South Sea Islander boarding house in South Brisbane
Guest blogger: Kathleen Mary Fallon – John Oxley Library Fellow, State Library of Queensland
In South Brisbane, on the corner of Russell and Grey Streets, there was a South Sea Islander (SSI) boarding house run by the Church of England. This boarding house is documented in The Church Chronicle between the years 1891 and 1892 and the Church of England Year Book of the Diocese of Brisbane for 1893, after which I could find no further mention of it. However, the snippets of information found give interesting glimpses of the urban life of the SSI. It seems it opened in June 1891 and a letter to the editor of the Chronicle, penned by the manager at the time, Mr C.E. Boorman says that there were nine SSI living in the house and a further twenty ‘avail themselves of coming to dinner and tea on Sundays…’ But Boorman complains bitterly of the ‘evils’ of grog, gambling ‘the crafty lying tongues of drunken women’ and other ‘crafty boarding house keepers'.
We can see from The Church Chronicle that SSI were moving quite freely around Brisbane, coming and going from the sugar cane fields and even arriving independently from home islands. In the August 1891 issue Mr Boorman says that the number of SSI in the boarding house will be quite small for the next three or four months as it is the time of year they head to the sugar cane fields to work and, in the same issue, he makes ‘the pleasant announcement that some cabmen, who meet vessels arriving from the South Seas, were in the habit of driving the islanders to the Home when they asked to be taken to lodgings’.
Night classes in reading, writing and arithmetic were held there, with an average of twenty SSI attending, hospital visits to sick SSI were made, there was a cricket club, music lessons and a brass band. In early 1882 the SSI had collected, amongst themselves, £1 and 6s towards having the gas laid on in the house. New Year’s Day 1892 saw thirty-six SSI, the manager and a minister spending the afternoon playing cricket and football in a South Brisbane paddock. Easter Monday was celebrated with a cricket match between the clergy and the SSI. ‘Refreshments were provided in the tent, and a most enjoyable afternoon was spent’. The Sunday of Queen’s Birthday weekend, 1892, fifty SSI participated in the celebrations and ‘enjoyed themselves thoroughly during the day at various games, such as cricket, sports, jumping, running’, the winners receiving ‘some very nice pipes and a tobacco pouch as prizes’. However, one SSI, Willie Mallicolo, was quite ill but had recovered and ‘the health of the inmates has been invariably good’.
Needless to say, as it was a Church of England-run establishment, religious classes were held regularly and the number of SSI baptised and confirmed is often mentioned. There were also SSI who went from the boarding house to the mission fields :- in 1892 Willie Ambryn volunteered for the Bellenden Ker Aboriginal Mission and in April 1893 Harry Mark and Willie Miwa went to the mission in New Guinea.