Leaving Norfolk Island Behind
Leaving Norfolk Island behind

One of the most difficult problems that Governor Collins had to face was the flood of settlers from Norfok Island who were forced upon him at the worst possible time.

This was made worse still by the apparent ignorance in London of the supply of building material and stock that the Governor could put his hand on at a moment’s notice, when in fact there had been a famine in Tasmania in 1806 and a great shortage prevailed of screws, axes, nails and other implements required for building houses.

The settlers and inhabitants from Norfolk Island were divided into three classes:

The first class consist of discharged marines and old servants of the Government who will be allowed food and clothing free of charge for two years, also four workmen rationed and clothed.  These are to have priority in everything.

The second class will be those who have been convicts but have earned complete freedon; they will be clothed and victualled and given two men to work for them for two years.

The third class covers all those islanders owning land or building but with no claims on the Government.  They will be clothed and fed from Governments stores for 12 months, with two men to help clear their grants of land in Van Diemen’s Land for the same period.

All classes are to be supplied with farm implements and other tools for use in cultivating the soild on their land.

Poor old Governor Collins had no idea how he could fulfil these conditions when he received the orders from Sydney.  Most of his men were old or feeble and some of them even the soldiers had been forced through lack of supplies to make their own clothing from the skins of kangaroos and possums.

In 1803 orders were given for the first group of Norfolk Islanders to be removed.  All moveable property belonging to these people, including their livestock, was to be taken at the cost of the Government, to any place they chose.

For every acre of cultivation they had left behind at Norfolk Island, four acres of land were to be granted them by Gov Collins, and two acres for any unimproved land they may possess.  They were also to receive free rations for them and their men.  Only enough people were to be left on Norfolk Island to grow maize and fatten the pigs.

Initially many of the islanders were happy to the terms, but as their crops were on the point of ripening they asked to leave after they had harvested the crops.  But then after having time to think the matter over, some of them objected strongly to being forced away from their tropical paradise, to the harsher conditions of Van Diemen’s Land. 

The first Norfolk Islander to arrive at Hobart was George Guest, who came on the “Sydney” with Joseph Holt.  George brought with him his wife and six children and a flock of sheep.  Gov Bligh, when hearing of the arrival told Collins to by any of the sheep that he could for £2/2/- per head.  However many died during the voyage.

Two years later a stream of ships started bringing the Norfolkers in earnest.  The “Lady Nelson”, “Estromnia”, “City of Edinborough”, “Porpoise”, and “Buffalo” all
brought their quota and Gov Collins was in despair.

It was easily seen that the Government would never be able to fulfil the promises that it initially gave as an enticement to come to Van Diemen’s Land.

Some of the islanders were billeted with the residents of Hobart Town, and some offered to waive all claims against the Government if Gov Collins would give them livestock equal in value to the homes they had left behind on Norfolk Island.

They were offered sheep and Bengal cows, instead of the houses, outhouses and barns they had been promised.  They required clothing and bedding, but there was none to be given.  Instead of 386 people expected, there were nearly 800, being the whole of the establishment from Norfolk not including the military.

Some of the chararacters had been described by Capt Piper, Commandant of Norfolk Island, as being “desperate characters”.   (Robert Jillett was one such person)

Collins also had to contend with the antics of Governor Bligh.  Bligh was certainly a shifty character,
and it was not uncommon for him to just take whatever he wanted from the new settlers. 
He took command of the “Porpoise” and moored it midsteam.  He loaded its guns, and ordered all
passing craft to come close enough for inspection.  Later the vessel was moved downstream
towards Sandy Bay where the Norfolkers and others smuggled fresh meat and vegetables on
board against orders.

Eighteen of the Norfolk Islanders expressed their support for Bligh, and there was a seething
unrest in the community.
At one stage Bligh ordered the ship’s guns to open fire on passing craft, but the balls were
fired high and while damage was done no lives were lost.

Collins prohibited all communication between the ship and the shore, and finally Bligh moved
the boat down channel to a commanding position at the mouth of the Derwent near Bruny Island.
  Here he behaved like any other pirate, robbing passing ships at gun point and taking supplies
intended for the settlement at Hobart Town.  Many of the settlers risking Collins’ wrath drove
their sheep and cattle to a point where they could be slaughterd for supplies to the Porpoise. 

From Research in records held in the “Jillett Family Files” and Wikipedia

Norfolk Island     
Norfolk Island is considered the first established penal colony within the Australian continent. Before the sailing of the first British fleet to establish the continent’s first territory, British Governor Arthur Phillip was specifically instructed to colonize its Eastern Norfolk Island to prevent the land from falling into the hands of the
French who were also showing interest in the Pacific. When the fleet arrived at mainland Port Jackson in January of 1788, Phillip ordered Lieutenant Philip Gidley King to lead a party of fifteen convicts and seven free men to establish the island and prepare for its commercial development.

