Norfolk remained virtually uninhabited up until the middle of the 1820’s before fate took another rush forward (or backward, depending on how it’s viewed).  In 1824, the British Government ordered Thomas Brisbane, the governor of New South Wales (yes, the modern city of Brisbane is named after him) to use Norfolk Island for the “worst description of convicts.”  The fact that Norfolk was so relatively isolated from civilization also lent to the impression that this was pretty much the ultimate penal colony, however, it must be noted that research many years later showed that these hard-core convicts may not all have been as bad as originally thought (although there definitely were some that were, and as seen soon, some that did devolve into heinous crimes).  These unfortunates were “forever to be excluded from all hope of return.”  The convicts came from all sorts, such as thieves and robbers, not to mention Irish political prisoners.


The convicts and their jailers began arriving in 1825, and the new penal colony was rebuilt, though it would be nowhere near as peaceful as the previous one had been.  Much of the land was cleared, and permanent buildings were erected, mainly from local timber and quarried stone (most of which came from the outlying rock Nepean Island).  Besides the large buildings designed for convict use, there were many houses built for the non-convicts (much of which survives to this day).


Despite the possible promising beginning, life was soon found to be terrible for the convicts.  Constant hard labour and abominable working conditions were prevalent, and some prisoners were punished with as much 500 lashes with the whip.  Solitary confinements in cells without light or sound was used (many times the prisoners were driven insane from this treatment), reminiscent of the stalags and gulags from the 20th century.  Another sad fact is that many committed crimes (such as murder) in order to be executed because (as often they were of the Catholic faith) they could not commit suicide.  From this terrible time periods, some stories and individuals stand out:


Near Kingston there was a work detail set to build a bridge over a stream.  Legend has it that the convict workers murdered their overseer (either by intent or accident) and to hide their crime they walled him into the bridge they were building.  However, the next day blood was seen oozing from the mortar.


Another story is of the convict Barney Duffy who escaped and hid inside a hollow pine in a forest on Norfolk, coming out at night to rob the vegetable gardens.  One day two soldiers discovered him and despite his putting a curse on them they hauled him back to the prison where he was hung.  It is said that two days later these two soldiers died in mysterious circumstances (some say due to the curse).


Finally there is the story of Jacky-Jacky (his real name was William Westwood), an Englishman who was initially sentenced to Australia for theft.  He escaped confinement there and became a “gentleman bushranger” (in other words he did not kill people…just robbed them).  He was eventually caught and sentenced to Norfolk Island.  In 1844 Major Joseph Childs took command of the penal colony and removed the privileges given to many convicts by his predecessor Captain Maconochie.  When he implemented a particular set of harsh rules and they were posted for the prisoners to see, Jacky-Jacky took charge and began a violent rebellion against those in authority, which contrasted with his earlier reputation as a generally non-violent individual (the situation on Norfolk obviously changed him).  Several were killed before the rebels were repelled at Government House by armed and professional soldiers.  Jacky-Jacky was tried and found guilty for his actions and he and 11 leaders of the rebellion were hanged on October 13th, 1846.


Hope soon came for the inhabitants when Dr. Robert Wilson, the Catholic Bishop of Hobart who was a believer in improving the condition of the convicts in Tasmania travelled to Norfolk after December 1847 on hearing about the conditions of the convicts there.  He was appalled and wrote a report condemning the treatment of prisoners on Norfolk, urging the closure of the island, which by then had become known as “The Hell of the Pacific.”  The cost of maintaining Norfolk was also rising, and these, along with other factors, influenced the decision to close the penal colony.  What’s more, is that certain people in British parliament saw Norfolk Island as the perfect place to move the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island.


In May, 1855 the final convicts were moved from Norfolk Island to Tasmania.  This was the end of the penal colony, and set the stage for the arrival of what are today known as the Norfolk Islanders.

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