A Note of Discord at the Lazaret

The Aboriginal patients on Peel had long since been ‘Westernised’ in that they had all ceased to observe the tribal customs and traditions of their forebears. They dressed in white man’s clothes, spoke his language, and, on Peel at least, shared his diseases. Nevertheless, they did manage to retain a few of their indigenous skills, one of which was their interest in making ‘traditional’ Aboriginal weapons such as nulla nullas, spears, and boomerangs, which they used, not for hunting, but as rhythm sticks to accompany their dances at their many impromptu corroborees. Some of the men also made bows and arrows to shoot the many Lorikeets that frequented the trees around the lazaret. They prized the birds’ green feathers and used them as body ornamentation in their corroborees. The old tribal rituals and meaning had long since been lost in these dances, and the only purpose of the Corroborees on Peel was for entertainment. 

They were held in the Aborigines’ mess hut and were usually of a spontaneous nature. A large pine table pushed close to the wall served as a stage on which the Aborigines danced and sang to the rhythmic accompaniment of wooden boomerangs being struck together. The noise would have been deafening inside the corrugated iron building. 

The white men also had a recreation hut in their compound and among other items, it contained an old upright piano on which the more musical patients would amuse themselves and anyone else who cared to listen. One day, a Brisbane Radio station generously donated a new piano, which the whites quickly claimed for themselves. The old upright (previously donated by the Freemasons) was moved to the Aborigines’ mess hut where it quickly became an important part of their corroboree ceremonies.

However, it didn’t take the whites long to realise that the tone of their new piano was not a patch on the one they had given away to the Aborigines, so they took it upon themselves to arrange a swap. The Aborigines, however, were not fools and, realising that they had the better piano of the two, refused to come into the deal. To emphasise their determination, the Aborigines even produced spears, at which the whites backed off and let them keep their old upright. 

Post Script 1:

On January 8th, 1940 an army landing barge arrived at Peel Island, and all the Aboriginal patients, along with their goods, chattels, and pet dogs were loaded aboard. They were then taken to Brisbane from where they were taken by rail to Cardwell, and then by another barge to Fantome Island. It was a sad leave-taking because, over the years, the members of the Peel Island community – both white and black – had grown to have much more in common than the mere disease which had originally brought them all together. One of the patient’s last memory of them is of their waving black arms, barking dogs, and a hotch potch of their belongings in the open barge, including their most prized possession – the old upright piano which they had managed to keep from the white patients’ grasp! 

Post Script 2:

Later in the 1940s, a further indignity occurred to the whites when their own recreation hut mysteriously caught fire after some rowdy Christmas revelries. Their new piano was also consumed in the flames!

Post Script 3:

When a new recreation hall was built in 1947, another piano was procured (picture). After the lazaret was closed in 1959, the piano went missing. Its fate is still unknown.

The last piano in the rec hall at the lazaret (photo courtesy Terry Gwynn Jones – John Oxley Library)

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History, a Personal Quest‘ by Peter Ludlow)

People of Peel Island – 6 – Elbert (‘Bert’) Cobb

Bert Cobb was an American by birth but when he was aged nine came to Australia with his parents and two sisters. During World War I he became a flying officer with in the Royal Air Force in England during which he acquired a cultured accent. Bert returned to Australia after the war and 1922 records show that he held two pastoral leases in the Northern Territory. 

Before his admission to the Channel Island Leprosarium (off Darwin) in about 1940 he had worked as a manager for a gold mine for many years in the Northern Territory.  When Darwin was bombed, the Leprosarium patients were transferred to either Peel Island or Sydney’s Little Bay Leprosarium.  Bert came to Peel Island. He kept a loaded revolver in his hut to defend himself in case the Japanese arrived on the island.

For many years Bert Cobb had been troubled with painful eyes (iritis) and failing eyesight, finally going completely blind in 1946.  His leprosy also left him with disfigured hands, which were also devoid of feeling.  His nurse Rosemary Fielding observed that when he wanted to feel something he would do so with his lips.

