When the quarantine station was in operation on Peel Island, it was reported that many of the victims of the more virulent strains of disease were buried on nearby Bird Island. Time and tide had evidently eroded the sand from the coffins, and rotted the wood, leaving only the metal hinges and handles.
Bird Island is now just a memory, but it’s erosion must have been going on for some time for Rowland Snow Port to have reported: “Once in the 1920s while netting mullet with my father on the eastern side of Bird Island, we hauled in a lot of metal coffin hinges and handles in our nets.”
In May 1874, Peel Island was proclaimed a quarantine station in lieu of Dunwich, and ships could be seen anchored on its Bird Island side for up to three months.
Writing in the Courier in 1923, early Bay historian Tom Welsby recalls that the quarantine buildings on Peel “occupied a most charming site on the headland (The Bluff) looking towards the south end of the bay and towards Dunwich”.
As a pure quarantine station, Peel Island has, in this direction, seen many vicissitudes and many eventful phases. On the hoisting of the Yellow Jack, the vessel from whose mast it fluttered was generally taken to an anchorage in the deep water between Peel and Bird Islands, and there stationed until all was well.
Serious cases of illness were taken on shore for treatment. The healthy passengers were detained at departmental will on the island also.
“During one regime, in all cases of death from virulent contagious diseases the bodies were taken to Bird Island, and there, well above high water mark, were buried deep in the sand, with quick-lime.
“In some cases there were burials on Peel Island at no great distance from headquarters…Since that time, many another soul has been laid to rest in that Peel Island cemetery, but I regret to say a couple of years ago a fire passed completely over it, and little now remains to tell of the mortals resting there.”