The Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) Inc. closes down

On June 30th this year, FOPIA will close down for good. FOPIA was formed in 1998 to assist in maintenance and restoration work of the former lazaret, and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values. As one of the original founding members, I was a bit sad to see this group, once so full of hope for the future of Peel’s restored lazaret, finally call it a day. It had been a long time coming, but its death knell was surely last year’s decision not to rebuild a jetty to access the island. This effectively put a stop to any future development – for better or worse.

However, many fond memories of FOPIA remain:  our work parties often visited the lazaret and stayed overnight; many public lectures on the island’s history; fund raising boat trips; and curating a Peel Island exhibition at the Redland Museum which also visited the Redcliffe museum and was then on permanent display at Fort Lytton.

But to my mind, FOPIA’s most memorable achievement was to host a Peel Island Lazaret families’ day. What a day! After two unsuccessful attempts due to inclement weather, we were third time lucky, with the weather beautiful and the sea calm for a unique gathering on Peel Island at the lazaret. Family of patients and staff of the lazaret, along with FOPI members, QPWS staff and others travelled to Peel Island on Sunday 26 September 2008 to commemorate the Centenary of the lazaret, and of National Parks in Queensland. For some it was their first time to the island, for others it was the first time in many years, but for everyone it turned out to be a very special day. Connections were made or renewed, and with stories of the place and the impact of its history shared. 

The gathering of Peel’s families at the lazaret

In the words of Welcome to Country from Aboriginal elder, Auntie Margaret, ‘it was  ..a day of getting together with beloved families and friends of patients. Friends and families of the staff, and most all the Aboriginal families of our Aboriginal workers who worked here all those many years ago… Today is for all to come together, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. To reflect with kindness, unity, and most of all trust because deep down, trust is a gift of learning, everything that life brings.’

Related to HD – A Post Script by Evelyn Hogan’s daughter, Noela Carver, in 2010

            I became involved with the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island because my mother, Evelyn Hogan, was on that committee. We used to have the meetings at our place, which was at Morris Street, Paddington. I was born in 1938 and I had to be 15 before I was allowed to visit Peel Island, or have any involvement with the committee, so it was from about 1953 that I became involved.

            I went down to Peel with mum with the concert parties, mostly at Christmas time. I played the piano, so I was their accompanist. Pam Hinton played the violin while I played the piano, but there were many others who played instruments in the band. I particularly remember the piano accordion. Pam was the daughter of Ernie Hinton who at that time was the president of the Relatives and Friends Committee. Ernie was a wardsman at Greenslopes Hospital, and that is where he saw the first HD patient and recognized the disease, and that’s when we first formed the committee. 

Rec. Hall piano, Peel Island Lazaret

            I also went down to Peel with my mum as a visitor, but it was not often because it was hard to get a pass in those days. I didn’t really know about the stigma of the disease then, so I was not at all apprehensive about visiting the island. In those days we used to disembark at the old stone jetty near the Platypus ‘wreck’. At one stage it was too blowy to land, so we were forced to anchor behind the ‘wreck’ and then they took us ashore in a little rowboat to the jetty because they couldn’t get the larger vessel across. We had to trans ship all the musical instruments in the small boat, much to everyone’s distress, for fear that they would end up in the water.

            We used to catch the boat from Cleveland then. It was owned by a Mr Fitzjohn, whom we used to nickname ‘Fitzy”. The boat was probably the Flirt, which would have been hired specially for the trip.

            After arriving at the jetty, we were taken up to the Lazaret on the other end of Peel Island by their truck (the patients called it their bus). It had two forms along each side of the tray, which was covered with a tarpaulin. It was a windy ride – ‘air conditioned’ the patients called it – a bit of an eye opened the first time I went there, but afterwards it never bothered me. At the Lazaret we gave the concert in the recreation hall.

            As well as taking all our musical instruments down to the island, we also had all our ‘Christmas cheer’ for the party and wrapped presents for everybody – so many were prepared for the males and so many for the females. Then we’d go over to the hospital and see the patients there.

In the Family

            I had two family members who had HD1. One was my grandfather, who I shall refer to as ‘John’ 2 and the other was my mother’s brother – my uncle – who you referred to in your book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison” as ‘Jim’ 2

(Editor: Doctor Eric Reye’s notes have the following details of John: 

            Admitted 13.3.1924 aged 40. 

