History Still Lives Along Cleveland Point

Next time you have a Sunday afternoon to spare, why not take a stroll (or drive if you don’t have the energy) along historic Cleveland Point. What better place to start than to visit Queensland’s oldest Banyan Tree. (Pity about the rubbish bins just behind it).

Banyan Trees
Banyan Tree

It stands right beside Queensland’s oldest licensed pub that is still operating, The Grand View Hotel.

Grand View Hotel
Grand View Hotel

Francis Bigge was the principal advocate for the establishment of Cleveland as the port for Moreton Bay in the 1840s and 1850s In 1849 he built a large brick hotel. Standing empty for some years, it was known as “Bigge’s Folly”, but today this building (with an additional storey and ‘renovated’) is now the heritage-listed Grand View Hotel. (a)

Right next to the Grand View Hotel is the now restored Johnny Cassim’s Hotel. In its heyday, it stood alone, but is now ‘landlocked’ by private dwellings.

Cassim's Hotel
Cassim’s Hotel

John Cassim was the first publican the district. He conducted the Grand View for Francis Bigge prior to building Cassim’s Hotel about 1860. The hotel was converted into flats after a tree was hurled on to the building during a severe storm in 1929. The former hotel is now heritage listed and has been renovated. (c).

Norfolk Island Pines
Norfolk Island Pines

The Norfolk Island pine trees at 127 Shore Street North, Cleveland, were planted most likely in the early 1860s by Brisbane Valley squatter Francis Edward Bigge, an enthusiastic promoter of Cleveland as a rival to Brisbane as the state capital.. Francis Bigge occupied the land on which the Norfolk Island Pine trees stand, sometime between 1859 and 1863, if not earlier. (a)

Moreton Bay Figs
Moreton Bay Figs

Queensland’s Trade Commissioner, William Finucane was a multi linguist, an artist, sculptor, journalist, and musician. (Today he would be known as a polymath). He brought many exotic trees to Cleveland including its beautiful Moreton Bay Fig Trees. Incidentally, the olive groves at St Helena were planted and cultivated under his directions. The main road from Capalaba to Cleveland also commemorates him. (b) (c)

Courthouse Restaurant
Courthouse Restaurant

In 1852 Francis Bigge commissioned John Petrie to erect a store at Cleveland, and by March 1853 exports were expected to commence next boiling season. In 1853 Bigge built accommodation for his employees – the building at the corner of Paxton and Shore Streets later used as a courthouse and now a restaurant (the heritage-listed Old Cleveland Court House). (a)

Casuarinas on Mason's Beach
Casuarinas on Mason’s Beach

The charming little Casuarina lined beach to the right of the road just near the Point itself is the result of the labours of local resident, John Mason, who still lives opposite. John built the groins there, too, the idea being to build up the sand opposite his house and thus stop high tides coming over the road. It didn’t work, but the beautiful little beach still remains. Incidentally it was John who planted the Casuarinas there from seeds brought from Raby Bay.

Cleveland Lighthouse
Cleveland Lighthouse

And finally we arrive at the lighthouse, perhaps Cleveland’s most historic icon. This lighthouse was built in 1864 and originally stood at the very tip of the Point, before being relocated to its present position in the SW corner of the reserve. (d)

After all that history, why not call into the Lighthouse Restaurant for some fish and chips, or on the way home, for a beer at the Grand View Hotel? You deserve it!


Emmett Kelly

Emmett Kelly (left) and patients' truck at Peel Island 1940s
Emmett Kelly (left) and patients’ truck at Peel Island 1940s

Last week, I related the story of Joyce Burgess (nee Kelly) in the blog ‘The Last Living Inmate of Peel Island Lazaret’. Today I follow up her story with that of her brother Emmett Kelly (nicknamed in my writings as ‘Ned’. To reiterate: Emmett, then aged 9 years, and a sister, Joyce, were admitted to the Peel Island lazaret in 1928, just a few weeks after their mother, Marion. His sister, Joyce, was paroled later that year after her disease went into remission, and his mother, Marion, died in 1930 and was buried at Peel in an unmarked grave. This left Emmett, then aged 11 years, without a family on Peel Island – a severe handicap to start out in life.

However he took his daily dose of Chaulmoogra oil, the only treatment then available, and eventually after two years of negative monthly blood tests, his Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) went into remission, and he was pronounced disease-free and allowed to leave Peel in 1931.

