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01.04.2019 – Moreton Bay Mysteries – 6 – Just who was the Lover of Hilda Finger?

Hilda Finger aged 17 (photo Noel Flor)

In my previous blog of 23.04.2019 (Moreton Bay Mysteries – 5 – Inebriate Inmate’s lost paintings.) I made reference to Ivy Rowell’s beloved beach and rock pool. In 1911 Ivy, a five-year-old toddler, was playing on the beach with her brother and sisters when a young woman was rowed ashore from a steamer that had hove to off the island. The woman, a leprosy patient by the name of Hilda Finger, had been brought down as deck cargo on the steamer from up north and was to be admitted to the Lazaret (Leprosarium) on the other end of the island.  On the steamer she had been housed in a wooden box affair, which was also rowed ashore in a dinghy and dumped on the beach where Ivy was playing.  It was then burned, the memory of which was to remain in Ivy’s mind’s eye for the rest of her life

When Hilda had been offloaded onto the beach at Peel Island in 1911 she would have been met by the Superintendent of the Lazaret, which institution was located diagonally across on the other side of the island. A horse and dray would have taken them on this final leg of her last journey. Would it have paused at the top of the Bluff to watch the fire on the beach below? Would it burn in Hilda’s memory as it did in that of the young Ivy Rowell? What could Hilda’s thoughts have been as the dray headed off into the bush for the dreaded Lazaret? 

Hilda Finger died on November 22nd, 1916 and was buried in Peel Island’s cemetery on the same day. Her Death Certificate states the cause as due to: 1 Cardiac Failure (of one hour duration), 2 Leprosy (years). Family lore as reported by Hilda’s next younger sister, Mina, attributes the death to be due to an incorrect drug being injected by a doctor in Mackay. The doctor was reported to be so upset that he ceased practising. There was no mention of Leprosy or Peel Island, or of Hilda’s removal there. Was Mina reporting facts or was it just her way of dealing with curious questions?

The other report of Hilda’s death is given by Ivy Rowell, the (by then) ten-year-old eye-witness who tells that Hilda and a male patient were lovers at Peel, but when he died, she was so stricken that, in Ivy’s words she “let out a squawk” and died too. Does such death by mortification occur in real life? Certainly it is common for an individual to lose the will to live after losing a loved partner, but does it occur within an hour as in Hilda’s case?  Opera lovers, especially Wagnerians, would say “yes”. Take “Tristan and Isolde” for example. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet also died in such a manner, admittedly with the help of a little poison, which leads one to wonder if the rumour of death by an incorrect injection may have taken place on Peel itself.

Whatever its cause, by love lost or clinical misadventure, the death of Hilda Finger was a tragic affair of the heart.

Reference: Peter Ludlow: ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection