About... Norfolk Island History
Norfolk Island, as part of the Norfolk Ridge, is geologically relatively young. The Norfolk Ridge is a large piece of submerged continental crust located about 1600 km off the east-coast of Australia. Little is known about the Norfolk Ridge; however, it is about 2000m below sea level, is late Cretaceous in age and is part of Zealandia, a submerged continent that sank 60-85 million years ago.
Norfolk Island is a volcanic atoll located 29° 02’ S and 167° 57’ E with a mild sub-tropical climate. It rises up out of the ocean on rugged cliffs to an undulating plateau culminating at Mt Pitt and Mt Bates of about 110 metres (350 feet). Originally covered in lush rain forest dominated by the famous indigenous Norfolk Pine tree the island is now predominantly a rural environment although some large national reserves and parks remain.
Known to have been visited about 1000 years ago by the Great Polynesian Migration the island’s first European discoverer was Capt. James Cook on 10th October 1774 who named it Norfolk Island after the Duchess of Norfolk. On his recommendation that the pines would make good masts and the flax utilised; a British settlement was established in 1788 as an extension of the First Fleeters settlement in Sydney Cove, New South Wales. It was soon discovered that the pines and flax were unsuitable and the settlement was deliberately abandoned in 1814. On departure this free settlers colony was razed to prevent other nations from laying claim to the island.
The island was resettled in 1825 by another British colony only this time it was a penal institution for convicts who had originally been transported from Britain. However the emphasis later became on repeat offenders from both Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land. It became a living hell known for its regime of terrible punishment, appalling conditions, and cruel sadistic treatment by a number of the Commandants. It closed down with the transportation of all to Van Diemen’s Land in 1855 leaving just a small group as caretakers of the island.
June 08th 1856 heralded the arrival of the entire community of Pitcairners to begin a new life on Norfolk Island. They were the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives who had settled on Pitcairn Island, but after some 70 years, had outgrown their little island home. The Pitcairn settlers initially lived in the abandoned buildings of Kingston while they quarried the jail and many other prison structures as foundation building material for new homes on new land grants.
It is therefore evident that there have been four distinct and separate settlements on Norfolk Island. The restoration programme of the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) of the 1960’s through 1970’s has preserved one of the best groups of Georgian architectural buildings and is today utilised by the greater community of Norfolk Island for public offices, recreational pursuits and tourism activities. The ongoing conservation of World Heritage Listed KAVHA presents a wonderful opportunity for all who visit the island to experience the Second Penal settlement in the 1800’s.
There have been many milestones since:
A land grant was made in 1866 to establish a training school and headquarters for the Bishop of Melanesia. By 1899 the Mission had 210 scholars, had built Mission Chapel, homes for the missionaries & pupils, workshops, a printing house and a store. The Mission was wound up after WWI.
The island’s population remained predominantly comprised of Pitcairners until the early 1960’s although the resident numbers fluctuated as did the fortunes of various agricultural business ventures.
The airfield was constructed during WWII (1942-43) improving the island’s accessibility considerably.
Over a long period of years Norfolk Island became strategically important in South Pacific telecommunications with the establishment of ANZCAN. The undersea communications cables of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji all culminated at Anson Bay in the northern region of Norfolk.
There was an upsurge of interest around the world from the early 1960’s in the Island’s tax-free status and its potential for tax avoidance schemes. At about this time there was also an influx of ‘outsiders’ unrelated to the Norfolk Islanders (Pitcairners) to develop the Island’s tourist potential.
Politically the Australian Federal Government’s Norfolk Island Act of 1979 established a path to self determination through the Island’s own Legislative Assembly. There have been a great number of challenges for the community through this move to govern their own affairs, however the population is tenacious and has traditionally run a council of elders later to become the advisory council since their early days on Pitcairn.
Today, Norfolk’s economy is reliant on tourism. Norfolk embraces change slowly and remains the jewel of the South Pacific with such diversity of experience you’ll be enthralled.