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Vol. II.                                          1906Part 1.

Settlement of the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island.


[Read before the Society, 27th March, 1906.J

      I desire to invite your attention to-night to one of these details in the history of the Norfolk Islanders. It is, however, an important detail, for it has been the cause of constant disputes between the Norfolk Islanders and the Government. It has been responsible for the personal interference of several Governors of New South Wales. It has led to the appointment of Commissions and Royal Commissions almost without number. It has formed the subject of an appeal to the King himself, and it is the big heart-burning question which agitates the breast of the Norfolk Islander of to-day.

      Everyone knows that Norfolk Island is inhabited, mainly, by the descendants of some of the mutineers of the ship Bounty, who had, for a number of years, lived and multiplied on the small Island of Pitcairn; but it is not generally known under what circumstances, for what reasons, and under what conditions their removal from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island was made. These are the questions which I propose to investigate to-night.

      The present-day visitor to Norfolk Island has all of these questions very easily answered and settled for him by the Islanders. They claim, in fact, an absolute ownership of Norfolk Island. I think, however, it will be seen upon careful investigation of such original records as remain, that there is no clear, equitable, and certainly no regular, legal, foundation, for such claim.

      Without going into the question of the Bounty mutiny, which might well form the subject of a separate paper, it is necessary to briefly allude to the personnel of the original occupants of Pitcairn. They consisted of nine Englishmen (with one exception all active ringleaders in the mutiny), six Taheitian men, twelve Taheitian women, and one child, making twenty-eight souls in all. The disproportion of the sexes was the preponderating cause of their subsequent troubles.

      The mutineers and their South Sea Island companions landed at Pitcairn in January, 1790. Before many years had elapsed, all the males but two had come to violent ends, either by murder or suicide. At the end of ten years only one Englishman was left. It was eighteen years before the existence of the small community was discovered, which then numbered thirty-five souls. The conditions of life had entirely changed. Scenes of violence and terror had been succeeded by Arcadian simplicity; and the universal observance of the rudimentary formalities of Christianity had taken the place of ferocity and crime.

      The conditions of life were easy. Live stock, landed from the Bounty, was plentiful. Cocoanuts, bread-fruit, taro roots, bananas, fish and poultry were to be had in abundance. In short, while the population was limited, and there was no want of food or drink, everyone was satisfied. So simple indeed, and so easy were the conditions of their life and surroundings, that

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they seemed to have lost every trace of that ingrained suspicion and craft for which the struggle for existence is generally held responsible. It is easy to understand how these unsophisticated people would give the most liberal interpretation to any expressed intentions on the part of the British Government in connection with their removal from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island, and how naturally they would conclude that the exclusive occupancy of Pitcairn would be continued at Norfolk.

      It is not proposed to investigate with any degree of minuteness, the first abandonment of Pitcairn Island.

      A brief allusion to the fact may, however, be made. In March, 1831, the native population was removed from Pitcairn to Otaheite in a Government vessel convoyed by a man-of-war. The population in the twenty-three years which had elapsed since their discovery, had more than doubled and consisted of forty-eight males and thirty-nine females – eighty-seven in all.

      The explanation of this first abandonment of the Island was twofold:

  1. They had been tampering with the water supply, and had placed themselves at the mercy of the rainfall.

  2. They were afraid of incurring the displeasure of the British Government if they refused to take advantage of the convenience of removal which, at considerable expense, had been provided at the request of the Islanders.*

      Of these two, the fear of displeasing the British Government appears, at the last moment, to have been the more powerful.

      In September, 1831, the Islanders after six months residence at Tahiti, returned to Pitcairn. There is nothing to show that the British Government held out any inducement for them to quit the Island in the first instance, or that it assisted them in returning.

      For ten years – from 1831 to 1841 – they appear to have lived in contentment on Pitcairn. It was during this period that Captain Elliott of H.M.S. Fly took formal possession of the Island on behalf of the British Government. The exact date was 29th November, 1838.

      A careful study of the records of Pitcairn Island, as preserved in the Register of the Chief Magistrate, will throw a considerable light on the reasons which brought about the second and final evacuation, and the removal of the residents to Norfolk Island.

      It shows that for a number of years, antecedent to the removal, the health of the people had been very bad. The mortality was not abnormal (it was less than two per cent.) but the sickness was so general and severe that the Islanders were incapacitated from performing the few hours of labour in the fields, which were necessary for the production of their food supplies.