It was soon found that the flax found throughout Norfolk Island was difficult to prepare for manufacturing and required native skills. Two
Maori men, indigenous to New Zealand , were brought to the island to teach the colonists how to prepare and later weave the flax. The plan, however, would fail as weaving was the work of native women and the two men had little knowledge of it. The colonists also abandoned Norfolk Island’s potential pine timber industry as the wood was not resilient enough to craft masts.
Regardless, more convicts arrived and the island was used as a farm to supply Sydney with
cereal , grain, and vegetables. However the majority of crops did not survive the overseas transportation due to salty winds, rats, and caterpillars. Sydney also lacked a natural safe harbor which proved to hinder communication and the transport of supplies between the island and the mainland.

In March of 1790, with Sydney facing a widespread
famine, a great number of convicts and marines were transported to Norfolk Island via HMS Sirius to increase the island’s productivity. The attempt to relieve Sydney’s situation later turned to disaster when the ship was wrecked and most stores were destroyed. The entire crew was marooned for ten months. This news was met in Sydney with great concern as Norfolk Island was now further cut off from the mainland. With the subsequent arrival of England’s Second Fleet carrying a cargo of sick and abused convicts, the city had even more pressing problems to contend with.

As early as 1794, British officials suggested the island’s closure as a penal settlement as it proved too remote and difficult for shipments, and far too costly to maintain. By 1803, the British Secretary of State called for the dismantling of the Norfolk Island military establishment, and exported settlers and convicts to Southern Van Diemen's Land. In February of 1805 the first group, comprised mainly of convicts, their families, and military personnel, departed from Norfolk Island. By 1808, less than 200 settlers remained and formed a small settlement until all societal remnants were removed in 1813 by a small party instructed to slaughter livestock and destroy all buildings leaving little incentive for another European power to colonize the island. The island lay abandoned until 1825.

In 1824, the British government instructed the Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane, to occupy Norfolk Island as a place to send the worst of convict settlers. Its remoteness, seen previously as a disadvantage, was now viewed as an asset for the detention of men who had committed further crimes since arriving in New South Wales. Governor General George Arthur of Van Diemen's Land believed that prisoners sent to Norfolk Island “should on no account be permitted to return” and the reformation of convicts was dismissed as an objective of the Norfolk Island penal settlement.

In 1846, a report of magistrate Robert Pringle Stuart exposed Norfolk Island’s scarcity and poor quality of food, inadequacy of housing, horrors of
torture , and incessant flogging, insubordination of convicts, and corruption of overseers. Bishop Robert Willson later visited Norfolk Island and reported similar findings to the House of Lords, who came to realize the enormity of atrocities perpetrated under the British flag and attempted to remedy the evils. Rumors of resumed atrocities brought Willson back in 1852 and produced a further damning report.

Only a handful of convicts left any written record of such conditions, their descriptions of living and working conditions, food and housing, and, in particular, the punishments given for seemingly trivial offenses are unremittingly horrifying, describing a settlement devoid of all human decency, under the iron rule of the tyrannical autocratic commandants.

The second resurgence of Norfolk Island as a penal settlement began to be wound down by the British Government after 1847, and the last convicts were transported to
Tasmania in May 1855.

Van Diemen's Land
Van Diemen's Land was the original name used by the British for the island of
Tasmania now part of Australia. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to discover Tasmania. He named the island in honor of Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company, who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery in 1642. In 1803, the island was colonized by the British Empire as a penal colony with the name Van Diemen's Land.

From the 1830s to the abolition of penal transportation in 1853, Van Diemen's Land was the primary penal colony in Australia. Following the suspension of transportation to Norfolk Island, all convicts sent to Australia served their sentences as assigned labor to free settlers, or in
chain gangs assigned to public works. Only the most difficult convicts were sent to the Tasman Peninsula prison known as Port Arthur. In total, some 75,000 convicts were transported to Van Diemen's Land, or about 40 percent of all convicts sent to Australia.

Convicts completing their sentences or earning their tickets-of-leave often promptly left Van Diemen's Land to settle in the new free colony of Victoria. Tensions often ran high between the free settlers and the "Vandemonians" as they were termed, particularly during the Victorian Gold Rush when a flood of settlers from Van Diemen's Land rushed to the Victorian
gold fields. Complaints from Victorians about recently released convicts from Van Diemen's Land re-offending in Victoria was one of the contributing reasons for the eventual abolition of transportation to Van Diemen's Land in 1853.

In order to remove the unsavory connotations with crime associated with its name, in 1856 Van Diemen's Land was renamed to Tasmania in honor of Abel Tasman. The last penal settlement in Tasmania at Port Arthur finally closed in 1877.     
       Link to New World Encyclopedia

Many stories are to be found on the world wide web about the settlements and the transfer to Van Diemen’s land, and some are included here for reference.  A link to the website is provided.

Tasmania - A History of New Norfolk

The Lady Nelson (replica)
New Norfolk Link
Return to Norfolk Island
Link to Irene Schaeffer Website about Norfolk