Disaster ‘Down the Bay’ (contributed by Nick Moffatt)

(Editor: Moreton Bay has always been a popular boaties’ escape from the confines of life in up-river Brisbane. It was a chance to ‘get lost’ for a holiday without the cares of its business world.  To be uncontactable. It was also not without its risks, as the moods of Moreton Bay were unpredictable. Such was the experience of William Gillespie Moffat who with his brother, James Campbell Moffat, owned a Drug Store (Moffat Brothers) on Edward Street, Brisbane at the time.)

Mouth of Brisbane River 1920s (photo contributed by Tony Love)


A MAGISTERIAL inquiry relating to the late boat accident at the mouth of the Brisbane River was commenced before Colonel Ross on Monday, and resumed yesterday. In all, four witnesses have been examined, and their testimony is to the following effect:-A party, consisting of William Gillespie Moffat and son, James Phelan, Wilfred Bartley, Robert Waine, E. S. Diggles, and Alfred Edwards, started in the Native, a boat belonging to Mr. James Edwards, of Kangaroo Point, from Mr. Edwards’s shed at 4 o clock on Saturday afternoon on a fishing excursion to Mud Island.

They reached their destination at half-past 9 o’clock on the same evening, and anchored for the night. The weather was rough, with a heavy sea during the night, and in the morning a stiff breeze was blowing from the south-east. The party fished the next morning until about half past 9 o’clock, when a start was made for home. 

When they got to the mouth of the river, near Luggage Point, Phelan, who was in charge of the boat, reefed the sails, putting two reefs in the mainsail and one in the jib, and made one tack to Fisherman’s Island, and then stood in towards Luggage Point. When within about twenty yards to the leeward of the black buoy a heavy puff struck the beat, and laid her down to the combings. Both sheets were at once slacked, and the boat partly righted, when another stronger squall struck her more abeam, and a heavy sea struck her on the weather bow at the same time. 

Although the crew were all sitting up to windward, the ballast shifted to leeward; and the craft commenced to sink immediately. Moffat’s little boy was under the deck, and Bartley pulled him out and gave him to his father, who took him. Phelan got into the dingy at once, and tried to cut the painter which secured it, to the boat, but was unable to do so, as the boat sank stern first. He went down with the dingy while endeavouring to free her, and when he came to the surface, he was exhausted and could see nobody. He struck out for the shore, but after going some little distance came up to young Edwards, who sang out for help. 

Phelan, seeing the dingy’s paddles floating some distance off, swam to them and brought them to him. He kept in company with Edwards for some time, encouraging him to keep on. After a while he lost sight of Edwards and could not turn to help him as he was quite exhausted himself, the sea being very rough. Phelan reckoned he swam about a quarter of a mile before getting ashore; he passed Bartley and Waine as he swam ashore. When near the shore he sank from exhaustion, but recovered himself sufficiently to gain the bank. Diggles reached the shore first, Phelan next, then Bartley, who was followed by Waine. 

They remained on the beach where they first landed about half-an-hour, and then walked along the beach looking out for Moffat and the others, but could see nothing of them. They picked up one of the paddles Phelan had given young Edwards to assist him in swimming, and also the rudder of the boat, and continued to walk along the beach until they came to a fire, where they remained another half-hour. After warming themselves they felt stronger, and walked to the house of a German settler, who gave them some tea. Diggles was in advance of the party. They met a fisherman, who took them to his house and gave them some refreshments. Phelan related the occurrence to the fisherman, and he went with another man to look for the bodies. 

Phelan stated he had been down the Bay in the Native several times, and considered her perfectly safe. He attributed the accident entirely to the weather. The sheets were not fast at the time of the accident. He also stated he had sailed in the Bay for several years, and was competent to sail a boat. The party were driven to town in two spring carts- Diggles arriving first and reported the occurrence to the police. The last that was seen of Moffat alive was just after the boat went down. He then struck out for the shore, with his son in his arms. George Payne, a Customs boatman, went over to Luggage Point on Sunday afternoon, and found the dead body of W. G. Moffat on the beach, in charge of a fisherman. He had the body brought to Brisbane.

(Extract from The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 24 May 1882.)

