St Helena is a microcosm of wider society. Daily life and events on an isolated island in Moreton Bay, Queensland tell the story of world events, global issues and local societal values and norms.
Our original research into the history of St Helena Island, its indigenous past, immigration history and as a penal site for the incarceration of male prisoners is uncovering new information, revealing a complex, fascinating site. But not all of it is comfortable.
Investigate global world history through a journey across the bay … through our local places, through individual and collective stories and through the lens of time.
This site provides source material as an important element of the authenticity and accuracy of the material and to allow for the user to analyse and elaborate on their own ideas.
Year 9 History – The making of the modern world from 1750 to 1918.
Key inquiry questions
What were the changing features of the movements of people from 1750 to 1918?
Convict transportation – Moreton Bay. Understand how St Helena Penal Establishment, though not a convict station, was a continuation of the British system of penal management in the way it dealt with criminals: exile, punishment and segregation. View secondary sources from St Helena Island that detail the basic conditions of life, corporal punishment given for escapees and the labour under which they toiled.
Chinese Immigration. Gold rushes in the 1860’s and 1870’s triggered a wave of immigrants which threatened ideals of a British Colony only. Marking the beginnings of White Australia sentiments, Restriction Acts attempted to hold back the “Asian invasion’ with fear mongering amongst community. Racism and segregation on St Helena Island highlights the different treatment meted out to Asian prisoners.
South Sea Islanders provided a cheap, expendable labour force in Queensland Sugar plantations from 1863. Taken under false pretences or kidnapped from their island homes, these men toiled under restrictive conditions in unknown lands with foreign customs. Read about one prisoner, Attamarip, as he struggles with life and falls foul of the law. St Helena also incarcerated the ‘blackbirders’ – the crew of the ‘Hopeful’ accused of unlawfully kidnapping men.
Free settlers from the British Isles were used to establish Australia as a British colony. Schemes and incentives were provided to encourage free settlers to begin a new life in Australia. Assisted Migration themes allowed famine victims from Ireland and the poor to take the journey, while for others promises of employment and land were incentives to others. Find out who thrived and who struggled in their new world due to the influence of religion, money and employment.
Find out about the motivations of Irish immigrants aboard the ships Erin-Go-Bragh and Chatsworth as they headed for new opportunities in the early 1860’s. 2019 research conducted by Liam Baker has extended the St Helena Island story significantly, as yet more quarantine issues and graves highlight the major problems facing settlers on arrival in a new country.
How did new ideas and technological developments contribute to change in this period?
Follow the Crompton family, desperate with closure of Lancashire Cotton Mills during the Industrial Revolution and searching for new enterprises and hope in the Gold Coast. Death, failure and poverty followed them to St Helena island and their lives were forever altered.
Read how the appearance of one primary source of information changed the known history of St Helena forever.
What was the origin, development, significance and long-term impact of imperialism in this period?
The First people of Australia. Read about how archaeological middens indicate at least 21,000 years of continuous occupation, but imperial expansion permanently changed the lives of the Quandamooka people. Read a personal first hand account from Warder James Aird in the early 1860’s as he met Indigenous Australians for the first time.
Read also about the role of Aboriginal people as Native Troopers and who were incarcerated in the St Helena Penal Establishment.
Reflect on how long it has taken for the Quandamooka people to be awarded native title in parts of Moreton Bay.
Racism, and the operation of 2 systems. Imperialism brought dominance and expansion to Colonial Australia, resulting in the submission of other races.The application of British Imperial law and penal management was not consistent across races. Compare James McPherson’s sentence, crimes and punishments against and the sentencing of other prisoners to Aboriginal and Chinese prisoners. View plans of how the prison was constructed to segregate coloured people from white.
Society’s problems: Isolation, punishment and banishment on Moreton Bay Islands. England dealt with its criminals by banishing them to the other side of the world. The same went on in Brisbane. St Helena was used as a Quarantine station for diseased and dying immigrants. Later, St Helena Penal Establishment and the prison hulk ‘Prosperpine’ were both modelled on British penal systems of separating people from society, of quelling the masses and using punishment as a means of reform. Review the story of repeat offender, prisoner Water O’Hara and debate the effectiveness of incarceration and continuous punishment on the long term outcome of prisoners.
Consider the lives of the warders responsible for implementing the management policies of the prison. Does ‘isolation, punishment and banishment’ apply to them also?
The Shearer’s Strike – battling for better conditions. The 1890’s saw drought, depression and riots over working conditions. The 1891 and 1893 Shearer’s and Workers strikes were an attempt for Shearers to have their voices heard as they battled for better conditions and wages. Hear the stories of the Strike Leaders imprisoned at St Helena P.E. and how they paved the way for unionism and today’s Labour party.
Justice and the Law. Britain’s ‘Bloody Code’ was the name given to the legal system between the late-17th and early-19th century which made more than 200 offences – many of them petty – punishable by death. Statutes introduced between 1688 and 1815 covered primarily property offences, such as pickpocketing, cutting down trees and shoplifting (history extra.com). Hanging was the most common form of capital punishment in Britain. In Queensland at the turn of the century, Patrick and James Kenniff faced the death penalty for murder. Read their story to determine if ‘Justice’ was served.
What was the significance of World War I?
St Helena Warders became World War 1 soldiers. Australia signing up with Britain as Allies illustrates how a global decision affects local decisions, actions and lives. Many warders from St Helena Island were part of World War I and their stories, and that of their wives and children, are indicative of the great variety of war experiences from 1914 to 1918.
Why enlist? Some men signed up immediately due to excitement in travelling to exotic places, and the fever of patriotic duty. Others were called up but avoided enlistment at all costs through exemption. Society remained divided on the subject of conscription.
The Gallipoli Campaign. Many became part of the ANZAC legend while fighting in Gallipoli. The Spreadborough brothers were such men, and their personal account gives great insight into life on the battlefield.
The Impact of war. The courage of men to survive the toil of war is unquestionable, but many bore the physical and mental scars of their traumatic experiences. Some could not face life at home again and never made it back. Other Returned Soldiers were given preferences to land and employment as St Helena Warders and a ‘new start’ on their return.
The above short stories were developed by the St Helena Community for the Qld State Archives. They link with the content of current exhibition “Birdcage of the bay” and are designed to be used conjunction with and extend the material within the exhibition.