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

16.1.2010

Peel Island Lazaret’s coloured patients’ huts

A Visit to Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island)

This week, as part of a group from the Redlands National Trust, I paid a visit to Goompi (Dunwich) on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). The ferry schedule was the only timetable I needed there, for at Minjerribah, everything goes by island time. Well perhaps I shouldn’t even call it time – it’s more a feeling of relaxation. For time stops at the jetty. 

Right across the road from the jetty is Goompi’s famous Cemetery which contains the graves of the ill-fated passengers and crew of the Emigrant who died of typhus in 1850; the graves of 8,000 of the former inmates of the Benevolent Asylum (Old Peoples Home); as well as Aborigines (First Nation People). People of all types in the cemetery made equal in death.

Dr Ballow and Dr Mitchell still overlooking the graves of their Emigrant cares

Nearby were the graves of John and Mary Cassim whom I wrote about in my recent post of 10.04.2021 (Where’s Toondah? – Part 2). And right next door, my personal connection to the cemetery, the grave of Dr Frank Carroll, who came to our rescue in 1978 when our daughter had a severe asthma attack in the middle of the night – twice.

The grave of Mary and John Cassim
The grave of Dr Frank Carroll

Our main quest however was a visit to the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum.

In 1992, I interviewed Ellie Durbidge for my proposed book ‘Moreton Bay People’. The following extract concerns her involvement with the setting up of the museum at Dunwich:

‘When the North Stradbroke Historical Museum Association was formed and incorporated, Ellie presented the museum with an aboriginal axe as its first catalogued exhibit.  Since then, they have started a day book which one day will be computerized. 

‘When the old Queensland museum was moving to its new premises at South Brisbane, the Association wrote to them asking for old shelving and metal cabinets for storage. After being palmed off by various departments, it went to the old building itself, selected its furniture, had it fumigated and took it away. By similar direct negotiations, the Association obtained cataloguing drawers from the Redland Shire Council, and exhibits such as a Convict‑built bed from the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, and an old telephone from the Post Office.  Then the museum asked the Earl of Stradbroke for permission to use his crest.  Not only did he consent, but he came for the opening and offered the use of videos about his family as a means of raising funds. 

‘With promises from the Redland Shire Council to restore a building given by Consolidated Rutile, and with the donation of a large private collection of aboriginal artifacts, the future success of the museum seems assured.’

The North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum

At the museum, there are a range of permanent displays about the Quandamooka people, convict history, shipwrecks and maritime history, the story of sandmining on the island, as well as lots of photos of the old fishing shacks, boats and buses that helped kick off the tourism industry on Minjerribah. There is also a room dedicated to sharing the story of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, and they have a range of photographs and documents to assist family historians.

After morning tea, Howard Gill gave a lecture about the island’s history. Here are the main points:

  • Aboriginal population prior to occupation estimated at 600-800 on Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) and 800 on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). BY the end of the 19th century total for both islands reduced to under 200
  • The convicts Pamphlett, Parsons, and Finnegan were cared for the Aborigines in 1823
  • A pilot station was established at Pulan Pulan (Amity) in 1825 and a garrison and trans shipping station at Goompi (Dunwich) in 1827
  • Armed conflict most prominent 1831-1932 led to the withdrawal of the garrison
  • Mulgumpin ‘cleared’ of Aborigines in 1847 with around 40 killings
  • Moongalba Mission established at Myora 1893 (came under Protection Act in 1897) closed 1943
  • Its residents moved to One Mile which in 2018 still lacks reticulated services

We then walked to the one remaining ward from the Benevolent Asylum (Ward 13) which was built in the 1890s. It is currently in the process of nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register. It will join Dunwich Hall, St Marks Church, and cemetery as State Heritage.

On our return walk to the ferry we glimpsed the convict built rock causeway and the privy pit – the only two remaining remnants of early convict occupation.

