Norfolk Island was used as a penal settlement on two separate occasions. The first from March 1788 to February 1814, and the second from 1824 to 1853.
In 1787 Governor Phillip had been instructed to send a detachment to Norfolk Island as soon as circumstances permitted after arrival. On 12 February 1788 he appointed Philip Gidley King Superintendent and Commandant of the Island.
February 14, 1788 - An expedition under the command of Philip Gidley King set out in the Supply, with Lieut. Ball, to form a settlement at Norfolk Island. The party consisted of Lieut. King, 1 subaltern officer (James Cunningham), a surgeon (Thomas Jamison), Assistant surgeon John Altree, Roger Morley, Mr. William Westbrooke, Mr. Sawyer, John Batcheldor, and Charles Heritage, with nine male and six female convicts, 24 in all.
March 6, 1789. Norfolk Island taken possession of by Lieut. King and party, who celebrated the occasion by hoisting the British colours and drinking the healths of His Majesty the King, the Queen, the Princess of Wales, and success to the settlement,
December 24, 1789. First harvest (wheat) reaped in Norfolk Island
March 24, 1790. Lieut.-Governor Ross relieved Lieut.-Governor King in the command, whilst the latter proceeded to England to report to His Majesty's Ministers on the new settlement at Norfolk Island.
March 24, 1790. Inhabitants of Norfolk Island, 498, of whom 191 men and 100 women were convicts.
Justinian and Surprize standing into Sydney Bay
The convict ship Surprize arrived in Sydney with convicts in 1790. On 1st August 1790 the Surprize departed Port Jackson bound for Norfolk Island laden with provisions and 35 male and 150 female convicts, two superintendents and one deputy commissary.
December, 1791. The wheat harvest of Norfolk Island amounted to 1,000 bushels
1793. The state of affairs at Norfolk Island was such that the settlers were enjoying the greatest prosperity; 2,000 bushels of wheat and 50 tons of potatoes were produced. The population of the island was 1,008 persons.
June 29, 1800. Major Foveaux appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island
July 6, 1802. Mr. D'arcy Wentworth, surgeon, appointed to proceed to Norfolk Island
February 8, 1803. Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth ordered to duty at Norfolk Island
March 19, 1803. Lieut. James Bowen, of H.M.S. Glatton, appointed to take charge and command, as Deputy Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island, during the absence of Lieutenant-Governor Foveaux
September 29, 1803 Lieutenant-Governor Foveaux arrived from Norfolk Island, leaving the command of the settlement to Captain Wilson
May 8 1805 Extraordinary high tide at Norfolk Island
The abandonment of the settlement of Norfolk Island took place in 1805.(The order for the abandonment had been issued in 1803. The settlers on that island were mostly emancipists, and had farms of from 33 to 40 acres. These settlers were conveyed either to Van Diemen's Land or New South Wales at the public expense, and had grants of land given to them, double the amount of their former possessions, with cattle on loan, and rationed at the public stores as new settlers. The majority of the settlers from Norfolk Island went to Van Diemen's Land, and there founded a settlement, naming the place where they located New Norfolk and Norfolk Plains after the name of the island they had been compelled to leave.)
The first group, of 159 mostly convicts and families and military, departed in February 1805 . Between November 1807 and September 1808, five groups of 554 people departed. Only about 200 people remained, forming a small settlement until the remnants were removed in 1813.
From 15 February 1814 to 6 June 1825 the island lay abandoned.
In 1824 it was decided to re-establish the island as a place of banishment for the worst re-offenders.
On 6 June 1825 Major Turton, along with 34 troops, six women and children, and 57 convicts, reoccupied the Island.
August 15, 1826 Norfolk Island appointed a place to which offenders convicted in New South Wales, and being under sentence of transportation, should be sent
September, 1827 Serious outbreak amongst the prisoners at Norfolk Island; fifty escaped to Phillip Island, seven miles distant, where after three had been killed, the rest were captured, or after a time surrendered. .
June 29, 1839 Captain J. Wakefield, 39th Regiment, resigned his position as Commandant of Norfolk Island
1842 - The Governor Phillip, a vessel employed by Government to carry supplies to and from Norfolk Island, was piratically seized by the prisoners of that island. The boat's crew, numbering 12 men, all prisoners, who were employed between the island and the vessel, by a preconcerted plan, disarmed the sentry on board, compelled such of the crew who were on deck to jump overboard, and secured the captain, mate, and soldiers below deck. The captain and mate, by breaking through a partition, got in communication with the soldiers, and commenced an attack by firing through the crevices, which took effect, when they rushed on deck, and after a brief struggle with the pirates, recaptured the vessel. The soldiers lost one man, and five others were wounded; of the convicts, five were killed and two wounded. The others were tried, and four were convicted and executed. .
February 28, 1843 The Governor visited Norfolk Island on a tour of inspection, with instructions from the Secretary of State, .
April 2, 1844 Norfolk Island declared no longer a dependency of New South Wales, .
October 1, 1844 - Government of Norfolk Island passed from New South Wales to Tasmania, .