            He escaped from the island on 28.12.1929

            Readmitted 8.1.1930

            Paroled when his disease went into remission on 11.10.1930

            Readmitted to Peel on 7.9.1931

            Died there on 25.7.1935)

            His readmission to Peel in 1931 is interesting because he was ‘cured’ in 1930, but his wife had found another partner since his first admission (being admitted to Peel was usually a life sentence then). John did live for a time in their home at Wynnum in a room under the house, but things didn’t work out and he asked to be readmitted to Peel because this was the only other home that he knew. My mum used to go down to see John (her father) quite regularly with the pass, but that was before I was born.

            He stayed there until his death in1935. He is buried on the island. He used to play the button accordion, but when he died, we weren’t allowed any of his possessions because they were thought to be contaminated with HD. This upset mum a bit at the time. So, when I hear about the musical instruments on Peel, I often wonder what became of John’s accordion.

            My uncle ‘Jim’ was 17 when he was admitted to the Lazaret. There was an older patient there, ‘Ned’ in your book, who took Jim under his wing, and there is a photo of the two of them standing beside the patients’ truck. We had a lot of other photos of Jim but when he passed away at his home in Bald Hills mum got rid of them because she didn’t want everybody to know about him. A lot did not know what had really happened to him. Jim had greyhounds down on the island, which he trained, and on a couple of occasions we brought them up to race at Woolloongabba. In a way, Jim was lucky because they had discovered the cure for HD by then and he was discharged from the island before it was closed down in 1959, and the remaining patients transferred to the PA Hospital.

Emmett Kelly and ‘Jim’ with patients’ truck, Peel Island

            After Jim left Peel he lived up at Bardon with his mother, who looked after him and some friends until he bought the little farm at Bald Hills, where he remained until the end. While he was there, he bought into a horse called Skidge, which we used to race. Although his hands remained disfigured by the HD it was marvellous what he could do with them. As far as the neighbours were concerned, he had it put out that his disfigurement was due to old war injuries. I don’t know whether they ever really knew. Actually even a few of our cousins never suspected, and even to this day they still don’t know. Of course, in those days, none of them knew about HD and none of them would have been any the wiser if they had.

Other Patients

            I got to know quite a lot of the other patients. We used to bring them off and take them ‘unofficially’ to our home at Paddington. We had a piano there and many a time we had a sing-along around it. There was a patient, Bill K. who had only one arm, but could he play the piano! He’d play the bass and I’d play the treble, and then we’d swap around. We had great fun.

            We also used to take them to the RNA Show (‘Exhibition’ or ‘Ekka’), and to the dogs. The patients used to come across from Peel in one of their boats to Cleveland, where we’d pick them up in our car. Sometimes we’d take them to the Grand View Hotel there for a drink on the way. It didn’t happen often but it did enable them to keep in touch.

            In later days, Frank Bennett, an ex-patient, boarded with my sister and I. We had the house next door to my mum’s and we had extra rooms so he and another ex-patient stayed with us until they died. They were the good old days, but sad. I think we helped make life a lot better for them.

            There were a few blind patients there, and we became very friendly with one called Donohue who lived in the second row about three doors along from ‘Jim’. His wife was on our Friends and Relatives Committee, and she was a fighter who fought a lot on the patients’ behalf.

            I joined the committee once when there were not enough members to make up a quorum and that was it, I was on it for the rest of its life. Mum had a lot of paperwork under her house at Nudgee, but when Peel closed, we disposed of it.


1. Because of its stigma, the name Leprosy has now been replaced with the term Hansen’s Disease, or just HD.

2. Because of the stigma that surrounded Leprosy and to which some family members are still sensitive, I have used the pseudonym ‘Jim’ to denote this patient – the same one that I had used previously to record some of his reminiscences in my 1987 book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison”.  

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)

Related to HD – recalled by Evelyn Hogan

(Evelyn was a relative of Jim2, a former patient at Peel Island Lazaret)


What the HD1 patients hated most about their Lazaret at Peel Island, and what was the worst thing was their segregation away from their families, which were broken up – not just for months but for years – and in many cases the other spouse went their own way. Probably under the circumstances you couldn’t blame them. To be sent to Peel Island was virtually a lifetime sentence in the early days.  

