Norfolk Island #286 (1981)

Norfolk Island - Scott #286 (1981)
Norfolk Island – Scott #286 (1981)

The Territory of Norfolk Island (Teratri a’ Norf’k Ailen in Norfuk) is a small island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia, 877 miles (1,412 kilometers) directly east of mainland Australia’s Evans Head, and about 560 miles (900 km) from Lord Howe Island. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia. Together with two neighboring islands, it forms one of Australia’s external territories. At the 2016 Australian census, it had 1,748 inhabitants living on a total area of about 14 square miles (35 km²). Its capital is Kingston.

Norfolk Island was first settled by East Polynesians but was long unpopulated when it was eventually also settled by Great Britain as part of its settlement of Australia from 1788. The island served as a convict penal settlement from March 6, 1788, until May 5, 1855, except for an 11-year hiatus between February 14, 1814, and June 6, 1825, when it lay abandoned. On June 8, 1856, permanent civilian residence on the island began when it was settled from Pitcairn Island. In 1914, the United Kingdom handed Norfolk Island over to Australia to administer as an external territory.

The evergreen Norfolk Island pine is a symbol of the island and thus pictured on its flag. Native to the island, the pine is a key export for Norfolk Island, being a popular ornamental tree on mainland Australia, where two related species grow, and also worldwide. Norfuk (increasingly spelt Norfolk) or Norf’k is the language spoken by the local residents. It is a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian, originally introduced by Pitkern-speaking settlers from the Pitcairn Islands. Along with English, it is the co-official language of Norfolk Island.

As travel to and from Norfolk Island becomes more common, Norfuk is falling into disuse. Efforts are being made to restore the language to more common usage, such as the education of children, the publication of English–Norfuk dictionaries, the use of the language in signage, and the renaming of some tourist attractions — most notably the rainforest walk “A Trip Ina Stik” — to their Norfuk equivalents. In 2007, the United Nations added Norfuk to its list of endangered languages.

Norfolk Island was settled by East Polynesian seafarers either from the Kermadec Islands north of New Zealand or from the North Island of New Zealand. They arrived in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and survived for several generations before disappearing.

The first European known to have sighted and landed on the island was Captain James Cook, on October 10, 1774, on his second voyage to the South Pacific on HMS Resolution. He named it after Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk (c. 1712–1773).

Sir John Call argued the advantages of Norfolk Island in that it was uninhabited and that New Zealand flax grew there. In 1786, the British government included Norfolk Island as an auxiliary settlement, as proposed by John Call, in its plan for colonization of New South Wales. The decision to settle Norfolk Island was taken due to Empress Catherine II of Russia’s decision to restrict sales of hemp. Practically all the hemp and flax required by the Royal Navy for cordage and sailcloth was imported from Russia.

When the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson in January 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip ordered Lieutenant Philip Gidley King to lead a party of 15 convicts and seven free men to take control of Norfolk Island and prepare for its commercial development. They arrived on March 6, 1788.

During the first year of the settlement, which was also called “Sydney” like its parent, more convicts and soldiers were sent to the island from New South Wales.

Robert Watson (1756-1819), harbormaster, arrived with the First Fleet as quartermaster of H.M.S. Sirius, and was still serving in that capacity when the ship was wrecked at Norfolk Island in 1790. Next year he obtained and cultivated a grant of sixty acres (24 ha) on the island.

As early as 1794, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales Francis Grose suggested its closure as a penal settlement, as it was too remote and difficult for shipping and too costly to maintain. The first group of people left in February 1805, and by 1808 only about 200 remained, forming a small settlement until the remnants were removed in 1813. A small party remained to slaughter stock and destroy all buildings, so that there would be no inducement for anyone, especially from other European powers, to visit and lay claim to the place. From February 15, 1814, to June 6, 1825, the island was abandoned.

Remains of Norfolk Island jail as seen in 2007.
Remains of Norfolk Island jail as seen in 2007.