      The epidemics (mostly influenza and fever) were repeated each year; and, as a rule, supervened on periods of dry weather followed by heavy rains and continuous N.W. winds.

      In 1841, the island was, to use their own words, "visited by sickness " – in August, fifty-one cases of influenza and fever were reported. During the last quarter of the year the whole of the inhabitants were more or less affected by the epidemic.

      In 1842, the early months of the year were unhealthy.

      In March, 1843, a number (11) of the Islanders sailed to Elizabeth Island, about 120 miles distant. The entry in the Register of the Chief Magistrate under date 11th March, 1843, is that they had returned from Elizabeth Island "bringing a very unfavourable report of it." This would appear to indicate that even at so early a date the idea of removal had been entertained.

      *McFarland, p. 127.
      Brodie, p. 119.
      Elizabeth Island was visited twice in 1851, post p. 5.

Journal and Proceedings. 3

      1844. The unhealthy condition of the natives continued during this year. In the summary of the year’s transactions the following entry appears: "Weeds over-run the island; worms infest the potatoes."

      1845. The diary states that during this year sickness was very prevalent. At times half the population was down. In the summary for the year, the Magistrate (A. Quintal) makes a lengthy reference to the ravages played by fever and influenza. He points out that the Island had been regarded as a particularly healthy spot; whereas they had, since their return (in 1831) from Otaheite, been constantly harrowed by asthma, rheumatism, consumption, scrofula, influenza, and fever. In the space of six days, he remarked, sixty out of one hundred and twenty-two inhabitants of the Island had been attacked.* In this year the dissatisfaction of the Islanders was heightened by a terrific storm which tore away a large part of the Island – sweeping a plantation of three hundred cocoanut trees into the ocean. In addition, their fishing boats were destroyed; a large yam plantation, containing one thousand yams, was swept away; the landing-place at Bounty Bay was blocked by fallen rocks; all the plantain patches were levelled to the ground, about four thousand trees being destroyed. "From this date (April)" says the diary, "till August we shall be pinched for food." The entry ends with a statement that during the year 1845) they had suffered from "drought, sickness and storm." Their pious expressions of resignation notwithstanding, it is evident they were becoming dissatisfied with their lot.

      1846. The Summary in the Island Register for this year, states that they had suffered much from sickness- – "fever, dysentery and ophthalmia."

      1847-1848. Health of the Islanders apparently normal.

      1849. A very unhealthy year. "The major part of the inhabitants are sick," almost every one is affected. "The inhabitants, with scarcely an exception, have suffered from sickness."

      In 1849, two British men-of-war visited the Island.

  1. The Pandora (an ominous name for the mutineers) commanded by Capt. Wood, in July.

  2. The Daphne, commanded by Capt. Fanshawe, in August.

      It is noteworthy that the Daphne brought a cow, a bull, and some rabbits, so that, at this time (1849) it is fair to assume that there was no idea of wholesale removal in the mind of the British Government.

      Writing home under date August 3rd, 1849, Capt. Wood of the Pandora remarked: "The smallness of their island is the only complaint."| According to McFarland (p.163) Capt. Wood made offers in 1849 to remove the Islanders – he does not say where to.

      Brodie, the author of one of the earliest published works on Pitcairn’s Island, left the Island in January, 1850, taking with him letters from Buffett and Nobbs, in which, while admitting the probable immediate need of emigration, they stated that the inhabitants looked forward with dread to the time when a separation would be inevitable.§

      Brodie adds in a footnote (p.172) that if they could be removed in a body to an uninhabited island, they would "like the change." Three or four of the old families, however, would not go under any circumstances. "Juan Fernandez," he added, "is where they want much to go." At this time there could have been no idea of the evacuation of Norfolk Island – at any rate in the minds of the Pitcairn Islanders.

      Brodie landed at Liverpool in January, 1851, and seems to have been the originator of the idea of a Pitcairn Island Fund. He stated in his book that John Shillinglaw of 14 Chatham Place, Blackfriars, had consented to act as the Honorary Secretary, and that he, himself, would be glad to furnish any particulars required by intending philanthropists.

      * Brodie, p.127.
      Brodie, p.135.
      Brodie, p.149.
      | Ibid, p.169.
      § Ibid. p.170, et seg.
      Brodie, p.217.