At Peel, after his blindness, he was cared for by an orderly, Bill Fleetwood, a quiet man (unlike some of his alcoholic comrades), who also used to write letters for him.  Bert once told Rosemary that Bill was the perfect ‘gentleman’s gentleman’.  Another letter writer for Bert was Miss Howard, a social worker who used to visit the island every two weeks.  Bert trusted her and always kept the day free for her. 

He could be a charming man, especially with the ladies, but was also very intolerant.  He was a dreadful snob, supercilious, and scathing.  He had a growl of disgust, which could be very disconcerting. He was fussy about who came into his hut.  A well-educated and intelligent man, he loved people to read to him (after he went blind). 

The other patients respected him because he had been one of the founding members of the Patients’ Committee – formed by the patients to obtain better conditions.  He was a ‘stirrer’, and his education and legal knowledge were useful when it came to partitioning the government and newspapers and anyone else (they sent hundreds of letters all bashed out on an old typewriter).

Bert guarded his past very closely and did not want to be buried with any ceremony.  However, when he did die of toxaemia on May 30, 1959 (just a month before the Leprosarium on Peel Island closed down) someone did put an Australian flag over his coffin because he had served in WWI.

Peter Ludlow

From material supplied by Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) and Bert’s great nephew, Dudley M.Cobb

Nurse Rosemary Fielding’s painting of Bert Cobb

People of Peel Island – 5 – The Sisters of Mercy

Sr Mercia Mary, Sr M Conrad, Sr M Agnese Mater Hospital Private Pharmacy c1962

My first contact with Sister Mercia Mary was in 1986 while I was writing “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison?” – my history of the Lazaret (Leprosarium) that had been in operation in Moreton Bay between 1907 and 1959. In a pleasant and informative afternoon with her and fellow Sisters of Mercy, Sister Mary Conrad and Sister Mary St. Rita I was to learn of the Nun’s great compassion for their fellow humans.

Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) patients had been treated at the Mater Hospital and their blood smears had been processed in the Mater’s Pathology Department. It was through these contacts that the link to the patients at Peel Island was established. Not being content to treat these people as mere numbers in a waiting room or initials on a list of blood samples, the Sisters of Mercy led by Sister Mercia Mary made it their business to visit them on their island. This was a bold step because of the public neuroses that the stigma of Leprosy engendered.

The extent of such public neurosis can be gauged from Sister Mary St Rita’s account of a Hansen’s suspect in a crowded waiting room at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital in the late 1940s. The nodules had already become obvious on the man’s face when he entered the room, and one of the other patients thought he recognised the disease. Word quickly got around the waiting room, and the Sister was surprised to find when she called for the next patient that the crowded waiting room was suddenly empty – except for the Hansen’s patient who was then diagnosed and sent on to Peel Island.

For several years at Christmas, the Sisters of Mercy from the Mater Hospital visited the Lazaret on Peel Island and distributed presents. These included Sister Mercia Mary, and Sister Mary St Rita. Their main fear was not of contracting Hansen’s Disease but of getting their cloaks wet as they stepped off the boat.

I am told by one of the patients that they would often forsake lunch with the other staff on the verandah and spend the time talking with a patient, Bert Cobb, in his hut. Bert was a well educated man, an atheist, but always ready for a discussion. The Sisters of Mercy were always ready to oblige.

Most recently just before Christmas 2005, at a book-signing in the city for my re-release of “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison?” a former Mater Pathology Scientist told me more about Sister Mercia Mary’s devotion to the Hansen’s Disease patients. For the matter didn’t end in 1959 when the Peel Island Lazaret was closed down and the remaining dozen patients were transferred to Ward S12 at the South Brisbane Hospital (now the Princess Alexandra Hospital). It would have been easy to forget the patients now that they were no longer isolated, but each Christmas Sister Mercia Mary would still make up a Christmas Hamper for each of the Hansen’s patients and would personally deliver them to Ward S12. 

Another story about Sister Mercia Mary that I really like, and which illustrates her practical devotion to humanity through the philosophy of the Sisters of Mercy, is supplied by Ron Pope. In Mercia’s time before a Blood Bank had been set up, doctors were not nearly as readily available around any hospital as they are today. In order to fill a small part of that vacuum, Mercia trained in venipuncture and then could always be called upon to take blood from a donor. One of her early nursing associates recalls, with some humour, accompanying Mercia to Boggo Road jail with her trusty sterile flask, stirring rod and other paraphernalia, relieving a jail warder of the required amount of blood and bringing it back for a Mater patient!  