I could never understand why segregation was imposed because there were people living and working there amongst the patients, without any ill effect – and the conditions weren’t hygienic by any means.  They used to boil the instruments on a primus (kerosene) stove in a dish.  Can you call that hygiene? 

A Kerosene Primus stove similar to one used in Peel’s surgery

A Relative’s Visit

            One of my first visits to Peel Island as a patient’s relative was on board the Otter – the Government steamer that used to service the island. It cost us a shilling (10 cents), which probably was quite cheap, really. To catch the boat, we used to leave home at about 6.30 in the morning. It used to depart from William Street in the city and then travel down the Brisbane River.  Then, when we got to Moreton Bay, we’d call into St Helena to deliver the stores to the prison that was still operating there. Then we’d sail across to a point just off Peel Island, and they’d bring out the launch Karboora.  We’d be transferred onto that, and many a time then have to be transferred again onto a dinghy because the tide was too low.  Sometimes it was very rough, so that we really and truly knew that we were in a boat.

The ‘Otter’ steaming down the Brisbane River

We took our own lunch down with us, so when we met our patient relative at the jetty, we could sit down under a tree and have lunch with them. We’d stay there until the boat came to pick us up in about an hour. We weren’t allowed to go up to the hospital section on the island. 

Then, of course, we’d have the same procedure coming home.  If it were really rough, we’d have to have the dinghy to get to the Karboora, but if it was good they could get the Karboora right into the jetty. Of course, this was the old stone jetty on the eastern end of the island. Later they did build a new jetty on the western side of the island, which was a lot better. 

The ‘Karboora’ nearing Peel’s stone jetty. (‘Platypus’ hulk as a breakwater in background).

The Otter returned to Brisbane about 6 pm, and by the time we got home it was 6.30. It was a lot of travel just to spend one hour with our relative on Peel Island. It was worse for people who had to travel all the way from the country, just for an hour. It was especially tiring for elderly people.

This was in the 1930s, and we were allowed two visits per month. In later years they gave us extra visitation rights, and we then were allowed two passes a week. No kiddies under 14 were allowed to go down, so therefore a lot of the patients never saw their children. 

            To get a pass we had to apply to the Health Office in William Street.  We couldn’t go without one; nor could we land on the island.  The Superintendent there would collect the passes when we went ashore. It was thought that the passes were one way of controlling the patients’ behaviour – if the patient misbehaved, his relative wouldn’t be given a pass. On top of their segregation, that there were a lot of rules and regulations that the patients didn’t like either, and of course they used to renege against it, and because they did that, the authorities would say, “Well, you’re not getting visitors,” you know.

            So they were kept on Peel under these circumstances like little children to a lot of extent until the latter years.  

The Patients’ Committee

            Then a Patients’ Committee got together, and they stirred things up quite well.  They formed a big committee down there amongst themselves and laid the law down implacably to the Government. They hadn’t been allowed to have anything of their own on the island, but then the Health Department under Dr Fryberg, did give them quite a few things that they wanted. They were allowed to have chooks or ducks or whatever. This was a really good help for them, because it gave them something to do.

            Originally the patients weren’t allowed boats, but they eventually did allow them a boat amongst themselves. They were only supposed to be small boats or rowing boats – but the Health Department relaxed the conditions a bit towards the end. The boats were difficult to police all the time, because there was no one there to do it. The patients weren’t allowed to leave the island.  They could go out fishing on the reefs, but they weren’t supposed to go onto the mainland.  Some did, though.  They had quite a few parties away from the island. You’d meet them all at the Exhibition (Brisbane’s Royal National Association show held annually in August), where they had quite a good time, and then they’d go back to the island.  I don’t think the authorities ever knew, or if they did, they didn’t say anything.

Patients’ jetty with some of the patients own boats. Lazaret Channel and Moreton Island in background. (Photo courtesy DrMorgan Gabriel).

The Patients Committee used to write letters to various people.  They even got in touch with the Carville Clinic in Louisiana, America, who gave them all the particulars about the discovery of the new sulphone drugs, and that’s where they all started on the new treatment.  It was through Carville, and through the patients getting in touch with the patients there, that they got the idea of this new treatment. In fact, I don’t know that it was even known to the authorities today, but at that time there were patients at Peel who were having the treatment from Carville.  They bought it themselves – it was by injection, and they were doing their own injections, unbeknownst to the Health Department here at that stage. 

