Find out if your ancestor was one of the prisoners held at the St Helena penal establishment between 1863 and 1936. Find out their name and their prisoner number in these indexes of original prison documents.
Each record is a transcript taken from original source documents. The amount of information can vary but you could find out the following about your ancestor:
Name as transcribed
Microfilm number of the original record
Item ID number from the Queensland State Archives
Page number from the original record
Original reference number from the Queensland State Archives
There are more than 10,000 records relating to prisoners held at the prison on St Helena Island. This was the foremost men’s prison in colonial Queensland. In the early 1860s, when overcrowding in Brisbane’s Petrie Terrace gaol became a problem, about 30 convicts were moved out to a prison hulk, called the Prosperpine, anchored near the Brisbane River. In 1866 they were put to work building a new quarantine station on St Helena Island. The quarantine station idea was scrapped and instead the prisoners started building a gaol.
The prison opened the following year as Queensland’s showpiece prison. It was meant for prisoners under sentence of hard labour and conditions were harsh – the prison became known as “the hell hole of the Pacific” or “Queensland’s Inferno”. The prison operated as a self-sufficient settlement and exported some of its produce to the mainland, including bricks, clothes and white rope for ships.
It was also considered impossible to escape from. Despite this reputation 25 serious escape attempts were made in the prison’s lifetime. Most of the 50 or so men involved were recaptured but three disappeared without trace, two were drowned or taken by sharks in Moreton Bay and a few were recaptured several years later.
Three of the most famous escapees can be found in the records. In November 1911, Henry Craig and David McIntyre vanished for nearly two weeks. Most people believed they had escaped to the mainland and a massive search ensued. On the twelfth day they reappeared. They had been hiding above the ceiling of the tailors’ workshop on the island where they had been helped by a prisoner accomplice who brought them daily food and water.
Only one escapee was never recaptured after escaping from the island prison. Charles Leslie, a notorious gunman was rescued by accomplices early one morning in 1924, who had been waiting offshore in a motor boat. Leslie was found 20 years later, living in New South Wales in 1944. The Queensland Government however, decided not to have him extradited.