Accessing Peel Island

Peel Island showing its former jetties

Recently a special Peel committee has been focusing on possible future access to the island. Its report is due out by the end of the year. It may be an appropriate time, now, to look at the history of former points of access. 

The stone jetty in 1885 (photo Royal Queensland Historical Society)

During the 1870s the foundations of the stone jetty were formed on the south-east corner of the island on the beach below the Bluff at the most convenient landing place by members of the ships quarantined there. The jetty was completed by prison and Aboriginal labour in 1893 and became the main access point for the island. Later, from 1907 the jetty was used as the main access point for the island’s Lazaret. 

The stone jetty c.1950 (photo Terry Gwynne Jones – State Library of Queensland)

However, vessels could not berth there at low tide, and the distance from the lazaret was also a disadvantage. So it was decided to build a jetty less remote from the lazaret and also one that could be used in all weathers and tides.

In 1948 the short version (causeway only) of the proposed western jetty was completed which enabled a much quicker access to the lazaret, but which was still not accessible at low tide. The longer (wooden) section, which straddled the sandbanks, was not completed until August 1956. From then on, this became the main access for the island. Although the lazaret was to close in 1959, the jetty was again useful when the then Church of England Grammar School (“Churchie”) took out its first lease on part of the former lazaret buildings in December 1968 for the purpose of sending their students to the island for three-day camps. 

It is doubtful whether the old stone jetty on the South-East of the island would have been used, or repaired, after the opening of the western jetty in 1956. 

Western Jetty, Peel Island, February 1990 (photo Peter Ludlow)

Sadly the Western Jetty had become unsafe after 40 years of inattention to its maintenance. It was demolished in late 1990s. This left Peel Island without proper access; a situation that has persisted until this day.

A third access point to Peel Island was via the patients’ jetty, which straddled the mud flats from the Lazaret Gutter right up to the embankment below the Lazaret itself. It was constructed by the patients with materials supplied by the Health Department, and was for the exclusive use of the patients and their boats.

Peel Island patients’ jetty c.1955 (photo Dr Morgan Gabriel)

As you can see from Dr Gabriel’s photo, the patients’ jetty could only be used at or near high tide. If such a jetty were contemplated today for public use, it would have to be a much more substantial affair and it would have to extend right out to the Lazaret Gutter if it were to be useable at all tides. Northerly winds would make it difficult for boats to berth, and the size of the vessel would be very limited.

The advantage in siting a jetty here would be that the visitors arriving from such a jetty would land directly at the Lazaret itself, and thus save a 40 minute walk (each way) from Horseshoe Bay, as they have to do today. Even with a much shorter jetty, the visitor’s ‘two hours before and after high tide’ time limit would be considerably extended. Maybe a landing barge, such as previously used to land tourists at Horseshoe Bay, could be employed to land at the Lazaret beach with no jetty at all being required.

Landing barge at Horseshoe Bay (Photo Friends of Peel Island Association Inc.)