Status: Australian Territory
Population: 1748 (2016 census)
Area: 14 sq. miles
Currency: Australian Dollar (100 cents = A$1) A$1 = 77 US cents (2020)
Norfolk Island – 800 miles east of Australia – was likely inhabited by Polynesians around what today is known as Emily Bay in the 14th and 15th centuries. Inhabitants spent several generations on the island before abandoning it for unknown reasons, according to historians.
The 1 and a half pence and 9 pence of 1947, Scott 3 and 10, were some of the first stamps issued by the island.
In the 18th century, pine trees and flax were valuable war materiel. The timber was used for ships’ masts and flax for sails. The now-uninhabited Norfolk Island, which Capt. Cook discovered in 1774, was exceptional for its majestic conifers and stands of flax.
A sperm whale appears on the lowest value of a three-stamp Whales set of 1982, Scott 290.
While Britain looked to Norfolk Island as a possible source for both of these commodities, the loss of the American colonies created a more immediate priority. Britain needed a new penal colony to relieve the overcrowding in its prisons. After much consideration, Australia was chosen to help with both goals. Prisoners in Australia could be used to exploit Norfolk’s resources.
The 1992 Christmas set shows native pine trees, which were so important to the initial settlement of the island, Scott 530.
The First Fleet arrived in Australia in January 1788. A scouting party of 15 convicts and seven free men was immediately sent to take possession of Norfolk Island. They soon learned that the pines were unsuitable for naval construction and no one in the colony had knowledge of flax processing. By the spring of 1790, no relief ships had arrived from Great Britain and the threat of starvation hung heavily over the Australian settlement. Another 281 prisoners and guards were sent to Norfolk, in hopes to give them a better chance of survival. But the Norfolk experiment failed and the prison was closed in 1794. The island was completely abandoned by 1815.
In 1825, Norfolk was reopened for the confinement of 800 incorrigibles. Their treatment was brutal and torture, commonplace. After a prisoner mutiny in 1846 which left four guards dead and saw 12 convicts hanged, it was again decided to close the prison. In 1854 Norfolk was evacuated anew. In 1856, the Crown gave Norfolk to 194 Pitcairn islanders who agreed to resettle there. Most of today’s residents are descended from these Pitcairn families.
Native mushrooms are part of a set of four issued in 1983, Scott 307.
Stamps of Tasmania were used from 1853 until 1856. After the convict settlement was abandoned, postal services were practically non-existent for the next four decades, although stamps of New South Wales were used from 1877 to the early 1880s. The first recorded use of a Norfolk postmark occurred on March 13, 1891, but it was little used, as stamps were not sold on Norfolk until 1898, when New South Wales issues were reintroduced. In 1913, they were replaced by the Australian kangaroo issue.
The islanders sought authority to issue their own stamps in the 1920s. This was approved by Australia in 1939. A definitive issue depicting Ball Bay and perforated 11, was printed but not placed in use due to wartime conditions. The stamps were destroyed but some got into philatelic channels. During World War II, the island garrisoned New Zealand and American troops who had their own postal arrangements.
On June 10, 1947, Norfolk Island assumed responsibility for its own postal service and reissued the 1939 designs, but perf 14. In 2015, Norfolk’s financial problems led Australia to take over many governmental functions, including the postal service. Stamps for the island stopped being produced in June 2016, but Australia still recognizes the island philatelically with occasional stamps, such as the 2018 fish stamp shown.
Australia fish stamp from 2018 acknowledges Norfolk Island.