St. Helena Island, Queensland’s most historical island

St. Helena Island is Queensland’s most historical island. Less than one square kilometer, it was the site of a prison between the 1860s and the early 1930s.  in the 1890s it was Queensland’s main maximum security prison. At its peak, the penal settlement housed 300 inmates.

The island became a National Park in 1980, but it was not until 1988 that sufficient funds were raised to restore the prison ruins.

Prison ruins remain, attracting visitors who embark on day trips to the island from Brisbane to learn about its turbulent past. Themed day and evening tours, as well as tours featuring professional actors, appeal to many school groups.


The island was originally used as a site for a prison – a quarantine prison for Queensland’s most dangerous criminals, which was extremely profitable when it was in operation for about 65 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today the island is a National Park.

The island’s aboriginal name is Noogoon, but was renamed St. Helena Island after an aboriginal prisoner was exiled to the island in 1826, his name being Napoleon.

Natural environment

St. Helena Island has a freshwater supply, a spring in the middle of the island.

The island has a large population of migratory birds.

Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)

A variety of tour companies operate visits to the island, offering: history tours, (including a ghost and cemetery tour), theatrical tours featuring professional actors,  and “Eerie Night” dinner tours.

The main activity on the island is a historical walking tour, which totals about 2km and is an easy stroll. Highlights of the walk include the structural ruins (including the blacksmiths shop; punishment yard; lime kiln; and sugar mill), cemeteries (prisoners’, warders’ and childrens’), and quarry.

The island also features a museum with prison artifacts.


The island does not have any accommodations. Facilities include a picnic area and a public toilet.

Getting There

St. Helena Island is located 21 kilometers east of Brisbane, in Moreton Bay.

Ferries link St. Helena Island to the mainland from Brisbane suburbs Manly, New Farm, or Hamilton. Visitors should check the schedules, as the ferry does not operate daily. The ferry takes approximately 45 minutes.

Private boats can also access the island, but at high tide only. Private boat owners must make prior arrangements to join a group tour on weekends, at an additional cost.

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