Sunday, 1 February 2009

Norfolk Island, 1835

The only island that is colonized on the coast of New Holland, is that of Norfolk, which is a penal settlement, different from that at Moreton Bay, inasmuch as those persons sent to the former are generally of the worst description, and most probably sent there for a long period ; while convicts are not sentenced to the latter for more than seven years.

Its distance from Sydney is about 1,000 miles, and it is 400 to the northward of New Zealand. For the following notices of it I am indebted to an officer of the Fourth, or King's Own Regiment, who was stationed there some months.

Norfolk Island, situated in 29 deg. 2 min. south latitude, 168 deg. 13 min. east longitude, is about twenty-one miles in circumference. The air is very pure, and the climate fine and temperate, resembling very much that of Portugal, but subject to sudden squalls, chiefly from the S.E.
The soil is uncommonly fertile, and capable of producing the fruits and vegetables of every part of the world in perfection; but care must be taken to shelter fruit trees from the effects of the southerly winds, which are liable to destroy them by a kind of blight.

The island is covered with a very thick " brush," and a great variety of trees, amongst which the pine (pinus insularis) is the most conspicuous, growing to the height of two hundred and forty feet, and forming very useful timber : there is also a tree called the blood wood, so termed from the colour of its sap, and a variety of others with the botanical names of which I am unacquainted: some of them are peculiar to the island, and have never been described. Lemons, citrons, guavas, grapes, pomegranates, coffee plants and figs, abound in almost all the gullies. The ferns are numerous and very beautiful, and several of them are found nowhere else. Every kind of grain can be cultivated with success : tobacco and sugar canes also thrive well, particularly the former. The surface is extremely irregular, consisting of a succession of hills and gullies thrown together without the slightest appearance of design or order ; and nearly all the gullies are watered by small streams, generally of the purest water, occasionally mixed with a considerable quantity of iron.

Mount Pitt, which arises 1,200 feet above the sea, is basaltic ; the rest of the island is commonly pudding-stone and sand-stone.

There is no safe anchorage on any side of the island, and the landing is at all times very precarious, the surf rising so very rapidly as to preclude any certainty even for a very short time.

The population consists of 800 persons, of whom upwards of 500 are convicts, 124 military, and the remainder civil servants of the government. The prisoners are employed in building, felling timber, making roads, and cultivating the farm, on which the principal grain is maize. Fish are plentiful, and the most abundant are snappers, trumpeters, salmon, king-fish, gropers, etc. etc.
The only animals are wild cats, which are common, and rats ; the birds are pigeons, woodquests (a large and handsome kind of pigeon,) parrots, lories, several kinds of peterel, boatswains, and sometimes curlew and plover.

From the uncommon verdure which prevails throughout the year, caused by the frequent showers, the scenery is highly beautiful and romantic ; the lemon and citron trees are seen bending under the weight of their fruit, and guavas are equally abundant. The last form the principal food of the rats.

There are several good roads in the island leading to the different objects considered worthy of notice; the brush, however, is so thick, that it is a very easy matter to lose one's way for many hours : in some places it is quite impervious. In the gullies, New Zealand flax (phormium tenax) is found in large quantities ; the government sent. three natives of that country to instruct the prisoners in dressing it; but either from want of proper instruments, or as was said of the proper class of natives, the attempt was, for the most part, a failure.

The Norfolk island pine sometimes attains a most astonishing size : the following dimensions of one were given me by a medical gentleman long resident in the island. Diameter near the ground 12 feet; and at the height of 80 feet, nearly 9 feet ;"to that height the stem was perfectly straight, but it had then a slight twist or bend. The total height of the tree was two hundred and sixty-seven feet! He added that the settlement ought to have been on the north side of the island, as the landing is much more easy there: on the south side the colony is so difficult of approach that vessels are sometimes several weeks off the place before they can disembark their passengers, or discharge their cargoes. Another objection to the present site is the circumstance of there being a morass close by it!

As the convicts who are transported to the island (from Sydney) are those only who have been convicted of crimes of some enormity, it may easily be imagined what a set of knaves must be collected together, when it is considered that in addition to the sentence of transportation (perhaps for life) pronounced upon them in England, they are sentenced, in New South Wales, to a second deportation!

From all that I have heard of this settlement, I should hardly suppose it can pay' its own expenses ; of course, as the number of convicts increase, some other spot must be selected as an additional penal establishment.
Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen's Land, During the Years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833
By William Henry Breton
Published by R. Bentley, 1835

No comments: