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This Day in History

Australian History

Thursday, February 14, 1788. :   Lieutenant Philip Gidley King leaves Sydney to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island

     Norfolk Island lies approximately 1,500 km northeast of Sydney, and forms one of Australia's seven external territories. The first known European to discover Norfolk Island was James Cook, on 10 October 1774. Cook's reports of tall, straight trees (Norfolk pines) and flax-like plants piqued the interest of Britain, whose Royal Navy was dependent on flax for sails and hemp for ropes from Baltic sea ports. Norfolk Island promised a ready supply of these items, and its tall pines could be utilised as ships' masts. Thus, Governor Arthur Phillip, Captain of the First Fleet to New South Wales, was ordered to colonise Norfolk Island, before the French could take it.

After the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson in January 1788, Phillip Gidley King was appointed Superintendent and Commandant of the proposed settlement at Norfolk Island. King led a party of fifteen convicts and seven free men to take control of the island and prepare for its commercial development. King departed on 14 February 1788. The group arrived early in March. Neither the flax nor the timber industry proved to be viable, and the island developed as a farm, supplying Sydney with grain and vegetables during the early years of the colony's near-starvation. More convicts were sent, and many chose to remain after they had served their sentences. By 1792, four years after its initial settlement, the population was over 1000.

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