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THE BURDEN

THIS IS BACKGROUND SOURCE MATERIAL ABOUT THE ABANDONMENT OF NORFOLK ISLAND

THE BURDEN

Edited from HUNTER’S HISTORICAL JOURNAL

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In spite of Governor King’s partiality for the settlement he had founded, it was becoming evident to the Home Authorities that Norfolk Island was never likely to become a successful Colony, and that it would always continue to be an expensive burden on the Government. Dr. Lang, in his “History of New South Wales” roundly charges King with having, from some interested motive, done his best to discredit the settlement at the Colonial Office. In the absence of any direct proof, and from the general tenor of King’s conduct with regard to the changes in the establishment, this charge seems to be wholly without foundation. It is much more probable that the views of such men as Hunter and Collins, with the unsatisfactory reports of the condition of the settlement, and its great expense, prompted the Home Government to decide to reduce the establishment, if not to abandon the island altogether.

At the same time, Governor King’s urgent representations of the danger which was impending over the new Colonies from the designs of the French had roused the English Government to take active measures to forestall them. In December, 1802, the Cabinet had decided to form a settlement at Port Phillip, and in the following April Colonel Collins’ expedition had been despatched for that purpose. Still the Government was uneasy; and in June, 1803, Lord Hobart wrote to Governor King that the position of Port Dalrymple in Bass Strait rendered it particularly necessary, from a political point of view, that an establishment should be placed there, and directed him for that purpose to remove from Norfolk Island a portion of the settlers and the convicts, and send them to Port Dalrymple under the command of Lieut-Col. Paterson, at the same time recalling Major Foveaux to Sydney.

Lord Hobart’s despatch did not arrive at Port Jackson until May, 1804, nearly 12 months after it was written. Collins having in the meantime abandoned Port Phillip for the Derwent, the importance of occupying a station in Bass Straits became more urgent, and King at once applied himself to carry out his instructions respecting the settlement of Port Dalrymple, which was eventually accomplished byPatersonsettling atGeorge Townin November, 1804.

King did not show the same alacrity in complying with the instructions respecting Norfolk Island. There is little doubt that they were distasteful to him. He contented himself with writing to Foveaux (23 June, 1804) that the establishment was to be reduced, and that towards the end of the year he would send a vessel or vessels to remove any settlers who were inclined to go to the new colony at Port Dalrymple. At the same time he said that he did not wish to force removal on any settlers who were valuable and industrious, and who might be ruined by having to give up their land after the expenditure of so much labour and the endurance of so much hardship. Nor, on the other hand, did he want the useless and idle, who might be only too willing to move. Still, out of the 33 larger landholders there might be some who would be willing to go, and they should be encouraged by the offer of liberal terms. They and their stock would be removed at the public expense, and what was necessarily left behind would be taken by the Government at a valuation. On surrendering their grants they were to have four acres for every acre cultivated atNorfolk Island, and two acres for every acre of waste land. They were to have rations for twelve months for themselves and their households, and be allowed the labour of two convicts for the same period. Of the 180 little occupiers there might be a few who were worthy of encouragement and removal.

In June 1804 the Norfolk Island population of 1086 included 569 men, 184 women and 333 children. These figures included the 200 male and 40 female convicts. Only 12 of the female convicts were On the Stores, while the remainder supported themselves or were being supported by a partner. In August 1804 41 persons left Norfolk Island, and by August the same year Lt. Gov. Foveaux had left for England being succeeded by Capt. John Piper. On 26 March 1805, after he had left the Island for England, Foveaux prepared another schedule of names dividing all the settlers on the Island into First, Second, and Third Class, and also listing the numbers of their family, their land, and the stock held. The Belbin Papers

There were 47 2nd class settlers, and 38 wives, 88 children. James and his family were amongst them. He would be paid for his dwellings and compensated for his land with increased land grants inVan Diemen’s Land – four to one. Now it was just a matter of time.

The settlers were to be compensated for what they had to leave behind, the money compensation not to exceed £1000, and they were to have grants in the proportion of two acres only to one acre of cultivated land surrendered. On the other hand they were to have houses erected of value equal to those given up; were to be victualled for two years at the public cost; those of the better class were to be allowed the labour of four convicts for nine months and of two for fifteen months,those of less desert being allowed lesser privileges.

19th July, 1804

On the receipt of the Governor’s instructions Foveaux assembled the settlers and laid the proposal before them. It was well received, and some 40 at once gave in their names as ready to try their fortunes in Van Diemen’s Land. These 40 were free settlers, most of them being men who had been either in the army or the navy. A considerable proportion held grants of from 30 to 120 acres each. A few had flocks of sheep; one, George Guest, as many as 600. Amongst those who were strongly recommended by Foveaux as the most industrious and fittest for selection we find the names of: Daniel Stanfield, Abraham Hand, John and Joseph Beresford, George Guest, Wm. Pentony, Joseph Bullock, Edward Fisher, James Morrisby, and James Belbin. The only stipulation they made was that they should be allowed to wait until their crops were ripe, so as to take with them their corn and maize, and not be wholly dependent on rations from the public stores.

They and their stock would be removed at the public expense, and what was necessarily left behind would be taken by the Government at a valuation. On surrendering their grants they were to have four acres for every acre cultivated atNorfolk Island, and two acres for every acre of waste land. They were to have rations for twelve months for themselves and their households, and be allowed the labour of two convicts for the same period. Of the 180 little occupiers there might be a few who were worthy of encouragement and removal.

