NORFOLK ISLAND HISTORY AND CULTURE

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook was the first known European to discover Norfolk Island. He discovered this uninhabited paradise in 1774 during his second voyage around the world aboard HMS Resolution.

He named the Island Norfolk after the Duchess of Norfolk, wife of Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk. The Duchess of Norfolk had already passed away but as Captain James Cook had set out from England in 1772 he had not heard of her death in 1773.

Captain Cook first came ashore on Norfolk Island on 11th October 1774 and was struck by the island's rugged beauty and reported that the flax and giant pines grew abundantly here on the Island. He thought the pines would be suitable for masts of large ships and sail cloth and cordage could be made from the flax. Cook took samples back to the United Kingdom to show their potential uses but sadly he was mistaken.

Even thought the Island was uninhabited at the time of discovery by Captain James Cook, evidence of previous occupation by Polynesians has since been found. Captain James Cook sailed on and the Island was to remain uninhabited for a further 14 years.

First Settlement

On January 1788 Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was ordered to lead a party of fifteen convicts, 9 males, 6 females and 7 free men, to take control of Norfolk Island so the Island didn’t fall into the hands of the French who were also interested in the south pacific.

Lieutenant King is reported in saying that the Island Pines were the most beautiful and finest in the world and would be suitable for masts, yards and spars. Grains and seeds also grow in abundance on Norfolk Island. The only down side to the Island is the lack of a natural safe harbour. Without a harbour this island is of no use, but with a port, Norfolk Island would become of great importance for Great Britain.

It soon became apparent that the Norfolk Pine was not resilient enough for masts and the New Zealand flax was to difficult to prepare. This idea was soon abandoned.

Even with these initial setbacks the occupation began to flourish. Norfolk Island was soon seen as a farm and its main purpose became the provision of food for Sydney. A township was established and the convicts cultivated the ground and planted crops of vegetables and seeds which were to be shipped back to Sydney to help with the near starvations which were crippling the city.

On the 19th March 1790, Norfolk Island received 300 new convicts and officers from Sydney aboard the HMS Sirius. This new influx of convicts helped relieve the pressure on the Sydney crises. It turned to disaster when the HMS Sirius was wrecked on the reef at Kingston and although there was no loss of life, the stores were ruined and the incident highlighted the settlements vulnerability. The ship crew was marooned on Norfolk for 10 months.

The farming of vegetables and grains for Sydney often failed due to the salty winds as well as the rats, caterpillars and the Norfolk Parrots. The lack of a safe harbour hindered communications and the transport of supplies and produce. Even with these problems a second fleet arrived on Norfolk Island with a cargo of sick and abused convicts, which gave the Island more problems to contend with.

In 1794 Lieutenant Philip Gidley King suggested that the penal settlement was too remote and difficult for shipping, and too costly to maintain and should be closed.

Lieutenant Philip Gidley King left Norfolk Island in 1789 and a succession of short term commandants ruled the island for the next 11 years.

In 1803 the secretary of state, Lord Hobart, called for the removal of of the Norfolk Island settlement, to be transferred to Van Diemens Land due to its great expense and the difficulties of communication between Norfolk Island and Sydney.

This was a slow process as most of the settlers didn’t want to be uprooted from Norfolk Island. A lot of the convicts had decided to stay on the Island as settlers after they had finished their sentence.

The first group of 159 left Norfolk in February 1805. The group comprised of mainly convicts and their families but only 4 settlers.

By September 1808 only around 200 remained on the Island. The structures of the settlement was razed or pulled down stone by stone in order to dissuade passing ships from reoccupying Norfolk Island and also to make the Island less alluring for escaped convicts. The farms were destroyed and the domestic animals were shot.

The Island was finally abandoned by 6th June 1825 and stayed that way for 11 years.

Second Settlement



A later colonial convict settlement began in 1825, when it was decided that a final place of punishment was needed for recidivists and other antisocial British subjects, such as Irish political prisoners.

These were the dark days of the Island, both in terms of human cruelty and degradation.

This period also marked the beginning of the decimation of the island's natural biota, as clearing for large-scale agriculture and ambitious building works began.

This cruel era ended in 1855 with the removal of the last of the convicts, as deportation become less popular and other programs for the utilisation of convict labour became favoured.