Because he was still a minor and an orphan, he was required to be cared for by the State, and should have been sent to a State Orphanage. However, being an ex-patient of Peel Island, and because it was known that children were particularly susceptible to Hansen’s Disease, young Emmett was sent to Westbrook Prison Farm instead. Here, the warder continued to administer his daily prophylactic dose of Chaulmoogra Oil and when Emmett reached the age of 17, he was released and returned to his home-town of Mackay. However, Emmett’s disease returned (as it often did). We can only imagine his feelings about returning to the Peel Island Lazaret for a second time in 1938.

This time, Emmett’s Hansen’s Disease was more severe. Already it had affected and softened his nasal bones resulting in the gradual collapse of his nose. The skin of his forehead had thickened, and his features were gradually assuming the ‘lion face’ of those suffering from the more advanced forms of the disease. Nevertheless, his fighting spirit remained undimmed, and his skill with words was to prove a great asset in securing a better deal for himself and his fellow patients on the island. He was also adept at repairing patients’ radios, and when the ‘official’ radio repair patient died, Emmett took over the job. He was also a keen fisherman and was later to purchase his own fishing boat that he named the ‘Cygnet’.  His other Peel pastimes included SP bookmaking for other patients taking bets on mainland horse racing, and exchanging fish and mud crabs he had caught for illicit alcohol supplied by boaties.

When the Lazaret at Peel Island closed in 1959, Emmett and the remaining small number of patients were transferred to the South Brisbane Hospital (now called the Princess Alexandra Hospital). Emmett died there on August 24th, 1981 in ward G1. Like all institutions, his passing marked the end of an era. His absence was noted with sadness by many of the hospital’s staff. Most knew that he had been a patient at Peel Island, and that his mother had died there. Few could fully appreciate the courage and determination he had shown to live to the fullest his unique and almost totally institutionalised life. After his death, the hospital authorities converted his flat at ward S12 into a Staff Recreation Club. It sported a big bar, which was named ‘The Emmett Kelly Bar’ in his honour. Emmett would have been pleased at this gesture!

Emmett Kelly (middle) with patients and staff at Peel Island
Emmett Kelly (middle) with patients and staff at Peel Island

Reference: ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’

The Last Living Inmate of Peel Island Lazaret


Joyce Burgess (Kelly)
Joyce Burgess (Kelly)

Last Saturday, I was privileged to share morning tea with Joyce Burgess (nee Kelly), who at a remarkable 95 years of age must surely be the last living inmate of the Lazaret (Leprosarium) on Peel Island. Even more remarkable is that she was sent there for segregation in 1928, when she was just 7 years old. Strangely for me, it was her brother, Emmett Kelly (whom I referred to as ‘Ned’ in my Peel Island history books), whom I first interviewed in 1977, thus starting all my Moreton Bay writings. So perhaps it is appropriate for me to end them now, 39 years later, with this interview with Joyce:

‘Joseph and Marion Kelly with their three children, Emmett, Joyce (me), and Frieda were living in Mackay where he was director of a local sugar mill. Joseph had been great friends with the Queensland Premier, T.J.Ryan, and himself was planning to enter Parliament, however his wife contracted leprosy and was sent to the lazaret on Peel Island in Moreton Bay. This was in January 1928. A few weeks afterwards, Emmett and myself were sent to Peel as well. This disintegration of our family unit put paid to my father’s political aspirations.

‘At Peel, I lived as company for my mother in one of the cabins, while my brother, Emmett, lived next door. I was just seven years old at the time, and although I actually enjoyed my time in the Lazaret – I used to like swimming on the sand bar that formed the Lazaret Gutter, and played on the hulk of the Platypus – even then I was becoming aware of the devastating affect the shame and stigma of leprosy was having on my family. It was something I would later learn to battle with all my life.

‘Dad used to sneak across to the island in a boat and used to meet my mother in the so-called ‘jail’ (the one remaining quarantine building on The Bluff just above the stone jetty).

‘The white patients at the Lazaret were outnumbered by the so-called ‘coloureds’. who included both Aborigines and South Sea Islanders. I had been used to the Islanders who worked on our sugar farm at Mackay, so got on well with them on Peel.

‘After being on the island for ten months, my monthly blood test results were consistently clear of the leprosy germ, so I was discharged from the island, leaving behind my mother and brother. Mum died there some three years later when I was 10 years of age, and I presume was buried there. However her name was later inscribed on the headstone of the family grave on the mainland. My brother, Emmett, was to remain on the island – off and on – until the Lazaret’s closure in 1959.

‘After my discharge from Peel Island, I went to live with my grandmother in East Brisbane for a while, and then I went with my sister, Frieda, to St Vincent’s Convent orphanage at Nudgee for about eight years. In 1941 when I was 21, I went with my father to Sydney where he later died of lung cancer in 1944.