Pro Deo et Humanitate!

Peter Ludlow

March 2006

(Extract from Mater Scripts by Peter Ludlow)

Peel Island – White Leprosy Patients’Huts

The Peel Island Lazaret was the only purpose-built Lazaret in Australia: the others were modifications or add-ons to existing institutions e.g. at Dunwich, it was an add-on to the Benevolent Asylum; at Little Bay in Sydney as part of an infectious disease unit; at Fantome Island it was a former Lock Hspital.

This site plan shows the relative areas of Peel’s Lazaret. 

Notes to the plan’s labels: 

The Female Compound was for white females (one patient per cabin).

The Male Compound was for white males (one patient per cabin)

The Coloured Compound consisted of galvanised iron huts for the coloured male patients (four patients per cabin) and wooden huts similar to the white female huts (but accommodating six patients per cabin).

The Peel Island site plan as drawn up in the 1950s
Peel Island Lazaret – white male patients huts when it opened in 1907

Initially the male patients huts were constructed as a square wooden box like structure, but later on, a verandah was added to the design. The white femals huts were similar but with the addition of a kitchenette with a combustion stove.

Floor plan of the white male patients’ Hut
Floor plan of the white female patients’ Hut

The following aerial photo shows the Peel Island Lazaret institution as it appeared in the 1930s:

Lazaret from the air 1930s

Peel Island – Coloured Leprosy Patients’ Huts

By 1908 there were 40 coloured patients and 17 white patients at the Peel Island Lazaret. 

In the book Moreton Bay Matters Chapter 9 The Leper Shall Dwell Alone, historian Thom Blake mentions ‘the huts for the coloured patients were erected by Aboriginal workers from Myora on Stradbroke Island and from Barambah (now Cherbourg).’ He describes the huts for the coloured patients as ‘being framed with bush timber, clad with cypress pine slab, roofed with tea-tree bark, and simply provided with an earth floor. The cost of each coloured hut was Pound3/-/- (three pounds) verses Pound55/-/- (fifty-five pounds) for each white patient’s hut’.

The image below shows a group of coloured patients (all South Sea Islanders) posing in front of a typical coloured dwelling. Also with them is the Lazaret’s Assistant Caretaker, Paulus Friedrich Schwarz:

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz with South Sea Islander patients, Peel Island Lazaret c.1908 (photo supplied by Paul Smith/Dr John Schwarz)

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz from Vienna, born of Jewish parents, and came to Australia as a Christian Evangelist, he only spent a few months on Peel but was so appalled by the conditions of the coloured patients that he sent an urgent letter to the Home Secretary in July 1908.

In the letter, Paulus reported serious deficiencies in the provision for the coloured lepers: open drains, huts structurally incapable of being fumigated or properly cleaned, having earthen floors and thatched roofs which let in the rain. Patients having to get up and sit round the fire when it rains at night. Many of the huts were in a bad state of repair. There was no dining room, no hospital, and a day surgery without either hot or cold-water supply. The blankets the coloured lepers received at the beginning or winter, were only half of one double blanket each. No sheets or pillow slips, which he was told were always supplied to them on Friday Island.

In reply to his letter, Paulus was told that his proper channel of communication was through the Medical Superintendent (Dr Rowe in the Benevolent Asylum).

Paulus & Phiebie Schwarz and their 11 Children in 1923

Happily, soon after leaving Peel, he met and married Phiebie. They were married for 62 years and had 11 children.

Peel’s Galvanized Huts

Later, at an undetermined time, the Queensland Government DID replace the coloured patients’ huts with those made of corrugated galvanised iron on wooden frames. Initially they still had dirt floors, but the patients themselves were able to line them with cement laced with shells from the many middens remaining on the island – the refuse heaps from countless Aboriginal feasts remaining from unknown eons.