The Powder Monkey (by Alex King)

Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island (photo courtesy Ishara Udawela, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

I had a fair bit to do with the scuttling of the vessels at Tangalooma to form the artificial reef there. I was master of the Echeneis at the time and I was given the job of taking many of the old dredges and barges to Tangalooma and scuttling them. They were more or less scuttled at the same time except the Echeneis and the Groper, which were the last of them. All the dredges had reached the end of their working days and had been replaced by the Sir Thomas Hiley. When the Sir Thomas Hiley arrived on the scene, it was like a big jump forward out of the 1930s or even earlier for us, right up into the sophisticated world of dredging as it was overseas. She was built at Walkers (Maryborough) and was one of the most modern in the world. It made a lot of the other dredges redundant. I was dredging Superintendent then. We did keep the Groper on because there was always work for bucket dredges and because some work can only be done by bucket dredges. Of course, they are much more sophisticated now as far as their controls are concerned. They are still being used all over the world but not in Brisbane. They have a clam dredge that does a lot of the wharves and they have a small cutter suction dredge, but the Brisbane is the main dredge now, which took over from the Sir Thomas Hiley.

As far as the scuttling at Tangalooma went, our powder monkey was a fellow called Digger Poole. He had been in charge of the rock blasting at the Kangaroo Point quarry. He was an interesting character and had a habit of using twice the amount of charge required for a job. He was on a couple of jobs with me – at Tangalooma, at the Fisherman Islands development, and at Arcadia on Magnetic Island. His job was to make up and detonate the charges. We’d give him the OK and away he’d go. He had been in the army and came back into Harbours and Marine right after the war. When we started the development at Fisherman Islands there were a lot of old pipes left there from the old dredges and Digger blew them up too.

At Arcadia on Magnetic Island we gave him the job of blasting out the coral outcrops (bomby) to clear a boat passage. When we went down to inspect the area where the coral bomby had been, the bomby was gone and there was a crater almost as deep as the bomby had been high. How we didn’t disturb some of the large boulders that seem precariously balanced on the waterfront in that area I don’t know.

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)

Where’s Toondah? 

As a member of the Probus Club of Toondah, this is the first question I am asked when people see the name on my lapel badge. The name “Toondah” was derived from nearby Toondah Harbour which has been in the news again recently, with another feverish round of debate on whether we should develop the area into a modern water-front precinct featuring high-rise buildings etc. or leave it and its surrounding park-land, mangroves etc. in their present peaceful state. 

What started all this was when the Government in 1881, on the advice of the Port Master of Queensland, decided to have constructed in Brisbane a steam launch 40ft. in length with a beam of 9 feet and 6 inches – powered by a wood/coal fired Willins steam engine. His recommendation was that “advantages would be gained by having a small steam launch with which to look after the fisheries in Moreton Bay, indeed as those working on the oyster-beds do not in any assist in the seeing that the law is put in force. The only way is to have them visited unexpectedly from time to time and thus keep a general supervision over them.”

And so, the Steam Vessel “Toondah” was born and put into service. Cecil Shuttleworth Fison, Inspector of Fisheries at the time, used the vessel to expand the fishery industry of Moreton Bay and its value expanded from 780 pounds in 1879 to 4560 pounds in 1890. In 1890 the “Toondah” had her cabin enlarged as a considerable amount of ‘official business’ was being done on board when she was ‘on service down the bay’.

As well as her duties in the fishing industry, the “Toondah” was used to carry out extensive survey work around the Bay under Mr. Fison’s captaincy and many of the existing beacons in the area were established during these times. The Fison Channel leading into Toondah Harbour was later named in his honour. Sadly, Mr Fison died suddenly after returning from a trip down the bay in December 1899 whilst waiting for a train on Cleveland station platform. The “Toondah” was taken out of service shortly after the turn of the century and finally laid to rest on Cassim Island which lies directly in front of the harbour. Her rusting hulk is still visible amongst the mangroves.

The Redland Museum now has a very interesting display featuring a model of the “Toondah” which was constructed in recent times. Much of this research was done by a team of interested people led by Alan Rogers during the 1990s culminating in the building of the model and the setting up of a temporary display at Cleveland Library which was later transferred to its permanent home at the Museum.

(The word “Toondah” comes from the local Aboriginal language meaning ‘any piece of wood’.)

Model of the Steam Launch “Toondah” in the Redlands Museum

A Little Night Navigation with my Father and Uncle Jack – by Marilyn Carr

(This is the third article sent in by Marilyn. You can read the previous two at 03.12.2016 – Bullets and Beans and at 10.12.2016 – Koopa Memories)

My father had bought, from Army Disposals, a compass – its half-orb wobbled inside a squat, navy wooden box. I think it was a deep blue box but this is only a memory – and from over seventy years ago. Dad and Uncle Jack’s small adventure with night navigation happened on Moreton Bay on a trip down the Brisbane River and across to Bribie Island, in January, 1947. Well, I have calculated it was then.  If so, I would have recently turned eleven and I became a somewhat seasick witness to their escapade.

