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LETTER from ENGLAND to MISS ROSSITER, STARVATION FLAT, NORFOLK ISLAND

This cover was sent from England with the grey wing-margin 6d stamp S.G. 147, plate 15, issued in 1876 with postmark dated AP 4/ 77, the barred numeral and town name being largely illegible. It was sent ‘via San Francisco’ and ‘via New Zealand’ to Miss Rossiter, Starvation Flat, Norfolk Island. The reverse was not seen but had a transit mark of Auckland. The vendor said that inward mail was very rare at Norfolk Island at this early date (Figure 1).

Very little information was found on the internet other than in New South Wales Government papers relating to New Norfolk, 1852-93: "General Instruction to Mr. Rossiter as Storekeeper c. July 1859", and "Reports from Thomas Rossiter, schoolmaster and storekeeper, 26 September 1859, 31 May and 26 October 1860". As well there was a table listing those buried in the Norfolk Island Cemetery, in which 5 members named Rossiter were recorded with death dates ranging from 1866 until1930, including the name of Thomas Rossiter. Thomas Rossiter was also quoted to be the agent for Governor Denison at Norfolk Island from 1859 until his death (in 1893 at the age of 62); and, in addition Rossiter had a role as the Island’s meteorologist.

Fortunately I was able to contact a Mervyn Rossiter of Mermaid Waters, Queensland who kindly provided the following information:

"Thomas Rossiter was born 9 September 1830 at Croscombe Wells, Somerset England and he married Charlotte Bissex on 6 September 1855 at Crosscombe. A daughter Emily was born 29 May 1856 followed by Helen 5 December 1857. The family sailed to Norfolk Island in 1859, and at first the family lived in what now is the Government House. In 1868 he built his own house at Hungry Flat, but this was demolished in 1942 to make way for the airport. Other children followed: William born 1859; Harry 1861; Kate 1862; Hardie 1864; Blanche 1866; Fred 1868; and, Charles 1870.

The datestamp on the cover of April 4, 1877 would suggest that the addressed Miss Rossiter would be either Emily or Helen, for Kate and Blanche would be too young in 1877 (in fact Kate was buried in the Norfolk Island Cemetery at the age of four in 1866). Mervyn Rossiter said his guess was that the intended Miss Rossiter was Emily who married a Captain James Bongard, the master of the Southern Cross, a Melanesian Mission ship. Bongard probably sailed in and out of San Francisco and wrote to Emily during his courting days."

Norfolk Island has a population 2367 lying about 1600 km ENE of Sydney, discovered by James Cook in 1774 and named after the Duke of Norfolk. Its economy is centered on tourism, ca. 20,000 per year, and it is 8 x 5 km, with an area of 3455 hectares. It features subtropical rain forest with many Norfolk Island pines. With the founding of NSW in 1788 it was administered by that colony, and in the same year a penal colony was set up until 1814 when the settlement was abandoned. In 1825 a convict prison was again set up, and operated until 1854, but from 1844 the island was administered by Tasmania..

In 1856, the convicts having been removed, descendants of the Bounty mutiny were settled on Norfolk Island. Some later returned, but to-day about a third of Norfolk Island’s population are descendants of these settlers, and their forbears were the ones that Thomas Rossiter taught. From 1897 until 1914, the island was again a NSW possession, but since then it became an Australian External Territory. The position of the island in relation to Sydney, Brisbane, Lord Howe Island, Tasmania and New Zealand, is shown in Figure 2.

The shape of this small island and the position of the airport runways (the site of Rossiter’s second home at Starvation Flat) are shown in Figure 3.

 



 
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