Peel Island – Coloured Leprosy Patients’ Huts

By 1908 there were 40 coloured patients and 17 white patients at the Peel Island Lazaret. 

In the book Moreton Bay Matters Chapter 9 The Leper Shall Dwell Alone, historian Thom Blake mentions ‘the huts for the coloured patients were erected by Aboriginal workers from Myora on Stradbroke Island and from Barambah (now Cherbourg).’ He describes the huts for the coloured patients as ‘being framed with bush timber, clad with cypress pine slab, roofed with tea-tree bark, and simply provided with an earth floor. The cost of each coloured hut was Pound3/-/- (three pounds) verses Pound55/-/- (fifty-five pounds) for each white patient’s hut’.

The image below shows a group of coloured patients (all South Sea Islanders) posing in front of a typical coloured dwelling. Also with them is the Lazaret’s Assistant Caretaker, Paulus Friedrich Schwarz:

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz with South Sea Islander patients, Peel Island Lazaret c.1908 (photo supplied by Paul Smith/Dr John Schwarz)

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz from Vienna, born of Jewish parents, and came to Australia as a Christian Evangelist, he only spent a few months on Peel but was so appalled by the conditions of the coloured patients that he sent an urgent letter to the Home Secretary in July 1908.

In the letter, Paulus reported serious deficiencies in the provision for the coloured lepers: open drains, huts structurally incapable of being fumigated or properly cleaned, having earthen floors and thatched roofs which let in the rain. Patients having to get up and sit round the fire when it rains at night. Many of the huts were in a bad state of repair. There was no dining room, no hospital, and a day surgery without either hot or cold-water supply. The blankets the coloured lepers received at the beginning or winter, were only half of one double blanket each. No sheets or pillow slips, which he was told were always supplied to them on Friday Island.

In reply to his letter, Paulus was told that his proper channel of communication was through the Medical Superintendent (Dr Rowe in the Benevolent Asylum).

Paulus & Phiebie Schwarz and their 11 Children in 1923

Happily, soon after leaving Peel, he met and married Phiebie. They were married for 62 years and had 11 children.

Peel’s Galvanized Huts

Later, at an undetermined time, the Queensland Government DID replace the coloured patients’ huts with those made of corrugated galvanised iron on wooden frames. Initially they still had dirt floors, but the patients themselves were able to line them with cement laced with shells from the many middens remaining on the island – the refuse heaps from countless Aboriginal feasts remaining from unknown eons.

Recently, while I was guiding a tour group around the Lazaret buildings, I was told by one of the group that the galvanized iron huts used by the ‘coloured’ patients were common among Queensland’s poorer outback pioneers. He told me that railway gangers used them because they were easily dismantled and transported. It would be interesting to follow up with the Ipswich Railway Museum if they have any photos.

Peter Ludlow


Peel Island Lazaret’s coloured patients’ huts

Prelude to Peel Island’s Lazaret

In Queensland, the first case recording symptoms resembling those of Leprosy was in 1855, a Chinaman, Oun Tsar, at the Brisbane Hospital.  He was to die in 1859 ‑ undiagnosed. At this time, too, the hospital was recording many cases of Islander “Toe Disease”.  Leprosy once again diagnosed incorrectly. 

 For the next 35 years there was a steady increase in the number of reported Leprosy cases, all confined to Chinese and Islander immigrants, and the aborigines who “caught anything”. By 1889, although the public at large still thought Leprosy to be a “foreigner’s disease”, the Government deemed it prudent to segregate some Chinese cases at Cooktown.  The following year, an official Leper Station was established there. 

     The notion of Leprosy as purely a foreigner’s disease was dispelled in 1892 when a Queensland born white by the name of Quigley contracted the disease.  After being kept in forced isolation in a tent for six months at the Brisbane Hospital, the Government sought to legalize such segregation by passing the Queensland Leprosy Act of 1892. This Act formalized the detention and segregation of all those suffering from Leprosy in special areas known as lazarets or Leprosariums.  Coloured patients were sent to Friday Island in the Thursday Island Group.  White patients went to Dunwich on Stradbroke Island. 

Queensland Lazarets (The coloured patients were transferred from Peel Island to Fantome Island in 1940)

The following article from The Week newspaper of 4 November 1904 reflects the terms and thinking of that era:

Lepers Going to Friday Island

General Clearing Up

Recently the Home Department felt that owing to the slight increase in leprosy among the kanakas of the State, it was desirable to collect the patients and send them to Friday Island, where the lazarette for coloured races has long been established. There were two coloured lepers at Dunwich, two came from Bundaberg on Monday, three from remote parts of the State, and there are three yet to be brought down from the northern coast. So far all those who have arrived in Brisbane have been placed on board the auxiliary schooner Rio Loge, where they will be kept until the remaining patients arrive before being taken to the lazarette on Friday Island. The official number of black lepers are set down as males, 9; females, 1.

The idea is to rid the State of this collection of leprosy in one shipload instead of segregating the patients at different towns. If is likely that the Rio Loge will be ready to sail for Friday Island at an early date.

Doctor Horace Tozer, Superintendent of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, was placed in charge of both Leprosariums.

By 1906 there were 21 inmates at the Dunwich lazaret which was housed in buildings adjacent to the Asylum’s Men’s Quarters to the south.  As had been the practice for some years, the dull lives of the Asylum’s inmates had been brightened by the theatrical performances of the Postmaster, a certain Mr Agnew and his son Noel (“Laddie”).  The lazaret patients were also allowed to attend.  Little heed was paid to the close contact between the Leprosy patients and the old folk until Noel Agnew contracted the disease.  It was then that the Government decided on total segregation of the Hansen’s patients and they were moved to a new lazaret in the north western corner of nearby Peel Island.

