3 graves that can’t be found

Last week’s post ‘Robinson Crusoe on a Quarantine Island’ piqued a lot of interest. Perhaps people who know Moreton Bay can’t quite fathom how tiny Bird Island could possibly support 300 people, let alone a graveyard. Perhaps it’s the ‘Dark tourist’ in us that is fascinated by sites of death, particularly those where there is a mystery attached! The greatest mystery was presented to Lauren and I a few weeks ago via a death certificate, and the results have changed our current understanding of St Helena Island’s history forever.

Death certificate of Elizabeth Crompton, with place of death as ‘Island of St Helena, Moreton Bay.’ Image courtesy of Lisa Weightman.

Thanks to Quarantine ships arriving in Moreton Bay in droves with numerous ill and dying passengers on board, random mentions of mystery graves on Moreton Bay’s Islands are not infrequent. Due to the risk of spreading contagion, ships were kept offshore and the dead were buried on bay islands far from populated areas. At this time, Mr. Thornton, Water Police Magistrate, succeeded in organising a water police force, consisting of three men and a coxswain,

‘which force must necessarily be of great service in the protection and preservation of order among the emigrants on the quarantine ground.’

Mud Island, scene of current research into many unknown graves, is situated next to St Helena Island, where the mystery graves located here are only just coming to light.

Amanda Nellie headstone
Warder’s cemetery, St Helena Island. Image courtesy of Amanda Thepanda

We’ve always known there was talk of ‘immigrant graves’ on St Helena Island, but how many, who they belonged to and exactly where they were located we have never been certain. For some reason, two graves have always been the magic number and we surmised they were on the north side of the island at the base of the cliff. So, I’ve been digging deep (pardon the pun) in search of any truth I can find, to see how St Helena’s immigrant burials compares to that of what we are currently finding about Mud Island.

Scarlantina and Typhoid fever wreaked havoc on board the ship ‘Erin Go Bragh, with 54 of the 390 immigrants dying on the voyage out from England. The Erin Go Bragh arrived on the 31st July 1862 and was immediately sent to St Helena, which made it the first ship quarantined on this island. Here it remained for a week, while the Health Officer checked to see if any new cases of fever arose. With a complete lack of any quarantine facilities and an order to proceed to land to be ‘fumigated,’ they had to

“wade to their knees through mud and water” to get to the island, causing them to voice loudly that “they would prefer to stay on board with the typhoid.” 1

St Helena’s extensive mudflats have always limited access to the island’s north side.

The last person to die on the ship, and the only one on arrival in Moreton Bay, was Margaret Killian aged 24 years. Margaret died of ‘debility after childbirth’ on August 3rd 1862.  Her 2 day old baby son, Laurence, had already died on board the ship 3 weeks earlier, off Hobart Town, also of ‘debility’ and her 4 year old son Patrick had died in March 1862, somewhere on the open seas. Laurence Killian Snr buried his wife somewhere on St Helena Island and then left to face his new life in Queensland without any family at all.

Deep in amongst the Colonial Secretary’s letters of 1881, is a request from Mr Surito to Superintendent John McDonald, for permission to access the prison island to visit a gravesite:

8th May 1881

Letter from Mr Surito requesting permission to access the island. His wife wishes to visit the grave of her first husband and bring her son and daughter and Mr Surito with her.

Her first husband was Joseph Ladock Bradshaw who arrived in 1862 on the ship ‘Chatsworth.’ He died on St Helena of Typhus before being allowed to leave the ship for Brisbane.”

It seems that the ‘Chatsworth’ had arrived in Moreton Bay in August 1862 with 390 passengers. The Chatsworth was initially anchored off St Helena Island, where the ‘Erin Go Bragh’ also stood. Tents and provisions were situated on St Helena Island for use by the Chatsworth Immigrants and further provisions were received by boat twice a week.  The Chatsworth was towed on the 24rd August to the new permanent quarantine ground at Dunwich, Stradbroke Island, where it remained until 4th September 1862 after a month in quarantine. 2

QNC 25 1962 Aerial
St Helena Island’s most sheltered harbour for anchorage is at the northern end. Photo courtesy of Qld Newspapers Collection

The sickness on board was measles, which had been confined and only 2 other cases of sickness were on board. There is no mention of Joseph Bradshaw dying of Typhus at St Helena as far as I can see, though it is recorded that he died and I have found one reference to Scarlantina being on board. Yet there is no doubt that his wife can account for his gravesite being on St Helena, though its location is now unknown.

And there’s another grave on St Helena Island that only surfaced 3 weeks ago. And it made no sense at all.

James and Elizabeth Crompton emigrated with their large family from Lanchashire, England in 1863 aboard the ship ‘Hannah More.’ Arriving in Moreton Bay on the 9th February, the ship was quarantined in Moreton Bay due to 38 deaths on the voyage, from Scarlantina, Typhus, diarrhoea and covulsions. Their own daughter, Elizabeth, aged 1, died on the voyage from diarrhoea.

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So it when the death certificate emerged for Elizabeth Crompton stating the place of burial as St Helena Island,  there was an automatic presumption that she too had died in quarantine at St Helena Island. Except the “Hannah More’ was quarantined at Stradbroke Island. And the year of death was 1865. (3) This left the question: What was Elizabeth doing on St Helena Island nearly two years after she arrived in Queensland? What led up to her death? Where was her family?

Some things may never be resolved. Chances are the location of any of these graves will remain unknown as little has emerged to give us any clear evidence. There may also be more than 3 unknown graves on the island.

42 Benn 04 Cemetary prisoner tumbstone fence
Prisoner’s cemetery, prior to being proclaimed a National Park . Photo Benn Collection.

We’d love to hear from you if you know anything more about St Helena’s lesser known burials. And come back next week as we uncover the surprising story of the Crompton family and how they changed our understanding of St Helena’s multi layered past.


    1. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Wednesday 27 August 1862,
    2. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Saturday 23 August 1862, page 2
    3. Death Certificate supplied by Lisa Weightman
   4. Featured photo of Prisoner’s cemetery courtesy Zac Smith

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