Third Settlement

194 people, including descendants from the Bounty, arrived on Norfolk Island from Pitcairn Island aboard the Morayshire on the 8th June 1856.

This consisted of 40 men, 47 women, 54 boys, and 53 girls.

During the voyage Isaac and Miriam Christian gave birth to a son Reuben Denison Christian.

The journey of 3,700 miles took five weeks. Norfolk Island still celebrates the 8th of June as our Anniversary day here on the Island. It is called Bounty Day, and it is a public holiday.

Late in 1858 16 people boarded a ship called the Mary Ann who was bound for Tahiti, and headed back home to Pitcairn Island. In 1864 a second group of Pitcairners returned back to Pitcairn Island aboard the ship St Kilda.

Forty three people were now living on Pitcairn Island from the Young, Christian, McCoy, Buffett and Warren families.

Fletcher Christian

Fletcher Christian, leader of the mutiny on the Bounty, was born the sixth son and seventh child of Charles and Ann Christian at Moorland Close, near the Lake District, on 25 September, 1764.  His father, Charles, was the fifth son of John Christian, the fourteenth documented head of the Christians of Milntown on the Isle of Man and Ewanrigg in Cumberland.  They were a very prosperous and powerful clan with significant status and Ann, Fletcher’s mother also came from an old, respected Cumbrian family.

The young Fletcher went to Cockermouth Free Grammar School and then St Bees School, near Whitehaven, preparing to go to university like his elder brothers.  Unfortunately however, his father died in 1768 and then in 1779, Fletcher’s mother and elder brothers had to admit bankruptcy.  It appears the sons had borrowed unwisely against Moorland Close to fund their university educations and careers.

Ann took her daughter Mary and two sons, Fletcher and Charles, to live on the Isle of Man.  Fletcher’s social status had plunged dramatically.  He remained at school until 1782, when he had his first voyage on HMS Cambridge.  William Bligh was a lieutenant on the same ship.  In April 1783, at the age of nineteen, he signed on as a midshipman aboard HMS Eurydice and sailed to India.

It is thought that Fletcher chose a naval career, because unlike the Army, the Navy promoted people on merit and commoners could rise to the rank of naval officer, which was unthinkable in the Army.  The Navy, therefore, gave him the opportunity to regain some of the social status he had lost.

On Fletcher’s return to England, his cousin Dorothy’s husband, suggested that he next serve under William Bligh, reputedly an excellent navigator.  Bligh at first replied that there were no officers’ positions available, but Fletcher wrote to him offering to sign on as an ordinary sailor, just for the learning experience.   Bligh agreed and Fletcher served twice under him on the Britannia before Bligh recommended that Fletcher be signed on as master’s mate on his new vessel, the Bounty.  So it seems that the two men were well acquainted by the time the Bounty started out on its fateful voyage to Tahiti and more than this, they enjoyed quite a degree of mutual respect.

After the mutiny on the Bounty, Captain William Bligh described Fletcher as follows: “master’s mate, aged 24 years, 5 feet 9 inches high, blackish or very dark complexion, dark brown hair, strong made; a star tattooed on his left breast, tattooed on his backside; his knees a little out, and he may be called rather bow legged.  He is subject to violent perspirations, and particularly in his hands, so that he soils any thing he handles.”

After the mutiny, Fletcher led his fellow mutineers, Edward Young, John Mills, William Brown, John Williams, Alexander Smith, Matthew Quintal, William Mickoy, and Isaac Martin, in an attempt to colonise Tubuai and then on a voyage that criss-crossed the Pacific three times, visiting the Society, Austral, Cook, Tonga and Fiji Groups.  They discovered Rarotonga and finally the recorded, but mischarted Pitcairn Island, the last resting place of the Bounty.  Fletcher led the landing party on Pitcairn in 1790, and while a successful settlement was achieved, he had to put down a revolt of the native men within the first year.

By 1793, Fletcher had two sons, Thursday October and Charles and his Tahitian wife, Maimiti, whom he called Isabella, was expecting their third child. Tragically, unrest again bubbled over among the Polynesian men, Teimua, Niau, Minarii and Tetahiti.  They had been treated poorly by the Englishmen, and they had no women of their own.  In the following rampage, Fletcher Christian lost his life, murdered while tending his garden, close to his house.