Rocks from the convict built causeway are still to be seen

Conveniently situated beside the jetty is the Little Ships Club where we had lunch and a beer while waiting for the ferry’s timetable to kick in and take us back to the mayhem of mainland life.

Incidentally, Minjerribah translates as place of mosquitoes, but I didn’t see any that day.

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.’

Miss Red Lead, Marjorie (‘Mardi’) Spencer

Marjorie recalls: I had married Dr Eric Reye in August 1945, and by this time, Eric had been appointed a full-time Government Medical Officer, and was visiting the Peel Island Lazaret (Leprosarium) regularly. In January 1947 Promin therapy was introduced there, and its daily intravenous administration necessitated Eric remaining full time on the island. Thus, he became Peel’s first Resident Medical Officer, and I was appointed a temporary laboratory assistant, because no one was available at the time, and because the nurses were fully occupied. By the end of 1947, the services of a science graduate Miss (later Dr.) Herbert had been obtained, and I was no longer needed. 

There was no provision for accommodation of a Medical Officer on Peel so to accommodate me, Eric purchased a wartime surf landing dory that, because of its flat bottom, was easily beached amongst the mangroves at the base of the lazaret’s north embankment. The mosquitoes and biting midges could be very troublesome at times and we had double mosquito nets on our barge which we also sprayed with fly spray for more protection.

Mardi on Maroomba with Coolooloa in the mangroves (photo courtesy Eric Reye)

Eric and I were forced to continue living on the boat for about a year. Patient accommodation was also desperately short, and it was only on Eric’s threat of resignation that two ex-army huts were procured from Redbank and shipped to the Island. Finally, in September 1947, we were able to move ashore and occupy the new Doctor’s residence which was situated at the top of the embankment several hundred metres to the east of the men’s compound. Its small balcony commanded a fine, sweeping view northwards across the waters of Moreton Bay towards the rolling tree covered sand hills of Moreton Island. Closer to home in the water at the bottom of the embankment, Eric’s yacht Maroomba rested at her moorings. 

My laboratory duties involved taking blood samples, and I went to the Red Cross Blood Bank in Brisbane to learn the basics. There I learnt how to perform white and red blood cell counts. I also tested patient’s urine samples for diabetes. The blood samples were taken from the patients’ ear lobes because there was less chance of infection from that site. Before I took the sample, I would wipe the site with ether to cleanse it.

Another of my occupations on Peel was to read to the blind patients, especially Bert Cobb, who was a learned man with a fine collection of books in his hut. He was not able to learn Braille because his Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) had left him with no feeling in his fingers.

In those days, boat’s hulls were painted with a mixture of red lead powder and linseed oil for protection from seawater vermin. However, we didn’t have any linseed oil, so Eric substituted shark liver oil which had a most unpleasant pong. However, the smell didn’t worry me, so I went on using it. I used to get the red lead in my hair, which I washed out with kerosene from our Primus stove. This turned me from a blond into a redhead, and earned me the nickname of ‘Miss Red Lead’.

One of Eric’s duties as Medical Officer at Peel Island was to search out new cases of Hansen’s Disease occurring on the mainland. Once I accompanied him to Mona Mona on the Atherton Tableland to pick up two Aboriginal sisters who were found to have the disease. One however was sick and she had to be left off at Cairns before being sent on to Fantome Island (the Aboriginal Leprosarium in the Palm Island Group, which Eric was also in charge of).

Mona Mona Mission in the 1940s showing the marriage ceremony of 6 couples (photo Courtesy Eric Reye)

Eric resigned as Medical Officer at Peel Island when he was not allowed by the Health Department to do further patient surveys in the Aboriginal communities behind Cairns. I had been interested in Aboriginal anthropology to the extent of going down to Sydney to the university for six months, but when Eric resigned, I gave it away. We stayed on his boat on the river at Yeronga, where Eric commenced his study of biting midges. We then split up and I went home and worked as a librarian, first at Stones Corner and then at South Brisbane.