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      In 1852, two expeditions were made from Pitcairn Island to Elizabeth Island. Twelve Islanders visited it in August, and 38 in November. Their report was that " the soil is very scanty and totally unfit for cultivation."*

      In 1852, George Nobbs went to England to be ordained. He left the Island in August, and arrived in England in October, 1852. He was made a good deal of at home, was presented to the Queen, received by several members of the nobility, and preached a number of sermons descriptive of Pitcairn and its inhabitants. A Committee was formed to raise a fund for the assistance of the Islanders. The first meeting was held on 3rd December, 1852. George Nobbs was present, and gave a list of articles of which the Islanders stood most in need. The names of the Pitcairn Fund Committee are given by Murray, p. 216. Very liberal contributions were received. After all purchases had been made, £500 was invested in stock. Rev. T. B. Murray, author of the work on Pitcairn, was the Honorary Secretary. The Committee was a very influential one. Norfolk Island was mentioned as a suitable home for the Pitcairn Islanders by Brodie in his "Pitcairn’s Island," published in London in 1851. On p. 80 he says: "Should the Home Authorities finally decide upon abandoning Norfolk Island as a penal settlement, which report says there is a chance of, then a more beautiful or suitable location could scarcely be found . . . . the future prosperity of this interesting people will depend upon the fiat of the British Government."

      The following letter addressed by the magistrate and councillors to Admiral Moresby, dated 18th May, 1853 three days after Nobbs’ return) is the earliest document we have in which the Islanders make any mention of Norfolk Island.

      "As regards the necessity of removing to some other island or place, it is very evident that the time is not far distant when Pitcairn’s Island will be altogether inadequate to the rapidly increasing population; and the inhabitants do unanimously agree in soliciting the aid of the British Government in transferring them to Norfolk Island or some other appropriate place, and desire that the funds which you have so benevolently and condescendingly (with the assistance of other benefactors) collected in England for the benefit of the Community, should be reserved and appropriated in assisting them in such a step whenever it should become necessary."|

      It is remarkable that the first official mention of the suitability of Norfolk Island as an asylum for the Pitcairners occurs in Pakington’s despatch to Governor Denison, dated 15th December, 1852 (two days before Nobbs sailed from England).§ In this despatch Pakington referred to a proposed gradual evacuation of Norfolk Island which Governor Denison had recommended. In his despatch, Sir John Pakington wrote: –

      "I have to acquaint you that this place" (Norfolk Island) "has been suggested as fit for the reception of the small body of settlers now existing on Pitcairn’s Island . . . . They are rapidly outgrowing the capability of the little island they inhabit to afford them the means of subsistence."

      Denison was asked to report: –

  1. How soon Norfolk Island would be finally evacuated?
  2. What resources in buildings and land would be available?
  3. What arrangements he would suggest for the transfer, if it were approved?

      Denison’s report is given at length in the Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, 5th February, 1857, p. 5.

      There can be no reasonable doubt that before the question of removal to Norfolk Island was mooted the Pitcairn Islanders were anxious to emigrate.

      * Murray, p.238.
      † Ibid. pp. 178, 187.
      ‡ Ibid p. 215.
      | Murray, p. 203.
      § Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, 5th February, 1857, p. 5.

Journal and Proceedings. 5

      In 1849, negotiations were being carried on with Consul-General Miller of the Society Islands; but the Islanders refused to entertain the idea of removing to Tahiti again.*

      In 1850 similar overtures were made by the authorities in the Society and Sandwich Islands. Apparently the only objection was that they wanted an unoccupied island where there were no natives to interfere with them.

      All the available information goes to prove that, in consequence of the unhealthy climate, they were anxious to leave Pitcairn’s Island,| if they could rely upon being placed on another, larger, and unoccupied island; and allowed to live under the same conditions as had prevailed at Pitcairn. This desire dates back to 1849. It was emphasized in 1853: –

  1. By the return of George Nobbs with rumours of the possibility of obtaining Norfolk Island.

  2. By the terrible privations caused by famine and disease which were experienced during the absence of Nobbs. When he arrived in May, 1853, he found that for months the Islanders had been subsisting on "pumpkins, berries, cocoanuts, and beans. Hunger had nearly worn them to the bone. In one week there were not more than ten persons capable of attending to their own wants. It was, for some weeks, actual starvation."§

      It was at this period that the natives wrote the letter of 18th May, 1853, to Admiral Moresby (already quoted) concerning their removal to Norfolk Island.

      In July, 1853, the Islanders applied to the Queen for a document or charter declaring the Island (Pitcairn’s) a British possession "in the fullest sense of the word." The Government, of course, refused. The Island, as already mentioned, had been formally proclaimed by Elliott in 1838.

