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.
At a recent meeting of our local Probus Club, I was intrigued to hear one of our members talk about her first tourist impressions of London. While her husband was studying at a business college, she was left to explore her fond Monopoly Board sites of London. Being left to her own devices, she found the process an empowering experience in a place she loved to explore, and it has endured with her ever since.
It brought to mind my first empowering experience of London, too, and It was just 50 years ago this November. It occurred suddenly as I was riding home in a London cab from Phyllis’ flat in Pimlico to my digs in Earl’s Court. We had been to a ball and it was sometime after midnight. I think it was our first night out together. As the cab weaved through London’s streets whose names were so familiar and yet so new to me, I felt a bit of a dandy in my dinner suit and leaning on my umbrella as if it were a cane (I didn’t wear a top hat!). Suddenly I felt that London belonged to me, or more accurately, I belonged to London.
Another ‘owning’ experience occurred to me in New York some forty years later when I left Phyllis and daughter Karen frantically shopping at Macey’s while I decided to take a leisurely walk back along 7th Avenue through the once thriving Garment District to our hotel near Times Square. Once again I suddenly felt this experience of belonging to the city. I think it resulted from the security of having loved-ones close by, but still having the freedom to explore such a world famous city on my own.
To continue my jubilee quest of 50 years ago (see my previous post of 06.10.2018 – An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong):
Stopover in Tokyo
After leaving Hong Kong I had a stopover in Japan. Unlike Hong Kong where street names signs were duplicated in English, Tokyo streets were all in Japanese. Understandably, they made no concessions to Australian tourists. Oh, how I wish that Google Translatehad been invented then! And there were no Hotels.com or Google Maps: not even an internetto share my frustrations with my Facebookfriends. So after spending two nights in Tokyo and Yokohama YMCA’s, I took the easy option and booked a bus tour to Mount Fuji and environs.
The beautiful Japanese countryside was a welcome relief from the throngs of Tokyo and Yokohama.
Stopover in Moscow
After a rattling 10 hour flight across Siberia, the Russian Aeroflot airliner touched down in a chilly Moscow where the trees were wearing their autumn garbs, the skies were grey with clouds, the Muscovites were donned in their thick black coats, and their faces were already set grimly against the onset of winter. But it was not only the weather that was cold, for in 1968, it was still the Cold War with the West. I could still feel the excitement at arriving in an alien territory.
Even so, Moscow was a beautiful city and one steeped in history. I again took the easy option and boarded a sightseeing tour.
When I touched down at Heathrow, I immediately felt at home. I was greeted by friends who spoke Australian, and who introduced me to familiar sites that I had up until then only been able to read about in books and travel brochures. The first night I was taken to Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros. I have been in love with them ever since.
I hadn’t fully realized the solitude that necessarily accompanies the lone traveller. Nor the anxiety of travel: of having to deal with timetables and unfamiliar situations. It’s something the travel agent didn’t deem necessary to relate.
From the perspective of 2018, I wonder how I could have been so naive and unprepared for my journey – just throwing my clothes into a port on the morning of departure from Brisbane. No travel money, no travel books. I was focused on my destination in London. I forgot that travel, like life, is a journey not a destination. Young people today have it easy. All their travel information is online – so much so that they almost don’t need to actually travel at all.
It’s fifty years ago this month since I first ventured overseas. I was one of the many young Jet Setters taking advantage of the flight specials that were made possible by the introduction of Boeing’s 707 Jumbo Jets. My ultimate destination was London, which in 1968 was ‘the centre of the universe’ to so many of us. But it was in Hong Kong that I chose to spend the few days of my new life away from my home in Brisbane.
As you can see from these images, the place has changed a bit over the past half century: The Star ferry is no longer the only means of communication between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (well you can’t actually see the tunnel now hiding beneath Victoria Harbour; nor the fact that Hong Kong has now passed from British control back to China.)
