Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Norfolk Island Orientation Tour, June 25th 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 25, 2018

Today we did the Norfolk Island equivalent of the Red Bus Tours that we do in new cities when we’re overseas.

First up, the scenic aspects – you need to know that there were three settlements:

  • The First Settlement (1788-1814) took place within 40 days of Arthur Phillip’s settlement at Port Jackson.  He sent the HMS Sirius to take possession of the island, partly in case the French claimed it but mainly because Captain Cook had recommended that the Norfolk Island pine would make good masts and spars, and the flax could be used for sailor’s clothing.  He was wrong on  both counts, because the NI pine is too soft and the flax turned out to be too hard.  However, the island was very useful as an agricultural settlement, supplementing the pitiful stores they had on the mainland (where stuff obstinately refused to grow due to the drought). When they eventually abandoned the settlement they burnt everything so that there was nothing for the French to take possession of…
  • The Second Settlement (1825-1855) was the infamous penitentiary settlement, set up for the recidivist convicts who were sent here as a lost cause.  Over the thirty years there were 1300 suicides* and about 150 executions.  It was eventually closed down because it was finally deemed to be too brutal.
  • The Third Settlement (which is the one the locals are proud of) took place when the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers outgrew the resources available on Pitcairn Island and were resettled here by grace of Queen Victoria.

*Update 1/7/18: the historian who led the cemetery tour was very indignant about the suicide rate that is quoted by the tour guides.  She says that there are only three verifiable suicides.  I was a bit confused by her reasoning (if I followed it correctly) that if one suicidal convict asked another to put him out of his misery, then there was one murder (of the would-be suicide) and one subsequent execution (of the murderer) and neither of those could be called suicide.  And where are all their graves then, she asked?  Ok, I’m no historian, but this seems like splitting hairs to me.  If life was such hell, and for many it was especially under Price who was a notorious sadist, then both convicts would have achieved their aim of ending it all.  And their graves are not in the cemetery because they probably would both have been buried in unconsecrated ground in unmarked graves because of religious beliefs held at that time.

***

There is nothing to see of the First Settlement but the remnants of the penal colony have been designated World Heritage and the buildings are being preserved and restored.  There are museums to look at – and I’m sure I saw a bookshop (!) but the tour didn’t stop there at all, only at the Kingston lookout where we could take photos from afar.

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But the bus did stop at St Barnaby’s Anglican church. It’s very beautiful, and has an interesting little history as a missionary outpost which trained missionaries for the Polynesian area. When you consider the difficulties of importing anything here, it is quite remarkable that there is a stained glass window by William Morris and a beautiful pipe organ in perfect working order.

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We also learned that the chickens we see everywhere are feral chickens and that they have a cull every year to get rid of them. Clearly it’s not successful because they keep coming back. The cows are free range because there’s not enough grazing land in private ownership (somebody has 100 acres, which doesn’t leave much for everyone else on a very small island) so they use the old English system of grazing on commons. They are beef cows, eventually despatched to dining tables by the butchers here because there is no abattoir. There are no dairy cows because a pasteurisation plant is too expensive – so they have long-life milk imported from the mainland. (You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the very rich people who came here because it’s a tax haven might have generously helped out with some of these problems, but apparently not. I guess you don’t go and live in a tax haven unless you are mean-spirited anyway…)

PS We had nice lunch (chicken crepe and a beef burger with scrumptious chips) at Rumours Café where they had some second-hand books for sale.  Not just any old books, either!  I found a Penguin copy of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (which I’m hoping will be better than the more recent Pushkin edition which I read and didn’t like) and a paperback of cryptic crosswords which the lady wouldn’t let me pay for!  She and I had an interesting chat about Russian lit while she made coffees for other customers:)

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, we might check out the museums.  Or we might loaf indoors with a book…

6 Responses to “Norfolk Island Orientation Tour, June 25th 2018”

  1. Don’t you have love-hate relationships with tours? You learn stuff you probably wouldn’t have learnt (easily anyhow) any other way, but you can only go whether they go and take photos where they stop!

    We are now back from Melbourne where we met gorgeous baby Max. He has a name at last!

    • Lisa Hill said

      Yes, though on balance I can do without them. So often I’m interested in stuff that the average tourist overlooks, and conversely the tour guide wants to talk about stuff I’m not interested in at all.

  2. Lisa Hill said

    Yes, and of course a tour is good if language is an issue…

  3. sally906 said

    Such a beautiful setting for the cruelty of the past. We found the same at Port Arthur in Tassie – breath taking beauty and such horrors bestowed on the inmates.

    • Lisa Hill said

      Hello Sally, how nice to hear from you! Yes, there is the same sense of cruelty lurking beneath the sunny skies, and I was especially taken aback by portraits of some of the convicts in the museums. A human face to the names makes the history all the more real, and here on the island where the inmates were only the worst of the worst makes it hard to remember that on the mainland many if not most of the convicts transcended their circumstances to get a ticket-of-leave and made a new life much better than anything they could have hoped for in England.
      Those suicide statistics are all the more shocking when you remember that these were most probably god-fearing men who believed that suicide was a mortal sin and that they were doomed to eternal damnation…

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