Recently, while I was guiding a tour group around the Lazaret buildings, I was told by one of the group that the galvanized iron huts used by the ‘coloured’ patients were common among Queensland’s poorer outback pioneers. He told me that railway gangers used them because they were easily dismantled and transported. It would be interesting to follow up with the Ipswich Railway Museum if they have any photos.

Peter Ludlow

16.1.2010

Peel Island Lazaret’s coloured patients’ huts

Prelude to Peel Island’s Lazaret

In Queensland, the first case recording symptoms resembling those of Leprosy was in 1855, a Chinaman, Oun Tsar, at the Brisbane Hospital.  He was to die in 1859 ‑ undiagnosed. At this time, too, the hospital was recording many cases of Islander “Toe Disease”.  Leprosy once again diagnosed incorrectly. 

 For the next 35 years there was a steady increase in the number of reported Leprosy cases, all confined to Chinese and Islander immigrants, and the aborigines who “caught anything”. By 1889, although the public at large still thought Leprosy to be a “foreigner’s disease”, the Government deemed it prudent to segregate some Chinese cases at Cooktown.  The following year, an official Leper Station was established there. 

     The notion of Leprosy as purely a foreigner’s disease was dispelled in 1892 when a Queensland born white by the name of Quigley contracted the disease.  After being kept in forced isolation in a tent for six months at the Brisbane Hospital, the Government sought to legalize such segregation by passing the Queensland Leprosy Act of 1892. This Act formalized the detention and segregation of all those suffering from Leprosy in special areas known as lazarets or Leprosariums.  Coloured patients were sent to Friday Island in the Thursday Island Group.  White patients went to Dunwich on Stradbroke Island. 

Queensland Lazarets (The coloured patients were transferred from Peel Island to Fantome Island in 1940)

The following article from The Week newspaper of 4 November 1904 reflects the terms and thinking of that era:

Lepers Going to Friday Island

General Clearing Up

Recently the Home Department felt that owing to the slight increase in leprosy among the kanakas of the State, it was desirable to collect the patients and send them to Friday Island, where the lazarette for coloured races has long been established. There were two coloured lepers at Dunwich, two came from Bundaberg on Monday, three from remote parts of the State, and there are three yet to be brought down from the northern coast. So far all those who have arrived in Brisbane have been placed on board the auxiliary schooner Rio Loge, where they will be kept until the remaining patients arrive before being taken to the lazarette on Friday Island. The official number of black lepers are set down as males, 9; females, 1.

The idea is to rid the State of this collection of leprosy in one shipload instead of segregating the patients at different towns. If is likely that the Rio Loge will be ready to sail for Friday Island at an early date.

Doctor Horace Tozer, Superintendent of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, was placed in charge of both Leprosariums.

By 1906 there were 21 inmates at the Dunwich lazaret which was housed in buildings adjacent to the Asylum’s Men’s Quarters to the south.  As had been the practice for some years, the dull lives of the Asylum’s inmates had been brightened by the theatrical performances of the Postmaster, a certain Mr Agnew and his son Noel (“Laddie”).  The lazaret patients were also allowed to attend.  Little heed was paid to the close contact between the Leprosy patients and the old folk until Noel Agnew contracted the disease.  It was then that the Government decided on total segregation of the Hansen’s patients and they were moved to a new lazaret in the north western corner of nearby Peel Island.

The Peel Island lazaret opened in 1907 with the segregation of 17 white patients.  Not only were they segregated from society but also from each other according to sex, race, and form of the disease.  Later in the year, their number was swelled by the transfer of the 40 coloured patients from the Friday Island lazaret after its closure.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest)

People of Peel Island – 3 – Doctor Morgan Gabriel 

Morgan Gabriel’s school education had been completed at Brisbane Grammar, which he left after completing his Junior Certificate. For a time, he had worked in the Taxation Department which he disliked, and then as a Cadet in the Laboratory of the State Health Department. He remained there for some eleven years as a Government Analyst, and it was during this time that he also resumed his schooling and, by studying at night, finally obtained his Senior School Certificate. This was followed by study for a Science Degree, which he obtained as an external student studying over six years. In 1944 he was one of a group of students to be awarded the first State Government Bonded Fellowships to the University of Queensland. Thus, he was finally able to afford a long-held ambition to study for his Degree in Medicine which he finally obtained in 1950. His aim was to specialize in Gynaecology but part of his Fellowship Bond was that he had to repay the years spent in study with an equal time in an area of the Government’s choosing. To Dr Fryberg’s mind, he was the answer to Peel’s problems, and Dr Gabriel was duly appointed the island’s first Resident Medical Superintendent, having full control over the island’s affairs. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel and Matron Marie Ahlberg at Peel Island