HMS Sirius

Australia's most famous shipwreck, the loss of HMS Sirius happened on the 19th March 1790 here on Norfolk Island. The Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet and, when the terrible news reached Governor Phillip in Port Jackson, he was appalled. You never saw such dismay as the news of the wreck occasioned among us all we looked upon her as our sheet anchor.

In the previous year, the Sirius had undertaken a perilous journey around the world. From Australia it had sailed west and around the Horn. It took on supplies at Cape Town and then returned to Port Jackson in time to save the new settlement from starvation. By March 1790, the New South Wales settlement was again in dire straits and so Governor Phillip decided to send both the Sirius and the Supply to Norfolk Island with about 200 convicts and provisions.

Norfolk Island by this time was producing more food than it required. Having off-loaded the convicts at Cascade on the 13th March, the two ships were driven out to sea by a storm. They came back into Sydney Bay on the 19th March and attempted to unload provisions. The wind and tide turned suddenly. The smaller, more agile Supply got out of the bay, but the Sirius was driven backwards on to the reef.

Almost 200 years later, under the auspices of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, a project was mounted to recover what was left of the Sirius. This array of relics is now on display in the Norfolk Island Museum's Pier Store.

Charles Rosenthal

In 1937 Charles Rosenthal accepted the post of administrator of Norfolk Island which he governed throughout World War II

There he was able to promote energetically but on a lesser scale many of his career interests with freedom from his recent financial difficulties.

He supported tree-planting and conservation of the old convict buildings, fostered education and the work of the Red Cross Society and, after the outbreak of war, raised a volunteer infantry unit.

He relinquished his office at the end of 1945 but lived privately on the island until 1948 when he returned to Sydney.

Foundation Day

Each March on Norfolk Island Foundation Day is celebrated to remember the day in 1788 when Lt Philip Gidley King landed on Norfolk Island to establish the first European settlement. A plaque to the west of Kingston pier commemorates this notable event. With King were 22 people (including 15 convicts).

Prior to sailing to Norfolk Island on 14th February 1788 King addressed the nine male and six female convicts who had been chosen to go with him. He told them that he would reward them for hard work and that if they obeyed orders they would find life on the island easier and more enjoyable than Port Jackson.  He promised not to work them too hard and to return them to England when their terms expired if any so desired (from Philip Gidley King - A Biography of the Third Governor of NSW by Jonathan King and John King 1981)

While Norfolk Island is famous as the home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, it is also renowned in historical circles and a growing traveling public, for its remarkably preserved convict era buildings and ruins.  While most of the existing Georgian buildings come to us from the second convict settlement on Norfolk Island, the first settlement provided foundations for some of these buildings, including the current Government House. The second settlement also benefited from the well stocked gardens that the free men and convicts developed before 1814.  Most of these were still producing when the second settlement began in 1825.

The first settlers had a very hard time establishing themselves on Norfolk.  While the soil was rich, the seasons were not consistent and pests of all descriptions beset the first crops. Convicts were not gaoled, but rather worked as free labour in the gardens and farms that were established. A number were granted land as a reward for their good behaviour.

First Fleet descendants from all over the world gather on Norfolk Island to celebrate Foundation Day, so why don't you

In 2010 it was announced that Norfolk Island's Kingston and Arthur's Vale historic area has been included  on the World Heritage List as part of the Australian Convict Sites inscription.
So, we hope to see you on March 6.

Bounty Day

Bounty Day or Anniversary Day is celebrated every 8th June, to mark the arrival of the 194 Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island. The Pitcairners had been searching for a new home as Pitcairn Island was too small to sustain their ever-growing population.  Their leader, George Hunn Nobbs, was at last successful in engaging the support of the London Missionary Society who petitioned Queen Victoria on the Pitcairners behalf.

Her Majesty was so impressed with the reports of the piety of this unique society that had grown from such violent and unsavoury origins, that she granted them the soon-to-be vacated Norfolk Island. The NSW penal settlement that had been in operation there was to close in early 1856, so the island would be unoccupied, but well established with substantial buildings, livestock, gardens, mills, kilns and granaries.

