Stories from Peel Island – 2 (Inebriates Home)

An oil painting by William Simmons in 1910 showing the beach below the Inebriates Home with Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in the background.
An oil painting by William Simmons in 1910 showing the beach below the Inebriates Home with Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in the background.

By 1910 Peel Island’s quarantine station (see blog of 22.10.2016) had fallen into disuse, so it was decided to use the empty buildings as a home for the more vocal inebriates (alcoholics) from the Benevolent Asylum at nearby Dunwich. The Inebriate Asylum operated for seven years from 1910 until 1916 when the inmates were returned to Dunwich, and the wooden buildings demolished. 

Ivy Rowell (nee Jackson):     

‘In 1910 my family came south from a farm in Atherton to Peel Island,” Ivy recalls. “I was just three years old then. There had been trouble with the inebriate inmates at the Benevolent Asylum in Dunwich, so the authorities shifted them to nearby Peel.  Father and Mother were given the task of running the new Inebriate Asylum, which had been established in the old Quarantine Station buildings. I still remember the yellow and green flags in a box in the storeroom.  And the large flagpole stood just outside our house.  This was the only evidence of the quarantine days.  My brother once climbed to the yard-arm and gave Mother an awful fright.  Father had to climb up to rescue him.

‘People were sent to the Inebriate Asylum to dry out. We had two types of patients: public and private.  Just like today’s health care.  Private patients, or their relatives, had to pay one Guinea a week for board and lodgings.  Public patients had earn their keep by working.’

An inebriate patient (pleading with his relatives to pay for his board):

‘ (Please release me from) this most awful degraded Hell I can imagine darkening God’s earth.’

Health Department Records:

‘William Simmons of Brisbane was convicted on July 20th 1910 of being found drunk on July 19th in Herston Road. Under the Licensing Act of 1885 (section 84) because he had no less than three convictions against him within the preceding twelve months, he was sentenced to submit to a curative treatment term of twelve months at the Institution for Inebriates, Peel Island. William Simmons was a public patient, and accepted the challenge of going, ‘cold turkey’ by applying himself in the kitchen as assistant to the cook. To keep his mind occupied in the quieter moments off duty, he took up oil painting.’

Dr Linford Row (to the Under Secretary, Home Department):

‘After serving six months of his twelve month term, William Simmons’ condition has improved to such an extent that I wish to make an application for discharge on probation, with every prospect of beginning a new life for himself in Rockhampton.’

Peter Ludlow:

‘William Simmons never returned to the Inebriates’ Home on Peel Island, so hopefully he made good.’

The beach below her parents’ house was a favourite haunt for Ivy, her brother and sisters.  Every day, when not required for lessons, they could be found playing at its rock pool or jetty. At the other end of the island was the Lazaret, home to Queensland’s Leprosy patients.  At this time, the Inebriate Asylum’s dinghy was used to transfer the hapless patients from ship to shore.  It was fumigated after each such occasion. 

Ivy Rowell:

‘One of the leprosy patients had come down from up north in a huge wooden box the size of a room. She had her meals and everything in there.  She was probably carried as deck cargo on a ship.  At Peel, the box was unloaded onto Father’s dinghy and rowed ashore.  After the patient had been removed to the Lazaret, the box was burned ‑ on my beach!  To this day, in my mind’s eye, I can still see it burning.’

Oil painting by William Simmons showing the Jacksons' house.
Oil painting by William Simmons showing the Jacksons’ house.

Reference: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

Stories from Peel Island – 1 (Quarantine)

Memorial (to ‘Emigrant’ passengers buried at Dunwich, August 1850): ‘Around this stone are interred the mortal remains of twenty six immigrants who, seeking in this land an earthly home, have found elsewhere we trust a better country.’

(The quarantine station was moved to the Bluff on Peel Island in 1873.)