Marjorie Spencer

Bulimba

October 2011

Extract from ‘Moreton Bay People 2012 by Peter Ludlow (now out of print)

Early German Immigrants to the Moreton Bay Settlement – 4 – The End of the Mission

Wilhelm Gericke with Auguste Richter, Carl Gerler and Johann Hermann formed a second party of missioners who had been commissioned on August 21, 1843, arrived in Sydney, January 2, 1844, and at Zions Hill on June, 1844.

The Aborigines continued to steal and it was during one such raid in 1845 that Haussmann nearly lost his life. The missioners had formed an outstation at Burpengary, the Nordga of the natives, where they had cultivated an area of some ten acres, which they planted with corn and potatoes. 11 

The outstation at Noogir (Burpengarry) was being manned by Haussmann when they came for maize and potatoes. As the natives drew near, calling him, Haussmann turned and fled into the hut. But not before they speared him in his back. They forced their way into the hut after him and it was only the diversion of ripping open a flour bag that saved his life.  Haussmann escaped and crawled back the 26 miles to Zion’s Hill and eventually went to Sydney for treatment. In time he made a good recovery.

Although the raiders now fled, for fear of reprisals by the police, the missionaries deemed it wise to close the out-station and concentrate solely on Zion’s Hill. Ironically, soon after, a group of Aborigines led some shipwrecked sailors safely to the missionaries, much to the joy of the crew! 12

In 1846 Dr. Simpson reported that the mission school had ceased to function, though probably a school was continued as a purely educational institution for the white children. 13

In 1846, the MORETON BAY COURIER reported:

 The Missions for spiritually enlightening the Blacks, and ameliorating their wretched condition, two of which were for some years existent in this district, are now both at an end. The Roman Catholic establishment at Dunwich is broken up; and the missionaries, the Rev. Messrs. Snell, Lewis, and Morris, left for Sydney by the William, on Thursday, en route to the Sandwich Islands. Our readers are, perhaps, aware, that the German Mission is also abandoned. Sir George Gipps, we think wisely, has discontinued the assistance, which it formerly received from the public revenue. –Moreton Bay Courier. 14

Old Mission Cottages at Zion Hill (Nundah), date unknown (Photo courtesy ‘Lost Brisbane’)

In 1848 when the Government decided to survey the reserve and sell blocks of land, some of the families brought a number of these blocks. They included the Zillmann, Franz, Gerler, Rode and Wagner families. 15

From the original settlement at Nundah, the families gradually dispersed, their descendents becoming absorbed in the general community, where they entered into all professions and callings in the national life of Queensland. When in 1885 the railway to Sandgate was built through the German Station, the Settlement had lost its distinctive racial note of German origin and was renamed Nundah.

Of the original missionaries:

Ambrosius Theophilus Wilhelm Hartenstein died at German Station on December 2, 1861.

Wilhelmine Christina Sempel died at German Station on August 21, 1858

In 1848, Messrs. Haussmann and Niquet went to Sydney to undertake a course in Divinity at Dr. Lang’s Australian College, and both were ordained.  Pastor Haussmann served Lutheran congregations in Victoria at German Town, at Bendigo, and returned to Queensland in 1861. In 1866 he established a new missionary undertaking near Beenleigh, which he named Bethesda. By 1883, the mission had proved a failure, and Pastor Haussmann, who had organised a German Lutheran congregation at Beenleigh, remained there as pastor, until his death on December 31, 1901.

Pastor Niquet left Brisbane in 1856 for Victoria, where he served a Lutheran pastor of a congregation at Ballarat. 

Pastor Schmidt left Brisbane in 1845, and went to Samoa as a missionary of the London Missionary Society.

Pastor Eipper left the Nundah mission in 1844. He joined the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales at Braidwood, near Maitland.  

Gottfried Wagner was ordained at Sydney on October 9, 1850.  He was in Tumut, New South Wales, until the end of 1851. Thereafter he lived at German Station, Nundah, until his death in September, 1893.

Mr. Franz, whose first wife was the widow of Moritz Schneider, died in 1891.

