Happy 151st Anniversary H.M.P.E. St Helena!

The prisoners on board the hulk ‘Proserpine’ thought they were building a Quarantine Station in 1866. Little did they realise that they we constructing the very walls that would be required to keep them safely incarcerated far from the general public of Brisbane.

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Plans for the Quarantine Station, St Helena Island.

At this time, the Queensland Government was looking for a place to place prisoners from the overcrowded Brisbane Gaol. Placing the new prison on an island reinforced the fundamental idea that effective punishment was best served by segregation from free society. In contrast to British ideas on penal management, there was also an emphasis on the prisoners being utilised for productive work that would assist in lessening the financial burden on the state.

Whilst much of the conversion of Quarantine buildings to prison occurred in 1866, the official proclamation of the St Helena Penal Establishment, by Queensland’s first Governor, George Ferguson Bowen, occurred on the 14th May 1867.

Below is a transcript of the offical Proclamation, which I have transcribed with the lack of full stops and an overabundance of commas, as it is written! With this Proclamation, a prison was born.


By His Excellency Sir George Ferguson Bowen Knight Grand Cross Of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michaels and St George Captain General and Governor – in – Chief of the Colony of Queensland and its Dependencies and Vice Admiral of the same.

Whereas by an Act passed by the Legislature of Queenslandon the 29th year of the reign of HerMajesty Queen Victoria and, entitled ‘An Act for further improving the administration of Criminal Justice,’ it is, amongst other things enacted, that it shall be lawful for the Governor, with the adviceof the Executive Council, by any notice to be published by his order in the Government Gazette, to appoint any one or more place or places, within the Colony or its Dependencies, or, in any river, port, or harbour thereof, at which offenders convicted therein, and under order or sanction of penal servitude, or of hard labour on the roads or other public works of the Colony, or under any order or sentene passed, in pursuance of the provision of the said act, be detained, and every such offender shall be liable to be kept to hard labour, at such place or places, during such period of the sentence or term of punishment, as the said Governor with the advice aforesaid, shall order and direct and whereas it is deemed advisable to appoint the Island of St Helena in Moreton Bay, to be a place where such sentences as aforesaid may be carried out now, therefore I the Governor aforesaid, in pursuance of the power so invested in me, and with the advice of the Executive Council, do hereby notify and proclaim, that the said Island of St Helena, In Moreton Bay, within the Colony of Queensland, shall be, and is, from the date of this Proclamation, a place whereat offenders under order of sentence of hard labour, or penal servitude, may be detained as by the said Act directed, and I do further notify and proclaim that, as directed by the said recited Act, it shall not, from the date of the Proclamation, be permitted to anyone, unless specifically authorised, to approach or land upon the said island, or in any way hold communication, with anyone resident thereon, and that anyone who shall attempt so to approach, or land, or hold communication, will be liable to the ains and penalties prescribed in the 67th section of the said Act, where of all persons are hereby required to take notice


Given under my Hand and Seal, at Government House, Brisbane,

This Fourteenth day of May in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred

And Sixty seven, and in the Thirtieth year of Her Majesty’s Reign

G F Bowen


By His Excellencys Command

God save the Queen!


Plan of the St Helena prison stockade, 1868



Featured Image, Aerial image of St Helena Island ca. 1910’s, from the Fiona Pearce collection

4 thoughts on “Happy 151st Anniversary H.M.P.E. St Helena!

    1. Thanks Chris,
      Much appreciated! I fell in love with St Helena long ago and I realised there are so many layers of story and history that are just waiting to be unearthed! So, that is the plan … one story at a time! Thanks so much for the inclusion.

      1. You’re welcome, Belinda… I’m a local and love the stories of Moreton Bay and surrounds. I have written a few bits and pieces but there is much more. to unearth. I look forward to reading more.

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