Blessed to be a Blessing!
Total Land Area: 34.5 km2
Number of Islands: 1 (plus 2 uninbahited islands)
Languages: English & Norfolk
Political Staus: External Territory of Australia
Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of Government: Adam Walsh, Davis Buffett
Norfolk Island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia's external territories. This three by five mile volcanic outcrop is a subtropical paradise - but a paradise which has known inhuman brutality.
Discovered by Captain James Cook, it was claimed by him for Great Britain and named in honour of the Duchess of Norfolk. Cook's crew were struck by the island's rugged beauty and the abundance of flax and pine.
Cook sailed on, and the island was to remain uninhabited for a further 14 years. Since then the island has seen two penal settlements come and go, the second of which was the most brutal ever established by Britain.
In 1856 the island received those who call it home to this day - the Pitcairners, descendants of the Bounty Mutineers. During the intervening 140 years these people have nurtured the island to make it a prosperous, tranquil and beautiful place. Thousands of people from all over the world now come to experience the history, beauty and unique Pitcairn culture that make Norfolk Island a paradise on Earth.
Tourism is the basis of the island's economy. About 30,000 tourists visit Norfolk each year. The main exports of the Territory are postage stamps, seeds of the Norfolk Island pine and Kentia palm and small quantities of avocado. The territory is self-sufficient in some agricultural products such as beef, poultry and eggs.
Captain Phillip established a first settlement of convicts on the island in March 1788 of handpicked persons from the First Fleet, only two months after the landing at Sydney Cove. This first settlement was not self-supporting however, and because of the cost of keeping it going, it was abandoned in 1814.
During Norfolk Island's second settlement (between 1825 and 1855) the island was used as a special punishment colony for the most dangerous convicts of New South Wales and Tasmania. After reports of extreme brutality and inhumane treatment reached the mainland (Norfolk was known at the time as Hell on Earth) the island was abandoned for a second time in 1852.
On the 8th of June 1856 (observed today as Bounty Day), the entire population of Pitcairn (which had become too small for the 194 descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitian wives) was transported to a new home on Norfolk island.
In 1897, Norfolk became a dependency of New South Wales and in 1914 was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia. After numerous inquiries, petitions and appeals to the United Nations, the Norfolk Islanders gained a limited form of self-government in 1979, with the establishment of an elected assembly able to legislate on all local matters.
RELIGION (1996 figures)
Uniting Church in Australia 14.5%
Roman Catholic 11.5%
Seventh-Day Adventist 3.1%
NORFOLK EXPANDED HISTORY
The First Settlement
On March 6, 1788, the British colours were raised over Norfolk Island.
Six weeks earlier, Britain's First Fleet had arrived at Botany Bay (soon to become Sydney) to establish the penal colony of New South Wales. Hand picked from the ranks of the First Fleeters were 23 settlers: 7 freemen, 15 convicts and the commandant, Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King. The occupation of the island was to serve two ends: to make available masts and sails from pine and flax for the refurbishment of British ships, and to prevent the island falling into the hands of His Majesty's rivals, the French.
The occupation suffered initial setbacks, but began to flourish. Ground was cultivated, crops planted and harvested; the settlement became a tiny township.
In March of 1790, Norfolk Island received some 300 new people to its shore, and the reef its first British ship. The ships "Sirius" and "Supply" had brought two companies of Marines plus new convicts from Sydney, where dwindling supplies of food had become a serious problem. The 540-ton " Sirius" and most of its provisions were lost on the coral reef.
The continuing influx of convicts from Sydney during the following few years saw Norfolk Island become nothing more than a labour camp for Sydney's most difficult officers and least-wanted felons. The island's main purpose was to provide food for Sydney. Maize, wheat, potatoes, cabbage, timber, flax and fruit of all kinds grew well in Norfolk Island. The population peaked at more than 1,100, and about a quarter of the island was cleared.
But by 1814 the island was empty. Sydney and the expanding colony of New South Wales had no further need to import food from Norfolk; the people who had occupied it were shipped back to New South Wales. The structures of the settlement were razed or pulled down stone by stone in order to dissuade passing ships from reoccupying the island - and to make the island less alluring for escaped convicts. The farm and domestic animals were shot, though wild dogs were left to scavenge.
Norfolk Island began to heal its scars. Trees grew to their former splendour; rain washed away the blood of the flogging yard; plants grew over the stone of the ruined buildings; and the sound of the lash on convict back was not heard again.
Until, that is, 11 years later when Norfolk became the Hell of the Pacific.
The Second Settlement
During Norfolk Island's second settlement (between 1825 and 1855) it was indeed the Hell of the Pacific; a place dominated by death and despair.
In 1824 the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, received a directive from the British Secretary of State to the effect that Norfolk Island was to be turned into a penitentiary once again. Because of the island's inaccessibility, Brisbane decided that it was the best place to send the worst felons "forever to be excluded from all hope of return". Norfolk Island would be "the ne plus ultra of Convict degradation", "a place of the extremest punishment short of Death."
For many death was welcomed. Conditions in the gaol were appalling; a large percentage of the convicts were sentenced to remain in heavy chains for the terms of their natural lives; most convicts were chained during the day. Agricultural labour was the most hated kind; chain gangs were forced to hoe from sunrise until sunset. One convict in a field gang raised his hoe and split the head of the convict in front of him - not through malice or revenge, but to be hanged, to be free of a life worse than death. Why not suicide? Simply because most of the convicts were Catholics - a fact testified to by the cemetery's headstones.
Punishments were varied for petty crimes during this second occupation. Lashings were common: sometimes up to 500 strokes. Dumb-cells were constructed to exclude light and sound; many men lost their sanity in them. Solitary confinement, increased workloads and decreased rations - sometimes bread and water - were also common forms of punishment. One documented case concerns a convict by the name of Micheal Burns who suffered a total of 2210 lashes and almost two years in confinement, much of it in solitary, three months of that in total darkness, and at least six months of those two years on a diet of bread and water only. Burns' crimes? Insolence, suspected robbery, neglect of work, striking a fellow prisoner, bushranging, singing a song, calling for a doctor, attempted escape, and inability to work due to the debility caused by his punishments.
Convicts were also forced into hard labour as a form of punishment building much of what today is one of the world's chief glories of Georgian architecture - Kingston, Norfolk Island. Stone was quarried from Nepean Island, a rock close to shore, and coral rubble was rendered with lime and sand; thus most walls were formed, while Norfolk Pine was used for joinery and roofs. Floors were made from thin stone slabs.
During the late 1840s and early 1850s a number of influences led yet again to the abandonment of Norfolk Island. The cost of maintaining the penal settlement was growing; more than 1200 convicts were gaoled on the island, and Port Arthur in Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania) was viewed as a less costly alternative. Dr Robert Wilson, Catholic Bishop of Hobart, wrote a damning report on the practices he witnessed on a visit to Norfolk Island, and called for its abandonment. A number of days before his visit 34 men were flogged; the day after his arrival, another 14; and at the service he held on the island, 218 of the 270 men attending were in chains. Last but not of least importance Earl Grey back in the British Parliament saw Norfolk as a possible home for the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island - the descendants of the mutiny on the "Bounty" and their Tahitian-Polynesian wives.
By 1855 the island stood empty once more. Never again would it bear witness to penal cruelty and inhumanity. And shortly it would receive the people who still call Norfolk Island their homeland - and who fight for the right to govern themselves.