NORFOLK ISLAND 4……World Heritage Area

Convict Goal Buildings

The world heritage area declared in 2007 on Norfolk Island, the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area (KAVHA), has been designated as such for three reasons…

  1. The outstanding significance to the nation as a convict settlement between 1788-1855.
  2. The only site in Australia to display evidence of early Polynesian settlement.
  3. The place where Pitcairn Island descendants of the Mutiny of the Bounty were resettled in 1856.

The first settlement of convicts on Norfolk Island between 1788-1814 failed but this didn’t stop the British Government trying again from 1825 to create a place of secondary punishment renowned for being the harshest and cruellest of Australia’s penal settlements. Its substantial ruins in this picturesque setting is the main reason for the declaration of the World Heritage Zone. Here is a brief account of the remaining convict ruins on Norfolk Island.

The map to the right is part of a diagram of the Kingston settlement showing the structures that housed convicts between 1825 and 1856. The map illustrates the buildings still in place in 1856 when the Pitcairn Islanders arrived. The image in the photo below left is the gaol wall that faced the hospital on the hill above the Kingston Pier. On the wall beside the entrance to the gaol (illustrated in the stamp), there is a plaque that reads… “Constructed within the walled enclosure was a gaol containing 130 cells in five radiating wings and a guardhouse. Only some ruins of the cells remain. Constructed in 1838 under the superintendence of the royal engineer Lt. Lugard. Work was halted between 1840 & 1844 while unsuccessful attempts were made to modify the severity of the design. Construction was completed by 1847 and was fully occupied by 1849.

As can be seen on the map above, there is a section of the facility inside the front gate that was a cleared area in front of the main wall of the new gaol. The background image on the stamp here is a diagram of the new gaol that shows the five radiating wings of the gaol.

There is clearly little left of the cells of this pentagon shaped gaol to enable us gaining a reasonable idea of its layout. However when the B&W photo below was taken, an outline of the prison buildings was still in existence. The photo comes from Wikimedia without a date but the original was printed from a glass negative so it is likely a late 19th century photo. This photo makes it a lot easier to understand the design of the gaol. The plaque on the front wall tells us that the gaol was completed in 1847 so the gaol was only in use for 8 years as the convict system on Norfolk ended in 1855.

The old B/W photo also illustrates that the walls of the old gaol further down from the Pentagon gaol were, although roofless, still in reasonable shape. In this area at the beginning of the colony a hospital was built but demolished in 1828 when the need for a solid Prisoners’ Barracks was recognised. The huge walls were built in 1828-9 and the barracks were built later on in 1831-35. During the time these barracks were being used, they held up to 973 men and boys sleeping in hammocks in wards that held between 20-120 persons. The construction of these huge gaols and the few years they were used illustrates the high cost for the British Government of building convict gaols on a small island on the other side of the world in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The photo below and the stamp image further down show the front wall of the original gaol and its front gate. The image above is from a drawing of the Kingston settlement sometime during the second settlement and it shows the old gaol with its roof on. The new gaol hadn’t been built by the time of this drawing. This huge walled yard today is just a flat expanse of grass without any sign of the harsh gaol that once existed here. In one corner is a small building that today functions as a museum of the Sirius wreck that foundered on the reef almost directly in front of the gate to the old gaol. The sign attached to the wall next to a bronze sculpture of the Sirius, in full sail, reads…”Presented to the people of Norfolk Island by the citizens of Mosman upon the establishment of their Sister Community Relationship…19th March 1990.”

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