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It had been agreed that as Norfolk was in a better position to support people tban Port Jackson, substantial numbers of soldiers and convicts were to transfer to Norfolk, which would then be commanded by the Lieut-Governor. Lieut. King was to be recalled to Port Jackson with any of the original Norfolk party who chose to return. There he would await the arrival of the first ship to take him to England, where he would give a firsthand account of the parlous situation of the colony at Port Jackson and Norfolk.

This move had a number of virtues. Not only was Governor Phillip preparing to send King, whom he trusted implicitly, as the most effective person to portray the colony’s situation to England, but he was ridding himself of Major Ross who had been decidedly unco-operative.

The news was catastrophic.  Sirius had struck a reef at Norfolk Island and was a total wreck.  All the ships’ crew and company, including the convicts, were saved.  But both settlements, at Sydney and Norfolk Island, were now cut off from the world and–except for one 170-ton brig–from one another.  Both were failing fast, for Norfolk Island was just as badly off as Sydney.


    Two years before, when Philip Gidley King and his party of twenty-two colonists glimpsed, from the pitching deck of Supply, the island that would eventually become the worst place in the English-speaking world, what they had seen was not inviting.

    Magnificent in scenery, Norfolk Island was also a natural prison, harborless, cliff-bound and girdled with reefs on which the long Pacific swells broke with a ragged, monotonous booming.  King had to wait five days in the lee before he could lead a scouting party ashore.  They landed at Anson Bay on March 4, 1788.  The high pines grew right to the cliff face; King guessed the tallest of them was 160 feet. Their trunks were wreathed in vines.  The ship’s surgeon got lost in this maze and spent the night in the forest.  In the dark, where phosphorescent fungi gleamed beneath the Gothic vaults of cabbage-trees, he heard nibbling and thought he was surrounded by rabbits.  The rabbits were rats.

    King found a passage through the reef at Sydney Bay (modern Kingston) and landed the convicts and supplies on March 6. They raised the Union Jack on a sapling.  “I took possession of the isle, drinking ‘His Majesty,’ ‘The Queen,’ ‘Prince of Wales,’ ‘Governor Phillip’ and ‘Success to the Colony.’  The ragged chorus of English voices was sucked away by the Pacific air, swallowed in the blue immensity behind the wall of dark pines.  Two days later, Supply made sail for the Australian coast, a thousand miles away.

    The first crops perished from wind and salt.  Rats ate the vegetables; then came cutworms, black caterpillars and bright, screaming, seed-eating Norfolk Island Parrots.  The wreck of the Sirius meant new mouths to feed. In March 1790, Norfolk Island had 425 people (200 convicts), but by November 1791 with new arrivals from Sydney, it had 959 (748 convicts).  Thereafter, until the first settlement was abandoned in 1806, the population would remain fairly steady at about a thousand people, with one guard to every seven prisoners.

    Despite the rich, deep soil, they had, by March 1790, only about fifty acres of land under the hoe.  The reef swarmed with red snapper, but the colonists’ two boats–a cutter and a leaky dinghy–could not always brave the pounding surf.  What saved all their lives was the mutton-bird, Pterodroma melanopus, which flocked in immense numbers on Mount Pitt, the island’s highest hill.  Its flanks were riddled with their nesting tunnels.  The mutton-birds arrived on Norfolk island early in March and stayed until the end of August-almost the length of the Pacific winter.  “They are very fine eating, very fat and firm,” wrote Ralph Clark in August 1790, “and I think (though no Connoisseur) as good as any I ever eat.” The Bird of Providence–as the officers called it; the convicts more laconically dubbed it a Pittite–tasted oily and fishy, somewhere between a penguin and a chicken.  The birds had never seen men before, and their abundance struck Clark as Biblical:

They generally hovered about the Mount for an hour before they came down, which was as thick as a shower of hail, this account will make the old story of Moses in the Wilderness (Exodus xvi-13) be a little more believ’d, respecting the shower of Quails, everyone here owes their existence to the Mount Pit Birds.

    Once grounded, they were encumbered by their long planing wings, like albatrosses.  As quartermaster of public stores, Clark kept a daily tally: More than 170,000 of them were massacred in one three-month span, April to July 1790, an average of nearly four birds per person per day.  Some convicts went to brutal lengths to get their eggs:

They catch the birds and them that have no eggs they let go again and them that are with Egg they cut the Egg out of them and then let the poor Bird fly again which is one of the cruelest things which I think I ever heard.  I hope that some of them will be caught at this cruel work for the sake of making an example of them .

