Accessing Peel Island

Peel Island showing its former jetties

Recently a special Peel committee has been focusing on possible future access to the island. Its report is due out by the end of the year. It may be an appropriate time, now, to look at the history of former points of access. 

The stone jetty in 1885 (photo Royal Queensland Historical Society)

During the 1870s the foundations of the stone jetty were formed on the south-east corner of the island on the beach below the Bluff at the most convenient landing place by members of the ships quarantined there. The jetty was completed by prison and Aboriginal labour in 1893 and became the main access point for the island. Later, from 1907 the jetty was used as the main access point for the island’s Lazaret. 

The stone jetty c.1950 (photo Terry Gwynne Jones – State Library of Queensland)

However, vessels could not berth there at low tide, and the distance from the lazaret was also a disadvantage. So it was decided to build a jetty less remote from the lazaret and also one that could be used in all weathers and tides.

In 1948 the short version (causeway only) of the proposed western jetty was completed which enabled a much quicker access to the lazaret, but which was still not accessible at low tide. The longer (wooden) section, which straddled the sandbanks, was not completed until August 1956. From then on, this became the main access for the island. Although the lazaret was to close in 1959, the jetty was again useful when the then Church of England Grammar School (“Churchie”) took out its first lease on part of the former lazaret buildings in December 1968 for the purpose of sending their students to the island for three-day camps. 

It is doubtful whether the old stone jetty on the South-East of the island would have been used, or repaired, after the opening of the western jetty in 1956. 

Western Jetty, Peel Island, February 1990 (photo Peter Ludlow)

Sadly the Western Jetty had become unsafe after 40 years of inattention to its maintenance. It was demolished in late 1990s. This left Peel Island without proper access; a situation that has persisted until this day.

A third access point to Peel Island was via the patients’ jetty, which straddled the mud flats from the Lazaret Gutter right up to the embankment below the Lazaret itself. It was constructed by the patients with materials supplied by the Health Department, and was for the exclusive use of the patients and their boats.

Peel Island patients’ jetty c.1955 (photo Dr Morgan Gabriel)

As you can see from Dr Gabriel’s photo, the patients’ jetty could only be used at or near high tide. If such a jetty were contemplated today for public use, it would have to be a much more substantial affair and it would have to extend right out to the Lazaret Gutter if it were to be useable at all tides. Northerly winds would make it difficult for boats to berth, and the size of the vessel would be very limited.

The advantage in siting a jetty here would be that the visitors arriving from such a jetty would land directly at the Lazaret itself, and thus save a 40 minute walk (each way) from Horseshoe Bay, as they have to do today. Even with a much shorter jetty, the visitor’s ‘two hours before and after high tide’ time limit would be considerably extended. Maybe a landing barge, such as previously used to land tourists at Horseshoe Bay, could be employed to land at the Lazaret beach with no jetty at all being required.

Landing barge at Horseshoe Bay (Photo Friends of Peel Island Association Inc.)

Stories from Peel Island – 7 (Jack-The-Ripper?)

This week when I presented my Peel Island talk to the Redlands-Bayside Probus Club, my casual mention of Doctor Darling sparked great interest from the audience. By a sheer coincidence their August guest-speakers had been Chris Adams and Helen Goltz, authors of the books “Grave Tales” and whose topic was “Is Jack the Ripper Buried in Toowong Cemetery?”

Herewith a chapter from my 2007 book ‘Moreton Bay Reflections’:

Doctor Darling

Peel Island was not just a refuge for the Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) patients. It was also used, on one occasion at least, as a refuge from the law.

About 1950, an ageing attendant (wardsman) was employed for a year at the Lazaret. He was well educated, well spoken, and of a most agreeable disposition. He even seemed to have a grasp of medical matters and would often intersperse his conversation with complicated medical terms.

Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) was a nurse at the lazaret at the time and remembers him as a very pleasant and cooperative employee. “It came as quite a shock to find out after he had left the island, that he was a con man!” remembers Rosemary.

He had started out in life in England as Andrew Gibson, but as a teenager he quickly learned that people were very gullible, especially unattached young women, and from cashing dud cheques, he quickly progressed to marrying wealthy women, then running off with their inheritance.