‘There’s a street down by Toondah Harbour in Cleveland that is named after my brother, Emmett, because he regularly landed his boat ‘Cygnet’ there with staff and patients from the Lazaret to have a session at the nearby Grand View Hotel.’

Emmett Drive at Toondah Harbour, Cleveland
Emmett Drive at Toondah Harbour, Cleveland

Stories From Bishop Island – 2


Bishop Island - May 1979 Signalmen's houses in foreground with resort buildings in background. On the mainland behind, the Port of Brisbane is being constructed
Bishop Island – May 1979
Signalmen’s houses in foreground with resort buildings in background. On the mainland behind, the Port of Brisbane is being constructed

Kevin Mohr:

When the Pile Light was knocked over in 1949 the signal station was transferred to Bishop Island in about 1952 or 1953. It was only a temporary turnout there, but they still called the station at Bishop Island the Pile Light. The term ‘Pile Light’ was still in everyday use until late into the 1980s when it was finally discontinued because there was no such thing marked on the charts anymore. The signal station was at the northern end of Bishop Island, and nearby were the three signalmen’s houses – the Ford, Tottenham, and Devonshire families.

To get our tucker, we had wheelbarrows, which we used to take up to the jetty at the other end of the island. The track was all sand but when the tide was out we’d go via the mud flats because the mud was a bit harder at low tide. Every Tuesday we’d go up for our provisions. Also at the other end of the island was a kiosk and we had quite a bit to do with the people who ran that for the tourists. Harry Sullivan and his family had it when we were there. (4)

Ted Crouch: 

“The dance hall at Bishop Island was a popular destination for day cruise boats from Brisbane prior to and after World War II.  The hall had its own electricity generator, and music was played on 78rpm records.  Refreshments were available from a kiosk attached to the rear of the hall.  No alcohol was served. At New Year all-night dances took place with a constant string of dad’s boats between Hamilton and the jetty at Bishop Island. As well as the day-trippers, people could stay for longer periods in cabins on the island.” (1)

Margaret Taylor:

“At the end of World War II in 1945, Harry Sullivan embarked on a new venture when he bought the lease from the Crouch family for Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. His wife, Beulah, and I, had been helping with the boats (in fact we were probably the first mother and daughter team in Australia to each hold a master’s ticket). With the purchase of the Bishop Island lease, Beulah built their first holiday cabins there. They were ex-army, and could be hired for 30/- ($3) a weekend or £7 ($14) a week. (3,4)

Pete Taylor:

“About 1960 my father in law, Harry Sullivan, sold the Bishop Island lease to myself and my wife, Margaret. I was incensed one day by a remark from a tourist who asked me if the cabins on Bishop Island were there when Captain Cook discovered Australia, so I set about rebuilding the place. This included a new kiosk, dance hall, cabins, shelter sheds, and the installation of 240 volt power. We built a mini golf course and had septic tanks installed. We also had Neil Todkill build us a new jetty.” (3,4)

Ken Brown:

In those days all the boating was around Bulimba, and you’d hear so-and-so’s boat was heading down to Bishop Island on Friday night, so we’d all pile on there and go down to Bishop Island and have a bit of a hoot. I remember the entertainer Norman Erskine used to play down there. He was a comedian, raconteur sort of a guy from the ‘50s. You can imagine for a lot of the young boating families this is where the first encounters with young ladies and young gentlemen happened. I would venture to say – myself included – that many a first love was requited at Bishop Island at the dance on Friday nights. Mind you, it wasn’t all romance and a lot of families went there just to have a barbie and hang out. Brisbane didn’t have nightclubs then, and it was really quite unique to go down there. (4)

Margaret Cameron:

In the course of time, the need to expand the port facilities of Brisbane became apparent, and in 1991 very large reclamation works were begun, causing the demise of Bishop Island, which lost its identity and the name was relegated to that of “obsolete” among official place names. However members of Captain bishop’s family approached the Port authority requesting his memory be perpetuated, and on 16th March 2000 the new bridge linking the port facilities with the mainland, over what was known as the Boat Passage, was officially named “Captain Bishop Bridge” and family members were invited guests at this unveiling ceremony.

Peter Ludlow:

It was not so long ago, too, that beneath where the robots now work at Wharf 9 at the Port of Brisbane, Bishop Island – itself man made – was once the popular destination for leisurely river cruises. (4)


(1) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay People-The Complete Collection. privately published, Stones Corner, 2000

(2) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Letters. privately published, Stones Corner, 2003

(3) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Reflections. privately published, Stones Corner, 2007

(4) Ludlow, Peter. The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities, published by the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd, 2013