Norfolk Island. Peaceful road beneath a giant Moreton Bay fig tree.
Norfolk Island. Peaceful road beneath a giant Moreton Bay fig tree. by denisbin
Brief History of Norfolk as a Penal Settlement.
As noted previously Norfolk was settled to provide flax fibre rope, flax sails and tree masts from Norfolk Island pine trees and also because it was uninhabited. It was also an island paradise with rich volcanic soils. Its only major drawback was its isolation and its lack of a good harbour. Its history falls into several phases.
Phase One- 1788-1814. This phase was run along the same lines as the settlement of Sydney. Both men and women convicts were quartered here. The women were to work making flax rope and sails and the men were to do the building, road making, land clearing, agriculture and stone masonry work. Some free settlers came too. The settlement was centred on Kingston (then called Sydney) and nearby Arthur’s Vale (watermill valley.) By 1806 the population had reached over 1,000 people. Then for financial reasons- the cost of sending supply ships from Sydney to Norfolk was too great- the evacuation of the island was ordered. Convicts and other settlers were moved to Van Diemen’s Land- hence the settlements there of New Norfolk and Norfolk Plains (later Longford.)
Phase Two- 1825-1855. This time the island was run as a total penitentiary for the worse offenders. There would be no escape from Norfolk Island. Conditions were harsh, severe and degrading. It was a place of extreme punishment. The worst commandant was Captain Turton. During the period 1840-44 conditions were slightly better. Free settlers were not encouraged to settle during this second phase but a few of the best behaved convicts were allowed to work small farms across the island. Massive government expenditure on the penitentiary meant that fine sandstone Georgian buildings were erected and like Port Arthur in Tasmania many of them still remain. A large prison was built in the 1840s, and the prison required large military barracks, large stores and Commissariat stores, officer headquarters, a large hospital etc and good quality homes for the prison and military officers on the island. Kingston remained the administration and shipping centre of the island.
Phase Three – 1856-. In the third phase some of the original stone buildings were dismantled or left to go to ruins. Some were burnt down or the stone re-used for other structures. But the major feature of this period was the introduction of 194 Pitcairn Islanders in 1856. Norfolk remained isolated and largely forgotten. At one stage the Governor of NSW (the British Crown representative in charge of the island) ordered that the Pitcairn Islanders could no longer reside in the former penal settlement buildings in Kingston. This was in 1908 just before the Commonwealth government took charge. The resentment of this change led to fires and some beautiful buildings being destroyed. In 1893 Norfolk got a telegraph office and an underwater cable link to the world via Canada. Soon it had a cable link to New Zealand and a cable station opened at Anson Bay in 1902. Once it became a territory of the new Australian federal government conditions improved a little. Shipping came irregularly but during World War Two the Australian government built an airstrip for defence reasons. Flights continued after the War and now the main linkage between Norfolk and Australia is by air. The federal government has also put more money into other facilities on the island including the Botanic Gardens, and all the restoration work at Kingston etc.