Norfolk Island - The Website
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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.


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