Prehistory and First Penal Settlement (1774-1814)

Between the soughing in the pines
And the surging of the sea
Hear a far-off human sigh


Norfolk Island is a small volcanic island 8 kilometres by 5 kilometres, lying in the Pacific Ocean about 1,600 kilometres east-north-east of Sydney and some 1,056 kilometres from Auckland. The average elevation is nearly 107 metres, with two peaks rising to slightly over 305 metres. A little to the south are two smaller islands - Nepean, a limestone islet approximately 4 hectares in extent and rising to 32 metres. A little to the south are two smaller islands - Nepean, a limestone islet approximately 4 hectares in extent and rising to 32 metres, and Philip, a volcanic island 2 kilometres long and reaching 280 metres in height. These three islands are the only uncovered areas of submarine elevation running from New Zealand to New Caledonia, known today as the Norfolk Ridge.

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The European discovery of Norfolk took place on 10 October 1774, when Captain James Cook, in command of HMS Resolution, on his second voyage around the world, sighted the island. As cook's accounts are the very first of Norfolk, his log entries for 10 and 11 October 1774 hold a special interest.


Gentle breezes between s and sw and pleasant weather. PM observed several Distances of the sun & Moon, the mean result gave 169 degrees 30' E Longitude. The Variation of the compass being the Mean of several Az 58's. At Day-break as we were standing to the West, an Island was discovered bearing SWBS. Soon after we sounded and had 22 fathom water, the bottom Coral Sand, our distance from the Isle was about 3 Leagues. In Plying up to the isle we found not less than 22 nor more than 24 fm, the same sort of bottom some times mixed with broken shells. At Noon the isle extended from a 37/ E to S 20 degrees W. A Hill nearly in the middle of the Isle bore south 3 miles distant. Lat observed 29 degrees 57'S, Long made from I. Pines {28 Miles E Long Acco: 168 degrees o6' Watch 167 degrees 21'}.


Gentle gales at SE and ESE. After dinner hoisted out two boats in which my self, some of the officers and gentlemen went to take a view of the Island and its produce, we found no difficulty in landing behind some rocks which lined part of the coast and defended it from the surf. We found the island uninhabited and near a kin to New Zealand. The Flax plant, many other Plants and Trees common to that country was found here but the chief produce of the isle is Spruce Pines which grow here in vast abundance and to a vast size, from two to three feet diameter and upwards, it is of a different sort to those in New Caledonia and also to those in New Zealand and for Masts, Yards &C superior to both. We cut down one of the Smallest trees we could find and Cut a length of the upper end to make a Top Mast or Yard. My Carpenter tells me that the wood is exactly of the same nature as the Quebeck Pines. Here then is another Isle where Masts for the largest ships may be had. Here are the same sort of Pigeons. Parrots and Parokeets as in New Zealand, Rails and some small birds. the Sea fowl are White Boobies, gulls, Tern &c which breed undisturbed on the rocks and in the Clifts. The coast is not destitute of Fish, our people caught some which were excellent while in the boats a long-side the rocks. I took possession of this Isle as I had done of all the others we had discovered, and named it Norfolk Isle, in honour of that noble family. It is situated in the Latitude of 20 degrees 00's, Longit of {168 degrees 16'} East, it is about {5 leagues} in circuit of a good height and its shores are steep and rocky. Her is good Soundings and Anchorage ab out this isle, a bank of Coral Sand mixed with Shells on which we found from {19} to {325 or 40} fathom Water, surrounds it, and extends especially to the South, {7} Leagues off and perhaps as far or farther every other way only we had no opportunity to determine it, on the NW & North side is 20 & 19 fathom, one quarter of a mile from the shore and very good anchorage. I had almost forgot to mention that the isle is supplied with fresh Water and produceth abundance of small Cabbage Palms, we cut down and brought off as many as the little time we had would admit. Upon the whole here are many good refreshments to be got but we had not time to spare to benefit by them. Whilest I was a shore I observed that an East and West Moon must make high Water or nearly so, and that the Tides must rise six or eight feet perpendicular. the Variation of the Compass was 11 degrees 9' East.

The approach of night brought us all on board, when we hoisted in the Boats and stretched to the ENE with the Wind at SE. At midnight Tack'd, stood to the South and weathered the Island on the south side of which lay some high Islets or rocks, which serve as roosting and breeding places for birds. Being clear of the isle we stretched to the South with a fresh breeze at ESE. My design was to touch at Queen Charlottes Sound in New Zealand, there to refresh my people and put the Ship in a condition to cross this great ocean in a high Latitude once more. At Noon Norfolk Isle bore NBE distant 7 Leag Lat Ob 29' 21's. Depth of Water (from 19 to 32) fathom.

Captain Cook's report to the Admiralty and the publication in London in 1777 of his book A Voyage towards the South Pole gave Norfolk its first publicity. In 1786 Lord Sydney, secretary of the Home Office, advised the lords of the Treasury that, because of the overcrowding in the English gaols, it had been decided to rid the country immediately of prisoners under sentence or order of transportation, and

His Majesty has thought it advisable fix upon botany Bay, situated on the coast of New South Wales, in the latitude of about 33 degrees south, which, according to the accounts given by the late Captain Cook, as well as the representation of persons who accompanied him during his last voyage, and who have been consulted upon the subject, is looked upon as a place likely to answer the above purposes. 

