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Title: Norfolk Island
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302451.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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Title: Norfolk Island
Author: John Arthur Barry


Norfolk Island
Where Three Cables Meet.
The Place And Its People.

(Author of '"Steve Brown's Bunyip," ''Red Lion and Blue Star," "The
Luck of the Native Born," "In the Great Deep" etc.)


Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW)
Wednesday, June 21, 1905


To those who have been there, the name alone of the island suddenly
suggests many things. Among others, memories run to giant pine trees;
of a period of enforced but total abstinence; of ruins; of a curious
and gentle people; of red dust, and much of it; of an incalculable
quantity of water, as compared with a mere fragment of land; of, in
fact, many things. The average visitor, in place of indulging in
thoughts of the historical Bounty and the mutineers, and closely
examining into the authentic details of the story of Pitcairn as told
by these islanders, who are not yet too proud to admit acquaintance
with anything of the kind, is, it is to be feared, more and deeply
occupied in attempting to solve the "drink problem."

Somehow, the vessels that make the island seem to have a habit of
approaching it during the night. In which case, dropping anchor, they
proceed to get their mails ready, and their hatches off, prepared to
discharge any cargo they may be carrying for the residents. Repeated
blasts from the steam whistle notify the islanders of the arrival of
the vessel. These having no effect, rockets, or detonators, are sent
up, which arouse the echoes from the hills, and send them resounding
throughout the island. But its people are not going to turn out for a
few letters and newspapers and a bit of cargo. Therefore, the steamer's
people, realising this, presently turn in. One would imagine that long
experience would be effective in teaching them what to expect.
Nevertheless, the performance is religiously gone through with at each
visit, During the morning, some time after breakfast the whale boats
arrive, filled with placid natives, who, in reply to strong and vivid
protests, and arguments in favour of hurry, merely smile
depreciatingly, and promise amendment for the future.

But both sides know as well as possible that there will be no change.
It is the Island of No Hurry, and motto of its people is "never do to
day what you can put off till to-morrow; and not even then if it can be
helped." Landing is effected by jumping on to a slippery step out of a
dancing whale-boat, and a ducking is generally one of the
accompaniments of the process. When you leave you, as often as not,
jump into a whaleboat off a big stone at the other side of the island.
You get ducked in both cases. Viewed from the Settlement Side, the
scene in the foreground is somewhat imposing, owing to the tall and
picturesque ruins of the old gaol, the convict and commissariat stores
and quarters--grim, decaying, but all quick with half a century's story
of woe unalterable, of solidified cruelty and misery, and human
suffering. Everywhere are gently-rounded hills, some bare, some topped
from base to summit with a trailing robe of lordly pines. Red roads,
well made, run to and fro across the island in every direction. There
was nothing for the convicts to do, except make roads or build
causeways of imposing massiveness where a culvert or a bridle track
would have served equally well. Gullies deep and long run down towards
the sea from the interior; and in these grow bananas, and mangoes, and
maize, and sweet potatoes. They are the paddocks of the island; the
shoulders of the hills support the stock. To the right of the
Settlement stands Government House, looking modern from a distance but
actually as old almost as the Settlement itself. Fronting it is
"Quality Row," with its fine, substantial stone cottages, each standing
in its plot of ground, once occupied by officials of the System, now
the homes of the islanders. Close to the shore is the graveyard where a
lover of strange and old-world inscriptions might feast for a week or

Inland Mount Pitt towers to its 1000 or so feet; a graceful ascent,
however, and one easily made on horseback. From its summit the whole
island lies bare to the view, and not until then, perhaps, is it fully
realised what a minute speck lies east upon the immensity of
encompassing ocean. Everybody either rides or drives. If unable to do
either, they lead a horse. The Melanesian Mission is the show place, as
well as one of the beauty spots of Norfolk Island. And it is well
worthy of its reputation. Nowhere in southern seas, or in many others,
is there anything to equal it. Set in a gentle slope running in
park-like stretches towards the steep cliffs that girdle the whole estate,
the many and substantial buildings, and the numerous inhabitants, give
it an air of intelligent and visible occupation and industry totally
absent elsewhere. The church alone is a worthy monument to the energy
and the liberality of its founders and beneficiaries. Stained glass
windows and marble pavements, artistic seats inlaid with mother-of-pearl
devices, skillfully worked by once savage hands--every accessory,
in short, that such an edifice can require is to be found in the
Mission Church. And when filled from end to end with its hundreds of
dark worshippers, representatives of a score of far-off island groups,
the scene is one of strange impressiveness. The Mission has its own
hospital, its own farm (which boasts some pedigreed stock), its
printing office, where the Scriptures, translated into the universal
"mota," are set up, and printed and bound, to be presently distributed
throughout the Western Pacific. The names of Selwyn and the martyred
Patteson, founders and chiefs of the Mission, are, as might be
expected, household words in the mouths of the clergy here--a modest,
but strenuous company, abounding in much self-denial and mortification,
both of the spirit and the flesh, with for the solitary aim of all
endeavour, the redemption of those that sit in darkness. And if you
have the good luck to see and talk with the present Bishop, Cecil
Wilson, of Melanesia, you will learn very much of the hopes and
aspirations of those engaged in the ceaseless labour of not only
Christianising, but of civilising, the dark places, whose cheerful
pioneers they are.