Naturally the Birds of Providence could not survive this slaughter.  By 1796 they were thinning out, and eight years later they were almost gone.  By 1830, no more was heard of Pterodroma melanopus on Norfolk Island.

    Meanwhile, the arduous work of clearing and building went on.  Hungry men work slowly, so less ground is cleared; which means small crops and more hunger.  There was little time or energy left over for the crops the island was meant to produce, pines and flax.

    The Norfolk Island pines, however, like the rest of antipodean nature, were deceptive.  They turned out to be useless for anything but huts and firewood.  Their wood was not resilient enough for spars.  It was short-grained, wanting in resin, more like beech than Norway pine; it snapped like a carrot.

    That left the flax plant.  Phormium tenax, Phillip had optimistically reported to Lord Sydney at the end of 1788, “will supply the settlers with rope and canvas, as well as a considerable part of their cloathing, when they can dress it properly.” But the Admiralty had sent no flax workers with the First Fleet.  Phillip’s sanguine vision of settlers and convicts wearing homespun linen whilst dispatching argosies of sailcloth to England quickly faded.  He besought London to send a flax dresser, but it took two years for this expert (a convict superintendent named Andrew Hume) to reach Norfolk Island.  In 1791 Hume managed to produce for the Admiralty a couple of square yards of rough Norfolk Island linen–perhaps among the costliest textiles ever woven by man.

    Meanwhile, King had an idea.  He remembered Banks telling him about the linen woven by the Maoris in New Zealand.  Plainly, he needed a Maori; and about a year later, a ship did manage to kidnap two wildly struggling and resentful tribesmen from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and get them to Norfolk Island.  One was a young chief named Woodoo; the other, Tooke, was a priest’s son; both were twenty-four years old and neither had the slightest idea of how to prepare flax, for such menial work was done by women.  So Tooke and Woodoo moped haughtily about the settlement, gazing out to sea from the headlands where “almost every evening at the close of day [they] lament their separation by crying or singing a song expressive of their grief, which is at times very affecting.” After six months’ exile on Norfolk, King returned them to New Zealand .

    Meanwhile, by trial and error, flax production went on.  At its peak, the convict workers (mainly women) were turning out some 100 yards of coarse canvas a month.  At that pace, however, it would have taken two years to make the sailcloth for one first-rate ship.  Gradually, the project wore down and lapsed.  By 1800, the hopes that began with Matra’s descants on the flax plant and Cook’s enthusiasm for the pines were proven a total delusion.  The place would produce nothing for England; it would never pay for itself.  Its colonists sank, as on the mainland, into a demoralized torpor.


The Atlantic,  before taking Phillip away in 1792, had stopped at Norfolk Island on its outward voyage with supplies for its desperate colonists.  Those crewmen and marines who went ashore were struck by how bad, under the hand of King, the place had become for its prisoners.  When they got to Sydney they talked about it, and a marine named John Easty noted in his diary how “that Iland which was recond the most flourishing of any Iland in the World all most”

now turns out to be A Pore Mersable [miserable] Place and all manners of Cruelties an opresion uesed by the Governor floging and beeting the people to Death that its better for the pore unhappy Creatures to be hanged allmost then to come under the command of such Tyrants and the Govner [King] behaves more like a mad man than a man in trus[t]ted with the Goverment of an Iland . . .  Belonging to Great Britain.

King had gone back to England for a brief recuperative spell after the wreck of the Sirius in March 1790, but he returned to Norfolk Island in November 1791, newly married to his cousin, Anna Coombe.  He had been promoted to lieutenant-governor of the island and would be its commandant for five years.

    The Norfolk Island prisoners were now guarded by the Botany Bay Rangers.  The corps rank and file made no effort to keep their distance from the convicts.  They became “very intimate with the convicts, living in their huts, eating, drinking and gambling with them, and perpetually enticing the women to leave the men they were married to.”  There was friction.  Emancipated convicts complained that the soldiers were seducing their wives; and one of these convicts, Dring, the island’s coxswain, beat up a soldier who had repeatedly cuckolded him.  King fined the aggrieved husband twenty shillings, which, he hoped, “would convince the soldier that he was not to be insulted with impunity.” It did no such thing; the soldiers felt Dring should have been flogged.  During Christmas of 1793, four soldiers were seen heading with a torch for Dring’s farm, intent on burning his corn.  When a civilian farmer tried to stop them, one man jabbed the torch full in his face, “which bruised and burnt him very much.”