To move those undesirable inmates of His Majesty's prisons, as well as the numbers of officers, seamen, soldiers and civilians who became involved in the project, the first Fleet was formed. It comprised the flagship Sirius, the armed tender Supply, and nine transports and store-ships, all under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. Captain Phillip's Instructions from King George III contained this passage: 

Norfolk Island .  .  . being represented as a spot which may hereafter become useful, you are, as soon as circumstances will admit of it, to send a small establishment thither to secure the same to us, and prevent it being occupied by the subjects of any other European power.

Following the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay, New south Wales, Governor Phillip officially established the settlement at Sydney cove on 7 February 1788 and, within a week, had appointed Philip Gidley King as superintendent and commandant of Norfolk Island. (Superintendent King was held in high esteem y Governor Phillip; the two were old friends. King had served under Phillip six years before on a cruise in a frigate in the East Indies, and, with the formation of the First fleet, he was appointed second lieutenant of the Sirius and was again under Phillip's supervision.)

Governor Phillip ordered that Lieutenant King should embark with a group of people on the supply, proceed to Norfolk Island, and form a settlement there. After attending to the sheltering of his little community and their provisions, King was to immediately attend to the cultivation of the flax which cook had reported growing there, and plant the vegetable seeds provided by Phillip. he would be given a four-oared boat, but was prohibited from building any decked boat or any other vessel whose length of keel exceeded 6.5 metres, presumably to prevent convicts escaping. If, by any chance, a vessel of such size should be driven onto the island, King should make it unserviceable, pending instructions from Phillip. six months' provisions were to accompany him, with the promise of more before the end of that time; but economy in food was to be observed. convicts were to labour for the public benefit; church of England prayers were to be read every Sunday; and finally, trading with visiting ships was forbidden.

Before leaving Sydney Cove, Lieutenant King met the French captain La Perouse, who had arrived in Botany Bay in charge of the ships L'Astrolabe and La Boussole. On a voyage of discovery since 1785, the ships had recently anchored off Norfolk Island but, on account of the heavy surf, no-one on board could land. Surgeon John White later recorded what La Perouswe and his associate Clonard thought about Norfolk - it was "only a place fit for angels and eagles to reside in". On 15 February 1788, the armed tender Supply, commanded by Lieutenant Henryh Lidgbird Ball, left Sydney Cove for Norfolk Island. King's companions numbered twenty-two. There were seven free men - James Cunningham, master's mate of the Sirius; Thomas Jamison, surgeon's mate of the Sirius, John Turnpenny Altree, surgeon's assistant; Roger Morley and William Westbrook, seamen from the Sirius; Charles Heritage and John Batchelor, marines - and nine male and six female convicts. Along with the six months' provisions and the four-oared boat, they took a few domestic animals and fowls, tents, clothing, farm and flax-dressing tools and other equipment.

During the voyage from Sydney cove, an uncharged island was discovered, which Lieutenant Ball named Lord Howe in honour of the first lord of the Admiralty. From Cook's, and later, King's account of the vegetation, it is clear that Norfolk Island was originally covered with a dense sub-tropical rainforest, with the pine (Araucaria heterophylla) dominating the other trees by 40 metres. The two smaller islands were also well covered with vegetation at that time. At daybreak on 29 February, the Supply was not far from its destination. King wrote in his journal:

The great number of birds round us, and ye clouds hanging so very thick to ye westward, indicates our being near ye land, but it was not till 11 in ye forenoon that awe made ye largest of the two isles which lye off ye S.W. end of Norfolk Isle, bearing . . . . and to which I have given the name of Phillip's Isle, in honor of his Excellency Governor Phillip. At 1 we made Norfolk Isle, Point Howe, or ye North Point, bearing ... and ye South Point, or Point Ross. At 4 in ye afternoon we rounded Point Howe, soon after hove too off a cascade which lies near about ye middle of ye eastern side, and down which a very fine fall of water fell with great force and noise.

King and Lieutenant Ball attempted to land at Cascade, but were unable to get ashore there. King wrote:

March 1st, early in ye morning, Lieut. Bull and myself went in a boat to examine ye isle whether we could find a landing-place from ye southernmost (or Point Ross) to ye N.W. point, or Point Howe, which is with the present wind W.N.W. ye lee side of ye isle ... We rowed along the shore, but could find no place to land, and could we have landed it would have been impossible to have climbed ye steep cliffs with which the isle is surrounded ... In ye evening we returned on board without having set our feet ashore.

The next afternoon the Supply anchored

in a bay in which lie the rocks behind which Capt. Cooke landed, and in which bay I give the name of Duncombe Bay, after ye member for Yorkshire ... At 4 o'clock Lieut. Ball and myself landed in ya bay on a large rock, but with great difficulty, being obliged to watch an opportunity to jump on ye rock after ye surf had broken ... As it was near evening when we landed we very soon returned on b'd again with a quantity of sorrell which we had found near the shore.

Early on 4 March, King, accompanied by Jamison, Cunningham, Callam (the surgeon of the supply) and one marine landed in the same vicinity and struck inland to explore the country and see if landing was practicable at Anson Bay.

We found ye woods so very thick, and so much underwood, which was rendered still worse by a large kind of supple-jack, which formed an impenetrable network thro' which we had to cut our way. The ground was quite free of any kind of herb or plant whatever, and ye soil everywhere rich and good; this I attribute to the thorough exclusion of sun and air, which prevents this kind of vegetation.