Franz August Joseph Rode died on May 27, 1903, at Victoria Street, West End. Probably, he was the last survivor of the original band of Goszner missionaries, being 92 years of age at the time of his death.16

References:

11. Sparks, H.J.J. op.cit.

12. Turner, Pam, op.cit.

13. Sparks, H.J.J. op.cit.

14. Launceston Examiner, Saturday 1 August 1846

15. Nundah and Districts Historical Society Inc. op.cit.

16. Sparks, H.J.J. op.cit.

Early German Immigrants to the Moreton Bay Settlement – 03 – Conflict at the Mission Station

On July 5, 1841, Mr. Schmidt writes that he had commenced school­keeping, and had some days above 20 children around him. 

The native children who attended the mission school were taught side by side with the few children of the whites, the missioners thinking that in a mixed school the discipline of the white children would have a steadying effect on the black. The youngest children only of the natives, generally those about six years of age, could be persuaded to submit to school discipline. They learnt readily enough, but the constant habit of going into the bush with the tribe prevented any sustained training. The children would learn the Lord’s Prayer, and then when the tribe visited the township, repeat it to the whites in the Settlement in  return for  a  coin, a penny or a sixpence. 

Education was, in fact, merely a matter of merchandise to the native youngsters; attendance at school was regarded as a service rendered to the whites, to be paid for in food.5

The missionaries tried to learn the language and culture of the Aborigines and hoped, in time, to break down their nomadic habits. Many people at that point in time, believed the Aborigines to be no better than animals – depraved like the convicts in the nearby Moreton Bay Penal Settlement. Nevertheless the Lutheran missionaries were receiving financial aid from the mission society under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church and had been warmly welcomed on their arrival by Dr Lang.

The missionaries discouraged handouts from the start. Whenever the natives helped in the building or gardening, they were paid wages in the form of food. The Aborigines came to accept the missionaries and even attended the Sunday services. They always greatly enjoyed the hymn singing.

But thieving became rife amongst the natives. Night watches had to be kept in an effort to prevent raids on gardens. Even when the missionaries were summoned to prayer by the hammering of a tin dish, the natives came to learn this was the safest time to raid. Once, Haussmann was attached on an out-station and seriously wounded. 6

The worst attack came one night on 21st March 1840when the Aborigines approached carrying firebrands and menacing spears and clubs. … the missionaries fired warning shots to frighten them off. The commandant of the nearby Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, L. Gorman, demanded an explanation of the incident. He had heard that several natives had been wounded and regretted the incident because he had been on excellent terms with them for forty miles around. Opposition for the mission continued. The Government was convinced that Zion’s Hill should be closed down and a new mission established further away from the evil influence of the penal settlement. 8

Nundah Free Settlers Monument (photo by Lankiveil) This monument in modern-day Nundah commemorates the Zion Hill settlers.

References:

5. Sparks, H.J.J. op.cit.

6. Turner, Pam; First European Settlement of Queensland 1838-1988’, Zion Lutheran Home 1987

7. Sparks, H.J.J. op.cit.

8. Turner, Pam, op.cit.

Doctor David Cilento – 2 – My Father, Sir Raphael Cilento

David Cilento was a too young to ever go to Peel Island when it was in business as a leprosarium (1907 – 1959). His father, Sir Raphael Cilento, when he was Director General of Health, had removed all the Aborigines from Peel in 1940. He was away in Europe when the War ended, because he was one of the world’s top epidemiologists and he was controlling epidemics in up to 10 million displaced people in Europe. Then the cure for leprosy came in at Peel in 1947: firstly Promin which wasn’t very efficient, then Dapsone, and lastly the Triple Therapy (dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) which is still used today.

