It’s fair to say Norfolk Island’s history is just as unique and interesting as the modern day incarnation.
During the 14th and 15th centuries Norfolk Island was inhabited by East Polynesian sailors that had travelled from the Islands around New Zealand to find a new land. Although it is not known what killed off these settlers, their history is still present in the banana trees that they planted during their stay.
In 1774 the first European explorer to discover the Island was Captain James Cook, who had set sail two years earlier for general discovery and search of new materials. He officially gave the Island its “Norfolk” name after the Duchess of Norfolk back home in England. Cook was particularly impressed with the tall trees and new species of plant, sending back samples to the UK. The flax plant and hemp found on the Island were considered a good material for ship sails and ropes and the wood was seen as a great resource. Also as food the crew particularly enjoyed the Palm Cabbage. Cook did not find anything to suggest there were previous settlers so to them they were the first to set foot on the Island and were proud of their new discovery of a beautiful land abundant with efficient materials.
After Russia began to play hardball with their supply of hemp and other materials, Britain needed a new supply and looked to Norfolk Island for help. Without the material their ships and Navy would become weak, so it was decided that they would colonise the Island. 1787 was the year the uninhabited Island was put to use and it not only proved to be a valuable resource for flax and hemp but also as a destination for convicts sent overseas, which had become common practice several years earlier.
However it was soon discovered that the Island wasn’t as perfect as first thought. There weren’t many safe landing spots for ships and wood ended up being too weak for making masts. It then dawned on them that the flax plant was too difficult to prepare and nobody had the skills to weave it. On top of this prisoners became unruly and idle, making the whole project slow to a halt. The Island’s purpose quickly changed to producing crops and taking on the overbearing convicts from Sydney.
By 1825 the Island was completely abandoned as it had proven too costly and remote to maintain. Many were reluctant to leave the beauty of an Island that they helped prosper, but they were ultimately forced to destroy everything so no other settlers could benefit from what they’d created.
Shortly after they began using the Island again (but this time as a prison for the “worst” convicts) it became known as “Hell in Paradise,” and remained a secluded mess until 1855 when the operation was moved to Tasmania.
On 8 June 1856 the ever-growing Tahitian population from the Pitcairn Islands got permission to settle on the Island and began rebuilding and evolving the area in to more of what we see today. The Island was briefly used as a refuelling depot for World War II and as a base for the New Zealand army.
Finally In 1979, Norfolk Island was given limited self government by Australia and more or less remains independent. Although tourism is growing, the Island is considered one of the few remaining paradise destinations in the world.