By 11 o'clock, the party had travelled across the corner of the island, and were right above Anson Bay. In attempting to descend to sea-level, the men found themselves in a dangerous situation, slipping down the face of the cliff, but fortunately saved themselves from disaster by grasping the strong flax plants growing there. On the return journey to Duncombe Bay in the afternoon, they deviated to inspect "a spring of very fine water" and lost their way in the bush. Evening found them still wandering, bewildered, enclosed in thick woods, their range of vision restricted by towering trees. "Mr Cunningham got into a tree and climbed to the top of it." King wrote, describing their predicament, "from whence he saw ye supply bearing N.b.E. from us, by which we knew that we were on Mount Pitt (which is ye name I have given to ye highest and only remarkable mountain on ye isle." About 7 o'clock they regained the coast and rested, waiting for Mr Callam, who had been unable to keep up with them.

I sent ye marine to look after him, who on ballooing was answered by Mr. Callam. soon after ye supply made ye signal for her boat to return on board. I called the marine, and we embarked and got on b'd ye supply, thoroughly exhausted and fatigued with our excursion. the boat was immediately sent after ye surgeon, but it being dark he did not choose to answer the person who went to search for him. It seemed the next morning when he came on board that he found himself much tired and exhausted, and coming to a place where there was a number of dried leaves, and fearing he should not meet a better bed further on he had himself down ... he saw nothing in the night, but heard he had himself down ... He saw nothing in the night, but heard something nibbling the leaves like a hare or rabbit, and heard the very distinct cry of yaho! ye same as one man calling to another.

Mr Callam, surgeon of the Supply, was apparently the first white man to sleep on Norfolk Island; and it seems his slumbers were a little uneasy. At daylight on 5 March, King and Ball set out again in the boat, but the surf was too violent to permit a landing. "I now began to think it was impossible to land on ye isle, wrote King, "as I have nearly made a circuit of it and found no place where there is a possibility of landing." However, one chance was left: the possibility of a passage through the reef at "Sidney Bay". The master of the supply, sent to examine the bay, reported that such an opening did exist. King and Lieutenant Ball hastened to the spot.

We landed in a fine sandy bay or beach, without any difficulty whatever, Above this beach lay a bank, ye edge of which was surrounded by ye large kind of iris; on piercing thro' it we found a fine piece of ground; altho' well wooded (as is every other part of ye isle) here, I resolved at once to fix, and felicitated myself on having found a place out where I could make a commencement.

At daybreak on 6 March, King left the Supply with two boats containing all the men of the new settlement (the women were landed later), tents, tools, and some of the provisions

which we landed with great ease, and ye people were instantly set to work clearing away ground enough to erect the tents on, and ye colours were hoisted. Before sunset every thing and person belonging to the settlement were on shore, and their tents pitched before the colours were hauled down - I assembled all ye settlement, and, Lieut. Ball present, I took possession of ye isle, drinking "His Majesty", "The Queen", "Prince of Wales", "Governor Phillip", and "Success to ye Colony", after which three cheers were given.

The 6th of March is now commemorated on the island as Foundation Day, and observed as a public holiday. thus, this settlement founded by King of Sydney Bay was the second British settlement in the South Pacific. Headquarters were later shifted a little to the east, to face what is now known as Slaughter Bay. At first called Sydney, the name was changed later to King's Town, to avoid confusion with Sydney, the capital of New South Wales and, in due course, became Kingston. King named many coastal features including cook's Rocks (after Captain cook), Sydney Bay (after Viscount Sydney, secretary of the Home Office), Point Howe (after the first lord of the Admiralty), Ball Bay (after Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball), Anson Bay (after George Anson, the member of parliament for Litchfield) Dancombe Bay (after Henry Duncombe, one of the members for Yorkshire), Nepean Isle (after Evan Nepean, the under secretary for the Home Office), Point Hunter (after Captain John Hunter, commander of the Sirius), and Collins Head (after Captain David Collins, the judge advocate of the colony of New south Wales). during his two terms on the island, King also gave distinctive names to landmarks in the interior.  

The Supply sailed for Sydney cove on 8 March, leaving the commandant and his small community to their task of colonising the tiny island, forested to the land's edge, nearly 1,600 kilometres and many days' sailing from Sydney, which settlement itself, at that time, would quite conceivably have been regarded as being at the end of the world. Clearing land, sowing seeds, and cutting timber occupied the settlers for the first few weeks. soon after his arrival, King found four turtles

basking themselves on a sandy beach which lies at ye eastern side of this bay, close under Point Hunter. I immediately went away with some people and turned 2 of them, which I brought to the tents for publick use. all round this beach we saw a great number of turtle swimming about.

This incident caused King to name the area Turtle Bay. Mindful of Governor Phillip's order to cultivate the flax-plant (Phormium tenax), King set about finding it. apparently he had difficulty recognizing it, but on 17 March wrote:

This day I discovered that ye flax-plant, which Capt. Cook takes notice of, is no other than that plant which I have hitherto called ye larger kind of Iris, with which ye isle abounds, but it in no manner resembles ye flax of Europe, its appearance being more like flags. A bundle of it was tied up and put into a pool of water to soak.

This was the unpretentious beginning of the flax industry on Norfolk, pursued assiduously through the years with small success. succeeding commandants must have earned grey hairs in their endeavours to produce good cloth for local use and export. In 1793 two Maoris, Hoodoo and Toogee (probably pronounced "Haru" and "Tuki"), were captured by Lieutenant Hanson of HMS Daedalus at the Bay of Islands, taken to Port Jackson and delivered to Lieutenant-Governor Crowe, who sent them on to Norfolk to each the Maori art of Processing flax. But flax-dressing in New Zealand was exclusively women's work, and such tuition as Hoodoo and Toogee were able to give was imparted in an hour. As late as 1800 King, then lieutenant-governor of New South Wales, ordered the commandant, Major Joseph Foveaux to proceed wit5h the flax industry, and, as by this time the inferior quality of the local flax for manufacturing had been proved. Foveaux was directed to allot about one hectare for European flax. During the second penal settlement, flax-dressing was again to the fore; in 1839 the commandant, Major Bunbury, paid the New Zealand (presumably Maori) wife of the island's coxswain one shilling a day to teach half-a-dozen prisoners to prepare "hemp", which sold in Sydney at about 23 pounds per tonne. Even in the twentieth century, flax-fever again broke out among the authorities. shortly after World War II began, to interest farmers in flax production, the commonwealth government paid a bounty of Phormium tenax, but the industry never revived. 

