The Dorunda’s Bees

Peter Ludlow: While researching my book “Exiles of Peel Island – Quarantine” about 1990, I was given a series of photos taken at the Peel Island quarantine station in 1885 while the ship Dorunda with its crew and passengers were being detained there following an outbreak of cholera on its voyage out to Australia. The photographer of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland copied the photos for me. These two beehive photos were at the end of the roll of negatives and we weren’t sure whether they were part of the quarantine station or not. They seemed so out of place to be on Peel and the building and fence did not match either. The question vexed me until 2009 when I received the following information via email from Peter Barrett of Caloundra:

Peel Island’s quarantine station beehives?
Peel Island’s quarantine station beehives?

Peter Barrett: I’m interested in the fate of some hives of bees that were aboard the R.M.S. Dorunda when it arrived in Moreton Bay in Dec. 1885 with cases of cholera on board. The bees were consigned to a commercial beekeeper, one Mr. Spry. It seems that, along with passengers and crew, the hives were quarantined on Peel Island. (Brisbane Courier, 15 January 1886)

Due to the belief by some that the bees could collect dangerous germs on the island “… it is evidently advisable, in the interests of the public health, that the hives and combs should be destroyed.”

The following day a well-known apiarist of the time, Charles Fullwood, wrote strenuously in the bees defence. “I understand Mr. Spry has brought some of the most valuable strains of bees to be found in Europe or Asia, and believed to be the most suitable for this climate. I hope they will not be injured.”

I also found in the Brisbane Courier, 16 Dec. 1885 that one of the saloon passengers was a Mr. A. Spry. Rhetorically – was this coincidence or could it have been the consignee himself?

In the Brisbane Courier, 21 Jan. 1886 “There will be on view to-day, in the window of Mr. Hislop’s furniture shop, a series of over a dozen photographs taken at Peel Island by Mr. Woodford, F.R.G.S., and Mr. A. Spry with the apparatus sent down from Brisbane by Mr. Courtney Spry. [Yet another Spry!] These comprise views of the various houses and tents, which form the Quarantine Station, groups of the immigrants by the Dorunda, and general views of the surroundings. Some of them are very well executed, and Mr. Spry should have no difficulty in disposing of them, particularly as his solo object is to obtain by this means some addition to the Dorunda Relief Fund.”

So to sum up, the photos are not likely related to the Dorunda – there are just too many hives. As well, they each have two boxes, not what I would expect for long distance shipping of bees. And thirdly, imagine the logistics of unloading such a large number of hives from a steam ship anchored off the island.

What you have are photos of a commercial apiary. They could be on Peel Is – if the building in view could be identified as such. More likely they are of the Spry brothers’ Flowerdale Apiary at Rocklea, then known as Rocky-waterholes.

Peter Barrett, Caloundra, July 17, 2009

(Extract from Moreton Bay People 2012 by Peter Ludlow)