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Historical Records of New Zealand

Condition of Norfolk Island

page 206

Condition of Norfolk Island.

18th October, 1796.

Inhabitants (Civil) consists of the Lieutenant-Governor, Judge-Advocate, Deputy Provost, Deputy Commissary, and an assistant surgeon, to whom may be added a storekeeper, an acting master-carpenter, beach-master, and one superintendant.

Military consists of a captain, three subalterns, and a company. The whole number of the civil and military, with their wives and familys, is one hundred and twenty.

Settlers are four seamen, who belonged to his Majesty’s ship Sirius, and fifteen marines, who were discharged at the relief of that detachment, and became settlers in January, 1792.

Also fifty-three settlers from those whose terms of transportation is expired, three officers, and others who held ground by grant or lease, or who have purchased allotments from settlers; also fourteen from those whose term of transportation is un-expired, and who hold allotments exceeding five acres. The whole number of which (exclusive of the officers), with their familys, is about two hundred and forty-one.

Men and Women whose Terms of Transportation are Expired.— One hundred and forty-nine men and sixty-three women of this description support themselves by hiring ground from settlers, working for individuals, or at their different callings. Some few are employed as overseers, and working for the publick, for which they are cloathed and fed from the stores, and further recompensed according to their merit. The number of this class, with their women and children, is about two hundred and thirty.

Male Convicts who remain under the sentence of the law are as follows:—
For life36
From 10 to 5 years10
From 5 to 3 years4
From 3 to 1 years26
From 1 year to six months60

Of which number five are assigned to settlers and others, on condition of their maintaining them; the rest are employed as stated in the following page. From which it will be obvious that no progress in cultivation for the Crown can be made, as not more than thirty men are employed in cultivating ground for the public advantage, which is much interrupted by incidental work, and attending the artificers in carrying on the different buildings, which are indispensable.

page 207
Number and Employment of every Person resident on Norfolk Island, 16th October, 1796.
Lieutenant-Governor and officers of the civil department 5
Convicts allowed do. 26
One captain, 2 ensigns 3
Convicts allowed do. 22
Non-commissioned officers and privates of the detachment 71
Convicts allowed do. 3
Convicts allowed guard 2
Storekeeper, 1; superintendent, 1; master carpenter, 1; beachmaster, 1 4
Convicts allowed do. 13
Overseers, 9; convicts, men, and boys allowed do., 9 18
Settlers from marines and seamen, independent of the stores 8
Do victualled for working for the publick 11
Do from convicts who have served their term of transportation, and who are independant as above 38
Do victualled for working for the public 19
Free men who are not settlers 2
People whose terms of transportation are expired, and who work for their living among settlers and others 144
Convicts who are taken off the stores by the settlers and others to assist them in clearing their ground, &c. 5
Employed at public cultivation—
At Sydney, 16 28
At Queenboro’, 12 28
Boat’s crew, 5; constable, 1; watchmen (who are invalids), 8 14
Carpenters, 13; sawyers, 8; boatbuilders, 2 23
Stonemasons, labourers, and quarrymen 5
Blacksmiths, 3; tool-helver, 1; charcoal-burners, 3; shingle-makers, 2; glazier and painter, 2; grooms, 2; mak’g salt, 2 15
Barbers, 2; bakers, 2; shoemakers, 3; taylors, 4; hospital, 1 12
Millars, 2; butcher, 1; jailer, 1; ropemaker, 1 5
Schoolmaster, Commissary’s clerks 5
At the stores, 4; flax manufactory (with 9 women) 13
Stock, 8; granary and barn, 1; gardeners, 2 11
Men allowed marine settlers, &c., for working at their different trades 5
At Phillip Island, taking care of the stock 3
Total males 533
Wives to civil and military, 11; children, 24; free women, 2 37
Settlers’ wives, and those who have served their terms of transportation, and who are independant of the provision store 64
Wives and women living with overseers, and washerwomen, and having young children 61
Working at the flax manufactory 9
Making slips and nursing 20
Children supported by their parents 64
Do victualled from the stores 99
Total females and children 354
Total males 533
Females and children 354
Number in the settlement 887
page 208