(Certain other people had also anticipated the potential of such a settlement and, in 1785, Sir George Young and John Call had unsuccessfully sent a proposal to the East India Company to establish a colony of free settlers on Norfolk. After Norfolk was settled, Young, on behalf of himself and others, petitioned (again, unsuccessfully), the home secretary, Lord Sydney, for a grant of the island for the export of masts and cordage.) By 2 April 1768, King's men had completed a storehouse, after which they were busy pit-sawing timber for huts. King's first crops were planted close to the beach, but later, he pushed back the bush and opened up Arthur's Vale, a more sheltered area close to the settlement, named in honour of Governor Phillip. Other areas were gradually brought under cultivation. although the soil was wonderfully fertile, King's agricultural projects suffered all kinds of disasters. In their first exposed position, his gardens were wrecked by the heavy winds blowing directly from the sea. them, to his dismay, he found that vegetables were attacked by rats. Later it was "ye grubs", then "ye catterpillars", "ye grub-worm" and "ye parroquets". These reverses King met with the agricultural knowledge of his time, plus his own ingenuity. He fitted up empty bread-casks as rat-traps, only to find that the rats grew too cunning to be caught that way; he therefore resorted to laying oatmeal mixed with powdered glass. To destroy the grubs, he tried ashes, then urine. during the caterpillar plague a year later he wrote: "Sent all the women with staves to earth; an astonishing number were killed, but in two hours after the caterpillars were as numerous as ever."

But the caterpillars, having eaten all the crops in eight and ended their cycle, gradually disappeared and, in a few months, the wheat was shooting again. soon afterwards the grub-worms arrived to enjoy their share of the harvest. An entry indicating both relief and apprehension was made on 27 October 1782. "The grubs have almost totally disappeared, but we are now plagued with ye parroquets, which destroy a quantity of ye seeds." As the island was uninhabited when he first arrived, King naturally assumed he and his small company were the few settlers. Later he was not so sure. Prospecting around the island, planning roads, and seeking suitable sites for out-stations, he found several interesting things. On 27 April 1788 he wrote: "I discovered a great quantity of plantane (banana)_ trees, which grow close to the stream of fresh water which runs through the valley ... which is very wide and bordered by some small hills."

King's other finds included the remains of a canoe, a fresh coconut, and a small carved piece of wood, all found on the coast, and some stone hatchets, which turned up while digging. Later, one of the stone axes was identified by the two Maoris, Hoodoo and toogee, as being of New Zealand origin. Their recognition of the axe led King to say he thought the island had formerly been inhabited or had formed part of New Zealand "from whence it must have been separated by some violent shock."

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The theory that Norfolk had possessed inhabitants before 1788 was revived and received fresh support in 1929, after a stone adze was found at Emily Bay by T. McPhail, a local resident. In 1934, additional evidence was brought forward: adze-shaped stone weighting over four kilograms was dug up by H.N. Hiskens in the interior of the island; and a number of small partly-fasioned adzes, with several hundred flakes (presumably chipped from them during manufacture), were found at Emily Bay by Harold Rabone. The New Zealand authority, Dr. H. D. Skinner, pronounced the 1929 adze as characteristically Polynesian. the large four kilogram stone found later, he thought to be piece of weathered basalt., shaped by natural agencies. He accepted the small adzes and chips as artifacts, possibly of Polynesian workmanship. the in 1965, a local girl, Ann Hoare, found a piece of worked stone in shallow water at Emily Bay, which was identified by the Auckland Museum ethnologist as an unfinished Polynesian adze. Later finds b yh residents included three Eastern Polynesian-style blades - one weighing 783 grams - and an Australian-style blade.

In 1976, Dr J. Specht and Ms H. Czuchnicka from the Australian Museum, Sydney, and Dr F. Leach of the University of Otago, New Zealand, carried out an archaeological survey on Norfolk. Although test pits were dug, they failed to find further artifacts. Examination of human bones found over the years showed that all those which were racially identifiable had European affinities. While not ruling out the likelihood of the remains of a pre-European settlement buried under the convict-era buildings at Kingston, the scientists were unable to solve the mystery of Norfolk's Polynesian visitors or settlers. Andrew Sharp, in his Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific, says Polynesians were in Norfolk in pre-European times, but they were merely accidental callers, not settlers. No stone works, house enclosures or burial places have been found. It is significant, too, that most of the artifacts were found in the Kingston area, where the land slopes gently to the sea and landing it easy, in contrast to the precipitous cliffs lining the rest of the coast.