I have always harboured a desire to return to Hong Kong one day, but with the passing of the years, shopping is no longer on my holiday itinerary; nor is the zing of a booking into a luxury hotel; nor is the vibe of a megatropolis. My enthusiasm has waned, but if I every do make it back there, even as a stopover, I expect that Hong Kong will surprise me in some new and unexpected way.
Recently a special Peel committee has been focusing on possible future access to the island. Its report is due out by the end of the year. It may be an appropriate time, now, to look at the history of former points of access.
During the 1870s the foundations of the stone jetty were formed on the south-east corner of the island on the beach below the Bluff at the most convenient landing place by members of the ships quarantined there. The jetty was completed by prison and Aboriginal labour in 1893 and became the main access point for the island. Later, from 1907 the jetty was used as the main access point for the island’s Lazaret.
However, vessels could not berth there at low tide, and the distance from the lazaret was also a disadvantage. So it was decided to build a jetty less remote from the lazaret and also one that could be used in all weathers and tides.
In 1948 the short version (causeway only) of the proposed western jetty was completed which enabled a much quicker access to the lazaret, but which was still not accessible at low tide. The longer (wooden) section, which straddled the sandbanks, was not completed until August 1956. From then on, this became the main access for the island. Although the lazaret was to close in 1959, the jetty was again useful when the then Church of England Grammar School (“Churchie”) took out its first lease on part of the former lazaret buildings in December 1968 for the purpose of sending their students to the island for three-day camps.
It is doubtful whether the old stone jetty on the South-East of the island would have been used, or repaired, after the opening of the western jetty in 1956.
Sadly the Western Jetty had become unsafe after 40 years of inattention to its maintenance. It was demolished in late 1990s. This left Peel Island without proper access; a situation that has persisted until this day.
A third access point to Peel Island was via the patients’ jetty, which straddled the mud flats from the Lazaret Gutter right up to the embankment below the Lazaret itself. It was constructed by the patients with materials supplied by the Health Department, and was for the exclusive use of the patients and their boats.
As you can see from Dr Gabriel’s photo, the patients’ jetty could only be used at or near high tide. If such a jetty were contemplated today for public use, it would have to be a much more substantial affair and it would have to extend right out to the Lazaret Gutter if it were to be useable at all tides. Northerly winds would make it difficult for boats to berth, and the size of the vessel would be very limited.
The advantage in siting a jetty here would be that the visitors arriving from such a jetty would land directly at the Lazaret itself, and thus save a 40 minute walk (each way) from Horseshoe Bay, as they have to do today. Even with a much shorter jetty, the visitor’s ‘two hours before and after high tide’ time limit would be considerably extended. Maybe a landing barge, such as previously used to land tourists at Horseshoe Bay, could be employed to land at the Lazaret beach with no jetty at all being required.
This week when I presented my Peel Island talk to the Redlands-Bayside Probus Club, my casual mention of Doctor Darling sparked great interest from the audience. By a sheer coincidence their August guest-speakers had been Chris Adams and Helen Goltz, authors of the books “Grave Tales” and whose topic was “Is Jack the Ripper Buried in Toowong Cemetery?”
Herewith a chapter from my 2007 book ‘Moreton Bay Reflections’:
Peel Island was not just a refuge for the Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) patients. It was also used, on one occasion at least, as a refuge from the law.
About 1950, an ageing attendant (wardsman) was employed for a year at the Lazaret. He was well educated, well spoken, and of a most agreeable disposition. He even seemed to have a grasp of medical matters and would often intersperse his conversation with complicated medical terms.
Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) was a nurse at the lazaret at the time and remembers him as a very pleasant and cooperative employee. “It came as quite a shock to find out after he had left the island, that he was a con man!” remembers Rosemary.
He had started out in life in England as Andrew Gibson, but as a teenager he quickly learned that people were very gullible, especially unattached young women, and from cashing dud cheques, he quickly progressed to marrying wealthy women, then running off with their inheritance.