When the Pitcairners arrived in the Morayshire, in 1856, they had been at sea for a month and many were almost exhausted with sea-sickness.  It was a cold, wet day and everything was foreign and strange to these simple folk. However, despite some families inability to settle, the majority grew to love their new island home and continued the customs and traditions of their old home on Norfolk.

Each year, descendants of those first Norfolk Islanders gather on Kingston Pier in period costume to re-enact the landing of their forefathers and foremothers. They proceed to the Cenotaph where the national anthem, God Save the Queen is sung and wreaths are laid to honour those Islanders who lost their lives in each major war since the Boer War.

From there, the throng, which consists of hundreds of people of all ages, makes its way to the cemetery where the old Island hymns are sung and children lay flowers on the graves of their family members. After the John Adams prayer is recited, the procession crosses the golf course to Government House where the Administrator and his wife serve tea and judge the best dressed family.

Then it's time to go to the compound for a leisurely picnic, but the children look forward to the exit from Government House all year as it means rolling down the long green hill in all their Bounty Day finery! Hold onto your hat!

Inside the compound, trestle tables groan with food which has been prepared by the families for days beforehand. There is every conceivable meat and vegetable dish, including the Island favourites green banana fritters and mada, pilahai, coconut bread, soda bread, beetroot in cream, Tahitian fish and corn fritters. This is followed by sweets which always feature a range of pies coconut, lemon, orange, passionfruit, porpieh, and mulberry as well as trifle, fruit salad, chocolate pudding and much more.

Following the singing of the grace, it's time to tuck in and lunch usually continues for several hours, until the brave few have a hit of cricket on the oval.

There is just enough time to pack up and head back home for a quick nap, shower and change for the Bounty Ball which is held in Rawson Hall. Once again, all members of the family are involved with the littlies decked out in their ball gowns and tuxedos to dance the night away with their parents.

Bounty Day is Norfolk’s special day, and to some it is just as important as Christmas Day. It is a day of peace, goodwill and fellowship where everyone is full of the generosity that is born of gratitude for a special home in a world that so often closes its doors to those in need.

Rawson Hall

Right in the centre of town is Rawson Hall. Constructed of Norfolk pine in 1947, it was for many years known as the ‘new’ Rawson Hall; the original Rawson Hall being located at the Longridge convict settlement, built of stone and used to store wool during the second settlement. Probably simply referred to  as the ‘wool store’ by the convicts, the building was renamed Rawson Hall after Harry Rawson, Governor of NSW; the same Governor that evicted the Pitcairners from their homes in Quality Row when they refused to sign crown lease agreements. Rawson Hall was used by the islanders for many years and remained for a period after the building of the airstrip, however when realigning the runway and the potential danger to aircraft by the location of ‘old’ Rawson Hall, the building was demolished  with stone from the site was available for purchase by the islanders.

The new Rawson Hall could not have been built of anything but solid Norfolk pine. The Administrator at the time, Major General Sir Charles Rosenthal KCB, CMG, DSO, VD (1875 –1954) being very keen to see renovations to the hospital and the construction of a large community hall in case of an air disaster. (One could wonder whether his enthusiasm for response preparedness  was due to his military background and his familiarity with the horrors of war. To this day, Rawson Hall thankfully hasn’t been needed for that purpose but it has been used for just about everything else. This is where the community holds its larger events including sports, cinema, public meetings, weddings, the annual Bounty Ball and as a polling station for the island’s elections.

The Pitcairn Anthem

When 194 Pitcairn Islanders landed on Norfolk on June 8 1856 they brought with them a language, and some wonderful music and songs. One song that is sung on special occasions like our national day, Bounty Day, and at funerals too, is the Pitcairn Anthem.

The lyrics of this wonderful song come from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, Verses 34 to 36, and 40. Several Visitors recently have asked us for the lyrics, so here they are.

Then shall the King say unto them,
On His right hand

Come ye blessed of my Father
Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you
From the foundation of the world.

I was hungered and ye gave me meat
I was thirsty and ye gave me drink
I was a stranger and ye took me in
Naked and ye clothed me
I was sick and ye visited me
I was in prison and ye came unto me

In as much as ye have done it unto one
Of the least of these my brethren
Ye have done it unto me
Ye have done it unto me



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