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Less than two months his arrival, King found it necessary to punish one of the marines who was caught stealing rum from his tent. This man received three dozen lashes: one dozen for quitting his work, one dozen for breaking into the King's stores, and one dozen for theft. A few days later a boy of fourteen, who also stole rum, received similar punishment. Severe as these sentences seem, as headquarters in Sydney, the penalty for each such crimes was death. Included in King's duties as superintendent and commandant was the conducting of church services. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. the congregation was summoned to his door by the church bell - "a man beating on the head of an empty cask". King sent favourable reports to Governor Phillip, who passed them on to Lord Sydney in London, not forgetting to put in a good word or two for his friend:

Lt. Philip Gidley King, the second lieut, of the Sirius, who is at Norfolk Island, is a very steady, good officer. He, too, is cut is cut off from all society, and is in a situation that will require patience and perseverance, both of which he possesses, with great merit in the service as an officer; as such I beg leave to recommend him to your Leadership. the rank of master and commander be well earned in the late war, and I should be very happy if he now attained it, thro' your Leadership.

In a long report on Norfolk to the home secretary in September 1788, Governor Phillip said:

The want of a good landing place, and security for vessels in the winter, is the only thing to be wished for, the island being in every other respect one of the finest in the world. The earth is very rich - mould to the depth of five and six feet wherever they have dug so deep, and all the grain and garden seeds which have been put into the ground growing in the most luxuriant manner ... The island is exceedingly well watered, a strong stream, which rises at or near  Mount Pitt, running through a very fine valley - sufficiently strong to turn a mill, though divided into several branches, and very fine springs of water are found in different parts of the island ... Mr. King has cleared sufficient ground to have vegetables of every kind in the greatest abundance ... All his people were in good houses, and he says that he has no doubt but that within three years they shall be in such a situation as to support themselves with the assistance of a small proportion of salt provisions, and that they will not stand in need of that after the fourth year. They have fish in great abundance, some turtle in the season, great numbers of pigeons, and have found the plantain growing wild.

Almost from the first the population was increased by parties of convicts sent from Sydney with additional troops to guard them. By December 1788, King's community was well housed, agriculture was proceeding and a small settlement had been formed at Ball Bay with a view to making a second landing place there. Philip and Nepean Islands had also been visited. On Christmas Day 1788, the colours were hoisted at sunrise. The convicts fared well for those days - a double allowance of pork and an issue of rum ensured their Christmas cheer. On 8 January 1789, the first child was born on the island - King's own son - whom he christened on 18 January, giving him the name Norfolk. the baby's mother was Ann Inett, the convict woman with whom King lived during his first term on the island, and who later bore him a second son, Sydney. by July 1790 she was back in Sydney, where two years later she married Richard John Robinson, a convict serving a life sentence. In August 1794, Ann Robinson, now a free woman, was given a grant of thirty acres known as Pleasant Farm. In 1806 her husband, who had received a free pardon, was listed as an overseer of mills. Later the Robinsons, who had prospered in New South Wales, returned to England.

January 1789 was also marked by the first plot to overthrow authority, which was luckily foiled by advance information being given to the commandant by a gardener, who obtained it from his convict mistress. After the quashing, King ordered most of the men involved in the plot to carry on, as normal, with their duties. the convict who first proposed the scheme was sent to Sydney on the next ship to be tried. However, he escaped capital punishment because no attempt had been made to carry the scheme into operation. the other ringleaders were fettered with irons, but later forgiven by the commandant. After King reported the matter to the governor, the details were sent to Lord Sydney with Philip's assurance that King had acted with great discretion. Shortly afterwards, King ordered all the trees within a certain distance of the huts to be cut down - a lucky move, because a moth later a hurricane hit the settlement. King reported:

Nothing but horror and desolation presented itself on every side which can only be equalled or conceived but by those who have seen the dreadful effects of a hurricane in the West Indies; what added more to the horror of the scene was a very large live oak tree being brown on the granary, which dashed it to pieces an stove a number of the casks of flour, but by the general activity of every person, the flour, Indian corn, and stores were in a short time collected and removed to the Commandant's house, with the loss of about half a cask of flour and some small stores. At noon the gale blew with the utmost fury and violence, sweeping woods of trees up by the roots and carrying some of them to a considerable distance; at one o'clock there were as many trees fell round the settlement as would have employed 50 men a fortnight to fall. the swamp and vale were quite overflowed by 11 o'clock, and had every appearance of a large navigable river. The surf rose to a very great height, and broke most tremendously. the sea between the islands ran mountains high, very often hiding Nepean's Island entirely.

But there were no serious accidents, although one man was hurt by a falling pine branch. The houses at Arthur's Vale were blown down and their occupants struggled back to the settlement, dodging falling 5ttrees as they went. Next Sunday, King wrote: "Did not perform divine service, the Commander's house being full of flour. The swamp is still much overflowed." No doubt influenced by Governor Phillip's good reports of Norfolk, in June 1789 the Right Honourable W.W. Grenville, secretary of the Home Office, informed Phillip that but for the great expense and labour already incurred at Port Jackson, he should have been inclined to recommend Norfolk as the principal settlement. However, in lieu of this, he urged Phillip to transport as many convicts as possible to Norfolk Island. During 1789, King completed a road from Sydney Bay to Anson Bay via Mount Pitt, began a redoubt at mount George (behind the settlement) and installed the first settler at Cascade. commandant King's first term on Norfolk ended in March 1790, when Phillip recalled him to Sydney to carry important despatches to England.

