Historically important South Pacific Island - famous as convict prison and home for Mutiny on the Bounty descendants
Norfolk Island is an essential part of any deep understanding of the life of convicts in Australia. Combine it with visits to Tasmania (particularly Port Arthur, Sarah Island and Saltwater River) and it is possible to experience convict life in all its harsh diversity. The undoubted central attraction of Norfolk Island is a combination of the four excellent museums, the Quality Row houses, the fascinating local cemetery (with both convict and Pitcairn Islander graves) and the ruins along Slaughter Bay. The island is now built around tourism - there are two excellent tour companies - and over 40 tours are offered. Particular highlights on the island include the remarkable St Barnabas' Church, the Pioneer Settlers Village, the excellent lookouts at Mount Pitt and above the Quality Row houses at Queen Elizabeth Lookout. The island is a little less than 35 square kilometres and it is only 8 km long and 5 km wide. Norfolk Island is orientated towards to the tourist and holiday maker. It has an excess of interesting places to visit with the emphasis clearly on the historic (the convict ruins are little short of amazing) and the scenic (the views from the lookouts are genuinely beautiful).
Norfolk Island is located 1,673 km north east (2.5 hours by plane) from Sydney and 1,471 km east of Brisbane. It is on the same latitude as Byron Bay.^ TOP
Origin of Name
Norfolk Island was named in 1774 by Captain James Cook. He named it after Mary Howard, the Duchess of Norfolk (1712-1773). It is claimed that the Duchess had asked Cook to name an island after her. She had been one of the sponsors of his expedition. Ironically the Duchess died in 1773 but Cook, who had left England in 1772, could not have known this.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Tours of the Island
Norfolk Island's most important industry is tourism. There are two tour companies which service the island - Baunti Tours (see https://www.bauntitours.com) and Pinetree Tours (see https://www.pinetreetours.com). Baunti Tours offer 26 different tours and Pinetree Tours offer 22 different tours. Many visitors see their activities on the island as doing a series of different tours and both companies provide a diary in their brochure where the visitor can fill in "Morning", "Afternoon" and "Evening" activities. Many resorts and accommodation options on the island offer a free "Half Day Tour" which provides a good overview and allows visitors to choose the tours they wish to experience. However during periods of high activity many tours are booked out and so some visitors prefer to pre-book tours before they travel to the island.
Norfolk Island Museums
* Pier Store Museum
Located on Pier Street near Kingston Pier, the Pier Store tells the story of the Bounty mutineers who resettled from Pitcairn Island in 1856. The building, originally a store built by convicts in 1825, has displays which include objects from the HMS Bounty (there is a cannon and a wedding ring) and there are exhibits relating to the island's unique Norfolk language. Of particular interest is the wedding ring - the signage explains: “According to Pitcairn historians and Island tradition, soon after the nine mutineers landed at the island on 15 January 1790 they were married to their Polynesian wives by Fletcher Christian. He used for the ceremony a Church of England Prayer Book and the only ring brought with them which belonged to Midshipman Edward Young. It is recorded that in marrying the first generation of Pitcairn Islanders, John Adams had used the ring, which had united every couple on the island since its first settlement.” So, all the Pitcairn Islanders had said “With this ring, I thee wed” and then handed the ring back so the next person to get married could use it. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. For more information check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au/experiences/history-culture/kingston/museums/pier-store.
* Commissariat Store Museum
Located on Quality Row, and built in 1835 as the main store for food and other supplies for the convicts and jailers, the Commissariat Store Museum is an unusual combination of a church (on the upper levels) and a museum in the basement. The collection includes an important display of the weapons of oppression used by the gaolers including a cat o' nine tails, leg irons and "part of the grinding mechanism from the nearby Crankmill, where prisoners were forced to perform backbreaking labour."It also has detailed information about the two periods of convict settlement on the island. One sign records that John Price [the most infamous of all the commandants on the island] was "a magistrate and penal administrator, the only non-military Commandant. A cruel sadist, Price encouraged informants, brutality and delivered tyrannical punishment." It is open from Monday to Saturday from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. For more information check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au/experiences/history-culture/kingston/museums/commissariat.