Australia proved a happy hunting ground for Andrew, but of course his strategy involved keeping one step ahead of the law and changing his name to suit the circumstances. Some of his aliases included Archibald Brown, Harry Cecil Darling, Lord Lockley, and Walter Porriott, or Gibson.
It was as Doctor Darling, Gynaecologist, that he plunged into his guise as a medico, but when one of his patients died on the operating table, his scheme was uncovered and he was sent to prison for ten years.
Andrew was 80 when he laid low at Peel Island but he was still a strikingly good looking man.
Mrs O’Leary, of Cleveland, has these comments to add: “My husband, Jack, was the nephew of Bess O’Leary, the last wife of Walt’s seven bigamous marriages. At one stage we suspected that Walt was trying to poison Bess, but fortunately he died before he was able to succeed! Now they are both buried in the Toowong Cemetery in the Catholic section near Birdwood Terrace. The grave is marked ‘Bess O’Leary and husband’. Walt remains anonymous in death as he was in life!”
The story of Walter/Andrew/Harry/etc/etc is a journalist’s delight and two articles have appeared about his strange life: George Blaikie’s “Our Strange Past” (Sunday Mail of May 25, 1986) and an article in “The Bulletin” in which the writer even suggested that Walter might have been Jack-The-Ripper because the murders stopped at the same time Walt left England. But that might be stretching things too far….
Or is it?
If this has piqued your interest I can offer this further reading:
- Walter Thomas Porriott lived in London at the time of the murders. He was believed to have set sail for Brisbane on November 9, 1888, the same day the fifth prostitute was murdered.
- Although now desecrated, Porriott’s headstone contained a grainy image of a caped-man raising a dagger.
- Porriott was a known misogynist who particularly hated prostitutes. He was also a fraudster who assumed many identities, marrying at least 20 women only to fleece them of their assets.
- Porriott was also a convicted murderer, having spent 10 years in jail for killing a woman while posing as a gynaecologist.
- In 1997, Porriott’s great-grandson, Steve Wilson, publicly stated that he believed his great-grandfather was Jack The Ripper.
I recommend that you also read the readers’ comments at the end. They are particularly interesting.
Since 1926 the rusting remains of the dredge Platypus has been a well-know landmark for boaties frequenting the waters surrounding Peel Island. But not for much longer…
The Platypus was sunk on Thursday, 21st October 1926 and with time and tide, about to claim its final vestiges, it seems appropriate to revisit some of its history both as a dredge and as a breakwater.
On Wednesday 13th October 1926, the Brisbane Courier reported:
The End of the Platypus.
‘The love of a seaman for his ship is one of the most worthy human emotions, and many an old salt on the Queensland coast will give a sigh for the old dredger Platypus, whose demolition is now taking place at the dry dock, South Brisbane, after 40 years’ service on the Queensland coast. The oldest unit in the dredge plant of the Harbours and Rivers Department will soon be stripped of all useful gear. After that indignity is over her future Is uncertain. The Platypus, which was built about 1884, at Renfrew, is a self-contained bucket dredge. Unlike ordinary dredges, she did not require to use a barge, as she carried out the two operations of dredging and conveying the material. She differs from her successor, which will be ready for service on the Queensland coast in a few months’ timer, as her well is in the bow instead of in the stern as is the case with the new Platypus. The (old) Platypus on arrival in Queensland began her long work on the Queensland coast by opening up the port of Cairns. During the years which followed she was a frequent caller in Queensland ports. She co-operated in the early developmental work in Townsville, relieved the Wolunga in the job of making a channel at Normanton. Port Douglas, Thursday Island, Cooktown, and Brisbane where she took away the sharp bends at Kangaroo Point, and the Gardens Reach also had the use of her services. Life on board the Platypus must have run with an even tend, as only one accident of importune occurred during her long career. Crossing Moreton Bay one night 38 years ago she collided with the Tinana, sustaining very little damage from the encounter. The Platypus had many masters in her day. Among the most prominent were Captains Stewart, J. Crawford, W. J.Evans, Lawson, W. Williams. Three years ago Captain Madams handed her over to the department for the last time. Among her engineers were Messrs. S. Kavanagh, R. Gillett, G. Shipley, and Morgan Jones.’
