There would seemingly be little to link remote Norfolk Island to the reign of England’s Queen Victoria, which began in 1837. But Queen Victoria is in fact well remembered, and not least in Queen Victoria’s Garden, located along Queen Elizabeth Avenue. The garden features an attractive green and white gazebo amidst a garden of shrubs and trees, and a table at the centre of the gazebo prominently displays a marble bust of Queen Victoria, acknowledging the role she played in the history of the garden, and the Norfolk Island community.
The story begins with the mutiny on HMAV Bounty, after which Fletcher Christian and his crew returned to Tahiti and then set sail again with 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men. They searched for a secluded hiding place and arrived at Pitcairn Island, a refuge and safe haven and a place to begin a new life. Years went by and the Pitcairn community grew. It soon became clear, however, that they could not remain self-sufficient indefinitely on this tiny isle. Following a failed attempt at re-locating in Tahiti, the islanders petitioned Queen Victoria to help them find another home. Norfolk Island was suggested and the departure of some Pitcairn Islanders was arranged.
The closing of Norfolk’s penal colony and the transfer of Pitcairn Islanders to their new home coincided with a constitutional change. By an Act of the British Parliament (passed in July 1855), followed by an Order in Council made on 24 June 1856, Norfolk Island was severed from Van Dieman’s Land and was made a “distinct and separate settlement”, and the proclamation to this effect was made by Sir William Denison, Governor of New South Wales, on 31 October 1856.
On 8 June 1856, 149 people landed at Kingston on Norfolk Island with family names of Christian, Quintal, Adams, McCoy, Young, Nobbs, Buffett and Evans. Each family was granted 50 acres of land. Once a daughter married she was given 12.5 acres and sons were given 25 acres. On Queen Elizabeth Avenue, a 13-acre block of land was given to Emily Christian. Emily was one of the first Pitcairn women to marry an outsider and the land was listed under her husband’s name, George Bailey. The lease was granted in 1877. Today, George and Emily’s grand-daughter, Marie Bailey is known locally for her gifted ability as a visionary. Her projects have flourished over the years with a primary focus of recreational enjoyment for both island visitors and locals. This block of land on Queen Elizabeth Avenue now hosts “The Pitcairn Village”, Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, “Hilli’s” Restaurant, and Marie’s most recent creative project — Queen Victoria’s Garden.
The garden’s vision began with shared inspiration and ideas by Marie and Jerry Cooke — both avid gardeners with a talent for envisaging an overall complete garden design, along with the practical skills and commitment needed to begin the project. Two years later Queen Victoria’s Garden was launched. Balance and harmony have been achieved in this garden by specifically choosing where trees and shrubs should be placed, and considering how they would complement each other individually and together, in order to create a cohesive whole garden design. The eventual height, spread, habit and growth rate of each plant was taken into account when envisaging the overall “picture” of how the garden would look in five, ten or fifteen years. Marie has devoted many hours of planning and foresight to reach the current stage of Queen Victoria’s Garden.
The first step was to plant 100 native Norfolk Island plants on the valley side. Everyone on the island soon heard of Marie’s project and she began receiving gifts of trees, shrubs and other plants. Friends and family would ask if she had a particular plant, and say “I have one I’d love to give to you so you can plant it in your garden”. The plants were nurtured in a small greenhouse, tenderly cared for until the root structure was established and the time was right for planting outside. The first year of setting up the garden was a particularly dry year on Norfolk, and constant watering was necessary to keep the new plants growing. The next two years of wet summers helped to keep the plants naturally nurtured and the garden began to grow and expand.
Beds and borders were marked out in the grass before contracting a hole-digger to dig appropriate places for planting the larger trees. Marie’s collection includes California redwoods, Japanese cedars, ginkgos, Kentia palms, Australian frangipanis, local hibiscus, cordylines and a Tahiti dwarf pohutukawa.
The California redwood (Sequia sempervirens) is an evergreen tree that lives for up to 2,200 years. It is one of the tallest trees on earth, reaching a height of 115 metres and a diameter of 8 metres. Although the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree is not as tall as the redwood, some specimens in China are estimated to be more than 2,500 years old. Which generation of islanders will be able to sit beneath the shade of these trees and reflect upon the beginnings of this magical space and its creation?
A particular highlight of Queen Victoria’s Garden is the propagation of breadfruit trees. The history of this plant links us to our own heritage and begins the Norfolk Island story. The breadfruit was the sole mission of the HMAV Bounty on her departure from England, and Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh began his quest for breadfruit in Tahiti to provide a cheap, high-energy food source for British slaves in the Caribbean. Only a couple of breadfruit trees currently grow on Norfolk because Norfolk’s climate is not quite suitable.
Marie began nurturing a single, small breadfruit plant in her kitchen sink. She now has several small plants, taken as soft-tip cuttings, and moves them about when she senses the sun is too hot or when the plants need more warmth. Marie’s “green thumb” and accompanying vision of bringing an aspect of our history is a treasure for us all, now and for future generations.
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.