The Pitcairn Settler’s Village: An interactive tour of a working Norfolk Island homestead

There wasn’t a tour for visitors that showed how the Pitcairners lived since the early days, so I thought I would open the property to the public. They seem to like it.” – Marie Bailey

Visitors to Norfolk Island who have seen the landmark, award-winning attraction, Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama are aware that it depicts the history of the Norfolk Island people from the time the HMAV Bounty left Plymouth in 1787 to the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders to Norfolk on June 8, 1856. In many respects, The Pitcairn Settlers Village tour is the history of Norfolk Island from that day to the present. On the tour, much of it driven in a 1928 Ford Model A truck, you follow the history of Emily Christian, Fletcher’s great-great-granddaughter, and the legacy she helped create when she married George Bailey in 1875. The four generations since have merely added to what George and Emily built, not replaced it. It’s an extraordinary walk through time.

Emily was born on Pitcairn Island and arrived as a four-year old girl on that day in 1856. Indeed, the very last scene in the Cyclorama is of Emily holding her mother’s hand as they walk from the Kingston pier to begin their new life on Norfolk. George was an Englishman who migrated first to New Zealand before he was invited to join the Norfolk community in 1872. He was a blacksmith by trade, an essential skill not practiced on Pitcairn and much needed on Norfolk. That role alone would put him at the centre of economic activity on the Island. But George was also a musician and composer, and served as the music teacher for the Melanesian Mission – when he wasn’t raising children, food and the heat of his forge. He was hard-working, multi-talented (he was also a master carpenter), adaptable and pioneering, and you can still feel his presence on the land today. George and Emily would go on to have four sons and two daughters. It’s their third son, Charlie Bailey, with his penchant for machinery and labour-saving devices, who imported in 1929 the ‘28 Model A truck that is your touring vehicle.

A hallmark of the Bailey family – and you’ll catch on to this very early in the tour – is each generation takes impeccable care of their belongings and passes it onto the next. It is why this tour is a living history of the Island. For example, George’s old forge is still in operating condition. It is thought to be one of only two dual-bellowed forges still functioning in the Southern Hemisphere. George had it sent from England in the 1890’s and if he were to enter his blacksmith shop today he would probably know where everything is and most of the tools would still work.

These people were settlers creating a new world and needing to do most things themselves. As it’s noted on the tour, when George decided to begin construction of the family home in 1875, one of the very first things he would have had to do is sharpen his axe as he felled and milled his own trees, made his own nails and eventually made his own screws. The tour includes a walk through their house, which the family believes was completed in the mid-1880’s. It remains much as George and Emily built it, with additions such as electricity and plumbing, but no significant alterations. You can still see George’s hand-plane marks on the planks of the interior walls. And it’s still the family home.

The tour takes you through what amounts to Norfolk’s agricultural history. Gardens planted by George and Emily in the late-1800’s showing the necessary staples of an isolated island. But it was their youngest son, Tom, with his interest in landscaping and horticulture who inherited the property, and reshaped the grounds to much of what we see today. Tom returned to Norfolk from his travels in the 1920s and 30s with seeds. He planted the first avocado and mango trees and several other types of produce. With his interest in landscaping, he introduced – amongst others – Norfolk’s first poinciana tree and those pioneer trees are still standing on the property today. A separate garden features low-chill varieties of fruit established after World War II by Tom and his wife, Edna’s, only child, Marie, who would in turn inherit the land. Marie lived in her family home from the age of four until she passed away at the age of 89 earlier this year.

Marie has a legacy equal to her parents and grandparents. She is credited with developing Norfolk Island’s tourist trade into an ‘industry’ and that may not be an exaggeration. Besides being Norfolk’s first agricultural officer and its first tourism manager in the early 1950s, Marie started the Island’s first tour company, which when it was sold in 1994, had become Norfolk’s largest private employer. Many of the stalwart tours and attractions popular today were conceived and begun by Marie and when she sold Marie’s Tours it was supposedly to retire. Shall we say, some retire better than others and shortly after retiring she opened up her property to create this unique visitor experience. Her desire was to be able to share with tourists to Norfolk more of the Pitcairn history than they otherwise would be able and literally included her home to that affect. She would be known to be having a cuppa in her kitchen while visitors were admiring the construction of her lounge. Also in ‘retirement’ she was the inspiration behind, and sponsor of the Cyclorama, which captures so memorably Pitcairn history leading up to settlement on Norfolk. Marie was also the inspiration and sponsor of the Queen Victoria Garden, which adjoins the Cyclorama and Hilli’s Restaurant complex and is free to the public. People of Pitcairn-descent believe Queen Victoria was instrumental in bringing the Pitcairners to Norfolk, hence Marie’s memorial to her in this tri-part tribute to a people and its history: the Cyclorama, Queen Victoria’s Garden and The Pitcairn Settlers Village. It was Marie’s way of sharing the love and pride she had for her culture with others.

You’ll examine some of the out-buildings that a traditional homestead would be expected to have, including George’s old dairy with its array of butter churners which, of course still work. But this living museum also has its own museum collection. In what was originally built to house Marie’s fleet of tour buses is a considerable assemblage of Norfolk’s economic and social history. Farm, construction and household artefacts of Norfolk’s earlier days, as well as what may be the Island’s first phonograph which is thought to have been bought by George from a passing whaling captain sometime in the late 1910s. I can’t imagine how dazzled Islanders would have been at the turn of the last century to hear recorded music for the first time. It still plays, of course.

There is no clearer, more interesting snapshot of traditional Norfolk Island life than The Pitcairn Settler’s Village tour. Tours are every Wednesday and Saturday beginning at 9.30 am and 1.30 pm and last for approximately 2½ hours. Each tour is led by knowledgeable guides who welcome questions (including this author on occasion) and at the end of the tour guests can watch a documentary Marie had made of the history of the Pitcairn Island people on Norfolk. This is followed by a ‘cuppa’ and some locally-made preserves. There is also the opportunity to visit a replica of one of the first general stores on Norfolk. In addition to souvenirs for sale of the tour are many items on display from Norfolk store-fronts long past – and a calendar from 1934 with remarkably, all of the months still intact. Remember when I said they took impeccable care of their belongings?

The Bailey homestead has since been passed on to a younger cousin of Marie’s, Charles Christian-Bailey, who is George and Emily’s great-grandson. Charles intends to continue showcasing to Norfolk’s visitors the lessons and legacy of The Pitcairn Settlers Village and adds that he plans to include a retrospective of Marie’s considerable achievements into the tour as the next chapter of a continuing story.

Bookings can be made through the Visitor Information Centre, tour booking agents, your accommodation operator or by calling telephone number 22420. If you enjoy history, this is your kind of tour.

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Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
www.robinnisbet.com

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Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 06 Issue 02, 2016. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.

 

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