0Cribb Island is one of my most visited blogs. Recently a reader, Barbara Banvill, sent me images of the island’s Bellevue Theatre.
Barbara notes: ‘As unlikely as this may sound my father Joe Salt and a Mr. Turner owned the Bellevue picture theatre on Cribb Island. I have two old photos one of the theatre, a timber building and one of a display of picture posters that were probably showing at the time. One of the movies being The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve never been there, although if it is under the runway of the Brisbane Airport, then, in a sense, I have.’
From the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, the Hunchback of Notre Damehas been filmed several times: In 1939 with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. He gives a riveting, haunting performance in this atmospheric, Oscar-nominated version. There had been a silent movie previously shot in 1923 with Lon Chaney and this is the one shown on the Cribb Island poster. In 1957 there was another version with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. There was even a Disney cartoon version in 1996.
Unlike today, where movies have a simultaneous release in theatres throughout the world, early films, probably due to limited physical availability, were first distributed to the theatres in major capital cities, then to the smaller suburban theatres. Their popularity determined their length of their run. So, by the time The Hunchback of Notre Damereached the Bellevue Cinema on Cribb Island, it would probably have been in the late 1920s.
01.04.2019 – Moreton Bay Mysteries – 6 – Just who was the Lover of Hilda Finger?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the early years of Moreton Bay’s European settlement, it was customary for vessels to use the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. However, the loss of the paddle steamer Sovereignon 11 March 1847 led to the closure of the South Passage, with the shipping lane being moved to the bay’s northern entrance between Moreton and Bribie Islands. Poor visibility and rain, however, could continue to deceive ships’ masters into mistaking Point Lookout on North Stradbroke for Cape Moreton, and during 1853–1889 no less than half-a-dozen vessels came to grief on the South Passage. And it was such a fate that befell the American Liberty Ship Rufus Kingduring the night of 7/8 July 1942, as it approached Brisbane with a cargo of vital war materiel from Los Angeles.
Aboard Rufus Kingwere nine crated B-25 Mitchell bombers plus aviation fuel, and medical supplies and equipment sufficient to outfit three army field hospitals totalling more than 4,000 beds (or more than 17,000 boxes in all). At this time, the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep to the north, and the Battle of Midway had been fought only the previous month; the Second World War still hung very much in the balance.
Captain Muller, his crew of almost 40 and vital cargo aboard a ship less than four months old, came to an abrupt halt in less than four fathoms (7m) of water, barely 18 miles (30km) from their destination. As rescuers began taking off her crew, 12 hours later the Rufus Kingbroke in two.
A 200-strong team of Australian and US Army Medical Department personnel in the recovery of the ship’s cargo, the Americans based at Amity and the Aussies on Reeder’s Point. The drifting 330ft (100m) long forward section was taken in hand for salvage; and within four months, it had been sealed, towed into the Brisbane River and converted into its surprising second life.
The Courier-Mail newspaper reported Captain Muller was taken back to America under arrest; others said he was incarcerated there for the rest of the war. Graham Mackey who had worked on the salvaged section, heard at the time: “we were told by a Yankee officer that the skipper … was a German descendant and had run her aground purposely.”
Whether the wreck of the Rufus King was just an accident or a deliberate act of war still remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer can be found the fate of Captain Muller back in America.
In 2010, I interviewed Jennie Phillips of Southport about her discovering the remains of Moreton Bay’s legendary Spanish galleon. I recorded our conversation in my book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (which is now out of print):
‘In about 1968/69, my husband, Bill, and I had been fishing in our boat at Jumpinpin with our two small children. On an impulse, we landed on North Stradbroke Island on the north bank of the bar, and decided to take a walk along the ocean beach. We also had a fishing mate, Peter, with us. The children being very young, Bill and I had to carry them, and so we had probably gone only about half a kilometre along the beach and were walking in the sand hills amongst the light undergrowth such as Pigweed, when Peter received what he thought was a bite on the foot. We all gathered round for a look at the wound (and a rest – the kids were getting heavy by that time), but found that Peter’s ‘bite’ was actually a puncture from a sharp object.
‘Naturally we searched amongst the dunes for the sharp object, and found an old square nail sticking up from a piece of weathered wood about 2 inches by 4 inches in width. The nail was green with verdigris, indicating that it may have been copper or brass. More surprising was that there were a lot of other pieces of wood protruding through the sand. It then became obvious from their distribution that that they were tips of the ribs of a wooden ship. They had all been burnt off from bushfires over time.
‘We scratched further amongst the sand and then found a couple of metal coins, which from their appearance were either of Spanish or Portuguese origin. We could even make out part of a date 15??
‘Could this have been the legendary Spanish Galleon whose remains we had just stumbled upon? If only we had a camera!
‘We kept the coins and resolved to return in a few weeks time, armed with a camera to record our find for posterity. Unfortunately a cyclone hit the coast just after our visit, and when we were able to return to the spot, the elements had rearranged the dunes, and the sands had once more reclaimed their treasure. We still had the coins, though, which we placed in an old tin box with a lot of other coins and curios that we had collected over the years. Unfortunately, a ‘friend’ of ours took the collection along to a collector for a valuation, and returned to us empty handed with the news that the box and its contents were worthless. We suspect that he had gambled whatever he was paid for them.
‘And the Spanish coins? Their fate is unknown – swallowed up, like the Spanish galleon in the sands of time.’
