The asylum’s function was not to help the weak and crippled but to hide them, the outcasts of society “whom nobody owned”. There were other asylums in Moreton Bay: the prison at St Helena, and the quarantine station and later the leprosarium at Peel Island.
The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum operated from 1865 until 1946 to provide support for those who could not look after themselves, particularly the aged but also epileptics, alcoholics, and those suffering from TB. By the 1920s there were 22 wards with 800 beds for male inmates and 7 wards with 150 beds for females. Another 150 men were in tents. A total of 21,000 inmates were housed there over the period of the institution.
The Queensland Government supply steamer ‘Otter’ visited Dunwich twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays with supplies and visitors for the institution. As well as Dunwich, the ‘Otter’ also serviced the prison at St Helena and the leprosarium at Peel while they were in operation.
Visitors to the Benevolent Asylum paid a shilling (10 cents) for the round trip, leaving at 7am from Brisbane at William Street, just near the Victoria Bridge, down the Brisbane River and calling in at St Helena and then Peel Island. Then the boat sailed on to Dunwich where it stayed for about two hours. This gave relatives time to visit residents or walk around the area. Then the Otter returned to Brisbane at North Quay, arriving at 6 pm.
As well as providing accommodation for the inmates, the asylum provided employment for many of the Aboriginal population of Stradbroke, and when the institution was closed and shifted to what was to become Eventide at Sandgate, many of the island’s former employees were left without work.