On 24th September 1824 the brig Amity, under the direction of NSW Surveyor General Lt John Oxley, brought officials, soldiers, their wives and children, and 29 convicts to Redcliffe to set up Moreton Bay’s first penal settlement, with Lt Henry Miller as its first Commandant. Fresh from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars with the 40th Regiment of Foot, Lt Miller was accompanied by his wife and family. The Moreton Bay penal colony was initially very primitive. There were no buildings, except huts. The only link to civilisation was the occasional arrival of a ship from Sydney into Moreton Bay (for no ship in that time had ever entered the Brisbane River). It was in these surroundings that Miller’s wife gave birth to a son, who was afterwards christened Charles Moreton Miller, the first European child born at Moreton Bay and the first Queenslander.
The settlement progressed well with temporary huts being built for the soldiers, their wives and children, and the convicts. Gardens were dug and vegetables planted. However the death of Private Felix O’Neill in March 1825 combined with Aboriginal attacks, hordes of mosquitoes and the lack of safe anchorage facilities, led to the settlement being moved in the middle of 1825 from Redcliffe up the Brisbane River to a site recommended by John Oxley.
When the decision was made to relocate the settlement, Redcliffe was deserted and remained so until the 1860s when the area was declared an agricultural reserve. The land was used for dairying, sugarcane, wheat, cotton, beef, honey, cattle feed, oranges and potatoes.
‘The Aborigines on Bribie would have been startled by the visit of Matthew Flinders in 1799. Gradually, after the settlement of the Moreton Bay district from 1824, Europeans began visiting the island, initially as escaped convicts, then as free settlers.
‘Fishing and oystering were the great attractions. In the 1890s fish canneries and oyster leases were set up. Recreational fishing had also become popular, and in 1911, the Koopa began bringing holidaymakers and day-trippers to the island. Camping was popular along the Passage foreshore and a plethora of boarding houses also sprang up.
‘When the bridge to Bribie was finally completed in 1963, Bribie came within easy reach of Brisbane’s motoring public, and an ever-increasing dormitory for the workers of Brisbane.
‘Today, Bribie is a popular destination for day-trippers, but also supports a growing population of both workers and retirees who find its easy going lifestyle a welcome alternative to the stress of modern city living.’
‘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.’
‘At weekends we used to walk around from our house at Bongaree to Red Beach. It was quite a long hike. It was winter then, and by the time we got there – it was probably just gone daybreak – dad would had already been in the water twice up to his waist to pull in the nets because the fish would run early. He’d have all his wet flannels hanging up to dry.
‘My mother also went fishing on her own and she’d bring home buckets of whiting, but then dad would come in with his fish, and when they were fishing around Red Beach, they piled them all up on our front yard. They had these old army Blitzes – snub-nosed trucks left over from the war. They brought all their fish in, dumped it on our front yard, and then cased it in wooden cases. They were primarily mullet, which they sent off whole – no gutting. The fish were grouped according to size, and then sent to the Brisbane Fish Markets by boat. They left some for us and we ate a lot of fish and their roe (eggs) – white and yellow roe. When the trawlers were in dad also swapped some of his fish for prawns and crabs so we got a bit of everything. It was a good diet for growing kids.
‘Dad was be away for weeks at a time and the bread he took with him would go mouldy, but when he came home, it was a big event, and if I was at school at the time, I was allowed home for lunch with him and mum. He’d pick us up at school and we’d have our roast dinner, then he’d take us back to school. We fishing family kids were the only ones that did it. The others had to sit and eat their sandwiches at school. I always thought it was lovely to be included in our family’s homecoming meals, because it could be that he would be off again straight away, and if I were at school, I would miss out on seeing him.’
All References: Peter Ludlow ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’
‘In 1832, on the south end of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) at dawn, surrounding a camp of Ngugi people on the banks of a fresh water lagoon, soldiers shot down as many as twenty people. Hidden in the bushes, Winyeeaba Murriaba a child of three at this time, was one of the survivors. Winyeeaba Murriaba and the remaining Ngugi were removed from Mulgumpin to Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). Much later she was to become my Great Grandmother.’
‘The Sovereign went to sea on the morning of 11 March 1847 and was wrecked on the bar of the South Passage within a mile and a half of the shore and almost in a direct line with the south end of Moreton Island. Only 10 of the 54 passengers and crew were saved. Both the pilot and his assistant were absent at the time.’
