Despite protests from the Superintendent, in the years 1888 and 1889, St Helena Island had become the dumping ground for the night-soil of Brisbane. Each evening, Sundays excepted, the human waste from town was conveyed down river to the island aboard the Government steamer Mary. The pans were unloaded at the end of the jetty, placed on trollies and drawn down along the tramway to the trenches prepared for their reception the day before.
An elderly gentleman by the name of Peacock had been stationed on St Helena by the Municipal Council in Brisbane to supervise proceedings at the night-soil facility.
Assisting him at various times were a couple of young labourers whose job it was to dig trenches, unload pans from the Mary, manoeuvre them along the tramway track, empty the contents into the trenches, and to cover the pits with soil. They returned to Brisbane on weekends.
One Monday morning in August 1889, an excited Peacock telegraphed his superiors at the Town Hall in Brisbane. His message read as follows:
I have come across thickly studded gold bearing quartz in trenches. Will go four (4) ounces to ton. Report following.
Town Hall hurriedly contacted the Colonial Secretary; the Colonial Secretary hurriedly contacted Superintendent Pennefather; Superintendent Pennefather made inquiries on St Helena – and sent the following telegram back to the Colonial Secretary:
No truth your wire. Was first I heard of it. It appears one of the Corporation labourers had a small specimen of gold bearing quartz with him which he had been given in Town. He dropped this when working in one of the trenches and afterwards showed it to Sanitary Inspector Peacock who asked him where he picked it up. He replied—in the last trench! The Inspector, taking what he said seriously, then sent the report to Brisbane.
Even Captain Pennefather would have seen the humour in that!