Tuesday, 18 September 2018


Note: approximate position

Ever wanted to circumnavigate Australia? We still have a way to go...we'll be going on quite a journey, at least virtually, and clockwise. So as to make sure all states and territories are covered, we started in Western Australia and explored a little of the early history of a small part of this massive state via TROVE...from Rottnest Island to Broome..then across to Katherine Gorge, then Tennant Creek, from there to Darwin on the way to the Tiwi Islands, Bathurst and Melville.

We've had to travel back to Darwin, before leaving the Northern Territory, then across to Cairns, in North Queensland... but we didn't stop there, instead headed to the tropical north, to one of the most beautiful areas you can imagine... isolated yes, but perfect for that great getaway... to Cape Tribulation. It seems you loved that area so well, that Cairns was the obvious place to travel to next... not too far south. That was another very popular place...as was our visit to Fraser Island...

We then headed inland, on an approximately 6 hours flight to a place steeped in history.. what a contrast to the sub tropical island of Fraser ...no waterfalls or clear lakes or rainforest, but Longreach has so much to offer.

We then returned to Hervey Bay, by plane, and then took a short drive of approximately 25 minutes to a town founded in 1847... the charming historical town of Maryborough.

What a contrast this next place is, though it is also very much steeped in history... a beautiful place, but it was a place of horror, of deprivation and loneliness... St. Helena Island. To get there, we will go to Manly, just over three hours drive from Maryborough and then a ferry ride across to the island. It is just 5km from the mouth of the Brisbane River and approx. 8km northeast from Manly.

St. Helena Island is now heritage listed and is a national park. Only a few of the original buildings remain, the ruins still standing as if in defiance of nature. According to some, the island was named after the other St. Helena, of Napoleon fame, however others say it was only changed from the aboriginal name of Noogoon after an aboriginal called Napoleon was exiled there in 1826.

 It is close enough to the mainland to be seen from some of the bay suburbs. In the 19th century, it was a quarantine station, but then became a prison in 1867.. for the next 65 years.

The Age Melbourne 10 Oct 1912

Wikipedia, "https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.phptitle=St_Helena_Island_National_Park&oldid=843503739"
gives the following...

"In the early 1860s, as Brisbane's gaol at Petrie Terrace became more and more crowded, about 30 prisoners were transferred to an old hulk, called the Proserpine, anchored near the mouth of the Brisbane River. In 1866, as part of their labours, the prisoners were taken each morning across the waters of Moreton Bay by whaleboat to St Helena Island. Here they were put to work sinking wells, clearing scrub, quarrying stone and building accommodation for a new quarantine station.[3] They were brought back to the hulk each night.
Government plans for the quarantine station were scrapped later that year — because the conditions at Petrie Terrace gaol had become so unbearable, the prisoners from the Prosperpine were set to work building a gaol instead. On 14 May 1867, the Governor of Queensland signed a proclamation declaring the island 'a place whereat offenders under order or sentence of hard labour or penal servitude may be detained'. In the years that followed, St Helena was to become Queensland's showpiece prison.
The toughest years on St Helena were undoubtedly the early ones, and the ruins on the island testify to the hard work that the prisoners had to do. These, too, were the years of severe punishment — the lash, the dreaded dark underground cells, the gag, and energy-sapping shot drill. These were the years that gained St Helena its fearful reputation as 'the hell hole of the Pacific' and 'Queensland's Inferno'. But in these days tough measures were used, because St Helena housed some of the country's worst criminals. In 1891, for example, there were 17 murderers, 27 men convicted of manslaughter, 26 men convicted of stabbings and shootings, and countless individuals responsible for assaults, rapes and similar violent crimes.

By the turn of the century, the St Helena establishment had grown to accommodate over 300 prisoners in a maze of buildings surrounded by a high stockade wall. It operated as a self-sufficient settlement, and even exported some of its produce to the mainland, including bricks for many of Brisbane's buildings, clothes to be sold in Brisbane, and white rope for ships, which was made from imported Sisal Hemp plants. In the island workshops the prisoners were taught such trades as carpentry, boot making, tailoring, tinsmith, saddle making, bread baking and butchery.[3] The island boasted a prize dairy herd which won many awards at the Brisbane Exhibitions. The island was extensively farmed,
Plans for the prison, 1868

particularly in the later years as a prison.[3] Maize, potatoes, lucerne and other vegetables thrived in the rich volcanic soil and the sugar mill crushed over 75 tons of locally grown sugar annually by 1880. In many ways, St Helena was regarded as a model prison for the times, and held in high regard by visiting interstate and overseas penologists.
By the 1920s, the prison had begun to show its age. In its latter years, after the majority of prisoners and the workshops had been removed to the Boggo Road Gaol on the mainland,[3] the island became a prison farm for trusties, with a few dozen resident inmates tenaciously dismantling the ageing edifice. Many prison buildings remain. The last prisoner left the island on 15 February 1933. The last prison superintendent was Mr Patrick Roche."

1. Warders' buildings on St. Helena Island, 1928

2. One of the warder's cottages on St. Helena Island, 1939

3. Prisoners in the saddlers' shop on St Helena Island, 1911

4.Prisoners making uniforms in the tailors' workshop on St Helena Island, 1916. 

5. Horsedrawn tram with officials on
St Helena Island, Queensland, ca. 1928       

       6. Gun at St. Helena Island

Daily Herald 31 Mar 1914

Prisoners working on flax at the old sugar mill site on St. Helena Island, 1912

   Cell block on St. Helena Island, 1939

Old Gaol on St. Helena Island          

  Horsedrawn tram on St. Helena Island, 1928

All photos above are out of copyright, sourced via TROVE as are the similar photos below...
Most are available via the John Oxley Library, State Library Queensland

An extract from
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), Saturday 15 September 1883, page 26  National Library of Australia  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71003785
talks about the plans and then the results 
Please click to enlarge..

Escape attempts happened regularly

The Mercury Hobart 22 Dec 1924

North West Champion Moree 17 Mar 1930

Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938), Wednesday 30 September 1936, page 6
National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160636407

In later years, even the Australian Women's Weekly featured an article on St. Helena Island..
Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), Wednesday 17 January 1979, page 22
National Library of Australia    http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article585886
Please click to enlarge.. read across the page..

Interior of the St Helena Prison 

Prisoner eating benches on St. Helena, ca. 1928

How St. Helena Island looks now..

                                                                                View of the Butchery and Bakery areas at St Helena, Queensland, Australia

 merlin9911 - My original work          CC0
File:St Helena Island - Butcher Baker.jpg
Created: 8 May 2010

St Helena Island Penal Establishment ruins, 2015.
Image courtesy of Georgia Grier, Museum Assistant.

Prisoners who were released from St Helena Island prison 17 November 1893.Mug Shots - Prisoners Barcaldine Shearers' Strike 1891. All released from St Helena Prison 17.11.1893. Julian Alexander S. Stuart; Patrick J. Griffin; Charles H. Smith-Barry; Edward H. Murphy; Alexander Forrester; Hugh O. Blackwell.

The Queensland State Archives has the following data set...

St Helena prisoners 1863 to 1936

This index records the names of all prisoners who were held at St Helena Penal Establishment between 1863 and 1936. Read more about these St Helena records.
St. Helena Prisoner Index

Do you have any connections with St. Helena? Maybe a missing ancestor can be found in the records..

There are tours of St. Helena available, both night and day and you can learn more about the history there. As mentioned previously the island is now a heritage listed national park.

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