There is evidence of ancient Polynesian habitation of the island, however, this had long since ceased when the explorer James Cook passed the island in 1774 as part of his journeys in the South Pacific. With the island’s rich soils and plentiful supplies of pine and flax for ropes and canvas, Norfolk was first thought of as a potential ship supplies depot and support for the Sydney colony. The ship supplies depot never eventuated but convicts arrived to the island for a short time after the Port Jackson (Sydney) settlement was established and supplied the colony with much needed food. These efforts ceased in 1814 and the island was once again abandoned.
In 1825 convicts that were considered beyond redemption were sent to the island and the prison colony established. This colony, even by British colonial standards was infamous for its cruelty and no hope of escape. The penal settlement is notable for its windowless buildings and walled courtyards designed to protect the warders from prisoner uprisings that occurred in the thirty years that the prisoners were kept there.
A year after the removal of the island prisoners to Port Arthur in 1855, people from the overcrowded Pitcairn Island were moved to Norfolk which gave the island its first permanent citizens. The people from Pitcairn were the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian wives and brought their language, a mixture of 18th century English and Tahitian known now as “Norfolk”.
The beautiful Bomboras Beach, a kilometer or so west of Kingston, shows many clues of the volcanic past of the island. The volcanic soils have seen the island rich in flora including the evergreen Norfolk Pine trees that are native to it.
The area around Bombaras and Slaughter Bay are the primary landing places on the island, with much of the other coastal areas rugged cliffs and all dominated by the two peaks, Mount Bates and Mount Pitt. The name Slaughter Bay apparently coming from the old English usage of the word meaning “slow moving water,” appropriate in this case as the only practical landing point of the island.