Australia in the 1780s

Norfolk Island

Governor Arthur Phillip (1738–1814) received instructions from Lord Sydney (1733–1800), the Colonial Secretary, for the First Fleet's voyage. He urged Phillip to send men to settle Norfolk Island as soon as possible after landing at Botany Bay to prevent other European powers occupying the island. At the time the French were perceived to be a threat, as they had several ships exploring the continent's coastline. In 1772, two French expeditions set out to find Terra Australis. The first, led by Captain Dufresne, explored and named the Crozet Islands, and in Blackman's Bay claimed Van Diemen's Land for France. In the second expedition Louis Francois de St Allouarn sighted Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia and followed the coast to Shark Bay. He landed on Dirk Hartog Island and claimed the land for the French king.

On 12 February 1788 Governor Phillip sent Lieutenant Philip Gidley King (1758–1808) with seven free men, nine convict men and six convict women aboard HMS Supply to the uninhabited Norfolk Island. Governor Phillip's instructions to King included the requirement to establish a penal settlement on Norfolk Island and to study the island's natural resources. They were to begin the cultivation of flax, cotton and corn. On 6 March 1788 the British colours were raised over Norfolk Island in the area now known as Kingston. After clearing some land and building huts, the convicts and soldiers planted crops in the rich brown soil. Although rats and parrots proved a problem, the crops were successful and there was fresh food available for the inhabitants.

Food shortages affected Port Jackson and Phillip sent a second boatload of convicts, who arrived at Norfolk Island in 1788 on the ship the Golden Grove. From March to September 1789 more boats and convicts arrived, as it was thought that Norfolk Island would become self-sufficient more quickly than Sydney Cove. One drawback was that Norfolk Island's harbour proved very difficult for ships unloading their cargoes.

In 1774, having been promoted to commander, James Cook had visited the island on his second voyage in the ship HMS Resolution. He was impressed by the tall, straight pine trees and the flax plants, and saw economic possibilities for the island. He thought that the Norfolk Island pine could be harvested to provide mainmasts for ships and the flax woven for sails. However, the timber wasn't suitable for masts and no-one knew how to prepare flax for manufacturing.

Norfolk Island_1780

A snapshot of 1788

  • January
    • Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson.
    • The wife of Sergeant Thomas Whittle of the marines gave birth to the first non-Indigenous child born in the colony.

  • February
    • The first female convicts arrived at Port Jackson.
    • The Court of Criminal Justice Jurisdiction sat for the first time in the colony.

  • March
    • Lieutenant Philip Gidley King took formal possession of Norfolk Island.

  • June
    • The last of the cattle that arrived on the First Fleet strayed from the settlement. Some of the animals were still being found seven years later.

  • November
    • A colonial settlement was established at Rose Hill.

  • December
    • Governor Phillip ordered the capture of Arabanoo, a Cadigal man, to find out about Cadigal language and customs.


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