Australia proved a happy hunting ground for Andrew, but of course his strategy involved keeping one step ahead of the law and changing his name to suit the circumstances. Some of his aliases included Archibald Brown, Harry Cecil Darling, Lord Lockley, and Walter Porriott, or Gibson.

It was as Doctor Darling, Gynaecologist, that he plunged into his guise as a medico, but when one of his patients died on the operating table, his scheme was uncovered and he was sent to prison for ten years.

Andrew was 80 when he laid low at Peel Island but he was still a strikingly good looking man.

Mrs O’Leary, of Cleveland, has these comments to add: “My husband, Jack, was the nephew of Bess O’Leary, the last wife of Walt’s seven bigamous marriages. At one stage we suspected that Walt was trying to poison Bess, but fortunately he died before he was able to succeed! Now they are both buried in the Toowong Cemetery in the Catholic section near Birdwood Terrace. The grave is marked ‘Bess O’Leary and husband’. Walt remains anonymous in death as he was in life!”

The story of Walter/Andrew/Harry/etc/etc is a journalist’s delight and two articles have appeared about his strange life: George Blaikie’s “Our Strange Past” (Sunday Mail of May 25, 1986) and an article in “The Bulletin” in which the writer even suggested that Walter might have been Jack-The-Ripper because the murders stopped at the same time Walt left England. But that might be stretching things too far….

Or is it?

Peter Ludlow


If this has piqued your interest I can offer this further reading:

In his webpage

Andy writes:

  • Walter Thomas Porriott lived in London at the time of the murders. He was believed to have set sail for Brisbane on November 9, 1888, the same day the fifth prostitute was murdered.
  • Although now desecrated, Porriott’s headstone contained a grainy image of a caped-man raising a dagger.
  • Porriott was a known misogynist who particularly hated prostitutes. He was also a fraudster who assumed many identities, marrying at least 20 women only to fleece them of their assets.
  • Porriott was also a convicted murderer, having spent 10 years in jail for killing a woman while posing as a gynaecologist.
  • In 1997, Porriott’s great-grandson, Steve Wilson, publicly stated that he believed his great-grandfather was Jack The Ripper.

I recommend that you also read the readers’ comments at the end. They are particularly interesting.

Bessie O’Leary’s desecrated grave in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery

Peel Island’s Platypus – the Incredible Hulk

Since 1926 the rusting remains of the dredge Platypus has been a well-know landmark for boaties frequenting the waters surrounding Peel Island. But not for much longer…

Peel Island’s Stone Jetty and the Platypus today

 The Platypus was sunk on Thursday, 21st October 1926 and with time and tide, about to claim its final vestiges, it seems appropriate to revisit some of its history both as a dredge and as a breakwater. 

On Wednesday 13th October 1926, the Brisbane Courier reported:

The End of the Platypus.

‘The love of a seaman for his ship is one of the most worthy human emotions, and many an old salt on the Queensland coast will give a sigh for the old dredger Platypus, whose demolition is now taking place at the dry dock, South Brisbane, after 40 years’ service on the Queensland coast. The oldest unit in the dredge plant of the Harbours and Rivers Department will soon be stripped of all useful gear. After that indignity is over her future Is uncertain. The Platypus, which was built about 1884, at Renfrew, is a self-contained bucket dredge. Unlike ordinary dredges, she did not require to use a barge, as she carried out the two operations of dredging and conveying the material. She differs from her successor, which will be ready for service on the Queensland coast in a few months’ timer, as her well is in the bow instead of in the stern as is the case with the new Platypus. The (old) Platypus on arrival in Queensland began her long work on the Queensland coast by opening up the port of Cairns. During the years which followed she was a frequent caller in Queensland ports. She co-operated in the early developmental work in Townsville, relieved the Wolunga in the job of making a channel at Normanton. Port Douglas, Thursday Island, Cooktown, and Brisbane where she took away the sharp bends at Kangaroo Point, and the Gardens Reach also had the use of her services. Life on board the Platypus must have run with an even tend, as only one accident of importune occurred during her long career. Crossing Moreton Bay one night 38 years ago she collided with the Tinana, sustaining very little damage from the encounter. The Platypus had many masters in her day. Among the most prominent were Captains Stewart, J. Crawford, W. J.Evans, Lawson, W. Williams. Three years ago Captain Madams handed her over to the department for the last time. Among her engineers were Messrs. S. Kavanagh, R. Gillett, G. Shipley, and Morgan Jones.’

