A Cape Town Cape Town Shipwreck tagged image from photographer – denisbin as published on Flickr.
Norfolk Island. Coast near Kingston.
Image by denisbin
Norfolk Island – an introduction.
By lunch time we will be settled into our accommodation on Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island is just five by eight kilometres and it was first discovered in 1774 by Captain James Cook on his second South Pacific voyage of exploration. Today the island is a territory of Australia, part of the Commonwealth but with a large degree of independence and self government. It is one of Australia’s eleven territories (Northern Territory; ACT; Jervis Bay; Christmas Island; Cocos Islands; Ashmore Islands; Coral Sea Islands; Antarctic Territories; Heard Island and Indian Ocean Islands.) Norfolk’s residents are not represented in the Australian parliament. It has its own stamps, flag governing body etc. The census of August 2011 recorded a population of 2,302 people. It has a constant influx of tourists as well with the island receiving about 12,000 visitors a year mainly from Australia.
The main population centres are in the middle of the island at Burnt Pine and Middlegate. The old convict settlement is on the coast at Kingston. The highest point is Mt Bates at 319 metres or 1,045 feet. Nearby by is Mt Pitt at just over 1,000 feet high and it is an old volcanic cone indicating the origins of Norfolk Island. Cook named it after the British Prime Minister William Pitt, Earl of Chatham and PM during the 1750s and again 1766-68. Norfolk Island is one of a series of volcanic islands on the top of the Lord Howe seamount or ridge which stretches from New Zealand to New Caledonia. The volcanic islands that emerge from the sea are New Zealand, Norfolk, Lord Howe and New Caledonia extending along a zone more than 1,600 kms in length. Near Norfolk the submarine trench is around 33,000 feet deep. Norfolk Island territory has two nearby uninhabited islands named Phillip and Nepean Islands and both are visible from Kingston. Approximately 10% of the island is a National Park centred round Mt Pitt and Mt Bates. There are 178 species of native plants on the island and 40 of these are unique to Norfolk. Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is still abundant. It can reach a height of over 150 feet. It constitutes the emblem on the Norfolk Island flag. The other endemic tree, now widely grown as an ornamental in Australia is the Norfolk Island Hibiscus (Lagunaria patersonii). The island also grows the Norfolk Island palm, many ferns, and a native passionfruit. The island has no mammals or amphibians, and only a couple of reptiles – a skink and a gecko. The coral formations around the island teem with marine life and are home to many tropical fish, eels, octopus, starfish etc. The island provides a good habitat for many local and migratory birds including the wedge-tailed shearwater, (Puffinus pacificus) whose moaning calls echo around the island at night!
Norfolk Island was the second settlement of the Australian region following the arrival of the British and their convicts at Sydney Cove. Just six weeks after arrival at Sydney Cove in 1788 some 23 free settlers, 15 convicts, and commandant Lieutenant Phillip Parker King landed on Norfolk. Several hundred more convicts and settlers were sent from Sydney to Norfolk in 1790. It was 14 years later that the third Australian settlement was made in Van Diemen’s Land (1804) at Hobart. Norfolk started out as part of NSW and later became part of Van Diemen’s Land. But after the closure of the convict settlement by the British government in 1855 on Norfolk they set the island aside for the people from Pitcairn Island and many Norfolk residents still dispute Australia’s control of Norfolk Island as an Australian territory. Britain has never regarded Norfolk Island as a separate British colony.
The old school text book explanation for the settlement of Norfolk Island is largely true. The British government wanted to access the New Zealand flax plants growing on the island ( Phormium tenax.) The NZ flax was not native but archaeologists believe Polynesians, probably Maoris, introduced flax to Norfolk Island about 600 to 800 years ago. (They introduced the common rat at the same time!) As a naval empire Britain needed supplies of flax rope and flax sails for its sailing fleets. At the time of the settlement of Norfolk Island (1788) Britain obtained its wooden masts from Nova Scotia and its hemp and flax from Russia. Britain wanted new supplies of both masts and rope and sails as they feared the relationship with Russia would be terminated. Because of these concerns Norfolk Island was settled early in 1788 and many female convicts were sent to Norfolk Island so that they could weave and sew the flax and rope. When the second lot of convicts went to Norfolk in 1790 there were 150 females aboard the ship but only 30 male convicts. But by the early 1800s the authorities realised that the convict women would not be able to produce much rope or cloth. Only one ship ever left Norfolk with locally produced sails. Additionally, the tall, straight Norfolk Island pines proved unsuitable for ship masts as the wood was too soft and lacked strength. Thus the commercial justifications for settling Norfolk as a penal settlement diminished. But the origins of Norfolk are fascinating. One of the 1790 ships taking convicts to Norfolk, the former flagship of the First Fleet to Botany Bay was shipwrecked near Kingston whilst unloading supplies. Hundreds of artifacts have been retrieved from the wreck of the Sirius, including three anchors and two carronades which are displayed in the Norfolk Island Museum. The loss of the Sirius left Sydney settlement with just one supply ship normally used to obtain flour from Cape Town.
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