Dad had been attending a night class in navigation and, as he was quick with numbers, he would have been keen to practice his newly-gained skill.  And he had the boat! She was the “Lady Ellen” which he owned with two other members of the family. Now, do not think motor launch circa 2020 with sleek lines, running on marine diesel. 

The “Ellen” was about seven metres in length, wooden, squat; it had two bunks, the engine cover acted as a table, there was a rudimentary galley, a heads – and here I have a memory of confusion with rope and anchor storage.  However, the singularly most unsatisfactory circumstance about the “Ellen” was the engine.  (I have had ‘phone discussions with a cousin not seen for years about this.) After the war, engines were scarce, very scarce to obtain.  Evidently, the engine found for Dad’s boat was scavenged from a 1920’s car called an Essex Four. The boat was seriously underpowered, though possibly not for the time it had been built.

The Simes’ boat moored in the Bribie Passage

After the day spent organizing for the trip, Dad and I were ready to have our evening meal aboard the “Ellen”, as she was at her mooring in Breakfast Creek which runs into the Brisbane River. How many meals does one remember from one’s childhood?  Well, I recall that offering from Dad.  He opened a tin of Libby’s luncheon beef from a tin with a key and there were grapes. That was dinner.  It grew dark and I was put to bed on one of the bunks (next to the engine). Dad was waiting for Uncle Jack to join him. I thought we were to set off down the river at first light.  

Asleep on the bunk, I was unaware when Uncle Jack had joined Dad. They had decided to catch the ebbing tide, not wait for the dawn, and start down the Brisbane River. (If this was, indeed, 1947, petrol rationing was still in effect and conserving it was paramount.) Passing Bishop’s Island at the mouth of the river, with the lights across to Redcliffe enticing them on, their charts at the ready and all fair before them, rather than wait for the dawn, they sailed on to navigate to Bribie at night.   

Sometime later I woke up. There were Dad and Uncle Jack in the dimly-lit cabin. We seemed to be at the heaving centre of war-time-remembered shiny, black-out darkness.  The old engine grumbled at an idle. The “Ellen” rose, was slapped and dropped, ruled by the waves’ chop.  We were well out into the bay; it was past midnight. But the boat was not powering forward. She was moving only at the sea’s whim.  And it was getting windy.

Awake, although feeling decidedly queasy, I managed to get up and to hoist myself onto a cabin bench; I did my retching over the side! From then on, I watched what happened half asleep and wrapped in a blanket. 

 The “Ellen” had stopped travelling forward! The connection from the steering wheel, the helm, through to the rudder had snapped.  The screws of the propellor were turning but the boat’s direction could no longer be controlled.  And we were really not that very far from the main shipping channel into Brisbane.  

Checking today a map of Moreton Bay and the sea route to Bribie Island by crossing Deception Bay, the land area of around Deception Bay shows much development – it might even be referred to as an outer suburb of Brisbane, maybe.  Dad’s navigation trial, though, was over seventy years ago, when there was no electricity available on from the seaside town of Scarborough until Caloundra. We were at sea, unable to control where we were going and, around us, all was new-moon darkness.     

 Somehow, Dad had to get the “Ellen” back on course, and sailing forward towards Bribie.  I have never known if the solution Uncle Jack and Dad came to was their ingenuity, or if the solution was a standard ploy in such situations. I do know it worked. Uncle Jack crawled into the stern of the “Ellen”, after the hatch had been removed.  His feet could reach the rudder control rods and he was able to command the direction the rudder – with his feet. On we went: Dad at the helm, Uncle Jack standing in the stern’s hold. 

Although, we were on our way again, and hopefully not much off course, around us was the darkness.

Years after this adventure of Dad’s and Uncle Jack’s, my Father would tell how, trying to discern something ahead, he had found, far-off, one pin-prick of light. He reasoned it could be a fisherman on Bribie and steered towards this lone night beacon. He was right:  it was a solitary fisherman with his lantern on the Bribie Island jetty.  

They edged past the jetty and cruised close into the shore until they discerned the huge gum tree in front of “Torphins”, our seaside house on the island.  The anchor was dropped.  We scrambled into the dinghy we must have towed all the way, rowed ashore and amazed the family when we appeared out of the darkness.  

That was Dad and Uncle Jack’s adventure in night navigation on Moreton Bay. There are many stories about the yesterdays around Moreton Bay – here has been the telling of one more. 

