Pitcairn to Norfolk

Meanwhile, the Pitcairners were finding their tiny island increasingly unable to support them. Of its one and three quarter square miles, only 8% (88 acres) is flat land and there were now close to 200 mouths to feed. Compounding the problem was the scarcity of fish; they had deserted the coastal waters following a storm in 1845 which caused massive landslides. In 1855, the elders wrote to Queen Victoria, humbly begging for help. In one of the most generous gestures in the Empire's history, she offered them Norfolk Island.

Thirty four persons at first declined the offer, but finally, on the 3rd of May 1856, the entire Pitcairn community of 194 persons sailed for Norfolk in the Morayshire . After a miserable trip of 3,700 miles, during which virtually the entire ship's complement was hideously seasick for the entire 5 weeks, the Morayshire arrived at Norfolk Island on the 8th of June, 1856. A reenactment of this landing is celebrated annually. Perhaps because the date is also that of the day that the Bounty was commissioned, it is commonly known as Bounty Day.

Everything about their new home astonished the Pitcairners: the massive stone buildings were veritable castles, the cattle and horses were the first they had ever seen, as were gardens of English flowers and exotic new fruits and vegetables. The lavatories were a mystery until their use was explained. Anything with wheels provided a novel sport - it was pushed down the nearest hill and smashed. Furniture which exceeded the bounds of pure functionality became fuel. The mopokes and the 'Ghost Birds' terrified the newcomers as did reminders of punishments the convicts were forced to endure. A gibbet which stood in front of the prison was hurled into the sea

Gradually, the Pitcairners adapted to their new home. Bishop Selwyn, who had designated Norfolk 'the Ocean Hell' when he visited it in convict days, now wrote: 'I doubt not that eventually the presence of the Pitcairn people will render it what nature intended it to be - an earthly paradise'. But when Governor Sir William Dennison sent instructions for their behavior, making it clear that the islanders were beholden to New South Wales, they were dismayed, maintaining that an absolute condition of their leaving Pitcairn was that Norfolk should be ceded to them totally.

Just 18 months after their arrival, 17 members of the Young family sailed the 3,700 miles back to Pitcairn. This was the first separation in a community which had been living as one family for sixty years and the parting was a fearful wrench. Today, a tiny community remains on Pitcairn, their adventures eagerly followed by their namesakes on Norfolk.

For many years, subsistence farming was the lifestyle of Norfolk island. Again and again, attempts at exporting produce resulted in boom-and-bust cycles. Beginning in 1849, and in fits and starts for just over a century, whaling was the principal income earner. In 1920 the Melanesian Mission, after 50 years occupancy of one-sixth of the island, closed down, leaving a fine legacy in the church of St. Barnabas. During World War II , an airstrip was built and this revolutionised the economy of the island as tourism swiftly became its mainstay.

Norfolk Island History in Detail

Early Days
The 'Bounty' Connection
Seeds of Mutiny
The Open Boat Journey
Starvation on Norfolk
Fate of the Bounty Mutineers
The Noble Savages
Second Settlement
Hell in Paradise
Pitcairn to Norfolk