Major Robert Ross, commanding officer of the Marines and lieutenant-governor of the Colony of New South Wales, was appointed lieutenant-governor of the Colony of New South Wales, was appointed lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island during King's absence. The discontented major had had many differences and conflicts with Phillip, and his appointment to the island was a discreet way of ridding Sydney of his presence for a while. Phillip's instructions to Major Ross for the good government of the island were substantially the same as those given to King. As the Sydney food supplies were scarce, Governor Phillip, to help relieve the situation, decided to send to Norfolk, at the same time as Major Ross sailed, two companies of marines, five free women and children, 183 convicts and their seventeen children. Phillip anticipated that the large supplies of fish and the produce of the island's fertile soil would keep these people from hunger. Thus early in March 1790, the Sirius and the Supply, laden with passengers and stores, left Sydney cove for the island. This was the last voyage of the Sirius. She was wrecked on the Norfolk reef on Friday, 19 March. Of the many accounts of the wreck, that of her commander, Captain John Hunter, is the most dramatic:

I steered in the Sydney-Bay, and as we drew near, I observed the Supply lying to in the bay, and the signal upon the shore was flying, that long boats, or any other boats might land, without any danger, from the surf. Anxious to avail myself of this favourable signal, I steered in as far as I judged safe, and brought to with the ship's head off shore, in the south-east or windward part of the bay. Indeed, out the boats, loaded them with provisions, and send them in; but observing that the ship settled fast to leeward, we made sail, and immediately hauled on board the fore and main tacks, the Supply had also made a sail, and was to leeward of the Sirius. there is a reef of sunken rocks, which lies off the west point of the bay, and which (as the wind freshened and the sea rose) broke a considerable way out, the Supply having drawn ahead, could not weather the reef; on this she tacked; and, as we drew near, I plainly perceived that we settled so fast to forward that we should not be able to weather it; so, after standing as near as was safe, we put the ship in stays; she came up almost head to wind, but the wind just at that critical moment baffled her, and she fell off again; nothing could now be done, but to wear her round in as little room as possible, which was done, and the wind landed upon the other tack, with every sail set as before, but, still perceiving that the ship settled into the bay, and that she shoaled the water, some hands were placed by one of the bower anchors, in 5 fathoms water; the helm was again put down, and she now had some additional after-sail, which I had no doubt would ensure her coming about; she came up almost head to wind, and there hung some time; but by her sails being all a-back, had fresh stern way; the anchor was therefore cut away, and all the handyards, sheets, and tacks let go, but before the cable could be brought to check her, she struck upon a reef of coral rocks which lies parallel to the shore, and in a few strokes was bulged; when the carpenter reported to me, that the water flowed fast into the hold, I ordered the masts to be cut away, which was immediately done. there was some chance, when the ship was lightened of this weight, that by the surges of the sea, which were very heavy, she might be thrown so far in up the reef, as to afford some prospect of saving the lives of those on board, if she should prove strong enough to bear the shocks she received from every sea. It was now about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and after the masks were gone, all hands were employed in getting out of the hold such provisions as could be come of, and securing them again them upon the gun-deck, that they might be at hand in case any opportunity offered of floating them on shore,. In the evening the wind freshened still more, and the surf was considerably increased in consequence of which, it was strongly recommended by the gentlemen on shore, who knew the place much better than we could, that every person should quit the ship; for this purpose the end of a small rope was floated through the surf, and over the reef, to the shore, by an empty cask, and by that rope a seven inch hawser was hauled on shore, with a wooden heart upon it for a traveller, and the end was made fast to a tree, by this traveller I corresponded with those on shore, and received their opinions. To the traveller three or four sailors at a time were made fast, and were hauled by the people on shore through the surf, and over a ragged reef to the land; another part this evening, and the remainder the next day.

In May, Captain Hunter wrote that the wreck of the ship still held together, but the beams and knees were all either broken or loose. However, when King arrived back on Norfolk in 1791, he found the Sirius still stuck fast on the reef at Sydney Bay, and he was able, even at that late date, to salvage a quantity of her fittings, though he was of the opinion that she would fall to pieces the following winter. She finally disappeared late in 1792.

*   *   *   *   * 

The 1855 Admiralty plan of the island, made from a survey by Captain H.M. Denham, R.N., still featured the position of the Sirius wreck. In 1906 an anchor was raised, sent to Sydney, and placed on a pedestal in Macquarie Place. Two more anchors, believed to belong to the same ship, were discovered by skin-divers in about six metres of water near the wreck's position in October 1965. (This discovery was made by three Australian Broadcasting commission cameramen and two residents.) A few copper nails, bars and some lead shot were later recovered from the area. In 1973, one of the anchors was freed from the reef and recovered b a team of Administration lighterage workers, skin-divers and the master and crew of the Holmburn. The anchor was mounted in the Administration compound, and unveiled by the Honourable Gordon Bryant, minister for the Capital Territory, in 1974. Because of advancing deterioration, the anchor was removed and, together with the bounty cannon and the two Sirius cannon, sent to Perth for restorative treatment. The three cannon were returned to the island in 1978, but the anchor, which needed further treatment, did not arrive for another year. In 1985 it was relocated near the pier and in 1987, now complete with a new wooden stock, it was unveiled as part of a Bicentenary project.

Salvaged from the wreck were the Sirius guns, which were later dispersed. In May 1796, Lieutenant-Governor King, on the advice of Captain Hunter who had been appointed governor of New South Wales in 1795, permitted Captain Hogan, of the Marquis Cornwallis, to arm his ship with four of these guns and 140 rounds of shot. Nine years later, as governor of New South Wales, King had "eight long 6-pounders from Norfolk Island, late belonging to the Sirius" brought to Sydney and placed in a citadel for local defence. In the Norfolk Island Administrative's Report for 1923-24, it is noted that two guns from the Sirius, along with the Bounty gun and a gun captured by Australian Imperial Forces from the Turks during World War I, had recently been mounted in the Court House yard. today these cannon, restored and mounted in eighteenth century style, stand facing the reef where, on that long-gone Friday morning, Captain Hunter's ship, the former flagship of the First Fleet, missed stays twice - and struck. Despite strong winds and a heavy sea, all on board the Sirius were landed safely, and a good deal of her cargo saved. When the wind abated, two convicts offered to go on board and drive off the live-stock that remained. However, they chose to remain on board themselves and sample, unchecked, the ship's liquor. As evening came one, a light was noticed on the wreck, and it was feared that the ship might be set on fire. that night, in spite of the darkness and a high surf, a third convict, John  Arscott, courageously went aboard the wreck and forced the others to leave via the hawser.