Peel Island could not have been further from Dr Gabriel’s plans, especially when he was also planning to marry, and he hated the whole idea, but because of his contract with the Government, he could do little but accept. His first months there were stormy, and he clashed with both staff and patients to enforce both more responsible policies for the running of the settlement. Firstly, he reduced alcohol consumption on the island by limiting its consumption to one bottle of beer per week. Any staff members found drunk on duty would be immediately sent to the Health Department for dismissal. As can be expected his popularity was not high amongst the inhabitants of Peel. 

It says much for Dr Gabriel that he weathered the storm, for his character was of such strength that he would not compromise a principle he believed in. As well as his strength, he was also fortunate in being a caring and kind-hearted man who could sympathize with the patients’ condition. These two qualities were to prove ideal and necessary for the newly created position.

One of the first improvements he made at Peel was that of the meals, and it was one to which the patients responded readily. Many more were to follow, and when it became obvious that the new doctor had their welfare at heart, the patients quickly warmed to him and it wasn’t long before they were to look on him as a true friend and confidant to whom they could turn and discuss their problems. Indeed, for Dr Gabriel’s wedding, the patients all chipped in and bought a present for him and his new wife, soon to be affectionately known by all as “Johnny”.  With Peel’s past reputation, it must have been difficult for her to set up house there, but she settled into her new surroundings and quickly made friends with the patients. When their two children, Bill and Ruth, were born, they, too, lived with their parents in the doctor’s residence to the east of the men’s compound. This fact alone would have done much to dispel the stigma associated with the dangers of Hansen’s Disease and young children.

Doctor’s house at the Lazaret in 1950s (Photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

When Morgan Gabriel first arrived at Peel, he knew little about Hansen’s Disease. But because he was not the sort of man to engage in any activity without a thorough knowledge of his subject, he set about learning as much as possible about the latest developments in Hansen’s Disease and its treatment. This knowledge he also passed on to the many of his patients who were interested in new treatments for their disease, and over the next decade, he would introduce many new drugs at Peel in a constant search for more effective results. 

As well as educating himself and the patients about Hansen’s Disease, Dr Gabriel also missed no opportunity in encouraging medical students to visit Peel and familiarise themselves with the disease and its early symptoms. 

Dr Gabriel was also of the belief that it was necessary to keep his patients’ hands and muscles working and minds occupied. Towards this end he encouraged them to engage in as many activities as possible. Occupational therapy was available in the form of leather, plastic, and cane work, and many patients were put on the payroll in positions that included truck driver, barber, painter, handyman, groundsman, and seamstress. In 1952 a new patients’ dining room was constructed, mainly by the work of the patients themselves. One patient undertook the school Junior Certificate course, and one of the blind patients who retained full sensitivity in the fingertips learnt braille. In September 1956 a naturalisation ceremony was conducted at the hospital when one of the patients became an Australian citizen. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel was Peel’s last resident doctor from 1951 until the Lazaret’s closure in 1959.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’)

Peel Island 2021- an updated talk by Peter Ludlow

Presents a talk by local historian

                                  Peter Ludlow on the

‘The History and Maintenance of Moreton Bay’s Peel Island’.

A former hospital pharmacist, Peter is now a professional researcher, biographer, and author collecting local history in the Moreton Bay area. 

This presentation will highlight Peel Island’s history including pre-European occupation, its use by Europeans as a quarantine station, inebriate home, and lazaret (leprosarium), and, in 2007, the Island’s gazettal as a National Park and Conservation Park and the Lazaret Buildings as a Heritage Site. Peter will also look at Peel’s future when the island will be placed under the full control of the Quandamooka People, under whose guidance a new era of tourism and cultural exchange holds great promise.  