    Even King could not tolerate this.  He had the soldier arrested.  That evening, two other soldiers got bludgeons and went after Dring.  He was found half dead, covered with blood and cuts.  His assailants were court-martialled and one of them, Private Downey, was sentenced to receive 100 lashes and to give Dring a conciliatory present: a gallon of rum.  At this, to King’s amazement, Dring and a few other Emancipists begged him to forgive the soldiers: They were terrified of reprisals by the corps.  They got their wish, on the condition–as King strictly ordered–that the Emancipists and the soldiers should all sit down and drink the gallon of rum together.

    Here one might expect the rancor to simmer down, but it did not.  Bored, bitter and pugnacious, the redcoats (which they were in name only: King was to report that by night you could not tell from a man’s dress whether he was a soldier, a settler or a convict) kept stalking about, picking fights, muttering darkly against King–whom they despised as a naval officer, an outsider to the corps–and plotting mutiny.  In January 1794, King learned from a convict informer that the soldiers had taken an oath “not to suffer any of their comrades to be punished for an offence against a convict any more”; they would rise, kill Dring, and put all the prisoners to death.

    Quelling this, King realized, would be “a very delicate affair”; one did not lightly disarm, on mere suspicion, a whole detachment of soldiers who owed their allegiance to a governor, himself their commanding officer, only two weeks’ sail away on the Australian mainland. Nevertheless, King managed to disarm and arrest the ten suspected mutineers. He hastily formed a civil militia, consisting of forty-four free settlers, all former seamen and marines (no Emancipist, of course, could be trusted with a gun). By a remarkable fluke, a colonial schooner–the first vessel they had seen in nine months–arrived at Norfolk Island two days later, with dispatches from Sydney. The mutineers were shipped to the mainland for trial.

    After they reached Sydney Cove, Grose read King’s long report on the incident and was apoplectic with rage. His old wounds, inflicted almost twenty years before by the musket-balls of the American militia, were hurting him badly in the unrelenting summer heat of 1793-94; and now he learned that his naval subordinate had actually armed a civilian militia on Norfolk Island. This was subversion. Grose picked up his pen. “No provocation that a soldier can give,” he wrote to King, “is ever to be admitted as an excuse for the convicts striking a soldier:” No soldier could be tried by a civil judge or magistrate, or even put in the custody of a civilian constable. Most important of all, these constables “are to understand that they are not on any pretence whatever to stop or seize a soldier, although he should be detected in an unlawful act.”

    This remarkable letter was a charter of immunity for the New South Wales Corps. For Grose, the word convict meant both felons under sentence and Emancipists. Since the number of free emigrants was negligible, “convict” in Grose’s eyes included virtually every civilian in the colony. Thus, the civil establishment could no longer touch the military, but the soldiers could do as they pleased, subject only to the restraint of a court-martial conducted by their own officers. Fortunately, King stood his ground against his intemperate governor. He sent his own explanations to the secretary of state in London; they were accepted, and Grose had to withdraw and apologize.

    But when King himself became governor, succeeding the aged Captain Hunter in 1800, he installed a tiger from the Rum Corps as commandant of Norfolk Island. He was Major Joseph Foveaux (1765-1846), in whose regime the military contempt for convicts would approach the level of mania.

    There is no record of who Joseph Foveaux’s parents were, but his father is said to have been a French cook in the employ of the Earl of Upper Ossory at Ampthill Park, in Bedfordshire. His mother’s name is not recorded. Someone evidently took the trouble (and spent the money) to give him an education and steer him into a regiment, and his rapid promotion within the New South Wales Corps–from captain in 1791 to major in 1796, a most unusual leap for a young man on minor routine duty in an insignificant outpost–suggests a powerful male patron in the background.

    From his letters, one can glean little of Foveaux’s tastes and interests except a passion for military correctness. But he seems to have had the mentality of many a later camp commandant; Norfolk Island liberated him, enabling his sadism, which had been restrained by the more public sphere of the mainland, to overflow far from courts and judges, thinly disguised as “necessary rigor.”

    Arriving there late in 1800, he found morale had sagged badly in the four years since King had left. The flax manufactory still survived, but it produced nothing exportable. Skilled labor was short, and most buildings were tumbledown. The grindstones were worn out, the saws rusted, and the master carpenter had been suspended for laziness and impertinence. The settlement swarmed with bastard children, some two hundred of them, rather more than a fifth of the total island population, all illiterate and wild. The schoolmaster was in jail for debt and the lone missionary seemed “very unfit for a minister.” Clearly, there was much to do.

