Exploring the remains of Peel Island’s Quarantine Station

The quarantine station stood atop The Bluff on Peel’s south-east corner from the early 1870s until 1910. Then from 1910 until 1916 its empty buildings housed the Home for Inebriates. In 1916 its wooden buildings were demolished. Today, the area is now thickly wooded, with the only remnants of the station being the so called ‘jail’ and the former well.

Quarantine Station – cell block 2003 (photo: Peter Ludlow)

A former lazaret patient recalls that there was no roof or partition remaining in the ‘jail’ during his stay on the island (1940s). These must have been put in later as a holiday house for a patient (or by a boatie). The iron door was there, however. (It was later taken by QPWS rangers to St Helena Island in about 1990). Also there were no trees around the ‘jail’, only grass, yellow flowers, and daisies. The shape of the previous quarantine gardens could still be seen from the position of the flowers.

Quarantine Station – New well cover (photo Scott Fowle)

The well is bottle shaped with a narrow opening at the top. It seems to be lined with bricks and may have been constructed by prison labour. 

In 2019 it appears to have been dry, but in 1991, Ray Cowie, the then ranger for the Redland Shire Council attempted to pump it out with a portable petrol driven pump – without succeeding to dry it out. Its water content may depend on the current level of the island’s water table.

Quarantine buildings on Bluff (1885)
Quarantine Station map 1893 + remnants 1991
Quarantine Station – map legend (1893)

The ’jail’

In July 1991, I measured the distance between the remaining cement slabs (still to be found under all the leaves and undergrowth) and the ‘jail’ at the old quarantine site. (See plan). By comparison with the sketch plan of 1893, the cellblock proved to be the former oven rooms (#12 on the sketch above), which were attached to the bakehouse (#13).  The term ‘jail’ may have originated when prisoners from nearby St Helena Island were housed there for their overnight detention whilst they worked on the completion of the Quarantine Station’s stone jetty. The building may also have served as a ‘jail’ for isolating obstreperous inmates from the Inebriate home when it operated on the former Quarantine site from 1910 until 1916.

Peter Ludlow

Stories from Peel Island – 2 (Inebriates Home)

An oil painting by William Simmons in 1910 showing the beach below the Inebriates Home with Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in the background.
An oil painting by William Simmons in 1910 showing the beach below the Inebriates Home with Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in the background.

By 1910 Peel Island’s quarantine station (see blog of 22.10.2016) had fallen into disuse, so it was decided to use the empty buildings as a home for the more vocal inebriates (alcoholics) from the Benevolent Asylum at nearby Dunwich. The Inebriate Asylum operated for seven years from 1910 until 1916 when the inmates were returned to Dunwich, and the wooden buildings demolished. 

Ivy Rowell (nee Jackson):     

‘In 1910 my family came south from a farm in Atherton to Peel Island,” Ivy recalls. “I was just three years old then. There had been trouble with the inebriate inmates at the Benevolent Asylum in Dunwich, so the authorities shifted them to nearby Peel.  Father and Mother were given the task of running the new Inebriate Asylum, which had been established in the old Quarantine Station buildings. I still remember the yellow and green flags in a box in the storeroom.  And the large flagpole stood just outside our house.  This was the only evidence of the quarantine days.  My brother once climbed to the yard-arm and gave Mother an awful fright.  Father had to climb up to rescue him.

‘People were sent to the Inebriate Asylum to dry out. We had two types of patients: public and private.  Just like today’s health care.  Private patients, or their relatives, had to pay one Guinea a week for board and lodgings.  Public patients had earn their keep by working.’

An inebriate patient (pleading with his relatives to pay for his board):

‘ (Please release me from) this most awful degraded Hell I can imagine darkening God’s earth.’

Health Department Records:

‘William Simmons of Brisbane was convicted on July 20th 1910 of being found drunk on July 19th in Herston Road. Under the Licensing Act of 1885 (section 84) because he had no less than three convictions against him within the preceding twelve months, he was sentenced to submit to a curative treatment term of twelve months at the Institution for Inebriates, Peel Island. William Simmons was a public patient, and accepted the challenge of going, ‘cold turkey’ by applying himself in the kitchen as assistant to the cook. To keep his mind occupied in the quieter moments off duty, he took up oil painting.’

Dr Linford Row (to the Under Secretary, Home Department):

‘After serving six months of his twelve month term, William Simmons’ condition has improved to such an extent that I wish to make an application for discharge on probation, with every prospect of beginning a new life for himself in Rockhampton.’

Peter Ludlow:

‘William Simmons never returned to the Inebriates’ Home on Peel Island, so hopefully he made good.’

The beach below her parents’ house was a favourite haunt for Ivy, her brother and sisters.  Every day, when not required for lessons, they could be found playing at its rock pool or jetty. At the other end of the island was the Lazaret, home to Queensland’s Leprosy patients.  At this time, the Inebriate Asylum’s dinghy was used to transfer the hapless patients from ship to shore.  It was fumigated after each such occasion. 

Ivy Rowell:

‘One of the leprosy patients had come down from up north in a huge wooden box the size of a room. She had her meals and everything in there.  She was probably carried as deck cargo on a ship.  At Peel, the box was unloaded onto Father’s dinghy and rowed ashore.  After the patient had been removed to the Lazaret, the box was burned ‑ on my beach!  To this day, in my mind’s eye, I can still see it burning.’

Oil painting by William Simmons showing the Jacksons' house.
Oil painting by William Simmons showing the Jacksons’ house.

Reference: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection