March 6. 2010

Foundation Day – Norfolk Island

On this day in 1788, the British flag was raised over this 3-by-5-mile island, which lies about 1,000 miles east of Australia.

The British wanted
to use the pine trees native to the island for ships' masts and to make sure that their competition in colonization—France—didn't snap up the island.

But Norfolk Island almost immediately became a sort of labor camp for the most hard
ened of the convicts who were settling Australia. Not the happiest place, I gather. By 1814 everyone had left the island, and even the buildings were razed and pulled down.

Just 11 yea
rs later, the island was back in use—this time as a jail rather than a labor camp. Conditions were absolutely terrible. Eventually, enough people had complained about the awful treatment of prisoners that the prison was closed and the island was abandoned yet again, in 1855.

The next year the island was offered to the “Pitcairners” for settlement. These people were a very interesting group whose history started in 1789, when there was a mutiny on the Bounty (a British sailing ship made famous by books and movies about the mutiny). A mutiny is when a ship's crew (or other military group) rebels against its commander.

Some of th
e mutineers were eventually returned to Britain and either pardoned or hanged, but some settled down on the uninhabited island of Pitcairn with some Tahitians (who had probably been kidnapped). This tiny settlement had some violence and mutinies of its own, but eventually the two remaining mutineers, some Tahitian women, and their many children created a peaceful community. Over the years several sailors rediscovered this island, and in 1838 Pitcairn was made a British colony.

By the time the population reached 193 people, the Pitcairners were suffering from lack of resources; they asked Queen Victoria for some new land for their settlement and were offered t
he recently emptied Norfolk Island. All 193 Pitcairners, plus everything they owned, traveled several thousand miles to Norfolk Island (although 44 of them soon returned to Pitcairn).

Today, some people in Norfolk Island insist that they were given independence along with the land, but the island has since become a part of Australia. Some inhabitants continue to agitate for independence, saying that “Australia has overstepped its authority” and warning that, if wrongs aren't corrected, “Australia will have wiped out a people and stolen their homeland.”

Aside from all that colorful history (and partly because of it), Norfolk Island is a
great destination for travelers seeking a semi-tropical vacation. Especially those who live nearby, in New Zealand and Australia.

Take a virtual tour of Norfolk Island.
Or just take a quick overall look.

Norfolk Island's Capital is Kingston...

...Which I thought was a little surprising, because the nation of Jamaica has a capital city that is ALSO Kingston.
But maybe it's not so surprising; I googled “Kingston” and found out that there are at least five in the United States, plus one in Canada:
Kingston, MA, U.S.
Kingston, NY, U.S.

Kingston, WA, U.S.

Kingston, NH, U.S.

Kingston, PA, U.S.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada
I guess a lot of town's wanted to be known as the king's town!

Common Names...and Uncommon Nicknames!

About half of the people who live on Norfolk's Island are descended from the Pitcairners. (And remember, that original group of less than 200 people were all descended from a VERY limited group.) Because of this small stock of ancestors, there are some surnames that are very common on the island, so much so that the island's telephone book lists some people by nickname: “Cane Toad, Dar Bizziebee, Kik Kik, Lettuce Leaf, Mutty, Oot, Paw Paw, Snoop, Tarzan, and Wiggy.

A Creole Language...
People on Norfolk Island speak English, but many also speak a creole language called Norfuk. A creole is a stable language that is made by mixing two or more languages. In this case, the two languages are...
..can you guess?
...English and Tahitian.

A creole language is created when adults learn a simplified version of a language in order to get by and work and trade with speakers of that language. A simplified version of a language is called a pidgin language. When those adults have children, the kids learn the pidgin language as one of their mother languages, and somehow transform the pidgin language into a full-fledged language with vocabulary and sounds like the languages that made up the mixture, but perhaps with its very own grammar.

Apparently Norfuk is starting to die out. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Norfolk Island, and of course the visitors don't speak and understand Norfuk. Also, young people looking for opportunities often go away to school or travel on jobs. Because of these pressures, English is becoming more and more dominant. Some people on Norfolk Island want to help save their endangered language.
...Do you think they are right to care?

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