Sunday, March 23, 2014

Celebrating our 1788 Beginnings

Foundation Day this year was a fabulous celebration of the beginnings of our Island’s first British Settlement on the 6th March 1788. The day is important to celebrate as Norfolk Island’s significance at the very start of the colonization of what was to become Australia, has been largely forgotten in the minds of most Australians. Our story from 1788 is inextricably bound up with Port Jackson as both settlements needed each other for their very survival. At one point Governor Phillip even considered making Norfolk Island the primary settlement above Port Jackson such was this island’s relative success. The wrecking here of HMS Sirius in 1790 was an event that put both places at enormous stress and resulted in Norfolk Island housing an equal number of people as Port Jackson for the next few years.

The Pier Store Museum has a number of books for sale that provide good information on the First Fleet, the wrecking of the Sirius and life on Norfolk in the First Settlement.

Taking us back to our understandings of why and how the British prepared for and undertook the First Fleet voyage is Alan Frost in his book “The First Fleet – the Real Story”. Through a meticulous examination of hundreds of previously neglected documents he debunks the myth that it was an ill conceived, shambolic affair primarily about dumping unwanted convicts. The importance of the resources that Norfolk Island offered to establish a Pacific naval boat building base in terms of pine trees and flax plants, were well understood and reinforce the important place of Norfolk Island at the very start of our Nation.

Two books that have been written about First Fleeters who lived on Norfolk Island provide a great picture for not only their ancestors, but anyone who’s ancestor lived here then, of what life was like. These are: “Prisoners In Paradise – The Story of Olivia Gascoigne and Nathaniel Lucas” by Trevor Lagstrom, and “Robert Forrester, First Fleeter” by Louise Wilson. These are both highly recommended.

The wrecking of HMS Sirius on the reef at (now) Slaughter Bay in 1790 would have been a soul crushing event to have lived through. The entire populations at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island were already at breaking point when the vessel of their salvation was wrecked before their eyes. The story of the wrecking is included in a book that looks at the role and culpability of her Captain, John Hunter in the disaster. “An Unlikely Leader, the life and times of Captain John Hunter” by Robert Barnes may surprise some with his conclusions. “One Ship, Two Names, Three Voyages – the Story of the Sirius” by Helen Sampson provides a clear and concise telling of her First Fleet voyage and eventual wrecking.

There are two beautiful ‘coffee table’ style books for sale in the Pier Store. “The Northern Plains – A History of Longford, Cressy, Perth and Bishopsbourne, Tasmania” by Nic Haygarth, picks up the story of what happened to Norfolk Island’s settlers at the close of the First Settlement. In 1813 many were settled in the Norfolk Plains in Tasmania and last year the Northern Midlands Council produced this book to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of that event.

“A Most Admirable Australian – Phillip Parker King” by Brian Douglas Abbott is a comprehensive biography of perhaps Norfolk Island’s most successful, yet little acknowledged sons - and a son of Philip Gidley King. As is well known, Phillip followed his father into the Royal Navy and completed Matthews Flinders unfinished survey of the Australian coast. He also however completed hydrographic work in the Magellan Straits which laid the platform for the famous voyage of HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin. His son actually completed the voyage with Darwin. Phillip Parker was the first Australian born to become an Admiral of the Blue.

For such a small island Norfolk’s place in the start of Australia’s British history is large. Our current job is to communicate that loudly and clearly to the rest of Australia! There are many who will visit this island specifically because of that history, whether they have ancestry connected to that time or not. Our Foundation Day celebrations on Norfolk Island can play a big part in that communication and deserve our support.

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