* No.10 Quality Row House Museum
Located on Quality Row, No. 10 Quality Row was built by convicts for Thomas Seller, the foreman of building works on the island, in 1844. It is an opportunity to see what life was like on the island with rooms devoted to Sellers and his family as well as Isaac Christian and Miriam Young, who migrated to the island from Pitcairn Island and were descendants of the original Bounty mutineers, who lived in the elegant house with their 15 children. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. For more information check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au/experiences/history-culture/kingston/museums/no-10-quality-row.
* Sirius Museum
Located on Bounty Street in a building that was once a Protestant chapel which was built in the 19th century, the Sirius Museum is dedicated to the HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet which arrived in Sydney in 1788. The vessel was sunk off Norfolk Island in 1790 and the museum includes "anchors, cannons and other items from the vessel, most of which lay on the ocean floor for more than 170 years before they were salvaged from the wreck." The wreck still lies off the coast near Slaughter Bay. It was explored in great detail between 1983-1985 and a film of that investigation is shown in the museum. It is fascinating. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. For more information check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au/experiences/history-culture/kingston/museums/sirius-museum-protestant-chapel.
Located just beyond the Golf Course at the eastern end of the convict complex, the cemetery is a must-see for those interested in the convict history and the Pitcairn Island history of Norfolk. There is an outstanding book, Colonial Era Cemetery of Norfolk Island, a tour de force of historical research (sadly out of print) which has a map of all the graves (both those of the convicts and those of the soldiers who administered the island – and their families) and detailed descriptions – where possible – of the people who lie under the ground. Here is a poignant sample:
“Grave 80 – Thomas York.
The inscription reads “In Memory of Thomas York / Private in 4th K.O. Reg /Aged 22 years / who was accidentally shot by / a Brother Soldier on the
night / of 17th January 1834 while / in pursuit of Mutineers engaged / with others in a disgraceful attempt / against the peace of the Settlement on / the morning / of the 15th of the same month."
The book explains that about “thirty of the worst convicts” attacked the guards. In the subsequent fight two of the convicts died and eleven were wounded – seven of those eleven subsequently died. One hundred and sixty two convicts were charged but only fifty-five were tried. Thirteen were executed in front of the other convicts – the Catholics were executed separately from the Protestants.
Dr William Ullathorne, the Roman Catholic Vicar General who had travelled to the island “to give spiritual aid” wrote:
“I found them crowded into three cells – their upper garments thrown off for a little coolness. They had for six months been looking for their fate. I had to announce life to all but thirteen; to these, death. Those who were to live wept bitterly; whilst those doomed to die, without exception, dropped on their knees, and with dry eyes, thanked God they were to be delivered from so horrid a place.”
And that, in the story of a single gravestone, tells you all you need to know about “Hell in Paradise”. Death was better than remaining on Norfolk Island.
Another one covered in great detail in Colonial Era Cemetery of Norfolk Island is the remarkable story of Thomas Saulsbury Wright who, according to his grave stone, died "Aged 105 years" - which sounds rather implausible for a convict. The entry reveals that he really did live until he was 105.
Located beyond the Cemetery lies Bloody Bridge. It is one of the island’s most potent myths. In essence the story is that convicts were so infuriated by the harsh treatment meted out by their overseer that they murdered him and put him in the foundations of the bridge … but he leaked … and the murderers were discovered because blood was oozing from the structure. Great story. Sadly, it is just not true.
The sign at the bridge explains: “The name ‘Bloody Bridge’ does not appear in records until 1878. The tale of convicts murdering an overseer on the bridge fascinated Australians from the late 19th century but there is no official records, or pre-1856 newspaper reports, of a murder at this location.
“The myth initially was that three convicts killed a constable. By 1909, stories involved thirteen prisoners and one warder. In 1933 a tourist sign told of sixteen convicts killing two warders and cementing them into the bridge. Legends of cruel overseers and the name Bloody Bridge appear around the world. This bridge may have been named after Bloody Bridge in Dublin, built in 1670.”
Located behind the Kingston UNESCO World Heritage Site, Slaughter Bay is the essence of Norfolk Island's maritime experience. It is protected by a reef. The water is crystal clear. It is shallow (at its deepest point it is only 4 metres). The beach is a mixture of sands and rocks and it is perfect for snorkelling, swimming and exploring the reef. It is a popular destination for surfers and was the site of the wreck of the HMS Sirius.
