Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Longridge Agricultural Settlement

Last week I wrote about Elizabeth Robertson, the daughter of Gilbert Robertson Superintendent of Agriculture between 1845 and 1847, whose grave is in the Norfolk Island Cemetery.  Many thanks to Peter Guile for contacting me to let me know that Elizabeth and her family did not live at Branka House as I had stated, but in a house that was located across the road in the area which is now the southern end of the airstrip.

There is a wonderful plan of the Longridge Agricultural Settlement produced in 1846 by W.T. Montney and with the help of Peter and Mudgi I was able to make sense of where the buildings lay in relation to current day roads and houses. The plan is on-line at the State Library of NSW and it is fascinating viewing. The direct link is: Today, while there are a few ruins still left to see across a number of properties, it is easy to forget the extent of the buildings that existed.

The plan shows a collection of 35 buildings including stable, barn, store house and shed, wool store and corn shed, yard, prison, officers’ quarters, police hut, prisoners’ barracks, well, cook house, bakehouse, prisoners’ gardens, overseers’ huts, boilers, slaughterhouse, pig yard and sties, paddock, bullock pen, airing ground, Superintendent of Agriculture house, gardens, office and stables, dairy, hut stock yard, cow shed, government gardens, lumber yard and workshop, privy and new coffee plantation. In Raymond Nobbs’ book “Norfolk Island and Its Second Settlement” he describes the range of buildings: “Many of the structures were constructed of rubble calcarenite and plastered with sills, head stones and thresholds of massive calcarenite…The Prisoners Barracks consisted of three buildings with a total capacity for 167 prisoners. The buildings were timber framed and weatherboarded set on a stone foundation”.

Branka House is the prison identified in the plan (no.7). Commandant Alexander Maconochie developed both Longridge and Cascade as agricultural outstations as he wanted a place to keep the newly arriving prisoners away from the influence of the old hands in Kingston. The Longridge settlement created work for convicts in tending crops that provided essential food for the island. The prison was built for Maconochie to test out his ideas for rehabilitating prisoners. It had a single pitch roof and contained twelve solitary confinement cells built at ground level. The only access was through a hatch on the second floor which was divided into two and where a Protestant and Roman Catholic clergyman would sit and read to the convicts from the Bible. In evidence he gave to the Select committee on Prison Discipline in 1850 Maconochie was asked how long he kept the men in separation. He replied that he kept one man in for six months and deeply regretted it as “he became nearly helpless and was a very different man afterwards from what he was before”. 

It was not until George Hunn Nobbs converted the prison into a home in the early 1880’s that the double gable that Branka House is known for today was built. The structure now called the Arches or Stables is the most intact one left in the area. Its origins have been described as unknown however on Montney’s map it appears as the middle section of the three winged prisoners’ barracks. Remains of the bakehouse can be seen at the top of Rocky Point Road and others such as the cookhouse and well remain, but cannot be seen from the road. Unfortunately we have no artefacts from the Agricultural Settlement in our collection and overall there is still much to be discovered about this intriguing settlement.

Of course, with the building of the airstrip the home of the Superintendent of Agriculture and Elizabeth Robertson was demolished. How lovely it would be to be able to wander through that house today and imagine Elizabeth sitting beside a window, writing her letter to her dear sister Fanny.


  1. Lovely piece. Am I right in thinking that the Superintendent's House was originally built for William Henry Tennison Pery when he was stationed on the island in the early 1840s? He became the 2nd Earl of Limerick and left in 1844 when he inherited the title. It became known as Limerick Cottage and was demolished to make way for the airstrip? Or am I getting this mixed up? - Tony Nicholson - at

  2. I am trying to find any available information about William Townley and his wife Elizabeth nee Maddan/ Madden who were living at Longridge in 1853. This couple were witnesses to the marriage of Frances Eliza Clement Madden to William Henry Thomas. It is possible that Frances was some relation to Mrs Townley. I am particularly interested in William Henry Thomas who gave his occupation as "gentleman" when they married and what he might have been doing on Norfolk Island .