    Foveaux did not go into detail about his own methods. They survive in an account by his head jailer, a transported highwayman named Robert Jones (alias Robert Buckey, alias George Abrahams), who had got a conditional pardon in or around 1795 from governor Hunter at King’s instigation but had chosen to stay on Norfolk Island.

    “Major Foveaux,” Jones remarked, “was one of them hard and determined men who believe in the lash more than the Bible.” Foveaux was determined to leave solid stone buildings behind him: a jail, a barracks, staff houses. A day’s convict work was breaking five cartloads of stone per man. When the picks and hammers broke, for they were of poor quality, their users were severely flogged. The hours were long and the food bad (“the Pork . . . was so soft that you could put your finger through it, and always rotten”). Prisoners turned out before dawn and, rain or shine, had to put their straw palliasses outside their cells; when it rained, the convicts returning from labor were

turned into their Cells in their wet state with no means of drying their clothes, such were my orders from the Governor; and did any one of them make a complaint they were immediately sent to the triangles and ordered 25 lashes. Any further complaint was an additional 50.

The fate of the refractory convict on Norfolk Island was one of prolonged and hideous torture:

The flogger was a County of Clare man a very powerful man and [he] took great pleasure in inflicting as much bodily punishment as possible, using such expressions as “Another half pound, mate, off the beggar’s ribs.” His face and clothes usually presented an appearance of a mincemeat chopper, being covered in flesh from the victim’s body. Major Foveaux delighted in such an exhibition and would show his satisfaction by smiling as an encouragement to the flogger. He would sometimes order the victim to be brought before him with these words: Hulloa you damn’d scoundrel how do you like it? and order him to put on his coat and immediately go to his work.

One prisoner named Joseph Mansbury had been flogged so often–some 2,000 lashes in three years–that his back appeared

quite bare of flesh, and his collarer [sic] bones were exposed looking very much like two Ivory Polished horns. It was with some difficulty that we could find another place to flog him. Tony [Chandler, the overseer] suggested to me that we had better [do it on] the soles of his feet next time.

            A sentence of 200 lashes was called a “feeler”; one did not forget it. All the medical treatment the convict received was a bucket of sea water on his back, an operation known as “getting salty back.” “Many were relieved by death from this treatment,” Jones wrote. “It would be impossible to detail the torture received . . . [from] the commandant, his servants and overseers. One of the favourite . . . punishments was to make the leg irons more small each month so that they would pinch the flesh.” There was also a black isolation cell, and a water pit below the ground where prisoners would be locked, alone, naked, and unable to sleep for fear of drowning, for forty-eight hours at a spell.

            There were only two ways out of “the old hell,” as convict slang called the place. One was death; the other–as at Macquarie Harbor and Moreton Bay in decades to come–was by committing an offense that justified sending the convict to Sydney for trial. “Many murders,” Jones wrote, “most of them were committed for the purpose of getting to Sydney, it being their only way of seeing heaven [convict slang for the mainland] again.” Some men, including a convict named Thomas Carpenter whom Jones seems to have befriended, simply expired under the preliminary flogging:

His 250 killed him, died of heart-failure they said. God forgive them, and him too. For he was well liked on the island. But feeling that he was ill, and thinking that his end was near, he struck his officer, with the hope that he would see his friends (in Sydney) once more, he did so but it was his last time. Considering the purpose for which these poor devils obtain justice their lot is all the worse for the manner in which they chose to obtain it.

            Foveaux’s main obstacle on Norfolk Island was its deputy judge-advocate, a dim but decent ex-Etonian lawyer named Thomas Hibbins (1762-1816), who had got the post through the patronage of an old school friend, the Earl of Morton. Hibbins was neither ambitious nor gifted (if he had been, he would hardly have considered such a post), but he did have a certain compassion for the convicts. Since it was his task to interpret the civil and criminal law there–and to decide which cases should be tried in Sydney, there being no criminal court on Norfolk Island–he was often in conflict with Foveaux, who saw him as a felon-loving drunk.

            For his part, Hibbins seems to have made no secret of his dislike of the commandant and his methods–methods that Foveaux himself delicately described as “vigorous if not exactly conformable to law.” These had to do with Irish political prisoners, originally transported to Sydney for their part in the rebellion of 1798 and then, after appalling floggings of up to 1,000 lashes each for their supposed complicity in a rising that never took place at Parramatta in 1800, sent to Norfolk Island for life.