Land.—The island contains about 11,000 acres. In the level grounds, where the earth cannot be washed away by heavy rains, the soil varies from a rich brown mould to a light red earth. These soils are again varied by some extensive pieces of light black mould and fine gravel, which is found to produce the best wheat. The heavy rains which fall during the winter months wash the earth from the sides of the steep hills into the bottoms, leaving a marly substance, which will not admit of cultivation in that state; but this is only the case with the very steep hills that are cleared of timber, and have been four or five years in cultivation, as those of an easy ascent preserve their depth of soil, many of which have borne six successive crops of wheat. Owing to the quantity of soil washed from the sides of the steep hills into the bottoms (some of which were only a waterway between the hills), they are now level spots of ground, covered with great depth of the richest soil. Of the 11,000 acres of ground in this island, there are not 200 that could not be cultivated to the greatest advantage, if cleared of timber, and a sufficiency of people, cattle, and ploughs were on the island.

The manner in which the land is occupied.—The ground cleared of timber for the public use, and that marked out for the settlers’ lots, occupy a great part of the island, and is distributed in the following manner, viz.:—
To whom allotted.Number of Acres.Acres cleared of Timber.
Ground allotted to settlers on grant or lease3,239920
Ground allotted to officers, by grants, lease or permission132132
Ground allotted to individuals of different descriptions100100
Ground allotted reserved for Government, and contigious to the above allotments1,400None.
Ground allotted cleared of timber, and has been occupied for the public benefit376376
Total quantity of ground occupied as above5,2471,528
Supposed contents of the island, about11,000
Supposed quantity of ground unoccupied, about5,753
Supposed quantity of ground not cleared of timber9,472

Cultivation.—Most of the ground cleared of the timber was under cultivation in 1793 and 1794, and produced about 34,000 bushels of grain, but from the sudden and effectual check given page 209 to private industry during the year 1794, and the great proportion of the labourers working for their own support, and other-ways disposed of, not more than a third of Government ground and a fifth of the ground belonging to individuals was in a state of cultivation during the last year; that portion of ground thus neglected became overrun with rank and strong weeds, which is a great cover to the numerous rats there are on the island, exclusive of the injury done the soil by the growth of these weeds. However, from the humane attention shewn to the wants of the industrious individual by Governor Hunter in directing the maize-bills to be paid (which proceeding has since been sanctioned by his Grace the Duke of Portland), I hope that step will not only relieve many deserving people, but also renew that industrious disposition which the settlers have in general shewn.

The few men at public work, and the labour necessary for preparing the ground to receive wheat, did not admit of more than 100 acres of wheat and 18 of maize being sowed last year for the Crown. But the produce of the wheat was much reduced by the quantity of weeds that grew with it, and by some severe lightning when in blossom.

Crops.—Cultivation on this island is generally confined to maize, wheat, potatoes, and all kinds of garden vegetables. The heat of the climate, occasional droughts, and blighting winds render wheat an uncertain crop. Nor can it be averaged at more than 18 bushels an acre, altho’ some have yielded 25.

Owing to the quick and constant growth of rank weeds, few individuals can sow more wheat than is necessary to mix with their maize, which hitherto has rarely exceeded 5 acres each. Some few among the settlers who are remarkably industrious, or who have greater advantages than others, have generally from 5 to 11 acres in wheat.

The harvests of maize are constantly certain and plentiful, two crops of which are generally procured in twelve months. The produce of one crop may be averaged at 45 bushels per acre, and many have yielded from 70 to 80.

To procure two crops of maize, or one of wheat and one of maize, in twelve months, i.e., from June to June, the following plan is observed, viz.: The ground, owing to its extreme fertility, needs no other preparation than cutting off the weeds, and planting the maize from June to August. Seldom more than one good hoeing is required. In October and November the cobs are full formed and the tassels are dry. About this time the spaces between each hole is planted with the second crop of maize. In December and January the first crop is gathered. page 210 Taking up the stalks of the first crop loosens the mould round the plants of the second crop, which are now 6 inches high, and are immediately hoed. If it is intended to sow wheat for the first crops of the succeeding year, it is necessary to give this second crop at least three hoeings to keep the ground as clear of weeds as possible. The second crop of maize is gathered by the beginning of May, and is always much more productive than the first, though liable to be mildewed. If April and May happen to be wet months, which is often the case, the wheat is sowed (for one crop of wheat and one of maize) from the beginning of June to the latter end of July, and is housed by Christmas Day; the stubble is cleared off as fast as possible, and as much rain generally falls in January, maize is then planted, which comes off the ground in April and May. Sometimes potatoes are planted for a second crop, and yield an abundant encrease. It is much wished that a regular course of crops could be observed, but the want of cattle, ploughs, and labourers, with some other local objections, prevent that desirable mode of cultivation from being followed.