Major Ross's first official act on Norfolk was the proclamation of martial law following the wreck of the Sirius.

Immediately on the ship's striking, I judged it necessary to issue an order forbidding all the inhabitants on the settlement from killing any stock of their own, or plundering any article of stock or provisions belonging to the public or to others, under pain of immediate death by hanging.

The next day, Ross held a meeting with Lieutenant King, Captain Hunter, and the other naval and marine officers.

On the morning of the 22nd all the people assembled on the beach under the King's colours, when the law martial was declared to be the only law by which this settlement should be governed until farther orders. And after reading the resolutions of myself and Council, I proposed, as there was not time to administer an oath to everybody, that passing under the King's colours at the flagstaff, and between  the colours of the detachment - which were taken for that purpose - should be deemed as equal to a voluntary oath of paying a strict obedience to the martial law now in force, Captn. Hunter and myself leading the van.

On 26 March, Major Ross made a further proclamation warning that plundering from the public stores would be considered a capital crime and dealt with accordingly. The Supply, with King aboard, sailed for Sydney a few days after the Sirius was wrecked, and Major Ross was left with the problem of caring for nearly five hundred persons, including eighty members of the crew of the Sirius. Despite the provisions salvaged from the Sirius, food was soon in short supply. but in April, a species of petrol (Pterodroma melanopus), called by Hunter the "bird of Providence", began nesting on Mount Pitt. "This hill is as full of holes as any rabbit warren." For several months, these petrels flew in at dusk from their fishing grounds at sea to spend the night on Mount Pitt. Using torches of pine knots split and bound into small bundles to light their way through the thick bush, the hungry Norfolk people made nightly excursions up the mountain to plunder the birds and their eggs. "They had a strong fishy taste," said Hunter, "but our keen appetites relished them very well; the eggs were excellent." The birds were killed in their thousands and, with the fish caught in good weather and the heads of the palm trees eaten as cabbages, the local fare kept the public stores from dwindling away altogether.  

During their eleven months' stay on the island, the Sirius men were employed removing several huge rocks obstructing the passage through the reef. During this time, William Bradley, first lieutenant of the wrecked ship, surveyed the island. the Justinian and Surprize arrived in august with stores and, although the latter ship brought nearly two hundred convicts - extra months to feed - the great hunger was over, and martial law was discontinued. The abundance of the "birds of Providence" in their season, and the fertility of the Norfolk soil, gave Major Ross a wonderful idea of getting the convicts to maintain themselves and so be independent of the public stores. He formed small groups of prisoners, allotted them sections of cleared land and allowed them extra leisure for cultivation, as well as giving them a sow per group. After a certain time, he cut their store rations. In his General Order of 8 January 1791, Ross said:

It is expected that the convicts who are indulged with the privilege of maintaining themselves shall be classed together, and not less than three in a family, women and children included. And for the further encouragement of such male convicts as are desirous to maintain the females, such females shall not be called upon by the public to do any work, except in hoeing the corn upon the appearance of rain, or picking the caterpillars or grub from the corn, or any other work of evident necessity.

However, Ross's plan was unsuccessful. The convicts were ill-fed and there was much discontent, causing King to abolish the system as soon as he returned in 1791. Major Ross had his fair share of trouble while on Norfolk, and was not insensible to the sufferings of others. Writing to Governor Phillip in February 1791, he stressed the troops' lack of bedding. "There is not a bed or blanket among them that is fit to preserve the powers which sustain life from being congealed by any degree of cold which they may hereafter be obliged to encounter", and to the dearth of cooking utensils, "not a pot to every twelve men". He also gave a full report on the island, being careful to point out his own achievements. Excellent clay had been found and twelve prisoners were making bricks. Ours had been made and a thousand axe-helves. Cascade had become a small town, the home of the flax industry, where flax-dressers and assistants were settled on about three hectares of cleared land. The first two specimens of Norfolk "flax-cloath" were ready to be sent to Governor Phillip. two cobles (fishing boats) were constructed and another was under way. A hospital being built would shortly be ready to receive patients. A new out-station, Charlottefield (later called Queenborough and now part of the Longridge area) had been established in an untimbered valley on the way to Anson Bay, and there, in a sheltered position, Ross hoped to make a garden. Unfortunately, some plundering had taken place, and Major Ross said he was handicapped in punishing offenders for lack of a criminal court.

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 in England. On the same boat came the Reverend Richard Johnson. during Johnson's brief stay (he stayed a couple of weeks only, returning to Sydney on 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 on Norfolk Island with power to sentence criminals to flogging or capital punishment. Thomas Hibbins was later appointed deputy judge advocate at Norfolk 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 from London, governor Phillip continued to send convicts to Norfolk. 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 at Cascade Bay for 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 to Sydney, 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 to Phillip Island to 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 to Sydney for trial.