Peel Island map
Peel Island map

Gurski family (quarantined at Peel aboard the Friedeburg in 1873):  ‘About 40 of the single men first pitched tents while the rest washed themselves and their clothing. The married people were then sent to do likewise. Some of the ship’s fittings had been landed on the island, and were being used on the tents. When Hamilton discovered this, he ordered the lot to be taken away immediately and burnt. There were only two cases of serious illness on the island. Matilda Kluck, 6 years old who had ulcerated bowels and chronic diarrhoea, and her older brother, Auguste, who had contracted Scarlet Fever the day the ship entered port. By the 29th the captain was able to report that the ship had been thoroughly cleaned and fumigated and (was) ready for inspection. On the 31st the ship’s crew were inspected, released from quarantine, and admitted to pratique.’

Tom Welsby: ‘The quarantine station on Peel occupied a most charming site on the headland (The Bluff) looking towards the south end of the bay and towards Dunwich. As a pure quarantine station, Peel Island has, in this direction, seen many vicissitudes and many eventful phases. On the hoisting of the Yellow Jack, the vessel from whose mast it fluttered was generally taken to an anchorage in the deep water between Peel and Bird Islands, and there stationed until all was well. Serious cases of illness were taken on shore for treatment. The healthy passengers were detained at Departmental will on the island also.

‘During one regime, in all cases of death from virulent contagious diseases the bodies were taken to Bird Island, and there, well above high water mark, were buried deep in the sand, with quick‑lime. In some cases there were burials on Peel Island at no great distance from headquarters…Since that time, many another soul has been laid to rest in that Peel Island cemetery, but I regret to say a couple of years ago a fire passed completely over it, and little now remains to tell of the mortals resting there.’

Bird Island in 1992 (it is now just a sandbank exposed only at low tide)
Bird Island in 1992 (it is now just a sandbank exposed only at low tide)

Dr J.I.Paddle (‘Southesk’ Surgeon Superintendent): ‘The Immigrants, on the whole, behaved very well on the Island and gave little trouble. The single women had to be closely watched all the time, as they had a great tendency to wander beyond their limits. At dusk they were ordered in and mustered to make sure that none were absent. I would further beg to suggest that it would greatly lighten the work of the Matron and the Constables in watching the single women, if a fence could be erected around their precincts.

‘One of the single women, Elizabeth Morris, gave much trouble one night, and I reported her to the Immigration Officer. On Monday evening May 22nd she gave a good deal of abuse to the Matron and kept swearing and cursing among the single women and inciting them to riot. She has been all along a very coarse and vulgar woman and very little amenable to authority throughout the voyage.’

The Bluff today
The Bluff today

Reference: Peter Ludlow ‘The Exiles of Peel Island – Quarantine’


Drone at the Lazaret, Peel Island
Drone at the Lazaret, Peel Island

I recently accompanied a group of young tech enthusiasts from CSIRO, UQ, and QUT to Peel Island to film a documentary for the BBC. It was all part of the CyArk project with the aim of digitising the Lazaret (see my earlier blog Digitising the Lazaret at Peel Island of May 14, 2016). It was all under the guidance of Nick Kwek, the show’s producer and director who came from London to do the filming. He realised that the story’s human side is really fascinating as well, so I was included in the team to supply a bit of the human history to the now empty huts that the drones and robots were to film.

Robot at the Lazaret, Peel Island
Robot at the Lazaret, Peel Island

Nick was indeed bowled over by the place and spent many hours filming the buildings as well as the robots and drones. He also conducted several interviews, of which I scored about ten minutes.

Although I did feel a bit out of place amongst all the geeky tech talk, (but I did understand the terms drone and wi-fi) it was a very stimulating experience for an old codger like me to be amid the intelligence and enthusiasm of these fine young University people.

Like the production of all documentaries, most ends up on the cutting room floor, and it was with some dismay that I learned that the entire segment, for the BBC series called Click, would only run for five minutes. I doubt that I’ll get much of an airing in the final product. As an historian, I often lament the discarding of so much history on the cutting room floor, which must be even worse now that we have changed from film to videotape and digital, but the media have little regard for anything outside their current projects. Nick did however say that a full documentary should be made of the place. I hope he talks to someone at the BBC about this idea!

You can watch out for this and other episodes on the web at Click


Whale Tales

After WWII a huge demand for whale oil triggered a world-wide interest in whale hunting. To help satisfy this demand, a whaling station was opened at Tangalooma in 1952.

whale carcass being drawn up the flensing deck at Tangalooma in the 1950s
whale carcass being drawn up the flensing deck at Tangalooma in the 1950s

The Tangalooma whaling station had an annual quota of 600 Humpback whales. However, when vegetable oils were introduced to replace whale oil in margarine production, the price of the whale oil fell dramatically. Quotas were increased to 660 to offset the price drop but the increased cull served only to deplete the whale numbers to such an extent that in the 1962 season, only 68 whales were taken, and in August of that year Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales.

Jack Little:‘White Pointers were first attracted into Moreton Bay after the opening of the whaling station at Tangalooma on Moreton Island in 1951. They would follow the chasers back into the bay, feeding off their haul of whale carcasses.

White Pointer shark caught in Moreton Bay in 1951 by Jack Little
White Pointer shark caught in Moreton Bay in 1951 by Jack Little

‘Incidentally, the photo of the White Pointer shows cuts around its mouth. These are caused by the barbs of stingrays, its main tucker. I have often seen sharks jump into the air while chasing equally airborne stingrays. Conversely, though, sharks can remain stationery on the bottom for long periods. With the influx of White Pointers into the bay, the sport of Big Game fishing was introduced by Norman Gow. Radio personality Bob Dyer was one of the best known and most successful fisherman in this class.’

References: ‘Moreton Bay People, The Complete Collection’

Peter Ludlow: While enjoying our morning coffee at the Lighthouse Restaurant on Cleveland Point this week, we were excited to see two whales breeching in the bay about a kilometre north of Peel Island. Then on the news yesterday we saw that two whales – a mother and her calf – were stranded in the shallows off Dunwich. It ended well for the pair, which surely must have been the ones we saw a couple of days earlier.

The National Parks people say that whales come into the bay to rest on their long journey south. Incidentally, a university acquaintance, when mentioning how good it was that whale numbers were increasing, was told by an American colleague that this was a bad sign. Global warming is changing our ocean currents and forcing the creatures closer to shore. I wonder if this is why we have greater shark numbers inshore too?

Relaxing at Phillip Island

Phillip Island has some pretty unique attractions, most of all the nightly coming ashore of the Little Penguins. It’s a wonder the hundreds of human spectators don’t put them off. Then there is the chocolate factory. It’s hard to miss as it’s one of the first attractions you come to on the island. Rev heads flock to the GP Circuit at certain times of the year, but fortunately for us, this was not one of them. Then there are the quiet sandy beaches on Western Port Bay or the surfing beaches on the rugged ocean side of the island.

This welcoming picture at our rental house says it all!
This welcoming picture at our rental house says it all!

We stayed five nights this time: enough time to see all the compulsory attractions and then – relax! Clementine resorted to collecting shells, while we did little else but eat, drink coffee, walk, and gnash our teeth at the jigsaw puzzle kindly left by the landlord.

The start of Clementine's shell collection
The start of Clementine’s shell collection

Phillip Island is a very beautiful place; its green fields and ocean cliffs remind me very much of Ireland, and we had our share of rain while we were there but mostly it was at night. Its September days were bracing but ideal for walking. Sundown was the best time for a stroll because one is likely to see a wallaby feeding or a family of rabbits. (Strange to us Queenslanders where there is a hefty fine, $44,000, for keeping rabbits. I guess they are not in plague proportions here yet).

A farm at Phillip Island
A farm at Phillip Island

I hadn’t tried a jigsaw puzzle for over 50 years, so I was quite surprised at how it gradually drew me into it again. After struggling with it for all of our stay, we had to admit defeat and leave it unfinished. A 1,000 piece jigsaw knows no time limit.

Some holidays just aren't long enough
Some holidays just aren’t long enough