History & Heritage of Norfolk Island

An integral part of Norfolk Island’s identity is its history and heritage - both are an important focus of the tourism industry. Captain Cook made the first European discovery of the uninhabited island in 1774, describing it in his journal as ‘paradise’. Cook named the island after the Duchess of Norfolk.

Fourteen years later European occupation began with the establishment of a colonial penal colony, adding some spice to the history of Norfolk Island. This remained until 1814. In 1825, another penitentiary was set up on Norfolk Island, detaining the worst type of convicts in what soon became a place of infamy and dread. It was a place of such despair that some convicts murdered their guards in order to ‘escape’  - being hanged for their crime. The penal compound is now the peaceful Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area, described as the oldest and best preserved collection of Georgian buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. The island’s museums give further insights to the local history. So too, do the cemetery headstones, many of which have detailed evidence of historic convict revolts, and the lifestyle and causes of death of early inhabitants.

Return to Paradise
The convict settlement was abandoned in 1855. The following year, history took a drastic change of course and the island began its return to paradise. The descendants of the Bounty Mutineers began to arrive, whose home on Pitcairn Island had become too crowded.

The families of those early settlers make up a third of Norfolk Island’s population today, retaining the culture that resulted from the Mutineers marrying Tahitian women. Many islanders still use the ‘Norfolk’ language – a mix of Tahitian and 18th-century seafaring English, and one of the world’s rarest languages.

The arrival of the Bounty descendants is celebrated annually on Bounty Day (8 June) when islanders dress in period costume to share a huge family picnic and reunion. Many surnames from the Bounty era remain and some are so common that the telephone book distinguishes people by their nicknames. Norfolk Island is also the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving Day is celebrated – a November anniversary started by the American whalers based on Norfolk during the 19th century.

Norfolk Today
Norfolk Islanders are keen to share their history and heritage with visitors, offering theme dinners, murder mystery dinners, sound and light shows and theatrical re-enactments. Progressive dinners at private homes are a good way to meet the locals.

Visitors to Norfolk also enter a shopping paradise – the island is GST-free and tax-free with shops boasting a wide range of quality international merchandise. Dining out is another treat, with more than 35 restaurants and eateries offering a wide range of international foods plus British/Tahitian-style cuisine. Many restaurants have spectacular views or are situated in tranquil natural settings.

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