‘Torphins’ in 1948
Peter, Allan, and Marilyn Simes with their father, Peter in 1948

 The navigators: Peter Simes (1906 – 1974); Jack Kieseker (1914 – 1983)

Writer: Marilyn Carr (nee Simes)

Ralph Munro’s Reminiscences – Part 1 – Early Days

Right from when I was just three weeks old, I have had a close association with boats and the water. Our family boat was the Seamark. Dad bought it after World War II at the Government sale of commandeered boats. For some reason all the motors had been removed and these had to be bought separately at auction. Dad had to make do with a Grant petrol motor for the first few years until he could get his hands on a Grey marine diesel. We had the fuel tank on the footpath, which we used for ball games. Dad was always paranoid about the boat catching fire from the petrol motor.

We regularly went down the Bay for weekends or weeks at a time. The 18-foot skiffs club at Bulimba now owns our former house. While I was still a baby, dad used a wooden fruit crate which he lined inside and out with canvas to swim me ashore in. Seamark was known as dad’s nappy boat because he had bought it off the NAP at auction – and because it was always festooned with my nappies. (Editor’s note: – During WWII, inspired by the British small ships evacuation of stranded troops at Dunkirk, the Naval Auxiliary Association of Queensland (NAP) was formed. Its duties in Moreton Bay were mainly civilian patrol work, but it was limited by the small number of vessels left available after most had been commandeered by the Government. It continued after the war as a ‘men only’ club and is now the Little Ships Club at Dunwich). 

NAP 582 exploding a depth charge off Mud Island (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

My first recollection was of porpoises. We never called them dolphins then; always porpoises, and I thought a porpoise was a truck tyre with 5 or 6 fins, because this is the way they looked rolling through the water. 

About the age of three, I was diagnosed with nock knees and put in steel braces, but when dad found me hanging off the stern plate of the boat unable to clamber aboard, he took them off, never to be seen again. They’re still on the bottom off Peel Island. Dad had polio when he was four years old and had a massively built-up boot and steel leg support but he still took me sailing in a little 9 foot open dinghy then training in 20 knot breezes. If we had of capsized, the weight of his steel boot and leg would have taken him straight down to the bottom. But this didn’t stop him. Nor did it stop him taking me fishing. At Point Lookout on the south side of the gorge there was a one-inch cable strung out to the outer rock and he would go hand in hand along it with his fishing creels and me around his neck. There was also the added problem, if there was a good catch of fish, of getting them back again. Once Lennie and Wendy Goebbels caught 64 big ones and it took them all afternoon to take them back, four or five fish at a time, across the rocks and up cliffs to where they live in North Street. 

Life at Work

I started work in the family typewriter business but soon after my father died, I parted ways and went to Olivetti who sent me to North Queensland. Later I went on to Papua New Guinea and got into the prawn trawling on two American boats Bulolo I and Bulolo II. After New Guinea I moved back to North Queensland to Port Douglas then to Townsville. Then I went to the Gulf of Carpentaria prawning for three seasons where I worked on the bigger boats. That’s where they brought in skipper tickets in 1974/5. Because they couldn’t shut down the entire industry for the want of tickets, the test they brought in was originally quite simple. We all had to go into Cairns, do a one-day course, then answer a verbal questionnaire, and we got our tickets. Captain Bauer did the verbals because some of the fishermen couldn’t read or write. The forms were printed, “can/cannot read or write” and of course we all ticket “cannot” to get the easy exam. 

Most people thus employed started working in Brisbane and slowly worked their way up the coast, but I started at the top and worked down the coast. 

In the 1980s I was working a prawn trawler out of Southport when my right arm was caught in a winch and I spent the next 33 months in the Gold Coast Hospital. I was one of the first patients to get the infection Golden Staph. What an honour! While my arm was healing, I came home to Thornlands and went to work at the firm of Golden Cockerel. 

Later I helped Joe Dryberg run schools to teach people going into the fishing industry as deck hands. Joe would teach the engineering theory and I would teach the practical side such as making nets, rope splicing etc. Most of them came from CES (Commonwealth Employment Service). 

Although the trawlers where primarily prawn trawlers, they were fishing boats and prawns would be about 60% of the catch and the rest would be the off catch such as crabs, squid, fish, and returnable soft drink bottles, but politics have slowly banned the off catch. Then I got back into yacht racing in the 1986 Brisbane to Gladstone with Ron Doolan for whom I worked at Golden Cockerel. He had been desperately looking for crew and when he was told that I had the experience, he told me that I was racing for him! His yacht was the 28- foot Bolero and we were the smallest in the race. We won on handicap that year. In the five races I went on that boat, we never came in lower than sixth on handicap. 

