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Second (Penal) settlement 1825–1855

In July 1824 the Governor of New South Wales, General Sir Thomas Brisbane, was instructed to reopen Norfolk Island as a penal settlement on the principles of a ‘great hulk or penitentiary’ as a means of secondary punishment. Norfolk Island was re-established as a convict settlement, reputed to be one of the harshest in all of the British Empire. Uprisings and escape attempts were common. An uprising in 1834 saw thirteen prisoners executed. Some of their headstones are in the cemetery at Kingston.

Major Anderson, Commandant on Norfolk Island (1834–1839), was responsible for a building program including the Commissariat, New Military Barracks and the commencement of work on the New Gaol. From 1840–1844 Captain Alexander Maconochie RN implemented a system of reform where English prisoners were stationed at agricultural outstations away from colonial prisoners in Kingston. However, his reforms faced criticism by 1843 and he was replaced by Major Joseph Childs RM.

During Major Childs’ tenure in 1846, the ‘Cooking Pot Uprising’ occurred, which resulted in the murder of four minor officials. As punishment, twelve convicts were hanged and their bodies dumped in an old sawpit outside the cemetery, in an area now known as Murderers’ Mound. This story is now told in the Commissariat Store Museum.

In 1847, the British Secretary of State to the Colonies informed the Governor of New South Wales that the penal settlement on Norfolk Island was to be abolished. Sir William Denison recommended Norfolk Island be closed. By October 1854 only 119 convicts remained on the island.

The buildings and ruins visible today at the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area generally date from the penal settlement period. Others, including Government House, were constructed from the foundations of colonial settlement buildings.

Portrait of Captain Alexander Maconochie R.N.K.H — E.V Rippingille, 1836. Source: Michael Maconochie

Portrait of Captain Alexander Maconochie R.N.K.H — E.V Rippingille, 1836.
Source: Michael Maconochie