Norfolk Island – Cook, Bounty, Prison and Gerygone

Where the world ends, there lies Norfolk. It is an island east of Australia, 1,412 kilometers off the Australian coast at Evans Head and 900 kilometers from Lord Howe Island. It lies between this continent, New Zealand and New Caledonia. It is not completely closed off from the world, because it has an airport. You can get there by plane from Sydney and New Zealand and there is a harbor for not too large ships. Norfolk has a special history: the mutiny on the Bounty took place there. It was also a prison island for many years. Mutineers and thugs have now made way for a few thousand residents with Polynesian and European blood and tourists are finding their way there.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island is a small island in the South Pacific of volcanic origin, measuring only 34.6 square kilometers. Its capital is Kingston and it is politically part of the Commonwealth of Australia. Together with two neighboring islands, Philip Island and the small Nepean Island, Norfolk forms one of Australia’s external territories. Norfolk has around 2300 inhabitants. Mount Bates is the highest point at 319 meters. The coast of the island consists largely of cliffs and there is a small coral reef. There are a few places with beaches where you can swim and there are waves that are suitable for surfers. And all that in a subtropical climate.

East Polynesians of Kermadec

Norfolk Island was colonized by East Polynesians from Kermadec Islands and by seafarers from northern New Zealand. They arrived in the 13th and 14th centuries and lived there for several generations until they left again, leaving the island uninhabited. They left a creole language on the island, although Norfolk (Norf’k) is slowly disappearing. Nowadays English is the main language.

Colony and prison island

Great Britain occupied it and used it as an island for convicts from March 6, 1788. It remained a prison island, with an interval of 11 years, until May 5, 1855. The most severely punished criminals were brought there. They suffered under a punishing regime and every prisoner knew that exile to this prison island was roughly equivalent to the death penalty.

Richard Widdicombe and Charles McLennan

The first shipment of convicts consisted of six women and nine men, assisted by eight free men. Their ages ranged from 14 to 72. The eldest was Richard Widdicombe , a farmer, who had been convicted of stealing a wooden tool. He had to serve seven years for it. The youngest was Charles McLennan , only 14 , who was also sentenced to seven years; him for stealing a purse. In the years that followed, more prisoners were sent there, as well as soldiers.

Half-white Polynesians and Pitcairn

In 1856, free people came to live there permanently. The first arrived from Pitcairn on June 8. They were the mutineers of the Bounty, including their leader Fletcher Christian and some Tahitians. The islanders then focused on whaling and agriculture. The population today consists mainly of half-white Polynesians, who engage in livestock farming and fishing and now also work in the tourism industry. Seeds and tropical crops are also grown there. The isolated location is an advantage for seed cultivation. The seed-producing plants grow without plant diseases. It is unfortunate that the introduction of herbs and spices overgrows native plants.

Captain Cook and Norfolk

Captain James Cook had the island drawn on the map for the first time on October 10, 1774. He was the first to see it with Western eyes. He reported enthusiastically about what he saw: gigantic pine trees. On his second voyage on HMS Resolution, he named the island after Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk. In 1913, England gave the island to Australia.

Bligh and the Bounty

England had every interest in colonizing the island, because there were privateers on the coast: the French. Fourteen years after Cooks’ arrival it was established as a penal colony, but first there was the Bounty issue, the mutiny. William Bligh, later captain of the famous Bounty, had sailed for years under Captain Cook. Bligh who was praised for his seamanship, courage and honesty, was cursed for his pathological sense of superiority, bad temper with a tongue as sharp as a saber. That combination of qualities proved fatal to him during the mutiny. That was on April 28, 1789 at Norfolk.


The evergreen pines that Captain Cook wrote so enthusiastically about are the symbol of Norfolk: the pine is also on the flag. The Norfolk pine has become its biggest export as it has become a popular tree in mainland Australia throughout the rest of the world.
Gerygone / Source: Henrik Grönvold, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Gerygone and golden whistler

As a small isolated island, Norfolk has few land birds, but many special native animals that you will not find anywhere else. Many of those endemic species have become extinct due to clearing of the subtropical rainforest for agriculture and hunting and after being displaced by other species. The birds are also affected by the introduction of mammals such as rats, cats, pigs and goats, as well as imported competitors such as blackbirds. For example, the Norfolk Kaka and Norfolk partridge pigeon are extinct and other species are almost extinct, such as the Norfolk white-eye, the Norfolk parakeet, the Norfolk gerygone, the Norfolk robin and the golden whistler.

Whales – Southern Right Whale, Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, Sei Whale

Whales have not been hunted from the island itself since 1956, but the marine mammals can be seen from the coast. Humpback whales, minke whales, sei whales, southern right whales and dolphins pass close to the coast. Historical whaling and nowadays illegal hunting by Russian and Japanese whalers have depleted the whale population, but anyone who sits on the rocks and stares over the water has a good chance of seeing the enormous marine mammals.

Norfolk Island

A . Norfolk Island
B . Kingston
C. _ Nepean Island
D . Phillip Island
E . Lord Howe Island
F . Evans Head
G . New Caledonia
H . New Zealand

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