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Historical Records of New Zealand

Description of Norfolk Island by Lieut.-Governor King.*

Description of Norfolk Island by Lieut.-Governor King.*

Norfolk Island is situated in the latitude 29°, and in the longitude of 168° east. Its form is nearly an oblong, and contains from twelve to fourteen thousand acres.

The face of the country is hilly, and some of the valleys are tolerably large for the size of the island. Many of the hills are very steep, and some few so very perpendicular that they cannot be cultivated; but where such situations are they will do very well for fuel. On the tops of the hills are some extensive flatts.

Mount Pitt is the only remarkable high hill on the island, and is about one hundred and fifty fathoms high. The clifts which surround the island are about forty fathoms high and perpendicular. The basis of the island is a hard, firm clay. The whole island is covered with a thick wood, choaked up with underwood.

The island is well supplied with many streams of very fine water, many of which are sufficiently large to turn any number of mills. These springs are full of very large eels.

From the coast to the summit of Mount Pitt is a continuation of the richest and deepest soil in the world, which varys from a rich black mold to a fat red earth. We have dug down forty feet and found the same soil.

The air is very wholesome, and the climate may be called a very healthy one. There has been no sickness since I first landed on the island.

There are five kind of trees on the island which are good timber, viz., the pine, live oak, a yellow wood, a hard black wood, and a wood not unlike the English beach. The pine-trees are of a great size, many of which are from one hundred and eighty to two hundred and twenty feet in height, and from six to nine feet in diameter. Those trees, which are from one hundred to one hundred and eighty feet in height, are in general sound; from the root to the lower branches there is from eighty to ninety feet of sound timber, the rest is too hard and knotty for use; it sometimes happens that after cutting off twenty feet from the butt it becomes rotten or shakey, for which reason no dependence can be put in it for large masts or yards. The timber of the pine is very usefull in buildings, and is plentifull

* In Lieutenant-Governor King’s handwriting.

page 120 along the coast; its dispersed situation in the interior parts of the island is well calculated for erecting such buildings as may be necessary. From what I have seen of this wood, I think it is very durable. Two boats have been built of it, and have answered the purpose fully.

The live oak, yellow wood, black wood, and beach are all of a close grain, and are a durable wood.

The flax-plant of New Zealand grows spontaneously in many parts of the island, but mostly abounds on the sea-coast, where there is a very great quantity of it. The leaves of which the flax is made is, when full-grown, six feet long and six inches wide. Each plant contains seven of those leaves. A strong woody stalk rises from the center, which bears the flowers. It seeds annually, and the old leaves are forced out by young ones every year. Every method has been tryed to work it; but I much fear that untill a native of New Zealand can be carried to Norfolk Island that the method of dressing that valuable commodity will not be known; and could that be obtained, I have no doubt but Norfolk Island would very soon cloath the inhabitants of New South Wales.*

There are a great quantity of pidgeons, parrots, hawkes, and other smaller birds, which are now in a wild state.

The ground is much infested with different kinds of the grub worm, which are very destructive to the growth of vegetables. They are mostly troublesome about the spring. It is to be hoped that when more ground is cleared away that this evil will cease.

There is no quadruped on the island except the rat, which is much smaller than the Norway rat. These vermin were very troublesome when first we landed, but at present there are but very few.

The coasts of the island abound with very fine fish. No opportunitys were ever lost of sending the boat out, which enabled us to make a saving of two pounds of meat each man a week.

The coasts of the island are in general steep, too, and excepting at Sydney, Anson, Ball, and Cascade Bays, they are inaccessible, being surrounded by steep perpendicular clifts, rising from the sea. Some rocks are scattered about close to the shore.

Sydney Bay, on the south side of the island, is where the settlement is made. Landing at this place entirely depends

* Two natives of New Zealand were captured in 1793, and taken to Norfolk Island. From them the people learned something about the dressing of flax, but King’s anticipation that “Norfolk Island would very soon cloath the inhabitants of New South Wales“ was not realised.

page 121 on the wind and the weather. I have seen as good landing as in the Thames for a fortnight or three weeks together, and I have often seen it impractable to land for ten or twelve days successively, but it is much oftener good landing than bad.

Anson Bay is a small bay with a sandy beach, where landing is in general good, with an offshore wind and moderate weather; but as the interior parts of the island are so difficult of access from thence no ships’ boats have ever landed there.

Ball Bay is on the S.E. side of the island. The beach is a large loose stone. When landing is bad in Sydney Bay it is very good here, as it also is in Cascade Bay, on the north side of the island.

During the winter months, viz., from April to August, the general winds are the south and S.W., with heavy gales at times. In the summer the S.E. wind blew almost constant.

The spring is visible in August, but the native trees and many plants on the island is in a constant state of flowering. The summer is warm, and sometimes the droughts are very great.

All the grain and European plants seeded in December. From February to August may be called the rainy season, not that I think there is any stated times for rain in these months, as it is sometimes very fine weather for a fortnight together, but when the rain does fall it is in torrents. I do not remember above three claps of thunder during the time I was on the island. The winter is very pleasant, and it never freezes.

The proper time for sowing wheat and barley is from May to August, and is got in in December. That which has been sowed has produced twenty-fivefold, and I think the increase may be greater. Two bushells of barley sowed in 1789 produced twenty-four bushells of a sound full grain.

The Indian corn produces well, and is, in my opinion, the best grain to cultivate in any quantity, on account of the little trouble attending its growth and manufacturing for eating.

The Rio Janeiro sugar-cane grows very well, and is thriving.

Vines and oranges are very thriving; of the former there will be a great quantity in a few years. Potatoes thrive remarkably well, and yield a very great increase. I think two crops a year of that article may be got with great ease.

Every kind of garden vegetable thrives well, and comes to great perfection.

The quantity of ground cleared and in cultivation belonging to the publick was, on the 13th March, 1790, from twenty-eight to thirty-two acres, and about eighteen cleared by free people and convicts for their gardens.

Phillip Gidley King.

London, 10 Jany., 1791.