Ralph Munro 12 January 2008 

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)

Jack Wheeler’s Memories of Moreton Bay

At the September 2005 meeting of the Redcliffe Historical Society, I listened to the lecture by Peter Ludlow on Peel Island. It brought back memories to me of some of the Bay islands, when I was a very young boy, about seven or eight years old.  I was born in 1910, so this would have been around 1918.  By then, the Otter, the Government vessel, took supplies over to the three islands, St. Helena, which was the penal settlement; Peel Island, the lazaret; and to Stradbroke Island, at Dunwich, where there was a home for the elderly.

In those days you had to obtain a permit from the relevant department to travel on the Otter.  I think if you had relatives at Dunwich you could travel more often, but other people were limited to visiting there once a year.  I distinctly remember going there one day with my grandmother.  We sailed firstly to St Helena where a trolley was rolled out along the jetty by men who I take it were the ‘residents’.  The supplies were loaded onto this trolley.  Then we proceeded on to Peel Island where the same procedure was followed, the trolley perhaps rolled out by the healthier patients, or possibly staff.  Then the boat sailed on to Dunwich where I think we stayed for about two hours.  This gave you time to visit residents or walk around the area.  Then of course the Otter returned to Brisbane at North Quay.  I understand that it made this trip about twice a week.

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)

It’s marvellous how listening to Peter’s lecture has revived my memories about these events.  Also, referring to old memories, I think it must have been in late 1914 or early 1915 that my father took me to Redcliffe. I would have been four or five.  I remember going there on the Koopa.  Now the Koopa, to us young boys, was the pride of the Brisbane River.  It had to be because it had two funnels, and any ship with two funnels was marvellous, you know!  I remember pulling in to the old Redcliffe Jetty, walking along this long jetty and coming to this house in the middle – I think we called it the halfway house – then stepping ashore at Redcliffe.  That was my first visit.

The second visit to this area was landing at Woody Point, on the Lucinda.  This boat used to bring the children of the State Schools there, for a picnic once a year.  Once again, I was with my grandmother.  We left Queen’s Wharf to sail down the Brisbane River, and then cross Bramble Bay to Woody Point.  We never came to Redcliffe for these picnics, just Woody Point.  I remember doing this trip a couple of times.  They were my early memories of Moreton Bay.

The Queensland Government’s vessel – Lucinda

My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island.  There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side.  I remember staying there with my grandmother.  The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink.  There was no running water.  You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut.  I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week.  That’s all there was at Bribie.  There was nothing over at the main beach.  We walked across, about three miles, on a sandy track.  I remember my mother and me doing this walk carrying drinking water in a billycan, which was always very warm on arrival!  There was only one vehicle on the island, which belonged to the caretaker, who was the only permanent resident.  It used to be amusing.  We’d sail to Bribie on the Koopa, which was equipped with a bar.  The people holidaying on the island would be waiting for us to tie up, then, as we went ashore, they would board the boat and enjoy the bar facilities.  This procedure was reversed when we were about to leave in the afternoon.  In later years, when people came to live on Bribie, a bowling club was formed.  In those days, Brisbane had no hotels open on a Sunday.  The bowling club had a liquor license, but could sell alcohol to members only.  This resulted in many Brisbane people joining the club, which was reputed to have the largest membership of any bowling club in Queensland!

The old Koopa kept on running, year after year.  Then the Second World War broke out in 1939. I was in the Navy, and I came across the Koopa at anchor in Milne Bay in New Guinea.  She was the mother ship to the Fairmile class of small Australian patrol boats.  I never heard of her after that, and don’t know what happened to her – whether she lies somewhere still or has been broken up for razor blades.

The Koopa (photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

Later when I was about fourteen, I sailed the bay with my family and friends.  I remember that we always skirted around Peel Island, afraid that we might get washed up there.  Then we sailed on to Dunwich, where we would get lovely fresh bread and stores.  We would travel down the Canaipa Passage, on to the Broadwater and Southport, where we anchored.  Altogether we spent a lovely two weeks around the southern part of the bay.  We lived on the boat, but went ashore for events such as the New Year’s Eve festivities at Southport.  Unlike some events today, with young people running wild, these were orderly yet enjoyable occasions. In those days, too, the waters were quiet, not crowded with the shipping that there is today.  There were no ‘tinnies’ with outboard motors, no jet-skis.  The Bay was peaceful as you sailed across, and plenty of fish for dinner!

