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History of New Norfolk - Norfolk Island 1788 - 1814

The first two British Colonies formed in the Southern Hemisphere were established at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island during the first three months of 1788.   The third settlement was established on the Derwent in Van Diemen's Land some 15 years later, in September 1803.   This third settlement was to become the future home of the Norfolk Island residents.

On the 6 March 1788, less than two months after the establishment of the colony of New South Wales, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King and 22 settlers (including 9 male and 6 female convicts) landed at what is now Kingston on Norfolk Island.   Although the party would have had difficulty in preventing any counter annexation by the French or Dutch, it was no doubt of sufficent size to establish a presence and possession by the British.   It is interesting to note that all the early Australian settlements in NSW and Van Diemen's Land were chosen by their commanders for their strategic value and as potential military posts.   Aspects such as future growth and accesability to farming land had very little to do with it!

The island experienced its first increase in population with the arrival of the Golden Grove in October of that year, carrying 46 persons.   More convicts and supplies arrived in March, June and December 1789.   In January 1790 a further 22 male and 1 female convicts arrived but this time there were no provisions.   There was a critical shortage of food and other supplies and it was considered that Norfolk Island was in a better position than Port Jackson to provide for itself.   Back at Port Jackson things were in a poor state, with hope, along with the food supplies diminishing daily.   The colonists felt like they had been abandoned by Mother England, having heard nothing since leaving England some 36 months earlier.   One can easily imagine the jubilation when the Lady Juliana suddenly appeared in Port Jackson in June 1790 with 228 female convicts and 2 years supplies for the convicts.   Later that month the storeship Justinian arrived and the food crisis was over.

The settlement at Norfolk Island met with mixed success.   The soil was fertile, but clearing the rainforest proved difficult and early crops were attacked by rats and parrots.   Within a few years the Norfolk settlers were producing large quantites of pork, but the lack of an off-island market for their produce (now that Sydney was self-sufficient) depressed prices offered by the Commissary.   There was no safe harbour and the few ships that visited the island were often at risk when loading and unloading cargo.   Even those resources which had triggered the colonisation of Norfolk Island, Norfolk pine for ship's masts and flax for rigging, had proved worthless.   The cost of maintaining the civil administration, a military presence and providing stores and shipping for the island had become a burden.   With no economic advantage, the settlement was doomed.

On the 24th June 1803, the first blow fell when Lord Hobart advised Governer King:

"It appears to be advisable that a part of the establishment now at Norfolk Island should be removed, together with a proportion of the settlers and convicts, to Port Dalrymple..."

The Norfolk population which had been over 1,100 for many years, started to dwindle from 1805 onwards as people were withdrawn or forced to emigrate from the island.

On the 9th of November 1807, the Lady Nelson sailed from Norfolk Island with the first group of settlers to be relocated at the Derwent.   Although it only carried 34 persons, the evacuation had begun in earnest.   Certainly one of the most devastating events in the life of the Norfolk Islanders would have been their enforced removal to Van Diemen's Land.   The Norfolk families, who were resident for so many years on a balmy sub-tropical island were thrust into Tasmanian winters with only the most meagre of shared housing to protect them from the icy winds, rain and frosts.   Over the next two years more than half the island's population were evacuated and by 1814 the settlement on Norfolk Island was abandoned, and all buildings were destroyed to discourage unauthorised occupation of the Island.   Norfolk Island was to remain uninhabited for the next 11 years, until the second settlement, but that is someone else's story.....

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