Early December is a time for Christmas parties. This year we had our company party different than before because we sailed to Peel Island. It is like a paradise island just off Cleveland foreshore. While others were enjoying beach cricket I went for a short walk hoping to find some signs of the past. Yes, this island is not only beautiful but also has a long history. My walk didn’t last long, firstly I didn’t want to miss the party, secondly the further I went the more I was thinking about snakes and spiders. Eventually, I found the remnants of the quarantine station.

Peel Island History
Peel Island from the boat [photo by everywherehistory.com]

Peel Island is located in Moreton Bay approximately 4km east of Cleveland and is approximately 590 hectares in area, predominantly surrounded by mangrove swamps, except for a sandy beach on the southern side – that’s where we stayed. [1] In 1824 John Oxley named the island Peel’s Island, after Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) British statesman. [2]

Peel Island History
The remnants of the quarantine station on Peel Island [photo by everywherehistory.com]

The name Teerk Roo Ra (pronounced took-a-ra) means ‘place of many shells’. [3] The Island was part of the Quandamooka People’s native title claim over large tracts of Moreton Bay and nearby Stradbroke Island, under federal legislation that came into effect in 1993, and this claim was determined in 2011 recognising of native title rights that includes Turkrooar (Peel Island). [1] Teerk Roo Ra National Park provides limited bush camping areas along Horseshoe Bay and Platypus Bay. [3]

Peel Island History
Australian South Sea Islanders at the quarantine station on Peel Island, Queensland, ca. 1885 [John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Negative number: 158137]

Several of the Moreton Bay islands were home to government facilities including St Helena Island which was utilised as high-security colonial prison (1867-1932), [4] Stradbroke Island utilised first as a Quarantine Station at Dunwich (1850-64) and then converted to a Benevolent Asylum (1866-1946); [5] Dunwich was also the site of the Myora Mission for Aboriginal people (1892-1940); and Peel Island was the site for a Quarantine Station (1874-90s), an Inebriates Home (1910-16) and finally a Lazaret (1907-59). [1]

Quarantine station (1874 to the 1890s)

In the late 1800s the island was recognised as a good site to detain and isolate people from the general population.

Peel Island History
1873 'OFFICIAL NOTIFICATIONS.', The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), 11 January, p. 3. , viewed 28 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169488861

In 1873 Peel Island was proclaimed a reserve for quarantine purposes. The following year a quarantine station was built on the island’s south-east corner. Through the 1870s and 1880s, the station received a constant stream of immigrant ships, many carrying sick and diseased passengers. By the 1890s a sharp decline in immigration and a general improvement in public health saw the facility close.

Lazaret (1907–1959)

From 1907 to 1959, the island functioned as a lazaret, where sufferers of Hansen’s disease (or leprosy) were separated from society and isolated under the Leprosy Act 1892.[6] Patients usually forcibly removed from their homes, the Lazaret on Peel Island held people in conditions which were often less than satisfactory. [3] Non-European patients from Friday Island Lazaret and European patients from Stradbroke Island Lazaret were moved to Peel Island when it was established in 1907. [7]

Patients were housed in separate huts or compounds according to race, sex and severity of illness. The white inmates would have one portion of the grounds, and the coloured another. The women would have an area apart from the others, and a night watchman would be appointed. [8] The non-European compound consisted of both male and female patients whose origin was not predominantly European. This included patients of Melanesian, Chinese, Aboriginal, Pacific Islander and Indian descent.

Peel Island History
Peel Island lazarette huts, 1907 [John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Negative number: 36681]

Facilities for European patients consisted of a one-roomed weatherboard. Each hut was furnished with a bed, chest of drawers, table and chair. The treatment and accommodation for European patients was significantly better than for non-European patients, whose huts were of rudimentary construction, framed with bush timber, clad with cypress pine slabs and initially with tea-tree bark roofs, and earth floors. White women also had a wood stove and kitchen in their huts and were encouraged to cook for themselves. [9]

Peel Island History
Newly built huts for the indigenous patients at the lazaret on Peel Island, 1907 [John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Negative number: 36684]

The lazaret opened with 70 patients and reached a peak of 84 soon afterwards.  In total there were 572 admissions (including readmissions).  For many patients, being sent to Peel Island was a life sentence with 250 deaths over the 52 years of the Lazaret’s operation. [10] For other patients, the disease did go into remission, and after a series of negative tests were discharged. [11]

Here you can read a story of probably the last living inmate of Peel Island Lazaret – Joyce Burgess who spent there 10 months in 1928 accompanying her mother.[12] And here is a story of her brother who wasn’t that lucky and stayed at the Peel Island Lazaret until closing in 1959.[13] In 1959, with less than a dozen patients and effective drug treatment well established for leprosy, the lazaret became redundant and closed its doors. The remaining patients were moved to Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Further reading:

1. Juckes E, Greenop K, Jarzab Z. Isolation and Segregation: An Intercultural Analysis of the Peel Island Lazaret. Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open 2013;2:529–42. [Source]
2. Queensland place names search | Queensland Government. Queensland place names. [Source]
3. Teerk Roo Ra National Park – Nature, culture and history (Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing). Department of National Parks. [Source]
4. History. St Helena Island. [Source]
5. Stradbroke Island has a very rich history. Stradbroke Island. [Source]
6. 50th anniversary of the closing of the Peel Island lazaret. John Oxley Library. [Source]
7. Peel Island Lazaret. Find & Connect – Queensland. [Source]
8. PEEL ISLAND LAZARETTE. The Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214930792. Published July 18, 1907. Accessed December 27, 2017.
9. The lazaret at Peel Island, Moreton Bay. Secret Brisbane. [Source]
10. Prangnell JM. “Intended solely for their greater comfort and happiness”: Historical archaeology, paternalism and the Peel Island Lazaret. 1999.
11. Peel Island [601091]. Queensland Heritage Register. [Source]
12. The Last Living Inmate of Peel Island Lazaret. Moreton Bay History. [Source]
13. Emmett Kelly. Moreton Bay History. [Source]

Written by Maciek

Hi, I am passionate about history. I love discovering new places and learning their story. Wherever I go I find myself curious about stories behind buildings and places I see. At Everywhere History I’m sharing fascinating stories hidden behind buildings and places you’re passing by everyday.