In 1824, the British government instructed the Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane, to occupy Norfolk Island as a place to send “the worst description of convicts”. Its remoteness, previously seen as a disadvantage, was now viewed as an asset for the detention of recalcitrant male prisoners. The convicts detained have long been assumed to be a hardcore of recidivists, or ‘doubly-convicted capital respites’ – that is, men transported to Australia who committed fresh colonial crimes for which they were sentenced to death, but were spared the gallows on condition of life at Norfolk Island. However, a recent study, utilizing a database of 6,458 Norfolk Island convicts, has demonstrated that the reality was somewhat different: more than half were detained at Norfolk Island without ever receiving a colonial conviction, and only 15% had been reprieved from a death sentence. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of convicts sent to Norfolk Island had committed non-violent property offences, and the average length of detention there was three years.

The formal postal history of Norfolk began with the second penal settlement organized on the island between 1824 and 1855. The first post office opened in 1832.

The first postage stamps used there were sent by Van Diemen’s Land, the colony administratively responsible for the settlement. The first stamps portraying Queen Victoria, were sent on the Lady Franklin in late 1853, the shipment valued at sixteen pounds. Part of this allotment was lost when the prisoners aboard the ship mutinied. A second packet of stamps finally arrived on Norfolk and were used between July 1854 and May 1855, when the penal colony was closed and all people evacuated. The stamps used in Norfolk can be distinguished by the number marked by the cancellation: 72.

The second penal settlement began to be wound down by the British government after 1847, and the last convicts were removed to Tasmania in May 1855. The island was abandoned because transportation from the United Kingdom to Van Diemen’s Land had ceased in 1853, to be replaced by penal servitude in the UK.

On June 8, 1856, the next settlement began on Norfolk Island. These were the descendants of Tahitians and the HMS Bounty mutineers, including those of Fletcher Christian. They were resettled from the Pitcairn Islands, which had become too small for their growing population. On May 3, 1856, 193 people left Pitcairn Islands aboard the Morayshire. On June 8, 194 persons arrived, a baby having been born in transit. The Pitcairners occupied many of the buildings remaining from the penal settlements, and gradually established traditional farming and whaling industries on the island. Although some families decided to return to Pitcairn in 1858 and 1863, the island’s population continued to grow. They accepted additional settlers, who often arrived with whaling fleets.

View from Norfolk Island, across to Nepean Island (foreground) and Phillip Island.
View from Norfolk Island, across to Nepean Island (foreground) and Phillip Island.

In 1867, the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission of the Church of England was established on the island. In 1920 the Mission was relocated from Norfolk Island to the Solomon Islands to be closer to the population of focus.

Norfolk Island was the subject of several experiments in administration during the century. It began the nineteenth century as part of the Colony of New South Wales. On September 29, 1844, Norfolk Island was transferred from of the Colony of New South Wales to the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land. On November 1, 1856, Norfolk Island was separated from the Colony of Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen’s Land) and constituted as a “distinct and separate Settlement, the affairs of which should until further Order in that behalf by Her Majesty be administered by a Governor to be for that purpose appointed”. The Governor of New South Wales was constituted as the Governor of Norfolk Island. On March 19, 1897, the office of the Governor of Norfolk Island was abolished and responsibility for the administration of Norfolk Island was vested in the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Yet, the island was not made a part of New South Wales and remained separate. The Colony of New South Wales ceased to exist upon the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1, 1901, and from that date responsibility for the administration of Norfolk Island was vested in the Governor of the State of New South Wales.

Stamps and postal services were again provided to Norfolk Island by New South Wales beginning in 1877. However, the stamp stock was not regularly reconstituted until 1898, and, with no postage stamps, the NORFOLK ISLAND cancel stamp sent in 1892 was not used until 1898.

With the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the stamps of Australia replaced those of New South Wales in 1913.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia accepted the territory by the Norfolk Island Act 1913 (Cth), subject to British agreement; the Act received the assent on December 19, 1913. In preparation for the handover, a proclamation by the Governor of New South Wales on December 23, 1913 (in force when gazetted on December 24) repealed “all laws heretofore in force in Norfolk Island” and replaced them by re-enacting a list of such laws. Among those laws was the Administration Law 1913 (NSW), which provided for appointment of an Administrator of Norfolk Island and of magistrates, and contained a code of criminal law.

orfolk Island Act 1913 Proclamation, effective 1 July 1914
Norfolk Island Act 1913 Proclamation, effective July 1, 1914.

