A Family Homestead and Island Legacy

In 2016 Charles Christian-Bailey inherited from his late great-aunt Marie Bailey, a truly magnificent 13-acre family Island homestead. Originally settled by his great-great grandparents and now the location of The Pitcairn Settlers Story, Charles’ inheritance contains not only the history of his Bailey family, but also the rich stories and legacy of the whole Pitcairn Settler community.

Charles’ great-great grandmother was Emily Christian. On the 8th June 1856 Emily was just 4 years old when on a bleak winter’s day she, together with the entire Pitcairn Island community came ashore at Kingston Pier. It’s likely she was filled with excitement at finally stepping onto land after 3 long weeks at sea but, holding the hand of her mother Charlotte, she may also have felt some of Charlotte’s anxiety and bewilderment of all around her. This very image of Emily and Charlotte at the end of the Kingston Pier, is poignantly captured in the final scene at the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama.

For the Pitcariners, everything here was new – the climate, the animals, items left for their use, and Kingston’s sandstone buildings. However, it was their resourcefulness born of living in an isolated and remote location, together with a capacity for hard work and dedication to improving their lives, that meant they got through those first hard years.

Unknown to 4 year old Emily back then, was that her life on Norfolk Island was to be full and happy.  As a young woman she fell in love with George Bailey, an Englishman and blacksmith who had arrived in Norfolk to work with the Melanesian Mission. Together they built a family home where they raised six children, imparting family standards of hard work and business enterprise. They also instilled traditional Pitcairner values of family land being held in ‘safe keeping’ for future generations, traits that have continued unbroken in the Bailey family.

George made a family home to last. Visiting the house is a highlight for many on a Pitcairn Settlers tour as it stands largely in its original fabric and form. Completed in 1879, he also built his blacksmith shop and farm out-buildings, all still in perfect condition. George’s forge is thought to be the oldest in the Pacific still in working condition, and contains the original dual-bellows he had brought out from England. Entering this building is to step back in time as very, very little has changed since he last laid down his tools. Indeed, if George were to enter the forge today, he could probably pick up exactly where he left off as his anvil and tools are almost in exactly the same place.

There are other items and objects seen on the tour that tell of numerous industries the Pitcairn community created to bring cash into their economy. These include a whaleboat and remnants from the passionfruit industry, as well as a Model A Truck brought onto the Island by one of George and Emily’s sons (Uncle Charlie) during a banana industry boom. Typically, these industries became ‘boom and then bust’ cycles – their telling is important as they illustrate an indominable spirit and resourcefulness, qualities that underpin the Norfolk Islanders of today.  Uncle Charlie’s truck is also used as transport on the tour – another visitor highlight!

George and Emily passed the property on to Tom, the youngest of their children who lived there with his wife Edna and daughter Marie (Charles’ great-aunt). Tom had an interest in plants and agriculture. Tom increased importation and planting of fruit and vegetable varieties and shaped the established ornamental gardens seen today throughout the property. For Charles, maintaining the extensive gardens is a considerable undertaking, but one that is without exception appreciated by visitors on a Pitcairn Settlers tour.

Marie, the next family member to own the property, began the Pitcairn Settlers tour.  Charles says “It’s no wonder that Marie saw the stories the property could tell and created the Pitcairn Settlers tour “.  However, Marie also had the most profound individual impact on the development of Norfolk’s post-war tourism industry. Promoting the Island as a tourist destination she opened the first tour company called Norfolk Touring. She created numerous tours, most still run today (think: Island Fish Fry’s, progressive dinners, behind the hedges tours etc.), ran a taxi, light plane rides and Island dinners. Marie became the Island’s largest private employer.

Marie was also the brainchild of The Cyclorama and created the Queen Victoria Gardens, her personal monument of thanks to Queen Victoria for allowing the Pitcairn Islanders to re-locate to Norfolk. Charles has kept the free-entry gardens maintained and open for visitors to wander through. Located along Queen Elizabeth Avenue, they adjoin the Cyclorama.

Marie was also an horticulturalist and successful sportswoman, especially at golf where she represented the Island at international competitions. For those on a Pitcairn Settlers tour, they learn the stories of Marie’s life while seated in her family home and wandering the areas where she ran her tour company.

In her obituary, Charles said of Marie “She was an optimist, an achiever, an enabler, a pioneer…She adored her island home, and everything she did was to honour it and promote it… She achieved things that other people did not even dare to dream! Marie Bailey was truly Norfolk Island’s National Treasure!”

Charles as the current custodian of the property is committed to maintaining the Bailey family legacy established by his great, great-grandparents to care for the property, not only as an inheritance for his sons, but to keep telling the important stories of how the original Pitcairn Settlers became the proud Norfolk Islanders of today.

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