Emily Bay Lagoon
Located to the east of Slaughter Bay, at the end of Bay Street, Emily Bay Lagoon has been rated one of the best beaches in Australia. It is easy to understand its appeal. The sands are fine and the water is crystal clear. It is an ideal place to go if you want to swim or just relax on the beach ... and it is very safe for children.
Flagstaff Hill Lookout
Located directly above the convict compound, and signposted from Pier Street, this involves an energetic walk up 200 steps. It is worth the effort. From the lookout you can look down on the convict ruins and across to Phillip and Nepean Islands.
Queen Elizabeth Lookout
Located at the top of Rooty Hill Road, which is accessed off Quality Row, this lookout offers views across to Phillip and Nepean Islands and below to the elegant Georgian buildings of Quality Row. It is possible to walk to the lookout but the road is steep.
Queen Victoria Memorial Garden
Located on Queen Elizabeth Avenue next to the Cyclorama, the Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens celebrate the fact that it was during the reign of Queen Victoria, in 1856, that the Pitcairn Islanders were resettled on Norfolk Island. It is notable for its tropical plants, particularly its impressive displays of poinciana. The rotunda has a history of Queen Victoria's relationship with the island and features the names of the families who came from Pitcairn Island - descendants of the five families of the Bounty Mutineers (descendants of Fletcher Christian, John Adams, Matthew Quintal, William McCoy and Edward Young) and families descended from John Buffett and John Evans who arrived on Pitcairn in 1823 and the pastor George Hunn Nobbs who arrived in 1828 - are all featured in the rotunda.
Fletcher's Mutiny Cyclorama
Located at Mulberry Lane Corner on Queen Elizabeth Avenue, this is an unusual 360° panoramic painting with 3D effects (rocks made of polystyrene) which records the events of the Mutiny on the Bounty and the subsequent settlement of Norfolk Island by the descendants of the mutineers. See https://www.norfolkcyclorama.com/ for more information.
The website explains: "Visitors walk inside the circular painting and are surrounded by the immense artwork. A spectacular 3D effect is achieved in this painting with its detailed artwork and realistic perspective, creating an incredible illusion for the viewer. Music and sound effects composed especially for the painting further enhance the Cyclorama experience. The painting blends a series of scenes, taking you on a journey depicting the history of the Norfolk Island people who are descended from the crew of the famous 1789 mutiny on the Bounty and their Tahitian companions. Their tale is told through storyboard panels which document the scenes of the painting – the voyage of the Bounty to Tahiti, the mutiny and the settlement of Norfolk Island." It is open from 10.00 am - 3.00 pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Pitcairn Settlers Village
Located just behind the Cyclorama (the guide says it is an extension of the Cyclorama in the sense that where the painting takes the visitor up to the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders, the Settlers Village offers an insight into the kind of life they led after they arrived) the Pioneer Settlers Village is an interesting guided tour of the Bailey family home and outbuildings - including a working blacksmith's shop. The tour of the "village" is taken on a 1928 A Model Ford which was Norfolk Island's first tour bus.
The brochure explains the village's origins as follows: "In 1856 a small child, Emily Christian, arrived on Norfolk Island from Pitcairn Island with her family and other descendants of the Bounty mutineers. Later, Emily married George Bailey, the island blacksmith and music master with the Melanesian Mission. Together they established this lovely homestead and raised their family on this property granted to them by Queen Victoria in 1877. Their grand daughter, Marie Bailey, lived in the house until her passing in 2016. The property is still owned by the family and the tour continues in Marie's memory."
St Barnabas Chapel
Located on Douglas Drive (6 km north west of Kingston), St Barnabas Chapel is unique. It is a masterful combination of windows by great Pre-Raphaelite artists, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, and pews made from kauri with pearl shell decorations. A combination of South Pacific and Pre-Raphaelite. The chapel was built between 1875 (when the foundation stone was laid) and 1880. It was built as a memorial to Bishop Patteson who was killed by the locals on the Solomon Islands. The Norfolk Island website describes the chapel as "simply beautiful. The four windows in the apse depict the four evangelists, the seats are carved and inlaid with Christian symbols in mother-o'-pearl, polished black and white marble paves the broad aisle leading to the sanctuary, which naturally is the most beautiful portion of the chapel, with its coloured marble floor, and glittering mosaic reredos screened with richly-carved wood. In the centre is a massive silver cross that has been made out of Bishop Patteson's own table-silver, and this is flanked by silver candlesticks and vases of flowers."
