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ABOUT KING: 1791-96

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While in London, Philip Gidley King was appointed lieutenant governor of Norfolk Island at a salary of 250 pounds a year. He returned to the island in November 1791, accompanied by his wife and cousin,, Anna Josepha Coombe, whom he had married inEngland. On the same boat came the Reverend Richard Johnson. during Johnson’s brief stay (he stayed a couple of weeks only, returning toSydneyon the same ship as Major Ross), he was, according to King, “very useful in marrying, christening &c”. After King had rectified the situation caused by Major Ross’s unpopular plan to make the prisoners independent of the public store the people shed much of their discontent, though petty pilfering still occurred. Frequent daylight and night robberies resulted in the construction of two jails – “well spiked and framed” – one at Sydney and the other at Queenborough. Nightwatchmen patrolled the settlement and garden valleys.

In a letter to Evan Nepean, under-secretary of the Home Office, King pressed for the establishment of a criminal court. In 1794, the British parliament passed an Act setting up a court onNorfolk Islandwith power to sentence criminals to flogging or capital punishment. Thomas Hibbins was later appointed deputy judge advocate atNorfolk Island. Shortly after King returned, he began experimenting in limemaking. He then had a house (partly brick) built for himself, and began constructing permanent storehouses, barracks and other buildings. Acting on instructions fromLondon, governor Phillip continued to send convicts toNorfolk.

But very few of those prisoners whose sentences expired on the island cared to stay on as permanent settlers. by September 1792, the population was 1,115, and of this number, 812 persons were maintained from the public store. Of the remaining 303 convicts (including 22 women), 158 were constantly employed in cultivation, and the others as carpenters, shingle-makers, charcoal burners, quarrymen, limeburners, lath-makers, barrowmen, masons and labourers.

One of the main projects in 1792 was the improvement of the second landing place, Cascade. King wrote:

Having with infinite labour made an opening on the stone beach atCascadeBayfor landing, I found after a gale of wind from the northward that it was filled up with large stones. I therefore turned my attention to erecting a crane on the landing rock at the east end of Cascade Bay, which is connected with the road by a strong and well-framed bridge, and some rocks that were under water, and have been blown in pieces, have rendered the north side of the island very accessible, and have removed every obstacle respecting landing safely and conveniently on this island, which now can be always easily effected either in Sydney or Cascade Bay, as they reciprocally become the leeside of the island.

In 1793, the grain harvest was successful and the island prosperous. (The population at the end of May was 1,028.) Building in limestone continued, King exported a quantity of lime and timber toSydney,New south Wales. The soldiers of the relief detachment sent early in 1793 proved to be a troublesome lot. soon after their arrival, King noticed them becoming very familiar with the convicts, eating, drinking and gambling with them, and “perpetually enticing the women to leave the men they were married to or those they lived with”. Naturally, such behaviour led to jealousy and unrest and, after several unpleasant incidents had occurred, the trouble culminated in a brawl oat the close of a public play in honour of the Queen’s birthday on the evening of 18 January 1794. The commandant called his officers together, and the meeting decided the detachment should be disarmed and a fresh militia formed of the forty-four marines and seamen settlers. The soldiers were then sent out on special tasks, some toPhillipIslandto collect feathers and others to duties at Queenborough. During their absence, the newly-raised militia took over their firearms and, on the troops’ return, twenty were arrested as mutineers. The ringleaders were weeded out and sent by the next ship toSydneyfor trial.

In November 1793, King sailed on the transport Britannia for theBayofIslands. He wanted to return, to their homes, the two Maoris brought to the island earlier that year to teach the people flax-dressing. Captain Nicholas Nepean of theNew South Wales, Corps was left in charge during King’s absence. (However, King was later severely reprimanded by Lieutenant-Governor Grose for leaving his post without permission.) In a letter dated 5 July 1794 to the Right Honourbale Henry Dundas, principal secretary of State for the Home Office, the lieutenant governor ofNew south Wales, Major Grose, gave a severe opinion of the value ofNorfolk Island, questioning its utility as a convict settlement and emphasizing the dangers in sending shipping there. The grain harvest that year was excellent, and King advised Grose that he had 706 cubic metres of maize to spare. by November the population had fallen to 954 and, in the following March, was much the same.

In 1795, the harvest was again most fruitful. every barn was full and ;1,816 kilograms of pork had been cured. by this time, pigs had been introduced onPhillipIsland, where they flourished and became so wild that their correct numbers could not be counted. King had great plans for the island’s development, indicated by his “List of Wants onNorfolk Island”, dated October 1795:

A clergyman; cattle and sheep; 1,500 men, and women in proportion, artificers of all kinds much wanted; flax-dressers, weavers, and ropemakers, looms and other necessary utensils for flax-dressing, weaving, and rope-making – none on the island; cloathing for men, women and children; combs, large and small; sieves for cleaning wheat, tools of all kinds for agricultural purposes; lead; grindstones; iron pots; stationary; boulting-cloths, very much wanted; a printing-press of a small size, with materials, nails of all sorts are much wanted; necessaries for the sick and medicaments (particularly ipecacuanha) are very much wanted.

king had been in poor health for some time. “My health is much impaired”, he informed Under-Secretary Nepean in 1794; “constant anxiety and uneasiness of mind has done more than a ten years’ continuance at sea would have occasioned”. by the same mail, he wrote to the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, humble asking for a rise in his salary, which still stood at 250 pounds per annum . Late in 1795, King became dangerously ill and, perhaps because he was unable to carry up his usual supervision, cultivation lapsed. gardens were overrun by a weed called “cow-itch”, and rats were all too plentiful. In the new year, Governor Hunter, who had replaced Major Grose, advised King to return toSydneyfor health reasons, leaving an officer of the New South Wales Corps in charge. but this officer was forced to quit the island on account of his own ill-health before King left, and Captain Townson, of theNew south WalesCorps, was sent fromSydneyin September 1796 to succeed King, who sailed forEnglandlater in the year. After a long stay inEngland, King returned toSydneyin April 1800 as governor-designate of the colony. As governor ofNew South Walesfrom September 1800 to August 1806, he continued to care for the island settlement he had laboriously established in 1788.

King’s report on the island, dated 18 October 1796, was lengthy and detailed. He described a flourishing community, 887 strong, of whom the civil and military staffs, with their wives and children, numbered 120; the remainder were settlers, people whose sentences had expired, and prisoners. Occupations listed included those of carpenter, sawyer, boat-builder, charcoal-burner, shingle-maker, stone-mason, baker, quarryman, black-smith, glazier, painter, barber, tailor, stockman, shoemaker, miller, butcher, jailer, rope-maker, schoolmaster and flax-worker. Education had not been neglected; two schools were functioning, as well as an orphanage for little girls who had either lost their parents or been deserted by the. 619 hectares had been cleared of timber. Agricultural crops included maize, wheat and potatoes. sugar-cane, bananas, guavas, lemons, apples and coffee were all grown successfully. Details of the stock were given: 12 cattle, 6 horses, 12 asses, 374 sheep, 772 goats and 14,642 swine. (AtPhilipIsland, three men were employed caring for the stock.) Public buildings – some of stone and the others “framed and weather-boarded” – valued at over 6,000 pounds, had been erected. Two windmills and a watermill had been constructed. The strong wharf atCascadeBaywas thirty-eight metres long, connecting the shore with the landing-rock, and at the end of which was a swinging crane and capstan, used for boats and cargo. Cascade and Queenborough were established out-stations; Cascade the home of the flax industry, and Queenborough an agricultural cent5re. The report concluded with remarks on the climate, and the vital statistics since November 1791: births 191 and deaths 137.

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