1845 - Major Childs, Governor of Norfolk Island, replaced Maconochie, .
The Pitcairn Islanders, numbering 194 souls, established themselves at Norfolk Island. They were allotted land for cultivation, and supplies for a limited period; they were also supplied with seeds and implements of husbandry. A magistrate and chaplain were appointed. The instructions from the Secretary of State were that the islanders should be as little interfered with as possible, and that their existing social system was to be maintained.
Philip Gidley King 1791 - 1796 (arrived per Gorgon)
Captain John Townson October 1796 - November 1799 (Arrived per Scarborough in 1790)
Captain Thomas Rowley November 1799 - July 1800 (arrived per Pitt in 1792)
Major Joseph Foveaux 1800 - 1804
John Piper 1804 - 1810 (arrived per Pitt in 1792)
Captain T.A. Crane April 1810 - February 1813
Richard Turton 6 June 1825 - April 1826 (arrived per Ann and Amelia in 1825)
Vance Young Donaldson 1826 - 1827 (arrived per Henry Porcher in 1825)
Thomas Edward Wright 1827 to 1828 (arrived per Boyne in 1826)
Robert Hunt 1828 - 1829 (arrived per Morley in 1828)
Joseph Wakefield February 1829 to 29 June 1829
Colonel James Thomas Morisset 1829 - 1834 (arrived on Harmony in 1827)
Foster Fyans 1834 (arrived on the Sovereign from Mauritius in 1833)
Major Joseph Anderson 1834 - 1839
Thomas Bunbury 1839 (arrived in VDL per Susan in November 1837)
Thomas Ryan 1840 (arrived on George the Third in 1835)
Alexander Maconochie - 17 March 1840 - 1844 (arrived per Nautilus in 1840)
Joseph Childs - 8 February 1844 - 5 August 1846
John Giles Price - 1846 - 1853
By William Bernard Ullathorne who visited the island in 1835:
Norfolk Island is 1,000 miles from Sydney. It is small, only about twenty - one miles in circumference, of volcanic origin, and one of the most beautiful spots in the universe. Rising abruptly on all sides but one from the sea, clustering columns of basalt spring out of the water, securing, at intervals, its endurance.with the strong architecture of God. That one side presents a low, sandy level, on which is placed that penal settlement, which is the horror of men. It is approachable only by boats, through a narrow bar in the reef of coral, which, visible here, invisibly circles the island.
Except the military guard, and the various officers and servants of government, none but the prisoners are permitted to reside on the island, nor, unless in case of great emergency, can any ship, but those of government showing the secret signals, be permitted to approach.
The island consists of a series of hills and vallies, curiously interfolded, the green ridges rising one above another, until they reach the shaggy sides and crowning summit of Mount Pitt, at the height of 3,000 feet above the level of the sea. The estab lishment consists of a capacious quadrangle of buildings for the prisoners, the military barracks, and a series of offices in two ranges. A little further beyond, on a green mound of nature's beautiful making, rises the mansion of the Commandant, with its barred windows, defensive cannon, and pacing sentry. Straying some distance along a footpath, we come upon the cemetery, closed in on three sides by close, thick, mclancholy groves of the tear-dropping manchineal; whilst the fourth is open to the restless sea.
The graves are numerous aud recent - most of the tenants having reached, by an untimely end, the abode to which they now contribute their hapless remains and hapless story. I have myself witnessed fifteen descents into those houses of mortality - and in every one lies a hand of blood. Their lives were brief, and as agitated and restless as the waves which now break at their feet, and whose dying sound is their only requiem. I have already observed, that such is the horror the convict of N. S. Wales entertains for this settlement, that we frequently hear the condemned, even from the gallows, thank God they are going to die, rather than to live at Norfolk Island.
The number of criminals at the settlement, in 1835, was 1200, of whom 450 were Catholic. Of late, this number has been augmented by nearly 200 annually. They are worked in heavy irons, and fed on salt meat and maize bread. Until lately, religion was utterly excluded from these miserable men. Their deep depravity had become a proverb even in N. S. Wales. So corrupt was their most ordinary language, as incessantly to present the imagination with the absent objects of the passions as though present - so perverse, that, in their dialect, evil was literally called good, and good, evil - the well-disposed man was branded wicked, whilst the leader in monstrous vice was styled virtuous. The human heart seemed inverted, and the very conscience reversed. So indifferent had even life become, that murders were committed in cold blood; the murderer afterwards declaring he had no ill-feeling against his victim, but that his sole object was to obtain his own release. Lots were even cast; the iman on whom it fell committed the deed, his comrades being witnesses, with the sole view of being taken, for a time, from the scenes of their daily miseries to appear in the court at Sydney, although, after the execution of their comrade, they knew they should be remanded to their former haunts of wretchedness. So notorious is this fact, that it was made the ground of a legislative enactment, by whose power criminals are now tried by a special commission upon the island. This arrangement has, in a great measure, suspended such atrocities, though it has not altogether put an end to them. The life of these men was one of despair; their passions, severed from their usual objects, centred in one intense thirst for liberty, to be gained at whatever cost. Their faces were like those of demons. If a comrade was suspected of betraying their practices, he could no longer with safety sleep amongst them, but was separated to secure life.