      Murray in his work (p.138) which was published in London in 1853, says that the scarcity of provisions and general illness in 1853 (I quote from the 8th edition published in 1857) "had caused a strong feeling of the necessity for a change of residence, and that this feeling had ripened into an actual proposition from the community for a removal to Norfolk Island." Later on (p.247) he wrote: "The reader will have observed that the people had made a request to be removed to some spot exempt from the probable visitations of famine: and that Norfolk Island which they understood was no longer to be a penal settlement had been pointed out by themselves as the scene of their future residence."

      Murray got his information, doubtless, from Nobbs. He (Murray) was Honorary Secretary of the Pitcairn Fund Committee at the time of its inauguration, and met Nobbs during the latter’s visit to London in 1852. Murray’s book was published in the following year and, therefore, carries the more weight, inasmuch as it was written at the time, and from information furnished by the representative of the Islanders.

      Whatever value may attach to the fact, it appears to me clear:

  1. That the proposals for removal from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island came, in the first instance, from the Islanders (or their representatives and friends) and not from the British Government.

  2. That there was a tacit understanding that the Islanders were to have a sole right of occupancy of Norfolk Island, for a time, at least.

      The decision of the British Government to allow the Islanders to remove from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island, was communicated to them by Mr. B. Toup Nicolas, British Consul at the Society Islands, in the following letter.**

      * McFarland, p. 143 note.
      Brodie p. 79.
      Ibid. p. 80.
      | The contention that the Island was too small is discounted by the statement of more than one visitor – that it was capable of supporting 1,000 inhabitants. The water supply was, however, very precarious.
      § Murray, pp. 199-208.
      McFarland, p. 140.
      ** Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, 5th February, 1857, p. 11.

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      "To the Pitcairn Islanders.
Raiatea, July 5th, 1854.      

      My dear friends,

            In accordance with your wishes conveyed to me through your late lamented Chief Magistrate Matthew McCoy,* I addressed the Earl of Malmesbury on the subject of your removal either wholly or in part to Norfolk Island, provided the Government would consent to cede it to you.

      . . . . . . . Norfolk Island will be available for the settlement of the Pitcairn Islanders, or as many as will remove thither, by the end of the year 1854. Her Majesty’s Government will also take measures to provide a vessel which shall call off Pitcairn’s Island towards the close of that year for the purpose of removing the people to Norfolk Island.

      While communicating this intelligence to you, I am at the same time to acquaint you that you will be pleased to understand that Norfolk Island cannot be 'ceded' to the Pitcairn Islanders, but that grants will be made of allotments of land to the different families; and I am desired further to make known to you that it is not at present intended to allow any other class of settlers to reside or occupy land on the island.

B. Toup Nicolas."     

      By causes which do not affect the inquiry, the removal of the Islanders was delayed until June, 1856. On 8th June, 1853,, Governor Denison reported to the Secretary of State on the arrangements requisite for removal. He furnished at the same time returns of land in cultivation, live stock and buildings then at Norfolk Island, and was strongly in favour of the project.

      The answer of the Secretary of State was dated 9th December, 1853.| Incidentally, it mentioned that an application had been received from the Pitcairn Islanders, through the British Consul at the Society Islands for the means of removing to Norfolk Island. The concluding paragraph of the despatch ran as follows: –

      "It will be proper that Norfolk Island should not be open to occupation by any other class of settlers."

      Nothing was done for twelve months. In December, 1854,§ Governor Denison wrote to the Secretary of State suggesting that Norfolk Island,

"as it comes within the geographical boundaries of the Colony of New South Wales should, when it ceases to be a convict settlement, be placed again under my jurisdiction."

      He also suggested that he should have power to appoint a magistrate and police and to levy import duties:

      In a subsequent despatch, dated 27th February, 1856, Denison withdrew his recommendation concerning the annexation of Norfolk Island to New South Wales.

