Starvation on Norfolk

Meanwhile, back on Norfolk Island, the population had swollen to 150 and it was soon to quadruple. On the way were another 183 convicts, 27 of their children and two companies of marines. They were being transported in the Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet.

Following a sudden shift in the wind, Sires was impaled on the teeth of a coral reef and was lost, leaving the island with hundreds of additional mouths to feed. As the spectre of starvation hovered over Norfolk, salvation arrived overnight. Like manna to the Israelites, hundreds of thousands of petrels appeared from the sky, migrating back to their nesting burrows on Mount Pitt. The starving Islanders called them 'Birds of Providence', believing they were sent by God to save them. For months, these fishy-tasting but life-preserving birds were slaughtered in numbers between two and three thousand each night.

The population was miraculously saved. But while life was assured, life style deteriorated as, with many more convicts to deal with, a succession of commandants took more and more recourse to the cat o' nine tails. This lead-weighted lash usually broke the flesh on the fourth blow. If a man fainted on the triangle before he had received his prescribed number of lashes, he was taken down and the remainder saved for a time when he was able to bear them. If the flogger did not wield the lash with appropriate zeal, he himself would be flogged. At no time, seemingly, did it occur to the Commandants of this moralistic establishment that men suffering from bestial conditions and deplorable hunger cannot work indefinitely. To eat, they stole. To retain some vestige of self-respect, they were insubordinate. This led to more punishment, condoned, to a large degree, by the chaplains who conducted Divine Service every Sunday to an audience who must have wondered whether God was dead.

Eventually, the authorities decided to abort this sad social experiment. In February, 1814, the island was abandoned and its inhabitants transported to Van Diemen's Land. To ensure that no foreign power should inherit them, the buildings, constructed with such grinding labour, were burned or razed. A dozen dogs were left on the island with the express role of killing the remaining cattle and pigs. When starvation approached, it was expected, they would 'turn and kill'. For an all-too-short time, Norfolk Island was allowed to return to Paradise.

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