Sunday, 1 February 2009

A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies


p. 251

Norfolk Island is about seven miles long and four broad. A small portion of its southern side, is limestone; to the east of this there is a still smaller portion, of coarse, silicious sandstone. The remainder of the island is basaltic, and rises into hills, covered with grass and forest. The highest hill is Mount Pitt, which is on the north side of the island, and about 1,200 feet above the level of the sea. The upper portions of the vallies, and the higher parts of the hills, are covered with wood. The Norfolk Island Pine, Altingia excelsa, towers a hundred feet above the rest of the forest; it also grows in clumps, and singly, on the grassy parts of the island, to the very verge, where its roots are washed by the sea, in high tides. In figure, this tree resembles the Norway Spruce, but the tiers of its branches are more distant. Its appearance is remarkably different, in its native soil, from what it is in the fine collection of trees, at Kew ; where it nevertheless exhibits many of its striking and beautiful features. Where the wood of Norfolk Island, merges into open grassy valley, a remarkable tree-fern, Alsophila excelsa, exhibits its rich crests, among the surrounding verdure. The fronds are from seven to twelve feet long; they resemble those of Aspidium Filix mas, and are produced in such a quantity, as to make this noble fern excel the princely palm-tree, in beauty. It usually has its root near the course of some rain-stream, but as its trunk rises to fifty feet in height, and its top does not affect the shade, like many of its congeners, it forms a striking object in the landscape.

Much of the land was formerly cultivated, but this is now over-run with the Apple-fruited Guava, and the Lemon, which were introduced many years ago, when the Island was settled, with a view to its becoming a granary to New South Wales. Grape Vines, Figs, and some other fruits have also become naturalized. In the garden at Orange Vale, Coffee, Bananas, Guavas, Grapes, Figs, Olives, Pomegranates, Strawberries, Loquats, and Melons, are cultivated successfully. Apples are also grown here, but they are poor and will not keep.

This Island being inaccessible, except at the opening in the reef, before noticed, and very remote from all other inhabited lands, has been selected for a penal settlement, for the worst description of prisoners. Most of those now here, have been transported from New South Wales or Van Diemens Land, on account of crimes committed in those Colonies, after the parties had been transported from Great Britain or Ireland.

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