The Moreton Bay Courier:
‘The steamer had still another wave to encounter before getting over the bar; and at this critical juncture, the engineer called out to Captain Cape that the framing of the engines and part of the machinery had broken down…on descending from his post on the paddle-box, he examined them, and found that the frames of both engines were broken close under the plummer boxes, which were turned upside down … the ship … was drifting on the north spit. The engineer shortly afterwards let the steam off, by order of the Captain, to prevent the vessel from being blown up. The sea at this time was making breaches over her, and the rudder chains parted … As the vessel still drifted, the lar-board anchor was let go, the starboard one having been carried away from the parted in the swell … she continued to drag on the north spit. Previously … the sails were set to provide against the danger … but all to no purpose. The rollers now broke upon the devoted vessel with great violence, carrying away bulwarks and causing the wool and billets of wood to move violently about the decks, whereby three men were killed, while several more had their arms and legs broken, or otherwise disabled. The Captain then told the passengers that he saw no hopes of saving the vessel, as she was still dragging towards the spit. He had just ceased speaking when a tremendous sea broke over the ship, and swept washed away the fore hatches. Tarpaulins were then nailed over them, but they proved of no service …. The passengers were in the utmost consternation, they set up most piteous cries for help; some ran to the side, and in the agonies of despair, plunged into the sea … [Men] … worked for some time at the pumps which, however soon got choked up, and they then assisted in heaving overboard the remainder of the deck cargo … The doors of the companion were then opened, and the females came on deck together. The dreadful moment which was to determine the on, and every one saw in the countenance of his companion the vivid expression of his own feelings …. Mr. Stubbs, who appears to have maintained his presence of mind throughout, now cried out, ‘avoid the suction’: and jumped overboard. One dreadful shriek was heard, proceeding from one of the females in the forepart of the ship, as she took one roll, heeled over and sank, and then all was still. The struggle for life then commenced; some of the passengers clung to the wool bales, some to the portions of the wreck, while others, who had been disabled on board, soon sank to rise no more alive … Mr. Stubbs … saw breakers ahead proceeding from the bar, which appeared coming towards him like and foaming, and enough to appall the stoutest heart. How he got through them he does not recollect, for he saw nothing more until he reached the shoal water of the beach, which was about four miles from the spot where he left the vessel. He had just vigor enough remaining to get out of the reach of the breakers, when a native belonging to the pilot’s crew seized him by the waist, and supported him till his strength returned … Mr. Richards and neighbourhood, rendered every assistance in their power, and aided by a prisoner of the Crown, named William Rollings, a servant of the pilot, and the native crew, by the most arduous exertions succeeded in saving the lives of six more individuals, who, but for their assistance, must have perished in the surf.’
‘The loss of the Sovereign, with the loss of 45 lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community.25 More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.’
‘The Aborigine, Toompani is said to have swam in the surf at the point and to have saved several passengers, with the assistance of his mates. The New South Wales Government gave him a brass plate on which I have read his actions anent the ‘Sovereign’, and for years that Government, and later on the Queensland Government kept him supplied with a first class boat, by which he was often enabled to make hauls of fish for either sale or for food amongst the inhabitants ashore.’
The name Coochiemudlo is a misspelling of the island’s original aboriginal name, Kutchi Mudlo, the place of red ochre stones. Closest of the Bay islands to mainland ‘civilisation’, tiny Coochiemudlo Island nestles off the tip of Victoria Point in the southern section of Moreton Bay.
‘Traces of men were scarcely visible: there were, however, several fire-places, and many other marks of the island having lately been visited. They met with some boughs so ranged as to keep off the southerly winds; and from the fire-places which they were placed to defend it was inferred that not less than five or six natives had made this their place of residence, probably a temporary one only, as they do not meet with any huts regularly constructed.’
Reference: Journal entry describing his men’s exploration of the Sixth Island (now called Coochiemudlo) on July 19, 1799
Norman R. Wright:
‘Dad had an idea of running pigs so we bought a couple, a Berkshire Boar that we named “Dennis” and the sow “Bridget”. They lived on yams, roots, prickly pear etc. and soon multiplied.
‘We lived on side at the eastern end of the beach. Our humpy for a start was 8’ x 8’ all galvanised iron and later we made a lean-to on the eastern side in which we stowed the dinghy and odd gear. For the first year we collected oysters, shell grit, peat and firewood. We were generally three weeks on the Island and one week at home trading our goods, cutting a supply of firewood etc. We brought a pig home from time to time and it was slaughtered and sold. We were the only people on the Island. ‘Once a few steers appeared, they walked across from Victoria Point at low water and I had seen a couple of stockmen round them up.
‘The aboriginals learned our habits so when we were away they came after the suckers but left as soon as we returned. The oysters were fair for a couple of years then the worm showed up and destroyed the best of them.’