In November 1793, King sailed on the transport Britannia for the Bay of Islands. 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 the New 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 of New south Wales, Major Grose, gave a severe opinion of the value of Norfolk 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 on Phillip Island, 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 on Norfolk 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 to Sydney for 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 the New south Wales Corps, was sent from Sydney in September 1796 to succeed King, who sailed for England later in the year. After a long stay in England, King returned to Sydney in April 1800 as governor-designate of the colony. As governor of New South Wales from 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. (At Philip Island, 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 at Cascade Bay was 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.

The population at the end of November 1797 was 875. the people then were without wheat - unsuccessful wheat harvests having discouraged them so much that they no longer raised that crop. They were also worried - and kept poor - by the profiteering of the Sydney merchants; goods sold on the island were five times the price of the same articles sold in Sydney. governor Hunter, writing in January 1798 to the duke of Portland, who had succeeded Dundas as secretary of State for the Home Office, suggested that a government-owned public store be opened at Norfolk, as a branch to the one he had already proposed for Sydney. He also mentioned a petition he had received from the Norfolk settlers, asking that they be permitted to build a ship to ply between Sydney Bay and Sydney. He added that he had positively forbidden the building of such a vessel.

Unrest on the island led to a meeting of the free settlers reported by Captain Townson to Hunter as having been held by the "Fraternal Society of Norfolk Island". but the settlers wrote to Hunter denying that their meeting had been convened under any name, and complaining of their difficulties in disposing of their pork, owing to monopolies in supplying the government store. Hunter later expressed his "astonishment and displeasure" at learning of the "Fraternal Society" in the Government an d General Order of 12 July 1798. Because of a shortage of ships in Sydney, communication with Norfolk became irregular. this led Towson, in the autumn of 1798, to build a decked boat to send despatches to Hunter, informing him of the distress on the island due to shortages of clothing, tools and other commodities. This decked boat was the sleep Norfolk, of twenty-five tonnes, built of Norfolk pine, and the island's largest venture into boat-building up to that time. Almost immediately after she arrived in Sydney, governor Hunter ordered her to be fitted out for an exploration voyage. Lieutenant Matthew Flinders and George Bass, with a crew of eight, sailed in her in October to examine the coast of what was then, called the southern promontory of New Holland, and to search for a possible strait. the Norfolk returned early in the new year with the credit of being the first vessel to circumnavigate Van Diemen's Land. The island boat-builders had done their work well, for "although the sloop shipped some large sprays, upon the whole she performed wonderfully. Seas that were apparently determined to swallow her up she rode over with all the ease and majesty of an old experienced petterel. In 1799, Flinders sailed again in the Norfolk, charting the coastline north from Port Jackson.

Despite a promise to King that he would remain on the island until King returned, Townson's application for leave was approved. Townson departed in November 1799, leaving Captain Thomas Rowley in charge. 1799 was another lean year for the island, due to the loss of the maize crop. An additional problem was the islanders' taste for liquor. Three years earlier, Lieutenant-Governor King had reported that some convicts habitually bartered their clothing and other necessities with the settlers and soldiers for spirits. (John Turnbull, a visitor around 1801, also reported the islanders' drunkenness, saying that some were intoxicated for a week on end.) In 1799, the people suffered from ill-health, brought on, according to the surgeon, by drinking spirits hot from the stills. When Captain Rowley ordered the stills to be seized, he was indirectly threatened with prosecution by two of the owners. As well as a generally poor state of health and declining industry, there was a shortage of agricultural tools, and Rowley was unable to proceed with improvements ot the Cascade wharf due to a lack of bar iron and lead.

Thomas Rowley, in spite of his unwelcome efforts to enforce the sobriety of Norfolk's citizens, appears to have been a popular commandant. He said that, at his departure, the principal citizens wrote a joint letter to the governor expressing their sorrow at losing him. He also earned a word or two of praise from the governor: "I think it wright to add that from every account I have rec'd from thence that Captain Rowley's conduct in administering the government of that Island was much to his credit and the advantage of Government." But Captain Rowley stated bluntly: "I am 1,000 pounds the worse for going to that island. In June 1800, King, then lieutenant-governor of New South Wales, appointed Major Joseph Foveaux of the New South Wales Corps as acting lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island. Lat in July, Major Foveaux arrived and took over the command from Captain Rowley, who returned to Sydney. Major Foveaux was commissioned lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island in June 1801.

With his official appointment to Norfolk Island dated 26 June 1800, Foveaux received three other documents: Instruction, Regulations for Government Store at Norfolk Island, and Conditions of Land Grants. The Instructions covered most of the problems he would be likely to face on the island: tools were to be distributed care to be taken of the livestock; convicts were to labour for the public welfare and not for private persons, except in special circumstances, when they should be clothed and fed by them; the flax industry was to continue; rigid economy was to be enforced spirits were not to be imported unless written permits were issued by Foveaux: grants of land were to be confined to the most industrious; ground to be reserved for the Crown; all quit rents to be devoted to the maintenance of the orphan school; education to be promoted; and finally, the building of any boat whose length of keel exceeded six metres was forbidden. the Regulations for Government Store covered the establishment of the urgently-needed government store, to be supervised by the deputy commissary, and operated with a margin of profit not exceeding thirty per cent on perishable goods and fifteen per cent on other articles. The main terms of the Conditions of Land Grants were that every eligible male should be granted six hectares with two extra hectares if he were married, and an additional hectare for every child at the time of settling. This land was to be free of all fees, taxes, and quit rents for ten years, provided the grantee lived on the allotment for five years and cultivated and improved the land. In addition, settlers were to be given tools and seeds, rations for eighteen months and, under certain circumstances, assigned servants. 

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