Anyway, these are memories I like to think back on, and when you hear a lecture, someone else talking about these items, it brings back more recollections.  So to have people such as Peter Ludlow revive these memories for me is indeed a real pleasure.

Jack Wheeler

Redcliffe Historical Society

September 2005

Editor: Like my lecture to the Redcliffe Historical Society, I hope this blog will invoke many such memories of our Moreton Bay for you, my reader. But if you have none to invoke, then I hope my words will stimulate you go down to the bay and collect some of your own.

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)

Related to HD – recalled by Evelyn Hogan

(Evelyn was a relative of Jim2, a former patient at Peel Island Lazaret)


What the HD1 patients hated most about their Lazaret at Peel Island, and what was the worst thing was their segregation away from their families, which were broken up – not just for months but for years – and in many cases the other spouse went their own way. Probably under the circumstances you couldn’t blame them. To be sent to Peel Island was virtually a lifetime sentence in the early days.  

I could never understand why segregation was imposed because there were people living and working there amongst the patients, without any ill effect – and the conditions weren’t hygienic by any means.  They used to boil the instruments on a primus (kerosene) stove in a dish.  Can you call that hygiene? 

A Kerosene Primus stove similar to one used in Peel’s surgery

A Relative’s Visit

            One of my first visits to Peel Island as a patient’s relative was on board the Otter – the Government steamer that used to service the island. It cost us a shilling (10 cents), which probably was quite cheap, really. To catch the boat, we used to leave home at about 6.30 in the morning. It used to depart from William Street in the city and then travel down the Brisbane River.  Then, when we got to Moreton Bay, we’d call into St Helena to deliver the stores to the prison that was still operating there. Then we’d sail across to a point just off Peel Island, and they’d bring out the launch Karboora.  We’d be transferred onto that, and many a time then have to be transferred again onto a dinghy because the tide was too low.  Sometimes it was very rough, so that we really and truly knew that we were in a boat.

The ‘Otter’ steaming down the Brisbane River

We took our own lunch down with us, so when we met our patient relative at the jetty, we could sit down under a tree and have lunch with them. We’d stay there until the boat came to pick us up in about an hour. We weren’t allowed to go up to the hospital section on the island. 

Then, of course, we’d have the same procedure coming home.  If it were really rough, we’d have to have the dinghy to get to the Karboora, but if it was good they could get the Karboora right into the jetty. Of course, this was the old stone jetty on the eastern end of the island. Later they did build a new jetty on the western side of the island, which was a lot better. 

The ‘Karboora’ nearing Peel’s stone jetty. (‘Platypus’ hulk as a breakwater in background).

The Otter returned to Brisbane about 6 pm, and by the time we got home it was 6.30. It was a lot of travel just to spend one hour with our relative on Peel Island. It was worse for people who had to travel all the way from the country, just for an hour. It was especially tiring for elderly people.

This was in the 1930s, and we were allowed two visits per month. In later years they gave us extra visitation rights, and we then were allowed two passes a week. No kiddies under 14 were allowed to go down, so therefore a lot of the patients never saw their children. 

            To get a pass we had to apply to the Health Office in William Street.  We couldn’t go without one; nor could we land on the island.  The Superintendent there would collect the passes when we went ashore. It was thought that the passes were one way of controlling the patients’ behaviour – if the patient misbehaved, his relative wouldn’t be given a pass. On top of their segregation, that there were a lot of rules and regulations that the patients didn’t like either, and of course they used to renege against it, and because they did that, the authorities would say, “Well, you’re not getting visitors,” you know.

            So they were kept on Peel under these circumstances like little children to a lot of extent until the latter years.  

The Patients’ Committee

            Then a Patients’ Committee got together, and they stirred things up quite well.  They formed a big committee down there amongst themselves and laid the law down implacably to the Government. They hadn’t been allowed to have anything of their own on the island, but then the Health Department under Dr Fryberg, did give them quite a few things that they wanted. They were allowed to have chooks or ducks or whatever. This was a really good help for them, because it gave them something to do.

            Originally the patients weren’t allowed boats, but they eventually did allow them a boat amongst themselves. They were only supposed to be small boats or rowing boats – but the Health Department relaxed the conditions a bit towards the end. The boats were difficult to police all the time, because there was no one there to do it. The patients weren’t allowed to leave the island.  They could go out fishing on the reefs, but they weren’t supposed to go onto the mainland.  Some did, though.  They had quite a few parties away from the island. You’d meet them all at the Exhibition (Brisbane’s Royal National Association show held annually in August), where they had quite a good time, and then they’d go back to the island.  I don’t think the authorities ever knew, or if they did, they didn’t say anything.