General Public Welcome, booking required for entry

When:     Friday 28th May 2021 at 7.00 pm

Where:   Redland Multi Sports Centre

             Cnr. Bailey & Randall Rd,

             Birkdale QLD 4159

Enjoy the club facilities, food available.

Please click here to register for event, limited to 50 attendees.

For more information phone Steve 423036676 Or email  bayside@wildlife.org.au

A panoramic view of the Peel Island Lazaret c.1955 (photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

The Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) Inc. closes down

On June 30th this year, FOPIA will close down for good. FOPIA was formed in 1998 to assist in maintenance and restoration work of the former lazaret, and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values. As one of the original founding members, I was a bit sad to see this group, once so full of hope for the future of Peel’s restored lazaret, finally call it a day. It had been a long time coming, but its death knell was surely last year’s decision not to rebuild a jetty to access the island. This effectively put a stop to any future development – for better or worse.

However, many fond memories of FOPIA remain:  our work parties often visited the lazaret and stayed overnight; many public lectures on the island’s history; fund raising boat trips; and curating a Peel Island exhibition at the Redland Museum which also visited the Redcliffe museum and was then on permanent display at Fort Lytton.

But to my mind, FOPIA’s most memorable achievement was to host a Peel Island Lazaret families’ day. What a day! After two unsuccessful attempts due to inclement weather, we were third time lucky, with the weather beautiful and the sea calm for a unique gathering on Peel Island at the lazaret. Family of patients and staff of the lazaret, along with FOPI members, QPWS staff and others travelled to Peel Island on Sunday 26 September 2008 to commemorate the Centenary of the lazaret, and of National Parks in Queensland. For some it was their first time to the island, for others it was the first time in many years, but for everyone it turned out to be a very special day. Connections were made or renewed, and with stories of the place and the impact of its history shared. 

The gathering of Peel’s families at the lazaret

In the words of Welcome to Country from Aboriginal elder, Auntie Margaret, ‘it was  ..a day of getting together with beloved families and friends of patients. Friends and families of the staff, and most all the Aboriginal families of our Aboriginal workers who worked here all those many years ago… Today is for all to come together, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. To reflect with kindness, unity, and most of all trust because deep down, trust is a gift of learning, everything that life brings.’

Related to HD – A Post Script by Evelyn Hogan’s daughter, Noela Carver, in 2010

            I became involved with the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island because my mother, Evelyn Hogan, was on that committee. We used to have the meetings at our place, which was at Morris Street, Paddington. I was born in 1938 and I had to be 15 before I was allowed to visit Peel Island, or have any involvement with the committee, so it was from about 1953 that I became involved.

            I went down to Peel with mum with the concert parties, mostly at Christmas time. I played the piano, so I was their accompanist. Pam Hinton played the violin while I played the piano, but there were many others who played instruments in the band. I particularly remember the piano accordion. Pam was the daughter of Ernie Hinton who at that time was the president of the Relatives and Friends Committee. Ernie was a wardsman at Greenslopes Hospital, and that is where he saw the first HD patient and recognized the disease, and that’s when we first formed the committee. 

Rec. Hall piano, Peel Island Lazaret

            I also went down to Peel with my mum as a visitor, but it was not often because it was hard to get a pass in those days. I didn’t really know about the stigma of the disease then, so I was not at all apprehensive about visiting the island. In those days we used to disembark at the old stone jetty near the Platypus ‘wreck’. At one stage it was too blowy to land, so we were forced to anchor behind the ‘wreck’ and then they took us ashore in a little rowboat to the jetty because they couldn’t get the larger vessel across. We had to trans ship all the musical instruments in the small boat, much to everyone’s distress, for fear that they would end up in the water.

            We used to catch the boat from Cleveland then. It was owned by a Mr Fitzjohn, whom we used to nickname ‘Fitzy”. The boat was probably the Flirt, which would have been hired specially for the trip.

            After arriving at the jetty, we were taken up to the Lazaret on the other end of Peel Island by their truck (the patients called it their bus). It had two forms along each side of the tray, which was covered with a tarpaulin. It was a windy ride – ‘air conditioned’ the patients called it – a bit of an eye opened the first time I went there, but afterwards it never bothered me. At the Lazaret we gave the concert in the recreation hall.

