The story of
Norfolk Island, situated in the South Pacific about 1600 km to the east of
Australia and 1400 km north-west of
New Zealand, has a
lot to do with H.M.S. Bounty, Captain William Bligh, Fletcher Christian,
and the famous mutiny of 1789. So that's what I'll focus on.
It's a small
island, about 4x4 miles (7.5x7.5 km) with about 2,000 inhabitants. Of
these, about half are direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the
Tahitians who accompanied them to Pitcairn Island. But, I'm getting ahead
First, a map, so that you can picture it:
and a small aerial photo of the southern
approach to Norfolk Island
Notice the runways on
the left [west] side of the picture
Next, some images to
show you what paradise might look like!
larger versions of these photos, please click on them.)
Kingston, Norfolk Island
The photos below are mine and were taken between July 15 and August 5, 2000.
I hope they'll give you a good impression of mid-winter in the South Pacific.
the Summit of Mt. Pitt
Historic Buildings at
Administration Building, Kingston
Old Lighter near Kingston
Slaughter Bay at Kingston
Another View of Kingston
Bicentennial Centre, Burnt
Shopping Area at Burnt Pine
Driving about Norfolk
St. Barnabas Chapel
A Traditional Island House
Cathedral Rock, North Coast
The South Pacific near Pt.
Nepean & Phillip Islands at
Sunset above Kingston
When you think about it,
this could be Vancouver Island,
except for the Norfolk pines and the weather. Ah yes, the weather!!
Norfolk Island was discovered by Captain James Cook on October 10,
1774, who claimed it for the English crown and gave it its name. The
island was not permanently inhabited until March 6, 1788, when Lt. Philip
King founded the small settlement of Kingston and established a British
penal colony. It remained a penal colony (with an interruption between
1813 and 1826), with a rather unsavoury reputation for brutality, until
1855. On June 8, 1856 (now celebrated as Bounty Day), the descendants of
the Bounty mutineers arrived as the first free settlers to establish
themselves on the island.
HMS Bounty, a Royal Navy ship under the command of Captain William
Bligh (33), was manned by a crew of 46 "volunteers", with Lt. Fletcher
Christian (23) as second-in-command. She sailed from Spithead, England, on
December 23, 1787 on a mission to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti
to Jamaica for possible cultivation as food for slaves.
Fifteen months later, on April 28, 1789, while enroute
to the Carribean with more than 1000 small breadfruit plants, during a
mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, Captain Bligh and 18 loyal crew members
were set adrift in the ship's 7.5 m longboat. In a still unequalled
maritime feat, Bligh navigated this small boat over more than 5,000 km of
Pacific Ocean eventually to return to England, and to become Governor of
New South Wales, Australia.
At the same time, Fletcher Christian, eight other
mutineers, and twelve women and eight men from Tahiti, sailed the Bounty
some 13,000 km back and forth across the Pacific in search of a safe
haven, settling in 1790 on the mischarted Pitcairn's Island (today,
Whether the mutiny was the result of tyrannical behaviour by Captain
Bligh, complete breakdown of discipline among the crew after a
year-and-a-half away from home and almost six months on an idyllic island,
or what today would be called unresolved communications problems between
two friends, was a mystery and source of constant debate for a long time. However, it has now been resolved in favour of William Bligh. We now know that Vice Admiral William Bligh fell victim to a vicious campaign of lies (largely by the influential family of one of the mutineers who managed to escape punishment because of political connections) to destroy the reputation of a great navigator and enlightened naval officer (for more information, see the bibliography below).
The Bounty off Norfolk Island
For reasons not well understood, Pitcairn became a very violent place
in short order. Seven of the nine mutineers, among them Fletcher
Christian, met violent ends. By the time Pitcairn Island was rediscovered
in 1808, only one mutineer, John Adams was left alive, along with nine
women and 25 children. After 1815, when the European pre-occupation with
Napoleon came to an end, the Pitcairners, isolated though they were,
became famous throughout the British Empire.
Between 1815 and 1856, only three outsiders were
integrated permanently into the Pitcairn community, among them, in 1823, a
whaler by the name of John Buffett. By the 1830's, the Picairners had
outgrown the resources of their tiny island and started a campaign with
the British government to have their community moved. In 1856, a year
after the penal colony on Norfolk Island was closed following a protest
campaign against its brutal conditions, the Pitcairn community of 194
souls was moved lock, stock and barrel to their new and permanent home on
Norfolk Island. And that's where their descendants live today, more than
one thousand strong.
My Interest in
Eventually, in the early part of this century, a descendant of Fletcher
Christian married a descendant of John Buffett. In 1967, a grandson of
this union, Scott Allan Buffett, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.