Reference: Letter addressed to Mrs F.G.Elliott, Coochiemudlo, November 21, 1966
Edward Field Jones:
‘During the last week of August 1883, a cataclysmic event hit the island (Coochie). What was described as a wall of water like a chalk mountain, surged down the Bay, flooding low lying contiguous areas as it swept towards Innis Island (now known as Coochiemudlo) at great speed. Four men were washed overboard from a southern bound boat and were lost from view. On the western side of the island the wave tore through the mangroves before smashing into the cliff. On the eastern side, the (Morwong) Beach bore the full force of the wave as it crashed through the casuarinas, and continued on its way to the southward, ripping off branches, snapping trunks, uprooting trees, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
‘When the inundation had drained away, the Island resembled a battlefield, with debris strewn all along (Norfolk) Beach and out into Moreton Bay.
‘As the wave continued down the Bay, a load of bananas which had been piled up on the Redland Bay Jetty awaiting shipment to Brisbane, was swept away & never seen again.
‘After twelve hours immersion, the four men who had been washed overboard, were rescued when they were discovered clinging to floating tree trunks, totally exhausted after their terrifying ordeal.’
Reference: “Chronicles of Coochiemudlo”
‘Well, in the middle of, after leaving Peel the first time and going back the second time, I was working at the Cleveland Hospital, and I met Mrs Morton there, who was one of the farmers from Coochie. Her mother was in St Anne’s Hospital, and she pointed the island out the window to me, and said that’s where she lived. I thought it looked a very interesting place. It looked just lovely then, didn’t have all the buildings down the foreshores on Cleveland like there is now. You could just look down the street and see the mangroves, and you could just see the island. It didn’t have Toondah Harbour or any of that – it was just very undeveloped round there. There was just a farm where the hospital was. The hospital stood in the middle of somebody’s farm, actually, with cabbages and things round it.
‘So I had this dinghy, and on my day off once I rowed up to Coochie to see if it was as nice as it looked, and it was, so that’s how I started to get interested in Coochie.’
Reference: Redland Shire Council Oral History Project.
Last Saturday, I was privileged to share morning tea with Joyce Burgess (nee Kelly), who at a remarkable 95 years of age must surely be the last living inmate of the Lazaret (Leprosarium) on Peel Island. Even more remarkable is that she was sent there for segregation in 1928, when she was just 7 years old. Strangely for me, it was her brother, Emmett Kelly (whom I referred to as ‘Ned’ in my Peel Island history books), whom I first interviewed in 1977, thus starting all my Moreton Bay writings. So perhaps it is appropriate for me to end them now, 39 years later, with this interview with Joyce:
‘Joseph and Marion Kelly with their three children, Emmett, Joyce (me), and Frieda were living in Mackay where he was director of a local sugar mill. Joseph had been great friends with the Queensland Premier, T.J.Ryan, and himself was planning to enter Parliament, however his wife contracted leprosy and was sent to the lazaret on Peel Island in Moreton Bay. This was in January 1928. A few weeks afterwards, Emmett and myself were sent to Peel as well. This disintegration of our family unit put paid to my father’s political aspirations.
‘At Peel, I lived as company for my mother in one of the cabins, while my brother, Emmett, lived next door. I was just seven years old at the time, and although I actually enjoyed my time in the Lazaret – I used to like swimming on the sand bar that formed the Lazaret Gutter, and played on the hulk of the Platypus – even then I was becoming aware of the devastating affect the shame and stigma of leprosy was having on my family. It was something I would later learn to battle with all my life.
‘Dad used to sneak across to the island in a boat and used to meet my mother in the so-called ‘jail’ (the one remaining quarantine building on The Bluff just above the stone jetty).
‘The white patients at the Lazaret were outnumbered by the so-called ‘coloureds’. who included both Aborigines and South Sea Islanders. I had been used to the Islanders who worked on our sugar farm at Mackay, so got on well with them on Peel.
‘After being on the island for ten months, my monthly blood test results were consistently clear of the leprosy germ, so I was discharged from the island, leaving behind my mother and brother. Mum died there some three years later when I was 10 years of age, and I presume was buried there. However her name was later inscribed on the headstone of the family grave on the mainland. My brother, Emmett, was to remain on the island – off and on – until the Lazaret’s closure in 1959.
‘After my discharge from Peel Island, I went to live with my grandmother in East Brisbane for a while, and then I went with my sister, Frieda, to St Vincent’s Convent orphanage at Nudgee for about eight years. In 1941 when I was 21, I went with my father to Sydney where he later died of lung cancer in 1944.