Peel Island’s stone jetty and the Platypus in the mid 1950s.

For the next 90 years, the Platypus served faithfully as a breakwater for Peel’s stone jetty where vessels were able to unload visitors and stores for the island’s lazaret (leprosarium). One of the leprosy patients recalls:

‘For the men patients, fishing was a major pastime. Some had boats that  they moored just below the men’s compound. Several patients constructed a jetty there, using Ti-Tree posts cut from the surrounding bush. Favourite fishing spots included the coral reef just off the lazaret, and the reefs around the hulk of the dredge Platypus at the stone jetty. At times the patients would moor their boats alongside the Platypus and sleep the night on her decks ready for an early start to the next day’s fishing. Schnapper were in abundance then, as well as Parrot fish, the largest of which was some 10 lb. There was also reputed to be a 500 lb. Grouper living in the vicinity of the ‘Platypus’, a rumour that was to persist for the next half century. Red and Yellow Sweetlip, Cod, Sole, Taylor, and Flathead were also caught in abundance. 

‘Sharks, too, were very common around Peel. Not only were they present in great numbers, but their size was also enormous – Junta King, onetime launch master of the Karboora once saw two 20 foot White Pointers intertwined in their mating ritual on the surface of the water between Peel Island and Dunwich.’

Another patient, an ex-seaman, had been one of the original crew that sailed the dredge Platypus to Queensland from Scotland. After many years of service, the Platypus was sunk just off the eastern jetty as a breakwater in 1926. When the seaman contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), he was sent to the lazaret as a patient, and it was ironic that both he and the Platypus were to spend their last days on Peel Island literally ‘rotting away’

(Extracts from ‘Peel Island, Paradise or Prison’ by Peter Ludlow)

Lonely Australia 1916

Recently our cousin, Chris, in New York, kindly sent me a copy of the December 1916 edition of the National Geographic magazine. It is devoted entirely to Australia and provides a unique view of us from the perspective an American writing from a century ago.

If you have wondered what 200,000 bags of wheat look like, then here you are!

Here are just a few of his observations:

Australia is the most isolated of all inhabited continents and is remote from the centre of all the world’s activities.

(1916 was well before aircraft compressed the long journey time from America and Europe.)

The aboriginal population is the lowest in the scale of beings having human form.

(He would never have described them thus today.)

Australia is roughly the same size and shape as the US…Its surface lacks variety…The people live in the vegetation areas around the coast…With the exception of the Murray-Darling system, there is a lack of large rivers compared to the US


Curiously enough, the establishment of the first colony on the new-found continent is an episode in the history of the US. It was proposed by the British Government to utilize the land as a home for the “Loyalists” (Tories) who found life in the American Colonies uncomfortable at the close of the Revolutionary War. They were to be supplied with land and money, Malay slaves or English convicts were to be provided as laborers.

Fear of the French fleet and the removal of many Tories to Canada led to the abandonment of this scheme. ..Place must be found for undesirable citizens, who, before the Revolution, had been sent to America ….

(Then typically, the author describes our explorers, our trees especially the Eucalypts, and our unique animals.)

Australia’s White Australia policy was introduced to exclude Chinese, Japanese, and Polynesian labour.

(Today we welcome them as house owners and footballers.)

On the basis of doing a moderate amount of work amidst agreeable surroundings, most Australians are workers. Short hours are the rule, and there is a tendency to ward off competition by legislative enactments rather than to meet and overcome it. The desire for money is in most cases a desire to secure a competence, not to secure power and prestige by amassing a huge bank account.

(Then he describes our Primary producers of sheep, cattle, and cotton. Our rabbit proof fences are also highlighted.

In 1916, World War I was in full swing and there are many photos of our servicemen and women setting sail for the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. Anticipating possible changes in national boundaries occasioned by the war, there is an interesting advertisement for a War Defying Atlas entitled Hammond’s 1917 Self-Revising Comprehensive Atlas of the World.)

Even in 1916 a US Company was quick to recognise a marketing opportunity!