After spending his childhood back on Norfolk Island, he returned to
Canada, studied acting, ballet, and modern dance, and became a talented
professional dancer with one of Toronto's premier dance companies,
Dancemakers, and that's where I met him and we became friends.
Strangely enough, even as a child in Germany, I had
always been fascinated by the story of the Bounty mutiny - I read a German
translation of the famous Nordhoff and Hall "Bounty Trilogy" as a
teenager. So, having a real Bounty descendant as a friend couldn't help
but pique an interest in Norfolk Island, once I discovered its history.
Well, Scott is back on the island, and he assures me
it's paradise now, whatever may have been its early story. And, as soon as
I have the time - and the money - I'm going there to visit. (I'm told
that's all someone with no family ties to the island is allowed to do -
so, maybe it really is paradise. After all, why would they want to keep it
all to themselves otherwise?)
Scott Buffett in
front of Norfolk Island's Tourist Office
It's the summer of 2000 now, and the time has finally arrived!
I'm off to visit Australia
and Norfolk Island to see for myself what the fuss is all about! Of
course, I'm at the mercy of Air Canada's pilots who've decided they need
more money just in time to complicate my life. July 8 is my target date,
the pilots' is July 1st - Canada Day! Wouldn't you just know it! ...
It's August 10th and I'm
back from paradise (and the pilots are still threatening to strike).
Norfolk Island is everything they say it is. Sun, sea, surf, sand, cows,
geese and just a few extremely friendly people. The perfect holiday spot
and just remote enough not to be over-run by tourists. Perfect winter
weather (about 20° Celsius) to escape the horridly hot, humid and polluted
Toronto summer. ...
And now - spring 2002 - it's Scott's turn
to leave paradise after seven (tax-free) years. Canada beckons once again:
not the industrial pollution of Ontario though, but the much cleaner
climate of "lotus land", the west coast of British Columbia. ...
interested in finding out more about the Bounty story, here's a short
Caroline Alexander, The Bounty, The True Story of the
Mutiny on the Bounty, Viking Penguin, New York, 2003 - A meticulously
researched work based on the original sources; a carefully, logically and
objectively reasoned assessment of what really happened and of the
subsequent campaign (largely by the influential family of one of the
mutineers who managed to escape punishment because of political
connections) to destroy the reputation of a great navigator and
enlightened naval officer.
Glynn Christian, Fragile Paradise, Doubleday,
Sydney & New York, 1999 - Hard to find (I've only read about it) - A
biography of Fletcher Christian by one of his descendants. Advances the
theory that Christian was murdered by John Adams, the lone surviving
mutineer, and not by the Tahitians as has usually been claimed. Also
describes the fate of the Tahitian women (who were forcibly brought to the
island and treated as slaves, both sexually and otherwise) on Pitcairn
Island and their essential role in the early days of the settlement.
(Note: this book is now - July15, 2011 - available from Amazon.ca)
William Bligh, The Bounty Mutiny: Captain William
Bligh's Firsthand Account of the Last Voyage of HMS Bounty, Red and
Black Publishers, February 2008 - On April 28, 1789. the crew of the HMS
Bounty, returning from Tahiti with a cargo of breadfruit plants,
mutinied and set their captain and 17 crew members adrift in a small
boat. In a remarkable feat of seamanship, Bligh took the 23-foot boat
over 3600 miles, in 41 days, to safety in Indonesia. This is Bligh's own
account of the mutiny and his incredible voyage to safety. The
foregoing is the product description of the book on the Amazon.ca
Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall, The Bounty Trilogy,
Little, Brown and Company, Toronto & New York, 1985, first published
1932-34 - Still available. The best known fictional treatment of the
mutiny, the epic boat voyage to Timor, and the settlement on Pitcairn
William Kinsolving, Mister Christian, Simon & Schuster, New
York, 1996 - A completely fictional novel based on the premise that
Fletcher Christian returned to the United Kingdom after settling on
Pitcairn Island. It pulls together the various rumours spread in England
around 1808/9 that Fletcher Christian had been seen there and other
rumours about how he had made his way back from Pitcairn.
Colleen McCullough, Morgan's Run, Simon & Schuster, New York,
2000 - A historical novel based on fact about the first convict convoy to
Botany Bay in 1787/8 and the subsequent first settlement on Norfolk
Island, later destined to become Great Britain's "Devil's Island", and
finally in 1856, the home of most of the descendants of the Bounty
mutineers and their Tahitian mates.
For almost anything you need to know about visiting Norfolk Island, go to
the official website of Norfolk Island Tourism,
a government agency.
You might also like to take a look at
Norfolk Island - The
Web Site, which contains a lot more pictures of the island,
lots about its history, including a hint that not everyone is content with
existing political arrangements there.