Royal commission into matters relating to norfolk island

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Final submissions

After the public hearings had been completed the Commission requested Counsel assisting to compile a written final address. This was made available to the public in the Island and written comments were invited. The comments received were examined along with the evidence.

  1. Overseas discussions and inspections


The Commission travelled to Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand and held informative and valuable discussions there with government officials. Matters discussed and related to the Terms of Reference included Pacific Island administration and constitut­ional development, law enforcement, defence, transport, social security, taxation, immigration, weather forecasting, communications and tourism. Detention centres in Auckland were inspected.

Chapter 4
INTRODUCTION


The Terms of Reference of this Royal Commission call for a report and recommendations on two matters, namely:

  1. The future status of Norfolk Island and its constitutional relationship to Australia;

  2. The most appropriate form of administration for Norfolk Island if its constitutional position were changed.

In reaching conclusions on these matters, the Terms of Reference also require that ten subsidiary matters, which were referred to at the hearings of the Royal Commission as ‘guidelines’, be taken into consideration. Before proceeding to an examination first of the guidelines and then of the -two principal matters, it appears desirable:
  1. To give by way of background, a short history of the Island from its discovery to the present time including an account of the people who have inhabited it over that period and the legislative and administrative provisions made for their government (Chapter 5);


  2. To draw attention to the important and far—reaching consequences to the residents of Norfolk Island of the unanimous decision of the High Court of Australia, delivered on 30 March 1976, by a bench of five justices, in the case of Berwick Limited v. R.R. Gray, Deputy Commissioner of Taxation 6 A.T.R. 28; 76 A.T.C. 4015; 8 A.L.R. 580 (Chapter 6).


Chapter 5
HISTORICAL OUTLINE AND CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY1


In order for one to have a proper understanding of the whole field which is to be the subject of this Report, it is necessary to traverse, in a non—contentious fashion, at least the general outlines of certain historical material2 relating to:

  1. The origin of those people known as the ‘Pitcairners’;

  2. Their transference to Norfolk Island;

  3. The history of Norfolk Island itself;

  4. Various administrative arrangements and legislation affecting government of the Island

1.The origin of the Pitcairners

A convenient beginning can be made with the mutiny that occurred on H.M.S. Bounty on 29 April 1789. The actual details of that mutiny and the subsequent epic voyage by Captain Bligh need not concern us. The twenty-five mutineers first spent several months virtually wandering around the South pacific Islands in both the Tahiti group and the Austral group some 480 kilometres (300 miles) to the south of Tahiti. They returned to Tahiti for a period and then nine of them decided to try to find a permanent settling place, safe from British vengeance. Those nine were:

Fletcher Christian (Acting Lieutenant)

Edward Young (Midshipman)

John Mills (Quartermaster)

William Brown (Assistant Botanist)

William Mickoy (or McCoy) Seaman

Matthew Quintal Seaman

Alexander Smith (alias John Adams) Seaman

John Williams Seamen

Isaac Martin Seaman

They sailed at dawn from Tahiti on 23 September 1789, and took with them six Tahitian men, nineteen Tahitian women and a baby girl, the daughter of McCoy from a Tahitian. It is probable that some at least of the Polynesian women were abducted by the nine European men. One woman leapt overboard and swam ashore. Six others, who upon closer inspection in stronger light appeared somewhat aged, were put aboard a native canoe that was sighted within the next forty-eight hours. The remaining twelve women were to be the maternal forebears of the Pitcairners who landed sixty-seven years later at Norfolk Island.

Fletcher Christian sailed the Bounty some 1932 kilometres (1200 miles) to the south-east of Tahiti to the uninhabited Pitcairn’s Island and, after removing everything in the ship of value to them, the mutineers destroyed her by fire on 23 January 1790 in an effort to eliminate evidence of their presence in the area

From 1790 to 1793 the Europeans and their Polynesian servants and consorts managed to co—exist on Pitcairn’s Island in tolerable harmony There then ensued a series of murders by both males and females following disagreements over rights to the favours of the females. The first murder was that arranged by Fletcher Christian, of the Tahitian husband of one of the women. This woman had been demanded by Williams when his own de facto Tahitian wife had died The murder was in part self— protection springing from the strong suspicion that the Tahitian men were plotting the deaths of the whites This suspicion was shortly vindicated by the Tahitian men murdering five of the white men, including Christian and Williams. The bereaved Tahitian women and remaining white men then murdered all the Tahitian men, and a celebration was duly held at Quintal’s house to mark the event. Some time thereafter, disillusionment apparently gripped the Tahitian women and they made two attempts to murder all the white men once in their sleep and again in an open attack The men however, on each occasion exhibited an interesting indication of their needs and priorities by not killing the women they merely cautioned and pardoned them