By the statements in page 208 it appears there are 5,247 acres occupied, out of which only 1,528 are cleared of timber. Also that there remains 5,753 not occupied and uncleared, making in the whole 9,472 acres not cleared of timber. If 6,000 out of the 9,472 acres not cleared could be put under cultivation, in addition to the 1,528 already cleared of timber, its produce at one crop only, and allowing no more than 30 bushels of maize to the acre, would be 225,840 bushels of grain, which might be doubled if there were labourers to procure a second crop.

The remaining 3,472 acres might be reserved for fuel, wood for buildings, and other purposes.

India corn must be ever considered the principal produce of the island for furnishing the inhabitants with bread, and which can never fail of being abundant for that purpose, as well as feeding stock. The few labourers at publick work has not allowed of any wheat being sowed this year for Government; but as individuals will continue to raise that grain their overplus will be purchased, as flour being mixed with the meal of Indian corn makes it much better. From the great quantity of Indian corn still remaining in the stores, and what will be raised this year by the few convicts at public labour, I do not think it will be necessary to purchase any of that grain this year, unless future circumstances should require it.

page 211
Account of grain raised by those employed in cultivating ground for the public use, and that raised by officers, settlers, and others, on Norfolk Island, from the 6th March, 1788 (when it was first settled), to the 18th October, 1796:—
Year.By whom raised.Quantity of Maize and Wheat in Bushels.Bushels of Maize and Wheat purchased from Individuals for the Public Use.
March, 1788, to May, 1780 {Government46
May, 1789, to May, 1790* {Government450
May, 1791, to May, 1792 {Government1688
May, 1792, to May, 1793 {Government4,549
Individuals6,9003,610 ½
May, 1793, to May, 1794 {Government6,000
May, 1794, to May, 1795 {Government3,300
May,1795, to October,1796 {Government1,803
79,36315,727 ½

Fruit-trees.—The sugar-cane of which the different inclosures are made is extremely luxuriant, and grows to the greatest perfection. Some sugar and a small quantity of spirits has been made. It is to the great quantity of sugar-cane that I attribute the success the inhabitants have met with in rearing such a number of swine. The bananas found on the island, and those brought from the Brazils, grew to a very great perfection, the bunches weighing from 40 to 80 lb. each. Of guavas and lemons there is a great abundance. The apple-trees brought from the Cape in 1791 have borne very fine fruit. Two weak coffee-plants, brought in 1791, are now healthy trees, bearing upwards of 20 lb. of berries each; from the luxuriance of their growth, great quantitys might easily be raised. Cotton has also done well, altho’ but little of it has been cultivated, as I am told it is a bad kind. But such is the fertility of the soil, and the favourableness of the climate, that all European and most tropical productions would thrive extremely well if seeds or plants could be sent.

* I was absent this year.

page 212
Live Stock.
Statement of Live Stock in possession of Government and private individuals.
To whom belonging. Cattle. Horses. Asses. Sheep. Goats. Swine. Poultry.
M. F. M. F. M. F.
Government 3 3 2 4 22 55 710 A great abundance.
Individuals 1 2 148 328 4,125 A great abundance.
Increase, living 3 3 1 2 2 4 170 383 4,835 A great abundance.
Do. killed and taken away 34 6 4,972 A great abundance.