Carville’s ‘Star’ Newspaper

Up until that time they didn’t have any variety of treatment.  They just gave them the same old chaulmoogra oil and all those sort of things, but I know for a fact that three of the patients on Peel were on the new treatment, and they leapt ahead in health. The authorities here couldn’t understand that all of a sudden they were doing so well. It was the start of the cure, because after that the Government got onto the new drugs and they brought them into the place. That’s when the patients started to get their ‘clean’ monthly blood smears.  It was a wonderful feeling to realise that there was finally a cure for our relative.


There was a big problem with drinking down there on Peel Island. It wasn’t only the patients who were drinking.  The staff were every bit as bad. I have been on the boats with them, coming back from leave so drunk that you would wonder how they could get off the boat. However, when the Patients’ Committee was formed, they demanded that the problem be attended to. They brought down staff from the Head Office at the Health Department, and from the newspapers, and something was done.

 It did seem to be the turning point, and I suppose the new treatments did come about this time, or just after.  It gave them a new hope.  

Supplies and Pilferage

Maybe they say it was shortage of supplies. That could have been right, but a lot of the supplies that probably should have been down there and were probably billed for being down there, let’s face it, three parts of them probably never got there – or they might have got there, but they went away again. 

Pilferage was always a problem – and don’t say it was the patients, because they couldn’t even get them – although I’ll admit some of the patients used to abuse the privileges, too. They were allowed so much toothpaste and so much soap, so much this and that.  They’d maybe go over to the store today and get a tube of toothpaste, and the next day go again and get another tube of toothpaste because they’d thrown the one away or dropped it or something.  But sometimes the goods didn’t even get to the store. Of course, after the patients formed their committee at Peel they got a lot of things then, and as I said, things didn’t go so bad after that.  They were more accountable.

Relatives’ Ostracism

I have heard of some of the patients’ relatives experiencing ostracism from their neighbours – not myself personally, I never felt anything at all about that, but others had reported that they wouldn’t let their children play with a relative’s children, if they knew the patient was on Peel Island, or they would call out to them, “Leprosy! Leprosy!”  That has been said, I believe, but as far as I’m concerned they never said anything to me, and I never worried.

I think probably when you look around it’s like TB.  If a patient knew he had TB, he didn’t like it to be known everywhere because the simple reason was that they wouldn’t let their children play with fathers and mothers that had TB.

But that’s few and far between, thank God.  There was always that fear, though. Well, I don’t think any patient on Peel Island was ever sent a letter in their right name.  They would have been all under a nom de plume of some description, and more so in the country where a lot of them came from, or up the North, where the postman knew everybody.

The Relatives and Friends of Peel Island

One day quite a few of us had been visiting patients, who at this time were very aggressive about something, and we were just about sick of having to get onto boats and get onto dinghies.  A couple of times when the weather was rough we had to stay there at Peel.  So we decided we’d all get together and we met down at the Botanical Gardens, where we formed our committee, which we called the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island.

We were quite an active committee.  I was secretary in the latter part, but in the first stage the secretary used to write to every Leprosarium practising in the world, and got all the different data from the different places to find out how they were, and how they were on the treatment and everything else like this.

At one stage just after World War II we even got a chap from down in Sydney, and he just about blew the place wide open. He had the newspapers, the editors down there, Lord knows what – but we had to get it across to the public, and get it across to the Health Department that the patients needed attention.

We also organised parties for the patients on Peel, and we used to run a Christmas Appeal.  That Christmas Appeal was well organised, and it was very well received. We got a terrific amount of money from different people who used to send in for the Christmas Appeal.  We used to take down our Christmas parties to the island, and we used to give the patients a Christmas party that they never forgot. 

Of course, we all put in a certain amount of money ourselves.  We had a lot of people in our organisation who were not relatives of patients.  They used to come in, just as friends, and they’d help out in lots of ways.  It was really good.

I think we did get a lot of privileges for the patients: importantly, they were finally allowed their own access to a phone. Before that they used to write to the Health Department, and probably when the Department did get the letters, they tore them up. 