The Peel Island lazaret opened in 1907 with the segregation of 17 white patients.  Not only were they segregated from society but also from each other according to sex, race, and form of the disease.  Later in the year, their number was swelled by the transfer of the 40 coloured patients from the Friday Island lazaret after its closure.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest)

A Stroll Through the Pilbara

Also at a recent meeting of our Probus Club of Toondah, our guest speaker, John Florence, took us on a stroll through the Pilbara, an area we have all heard of but know little about.

Western Australia’s Pilbara Region

The Pilbara occupies an area twice the size as the State of Victoria, but with a permanent population of just 66,000 which is considerably boosted by ‘fly in fly out’ mine workers. Most of the permanent population lives in the towns on the coast with the mining towns inland.

The Pilbara is noted for its Aboriginal people who have lived in the area for tens of thousands of years and for their ancient rock carvings. 

The Pilbara has some of the largest and richest deposits of iron ore in the world, which are the lifeblood of the region. 50% of the world’s sea borne iron ore exports come from the Pilbara and in 2019/20 $101.7 billion was returned from the export of iron ore from the Pilbara – a very significant contributor to the economy of Australia.

Railways and Mines of the Pilbara

There are four companies involved:

  • Rio Tinto rail line connects its 16 iron ore mines to the seaports at Dampier and Cape Lampert (green line)
  • BHP connects its 6 mines at Mount Newman to Port Hedland (red line)
  • Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Metal Group connects his 3 mines to Port Hedland (blue Line)
  • Gina Rinehart’s Hancock’s Prospecting connects the Roy Hill Mine to Port Hedland. The Roy hill mine is the largest in the Pilbara (pink line)

TWO types of ore are mined in the Pilbara: Hematite has an iron ore content of 69-70% and magnetite 72-73% which means that in a small volume you have a very heavy weight so that the haul trucks have to be huge. The standard iron ore trains are about 2.4 km long with 240 ore cars pulled by 2 or 3 diesel electric locomotives. But the longest train there was BHP’s 7.29 km long with 682 ore cars and it carried 82,000 tonnes of iron ore and was powered by 8 GE diesel locomotives.

John also mentioned salt mining, the National Parks, migratory birds, the Wittenoom asbestos mine, the heat of Marble Bar, Red Dog, the Burrup Peninsula, and Aboriginal rock paintings. 

Building the School of St Judes

Construction is well under way on the first block at the School of St Judes

At a recent meeting of our Probus Club of Toondah, member Margaret Hayes described how she and other Rotarians from Armidale travelled to Tanzania to build the first classroom block for the School of St Judes:

‘My first venture into overseas projects for Rotary was to help build the first classrooms for the School of St Jude in Tanzania. Its instigator, Gemma Rice, had come to Australia and after her tertiary education went to the Congo. She ended up holidaying in Arusha in Tanzania where she met her future husband, Richard Sisia. His father gave them a small block of land there and they began to build the School of St Judes with the help of friends, family and Rotary groups.

‘We set up seven tents in Richard’s back yard. Most of the team came from Armidale and Tenterfield, but three women including me from Kingscliff also went.

‘The locals wanted the buildings to be built their way but our leader insisted that some of the buildings had to be built the Australian way. Ditches were dug to outline the building with the help of 15 locals. These were filled with two layers of rocks, carefully placed not just dumped in, and they were each covered with layers of dirt and water. In two days, the foundations were completed. We moved 56 tons of rock in three days. Then we had to move piles of mud bricks from outside otherwise they would never dry. This was my job. The string lines were put down and the damp course completed. Finally, the floors were completed and the bricklaying began in earnest. The mortar needed to dry properly and the bricks topped with wood, front and back, and then strapped down with steel tapes, before the trusses were put on.

‘The locals continued putting on the trusses while we Australians set off on safari for a week. On our return, all was completed and we had a BBQ for the workers and their families. For me it was a memorable experience and one for which I am grateful.

‘There were only three students in the first building but now the number has grown exponentially and today there are well over a thousand.

You can read about the full history of St Jude’s at:

Dan Holzapfel

Opening of the Dan Holzapfel Park (photo courtesy Redland City Bulletin)

At the opening of the park in 2018, the ‘Redland City Bulletin’ newspaper reported:

Redland’s 2018 Citizen of the Year Dan Holzapfel, 94, remains perplexed as to why he was even nominated for the Australia Day’s major award, given at the Alexandra Hills Hotel on January 23.

“I’m only an average resident of the district,” he said.

Such is his humility that his friends are the ones who speak for him.

“He’s an achiever.  He’s a very reliable person and if he says he’ll do something, he does,” friend Bob Mackie said.

The pair met when Mr Mackie was shire clerk and Mr Holzapfel was a city councillor (1964 to 1974) and then forged strong bonds through 47 years of Rotary membership.

“His most significant project has been the eradication of polio,” Mr Mackie said.

“I saw the suffering when I visited Africa in 2003 and I thought this polio should be stopped,” Mr Holzapfel said.

A pioneer of the area, Mr Holzapfel attended Mount Cotton State School, leaving at age 11 to work on the family’s tomato farm. The family then bought 84 acres at Capalaba where they switched to growing strawberries.

“I was born in the Redlands and have remained here because this is the best area in Australia. But most of all it’s my home. You’ve got to have a home to go to,” he said.

Mr Holzapfel’s philanthropic spirit was praised and noted were his significant donations made to the Redlands Foundation and the Redland Museum.

“He donated $100,000 to the Redland Foundation to build transitional housing for families impacted by domestic violence.  He is an inspiration and this is why we have these awards, to honour these people who make such a difference to the community,” Mayor Karen Williams said.