Doug Petersen with the book St Joseph's Orphanage Merara.
Doug Petersen with the book St Joseph's Orphanage Merara.

A place to remember Bucasia’s orphans

WHAT Doug Petersen expected to be a “sprint” became a longer and more emotional journey when he began researching the lives of ill-fated Bucasia orphans.

“What I thought would be a 100-metre sprint three years ago has turned into a marathon with hills and mountains along the way,” Mr Petersen said.

Tomorrow he’ll cross the finish line as he finally watches the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to 33 children from St Joseph’s Orphanage at Merara (now Bucasia) who died.

Mr Petersen, who has written a book about the orphanage, said it had been established at Bucasia in 1880 but closed five years later. In that time 129 children were homed there.

Initially researching a book about the history of Bucasia, he became interested in the fate of the orphans and found some children had been buried in unmarked graves in the area.

Of the 33 who died, 19 were buried at the orphanage, four died at Mackay Hospital and 10 died with six months of the children’s relocation to an orphanage on the outskirts of Rockhampton.

The children, many of them ill, were transferred to the newly built Neerkol Orphanage when the Bucasia institution closed in 1885.

Mr Petersen said there was a lot of speculation about where the Bucasia gravesite might be and many people had theories, but he was now calling it a day on trying to locate the graves.

“I’m putting that side of things to bed. The memorial will be somewhere people can go and reflect and I think that’s enough,” he said.

Sunday’s unveiling ceremony will include a history of the orphanage, a blessing, singing and eulogies.

Rod Walsh, whose grandfather and his grandfather’s two brothers were at the orphanage, will unveil a plaque listing the names of the children and the years they died.

“It’s a dedication, a place of reflection, somewhere the community can see the history of the area and the human side of society,” Mr Petersen said.

He hopes through his speech he can deliver an insight into what life was like for the children.

He admits the whole process of researching the orphanage and the children has been emotional.

“It does get to you,” he said.

“It’s also stirred something in the people of Bucasia.”

Mr Peterson said many people from the Northern Beaches community and businesses had supported him during the project.

His wife and family had also been “very understanding”.

“People have been so generous with donations. It’s satisfying to know that we live in that kind of community that people give from their heart,” he said.

From Mr Petersen’s original research into the orphanage he produced a 60-page booklet titled St Joseph’s Orphanage Merara. A second edition of the book will be launched this weekend with additional information to the 2017 publication.

Using orphanage admissions register and information from the community, Mr Petersen has pieced together details of the children and their parents.

The Bucasia Orphans Memorial unveiling will be held tomorrow at 2pm at the Esplanade Park, Bucasia. Everyone is welcome to attend.

CHILDREN ADMITTED TO THE ORPHANAGE

Anthony (Nebo), Alice Armstrong, aka Strong, William Baker, Richard Beagly/Bedely, aka Fitzgibbon, Alice Emma Beaton, Mary Bentley, Margaret Ellen Bergin, Henry Bergin/Bergan, James Blaney, Mary Anne Boland, Eveline Mary Boland, Charles Napoleon Bouel, James Leon Bouel, Adolphus Phillip Bouel, Mary Rose Bouel, Patrick Bouel, Joseph Boyle, Loftus Buckley, Kate Buckley, John Byrne, Mary Anne Callaghan, Michael Francis Callaghan, Margaret Agnes Callaghan, Mary Chamberlain, Eliza Chamberlain, Annie Chamberlain, Charlotte Chamberlain, John Crawford, Helen Margaret (Nellie) Crawford, Martha Crawford, Annie Croke, Charles John Davis/Devis, Thomas Davis/ Devis, William Deeley, John Dempsey, Joseph Dempsey, Mary Dempsey, John Dumphy, Patrick Francis Earl, Joseph Earl, John English, James English, Bridget Fearing, Henry Fearing, Charles Ferris, Cecelia (Ruth), John, William, Jane and Caroline Fortune / O’Donnell, John Gaffney, Margaret/ Josephine, Mary Anne, Catherine Francis and Francis Joseph Gaffney, Mary Jane Garon, Patrick Hall/ see Freddy Mannam, Patrick Joseph, Mary Kate and Mary Louisa Halligan, Bridget Kelly, Henry Vincent Long, Margaret Lynch, Catherine, Bridget, Mary Anne, Ellen, Johanna, Sarah, Margaret and Thomas Maher, Freddy Mannam aka Patrick Hall, Ernest May, Sarah Anne McCavanagh, Lucinda McNally, Priscilla Teresa McNally, Agnes Harriet McNally, Emily McArthur, Thomas McArthur, John McArthur, William Meddick, Mary Louisa Miner, Elizabeth Clara Miner, Julia Morris, Bridget Maguire, Mary Maguire, Patrick Molloy (Coombes), Mary Louise Molloy, Harriet Ellen Murphy, Elizabeth Catherine Murphy, Margaret O’Neill, Kate O’Neill, Margaret Ovens, Martin Parker, Charles Joseph Ritchie, William Frederick James Ritchie, Maria Revere, Joseph Richardson, Mary Richardson, Henry Roles, Walter Roles, William Roles, Mary Sharpley, Thomas William Simmonds, Mary, Joseph, William and Lily Slattery, William John, Kate, Joseph Charles and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Smith, Napir, Jessie and Jane Smyth, James Swift, Guy Alexander and Josephine Tannton/ Taunton, Charles Clark Turner, George Turner, Polly Underwood, Edmond (Eddie), Frederick (Fritzy) and Paul Emil Adolph Volkman, Mary Ellen Ward, Edward Ward.