Dark Paradise beings with Macklin’s scathing opinion of British colonisation and their successful propaganda as a means of justifying their actions. He continues with Captain James Cook’s discovery of Norfolk Island in 1774, which was uninhabited at the time. His reports lead to the settlement of Norfolk Island by Lieutenant Philip Gidley King in 1788 as a penal colony, with just “15 convicts … and seven free men” (p. 20). What follows are detailed accounts of the brutal treatment of hundreds of convicts encountered at the hands of one sadistic commander after another over nearly a century. What was an idyllic location with arable land and a beautiful landscape, became a nightmare for convicts, and at times their overseers. It is mind boggling that humans could treat other humans with such contempt and torment – many for petty crimes – although Norfolk Island became reserved for those convicts deemed the worst. The convicts themselves staged a number of failed breakouts over the decades and violence and sodomy amongst each other was also rife.
The island housed up to 2,000 convicts in vile conditions before it was vacated in 1856 to be resettled by 194 Pitcairners, who were of the false assumption that they would be “granted a new homeland” (p. 228). This lead to the struggles of the islanders to assert themselves and live by their own ways up to the present time. Macklin also reveals the story of the mutiny of the Bounty crew and how Fletcher Christian and eight of his loyalists came to settle on Pitcairn Island with a number of Tahitians. The history of Pitcairn was one marred by murder, the activation of a sill which introduced the islanders to liquor, causing further trouble, and incestuous relations and illegitimate children due to the disparity between the number of men and women.
The population of Norfolk Island grew, particularly when it became the base of a Melanesian mission, yet it always fell under some form of British or Australian governance or administration. The book is concluded with the murder of Janelle Patton in 2002 and subsequent investigation, then sadly details an island cursed by alcohol, drugs, an ailing economy, waning tourism and a stubborn populace.
I happily snapped up Dark Paradise from a sale table recently as my husband has ancestors from Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands (his mother being born on Norfolk Island) and was keen to learn about his heritage. I found the history that Macklin details to be fascinating and it prompted me to undertake further research. The impact of colonialism on Australia was also brought home with the number of names mentioned throughout the text which are familiar as being Australian townships, rivers, landmarks and so on. At times the repetitive nature of the historical facts became a little monotonous and I had some difficulty keeping track of the many individuals introduced throughout. Macklin also does little to showcase the beauty of the island and the opinions of its current inhabitants.
“Aren’t remote South Pacific islands supposed to be paradise? Perhaps, from a distance, Norfolk Island looks a peaceful place lush with tall pines. But look closer and that idyllic façade is shattered.
For all of the 220 years we have known it, Norfolk’s story has been one of darkness, pain, rage and horror. Long-buried bones and axes hint at the violence before Captain Cook arrived and claimed the place for England. And then the horror truly began. From its earliest days, the isolation of life on this rocky outcrop took its toll.
Robert Macklin, author of bestselling SAS Sniper, tells the vivid, bewitching story of how a unique lifestyle and culture evolved amongst the almost two thousand inhabitants. From a brutal penal colony, a refuge for descendants of the Bounty mutineers when they outgrew Pitcairn Island in 1856, to the murder of Janelle Patton in 2002, Norfolk Island is exposed like never before. A place full of shadows and wrongful deaths, its history is a mesmerising tale all the more powerful because it is true.”