Then the patients were allowed to have their own things – well, one chap had ducks.  Another bloke had goats.  They used to do fishing. Then we were allowed to take the concert parties down to Peel, which the patients used to look forward to.  We took them down a couple of times a year besides the Christmas. 

After the Lazaret was closed and they shifted the remaining patients from Peel to the PA Hospital, the organisation broke up because we had done our part by this time.

A typewriter similar to the one used by Peel’s Patients’ Committee.


1. Because of its stigma, the name Leprosy has now been replaced with the term Hansen’s Disease, or just HD.

2. Because of the stigma that surrounded Leprosy and to which some family members are still sensitive, I have used the pseudonym ‘Jim’ to denote this patient – the same one that I had used previously to record some of his reminiscences in my 1987 book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison”.  

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)

To Peel and Back – A Post Script by Matt’s son, Alf in 2010

            My father had been in a car accident in his youth, which involved a horse and cart. The horse had reared up and put its hoof through the windscreen and into dad’s chest. This left a scar and prevented him joining the Navy for active service during WWII. However he was allowed to join the Navy band where he played the drums and tuba.

            After he came to Cleveland, he bought a one-acre banana farm, where he continued to grow bananas until he was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease (HD). His first suspicion that he had HD had been aroused while working on heavy machinery such as tractors and graders for Cleveland and Annerley Councils, for if he burnt his arms on hot manifolds etc he would not feel any pain. When the HD was confirmed, dad was immediately sent to Peel Island for treatment.

            I required a permit to visit him on Peel. Once this had been issued, I would catch the vessel Vega at Cleveland jetty for the short trip across to the island, where visitors, other stores and I would be dropped off at the long wooden western jetty. From there we would be taken up to the Lazaret, while the Vega continued on to Dunwich and then the RKLM Group of islands. On its return journey, it would call again at Peel and collect us visitors returning to Cleveland.

            I continued to look after dad’s bananas in Cleveland until one day an officer from the nearby Experimental Farm said that they had become diseased, so I chopped them all out and someone with a rotary hoe chopped them up so that they could be buried. I was then faced with the decision of what to replace them with. I asked the Royal National Association people if locally grown cotton would be suitable, but they laughed at me, and instead gave me a bag of Mexican Cotton seeds. These grew well, but the cotton attracted insects, which made the neighbours angry. So I sold off the cotton, which was of a good quality. All this took place while dad was a patient on Peel Island. At this stage I worked as a driver for Redland Bay Buses, but later, when the company closed, my wife and I moved out to St George.

            Dad had been a patient at Peel Island’s Lazaret from 1954 until its closure in 1959, when he was taken with the other dozen remaining patients to Ward S12 at the South Brisbane (now Princess Alexandra) Hospital. He had been glad to leave Peel Island, but did not like the dreary Ward S12 very much. However he was not allowed home until Dr Gabriel had trained me to use a surgical knife to pear away (debride) the dead flesh from dad’s trophic ulcers on his legs and arms. This I did conscientiously at 7 pm each day for two years. If my debriding got too close to a joint or bone, then I had to contact Dr Gabriel, who would come to the house and perform the operation himself. Sometimes he would have to remove a piece of bone from a finger or toe, but dad didn’t need an anaesthetic because his HD had killed the nerves there, and he had no feeling in the affected limbs.

            Dad couldn’t return to work after his return home, but amused himself with his woodwork, which he had taken up on Peel Island, where he had made furniture and dolls houses. He liked talking with visitors and feeding the birds. Dad was able to get around by wearing surgical boots, but he found the front steps of his home at Cleveland to difficult to manage so he sold up and he and his wife moved into a retirement village. Dad even went on a trip to New Zealand by himself to visit a distant relative.

            After his discharge from Ward S12, dad continued to have regular blood tests to make sure his HD was still in remission, but he, like all the other ex-Peel Island patients, eventually gave up taking his precautionary medication. All the members of dad’s family had been tested for HD, but no one else contracted the disease. Like many families of HD patients, some family members even denied that dad had been sent to Peel Island at all.

            Dad died on September 9th 1992.

Male Patient’s Cottage Peel Island Lazaret 1951 Note the outdoor dunny in background and the shared water tank (photo courtesy Doug Hinton)

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)