which is desirable.”
Evidently conditions never improved there, for in 1884, when typhoid fever had a vicious hold on all centres of population in Queensland, the government came under attack from the Press because of its own Immigration Depot, which was labelled “a nursery for the breeding and dissemination of this most dangerous and deadly fever.”
In 1885 the William Street Depot was replaced by the Kangaroo Point Immigration Barracks. At a cost of £14,285, it could accommodate about 500 people.
There are two references to Frank Needes, both resulting from an Inquiry into the cholera aboard the SS “Dorunda” when it arrived at Moreton Bay in 1885. On December 14th there were 25 cases of diarrhoea and cholera being treated aboard the S.S “Dorunda”:
Frank Needes aged 22 years a passenger aboard S.S. “Dorunda”, after being ill for 11 hours, died of cholera on December 14, 1885 at anchorage in Moreton Bay. Buried at Mud Island.
(Appendix E of Inquiry into the alleged cases of cholera on board the S.S. “Dorunda”)
Frank Needes (2 years) presented with severe cramps at 9 am; 9.15 am collapse; pulse never returned. Died at 5.15 pm.
(Medical log of S.S. “Dorunda” kept by Thomas Hickling, Surgeon Superintendent).
The age difference is a bit of a worry. Obviously a typo there. Wouldn’t you think that an official inquiry would have ‘got things right’. Typing mistakes were not easily corrected in those days and if it had been noticed by the typist, it was let pass.
It seems doubtful whether any of these three people fit the description of the skeleton found in the wooden box on the beach. However, these three Mud Island burials span a period of 20 years and the possibility of further victims dying aboard quarantined ships at the mouth of the Brisbane River is quite probable. Just how many other people are buried on Mud Island is impossible to say.(3)