Haunted by the past

Walk with ghosts on Nor­folk, the is­land of the damned, the hell in par­adise

The Northern Star - - WEEKEND - BY Shirley Sin­clair

THE spec­tre of his­tory looms large on Nor­folk Is­land, so lit­tle won­der it’s awash with ghost sto­ries.

Mea­sur­ing only 34.6sq km, this South Pa­cific won­der is said to be the most haunted place in Aus­tralia, with more doc­u­mented ghosts per square kilo­me­tre than any other state or ter­ri­tory.

Cana­dian web­site The Para­nor­mal lists Nor­folk as No.4 in the world’s most haunted is­lands.

An Aus­tralian ter­ri­tory, about 1600km north-east of Syd­ney, Nor­folk is wildly pic­turesque and ruggedly re­mote, and at­tracts 30,000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally.

Its lonely walks, de­serted beaches, chill­ing graveyard head­stones and eerie ru­ins are enough to give any­one the hee­bie-jee­bies – es­pe­cially af­ter dark.

Even 80 years ago, main­land Aussies were in­trigued by other-worldly be­ings and in­ex­pli­ca­ble phe­nom­ena some peo­ple had en­coun­tered there.

The West­ern Star in Roma re­ported on Septem­ber 23, 1939, in an ar­ti­cle on the Ghosts of Nor­folk Is­land that among the ru­ins and in some of the build­ings of the con­vict era, wan­der­ing spir­its had made friends with some of the res­i­dents of the time.

“Qual­ity Row, where most of the of­fi­cial houses stand, has its eerie tales,” the re­port noted.

“Sol­diers in the colour­ful uni­forms of old and Em­pire-gowned and crino­lined ladies are said to have re­vis­ited their old homes, and the clank­ing of the chain gangs is held to re-echo at times.”

To­day, Nor­folk Is­land re­mains haunted by its past. A third of the pop­u­la­tion of 1700 can trace its lin­eage to Fletcher Chris­tian and his eight mu­ti­neers from the Bounty.

Along with their Tahi­tian-Poly­ne­sian wives, they oc­cu­pied re­mote Pit­cairn Is­land for al­most 20 years be­fore be­ing granted their new Nor­folk Is­land home­land on June 8, 1856.

But the two ear­lier pe­nal set­tle­ments on the is­land can lay claim to be­ing the blood­i­est stain on Nor­folk Is­land his­tory.

The first set­tle­ment started on March 6, 1788, only six weeks af­ter the First Fleet had ar­rived at Botany Bay to es­tab­lish the pe­nal colony of New South Wales.

The com­man­dant, Lieu­tenant Philip Gidley King, ar­rived with a skele­ton crew of seven free men and 15 con­victs to make masts and sails from the Nor­folk pines and flax for Bri­tish ships, and pre­vent the French from lay­ing claim to the is­land.

As the is­land of the damned in­creased its con­vict pop­u­la­tion, and fer­tile soils saw crops pros­per, Nor­folk’s role changed to feed­ing a starv­ing Syd­ney set­tle­ment and pro­vid­ing a labour camp for the worst of its crim­i­nals.

But by 1814, the once-thriv­ing set­tle­ment of more than 1000 had out­lived its pur­pose. Build­ings were razed or taken down stone by stone to make the is­land less hos­pitable for pass­ing ships and es­caped con­victs.

The old cap­i­tal, Kingston, rose from the dead with the sec­ond pe­nal set­tle­ment (from 1825 to 1855).

It was where the worst felons were sent, by or­der of the Gover­nor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Bris­bane.

In this new hell in par­adise, con­di­tions were in­hu­mane in the ex­treme. Heavy chains were the norm. Tor­ture, lash­ings and soli­tary con­fine­ment were com­mon for petty mis­de­meanours, and hard labour meant hard labour with the scarcest of food ra­tions as sus­te­nance.

A stroll through the is­land ceme­tery to­day sends a shiver through any spine with in­scrip­tions in black and white telling of sorry ends through mur­der, ex­e­cu­tion and drown­ing.

But nearby Qual­ity Row – the main street of World Her­itage-listed Kingston, the old cap­i­tal of Nor­folk Is­land – is where I may have had my own ghostly en­counter.

The Re­search Cen­tre at No 9 Qual­ity Row is an el­e­gantly re­stored Geor­gian cot­tage, built in 1839 as the home of the Royal En­gi­neer.

Walk up the leg iron-worn steps, past the flag­stone ve­randa and in­side to learn about con­vict or mu­ti­neer an­ces­try, or see in­cred­i­ble sto­ries about the men and women of cen­turies past.

The ser­vants’ quar­ters in the rear court­yard host the dessert leg of one of the pro­gres­sive din­ner tours avail­able on Nor­folk and I ad­mit a chill swept over me as I flicked through the pho­tographs after­wards.

A phan­tom pres­ence – al­most like a head and body with three arms raised in sur­ren­der – ap­pears on a wall in one pho­to­graph, and a glass win­dow in another.

For ghost hunters and those in the land of the liv­ing who en­joy be­ing chilled to the bone with real-life his­tory, Nor­folk Is­land of­fers a num­ber of ghost tours – some with din­ner thrown in – in­clud­ing the His­toric Mur­der Mys­tery Din­ner, Ghost Din­ner Tour, the Lan­tern Lit Ghost Tour and Trial of the Fif­teen at Nor­folk Is­land Mu­seum.

As a hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, Nor­folk Is­land is a dead­set win­ner, with more than a slight spirit of fun and ad­ven­ture.

PHO­TOS: SHIRLEY SIN­CLAIR

Ships in­clud­ing the HMS Sir­ius in 1790 have been wrecked on the reef at Kingston; top right, a ceme­tery with views to die for and, bot­tom right, the Re­search Cen­tre at No 9 Qual­ity Row by day.

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