Year 5 students always look forward to their History excursion to St Helena Island each year – a chance for them to step back in time to experience the places and people who called this island prison home… and hell. Situated in Moreton Bay, the island functioned as a high-security prison and quarantine station between 1867 and 1932. It was in the early 1900s that a special connection was made between a prisoner and a young lady recuperating on the island.
Aggie Pryde – great-great aunt of Thomas Middleton of 5C – injured her leg and had no family to support her in Brisbane; but the wife of a Captain Jackson invited Aggie to stay on the island, so she could be looked after. She, like all visitors, was forbidden to speak to the prisoners. However, as she walked around the island for exercise, her eyes met with one of the inmates. Aggie asked permission to speak to the prisoner, but was denied.
The prisoner – whose name is unknown, and would have only been referred to by his prison number – asked permission to make a gift for Aggie. Using scraps of various materials including wood, sheep's horns, strips of hide and shells from the beach, he fashioned a shield with a penknife featuring an Australian coat of arms; the penknife was handed in each evening. The prisoner was granted permission to give Aggie his gift, and their hands touched as the shield was silently handed to her. She never saw him again. Aggie later married and lived in Chapel Hill, but she never forgot that prisoner and often recounted her story to family.
The shield was handed down through her family, and finally to Thomas himself. On his trip to St Helena Island earlier this year, Thomas handed back the shield for it to be preserved in the island's museum. The relic – a silent token of love for a young lady from a lowly prisoner – has come full circle and now rests in the place where it was made nearly a century ago.
5C Form Tutor and History Teacher