Recently at our local Probus Club, one of our members, Graham, happened to mention that he, too, had seen the Spanish galleon. In about 1934, as a young lad, he had been fishing with his father in Swan Bay on the southern tip of North Stradbroke Island. They had then waded through swampland to the sand dunes on the eastern side of the island. There they came across a timber skeleton of a ship some 60 to 90 feet long. Only the wooden ribs remained. Its position seemed to corroborate that described by Jennie Phillips.
What a pity they didn’t have mobile phones with cameras back then.
In my 2001 book ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’ I made the following reference to the underground hospital situated at Fort Bribie situated at the northern end of Bribie Island:
The existence or otherwise of the underground hospital is a topic currently hotly disputed by Bribie’s residents. Many vehemently swear (literally) that years ago they descended its steps. Some entered and found it still set up and ready for use. Others could not open the door because sand had collected against it. All had returned years later only to find its steps completely covered by sand and, with fading memories and an overgrowth of scrub, its location ‘lost’.
And there are also those who just as vehemently swear (literally) that the underground hospital never existed. They say that all army personnel requiring hospitalisation were taken to Caloundra, so why should another hospital be built at Fort Bribie?
Perhaps the answer rests with Doctor Noel Ure, medical officer at Fort Bribie in 1943. He says: “The underground hospital DID exist because I set it up at Fort Bribie in 1943. It was a large underground room with steps descending into it. There were about 15 stretcher bed set up inside.
“It is quite true that sick personnel were sent to the hospital at Caloundra. The purpose of the underground hospital was for emergency use in case of an enemy invasion of the Fort. We now know that this never occurred, and so the hospital was probably never used as such. But in 1943 at least, it DID EXIST!”
Fifty years later, on June 18, 1993, we trek with Doctor Ure to the site of the underground hospital. He remembers it to be no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the Officers Mess hut. We use a site plan to locate firstly the foundations of the enlisted men’s latrines, and then work our way through thick entanglements of lantana across the foundations of the sergeants’ latrines, officers’ latrines, and finally their mess. There is a lantana-covered mound of sand where Doctor Ure remembers the underground hospital to be. It all looks so different. With a probe we search for cement beneath the sand. There is nothing, not even air vents common to the other underground structures of the camp.
Then, about 50 feet south of the officers’ mess, our probe hits something solid. We quickly shovel off the sand covering a cement slab. About 2 metres long by 1 metre wide its pebbly texture resembles that of a path. Could it lead to the steps going down into the underground hospital?
We are hot, tired, thirsty, and scratched by lantana. Our shovel is no match for our imaginations. The hospital must still remain a mystery. Perhaps time, a metal detector, and a team of shovel and machete wielding volunteers may one day answer this intriguing question.
‘Lost’ things intrigue me. They challenge me to find them again. It may be as simple as locating my wife’s glasses (a plea always issued as I stand holding the front door open while waiting to go out) or as complex as rescuing a ‘lost’ soul for their redemption (I’m no so good at that one). But locating a ‘lost’ cellar in our local pub is a different matter altogether. That really stirs my imagination. How could this happen? How could a cellar be isolated in such a way? Was it fully stocked? If so, the whiskey must be well matured by now. And why hasn’t anyone bothered to find it?
These questions surfaced again recently when, with a tinge of nostalgia, I heard that my local pub has been sold to a ‘Southern Conglomerate’ (what a cold, unfriendly term that is). The hotel has been a venue for some of my book launches and history presentations – the last most recently as this month. The Grand View Hotel boasts the title of Queensland’s oldest licensed pub still in operation. Its long history, by Australian pub standards anyway, dates back to 1851 when it was known as the Brighton Hotel. The Brock family has owned it since 1992, when the Brocks renovated and researched its history. It was then that the tale of the ‘lost’ underground cellar emerged. The hotel was remodelled into its present form sometime before 1900. Perhaps it was then that the cellar was ‘lost’. I wonder if the new owners will renovate again. Perhaps the cellar will finally be recovered.
Here’s the view of Moreton Bay from Cleveland Point yesterday. The smoke from the bushfires on Stradbroke Island has obscured it entirely from our view. Even Peel Island in the foreground is obscure. Here is the same view on a clear day:
During my studies into the former lazaret (leprosarium or leper colony) on Moreton Bay’s Peel Island, people often asked me where the term lazaretoriginated. The obvious connection is with the biblical parables about Lazarus: ‘The rich man and Lazarus’ (who was a leper) and ‘Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead’ (another Lazarus who was not a leper). Perhaps it was the conflation (often erroneous merging) of these two parables that led to the declaration of Lazarus as a saint.
Saint Lazarus Island
In the 12th century, leprosy appeared in Venice as a result of trade with the Levant (Middle East). Thus, a leper colony—hospital for people with leprosy—was established at the island, which was chosen for that purpose due to its relative distance from the principal islands forming the city of Venice. It received its name from St. Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers. The church of Saint Lazarus (San Lazzaro) was founded there in 1348. Leprosy declined by the mid-1500s and the island was abandoned by 1601. Over the following years, the island was leased to various religious groups but by the early 18th century only a few crumbling ruins remained.In 1717 the island was ceded by the Republic of Venice to an Armenian Catholic monk, who established a monastery with his followers. It has since been the headquarters of the Mekhitarists and, as such, one of the world’s prominent centers of Armenian culture and Armenian studies.
During the nineteenth century, many prominent people visited the island: the English Romantic poet Lord Byron from November 1816 to February 1817; composers such as Offenbach, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner; writers included George Sand and Marcel Proust; monarchs from Spain, Austria, Britain, and France.
Today Saint Lazarus Island continues as an important centre for Armenian studies, and is a popular tourist destination.