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The Unbroken Circle: Tying the Knot, Island Style

The Unbroken Circle: Tying the Knot, Island Style

A relic so small and unassuming you might almost overlook it, sits on a tiny pillow in a glass cabinet inside the Pier Store Museum at Kingston. It’s bent, very thin, and looks to be quite old. Known as the “Bounty ring”, this golden artefact is said to have originally belonged to Midshipman Edward Young and was used to marry all of the mutineers to their Tahitian wives upon landing on Pitcairn in 1790. In later years, the ring was used to bind brides and grooms of the next generation on Pitcairn, with John Adams presiding over the simple ceremonies. John Adams himself used the ring to marry his second wife Mary (also known as Teio) in 1825. Sometime after this event the ring is said to have gone missing for over a hundred years.

In 1828, the Reverend George Hunn Nobbs came to Pitcairn and took over pastoral duties, including weddings and funerals for the small community. His journal gives a wealth of insights into daily life on the island at the time, and says this about the wedding customs on Pitcairn:

My only remaining coat, which is quite thread bare, is reserved for marriages and burials; so that it is customary to say, when a wedding is going to take place, “Teacher, you will have to put on your black coat next Sunday”, which is equivalent to informing me that a couple are going to be married.

From this we can conclude that not only was the reverend a bit stumped for new clothing (you’ll be relieved to know he was soon helped out in this regard), but that a week’s notice meant that weddings were reasonably uncomplicated on Pitcairn. We can assume then that a simple ceremony and some good wetls (food) afterwards were enjoyed by the whole community. It would also seem from contemporary reports that sometimes several weddings were combined, which would make festivities somewhat easier on a small community with finite resources. Among others, we have this account from Rosalind Amelia Young:

In December of 1864 six of the young people — three of the older settlers and three of the others — were united in the bonds of matrimony, the wedding taking place on Christmas Day. To the younger portion of the community at least, the excitement of a triple wedding was a very pleasant thing to break the monotony of their quiet and secluded lives.

Weddings on Norfolk in the 20th century could be very elaborate affairs, involving as many as 19 bridesmaids and 700 guests. Preparations would take many months and involve relatives abroad (as far away as England) sending fabric for dresses and items for trousseaus. Before regular flights to the island, ships came only every three months, so planning was essential. In earlier days with a smaller population, the whole island was invited, and everyone cooked for days and brought produce. Guests brought food as well and stayed after the wedding for a singalong, dinner and dance that lasted well into the wee hours. The old Rawson Hall was often used for a big wedding reception and a dance afterwards, but more often than not the venue was the family home.

All Saints Church at Kingston (The old Commissariat Store) was regarded as the islanders’ church and there are beautiful photos in family collections of the wedding party arranged on the steep and imposing front steps. We have this account from the excellent book “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” of a wedding just after WWI:

The members of our joint families were so numerous that the wedding reception resembled an Anniversary day gathering. A procession of aunts and uncles and cousins merged into one as they presented themselves to congratulate and kiss us (I was reminded of Polly’s dislike for this custom and her defiant “I nor gwen kees all dem uncles with beards sticken out” before her own wedding).

The infrequency of ships presented another challenge — that of the honeymoon. The location on Norfolk was often a closely guarded secret as the newlyweds sought a little privacy. One couple thought they had found the perfect hideaway in a borrowed house until they climbed into bed on their wedding night and were surprised by a house suddenly full of revellers! Other couples would stay at the “Kingfisher”, an accommodation place (now burnt down) at Anson Bay because “it was as far away as possible.” Jan Nobbs remembers making wedding dresses in the early 1970s out at Rocky Point when the roads were still dirt. “The bride-to-be would come out with her family and make a day of it, with children running around, we’d all have morning tea and do all the measuring and pinning, everybody talking and we never got as much done as we might have!”

Today, Norfolk proudly hosts many weddings, not only of islanders but visitors from abroad. Visiting wedding guests enjoy the ease of getting around and frequently remark on how family-friendly the island is. Many of the guests make a holiday of it and the festivities can last for several weeks. There is a wealth of activities for guests and members of the bridal party, from fishing and scuba diving, cafés and restaurants, sporting activities and lots of shopping. The bride and her attendants can even learn to make their own Polynesian-style head wreaths and wristbands for the ceremony or have private Tahitian dancing lessons, and will enjoy the local warmth from everyone involved in their wedding preparations.

