A walk along Quality Row, Kingston, Norfolk Island takes you on a journey back into that part of a 19th century penal colony where the civilian and military staff were housed. Here, walking around the magnificent Georgian buildings, now lovingly restored, it is not hard to visualise how this street must have looked during the time of Heart of a Beast. During the second convict settlement this road was known as Military Road. It is along this road that Edmund, Sarah, Judge and Mrs Forsyth, Commandant and Mrs Boyce and the Reverend Bailey lived.
Immediately Lieutenant Edmund Thornton landed on Norfolk Island in 1847 he was met by his Commanding Officer, Captain Travers. “After a good ten-minute’s walk along dirt roads inland, Edmund followed Captain Travers up a slight incline and found himself looking at Government House.”
Even today it is an imposing Georgian home set high on Dove Hill. Construction began in 1829, with verandas being added in 1833. It was built using thick walls and barred windows, and had sentries and cannons strategically placedall around to protect its inhabitants from the ever present threat of convict rebellion. Although Commandant and Mrs Boyce are completely fictional characters, Government House has been in constant use by a series of Commandants and Administrators since it was completed. When the penal colony was first reopened in 1825 a quick series of Commandants ruled over the settlement. These included Captain Turton, Captain Vance Donaldson, Captain Wright, Captain Hunt and Captain Wakefield. Government House was built during the time of Colonel James T Morriset 1829 – 1834; he was followed by Major Anderson, the builder, 1834 – 1839. Then in the space of a year or so two more Commandants took control – Major Bunbury of the 80th regiment and Major Ryan of the 50th; Captain Alexander Maconochie, the reformer, became Commandant 1840 – 1844; Major Childs took over in 1844 – 1846, when finally John Price became Commandant, 1846-1853. It was during this period that Norfolk Island truely became a place of total hell on earth. Each of these men have their own stories – one a builder, one a reformer; but least three were tyrants. If you would like to know more about these commandants I found the booklet Convicts and Commandants of Norfolk Island 1788-1855 written by Margaret Hazard to be a very easy read and most informative.
While stationed on Norfolk Island Edmund was quartered in what was known as the Old Military Barracks. The construction of the Old Military Barracks began in 1829 as a two storey building large enough to accommodate one hundred men. In 1831 a third storey was added. Eventually in 1832 Officers Quarters were built on each side of the building.
It was in one of these Officers quarters that I envisioned Edmund lodging during his time on Norfolk Island. His room in the barracks is loosely based on a description I found in the Journal of Ensign Abel Dottin William Best. Ensign Best diligently records his duty and surroundings during his own stay on Norfolk Island in 1838. Although he describes his accommodation he does not record if it was in the Old or New Military Barracks (which was started in 1835 and completed in 1836)
You can read Ensign Best’s complete journal in the book – Journal of Ensign Best edited by Nancy M Taylor. (1966)
The information presented in this blog about the construction of the two buildings has been gleaned from the booklet A Street Guide Quality Row, Kingston, Norfolk Island – Jane Wesley and from various Norfolk Island tour guides.
I chose to have Edmund living in the Old Military Barracks rather than the New Barracks because of its close proximity to number 10 Quality Row. But that’s another story!
Once again all credit for the photographs must go to Linda Chapman.