      "I wish now to modify this recommendation and to suggest that Norfolk Island should not form part of any of the adjacent colonies; but should be kept altogether distinct from, and independent of them. The effect of making it a part of any of these colonies would be to confer upon the legislatures the right of dealing with the people and the land according to their will and pleasure; and thus an opportunity would be afforded for interfering with the experiment which is now about to be made. Such interference could not be useful, and would, probably, be injurious. I

      * Matthew McCoy, Chief Magistrate, was killed by a gun accident in January, 1853, during Nicolas’ visit to the Island, so that the representations made by him were earlier in date than the magistrate's letter to Moresby, quoted on p. 6 of this report.
      The words "at present" (the italics are mine) may have been inserted without any particular design; on the other hand, they may have been used intentionally as an intimation that the exclusive occupancy was tentative and experimental.
      Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 5th Feb., 1857, pp. 5-10.
      | Ibid. p. 10.
      § Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 5th Feb., 1857, p. 12.
      Ibid. p. 29.

Journal and Proceedings. 7

would, therefore, press most earnestly upon your notice the propriety of withdrawing the island from the jurisdiction of the adjoining Colonies."

      This opens up the legal aspect of the question. The first enactment of the Imperial Parliament dealing with Norfolk Island, which I can find, is 6 and 7 Vic. c, 35. The Act was passed in July, 1843 (when the Island was a convict establishment). It empowers Her Majesty by Letters Patent under the Great Seal to sever Norfolk Island from New South Wales and the diocese of Australia, and to "annex it to the Government and Colony of Van Diemen’s Land and to the diocese of Tasmania."

      It is very probable that this Act was passed at the instance of Bishop Selwyn, who was appointed to his See in 1841.

      Letters Patent, separating Norfolk Island from New South Wales and annexing it to the Government and Colony of Van Diemen’s Land, were promulgated on 24th October, 1843.

      In July, 1855 (when the settlement of the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island had been determined upon), an Act, 18 and 19 Vic. c. 56, was passed in the Imperial Parliament, giving the Crown power by Orders in Council to

      "separate Norfolk Island from the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land, and to make provision for the government of Norfolk Island as may seem expedient."

      The Order in Council was made on 24th June, 1856. Norfolk Island was declared to be a "distinct and separate settlement." The Governor of New South Wales, for the time being, was to be Governor of Norfolk Island, with power to appoint officers, make laws and grant lands. The Order in Council came into force on 31st October, 1856, and was recited in Denison’s Proclamation of that date – published in the Sydney Gazette.

      To return to the circumstances leading up to the emigration from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island (in so far as they can be gathered from official papers).

      On 25th April, 1855, Governor Denison instructed Captain Freemantle of H.M.S. Juno to visit Pitcairn Island and ascertain whether the Islanders were willing to remove to Norfolk Island.

      Upon arrival, Freemantle assembled the community and explained to them the nature of his mission. A brief description of Norfolk Island drawn up by Governor Denison was read out. A vote was taken: one hundred and fifty-three* were for removal, and thirty-four against. They seemed greatly re-animated by the assuring prospects held out by Sir William Denison's summary, and the accounts of Norfolk Island given by the officers of the Juno. It was, subsequently, a ground of complaint that the imagination of these unsophisticated and susceptible people had been worked upon by the highly coloured accounts and the urgent advocacy of British officers.

      Those who were willing to emigrate, expressed a hope that they might be allowed to live on Norfolk Island in the same seclusion from the rest of the world as they had previously enjoyed at Pitcairn.

      "There was," wrote Freemantle, "much anxiety to know what succour or protection those that remained might expect, hereafter, a point on which I was unable to afford positive information." Although Freemantle disclaims having used any "undue persuasion," he evidently took a deal of trouble to win over those who were unwilling to go.

      The outcome of Captain Freemantle’s report was that Governor Denison hired a vessel, the Morayshire, for the sum of £4,478 19s. 6d., to convey the Islanders and their goods and chattels to Norfolk Island. An officer of the Juno (Acting-Lieutenant G. W. Gregorie) was sent to superintend the removal.

      * These figures include children.
      Freemantle's report. Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 5th February, 1857, p.26,

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      Gregorie’s instructions from Denison, in regard to those who were unwilling to remove, were as follows: – *

      "I am informed that some of the families are disinclined to remove, and it is probable that reference will be made to you as to the wishes of the Government with relation to this. Should this be so, it would be well that you should use your influence to induce the whole community to move together. But, as the Government has nothing in view but the promotion of the happiness and welfare of the people themselves, you must not consider yourself at liberty to do more than advise the people to act in a manner, which, it is believed, will accord best with their own interests and future well being."