            The Irish gave signs of mutiny almost as soon as they arrived. Most of the convicts already on Norfolk Island were Irish, too; and the insurgents from Sydney, with their tales of the ’98, must have catalyzed them. On the morning of December 14, 1800, an Irish convict named Henry Grady (whose crime was rape, not sedition) appeared at Foveaux’s quarters “apparently in much agitation.” There would be a rising that night, he blurted; a hundred pikes were already made. Foveaux sent a soldier to look for the pikes, and he found them just where Grady said they were–long, fire-hardened sticks, not tipped with iron, but indubitably weapons of a sort. The ringleaders, Grady claimed, were two “politicals”; John Wolloghan, twenty-four years old, of Munster, and Peter McClean, forty, of Ulster. Wolloghan had been in charge of making the pikes, and McClean had recruited the rebels and given them their oath to kill the English officers and guards.

            Foveaux put the two under close arrest and called in Thomas Hibbins, the judge-advocate. Hibbins opined that the men could not be tried for their lives by a panel of officers; and moreover, as there were no statute books on Norfolk Island, he did not know how an indictment could be framed against them. Enraged by this “pedantry,” Foveaux convened his officers to discuss “the fatal consequences that were likely to ensue if such daring & wicked designs were not checked in their earliest appearance.” There was no hesitation; the officers, as terrified of mutiny as Foveaux, unanimously agreed to hang Wolloghan and McClean summarily and without trial. They strung them up that night, by the light of flambeaux. Grady, the informer, got a free pardon. “Encouragement to such people,” Foveaux wrote to King, “is ever well bestowed”

            At a perfunctory inquiry some months later, Foveaux was exonerated; in fact, his dispatch in hanging the Irish drew praise, not only from King but from Lord Hobart, the secretary of state for the colonies, and in 1802 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. He summed up his own views on the matter in a note to Lord Portland:

The nature of this Place is so widely different from any other part of the World, the prisoners sent here, are of the worse Character & in general only those who have committed some fresh crime since their transportation to Port Jackson, in short most of them are a disgrace to human Nature. . . . [a]fter considering these circumstances, the very little support I receive from the Judge-Advocate and the situation of this Island, your grace will (I am persuaded) perceive that different Examples however vigorous if not exactly conformable to Law are on occasions indispensably necessary.

            Hibbins’s objections counted for nothing. If the Irish in Ireland needed martial law to keep them in order, why should their dregs in Australia be protected by civil statutes? The military must not be hampered with niceties. What it most feared was an alliance against this weak and remote English colony between United Irish prisoners and a French naval force. Thus, one finds Robert Jones, Foveaux’s jailer, quoting a fragment of some official address by his commandant–”His Majesty King George has been pleased to grant to all his subjects complete protection, in out of the way places . . .” Then he scribbles, “What a mockery to issue such a piece of information to chained convicts. Protection when we were the greatest enemy–as my orders were to murder all the prisoners under my care should any foreign nation bear down upon us. Protection be dam’d.”

            He was looking back to a moment in 1804, when a convoy of China traders escorted by a French warship, L’Athenienne, appeared off Norfolk Island. The garrison mistook them for an invasion fleet and prepared to do battle. Redcoats were sent scouring about for broken rum bottles, and the island’s two corroded six-pounders were crammed “with these fragments of glass, which (the Commandant swore) would cut the French to pieces.” Foveaux was not there. He had sailed for England two months before, leaving the island under the command of Captain John Piper. But he had also left standing orders about the Irish with his civilian staff, headed by Jones. Thus, when the ships were sighted, Jones and his chief constable Edward Kimberley herded some sixty-five Irish convicts into the settlement jail, barred the doors, closed the windows so that they could not signal to the French and then piled up masses of Norfolk Island pine brushwood around the walls on a hastily constructed scaffold, thus turning the whole building into a pyre for living men. “The soldiers,” Jones wrote, “were to set fire to the prison upon the signal from me.” If any of the “politicals” escaped being burned alive, they were to be shot. Captain Piper, who was supervising the cannon several miles away, knew nothing of these preparations for a mass burning of the Irish; and providentially, since the ships sailed on, the prisoners escaped the incineration Foveaux had prepared for them.

