Part 4 – Russell Island

History of Russell Island in Southern Moreton Bay Queensland

Like the other islands in the bay, Russell Island has supplied people with food, shelter and other resources for thousands of years.

Russell Island was known as Canaipa until it was renamed in the 1840s after Lord John Russell, the British Secretary of State for the colonies at that time. By the 1850s, the island had its first non-indigenous residents, who were mainly limeburners, oystermen and timbergetters. Most were transient and moved on when their work was finished.

The first long-term settlers were attracted by the island’s sugar potential as well as its timber. In the mid 1860s John (Tinker) Campbell leased land for sugar cultivation and timber-getting. The family moved most of their activities to Macleay Island shortly after and established various enterprises over the next decade.

The arrival of settlers, such as John Willes, in the late 1860s marked the beginning of the island’s farming period, which lasted for the next 100 years. Over this time  many lucrative farms produced fruit and vegetables for the mainland markets.

In the 1970s the farms were subdivided and today the island is home to more than 3,000 residents. With an approximate area of 15.9km2, it is the largest of the southern Moreton Bay islands.

NOTE: most of the following sites do not have signs and there is no clearly marked trail.

Island land Sales

Russell Island Jetty

The first settlers on the island relied on their own resources to take themselves and their produce to market. The area to the east of the current jetty was the site of the rafting ground, where the timber-getters would form log rafts to float their timber to sawmills on the mainland. The island’s early farmers also used this area to ship their produce before jetties were built.

The jetty accesses Krummel Passage. This passage was formerly known as the Mersen or Marsden Channel, named after Christian Mersen, who selected a couple of parcels of land on Russell Island in the 1870s. He set up a lime burning kiln where he burnt local coral and oysters. This kiln was close to the lime burners’ jetty near the present water transport office and current jetty.

Travelling to Russell Island in 1958. Courtesy State Library QLD

St Peter’s Parish Hall High St

In 1922 Fred Willes, son of John Willes, donated half an acre of his farmland to the Anglican Church for a proposed hall. Church services had been held in the house of Mr and Miss Hender until then. The hall was built by Joseph Lovell and his son, Bill, of Macleay Island, from Russell Island timber milled at a sawmill on Canaipa Road. The hall was officially opened on 30 March 1924 and was extended in 1959. Electricity was connected in 1966 and town water in 1994.

Jock Kennedy Park Esplanade

This park is named after returned serviceman Jock Kennedy, who moved with his wife and family to an 11 acre farm on Russell Island after World War II. Their avocado and banana farms bordered the northern end of the island during the 1950s. Like many islanders, Kennedy was involved in community activities, such as the Russell Island Youth Club, where teenage boys used to learn boxing and other sports. He is also remembered for the dances he organised. Jock and Joan Kennedy devoted much of their own time and resources into developing what is now known as the Jock Kennedy Park. The Kennedys eventually moved to Wynnum.


Near the corner of Cavendish and Union Streets. This is one of the island’s few remaining continuously worked farms. As you travel around the island you will see other areas that were – or still are – farmed, often with some of their original buildings and plantings, especially orchards. The more prosperous farms were in the northern part, where the rich alluvial soil was deeper and more suited to growing produce.

 Russell Island State School Centre Road

The first school on the island was carried across the bay on a boat, and opened near Black Cat Swamp (now known as the Minjerribah Conservation Area) in 1916 on land donated by James Jackson, Mark Jackson’s father (see Jacksonville). In 1926 the school was moved to its present site. The first teacher was Eileen Willes, a granddaughter of John Willes (see Canaipa Point). In those days, schools were more than places of learning, with the school building doubling as a community hall and meeting place. Long-time residents still remember the dances that were held at the school.

Russell Island state school 1919. Courtesy State Library QLD

Laurel Street unformed road south of Kings Rd.

Laurel Street was built during the 1970s as an airstrip to bring in potential buyers of the residential blocks. Although this area looks like a combination of farms, gardens and open space, it is in fact almost entirely made up of around 720 sq m vacant lots. At the peak of the land sales in the 1970s, more than 50 real estate agents operated on the island.

Bowls Club, Fire Station, Hans Schultz Green Jackson Road

This little enclave contains some of the island’s important facilities. The Hans Shultz Green was named after the man responsible for land being set aside for the Russell Island Bowls Club. Schultz was instrumental in the Club’s development. The original clubhouse, built with the proceeds of many sausage sizzles, burnt down and was replaced with the present building. Behind the community centre the Redland Museum’s Russell Island precinct is open 10am -1pm on Saturdays and other times by appointment: 3409 2002, 3409 2306 or Redland Museum, 3286 3494

Shopping on the Islands 1940's. Courtesy Peggy Saunders and RCC Local History Collection

Jacksonville Jackson Road

This is the site of a settlement established by Mark Jackson in the 1920s. The Jackson family came to the island about 1905 and took up pineapple farming, one of the first farming families to do so. In 1915 Mark Jackson opened a pineapple cannery that employed up to 20 people in its heyday. It is famous for being one of the suppliers of canned pineapple to Allied troops fighting in France during World War I. Not long after World War I, the cannery closed and was replaced by a sawmill on the same site. Before the mill closed, it supplied timber for a number of island buildings, including a Methodist Church.