      Writing to the Islanders themselves, Denison said: –

      "I think that the Queen's Government will be better pleased, were you all to remove to your new home together . . . I have told you in the earlier part of this letter, that I think you would be happier and more comfortable were you all to remove from Pitcairn’s Island; and one of my reasons for saying this is that I do not think it probable that the Government will continue to send a man-of-war to that island so frequently as they have done. Should any of you persist in remaining at your present home, you must do so in the face of a warning that such a step would isolate them more completely from the rest of the world and from their friends than they now are, and that the means of making their wants known to the Government will not be presented to them."

      In the light of these extracts it is not to be wondered at that Gregorie overstepped his instructions.

      "I regret to say," wrote George Nobbs, "that too much coaxing and persuading has been used by Lieutenant Gregorie and the commander of the ship."|

      Rumour has it that Gregorie was greatly influenced by his attachment to the daughter of one of the Islanders.

      On 3rd May, 1856. the whole of the Islanders embarked, and were landed on Norfolk Island on 8th June following. Their numbers were: –

  40 men
  47 women
  54 boys
  53 girls

It will thus be seen that their numbers had more than doubled since the return from Tahiti in 1831.

      Governor Denison's instructions to Lieutenant Gregorie were to "divide among the different families the land on Norfolk Island, which having been already cleared will probably be easier brought into cultivation than the bush land."

      Reserves of cleared land were to be made for church and school purposes, also for public purposes at the landing-places, and five hundred acres of the uncleared land was also to be reserved. The remainder was to be divided amongst the different heads of families, according to agreement with the magistrate, "the object being to check as much as possible any attempt on the part of the inhabitants of the adjoining colonies to settle on Norfolk Island." This part of Denison's instructions was not acted upon,

      * Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 5th Feb., 1857, p. 31.
      Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 5th Feb., 1957, p. 31.
      Belcher, p. 283.
      | Belcher, p. 279, quotes from a letter of Augustus Robinson, who accompanied Gregorie on the Morayshire, in which it is stated that they had great difficulty in persuading the older inhabitants to move, and that threats of losing the friendship and protection of the British Government were brought to bear.

Journal and Proceedings. 9

the heads of families declaring that they did not desire it and would prefer to cultivate the land in common. Denison’s intentions of excluding strangers appears to have been frustrated by the Islanders themselves, for in a return of land-holders furnished by Wilkinson in 1885*, the names of as many as twenty-five new settlers appear as holding land by grant or purchase. These men – with a few exceptions – appear to have been admitted by the Islanders themselves.

      Gregorie was instructed not to hand over the Church and School lands to Nobbs, nor to recognise his authority other than that granted him by the Islanders themselves.

      Finally he was directed to act as adviser to the people, rather than one having any authority over them.

      In addition to his instructions, Denison entrusted to Gregorie a letter to the Islanders themselves. I

      Prior to sailing, Gregorie was furnished by Governor Denison with additional instructions in regard to the distribution of land – to the effect that a distinct provision was to be inserted subjecting the arrangement to revision or amendment by the Governor of New South Wales.

      In June, 1856, Bishop Selwyn proposed to send a chaplain to Norfolk Island, to assist the Rev. Mr. Nobbs, and claimed a right to do so, on the ground that the Island was in his diocese. He also proposed to establish a Bishopric at the Island, and to make it the headquarters of the South Sea Islands Mission. Governor Denison strongly opposed the scheme on the grounds that, in view of the small number of inhabitants, Nobbs did not need any assistance; and to introduce a new element, in the shape of teachers and mission scholars, would interfere with the plan adopted by the Government of settling the Pitcairn Islanders on conditions as nearly as possible identical with those they had previously existed under. The correspondence between Governor Denison and Bishop Selwyn was printed in the Parliamentary Papers (House of Commons) June, 1857.

      In 1862, the project was again brought forward – this time by Bishop Patteson. Governor Young, at first, strongly opposed it. "I cannot conceive of anything more likely to demoralize the population and turn it from the higher type of race it now assumes, back to that of mere South Sea savages . . . . I respectfully but earnestly urge its rejection." At a later date the Governor, annoyed at the action of some of the Islanders in returning to Pitcairn, withdrew his opposition to Bishop Patteson’s proposal.

      The Islanders themselves were averse to the proposal – George Nobbs, writing to Admiral Moresby said:

      "I trust yourself and our other influential friends will countenance my opposing so very undesirable an addition to our social circle as a hundred or two of heathens strong with the odour of unmitigated depravity."

