Webinar – Museums of History NSW Claimed


Established in December 2022, Museums of History NSW is a new cultural institution that brings together the historic houses, museums and collections previously in the care of Sydney Living Museums with the vast archives and records in the NSW State Archives Collection.

As custodians and storytellers, we are committed to preserving and presenting NSW’s unique history. Our places and collections comprise some of the most significant historical material in the country. With this as our foundation, we bring history to life through diverse voices and viewpoints, supporting audiences of all backgrounds to gain fresh perspectives on our past.

Webinar : Norfolk Island

From 1788 to 1814 Norfolk Island existed as an extension of the penal settlement in New South Wales. In 1825 the island was reoccupied as a place of banishment for the worst re-offenders. In 1856 the British Government resettled the Pitcairn Islanders at Norfolk.

This webinar looks at records in the State Archives Collection relating to the life and times of the people who lived on the island in these early days. ( 41 mins )

Credit : Museums of History NSW

Norfolk Island Guide

As well as being a penal establishment, one of the primary reasons for establishing the first settlement at Norfolk Island was economic: the Colonial Government had hoped to utilise the flax and pine trees on Norfolk Island.

However the anticipated economic importance of Norfolk Island was not realised and the settlement was steadily reduced from the early 1800s. One of Governor Macquarie’s first actions when he arrived was to order the abandonment of the island.

On 1 August 2010 Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area on Norfolk Island were inscribed onto the World Heritage List as one of 11 Australian Convict Sites. Places in New South Wales that were included are the Old Government House and Domain, Hyde Park Barracks, Cockatoo Island Convict Site and the Old Great North Road.

Research more here : Historical Overview – Transports to and from Norfolk Island – Convict records – List of main record series – Records held elsewhere

Spectators at a cricket match on Norfolk Island c.1908


Q Historical Overview 1788-1814

Governor Phillip's instructions of 25 April 1787 had ordered him to send a detachment to Norfolk Island as soon as circumstances permitted. On 12 February 1788 Phillip appointed Philip Gidley King Superintendent and Commandant of the Island [1] and on 5 March 1788 King landed there with a group of soldiers and convicts and supplies. Others were sent there to relieve the strain on the mainland where food was scarce.

From 1788 to 1814 Norfolk Island existed as an extension of the penal settlement in New South Wales but by the early 1800s the Island was no longer needed as a penal colony had been set up in Van Diemen's Land. Although the settlers were reluctant to move from Norfolk Island, the settlement was steadily reduced over the years. Rough seas and suitable landing sites posed difficulties in supplying provisions and communications. By 1810 the population had decreased to 117 and in 1813 plans were put in place for the abandonment of the Island. It was finally deserted in February 1814.

Q Historical Overview 1825 - 1853

In 1824, as pastoralists were settled across the mainland, the Colonial Office decided to revive the penal settlement on Norfolk Island as a place of banishment for the worst re-offenders. On 6 June 1825 Major Turton, along with 34 troops, six women and children, and 57 convicts, reoccupied the Island. By 1829 there were 211 convicts on Norfolk and by 1834 there were close to 700 convicts, all employed by the government which, according to personal accounts of convicts and visitors, inflicted on them harsh punishments verging on the inhumane. It was not until Alexander Maconochie was appointed as Commandant of Norfolk Island in 1840 that the convicts started to be treated more humanely.

In February 1844 Maconochie was replaced by Captain Joseph Childs and on 14 September 1844 the administrative control of Norfolk Island passed from New South Wales to Van Diemen's Land.[2] During this time the island regained its reputation for brutality, which it retained until the penal settlement settlement was finally closed in 1853.

Q Historical Overview 1856 Onwards

In 1856 the Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the Bounty mutineers, were resettled on Norfolk Island by the British Government. Norfolk Island, which had formed part of New South Wales and then Tasmania became a distinct settlement of the British Crown, under the administration of the Governor of New South Wales. On 1 July 1914 Norfolk Island became an Australian Territory under the Commonwealth government.
From 1979 the Island was governed under the provisions of the Commonwealth Norfolk Island Act, 1979 which established a Legislative Assembly and granted a significant degree of self-government. For what happened next check out the Community Section of this website.