The excellent booklet, which is available in the church, notes:
"The Roof - The roof is designed like the keel of a ship. The large supporting beams are of Norfolk pine treated with whale oil."
"The West Window - the beautiful Rose Window ... was produced by the firm of William Morris in Surrey, England ... The five stained glass panels commemorate the five workers who were martyred.
"The East Windows - These five beautiful panels, given by Dowager Viscountess Downe, depict the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with Christ in the centre. They are fine examples of the work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a craftsman of the William Morris School. The colours of the windows are particularly beautiful in the morning sunshine, and are lit from behind for evening services." Check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au/attractions/st-barnabas-chapel.
Colleen McCullough's Home
Located 4 km west of Kingston this home was the residence of Colleen McCullogh, famous as the author of The Thornbirds, and her husband Ric Robinson, a Norfolk Islander. She named the property "Out Yenna" and did most of her writing in the house. There are tours on Tuesday to Friday which wander through this very eccentric home which is not too far removed, in the pantheon of extravagance, from Randolph Hurst’s famous castle at San Simeon and Elvis Presley’s Graceland. It is an expression of a very eccentric sensibility and it is, as you would expect, a rare combination of great beauty and some crazy excess. In two rooms she has some Florence Broadhurst (she was the famous designer who was murdered in Sydney under mysterious circumstances) wallpapers which are loud and overwhelming. One of the rooms with Broadhurst wallpaper is McCullough's study which also contains her old typewriter (she never evolved to a computer). The ‘study’ has been beautifully preserved with some fascinating pix of her house guests including the film director Francis Ford Coppola who stayed for a fortnight. Another room has some glorious Japanese and Chinese art works. By contrast there are a couple of ordinary Norman Lindsay nudes and a rather forgettable Pro Hart. The standout is an exotic room, known as The Fernery, which was used for relaxing. It has ferns tumbling from huge holders which hang from the ceiling. There is a massive table which she bought in North Sydney and the very, very comfortable chairs are covered in florid Florence Broadhurst fabrics. There is detailed information about the tour at https://www.norfolkislandtravelcentre.com/products/tours-activities/heritage-culture/colleen-mccullough-home-tour.
Mount Pitt Lookout
Located 6.5 km north of Kingston, Mount Pitt Lookout is 318 metres above sea level, is accessible by car, and offers panoramic views of the island. Phillip Island can be seen clearly. The lookout offers views, picnic tables and access to a series of walks which include a short walk to the top of Mount Bates which is the highest point on the island. There is a useful, downloadable brochure complete with a map at https://parksaustralia.gov.au/norfolk/pub/walking-track.pdf
Captain Cook Monument and Scenic Lookout
Located 11 km north of Kingston via Duncombe Bay Road, this is the historic location where Captain James Cook landed on the island in 1774. The lookout offers impressive views of the coastline and the monument records the historic landing on the island.The weathered sign on the monument reads: "Captain James Cook R.N. on his second voyage around the world discovered and named this island - Norfolk Isle - landed in the vicinity of this point on 10th October, 1774." See https://parksaustralia.gov.au/norfolk/do/captain-cook-monument/ for more information.
Cockpit Waterfall at Cascade Bay
Located 5 km north east of Kingston, is Cascade Bay and the Cockpit Waterfall where the the Cascade Creek drops into the ocean over volcanic basalt rocks. The falls are clearly signposted. There is a short, fairly level section of unsealed road and the car park is on grass. There are some seats and signage in the reserve.
It is only a short walk of around 100m, on a boardwalk, to the top of the falls. There is also a more difficult path which offers a good view of the falls from the bottom or the sides. The falls are about 10m high and the stream is quite small - if it has not rained they virtually do not "fall" at all.
The Norfolk Island Living Library notes that: "Captain Cook named the waterfalls at Cockpit the “Cascades” when he discovered Norfolk Island in 1774. A rocky outcrop in Cascade Bay was where the First European Settlement landed in 1788. The village of Phillipsburg was laid out by Lt King in 1790 and was important for the flax industry, timber milling, fish processing and whaling." Check out http://www.livinglibrary.edu.nf/_/Cascade_Reserve.html for more details.
Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens
Located 5 km north of Kingston, via Taylors Road and Grassy Road, is the entrance to Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens. There are five short walks in the Botanic Gardens ranging from a wheelchair friendly 90 metre Garden Trail to the Rainforest Gully Circuit which is a moderate walk of 600 metres.
* Garden Trail - easy - 90 metres
* The Boardwalk - easy - 170 metres
* Tree Fern Valley Circuit - moderate - 370 metres
* Rainforest Gully Circuit - moderate - 600 metres
* Samsons Circuit - moderate - 120 metres
There is a useful, downloadable brochure complete with a map at https://parksaustralia.gov.au/norfolk/pub/walking-track.pdf.
Walks Around Norfolk Island National Park
Located 5 km north of Kingston, via Taylors Road and Grassy Road, is the entrance to Norfolk Island Natonal Park. There are ten tracks around the park. They range from the very short Palm Glen Track (290 metres) to the Red Rock Track (a moderately difficult walk of 1.7 km).
* Summit Track - easy - 500 metres
* Mount Bates Track - easy 620 metres
* Palm Glen Track - easy 290 metres
* Palm Glen Circuit Track - easy to moderate - 910 metres
* Bridle Track - easy to moderate - 1.7 km
* Red Rock Track - moderate - 1.7 km
* McLachlans Lane - moderate - 650 metres
* Old Mountain Track - moderate to steep - 540 metres
* Red Stone Link Track - mderate to difficult - 700 metres
* Bird Rock Track - difficult to steep - 760 metres
There is a useful, downloadable brochure complete with a map at https://parksaustralia.gov.au/norfolk/pub/walking-track.pdf.
Located 1 km west of Kingston on the island's southern coast, this is a small rocky beach which is notable for its beautiful clear waters and its attraction for surfers. There is a path from a car parking area down to the beach. If you are not a surfer the appeal lies in the rockpools which are best explored at low tide.
Located halfway up the west coast of the island this is well known as an ideal place to experience the full beauty of a sunset over the Pacific. It was named because, from offshore, there is a rock formation which looks like a dog. You can't see it from onshore.
* The island appeared 3 million years ago as a result of a massive lava surge.
* It is estimated that the Polynesians arrived on the island around 800 A.D.
* The Polynesians left the island around 1400 A.D. No one is sure why they departed.
* Captain James Cook became the first European on the island when he arrived in 1774.
* By 1786, when plans were being drawn up for a colony in New South Wales, Norfolk Island was included.
* The British established a penal colony on the island in 1788. It was colonised to prevent the French settling on the island. The first colony comprised 22 men and women (15 convicts and 7 free men) under the command of Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King.
* In 1790 more convicts were shipped to the island on the HMS Sirius which was wrecked off the coast in March, 1790.
* Settlers and convicts were removed to Van Diemen's Land in 1803.
* The formal settlement on the island was closed in 1814.
* Between 1814-1825 the island was abandoned.
* In 1825 the very worst of convicts (convicts who had been convicted twice) arrived on the island. It was during the next 30 years that it got its reputation for brutality and inhumanity. It became known as "Hell in Paradise".
* The Commissariat Store was built in 1835.
* The penal colony was finally closed in 1855 with convicts being moved to Tasmania.
* In 1856 the British government gave the descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty the totality of Norfolk Island and the old prisoner's settlement. A total of 194 people arrived on 8 June, 1856.
* Whaling became important after 1858 and remained important until the early 1960s.
* In 1867 the Melanesian Mission of the Church of England was established on the island.
* By 1900 the Pitcairn Islanders had established themselves on the island and were establishing orchards and maintaining the roads.
* In 1914 the British government transferred Norfolk Island to Australia.
* In 1942 an airstrip was built on the island.
* After the war the airstrip was turned into an airport and tourism to the island began.
* In 1979 the island was given limited self-government. It was the first non-mainland territory to be granted this right.
* In 2015 Australia abolished the island's Legislative Assembly and appointed an administrator.^ TOP
Royal Engineer Office (Kingston Information Centre), near Slaughter Bay, open Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 3.00 pm.^ TOP
There is an official website. Check out https://www.norfolkisland.com.au.^ TOP