Tuesday 21 June 2022

Henry goes to ... St Helena's Island

A few weeks ago, Henry went on his first school excursion with L, and all of the year four students from his school - as well as their teachers, a few other teacher helpers and a few parent helpers - to St Helena's Island.

L has been home unwell since and wanted to do a recount of the excursion for his teacher, so we thought we would share his recount here!


On Tuesday I went to St Helena’s Island with the year 4’s from my school. We went on a bus and a ferry to the island.

St Helena’s Island used to be a prison but before it was a prison it was meant to be a quarantine station for sick people. They couldn’t use it for a quarantine station because there wasn’t any easy way to get sick people onto the island – there was just a jetty and the causeway.

The Aboriginal people, the Nooghies, are the traditional people who looked after the island. Captain Flinders originally found the island and named it Green Island number 2 – Prisoner 321 said that Captain Flinders didn’t have a good imagination.

Its name changed to St Helena's island because an Aboriginal man who they called Napoleon got into trouble and was sent to the island. There is a famous man called Napoleon who was in prison on another island called St Helena's island, so they used to say “Napoleon’s gone to St Helena's,” then they changed the name from Green Island number 2 to St Helena's Island. Napoleon the Aboriginal man only lasted on St Helena's for three days before he escaped. Prisoner 321 said "never send an Aboriginal man to an island with an axe."

Prisoners built the quarantine station and then when they finished building, it became the prison. They were told “congratulations you have built your new home.” Only men prisoners were in the prison.

Everything that the prisoners used to build the prison and that they used on the island, came from the island or was made on the island. The buildings were made of beachrock, sandstone, metal bars and wood.


The prison opened in 1867 and closed in 1935. When the prison closed the prisoners carefully took the doors off so the doors could be used in other prisons.

The punishment on the island was the nine tails whip and cannon balls that the prisoners had to carry.

There were two grave yards – one for the prisoners and one for the children that died on the island. The children were from the guards families. The prisoners had their numbers on their crosses – the numbers were their prisoner numbers that they arrived on the island with. When on the island in prison the prisoners were known by their numbers.

The prisoners were all given a metal comb when they got to the island but they couldn’t use the comb because they didn’t have hair. Their heads were shaved and they weren’t allowed to have hair until they were in prison for 1 year or until they were trusted prisoners.

We met prisoner 321, 31 and 47 and the Warden.

Now it's back to me!

St Helena's Island played a major part in Queensland's history that I wasn't even aware of. The island was home to a colonial prison for high security prisoners from 1867 until 1935. The prison was originally intended as a quarantine station but due to the poor access onto and off of the island, and the overcrowding of the then Brisbane gaols, the island was converted to a prison. Prison labour was used for all of the activities on the island from the construction of the buildings and roadways to the growing, processing and cooking of the food, to the manufacturing of everything needed by the prison. Everything that was used to build the prison, was made on the island from the island resources.

The prison itself was closed in 1935 due to a number of factors - administrative issues, prison reform, the lonely isolation of the wardens and their families. At the time the historical significance of the island hadn't been recognised and as such, parts of the prison structures were dismantled and re-usable items were removed from the prison and island to be used in other prisons on the mainland.

St Helena's Island is now classed as a national park and is located in Moreton Bay approximately 5km from the mouth of the Brisbane River. Today approximately only 7% of the original structures remain - these are mostly the structures that were built from beachrock or brick. The restoration costs of the remaining structures are prohibitive, so the preservation of the remaining structures is the aim.

There are some newer buildings on the island that are used during the educational tours of the island. The Museum located in newer buildings is fascinating.

The prisoners and the warden are a part of the St Helena's Theatre Troupe who were established by the Cat o Nine Tails Cruises - they specialise in a range of tours of St Helena's Island National Park. The theatre troupe are a multi skilled band of actors, singers and minstrels who have been comprehensively trained in the islands history - they present a first person interpretation of the islands history through drama. L's loved all of the interactions with the prisoners and warden but thought that prisoner 321 was the funniest and prisoner 47 was the nicest!

Coincidentally, O visited the island in year 4 with school and prisoner 321, 31 and the warden were present during O's tour!! Daddy Superhero also visited the island back when he was in primary school. And Henry was the first Assistance Dog that has been onto the island and he made a fabulous first impression on the prisoners and the warden!

Being a national park, domestic animals are prohibited from being on the island - the exception is for assistance dogs!

L was fascinated by the fact that anything that was taken onto the island during his excursion, had to be taken off - so all rubbish had to be taken off of the island, as did any of Henry's poop! Thankfully Henry did his business prior to boarding the ferry to go the island and then held on until we arrived home!

It was wonderful for L to have Henry on the excursion. At one point mid morning, L had had enough - there was lots of walking up and down hills involved and L just wanted to go home. He and Henry lay in the grass and had cuddles and deep pressure laps, until L was ready to keep walking.

Oh and Henry loved rolling in the long grass and found all the wallaby treats on the walk around the island!

If you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend a tour of St Helena's Island.

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