Exclusive of the above increase, many of the swine were killed during the scarcity of provisions, from May, 1792, until the following September; since when no reduction has taken place in the established ration (excepting in January, 1794, when I learnt there was no salt provisions in the stores at Port Jackson. As we had at that time eleven months’ meat at a full ration, I caused the reduction of 3 lb. a week to be made here to enable me to send a supply in case it should be demanded). That reduced ration continued only four months. From the quantity of grain raised, and other natural resources for breeding swine, that stock increased so much about June, 1793, that I directed swine’s flesh to be purchased and issued in lieu of salt provisions, receiving it in such proportions as not to hazard a decrease of the sows, the purchase being occasionally confined to hogs. The quantity purchased and issued up to this date is 236,292 pounds, at 5d. and 6d. p. lb., which has made a saving in the stores of an equal quantity of salt meat, exclusive of 14,408 pounds furnished from Government stock for the same purpose; 286,000 pounds has been killed by individuals for their own use, and 59,980 pounds supplied masters of ship and taken from the island by people returning to Port Jackson, making in the whole 536,700 pounds.

When the settlers were informed that payments for the 11,476 bushels of maize which they had lodged in the stores in January, 1794, could not be made until orders were received from England, and that no more grain could be received, but that the purchase of fresh pork would be continued, the course of their industry became changed, altho’ raising grain still continued necessary for rearing their stock.

On most part of the 9,472 acres not cleared of timber the trees and underwoods are covered with the most succulent page 213 herbage, which, with the fern and other soft roots, afford the best of food for swine. Several individuals have taken advantage of this convenience by inclosing from 10 to 100 acres of the uncleared parts, into which they turn their swine. Several individuals have from 20 to 150 confined in this manner that require no other attention or care than giving them a sufficiency of maize to accustom them to their owners’ call.

A great resource for animal food has been found in Phillip Island, which has abounded with the best of food for swine, many having been raised and brought from thence. The great drought during the first part of this year, and the quantity of swine on the island, has destroyed a great part of the weeds and grass on which they fed, insomuch that I found it necessary to get as many from thence as possible. But those that were first sent and their increase are so wild that I do not think they will be easily caught. Several hogs brought from thence have weighed, when fattened, from 180 to 300 lb. An extensive inclosure of 100 acres is made on Norfolk Island, on account of Government, within which there were upwards of 400 swine when counted last month (in September). In this inclosure they are fed with maize, on which, and the herbage, they increase and thrive very well.

Making salt and salting pork has been successfully tried in the winter months, but it will not answer in the summer. It is intended to salt all the swine belonging to Government that can be killed during the winter, as I hope a sufficiency of salt will be made to answer that purpose.

From these resources it may fairly be presumed, if no unforeseen mortality should attack the stock, that the settlers and other individuals will be able to continue supplying the stores with half the ration of animal food, and that Government, in the course of twelve months, may furnish the other half; and if the industry of the settler and other individuals is encouraged, by their overplus grain and animal food being purchased, and that there were more labourers who have a term of years to serve, the produce of the grounds now cleared is more than sufficient for the maintenance of the present inhabitants—337 of whom support themselves without any expence to the Crown, which would be further secured if cattle and sheep could be sent here, as the former are much wanted for labour, and the latter for a change of food, as it is certain that sheep breed as well here as in any part of the world, and have not as yet been subject to distempers common to that kind of stock. The Cape ewes have not bred; but the Bengal ewes yean twice in the thirteen months, and have commonly two, often three, and sometimes four lambs at a yeaning, which have increased so much in size by being page 214 crossed with the Cape ram that a lamb six weeks old is now as large as one of the old ewes brought here in May, 1793.

The goats are extremely prolific, and generally breed thrice in the year. They commonly have from two to four kids at a time.

Any number of sheep, goats, and a quantity of cattle might be bred here, as the cleared grounds afford the best of pasture for these species of stock. But it will be a length of time before the increase of the few cattle, horses, and asses now on the island will be of much use, unless more are sent.

From the small quantity of poultry on the island in November, 1791, so great an abundance has been raised that the quantity taken away since that time is not less than 900 dozen, besides those consumed on the island. Innumerable quantitys of fowles and many turkeys are wild in the woods, where they not only breed and increase, but are also of great service in destroying the catterpillars and grubs with which the island was much infested; but during the last three years little or no inconvenience has been felt from them, which I attribute to the swine and wild poultry.

