Norfolk Island History and Heritage


Polynesians are known to have occupied Norfolk Island, with archaeological remains suggesting a single phase of occupation from around 1150 to around 1450. The Island was located by Europeans in 1774 and named for the Duchess of Norfolk by Captain James Cook. The first European settlement was established in 1788 just a few weeks after the First Fleet landed at Botany Bay.

The two convict settlements on Norfolk Island from 1788–1814 and from 1825–1855 spanned the era of transportation to eastern Australia from 1788 to 1855. The second convict settlement was built on the principles of a ‘great hulk or penitentiary’ and was reputed to be one of the harshest in the British Empire.

In 1856, following the closure of the second convict settlement, the people of Pitcairn Island, a community of descendants of mutineers from the HMS Bounty and their Tahitian brides, were relocated to Norfolk Island, having outgrown Pitcairn Island.

World Heritage

The Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) is recognised for its picturesque character, historic associations, outstanding Georgian buildings and townscape, and evocative ruins. It is significant for its association with four distinct settlement periods in one place: the pre-European Polynesian Settlement; the British Colonial and Penal Settlements during the convict era (1788–1814, 1825–1855); and the Pitcairn Settlement (1856–present).

In the early 1980s, KAVHA was listed by the National Trust (NSW) and included on the Register of the National Estate (the register closed in 2007). KAVHA was listed on the Norfolk Island Heritage Register in 2003, on Australia’s Commonwealth Heritage List in 2004 and on the National Heritage List in 2007.

In 2010, KAVHA was inscribed on the World Heritage List as one of 11 historic sites that together form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Further information about the World Heritage listing is available from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Norfolk Island is first and foremost the home of its residents, who value KAVHA as a site of continuous and active use – as a place of residence, of work and of recreation – since the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders at Kingston Pier in 1856, and from whom around one third of the Island’s population is descended. KAVHA holds significant symbolic, ceremonial, religious, lifestyle and cultural association in a unique built and natural environment.

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (the Department) has overall responsibility for the management of KAVHA and its Heritage Management Plan PDF: 38 MB, with advice from the KAVHA Advisory Committee. The KAVHA Community Advisory Group also provides input on conservation and tourism activities at KAVHA.

Further information is available on the KAVHA website. Any queries regarding KAVHA should be directed to

National and Commonwealth Heritage

Other heritage listed places on or near to Norfolk Island that are managed by the Department include:

  • Arched Building, Longridge (Commonwealth Heritage List)
  • HMS Sirius Shipwreck (National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists)
  • Nepean Island Reserve (Commonwealth Heritage List)
  • Selwyn Reserve (Commonwealth Heritage List).

Philip Island, which sits just off Norfolk Island and is managed by Parks Australia, is also on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Each of the World, National and Commonwealth Heritage listed places on Norfolk Island, along with the Norfolk Island National Park and Norfolk Marine Park, is managed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.