      According to Lady Belcher:|

      "The Pitcairners considered that they had an indefeasible right and title to the whole of Norfolk Island, and everything that it contained, and they feared that to admit a precedent for alienation might deprive their posterity of the whole of their guaranteed inheritance. They maintained that it was upon the condition of an unqualified cession that they consented to leave Pitcairn Island."

      In 1866, the sanction of the Government was obtained for the establishment of the Melanesian Mission, and 919 acres at £2 per acre were handed over. The Islanders were bitterly opposed to the transaction – vide letters from Nobbs and Buffett, published by Lady Belcher, pp.347, 351, and 355.

      * Papers relating to H. M.’s Colonial Possessions, 1883-5, pp.253-8.
      Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 19th May, 1863, p.47.
      Belcher. p.346.
      | Belcher, p.340.

10 The Australian Historical Society.

      Sir John Young appears, however, to have given the Islanders clearly to understand that they had no claim beyond that to their fifty acre blocks. In a letter to Admiral Moresby dated 27th June, 1866, Nobbs wrote:

      "We are plainly told that nothing whatever beyond our fifty acre allotments belongs to us; neither the sheep, nor the ground on which the sheep feed – all is Government property, and may be sold or otherwise disposed of as seemeth best to the Government or the Governor- – I know not at present which. Surely it was not with this understanding we left Pitcairn."*

      The claim of the Islanders to unalienated land could only rest on Governor Denison’s instructions to Gregorie to make certain reserves, and then to divide – firstly the cleared land and secondly the uncleared land among the different heads of families. This, at the desire of the inhabitants (as already stated) was not done. It must, however, be borne in mind that any action of Gregorie in regard to the partition of land was subject to revision or alteration by the Governor.

      In September, 1857, Governor Denison visited the Island and drew up a code of laws. He also left with the Chief Magistrate certain Instructions dealing inter alia with the apportionment of land. He directed that the heads of families should each select an allotment, "not in any case exceeding fifty acres."

      The grant was not unconditional. The grantee was not to be allowed to sell to a person unconnected with the Island. If he wished to leave the Island he could sell to one of the inhabitants, failing that the community could purchase it "at a valuation." With the land the heads of families were to receive live stock, tools, and seed.

      In November, 1859, Denison drew up a set of Regulations for transfer and dealings in land. Clause 15 runs as follows:

      "It shall not be lawful for any inhabitant of Norfolk Island, to sell, or alienate in any way, the land of which he may have become possessed to a person or persons who have not received permission from the Governor to reside on the Island."

      In a Memorandum addressed to the Islanders by Governor Denison, and handed to them on the occasion of his second visit (June, 1859), the following paragraph appears:|

"I have had before me a sort of note of hand, or acknowledgment on the part of one of those who has been foolish enough to go to Pitcairn’s Island, that he has received the sum of ______§ for which he has given up the allotment promised him in Norfolk Island. Now I do not admit that a person who leaves the Island with the intention of domesticating himself elsewhere has any claim to an allotment of land, and none will therefore be granted to him; and it must be understood that this land is not given to you in order that you may sell it, and thus find money to enable you to move elsewhere, but to induce you to commence a career of steady industry by which only can you hope to live in comfort and respectability. A condition will therefore be attached to the grant which will make a residence of two years from the 1st January, 1859, indispensable."

      Writing to Nobbs on 19th January, 1859, Governor Denison informed him that unless allotments were surveyed and granted they remained Crown Lands.

      In regard to property other than land, both Denison and Young made it clear that the unalienated live stock, stores, tools and public buildings were the property of the Crown and not the community.

      * Ib. p.348
      Parl. Papers, House of Commons, 16th May, 1863, pp. 19,20.
      Ib. p.36.
      | Ib. p.34
      § Sic in original.
      Varieties of Vice-Regal Life, Vol. 1, p.418.

Journal and Proceedings. 11

      I have gone at some length into the question of the title to the land and property because it appears to bear directly on the claim which has been set up. Apropos of this, Lady Belcher (p.289) quoting from Nobbs’ dairy under date 25th June, 1856, says:

      "Captain Freemantle came on shore and read to me the articles respecting the cession of Norfolk Island (with certain reserves) to the community late of Pitcairn Island. He then handed the paper over to the Magistrate (Frederick Young) to be reserved (? preserved) as a memorial of the cession."

