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Norfolk Island Flag NORFOLK ISLAND Norfolk Island Flag

 

Ship

The story of Norfolk Island, situated in the South Pacific about 1600 km to the east of Sydney, Australia and 1400 km north-west of Auckland, 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 of myself.

First, a map, so that you can picture it:

NORFOLK ISLAND
Map of Norfolk Island



and a small aerial photo of the southern approach to Norfolk Island
 

Norfolk Island from the Air

Notice the runways on the left [west] side of the picture
 


Next, some images to show you what paradise might look like!

(For larger versions of these photos, please click on them.)
 
Photo Credit: Colorvue Productions, Australia

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.

 

ni_kgw_pitt.jpg (34112 bytes)

On the Summit of Mt. Pitt

Kingston Historic Buildings ni_adm_bldg.jpg (47797 bytes)

Historic Buildings at Kingston

Administration Building, Kingston

Old Lighter at Kingston Jetty Slaughter Bay at Kingston

Old Lighter near Kingston Jetty

Slaughter Bay at Kingston

Cemetery Bay ni_kingston_fld.jpg (37829 bytes)

Cemetery Bay

Another View of Kingston

Bicentennial Centre Shopping Area at Burnt Pine

Bicentennial Centre, Burnt Pine

Shopping Area at Burnt Pine

Douglas Drive St. Barnabas Chapel

Driving about Norfolk island

St. Barnabas Chapel

A Traditional Island House Cathedral Rock

A Traditional Island House

Cathedral Rock, North Coast

Point Ross Nepean & Phillip Islands

The South Pacific near Pt. Ross

Nepean & Phillip Islands at dusk

Sunset

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!!
 

A Concise History

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, Pitcairn Island).

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).
 

Photo Credit: Tourism Norfolk Island

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 Norfolk Island

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 at Norfolk's Visitors Information Centre

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. ...


If you're interested in finding out more about the Bounty story, here's a short bibliography:

Non-Fiction:

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 website.

Fiction:

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 Island.

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.