For the next 90 years, the Platypus served faithfully as a breakwater for Peel’s stone jetty where vessels were able to unload visitors and stores for the island’s lazaret (leprosarium). One of the leprosy patients recalls:
‘For the men patients, fishing was a major pastime. Some had boats that they moored just below the men’s compound. Several patients constructed a jetty there, using Ti-Tree posts cut from the surrounding bush. Favourite fishing spots included the coral reef just off the lazaret, and the reefs around the hulk of the dredge Platypus at the stone jetty. At times the patients would moor their boats alongside the Platypus and sleep the night on her decks ready for an early start to the next day’s fishing. Schnapper were in abundance then, as well as Parrot fish, the largest of which was some 10 lb. There was also reputed to be a 500 lb. Grouper living in the vicinity of the ‘Platypus’, a rumour that was to persist for the next half century. Red and Yellow Sweetlip, Cod, Sole, Taylor, and Flathead were also caught in abundance.
‘Sharks, too, were very common around Peel. Not only were they present in great numbers, but their size was also enormous – Junta King, onetime launch master of the Karboora once saw two 20 foot White Pointers intertwined in their mating ritual on the surface of the water between Peel Island and Dunwich.’
Another patient, an ex-seaman, had been one of the original crew that sailed the dredge Platypus to Queensland from Scotland. After many years of service, the Platypus was sunk just off the eastern jetty as a breakwater in 1926. When the seaman contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), he was sent to the lazaret as a patient, and it was ironic that both he and the Platypus were to spend their last days on Peel Island literally ‘rotting away’
(Extracts from ‘Peel Island, Paradise or Prison’ by Peter Ludlow)
Recently our cousin, Chris, in New York, kindly sent me a copy of the December 1916 edition of the National Geographic magazine. It is devoted entirely to Australia and provides a unique view of us from the perspective an American writing from a century ago.
Here are just a few of his observations:
Australia is the most isolated of all inhabited continents and is remote from the centre of all the world’s activities.
(1916 was well before aircraft compressed the long journey time from America and Europe.)
The aboriginal population is the lowest in the scale of beings having human form.
(He would never have described them thus today.)
Australia is roughly the same size and shape as the US…Its surface lacks variety…The people live in the vegetation areas around the coast…With the exception of the Murray-Darling system, there is a lack of large rivers compared to the US
THE SETTLEMENT OF AUSTRALIA RESULTED FROM THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Curiously enough, the establishment of the first colony on the new-found continent is an episode in the history of the US. It was proposed by the British Government to utilize the land as a home for the “Loyalists” (Tories) who found life in the American Colonies uncomfortable at the close of the Revolutionary War. They were to be supplied with land and money, Malay slaves or English convicts were to be provided as laborers.
Fear of the French fleet and the removal of many Tories to Canada led to the abandonment of this scheme. ..Place must be found for undesirable citizens, who, before the Revolution, had been sent to America ….
(Then typically, the author describes our explorers, our trees especially the Eucalypts, and our unique animals.)
Australia’s White Australia policy was introduced to exclude Chinese, Japanese, and Polynesian labour.
(Today we welcome them as house owners and footballers.)
On the basis of doing a moderate amount of work amidst agreeable surroundings, most Australians are workers. Short hours are the rule, and there is a tendency to ward off competition by legislative enactments rather than to meet and overcome it. The desire for money is in most cases a desire to secure a competence, not to secure power and prestige by amassing a huge bank account.
(Then he describes our Primary producers of sheep, cattle, and cotton. Our rabbit proof fences are also highlighted.
In 1916, World War I was in full swing and there are many photos of our servicemen and women setting sail for the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. Anticipating possible changes in national boundaries occasioned by the war, there is an interesting advertisement for a War Defying Atlas entitled Hammond’s 1917 Self-Revising Comprehensive Atlas of the World.)