British agreement was expressed on March 30, 1914, in a UK Order in Council made pursuant to the Australian Waste Lands Act 1855 (UK). A proclamation by the Governor-General of Australia on June 17, 1914, gave effect to the Act and the Order as from July 1, 1914.

Norfolk, then an external territory since 1914, asked for its own postage stamps in 1923, and again in 1937. The latter was accepted and the first issue was previewed for 1940. These postage stamps were designed and engraved by Frank Manley, printed and perforated eleven teeth per two centimeters. They represented Ball Bay and were inscribed FOUNDED 1788, the starting year of the first penal settlement. The issue was cancelled when World War II began. They were later destroyed, but some stolen stamps and sheets that reached the philatelic market.

During World War II, the island became a key airbase and refueling depot between Australia and New Zealand, and New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. The airstrip was constructed by Australian, New Zealand and United States servicemen during 1942. Since Norfolk Island fell within New Zealand’s area of responsibility, it was garrisoned by a New Zealand Army unit known as N Force at a large Army camp which had the capacity to house a 1,500 strong force. N Force relieved a company of the Second Australian Imperial Force. The island proved too remote to come under attack during the war and N Force left the island in February 1944.

Twelve stamps from half-penny to two shillings were issued on June 10 1947, as Norfolk Island’s first stamp issue of its own. Manley’s Ball Bay design was used, with a different perforation of fourteen.

To complete this series face values, a second set of six stamps was issued on June 10, 1953, picturing human constructions of the island, from the Warder’s Tower on the three pence and a half to the Blooding Bridge on the five shillings. Two of these stamps, the seven pence and a half and the eight and a half, were the first overprinted stamps of Norfolk to confront a change of postal rates.

On June 8, 1956, Norfolk Island issued its first commemorative stamp marking the centenary of the arrival of Pitcairners, the first permanent and non penal settlement on Norfolk. The second commemorative needed to overprint the Australian stamp for the 150 years of postal service in Australia picturing Isaac Nichols, the first postmaster of New South Wales. Worth four pence in Australia, it was surcharged five pence for use in Norfolk.

Aerial view of Norfolk Island.
Aerial view of Norfolk Island.

Starting in 1960, the philatelic issues of Norfolk progressively were more numerous, with hiring of British printers in the 1970s. In 1960, a new definitive stamp series began using the island’s fauna and flora, completed with new values afterwards, and renewing regularly. Other series circulated picturing ships and captains of the Pacific Ocean history, like James Cook. A Christmas stamp had been issued every year, first by reusing the Australian stamp design until 1966. On the religious topic, personalities of Anglicanism were honored by commemorative stamps.

Progressively, the philatelic program explored non local topics: commemorations of the Pacific War, life of Queen Elizabeth II and of the British Royal Family, historic events anniversaries as powered flights, and more.

On a technical side, with the help of Walsall Security Printers, Norfolk issued between 1974 and 1978 fourteen self-adhesive stamps cut in the form of the island: two for the 150 years of its second penal settlement, four for the centenary of the Universal Postal Union using Norfolk landscapes, and eight about the Scout Movement.

In 1979, Norfolk Island was granted limited self-government by Australia, under which the island elected a government that ran most of the island’s affairs.

In 2006, a formal review process took place, in which the Australian government considered revising this model of government. The review was completed on December 20, 2006, when it was decided that there would be no changes in the governance of Norfolk Island.

Financial problems and a reduction in tourism led to Norfolk Island’s administration appealing to the Australian federal government for assistance in 2010. In return, the islanders were to pay income tax for the first time but would be eligible for greater welfare benefits. However, by May 2013 agreement had not been reached and islanders were having to leave to find work and welfare.

In March 2015, the Australian Government announced comprehensive reforms for Norfolk Island. The action was justified on the grounds it was necessary “to address issues of sustainability which have arisen from the model of self-government requiring Norfolk Island to deliver local, state and federal functions since 1979”. An agreement was signed in Canberra on March 12, 2015, to replace self-government with a local council but against the wishes of the Norfolk Island government. A majority of Norfolk Islanders objected to the Australian plan to make changes to Norfolk Island without first consulting them and allowing their say, with 68% of voters against forced changes.