Patients’ jetty with some of the patients own boats. Lazaret Channel and Moreton Island in background. (Photo courtesy DrMorgan Gabriel).

The Patients Committee used to write letters to various people.  They even got in touch with the Carville Clinic in Louisiana, America, who gave them all the particulars about the discovery of the new sulphone drugs, and that’s where they all started on the new treatment.  It was through Carville, and through the patients getting in touch with the patients there, that they got the idea of this new treatment. In fact, I don’t know that it was even known to the authorities today, but at that time there were patients at Peel who were having the treatment from Carville.  They bought it themselves – it was by injection, and they were doing their own injections, unbeknownst to the Health Department here at that stage. 

Carville’s ‘Star’ Newspaper

Up until that time they didn’t have any variety of treatment.  They just gave them the same old chaulmoogra oil and all those sort of things, but I know for a fact that three of the patients on Peel were on the new treatment, and they leapt ahead in health. The authorities here couldn’t understand that all of a sudden they were doing so well. It was the start of the cure, because after that the Government got onto the new drugs and they brought them into the place. That’s when the patients started to get their ‘clean’ monthly blood smears.  It was a wonderful feeling to realise that there was finally a cure for our relative.


There was a big problem with drinking down there on Peel Island. It wasn’t only the patients who were drinking.  The staff were every bit as bad. I have been on the boats with them, coming back from leave so drunk that you would wonder how they could get off the boat. However, when the Patients’ Committee was formed, they demanded that the problem be attended to. They brought down staff from the Head Office at the Health Department, and from the newspapers, and something was done.

 It did seem to be the turning point, and I suppose the new treatments did come about this time, or just after.  It gave them a new hope.  

Supplies and Pilferage

Maybe they say it was shortage of supplies. That could have been right, but a lot of the supplies that probably should have been down there and were probably billed for being down there, let’s face it, three parts of them probably never got there – or they might have got there, but they went away again. 

Pilferage was always a problem – and don’t say it was the patients, because they couldn’t even get them – although I’ll admit some of the patients used to abuse the privileges, too. They were allowed so much toothpaste and so much soap, so much this and that.  They’d maybe go over to the store today and get a tube of toothpaste, and the next day go again and get another tube of toothpaste because they’d thrown the one away or dropped it or something.  But sometimes the goods didn’t even get to the store. Of course, after the patients formed their committee at Peel they got a lot of things then, and as I said, things didn’t go so bad after that.  They were more accountable.

Relatives’ Ostracism

I have heard of some of the patients’ relatives experiencing ostracism from their neighbours – not myself personally, I never felt anything at all about that, but others had reported that they wouldn’t let their children play with a relative’s children, if they knew the patient was on Peel Island, or they would call out to them, “Leprosy! Leprosy!”  That has been said, I believe, but as far as I’m concerned they never said anything to me, and I never worried.

I think probably when you look around it’s like TB.  If a patient knew he had TB, he didn’t like it to be known everywhere because the simple reason was that they wouldn’t let their children play with fathers and mothers that had TB.

But that’s few and far between, thank God.  There was always that fear, though. Well, I don’t think any patient on Peel Island was ever sent a letter in their right name.  They would have been all under a nom de plume of some description, and more so in the country where a lot of them came from, or up the North, where the postman knew everybody.

The Relatives and Friends of Peel Island

One day quite a few of us had been visiting patients, who at this time were very aggressive about something, and we were just about sick of having to get onto boats and get onto dinghies.  A couple of times when the weather was rough we had to stay there at Peel.  So we decided we’d all get together and we met down at the Botanical Gardens, where we formed our committee, which we called the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island.

We were quite an active committee.  I was secretary in the latter part, but in the first stage the secretary used to write to every Leprosarium practising in the world, and got all the different data from the different places to find out how they were, and how they were on the treatment and everything else like this.

At one stage just after World War II we even got a chap from down in Sydney, and he just about blew the place wide open. He had the newspapers, the editors down there, Lord knows what – but we had to get it across to the public, and get it across to the Health Department that the patients needed attention.

We also organised parties for the patients on Peel, and we used to run a Christmas Appeal.  That Christmas Appeal was well organised, and it was very well received. We got a terrific amount of money from different people who used to send in for the Christmas Appeal.  We used to take down our Christmas parties to the island, and we used to give the patients a Christmas party that they never forgot. 

Of course, we all put in a certain amount of money ourselves.  We had a lot of people in our organisation who were not relatives of patients.  They used to come in, just as friends, and they’d help out in lots of ways.  It was really good.