4th August 1804

But the settlers soon repented of their hasty decision. When the Integrity arrived, from Sydney a fortnight later (4th August) with further despatches from the Governor, and their contents were communicated to two of the principal inhabitants, out of the 41 who had sent in their names all but 10 withdrew.

Many of the settlers were in great distress, and if the crops failed again-as indeed was afterwards the case–they would be in absolute want.

Yet, in spite of all these disadvantages, many of the settlers, especially those who had come over with the first settlement, showed a great reluctance to move. They were attached to their homes, and did not care again to face the difficulties and privations which they would have to encounter in a new settlement before they could get round them even such comforts for their families as they had at Norfolk Island.

If they knew that the Government meant to abandon the settlement altogether, probably they would be willing to remove. One of the greatest obstacles was their debts. But perhaps the offer of greater inducements might overcome their reluctance, and eventually they would all benefit by the change.

General Order was issued by J Foveaux on Norfolk Island, May 8, 1804:

“…And His Lordship having expressed a Wish that this measure should be carried into effect with as little delay as possible, The Lieut. Governor, therefore, being desirous that the Settlers so disposed to remove should have the earliest information, and that they should clearly understand the Terms upon which such Removal will take place, had judged it expedient to point out His Lordships instructions thereon. His Lordship directs that every Facility and Accommodation should be granted the Settlers in the Embarkation and Transport of their live and dead Stock at Public Expense, such part of the former, as it may be necessary for the Settlers to leave on the Island, shall be paid for at a fair valuation, in Money, or in such Articles of Cloathing, etc., as the Public Stores of New South Wales may contain ; and, with respect to the Lands which the Settlers may vacate, upon a regular Surrender of them to Government, the Parties will become entitles to Grants at the New Settlement… in the proportion of Four acres [1.62ha] for every acre [0.405ha] they may have brought under cultivation at Norfolk Island, and of Two acres [0.810ha] for every acre of Waste Land ; And further, that the Persons so removing shall be entitled to Rations for themselves, and for each individual in their respective families, during the Term of Twelve months after their arrival in any of the Settlements, during which time they will severally be allowed the Labour of two Convicts, and be otherwise assisted in every respect as new Settlers are accustomed to be assisted.

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Major Foveaux resigned his charge on 12th February, 1805, when the reductions began. Captain John Piper, the senior military officer, took his place as Commandant. If Holt is to be trusted, Captain Piper’s rule presented a favourable contrast to that of Foveaux, both in the humanity and consideration he showed to those under him and in his general conduct. To Piper was left the troublesome and unpleasing task of superintending the removal of the settlers. With but few exceptions they obstinately refused to stir. The first to leave were five settlers who sailed with Foveaux to Sydney, and thence proceeded to Paterson’s Settlement at Port Dalrymple, where they arrived in April, 1805. These were the first Norfolk Islanders to settle in Van Diemen’s Land.

In the Sydney also there came the first Norfolk Island settler to the Derwent – George Guest-who brought a wife, six children and 300 ewes, of which only 265 survived the three weeks’ passage. Of 200 ewes belonging to Government, shipped at the same time, only 148 were landed. Six head of cattle arrived safely.

By the end of 1805

Governor King had no authority to abandon the settlement, and was probably only too pleased that the settlers whom he had planted showed such an attachment to his favourite island, or at least so much reluctance to leave it. By the end of 1805 about 250 people had been removed, leaving more than 700 still on the island.

Thus, at the end of 1806, after the exertions of more than two years, only eight settlers with their families had been prevailed upon to remove to Van Diemen’s Land. The convicts had been nearly all withdrawn, the military guard reduced to 25 men, but there were still 700 people on the island, a number nearly equal to the combined population of the two recently founded settlements in Van Diemen’s Land, viz.,Hobart, 471; Port Dalrymple, 301; total, 772.

Lord Hobart’s despatch ordering the deportation of the settlers was dated June, 1803. If it had taken more than three years to move eight settlers, how long would it take to remove 700? The Colonial Office was beginning to grow impatient, especially as news had arrived that there was once more a bad harvest at Norfolk Island.

Accordingly, in December, 1806, the Secretary of State wrote a peremptory dispatch on the subject to Governor Bligh, who had succeeded King as Governor of New South Wales. In this dispatch Lord Norfolk recapitulated the reasons which had led Lord Hobart more than three years before to decide on the evacuation of the island. He remarked with dissatisfaction that the measures hitherto taken had had little effect in promoting the object of freeing the Government from the expense of an unproductive settlement; that it was plain that the crops were less satisfactory each year, while the expenses were ever increasing; that Port Jackson would soon be self-supporting, while Hobart Town and Port Dalrymple appeared to have everything to recommend them in regard to climate and fertility. It was now evident to the Government that no advantage could arrive from the partial evacuation of Norfolk Island, and he therefore gave orders that measures were to be taken forthwith for the withdrawal of all settlers and stock and their removal to the new settlements in Van Diemen’s Land, on the terms recommended by Foveaux nearly two years before – with certain modifications.

Now, the settlers were to be compensated for what they had to leave behind, the money compensation not to exceed £1000, and they were to have grants in the proportion of two acres only to one acre of cultivated land surrendered. On the other hand they were to have houses erected of value equal to those given up; were to be victualled for two years at the public cost; those of the better class were to be allowed the labour of four convicts for nine months and of two for fifteen months, those of less desert being allowed lesser privileges.

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