Tombstone marking the grave of a Pitcairner on Norfolk Island. Photo taken on October 29, 2015.
Tombstone marking the grave of a Pitcairner on Norfolk Island. Photo taken on October 29, 2015.

On June 17, 2015, the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly was abolished, with the territory becoming run by an Administrator and an advisory council. On October 4, 2015, Norfolk Island changed its time zone from UTC+11:30 to UTC+11:00. Elections for a new Regional Council were held on May 28, 2016, with the new council taking office on July 1.

From that date, most Australian Commonwealth laws extended to Norfolk Island. This means that taxation, social security, immigration, customs and health arrangements apply on the same basis as in mainland Australia. Travel between Norfolk Island and mainland Australia became domestic travel on July 1, 2016. Norfolk Island residents also became eligible to vote in the ACT electorate of Canberra.

Significant opposition to the reforms has arisen in the territory led by Norfolk Island People for Democracy Inc., an association appealing to the United Nations to include the island on its list of “non-self governing territories”. There has also been movement to join New Zealand since the autonomy reforms.

With the Norfolk Island Reforms taking effect in July 2016, the issuing of its own postage stamps ceased in June 2016. Australia Post announced that it would continue to issue stamps with imprints of Norfolk Island, Australia.

The Territory of Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of the Australian mainland. Norfolk Island itself is the main island of the island group that the territory encompasses and is located at 29°02′S 167°57′E. It has an area of  13.4 square miles (34.6 km²), with no large-scale internal bodies of water and 20 miles (32 km) of coastline.

The island’s highest point is Mount Bates (1,047 feet or 319 meters above sea level), located in the northwest quadrant of the island. The majority of the terrain is suitable for farming and other agricultural uses. Phillip Island, the second largest island of the territory, is located at 29°07′S 167°57′E, 4.3 miles (seven km) south of the main island.  The vegetation of Phillip Island was devastated due to the introduction during the penal era of pest animals such as pigs and rabbits, giving it a red-brown color as viewed from Norfolk; however, pest control and remediation work by park staff has recently brought some improvement to the Phillip Island environment. Nepean Island is a small uninhabited island located about 800m south of Norfolk Island and is about 10 hectares in area. The island is uninhabited due to its small size and tall cliffs flanking it, making landfall nearly impossible for small boats.

The coastline of Norfolk Island consists, to varying degrees, of cliff faces. A downward slope exists towards Slaughter Bay and Emily Bay, the site of the original colonial settlement of Kingston. There are no safe harbor facilities on Norfolk Island, with loading jetties existing at Kingston and Cascade Bay. All goods not domestically produced are brought in by ship, usually to Cascade Bay. Emily Bay, protected from the Pacific Ocean by a small coral reef, is the only safe area for recreational swimming, although surfing waves can be found at Anson and Ball Bays.

St Barnabas Anglican Church on Norfolk Island. Photo taken on April 21, 2008.
St Barnabas Anglican Church on Norfolk Island. Photo taken on April 21, 2008.

The major settlement on Norfolk Island is Burnt Pine, located predominantly along Taylors Road, where the shopping center, post office, bottle shop, telephone exchange and community hall are located. Settlement also exists over much of the island, consisting largely of widely separated homesteads.

Government House, the official residence of the Administrator, is located on Quality Row in what was the penal settlement of Kingston. Other government buildings, including the court, Legislative Assembly and Administration, are also located there. Kingston’s role is largely a ceremonial one, however, with most of the economic impetus coming from Burnt Pine.

Norfolk Island released a set of four Christmas stamps on September 15, 1981, depicting churches on the island (Scott #283-286). These were lithographed and perforated 14½. The 18-cent denomination features the Uniting Church of Australia, the Seventh Day Adventist Church is seen on the 24-cent value, while the 30-cent stamp pictures the Church of the Sacred Heart. Scott #286 is the highest denomination of this set — one dollar — and portrays St. Barnabas, the Anglican Church on Norfolk Island.


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