By 1798, the only adult males surviving these five years of homicide were Young, McCoy, Quintal and Adams (who had abandoned his earlier name of Smith). McCoy proceeded to distil a brew from ti-tree roots and committed suicide by throwing himself over a cliff during an onset of delirium tremens. Quintal became obnoxious to Young and Adams who together axed him to death. In 1800, Young died from asthma and Adams was left as the leader of a community of himself, ten women and twenty children, the products of the preceding years of co-habitation in both Tahiti and Pitcairn’s Island itself.

Adams, sole adult male survivor of some eleven years of mutiny, piracy, attempted murder, murder, arson, suicide, theft, assault, battery, abduction and probably carnal knowledge and rape, then became a devout student of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, each of which had been salvaged from the Bounty. He proceeded to instruct his little community in strict Christian ways and a deep abiding loyalty to the British Crown. His pastoral care, which continued for some twenty—eight years, became a singularly influential factor in the subsequent history of the Pitcairners.

In 1808, an American vessel, the Topaz, called at Pitcairn’s Island and the secret of the disappearance of the Bounty reached the British Admiralty in 1809. No action was taken against Adams, who, because of his age and fervent protestations of non—involvement in the mutiny, was allowed to remain in the Island. The other mutineers who had remained on Tahiti had not been so fortunate. They were caught in March 1791 and sent in chains to England for court martial. Some drowned in a shipwreck en route, some were acquitted, others pardoned and three were hanged from the yard-arm of H.M.S. Brunswick in Portsmouth harbour on 26 October 1792.

In September 1814, two British ships H M S Briton and H M S Tagus, called at Pitcairn’s Island and from then on a succession of British naval vessels patrolling from their base at Valparaiso, called at the Island. From these visiting ships came three further Englishmen who settled in the Island and became part of the Pitcairn community; they were John Buffett and John Evans who joined the Pitcairners in 1823 and George Hunn Nobbs who joined them in 1828. In 1829, when Adams died (aged 65) Nobbs (with Adams’ pre-mortem approval) succeeded him as teacher, preacher, and medical adviser to the Pitcairners.

The visits by British ships led to reports to England upon the Islanders and their devoutly Christian way of life. The little God-fearing community in Pitcairn’s, so intensely loyal to the Queen, became something of a sensation in Victorian England and the darlings of that country’s religious groups. They became widely known as perhaps the most exemplary and model Christian community the world has known. Their high standards of piety, morality, loyalty and good manners were frequently commented on by the masters of vessels which called at the Island.

A Commander Elliott of H.M.S. Fly reported, from a visit in 1838, that he ‘found this interesting community preserving their deservedly high character for exemplary morality, innocence and integrity’ Captain Worth of H M S Calypso in 1848 stated ‘They are the most interesting, contented, moral and happy people that can be conceived’. Admiral Moresby, who landed on the Island on 8 August 1852, stated ‘To do justice to the spirit oforder and decency that animates the whole community, whose number amounts to 170, strictly brought up on the Protestant faith according to the Established Church of England, by My Nobbs, their pastor and surgeon, who has, for twenty-four years, zealously and successfully, by precept and example, raised them to a state of the highest moral conduct and feeling. They are guileless and unsophisticated beyond description’.

An interesting contrast is afforded between the above descriptions of the inhabitants of Pitcairn’s in the early and mid 19th century and the description of them as Norfolk Islanders in 1885 (some thirty years after their transfer to Norfolk) by one Henry Wilkinson, a Sydney magistrate, when reporting to the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Augustus Loftus. He said:

One thing is most certain, that is, that the present form of government by an elected Magistrate will never do, and MUST be stopped at once, for there is neither justice nor order. Everybody is so closely related, and everybody lives in a ‘glass house’, and is afraid to throw a stone, so that the Chief Magistrate dare not administer even justice, or he would be pounced upon at once, and is in a constant fear of how a decision will be regarded by others, who may, and would retaliate, if they do not approve.

Here, the whole system, and everything arising from it is rotten. The whole thing is a great falsehood from John Adams’ time till now. And unless an immediate stop is put to this kind of thing, the consequences will be most disastrous. It really appears to me wonderful that a small community like this should have succeeded in so completely gulling the whole world into the belief that they are an isle of saints. I believe there is more immorality of all kinds here, according to population, than in any other civilized part of the world.




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