I think we did get a lot of privileges for the patients: importantly, they were finally allowed their own access to a phone. Before that they used to write to the Health Department, and probably when the Department did get the letters, they tore them up. 

Then the patients were allowed to have their own things – well, one chap had ducks.  Another bloke had goats.  They used to do fishing. Then we were allowed to take the concert parties down to Peel, which the patients used to look forward to.  We took them down a couple of times a year besides the Christmas. 

After the Lazaret was closed and they shifted the remaining patients from Peel to the PA Hospital, the organisation broke up because we had done our part by this time.

A typewriter similar to the one used by Peel’s Patients’ Committee.


1. Because of its stigma, the name Leprosy has now been replaced with the term Hansen’s Disease, or just HD.

2. Because of the stigma that surrounded Leprosy and to which some family members are still sensitive, I have used the pseudonym ‘Jim’ to denote this patient – the same one that I had used previously to record some of his reminiscences in my 1987 book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison”.  

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)

Kleinschmidt’s Depot at Grey Street – Part 2

Raising the “Maid of Sker”. (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)

Further to my previous post of 28.04.2018  ‘Kleinschmidt’s Depot at Grey Street’, Frank Willoughby had also given me the above photo.

  The Kleinschmidt’s vessels had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End. Eventually some of their boats such as the “Maid of Sker” and the “S’port” were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River. In the above photo, the “Maid of Sker” had sunk where the Merivale Street rail bridge is now situated.  The vessels from left are: “Regina”, “26”, “Maid of Sker” (underwater), and a barge “Glen Iris”.  In the background (from left) are Carmichael’s sawmill, Foggitt Jones (meatworks), and QGM Glassworks.

Frank Willoughby had also supplied the following photo of the “S’Port” (a shortened form of Southport, where the Kleinschmidt’s depot was situated in the south of Moreton Bay.)

“S’port” at Depot under Grey Street Bridge (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)

and of the “Maid of Sker” in more happy circumstances above the surface of the water:

“Maid of Sker” loading sand at Canaipa (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)

Kleinschmidt’s Depot at Grey Street

Kleinschmidt’s depot at Grey Street (photo courtesy Graham Day)

Robin Kleinschmidt writes:

The wharf, office and a house were on the upstream site of where the William Jolly Bridge is now. This photo is of the bins and storage areas of Moreton Sand and Gravel approximately where the Kurilpa Bridge enters the parkland today. It was the secondary part of their operations, but when the shipping on the bay began to lose out to the road and rail transport, this became their mainstay. They acquired it from a consortium of hardware retailers whose building company customers wanted a one stop shop which including the sand and gravel for their concreting. It was run poorly and without enthusiasm until Uncle Ted and his son Ray bought it. They had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End, and eventually some of their boats such as The Maid of Sker and the S’port were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River.

Reminders of Peoples Past – 06 – Captain Whish

The Captain Whish bridge at Caboolture

Communities often choose to remember their pioneers by naming a bridge in their honour. Caboolture did this with its Captain Whish Bridge that spans the Caboolture River. I have always attributed his name to a sea captain, but further research revealed that he was a Captain in the British Army in India. Claudius Buchanan Whish was born in London in 1827 into a military family. After serving in India and Persia he travelled to NSW and SA to buy cavalry remounts for the Indian Army.

Captain Whish



Anne Whish










After his marriage to Anne in about 1858, Whish migrated to Queensland on the ‘Young Australia’ and began the Oaklands sugar plantation in Caboolture on 15 August 1862. He became chairman of the local planters’ association and hired Pacific islanders to work on the crop – a move that lost him favour with the people when a committee on Pacific island labour was informed that whippings had taken place on Whish’s estate. This evidence gained little credence as Whish was a justice for peace and a deeply religious man.

Whish was appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council in June 1870. Although he is known as the first successful sugar-producer in Queensland, Whish’s estate lost its worth and he resigned from the Legislative Council in March 1872, sold his machinery and became a surveyor of roads. By September 1873, Whish was bankrupt with a debt of £5598, although he was promoted to inspector of road surveys for the southern division in 1875 and for the colony in 1880.

In 1889 Whish took his leave by setting out for England. He was aboard the fated RMS Quetta on the day it sank in the Torres Strait. His wife Anne perished with him.

Drawing of ‘Quetta’ sinking in Torres Strait

There is another memorial to Captain Whish, his wife Anne and to the other 132 souls who perished with them: the Quetta Memorial Cathedral Church, Thursday Island.

Quetta Memorial Cathedral Church, Thursday Island