            No record of Foveaux’s sadism, or of the torments he and his men visited on women at Norfolk Island, found its way into the official reports, although it is hard to believe that governor King had no inkling of what his lieutenant-governor was up to. Foveaux censored all letters. “No person,” Jones noted, “was allowed to write any information about the place or the work done here, they were only to write in reference to the state of our good conduct and friends.” Norfolk Island was a sealed universe and its reputation among the mainland convicts existed only by word of mouth; you could not officially threaten with what did not officially exist. In a society where the line between convictry and freedom was always being crossed–by emancipation or by reconviction–the stories of the convict subculture spread quickly through the lower class, but their rulers did nothing about them.

            They felt no need to. Civil law was sketchy; England had not equipped its colony with a normal judicial framework and would not do so until after 1810. The general attitude was that one did not need full civil courts in a jail. Not one judge-advocate appointed by England in these early years was properly trained. The first, David Collins, was a marine officer with no prior experience of the law. The next in office, Richard Dore (1749-1800), was a blundering and cantankerous incompetent, much given to petty graft. His successor, Richard Atkins, was even worse: The drunken fifth son of a baronet, he had run through his legacy, bought and then sold a military commission and skipped from England in order to elude his creditors. Arriving in the colony in 1791, Atkins managed, by assiduous name-dropping and currying of favor with the officials (especially with governor Hunter), to get himself appointed judge-advocate. His professional conduct was enough to disgust the next governor, Bligh, who called him “the ridicule of the community: sentences of death have been pronounced in moments of intoxication; his determination is weak, his opinion floating and infirm; his knowledge of the law is insignificant and subservient to private inclination.” The measure of his detachment from the interests of the military may perhaps be gauged from the fact that the wife of this pathetic drunk (“She wears the breeches completely,” noted the convict John Grant, who lived for a time in their household) raised two of the six bastard children whom Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps had sired on various women.

            Such men could not defy the junta. The corps, therefore, was virtually immune from civil law; and military law was exercised by its own officers to protect the interests of their own group. One sees why a Foveaux could flog and kill without restraint on Norfolk Island and yet have no word breathed against him by his brother officers. The question of the “rights” of convicts was barely worth raising in New South Wales between the departure of Arthur Phillip in 1792 and the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

            By then, the English colony in Australia had spread and solidified. It was no longer a tiny outpost, racked with hunger and scurvy, clinging to the edge of the continent. Sydney was a fortified town and the country behind it, the Cumberland Plain, was fast becoming a patchwork of cleared, productive fields, self-sufficient and worked with varying degrees of efficiency by convict slave labor. The hoped-for economic importance of Norfolk Island had not materialized. But it had been bound up with the idea that New South Wales was a naval outpost, and that was beginning to change. In the early 1800s, a few last efforts were made to utilize the pines and flax that had been the colony’s naval raison d’être.

            Thus in 1802, the government tried the experiment of sending forth to Australia a few batches of convicts in Royal Navy vessels; and rather than waste space on the return voyage–for Navy ships, unlike the contracted ones that carried most of the convicts out, could not fill up with Oriental trade goods on the return run–the Admiralty sent with them drawings for major frame timbers of three classes of ships, to be cut and rough-shaped in New South Wales and brought back to England. The order was partly filled by King, but the practice lapsed. In 1805, King also had a small naval vessel, the Buffalo, rigged with a suit of sails woven from Norfolk Island flax by the women convicts in the Female Factory at Parramatta. She was the only ship to sail under such canvas. Up to 1810, sporadic efforts continued to be made to supply the Royal Navy with Australian timber.  But they were never more than a footnote to the main economic life of the colony, which was shifting decisively to agriculture–to the land and its owners, rather than the sea and its captains. So Norfolk Island, with its dark pinnacles and stands of now strategically useless pines, was allowed to fall into decay. By March 1810, its population had sunk to 117 people, and one of Lachlan Macquarie’s first actions in assuming his governorship of New South Wales was to recall the mild officer who had succeeded Foveaux as commandant, Captain Piper, and order the abandonment of the island. “The impolicy of the original settlement,” the colonial secretary, Lord Liverpool, had told him, “has been fully demonstrated.”

            In 1813, the breaking-‑up began. The frame buts were torn down and burnt (the nails frugally saved), the stone houses demolished, and every last animal except a few pigs that got away was slaughtered, skinned, butchered and packed down in casks of brine. There must be nothing left to catch the eye of a passing ship, no base from which another settlement could be made. They even left behind a dozen dogs to run wild and breed into a hunting pack to discourage visitors from landing. The last salvage from the settlement was loaded into the brig Kangaroo in February 1814, and when she sailed, the island was as empty as it had been before the arrival of Cook. It would stay so for a decade; the new abode of misery was Van Diemen’s Land, far in the south.

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