Sunday, June 28, 2015

From one Rock to another ...

 The Morayshire off Norfolk Island 8 June 1856

The Morayshire arrived at Norfolk Island amid squalls of rain and strong winds, on board were the exhausted and seasick Pitcairners having travelled some five thousand kilometres from one island home to another. Coming ashore after five weeks at sea, with mixed emotions, wet and unsettled, they were met by Thomas Samuel Stewart, the Commissariat Storekeeper, his wife Isabella and Captain Denham of the HMS Herald.  Mr and Mrs Stewart and a small group of people had remained on the island since the closure of the penal settlement in 1855.  Captain Denham of the HMS Herald had been sent to Norfolk Island to assist with their arrival.

Because of the conditions a wait of two days was required before they could come ashore. Viewed from the ship, the island’s general appearance disappointed them as George Hunn Nobbs records: “…very much disappointed with its appearance from the present point of view…Every face wore an expression of disappointment…No doubt other parts have a better appearance, but this side certainly bears no comparison with our Rock in the West”.  No doubt tiredness and exhaustion sullied their view, and what would have been more, an overwhelming realisation that Pitcairn their home, their ‘rock of the west”, was now in the past.  Adding to this view, the Kingston area was almost denuded of trees, when on shore Nobbs states “There is scarcely a tree in sight from the settlement, except some dozen or two of pines planted near the Government House”.

Come this time, the Reverend George Hunn Nobbs, their leader and pastor for more than 25 years, had to convince the people that to quit Pitcairn was not only necessary as the island was too small for their growing population, but also that it would be for their ultimate benefit.  He avowed “Her Majesty’s most gracious offer, to wit, Norfolk Island and all that appertains thereto, for ourselves and families…Such an unqualified offer of so beautiful a spot on Norfolk Island, is easier to imagine than realise; but is a Bona Fide reality to us.”

Sarah Nobbs, grand daughter of Fletcher Christian and Mauatua, was married to the Reverend George Hunn Nobbs, she writes:
“After a passage of five weeks we arrived here, and landed on Sunday June 8th, amid squalls of rain, which thoroughly drenched us: but Capt. Denham who was here, had fires prepared and tea ready for us, so that we soon got as comfortable as we could possibly be, in to us such a bewildering place. Everything was so strange; the immense houses, the herds of cattle grazing, and in the distance the gigantic Norfolk pines filled us for the moment with amazement. I was conducted by Mr Stewar[t] to the Government House, and seated by a good fire in the drawing room (I have learned that name since), which was the first fire I had ever seen in a dwelling house, and an excellent addition to my previous ideas of domestic comfort…”.

This day of arrival at Norfolk Island was Sunday, 8th June 1856. That same evening the Pitcairners held their usual Sunday service in the large upper room of the old military barracks, where the Norfolk Island Government’s Assembly Chamber and Committee Room is today.  They gave thanks to God for their preservation and asked for guidance in this new era they had just entered upon.

The arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders to Norfolk Island is celebrated every year as Anniversary Day, often referred to as Bounty Day. In the early years after their arrival the day was commemorated with a simple church service. Over the years it has evolved to a full day’s celebration beginning with a march from Kingston Pier to the Cemetery.

The first march began with only the men with surnames of the Bounty mutineers dressed in sailor suits. The women joined in soon after and then the ‘All comers’ - those with the surname Nobbs, Buffett or Evans. In later years those who have married into island families march as well.

Up until the late 1930s a wooden structure was erected on the cricket ground in Quality Row to represent the Quarter-deck of the Bounty. The Union Jack was flown and the Bounty cannon installed on the deck was fired, often with the help of fire crackers. God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia were sung with gusto.

Revived in the 1950s after an absence of marching during WWII, the march came to include a re-enactment of the landing at Kingston Pier, a march to the cenotaph and along Quality Row to the cemetery. Here, the Islanders recite ‘John Adams Prayer and while singing ‘In the Sweet Bye and Bye’ children lay wreaths on the graves of their ancestors. The Lord’s Prayer is read and the Pitcairn Anthem is sung.  Since 1947 a morning tea at Government house concluded the morning’s activities.

A large community picnic is the next event for the day. While today it is held in the Compound it has been held against the gaol wall overlooking the Common, in the grounds of the New and Old Military Barracks, in Pound Paddock and the old and current Rawson Hall (the wet weather option). The singing of Grace always precedes the picnic. Tables are laden with traditional island food including roast meats, pilhi, mudda, hihi pie, fish, sweet tatey and sweet island pies, usually served with cream, otherwise known as ‘Norfolk gravy’.  Lunch may be followed by a cricket match between the islanders and the all comers.  The day concludes with the Bounty Ball in Rawson Hall. Then all dem tired lettle sullen are taken home to bed. 

Happy Anniversary Day from all ucklun at the museum down a town.  8 June 2015

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