The picturesque Kingston area provides excellent photo opportunities, with the historic Salt House proudly standing in the background of many wedding shots. Bruce Baskerville, Manager of the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area says, “We are pleased to have weddings within the historic area and we’d like to encourage people to use it. Some of the buildings are also available but their numbers are more suited to small gatherings of around 50 people.” Young local Sarah Davie (who was living in Australia at the time) said she and her partner Shaun chose to come back to Norfolk and be married at Emily Bay because of the weather and the setting. “It was just perfect!” The wedding was a barefoot affair in the sand of Emily Bay, with guests later moving to a cliff top for sunset drinks before partying into the night. Sarah says, “Many of our guests made it a holiday as well and stayed for several weeks, and had a great time… taking them down to the Cord and Crystal Pool were stand out experiences as many of them had never done anything like that…. also being a small community we could just feel all the love being sent our way, so many went out of their way to help us out, everyone on the island knows that you are about to get married and makes a bit of a fuss, which is daunting but very sweet.” Other outdoor venues can include any of the stunning cliff top public reserves.

If you prefer a more formal approach, St. Barnabas Chapel in the grounds of the old Melanesian Mission is a sentimental and intimate favourite. Finished in 1880, the exquisite interior features a Norfolk Pine ceiling dressed with whale oil, a Devonshire marble floor and Kauri pews finished with pearl shell decorations in the Melanesian style. The spectacular Rose Window was commissioned from the William Morris workshop in England, and the East Windows are by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Some traditional island homes are also available as accommodation or for a wedding or reception. Dating from the 1840s, the convict-built Branka House was gifted to the Nobbs family in the 1880s and bought and lovingly restored into a restaurant by the present owners Peter and Mudgi Guile. Says Mudgi, “We often do smaller second-time around weddings, on the convict-flagged verandahs or out in the garden, and later everyone sits down for lunch. It’s wonderful for a daytime wedding.”

Old-style Norfolk homes built by Pitcairn settlers are typified by their distinctive high-peaked roofs, vertical board-and-batten exteriors, and often whale-oil stained wooden interiors. Monique Gardner remembers her wedding breakfast at Dino’s, a popular restaurant in a beautiful 1880s island house. “We got married on Philip Island just as the sun was coming up. I had to wear big woolly socks under my dress to get off the boat onto the rocks (although Midge, the celebrant, took her heels out to the island with her!). It was all very discreet and not many people knew about it. Afterwards, we had a beautiful wedding breakfast on the grounds of Dino’s, which hadn’t yet opened officially as a restaurant so we definitely qualify as their first wedding. Big fruit platters and eggs benedict, and then we got on a plane to New Zealand before anyone could figure it all out!” Other old island homes that have been converted into accommodation include Christian’s at Bucks Point and Cobby’s in the beautiful surrounds of Crystal Pool. A little investigation will soon reveal a range of luxurious wedding packages offered by various accommodation houses, including a personal chef, bouquets and even a horse-drawn carriage.

So how do you go about getting married on Norfolk? You need to fill out a “Notice of Intended Marriage” and submit it to the Norfolk Island Government Registry Office one month in advance. It will cost you Aus $200 and you’ll need your birth certificates and at least one witness on the day. Norfolk has ministers of different Christian faiths who are able to preside over wedding ceremonies, and several civil celebrants, both male and female. Many Norfolk businesses cater for weddings, from beautiful flower arrangements made up of seasonal blooms, to a range of wedding vehicles, including luxury vehicles or a London cab. The Norfolk Tourist Bureau can provide the names of hair stylists, beauty salons, pastry chefs, caterers, local wedding planners, and anyone else you may need.

Luckily for us, the Bounty ring was rediscoveredin 1940 by Honour Maude, who was sifting through dirt in the vegetable garden given to her on the old site of John Adams’ house on Pitcairn. The ring was verified by local historians as the historic Bounty ring, and Honour Maude was presented with the ring for safekeeping. She then gifted it to the Norfolk Island Museum, where it can be seen to this day; small and bent, but with enormous significance.

Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss3, 2009. 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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