5 graves that can’t be found

It’s lucky that there are two researchers in our team, because when one brain forgets, the other one takes over. After reading yesterday’s post, 3 graves that can’t be found, Lauren reminded me of a story that she knew of via another writer of Brisbane’s history. Historian Liam Baker has written a story of his ancestors “The Downfall Creek tragedy: a Brisbane murder lost to history” and in it are details of two more burials that have occurred on St Helena Island. His story reads:

In April of 1885, 43 year old Michael Goodwin applied to the Licensing Board for a Publican’s Licence which would allow him to sell “fermented and spirituous liquors.”  Having immigrated to Australia at the age of nine from the port town of Foynes in the mid-west of Ireland, Michael’s arrival in Australia had been rough – having boarded the Maria Soames at Gravesend in England on the 18th of February 1852, with his father, pregnant mother & nine siblings, Michael’s life would change in ways he could never imagine.  After having been at sea for nearly 120 days, the Maria Soames anchored off Moreton Island…& Michael’s mother Johanna went into labour.  Despite the best efforts of the ship’s surgeon, both Johanna & her baby died onboard, a tragic but all to common occurrence in the early days of immigration to Australia.  Before the ship made port in Brisbane, Johanna & her infant child were laid to rest on the shores of St Helena Island – then nothing more than an island, pre-dating the St Helena Penal Settlement by fifteen years.  The sad event is documented in Henry Berkeley Jones’ book, Adventures in Australia in 1852 and 1853 – “There we interred a poor emigrant and her infant child, who died just as she had completed her voyage, leaving her husband the guardian of ten surviving children – a heavy charge and drawback to this poor man, who was a peaceable, well-conducted Irishman.” 

05a St Helena painting July 20th 1853
St Helena Moreton Moreton Bay, 20th July 1853, watercolour by Montague of Beaulieu, Henry John Douglas-Scott-Montagu. Image from National Library of Australia.

The above image is painted in 1853 by Henry Ballieliu and shows the island as it would have looked when Johanna and her child were buried. This is at a time when the island would have still been accessed by the local indigenous people and the occasional fishermen, and would have been as isolated and wild as any family newly arrived from England could possibly imagine. It’s hard to imagine how the family was able to continue on into a new life in Brisbane, but like so many others, they did.

And so we have yet more immigrant burials on the shores of St Helena and we are now up to 5 graves that we cannot locate. We’ve also had contact from Jim with new details of Elizabeth Crompton’s grave on the island, which his extended family have a connection to. Thanks Jim, for being a part of the St Helena Community and we’re looking forward to the conversations this week!

Amanda Prisoner headstone
Prisoner headstone, St Helena island. Image by Amanda Thepanda

We have a suspicion that new information on mystery graves is still out there and we’d love you to let us know. Being over 150 years after the event, it’s hard sometimes to find information that is lost over time. It’s also interesting how time changes the stories that are told – a ‘Chinese Whispers’ over many decades – and we need to hear your stories to separate fact from fiction! We look forward to the conversations.


Feature Image: Prisoner’s cemetery, Benn Collection



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