The H.M.S. Resolution under Captain James Cook was the first known European vessel (or at least the first definite one) to sight Norfolk Island on October 10th 1774 on the second of Cook’s three legendary voyages of discovery.  After going ashore the following day, Cook noted the presence of flax and what are today known as the Norfolk Pine.  He took samples of the flax back with him to England (well, it was Captain Cook…he took samples of virtually everything new back to England).


When the Resolution departed, Captain Cook had named the island Norfolk Island after Mary Howard, the Duchess of Norfolk.


The famous engineer (among other things) Sir John Call, 1st Baronet, saw the potential value in Norfolk Island (such as the aforementioned flax).  In 1786 the British Government included Norfolk as an auxiliary settlement when planning for the future penal colony of New South Wales.  It should also be noted that the Russian Empress Catherine II (the famous/infamous “Catherine the Great”) had decided to restrict sales of flax (which upset the navy since their flax came primarily from Russia), so Norfolk’s flax suddenly looked much more attractive to Britain.


Norfolk came to the attention of Britain again when Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was ordered to settle Norfolk Island shortly after the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay (modern Sydney).  There were two main reasons to settle Norfolk:

  1. To lay claim to Norfolk Island before the other colonial powers.
  2. To make use of the pines and flax growing on the island for the purpose of outfitting British vessels.

The settlers with King consisted of 23 people, consisting of 7 freemen and 15 convicts (9 males and 6 females), and they landed on Norfolk on March 6th 1788.  The first settlement (at least the first European settlement) had begun.

Norfolk had plants in abundance (apart from the oft-mentioned pines and flax), but lacked a natural safe harbour (much like what would become Norfolk’s sister island, Pitcairn).  Unfortunately, the flax and the pines eventually turned out to be no good for their original purpose.

Despite these problems, Norfolk began to see success.  With the convicts working the ground, the settlement became a town and its crops soon fed the colony of Sydney (which was on the brink of starvation).  King himself formed a relationship with a convict woman called Ann Inett, and he eventually fathered two sons from her, Norfolk and Sydney (Norfolk and Sydney…wow…imaginative), however, not all was good in this time, because King had to quell an aborted mutiny by the convicts, and left shortly after in 1789.

In March 1990, the First Fleet flagship H.M.S. Sirius arrived with the H.M.S. Supply and aboard were 300 new people for Norfolk (convicts and marines).  Unfortunately, on March 19th 1990, the Sirius was wrecked on the reef at Kingston (she is pretty much the Bounty of Norfolk Island).  Sadly the supplies were ruined, and the crew were stranded on Norfolk for 10 months.  With the influx of new convicts, the farming and logistics issues Norfolk had was intensified.

King returned as Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk in 1791.  Fortunately he saw the deteriorated conditions (a lot brought on by Major Robert Ross) and set about improving the situation on the island and was fairly successful.  He would leave again some years later and eventually became the third governor of New South Wales.

In 1794 Norfolk was seen as too remote for a penal settlement as well as too costly to maintain and it was recommended that the colony close.  In 1803 Lord Robert Hobart (the Secretary of State for War and Colonies) ordered the removal of the Norfolk Island settlement from there to Van Diemen’s Land (modern Tasmania).  The inhabitants of Norfolk were resistant to this move, having gotten comfortable in their new home following the harder years, so the removal took a significant amount of time.  The first group (which consisted of 159 people) left Norfolk in February 1805.  Over the years more would be taken off, and as things wound down, the buildings were destroyed and most of the stock was slaughtered to deter any other colonial power from settling there.  By 1814, Norfolk was largely abandoned, setting the scene for the darkest period of the history of Norfolk Island.

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