      Where is this paper? I cannot find any mention of it except in Belcher. Freemantle in his report of his visit makes no allusion to it. Nor does Denison in any of his despatches. Why too should Freemantle read it out to Nobbs, and not to the assembled Islanders or to the Magistrate? It will be remembered that Denison warned Gregorie against taking too much notice of Nobbs. If Freemantle gave them any paper at all, it was probably nothing more than a statement which would empower them to refuse to allow strangers to settle on the Island. In any case it should have come from Denison. Murray (p.339) refers to Freemantle’s visit. He also quotes from Nobbs’ "diary." According to him, Freemantle did not land at all, and there is no entry under date 25th June, 1856. Under date 28th June he quotes from Nobbs’ diary: "Captain Freemantle wrote a letter to the Magistrate but did not land himself."

      For nearly thirty years the Islanders lived under the Laws and Regulations framed by Denison, without apparently any intervention from the Governor of New South Wales. In April, 1884, they were visited by Lord Loftus. He was very dissatisfied with the social and industrial condition of the inhabitants and as a result of his observations commissioned Henry Wilkinson – visiting Magistrate at Lord Howe Island, to inquire into and report upon the general state of affairs at Norfolk Island.

      Lord Loftus, while at the Island called the inhabitants together. He advised them as to the evil consequences of the intermarriage of consanguineous relations.

      "He endeavoured to disabuse their minds of the idea that they had any absolute claim to the proprietorship of the Island, and read for them the Order by which the Governor for the time being was empowered to grant or sell land to whomsoever he pleased."*

      In his report dated 27th January, 1885, Wilkinson laid stress on the need for the introduction of new families. He stated that the consequences of intermarriage were beginning to show themselves. He recommended that an officer should be located on the Island who would act as a Superintendent and support the authority of the Magistrates. His recommendation in this regard was endorsed by one of the Islanders (F. M. Nobbs), who informed Lord Loftus that the Regulations required reconstruction and that the Code of Laws was inadequate to meet the wants of the increasing population.

      Later in the same year (1885) Wilkinson resided on the Island for five months and furnished Lord Loftus with a lengthy report, dealing exhaustively with the social conditions of the Islanders, land laws, agriculture, public works, etc.: he recommended the appointment of a Commissioner, and furnished Lord Loftus with draft regulations, lists of landholders, etc,

      In 1896, Judge Docker and Mr. J. L. Watkins furnished Governor Hampden with reports on the Island – these, together with correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Governor relative to the annexation of Norfolk Island to New South Wales, will be found printed in Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 11th August, 1897. with the reports of Messrs. J. H. Carruthers and Charles Oliver.

      * Spruson, p. 43.
      Parl. Papers relating to Colonial possessions, 1884-5, pp. 281-6.
      Parl. Papers relating to Colonial possessions, 1883-5, pp. 231-46.

12 The Australian Historical Society.

      In September, 1903, Mr. Alexander Oliver, who had been appointed a Royal Commissioner by Sir Harry Rawson, visited the Island. His instructions were: –

  1. To inquire into the unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands.

  2. The use made by the inhabitants of their lands and the area held by each individual.
  3. The use of Government buildings.
  4. The commodities the Island is best adapted for producing, the extent of their production, and what means can be adopted to secure a larger output.

      It is to be regretted that Mr. Oliver’s untimely death intervened before his report was published; but it is to be hoped that his investigations will not be entirely lost and that should there be an interim or progress report it will be made public. Mr. Oliver’s wide range of legal knowledge, his intimate acquaintance with constitutional practice and precedent, his sound commonsense and, above all, his high reputation as an equitable, fair-minded and impartial judge, would have lent to his conclusions a weight of authority which would have gone far towards settling the claims of the Islanders and defining the rights of the Crown.

Frank Murcott Bladen, (1858–1912)

      Mr. Frank Murcott Bladen, late Principal Librarian of the Public Library of New South Wales, died at Mosman last week, at the age of 53. He retired from this important post in January last, owing to failing health. Mr. Bladen was a recognised authority on Australian history, and edited several volumes of "The Historical Records of New South Wales." Since 1907 he had been a member of the Commonwealth Literary Fund. He was heart and soul in the establishment of the famous Mitchell Library at Sydney, and was a personal friend of the benefactor, the late David Scott Mitchell.

"Mr. F. M. Bladen." Observer (Adelaide, SA) Sep 28, 1912. Page 41.

See also:

B. H. Fletcher, 'Bladen, Frank Murcott (1858–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 14 January 2017.


F. M. Bladen.
      "Settlement of the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island",
The Australian Historical Society: Journal and Proceedings. Vol. II, Part 1 (1906), pp. 1-12.