Scarcely less worthy of notice than the Mission itself, its people, its
pupils, and its interests, is the grand and solemn avenue of great
pines by which the approach to it is made. To whom among the old-time
residents must be given the credit of planting these splendid trees is
unknown; but here they are, entire with the exception of a few gaps at
intervals, which anywhere else would have been long filled up; a unique
and splendid memorial to the good taste of some bygone arboriculturist.

From the "Mission" to the "station" is a pleasant up-hill and down-hill
drive along shady roads right across the island. Wooden buildings
enclosing three sides of a square, in which is sunk an immense
underground tank, denote the spot where three submarine cables meet.
One arrives from New Zealand, another from Queensland; and yet another
from Fiji. Night and day the machines click out their messages along
the "All-Red" route. For the small sum of 3d per word you can talk for
as long as you wish to Australasia; but, otherwise, you will hear
nothing of the world's news as it passes through, from one continent to
another. Battle, murder, and sudden death may be abroad among the
natives, but no soul on Norfolk Island will be any the wiser of it; so
far as the Pacific Cable Board's officials are concerned. And this
matter by those among the islanders who care for what takes place
outside their own small microcosm is looked upon as somewhat of a
hardship. The staff here is large, as the station is an important
repeating one. The plant, too, is, as may be imagined, most complete
and effective in every detail. In such isolated positions nothing can
be left to chance, and all mishaps have to be foreseen and provided

At places like Anson Bay, where we now are, and at Fanning Island, if
possible lonelier still, life for the young men who serve the board
must be reckoned as fairly monotonous. None the less, at Norfolk
island, there are compensations in the way of lawn tennis, riding and
driving, with perhaps a little flirting thrown in over afternoon teas,
and later dances. It is true that you can neither ride nor drive very
far in any one direction; but there are so many roads, that you can
always keep going for an indefinite period, if you do not mind crossing
your tracks time without number. As for the tea and tennis, both are

That the Island is beautiful under its every aspect few will be found
to deny. Situated as it is on the borders of the tropics, the climate
is one of the most equable in the world; while its pine trees vouch for
its healthfulness. And yet few outsiders who, seduced by the charm of
the place, assay to make their home in it seem to care to stay there
after the novelty has worn off. Nor, truth to tell, are such attempts
at permanent residence viewed very favourably by the islanders
themselves. And perhaps this feeling is reasonable enough. There is no
room to spare for strangers, and none too much for the present
occupants--the rightful owners. Their enemies say that they are indolent
and unambitious. But then it must be acknowledged, that they have no
incentive to be otherwise. With the Commonwealth placing a prohibitive
tax on all their produce, why, as they pertinently inquire of the
impertinently inquisitive stranger, should they exert themselves more
than suffices them to keep body and soul together? Far better men than
they are have for lack of an object in their lives made far worse
attempts at existence. As a community, the Islanders should be rather
sympathised with and assisted in every way to work out their own
salvation, in place of, as is too often the case, being scolded and

After a long course of such treatment, a community, as well as an
individual, is apt to become indifferent and careless, and the more
especially so when unable to resent it. The Norfolkers are fast getting
into the habit of thinking that the outside world is against them; that
they have no standing or consideration attached to them; that they are,
in fact, nobody's people, It is full time that somebody took the island
in hand, and tried what kindly encouragement and assistance would bring
about in place of neglect and something very much resembling contempt.

Whatever else they may be, these descendants of the waifs of British
naval history possess in a very eminent degree the virtues of
politeness and hospitality; and the temporary sojourner within their
gates is made to at once feel at home among them by the exercise of a
tact and kindliness as unexpected as it is welcome. One thing, too, at
least, they are lucky in, and that is in having for the first time in
their history an able and energetic Chief Magistrate, who is not of
themselves. Captain Drake and his wife have the best interests of the
islanders at heart, and it is sincerely to be hoped that much good will
be the result of his firm, yet kindly, rule.

The future of this handful of people, isolated and cast almost
absolutely upon their own resources, is difficult to forecast. As
matters are at present, it appears none too bright, unless assistance
of a very practical nature should come from some unexpected source. In
a sense, they may be looked upon as wards of the British Government;
but one great disability they labour under is that of divided control.
When once this is removed, and it is finally settled where the sole
responsibility lies, then the first important step will have been taken
towards a better and more flourishing state of affairs.


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