Peel Island History

Pre-colonial history

Teerk Roo Ra means “place of many shells”.  The island was well used by the Aboriginal groups of Moreton Bay for its rich land and sea resources.  Records indicate Aboriginal groups from surrounding areas used Peel Island as a feasting and ceremonial site.  Midden sites and a bora ring are a testament to this.

The island did not attract great interest from the first Europeans to arrive in Moreton Bay.  Its usefulness as a place for detention and isolation was recognised later and it became the site of several government institutions.

[refer Department of Environment & Science - Environmental Protection Act 1994]

Quarantine Station (1874 - 1890s)

The Colonial governments in Australia were keen to keep contagious diseases out of the country.  A location was needed near the mouth of the Brisbane River in which to detain ships passengers and crew who were potentially infected.

In 1874 facilities were provided on the island to house those who had been detained, though conditions were primitive with complaints of sick people having only a tent to protect themselves from the elements.  In summer several ships could be in quarantine at any one time, stretching facilities beyond their limits.

By the 1890s a sharp decline in immigration and a general improvement in public health saw the facility close.

Cricket at Quarantine Station 1885
Wilson sister's grave, Quarantine Station
Peel Island, early days
Peel Island map, pre 1912

Decisions made for the public good were not always popular!

Cricket QuarantineShips, passengers and crew were put into quarantine by health and government officials. They believed this would minimise the risk of contagious often fatal diseases like whooping cough, typhoid, cholera, small pox and scarlet fever being spread to the new colony.

A long journey could be made even longer for mostly migrants and workers from Asia and Pacific Islands.  Summer was a busy time with ships able to come down along the northern routes.  In colder months ships from Europe came to Brisbane via Sydney which meant little or no need for quarantine facilities on Peel Island .

This may explain why there were so many complaints to the Colonial Secretary about the appalling conditions on Peel Island for quarantined passengers.  Claims were also made that the draughty tents and lack of facilities contributed to a few deaths on the island.

Ships quarantined

List of ships known to be quarantined off Peel Island, the diseases which caused them to be quarantined, the number of passengers who died and their names, if known.  This is not yet an exhaustive list

List of ships, ports of origin, and details of disease. pdf download

Detailed information on some ships quarantined:

List of ships, ports of origin, and details of disease pdf download

Lazaret (1907 - 1959)

Gazetted in 1906, the north-west corner of Peel Island was established as a place to send people from across Queensland who had been found to have Hansen's Disease (Leprosy).  Usually forcibly removed from their homes, the Lazaret on Peel Island held people in conditions which were often less than satisfactory.

Jetty on north side of Peel Island
White Male huts before refurbishment
Lazaret looking north
Lazaret administration buildings
Men's huts - early times
Men's huts c 1950's
Circa 1913 - Peel Island Lazaret caretaker's quarters
Pineapple & Wallaby carvings


Traditionally Lazarets have been places in which those with a contagious disease are held and providd with treatment until such time as they recover or succumb to their illness.

Hansen's disease (leprosy)

Caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, this illness is named after the Norwegian Gerhard Hansen who identified it in 1873.

Although many remedies were tried, no effective cure was available until the 1930s when sulphone drugs were developed in the United States.  These were made available to patients on Peel Island in 1947 leading to the closure of the Lazaret in 1959.

Isolation & Incarceration

Why quarantine people with leprosy when there were far more contagious and potentially fatal diseases, such as tuberculosis, around which infected and killed thousands of people during the 19 th century.

Regardless, the Government, under the Leprosy Act 1892, decided to lock people infected with Leprosy away from the rest of the community, denying them physical contact with their family or community.  The resulting psychological suffering may have seemed far worse to many of the lazaret's patients than the disease itself.

A site plan (1) of Lazaret shows the location of the buildings which were still in existence in the 1990s.

  • Blake, Thom (1993)  The leper shall dwell alone (Peel Island Lazaret Conservation Plan), report prepared for Dept Environment and Heritage by  Robert Riddel Architect.
  • Friends of Peel Island (2009) "Going to the Gums...the Lazaret on Peel Island"
  • Ludlow, Peter (2000) Moreton Bay People: the complete collection. Available from author (link appears to be currently broken)
  • Ludlow, Peter (2000) Peel Island - paradise or prison? Available from author (link appears to be currently broken)


  • Government looks for development opportunities or selling off land
  • 1968 Church of England Grammar school use
  • 1989 Redland Shire Council managed Peel Island
  • 1992 Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service given responsibility for managing the island.

Heritage listing

In recognition of its cultural values, Peel Island was listed in 1992 on the Queensland Heritage Register and in 1993 on the Register of the National Estate.