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William Simmons’ painting of The Bluff from Horseshoe Bay aspect (Photo Ray Cowie)

In 1989 while Ray Cowie was Redland Shire Council Ranger and living on The Bluff at Peel Island, he was contacted by an elderly lady by the name of Ivy Rowell. She had some information for him about her involvement with Peel Island. I think she had reached that age where she was reviewing her life before she died (much as I am now!)

Ray contacted me and I drove him out to visit Ivy at her home. Ivy was a wealth of information. It turned out that she was the daughter of George Jackson, the Chief Attendant (Superintendent) of the Inebriate Home at Peel between 1910 and 1916. One of his patients, William Simmons, presented George with five oil paintings that he had completed while in his care. Ivy still had these paintings in her possession (see attached). As you can see from the photo, the unframed painting was very dark. Ivy told us that this was from all the smoke from mangrove leaves, which they burnt in their house to keep the mosquitoes at bay.


Ivy Rowell holding one of William Simmons’ painting in 1989. (photo Ray Cowie)

Ivy provided us with the information I was to later use in my “Of Drunkards and Rock Pools” chapter in my Moreton Bay People book and for an important part of the Hilda Finger chapter. Ray invited her back to Peel to revisit the site of her former home which she was very pleased to accept. 

William Simmons’ painting of the stone jetty with Dunwich in background (Photo Ray Cowie)

Ivy died a short time later and her son, John, scattered her ashes in Platypus Bay – a spot she had always loved since playing there as a 4 year old child. I think Ray may have had a part in this ceremony.

William Simmons’ painting of Stradbroke Island from stone jetty aspect (Photo Ray Cowie)

As a token of his respect for Ray’s help to him and to his mother, John Rowell had the five Simmons’ paintings cleaned of their soot, framed, and inscribed with a dedication. I am not sure of the inscription, but I think it mentioned Ray. Anyway, Ray always maintained that John presented them to him personally and not to any organisation. This has just been reconfirmed by his widow, Nola.

William Simmons’ painting of cutting, flagpole, and superintendent’s house on The Bluff (Photo Ray Cowie)

After Ray and Nola left Peel, they rented a house at Lamb Island, and throughout our many visits to them there, my wife, Phyllis, and I saw the paintings hanging on the wall. After Nola and Ray split up, I never revisited the Lamb house again, and do not know the circumstances under which Ray left. If he did leave the paintings on the wall and the house was later sold with them still on the wall, the new owner would have inherited them. Because they were not a fixture on the wall, I don’t know if they legally became theirs.

William Simmons’ painting of Bird/Goat Island and The Bluff (Photo Ray Cowie)

So the current ownership of the paintings is uncertain, but in my opinion, if the paintings are ever recovered, I would hope that they be presented to QPWS (as joint custodians of Peel), and to nobody else.

Peter Ludlow