            As well as taking all our musical instruments down to the island, we also had all our ‘Christmas cheer’ for the party and wrapped presents for everybody – so many were prepared for the males and so many for the females. Then we’d go over to the hospital and see the patients there.

In the Family

            I had two family members who had HD1. One was my grandfather, who I shall refer to as ‘John’ 2 and the other was my mother’s brother – my uncle – who you referred to in your book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison” as ‘Jim’ 2

(Editor: Doctor Eric Reye’s notes have the following details of John: 

            Admitted 13.3.1924 aged 40. 

            He escaped from the island on 28.12.1929

            Readmitted 8.1.1930

            Paroled when his disease went into remission on 11.10.1930

            Readmitted to Peel on 7.9.1931

            Died there on 25.7.1935)

            His readmission to Peel in 1931 is interesting because he was ‘cured’ in 1930, but his wife had found another partner since his first admission (being admitted to Peel was usually a life sentence then). John did live for a time in their home at Wynnum in a room under the house, but things didn’t work out and he asked to be readmitted to Peel because this was the only other home that he knew. My mum used to go down to see John (her father) quite regularly with the pass, but that was before I was born.

            He stayed there until his death in1935. He is buried on the island. He used to play the button accordion, but when he died, we weren’t allowed any of his possessions because they were thought to be contaminated with HD. This upset mum a bit at the time. So, when I hear about the musical instruments on Peel, I often wonder what became of John’s accordion.

            My uncle ‘Jim’ was 17 when he was admitted to the Lazaret. There was an older patient there, ‘Ned’ in your book, who took Jim under his wing, and there is a photo of the two of them standing beside the patients’ truck. We had a lot of other photos of Jim but when he passed away at his home in Bald Hills mum got rid of them because she didn’t want everybody to know about him. A lot did not know what had really happened to him. Jim had greyhounds down on the island, which he trained, and on a couple of occasions we brought them up to race at Woolloongabba. In a way, Jim was lucky because they had discovered the cure for HD by then and he was discharged from the island before it was closed down in 1959, and the remaining patients transferred to the PA Hospital.

Emmett Kelly and ‘Jim’ with patients’ truck, Peel Island

            After Jim left Peel he lived up at Bardon with his mother, who looked after him and some friends until he bought the little farm at Bald Hills, where he remained until the end. While he was there, he bought into a horse called Skidge, which we used to race. Although his hands remained disfigured by the HD it was marvellous what he could do with them. As far as the neighbours were concerned, he had it put out that his disfigurement was due to old war injuries. I don’t know whether they ever really knew. Actually even a few of our cousins never suspected, and even to this day they still don’t know. Of course, in those days, none of them knew about HD and none of them would have been any the wiser if they had.

Other Patients

            I got to know quite a lot of the other patients. We used to bring them off and take them ‘unofficially’ to our home at Paddington. We had a piano there and many a time we had a sing-along around it. There was a patient, Bill K. who had only one arm, but could he play the piano! He’d play the bass and I’d play the treble, and then we’d swap around. We had great fun.

            We also used to take them to the RNA Show (‘Exhibition’ or ‘Ekka’), and to the dogs. The patients used to come across from Peel in one of their boats to Cleveland, where we’d pick them up in our car. Sometimes we’d take them to the Grand View Hotel there for a drink on the way. It didn’t happen often but it did enable them to keep in touch.

            In later days, Frank Bennett, an ex-patient, boarded with my sister and I. We had the house next door to my mum’s and we had extra rooms so he and another ex-patient stayed with us until they died. They were the good old days, but sad. I think we helped make life a lot better for them.

            There were a few blind patients there, and we became very friendly with one called Donohue who lived in the second row about three doors along from ‘Jim’. His wife was on our Friends and Relatives Committee, and she was a fighter who fought a lot on the patients’ behalf.

            I joined the committee once when there were not enough members to make up a quorum and that was it, I was on it for the rest of its life. Mum had a lot of paperwork under her house at Nudgee, but when Peel closed, we disposed of it.

NOTES:

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)