Norfolk Island Fun Facts – History

Welcome to Norfolk Island, a small island that lies some 1700 kilometres or so off the east coast of mainland Australia, almost midway between New Caledonia and New Zealand. I’ve just spent a week here… Get ready for an interesting island ride…and some fun facts.

history /ˈhɪst(ə)ri/

1. The study of past events, particularly in human affairs

2. The whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing.

Norf’k Island Fun facts: History – Thats what yorlye come here for, yeah?

Artefacts have been found providing evidence that Polynesian seafarers had habituated on the island in the past. At the time of European ‘discovery’, I prefer the term ‘mapping’, in 1774 by Commander James Cook – explorer, navigator, and cartographer – on his second voyage to the South Pacific, the island was uninhabited. (By the way, Cook was not a Captain until 1775).

Kingston, Norfolk Island.

The boat in the foreground is known as a lighter. When ships come to the island to supply goods, they are used to bring the goods ashore. Two lighters will be trussed together for larger items such as a car!

The first European settlement was in 1788 when 6 women and 9 men (free settlers) and 15 convicts from the first fleet sailed from Sydney Cove on the HMS Sirius to the island. The main reason was the height of the Norfolk Pine was thought to be great for ships masts, but this turned out untrue as the wood is to knotty.

Sydney Bay, Norfolk Island

While the picture above are just rocks, at low tide it is possible to see the remnants of the HMS Sirius.

The ship later ran aground in 1790 – in Sydney Bay – and one of the actual anchors from the ship can be found in the Museum on the island, another one is on display at Macquarie Place near Circular Quay in Sydney – the ship carried several bow and stern anchors. The colony was abandoned in 1814 due to the distance from Sydney, interestingly the town on the island was named Sydney after the NSW colony. The bay around the harbour where the HMS Sirius was wrecked is, to this day, named Sydney Bay.

The Gaol, Norfolk Island.

At one end of the gaol, glass can still be seen embedded into the top of the walls. This was to stop the male teenage convicts from continuously climbing up and yelling obscenities to the officers.

In 1825 the island was re-inhabited by the British as a penal colony where the worst of the worst that even Port Arthur in Tasmania couldn’t contain were sent.

Quality Row, Norfolk Island.

The gaol, and government buildings, and ‘finest houses’ were all located on what was known then as ‘Prisoners Row’.

The ‘Arches’.

Historians are not sure why the Arches were built. Some academics say it was a convict barracks, others think it may have been a stable for horses.

When transportation from Great Britain stopped in 1847, so did the penal colony on Norf’k by 1853.

Bloody Bridge.

Bloody Bridge was built by convicts to be able to cross the stream during flooding. When some of the convicts took offence to one of the overseers, they murdered him and buried him within the stone works. The next day an acting overseers noticed blood coming from the bridge and the convicts were discovered of their deadly deed. They were all hung.

In the 1850’s, the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers (1789) who were living on Pitcairn Island some 6000 kilometre east of Norfolk, near French Polynesia, asked Her Majesty Queen Victoria to be resettled due to overcrowding. Her Majesty offered them Norfolk Island – perhaps to keep the island inhabited by British subjects other than being settled by other European powers. Only 700 kms to the north is ‘Nouvelle Caledonie’ – New Caledonia – which had been formally taken possession of by the French in 1853…(Australia is around 1500 kms to the west).

In 1856, 194 Pitcairners travelled the 6000 kms by steamship over 5 weeks to Norf’k Island. A handful of the new settlers didn’t like the island and returned to Pitcairn which these days, has a total population of 47 people.

The Ghost Tour – Norfolk Island.

No. 3 Quality Row is said to be the most haunted property on the island. On the night of our Ghost tour however, no apparitions were to be found.

When they arrived, they renamed ‘Prisoners Row’ to ‘Quality Row’ to lose the convict history, and a lottery was held as to which family received the finest houses. Quality Row is considered the best address on the island.

The island was the only non-mainland self-governing territory of Australia until that was revoked and is now under ACT, Canberra, governance with a local council and NSW providing services – for example, the school studies the NSW school curriculum – but Politics is not encouraged to be talked about with locals or tourists…


Go to Norf’k, it’s a fascinatingly interesting island.

Matty made his own way (by aeroplane, using points) to Norfolk Island and stayed at his own expense

One Comment Add yours

  1. Ooh loved this tour with a glimpse into NI’s fascinating and grisly past!

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