In 1834, a conspiracy was formed by the prisoners to destroy the military and seize the island. They were defeated, and thirty-one of their number condemned to death. In 1835, I sailed to the island to prepare such of them as might be Catholic to meet their end. My unexpected appearance, late on the night of my arrival, came on then like a vision. I found them crowded in three cells, so small as barely to allow their lying down together - 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. A few words of preparation, and then their fate. 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 such a place. Who can describe our emotions ! I found only three of the condemned to be Catholic - four others wished me to take them also to my care. During the five days permitted for preparation, they manifested extraordinary fervour of repentance.
The morning come, they received on their knees the sentence as the will of God. Loosened from their chains, they fell down in the dust, and, in the warmth of their gratitude, kissed the very feet that had brought them peace. Their death moved many of their comrades. On the two successive days of execution and burial, I preached, from the graves of the dead, to their former associates. During the week still allowed before the departure of the ship, twenty conversions followed, and one hundred and fifty general confessions. I left books behind me before departure, arranged a form of prayer for their use on Sunday, and obtained the appointment of one as reader, whose duty also it should be to teach those who were unable to read, at the intervals between labour and food. At the close of 1836, my good Bishop permitted me again to visit Norfolk Island, a duty I had much at heart. I was received with great joy by my poor penitents, who, through all sorts of ridicule and persecution from their comrades, had persevered in their resolutions. I admitted them to the holy communion. Nearly sixty had learned to read their prayer books. The Commandant assured me that crime had considerably diminished, and that the Catholics were remarkably attentive to their duties of religion. Let me not forget how much of this was owing to the prudence and solicitude of the Commandant himself. I record the name of Major Anderson with unmingled satisfaction. His minute personal knowledge of the desperate men under his charge, and the discrimination with which he encourages the well disposed, whilst he strikes terror into the obstinate, has been attended with most salutary consequences. What was my delight to find that, for the fifteen months elapsed since my last visit, there was not one Catholic to be brought before the judge. During the fifteen days allowed me before our return, three hundred confessions, and twelve conversions, rewarded my labours. I saw these dreaded characters conse to the arms of religion like children. What may she not do with men when every hope from this world is departed, and nothing appears on their path but sufferings. The penitents, now become the greater number of Catholics, begged to be locked up in separate wards from the rest, that they might say their morning and night prayers together. Except these two visits, no priest has been at Norfolk Island. Since my arrival in England, I have received a letter from one of these poor prisoners, who consoles me in these terms: Rev. SIR,-Aware that your insignia is “Non ignarus mali, miseris succurere disco, therefore I feel no hesitation in writing. I rejoice to have to inform you that of the many who received your instructions, there are none, I am aware of, returned to their former wickedness; but notwithstanding the many enemies they have to encounter, the many instruments employed by Satan to debar them from those duties due to their Creator, they have withstood * I have also to inform you that in addition to the number which seemed to be zealous heretofore, there are three times that number at present. They are all desirous to learn, to be instructed, and earnestly look for books; even those who have not attended you during that happy time you have been with us, want books. The wicked are constantly endeavouring to bring back to their former vice those in whom they perceive any conversion. We earnestly request you will not be long absent from us. The constant prayers of your most humble but unfortunate servant, .Catholic Mission in Australasia
Notes and Links
1). Transactions at Norfolk Island February 1790 to February 1791 - Project Gutenberg
3). Aaron Price arrived in the colony as a convict on the Guildford in 1824. He became a member of the notorious bushranger gang known as Jacob's Irish Brigade. He was sent to Norfolk Island and eventually became an overseer of public works there. In 1846 he was involved in a riot, but on the side of the constables and military. He kept a diary while at Norfolk Island which can be found at State Library NSW
9) Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time By John Henniker Heaton
10). William Archer, age 22. Fisherman from Sculthorpe was tried at Lynn 21 April 1828. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation for shop breaking. On arrival in the colony he was assigned to William Sparke at Hunter River. In August 1833 while assigned to Sparke he was found guilty of theft and sent to Norfolk Island 23 January 1834. Having performed several daring rescues he was released from servitude at Norfolk Island and sailed for Sydney, a free man. He became Mayor of Grafton in 1861. His life story as told by John Small was published in the Tweed and Brunswick Advocate in 1889 and was advertised as a thrilling narrative of the Life and Adventures of William Archer during ten years penal servitude on Norfolk Island and a brief sketch of his sufferings and privations on the Hunter River, together with a graphic account of his trial and the incidents leading up thereto in which the ancestors of some of the most prominent public men in NSW took part. William Archer died at
Woodford Island aged 88 in 1891. His wife Ellen died at Grafton in October 1903. Read his life story here
Image of the Norfolk built at Norfolk Island in 1798
The colonial sloop Norfolk was built at Norfolk Island in 1798 when John Townson of the New South Corps was Lieutenant-Governor.