‘There’s a street down by Toondah Harbour in Cleveland that is named after my brother, Emmett, because he regularly landed his boat ‘Cygnet’ there with staff and patients from the Lazaret to have a session at the nearby Grand View Hotel.’
I have been invited to take part in a TV documentary some of which involves Peel Island. Here’s a checklist of answers to possible questions they might throw at me. It might also be useful to display your knowledge if you are ever fortunate enough to visit the island!
Peel Island is also known by its Aboriginal names of Teerk Roo Ra (pronounced took-a-ra) meaning ‘Place of many Shells’ or Chercuba.
It was named the Fifth Island by Matthew Flinders in 1799
then Peel’s Island by John Oxley in 1824 after Sir Robert Peel, Secretary of State for the Home Department in England
Later this was shortened to Peel Island
Its Pre European History:
before the Europeans came, Aboriginal tribes from the surrounding islands visited to feasting and ceremonial purposes
The island had fresh water and food from surrounding reefs
Many middens remain today
Its Post-European History:
At south – eastern end (Bluff):
Quarantine Station (early 1870s until 1910)
Agriculture attempts (1906 – 1910)
Inebriate Home (1910 until 1916)
At north-western end:
Lazaret (Leprosarium) (1907 until 1959)
Recreational use (after 1959)
The Anglican Church Grammar School (‘Churchie’) leased part of the lazaret buildings from 1968 until 1993
In 1993 the island was to be gazetted as a National Park
This process was interrupted by a Native Title claim which was not resolved until December 27th 2007, when Peel was gazetted a National Park and Conservation Park under the joint management of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) and the Quandamooka People – the island’s traditional owners.
In 1999, The Friends of Peel Island Association Inc. (FOPIA) was formed to assist with maintenance and restoration work, and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values.
The origin of the term LAZARET:
C.R.Wiburd, a former Quarantine Officer at Brisbane, in his article “Notes on the History of Maritime Quarantine in Queensland, 19th Century” gives the following explanation of the term “Lazaret”:
“Maritime Quarantine, as we know it, commenced in 1348 when the overseers of Public Health at Venice were authorised to spend public moneys for the purpose of isolating infected ships, persons, and goods, at an island of the lagoon. A medical man was stationed with the sick. As a result of these arrangements the first maritime quarantine station of which there is any record was established in 1403 at the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth at Venice. The Venetian Authorities framed in 1348 a code of quarantine regulations, which served as a model for all others to a very recent period. All merchants and persons coming from the Levant were compelled to remain in the House of St. Lazarus for a period of forty days before admission into the city. From this is derived the term “lazaret” which has persisted until now.”
There were two Lazarus mentioned in the Bible. One was raised by Jesus from the dead. He was not a leper. The other, after whom the House of St. Lazarus was named, was the leper mentioned in the parable of the rich man and the beggar (Luke 16:1) which begins, “There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores…
As a keen follower of Peel Island’s history for over 35 years, I was very interested in the Wynnum Herald article of 28 October 2015, which called for Government funding to construct a jetty on Peel Island once more. Ever since its western jetty had been condemned and finally demolished in the late 1990s, the cry has been going out for its replacement.
From 1989, while the jetty was still usable, tour operators brought many groups who showed intense interest the island’s history. Such groups included the Redland Shire Council’s History Week celebrations, the Leprosy Mission, the Lady Brisbane, bird watching groups, Queensland Naturalists Club, the Brisbane History Group, and the Coochiemudlo Island History Group. Most came to see the former leprosarium, which closed in 1959, but were also struck by Peel’s natural, and largely unspoilt, beauty. So there is also a strong case for eco-tourism.
But as well as European history, Peel, or Teerk Roo Ra to its Indigenous people, has a rich Aboriginal history and culture. So I am gratified to see that Cameron Costello, Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation chief executive has joined in the chorus of people asking for Government investment to upgrade the island’s infrastructure, notably its jetty. Teerk Roo Ra could be a showplace for Aboriginal culture of National importance.
A precedent as a place of learning has already been set when ‘Churchie’ (Anglican Church Grammar School) leased some of the former Lazaret buildings for their camps from 1968 until it relinquished its lease in 1993. With a new jetty, other groups could be involved – not just from schools, but also art, church, environmental, and social groups as well.
Jetty technology has developed markedly since the days of the old wooden goliath pictured above. Also the viaduct to the jetty is still intact, so a jetty could be built at reasonable cost. I wholeheartedly support a feasible study being carried out.