It is now eleven months since a full ration, and three years since smaller proportions of fresh pork, has been issued to those victualled from the public stores, the expence of which to the Crown, with the present number of full rations, is thus explained:—

By the receipts, issues, and vouchers, it will appear that from February 19th to May 21st (viz., 3 months), about 480 full rations have been victualled from the stores, at 7 lb. of fresh pork each week. To supply this consumption:—
44,638 lb. of fresh pork have been supplied by individuals£s.d.
at 6d. per lb., making the sum of1,115190
And that the quantity supplied by Government between the above dates is 6,525 lb., which at 6d. p. lb. makes a saving of16326
Expence quarterly952166
Expence yearly3,81160
Quantity that may be supplied from Government stock during the remaining 9 months may be about 12,200 lb., which makes a farther saving in the course of the year of30000
Total expences for one year in animal food3,51160
Savings made by 350 full rations who support themselves throughout the year in animal food, &c.3,18500
The above calculation only respects animal food.
page 215

From the preceding statements a calculation may be formed of the number of people Norfolk Island will maintain. And in forming an opinion on this head, I am persuaded that 2,000 people might be maintained almost immediately with grain and a great proportion of animal food; but to keep up a supply of meat, salt provisions would be necessary for the increased number of inhabitants for one or two years, which, with the addition of six or seven hundred ewes, might soon supply that number with animal food, which kind of stock would be much easier raised and with less expence than swine, exclusive of the benefit attending a change of food.

Manufacture of New Zealand Flax.—Not more than nine women and thirteen men (mostly invalids) can be employed preparing and manufacturing the flax. If there were slays or reeds, brushes and other articles, indispensibly necessary for flax dressing and weaving, with more people to work the flax, and weavers, this island would require very little assistance in cloathing the convicts; but the only cloth that can be made, for the want of these necessary articles, is a canvas finer than No. 7, which is thought to be equally strong and durable as that made from European flax.

This necessary plant needs no cultivation, yet that experiment has been made, and has answered extremely well, but it is not so much superior to that growing in its natural state as to bestow any pains on its cultivation.

Until the arrival of the two New Zealanders in May, 1793, no desirable progress was made in its manufacture, nor was it without much entreaty that our visitors gave the information we wished. As this work is principally performed by the women in New Zealand, our friends were by no means equal to give us the fullest instructions, yet sufficient was obtained to improve upon.*

The following is the method practised by the New Zealanders and the people on this island in manufacturing the flax.

When the leaves are gathered, the stalk running through the centre is taken out with the thumb-nail, and the red edges of the leaf are also stripped off. The two parts are then separated in the middle, making four slips of about 3/4 of an inch wide, and the length of the leaf, which is from 18 inches to 3 or 4 feet. These slips are cut across the centre with a muscle-shell, but not so deep as to separate the fibres, which is the flax. The slips thus prepared are held in the left hand, with the thumb resting on the upper part of the slip, just above the cut. The muscle-shell, held in the right hand, is placed on the under parts of the slips,

* Ante, p. 182.

page 216 just below the cut; with the thumb resting on the upper part, the shell is drawn to the end of the slip, which separates the vegetable covering from the flaxen filaments. The slip is turned, and the same operation is performed on the remaining part, which leaves the flax entire. If it is designed for fishing-lines, or other coarse work, nothing more is done to it; but if intended for cloth, it is twisted and beat a considerable time in a clear stream of water, and, when dried, twisted into such threads as the work requires. I have before observed that our visitors were not very conversant in the mode of preparing the flax, yet sufficient was learnt to improve upon. Instead of working it as soon as gathered, we find it works better to place it in a heap in a close room for five days or a week, by which means it is softer and pleasanter to work. We also find it easier and more expeditious to scrape the vegetable covering from the fibres, which is done with three strokes of a knife; it is then twisted and put into a tub of water, where it remains until the day’s work is finished. The day following it is washed and beat in a running stream. When sufficiently beat, it is dried, and needs no other preparation until it is hackled and spun into yarn for weaving.

This flax needs no cultivation, as it grows sufficiently abundant on all the cliffs of the island (where nothing else will grow) to give constant employment to five hundred people; and should it be thought an object, any quantity of canvas, rope, or linen might be made here, provided there was men, women, weavers, flax-dressers, spinners, and ropemakers, with the necessary tools. But as we are destitute of these aids, keeping in practice the few that can be spared from other essential work is all that can be done at present. If a machine could be so constructed as to separate the vegetable covering from the flaxen filaments, any quantity of this useful article might be prepared with great expedition.…

Philip Gidley King.