The Aboriginal people at Peel were transferred to Fantome Island in the Palm Island Group because Peel was becoming very overcrowded by 1940. The Aborigines were a dispirited lot having been bought to Peel from such places as Cherbourg and outlying districts out west and up north. There was a pocket of leprosy north of Townsville and another at Yarrabah, which was an isolated mission then – no roads or anything. But Sir Raphael, as Director General of Health, had the power to move the Aborigines from Peel up to Fantome Island which had been a lock hospital, and had a few huts.  Orpheus Island was nearby and was privately owned. Palm Island had a settlement. None of them had any water, which was a serious problem. The water table was a problem and was only about a metre below the surface. David can remember his father saying that to get water into there they had boats coming over on a weekly basis. 

Map showing the relative positions of Fantome and Peel Islands

David continues: ‘When dad came back from overseas after working with the United Nations, he came back to a job but the Government had changed. Not only was he the Director General of Health, but he was knighted for removing malaria from Australia. What he did, of course, would have put him in jail now, because he drained a lot of wetlands! But it got rid of the anopheles mosquito. He became a barrister and he became Director General of Health and Home Affairs, which included the police, and he was always getting called into Court. He was a most interesting bloke, and was better known than my mother at that time. He was well known overseas while her star was rising here. When he came back, he thought ‘Well, I’ll become a GP again.’ So he did, and worked up on the Sunshine Coast.

‘When the treatment for Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease or simply HD as it became known) became available in 1947 after the second world war, my dad was overseas. But he was still smart enough to make a diagnosis of HD in a patient at Royal Brisbane in about 1955. He asked the doctors what tests they had done: pauci bacteria or multi bacteria but they had already lost their diagnostic skills for HD. He wrote the book ‘Treatment of Tropical Diseases’ in the 1930s, which was used by the Americans and the Japanese, but the Australians decided that they would use something else at first, but later they decided that they woulduse it. There is an old saying One is rarely a prophet in one’s own backyard.He also wrote the book ‘Triumph in the Tropics’ with Clem Lake for the Queensland Centenary in 1959. 

‘I was born in Australia as was my father, Raphael. I was fourth generation Australian. My great grandfather was Salvatore and he was then the Prince of Naples and the two Sicilies. This was the time when the civil war was on and Ferdinand and Victor Emmanuel wanted to unite all of Italy and make the one king over the lot My great great great grandfather was the king of Naples and the two Siciles, the “Sicily the first” being part of the boot and “Sicily the second” being the island.’

‘It’s Pistols at Dawn, Sir!’ (again)

‘It’s pistols as dawn, Sir!’

Some five years ago, I blogged the question “Whatever happened to duelling?”

to which Paul Bailey replied that the first libel laws were passed to stop people from settling disputes with duels. More recently, American author Amor Towles wrote in his wonderfully perceptive book “A Gentleman in Moscow”: When duelling was first discovered by the Russian officer corps in the early 1700s, they took to it with such enthusiasm that the Tsar had to forbid the practice for fear that there would soon be no one left to lead his troops.

I had always been under the impression that duelling was a historically recent contest between two people to settle a point of honour, and, indeed, my computer’s dictionary backed me up with:  the sense of duelling as a contest to decide a point of honour dates from the early 17th century.

However, last week I participated in a seminar in which one of the speakers, Ray Kerkhove, mentioned that Australia’s Aboriginal people also conducted individual and collective duels under strict rules and fought with their traditional weapons such as spears, boomerangs or fighting sticks. Presumably, the history of their duels dates back much further than the European’s 17th century. 

Maybe our sense of honour has always been an inherent part of our human nature, and more importantly, its defence seems vital to our survival as individuals, communities, or nations.

Remembering Them

“Remembering Them” – Cleveland Library’s book commemorating Redlanders who fought in World War I

Part of the centenary commemoration of the First World War, this book brings together photographs and biographical information of those listed on Redland’s cenotaphs.

The project was a collaborative effort from several individuals including myself, and organisations, including the North Stradbroke Island History Museum. As well as a limited hard copy run of the book, the Cleveland Library has made a PDF copy freely available on the Cleveland Library’s website at:

https://redl.sdp.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/search/asset/1006314/0