Lord Howe Island is an irregularly crescent-shaped volcanic remnant in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, 600 kilometres directly east of mainland Port Macquarie, and about 900 kilometres from Norfolk Island.
The first reported sighting of Lord Howe Island was on the 17th of February 1788 when Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, commander of the Armed Tender HMS Supply was on its way from Botany Bay to found a penal settlement on Norfolk Island.
On the return journey Ball sent a party ashore on Lord Howe Island to claim it as a British possession. It subsequently became a provisioning port for the whaling industry, and was permanently settled in June 1834.
When whaling declined, the worldwide export of the endemic kentia palms began in the 1880s, which remains a key component of the Island’s economy. The other continuing industry, tourism, began after World War II.
In 1849 there were just 11 people living on the island but it was not long before the island farms expanded. In the 1850s gold was discovered on mainland Australia where crews would abandon their ships, preferring to dig for gold than to risk a life at sea.
As a consequence many vessels avoided the mainland and Lord Howe Island experienced an increasing trade which peaked between 1855 and 1857. In 1851 about 16 people were living on the island.
Vegetable crops now included potatoes, carrots, maize, pumpkin, taro, watermelon even grapes, passion fruit and coffee. Between 1851 and 1853 there were several aborted proposals by the NSW Government to establish a penal settlement on the island.
From 1860 to 1872 forty-three ships had collected provisions, but from 1873 to 1887 there were fewer than a dozen. This prompted some activity from the mainland. In 1876 a government report on the island was submitted by surveyor William Fitzgerald based on a visit in the same year.
He suggested that coffee be grown but the kentia palm was already catching world attention. In 1878 the island was declared a Forest Reserve and Captain Richard Armstrong became the first resident government administrator.
He encouraged schools, tree-planting and the palm trade, dynamited the north passage to the lagoon, and built roads. He also managed to upset the residents, and parliamentarian John Wilson was sent from the mainland in April 1882 to investigate the situation.
With Wilson was a team of scientists that included H. Wilkinson from the Mines Department, W. Condor from the Survey Department, J. Duff from the Sydney Botanical Gardens and A. Morton from the Australian Museum. J. Sharkey from the Government Printing Office took the earliest known photographs of the Island and its residents.
A full account of the island appeared in the report from this visit, published as “Lord Howe Island 1882”, which recommended that Armstrong be replaced. Meanwhile the population had increased considerably and included 29 children; the report recommended that a schoolmaster be appointed.
Tourists first came to the island around the turn of the 20th century by ship and visitation boomed post World War II with the arrival of the flying boats, which operated out of Rose Bay in Sydney. An airstrip was opened in 1974, enabling twin-engine planes to begin flying to the island.