New arrivals, new stories and old mysteries – 1862

10 years passed between the burial of Johanna Goodwin and her infant on St Helena Island and the next woman to die and be buried there also. My last blog post in this series ‘New arrivals, new stories and old mysteries in 1852’ detailed the arrival of the immigrant ship ‘Maria Soames’ and the first immigrant burials recorded on St Helena Island, Moreton Bay. Fast forward 10 years and history starts repeating itself as another woman died soon after childbirth as she completed the long voyage from England to Queensland.

Immigrants on board a sailing vessel. Source National Library of Australia nla.obj-135887784-1

The 1100 ton ship ‘Erin Go Bragh’ arrived in Moreton Bay on the 31st July 1862 after a 174 day voyage from England. (3) Scarlantina and Typhoid fever had wreaked havoc on board the ship, with 54 of the 390 immigrants dying on the voyage. On arrival, the Erin Go Bragh was immediately sent to St Helena, which made this the first official occasion that St. Helena Island had been used as a quarantine ground. Here it remained for a week, while the Health Officer checked to see if any new cases of fever arose.

In 1862, St Helena Island had no quarantine facilities, yet circumstances required that:

“In order to facilitate measures to be adopted for the fumigation of the vessel, and the washing of linen and other clothing used during the voyage, as well as to afford to the passengers the means of necessary exercise and change, his Excellency has been pleased to establish a temporary Quarantine Station at the Island of St. Helena, in Moreton Bay.  During the detention of the vessel and her passengers under surveillance, the island in question will be appropriated to their sole use, and all persons are strictly cautioned not to attempt to land on such island, or in an way to establish communication with the people on shore or on board the vessel, unless with the sanction, in writing, of the Government, for which application must be made at this office.” (4)

The most sheltered section of St Helena Island sits on the eastern side, closer to Brisbane, and is the natural harbour for Immigrant ships forced to Quarantine. While this offers protection from the weather for ships, it offers challenges for immigrants. To access St Helena Island requires crossing a large shallow, muddy expanse, especially difficult during low tide.
Image: Belinda Daly.

However, not many passengers made use of the opportunity, due to having 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.” (5)

Unfortunately, illness still prevailed on board the ship and some passengers had been suffering for some time during their voyage. Despite having been at sea for 174 days, a few passengers died on arrival in Moreton Bay, while the ‘Erin go Bragh’ was at anchor at St Helena Island. Their stories are now entwined with the history of St Helena, as they become new additions to the list of known immigrant deaths and burials on the island.

Margaret Killian (Died Moreton Bay, burial St Helena Island)

Not long after the arrival of the ‘Erin go Bragh’ in Moreton Bay, Qld, 25 year old Irish-born Margaret Killian died. Various reports describe the cause of her death as ‘debility after childbirth,’ (3) or ‘in childbirth and having been injured by the rolling of the ship in a heavy seaway.’ (7) The similarities between Margaret Killian’s story and that of Johanna Goodwin are a sober reminder of how many women faced childbirth while on board a vessel rolling about in heavy seas.

Even the date of Margaret’s death is uncertain, with some reports indicating 3rd August and some reporting 4th August 1862 as the date of her death. What is certain is that she was buried on St Helena Island, as mentioned in my previous research ‘3 graves that can’t be found’. (2)

Image: Death certificate, Margaret Killian, passenger on board the Immigrant ship ‘Erin Go Bragh.’ Source: Liam Baker The Haunts of Brisbane: The tragic little burial ground Moreton Bay never knew it had [PART II]

Margaret Killian’s 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. Irishman Laurence Killian Snr, aged 34 and a labourer, buried his wife somewhere on St Helena Island and then left to face his new life in Queensland alone. (2)


Date                      Place                     Name and cause of death            Registration                        

Official Log of the ship Erin go Bragh from Cork towards Moreton Bay. Source:

Dan Meagher (Died Moreton Bay, burial not confirmed)

On Saturday 9th August, another death occurred on board the ship. An immigrant named Dan Meagher, a 29-year-old unmarried labourer, died on board of erysipelas, a potentially serious bacterial infection affecting the skin. It is not clear where he was buried, as no death certificate has been found.

However, the ship ‘Samson’ brought 380 of the Erin go-Bragh’s immigrants to Brisbane on the very same day – 9th August. The remainder, mainly women and children, were transported to Brisbane by the 11thAugust to join their fellow passengers in the depot at Petrie’s store, on Kangaroo Point. Whether Dan Meagher was buried on St Helena Island or Brisbane is unknown. (3) (7)

Name unknown (Potential death/ burial Moreton Bay, St Helena)

By Wednesday the 6th of August 1862, ‘The Courier’ newspaper reported that the Erin-go-Bragh’s immigrants were,

availing themselves of the Government regulation, whereby they are permitted to exercise themselves and breathe the fresh air on the Island of St. Helena.  So far as we can gather, there does not appear at present to be any infectious disease on board the vessel, although a woman died on Monday, and was buried on the same day on the same island.  The complaint, however, was one of a pulmonary nature.”  (6)

This 1870 sketch shows the sheltered, wooded landing site that would have been used by immigrant vessels forced to quarantine on St Helena Island. Penal station at St Helena 1870 pencil sketch, nla.obj-135253360. National Library of Australia

These reports indicate another passenger dying from a complaint that was ‘of a pulmonary nature’ (6) or ‘consumption.’ (3) There appears to be some confusion about whether this is Margaret Killian or a different person. The reports mention this being early August, before the Erin Go Bragh was moved away from St Helena. There is a possibility this would be another burial on St Helena.

It is perhaps right to state that, during the time the vessel was in quarantine, the immigrants were permitted to exercise themselves … on one of the islands in the bay named St. Helena… Whilst lying in the bay a woman died of consumption, a man named Dan Meagher died of erysipelas, and a woman named Kellion in childbirth. (3)

As mentioned, all Erin go Bragh passengers were brought up to Brisbane by the 11th August 1862. Despite the confidence that there were no more infectious diseases on board, reports indicate another man, Bernard King, dying on August 22nd in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. While the doctor suggested the cause was a disease of the kidneys, it was also stated that Bernard had been suffering from Dysentery on board the vessel for 8 -10 days before landing.

Disease seemed to be only one of the issues facing the captain of the Erin go Bragh. It seems that 3 crew members were determined to desert the ship and head for Brisbane, understandable perhaps after such a long and difficult voyage. But their freedom was short lived, having been spotted on Queen St, by Sergeant McDonald of the Water Police and sentenced to 2 weeks imprisonment. (3) I find history has a fascinating way of intersecting people and places over time – Sergeant John McDonald went on to become the Superintendent of St Helena Island Penal Establishment only 4 years later.

The quarantining of the ‘Erin go Bragh’ was the last straw for the crew, and 3 men deserted the ship and headed into Brisbane. This earnt them two weeks imprisonment! Image: Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Thursday 28 August 1862, page 2, Trove.

And so it seems that some mysteries regarding potential St Helena burials of passengers from the ship ‘Erin go Bragh’ will remain as mysteries until more information comes to light. But 1862 was a busy year and on the 12th August 1862, St Helena became the Quarantine site for another ship the ‘Chatsworth’ and its large contingent of infected passengers. More on that next time.

While the prisoner cemetery remained marked by headstones on St Helena Island, the known immigrant burials have no remaining traces left to clarify the burial locations. Source: Benn collection, QPWS.

Sources and further information:

1. Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), Saturday 10 July 1852, page 2

2. Liam Baker, ‘The Haunts of Brisbane.’

3. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Saturday 16 August 1862, page 3

4. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Tuesday 5 August 1862, page 2

5. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Wednesday 27 August 1862 6.

6. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Wednesday 6 August 1862, page 2

7. Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1861 – 1864), Monday 11 August 1862, page 2

8. Margaret Killian’s death certificate sourced from Liam Baker.

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