The pineapple cannery was built just above the high water mark, apparently because the equipment was too heavy to carry any further up the slope. Mark Jackson also built a jetty and a barge to take produce to the markets, as well as an enclosed swimming pool with a shark barrier. The remains of the structures can be found at the water’s edge below the site of the cannery and sawmill. No settlement is complete without entertainment, so Mark Jackson also built the Bay View Picture Theatre about 1950. Jackson donated five acres for a school oval in 1922, which is today the Jackson’s Oval cricket ground. In its heyday, Jacksonville was one of the main transport nodes, with most of the fruit boats visiting the island in those days travelling along the aptly named Main Channel that runs between Redland Bay and Russell Island. They picked up and delivered passengers and produce from the Logan River, other southern bay islands and the mainland settlements. Little remains of the Jacksonville settlement: the Methodist Church was eaten by white ants and pulled down and the picture theatre burnt down in 1960. All that is left of the pineapple cannery/sawmill are its levelled site and some remnants off Jackson Street. The remains of the jetty and barge can be found down on the water’s edge and some concrete block walls from the swimming enclosure are visible.

RSL – 9 to15 Cuphea Street.

Turn from Canaipa Road into Cestrum Street and follow it around to Cuphea Street. The RSL built its premises on land donated by the Branch family in 1990. Before the building was erected, the RSL members met at various places on all the bay islands. The Branch family moved to the island about 1913, when there were only four working farms on the island. The family, who originally lived in tents, worked clearing land for the Willes family before setting up their own farm. Son Bill Branch donated the land for the RSL, in which he was an active member. Next door to the RSL is a small sawmill. Timber-getting and sawmilling have been important industries since the early days of settlement.

 Canaipa Point Canaipa Road

This area has been the focal point of many island activities. For millennia it served as a crossing point to Stradbroke Island and in the 1860s it was the site of a saltworks and a jetty built by John ‘Tinker’ Campbell on Kibbinkibbinwa Pt to load timber and sugar. Canaipa Point also became the home of the Willes family, who arrived in the 1860s. John Willes originally operated Campbell’s salt works, but after the import duty was removed from salt in the 1870s, it became an unprofitable industry. Willes turned to farming, setting the trend for the next 100 years. Willes Island in Canaipa Passage is named after the family built a number of houses, including one at Old House Point,  just east of the present public jetty. From the 1880s Canaipa House, the Willes’ house, became a landmark after John’s wife, Catherine, erected and maintained a navigational light for seafarers. Catherine became known as the Lady of the Lamp and her light remained an important beacon in southern Moreton Bay for many years. The house reportedly burnt down in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The Royal Queensland yacht squadron now occupies the site. Some farmland can still be seen on Canaipa Point, but today the area is better known for its prime real estate and spectacular views.

Mrs Fischer’s grave Cannes Avenue, No public access: unformed roads.

Jay Fischer took up land on Russell Island in 1906, beginning with 120 acres and adding another 80 acres later on. The farm was between Waikiki Beach Rd, Flinders, and Leigh Crescent on the southern end of the island. The farm was called Rehcsif – Fischer spelt backwards. Jay and his wife, Gwendolyn, grew fruit and vegetables, and they also set up a pineapple pulping factory and made jam conserve. The farm did not do well and Gwendolyn had to sell some of the land to pay off debts after Jay’s death.

When Gwendolyn died in 1943 her ashes were brought over to the island and placed in a memorial on their land near the end of Cannes Avenue. The ashes and her favourite greenstone brooch were placed in the headstone behind a glass panel. Some years later the stone mound was accidentally bulldozed. The family rebuilt the stone monument and a memorial garden with the help of Mission Australia and the Bay Islands Community Services, but the brooch and the urn with her ashes were lost. Local legend has it that the grave site is haunted.

 Rocky Point

Turn into Stradbroke Road, right into Yarra, into Bangalow Road and follow to end. This is a site that was proposed as the location for a bridge to the mainland. As far back as the late 1940s there were calls for a bridge, primarily to give mainlanders access to North Stradbroke Island and its surf beaches. One route was from near the Logan River to Rocky Point and across Canaipa Passage to North Stradbroke Island. The issue has waxed and waned on Russell Island for years. In the 1980s the State Government released a report outlining development strategies for North Stradbroke Island and Russell Island based on a bridge being built. Since then, decisions such as the declaration of the Moreton Bay Marine Park in 1993 and various State and Local Government studies released in the 1990s have dampened speculation about the bridge, but the issue still leads to heated debates on and off the Island.

Lions Park The Boulevard

This park includes an offspring of a pine tree from Lone Pine Ridge at Gallipoli in Turkey, as well as memorials to the victims of drownings and other accidents in Moreton Bay.

6 thoughts on “Part 4 – Russell Island”

  1. I’m wondering if you can direct me to a little more information about Christian Mersen thanks, as I have found a Headstone for a Christian Mersen at Toowong Cemetary, noting his death as 14 Feb 1892, Aged 59. “This passage was formerly known as the Mersen or Marsden Channel, named after Christian Mersen, who selected a couple of parcels of land on Russell Island in the 1870s.”

    1. Hi

      For more information I suggest you contact either of the following:

      Redland City Council’s local History room on 3829 8311, YI” and follow the links to the Library service, or

      The RKLM (Russell Karragarra Lamb Macleay) Heritage Group, cia Heritage Room, Community Library, Russell Tee, Macleay Island, Qld, 4184 phone 3409 5979.


  2. Hello,
    I am wondering how I can find out more about the indigenous connections with Canaipa Island.

  3. Hi, as a resident of one of our wonderful SMBI’s, today I feel a bit sad. Reading here all the well intended effort from many subsequent generations to make our islands a “goer” with most failing and forgotten, makes me said. It is wonderful to live in our paradise islands, the peaceful quiet, wildlife, friendly community etc, but I can’t help feel that there is some force stopping the islands from “moving forward”. Unemployment, lack of infrastructure, tyranny of distance are the negatives of living on the islands, most people tend to have a love hate relationship with the islands when living here. I think at the end of the day we do need to move ahead, I think a lot of people’s lives would improve by any advancement.

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