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Situated between Australia, New Caledonia, and New Zealand, Norfolk Island is one of Australia's external territories. Lord Howe Island is just over five hundred miles to the west-southwest. The island group includes Philip Island, about three miles to the south, and the smaller Nepean Island, between Norfolk and Philip Island.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the island was settled by East Polynesians sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries, but it was uninhabited when it was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774, who named it for Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk.

In 1786, Britain included the island in its plan to colonize New South Wales in Australia, and it was colonized by fifteen convicts and seven free men, who were to prepare the island for the cultivation of hemp. Soon after, more convicts and soldiers were sent to the island. By 1794, Britain had determined to close the penal settlement as being too costly to maintain. By 1813, only a small group remained to slaughter any remaining stock and destroy the buildings so that another European power wouldn't be tempted to claim the island. By 1814, the island was abandoned.

However, in 1824, Britain decided to reopen the island as a penal colony for hard-core convicts, its remoteness being considered an asset. The second penal colony closed in 1855, and the island was again abandoned.

The next human occupation of the island was in 1856, when the island was settled by descendants of Tahitians and HMS Bounty mutineers, having moved from the Pitcairn Islands, which had become overpopulated. The new settlers began farming and whaling industries on the island and, although some families decided to return to Pitcairn, the population of Norfolk Island grew, and they accepted new settlers who arrived on whaling ships. The island became the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission of the Church of England in 1867, where it remained until 1920.

Over the years, the island came under the administration of Britain, New South Wales, Tasmania, as a distinct and separate settlement, and then under New South Wales again. The island served as an airbase and refueling depot during World War II, and New Zealand troops were garrisoned there. In 1979, Norfolk Island was given limited self-government, under which the island elected a government that was responsible for internal affairs.

In 2015, the Australian government announced significant changes for Norfolk Island. The Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly was abolished, and the island was to be run by an Administrator appointed by Australia. All laws applying to Australian citizens would apply equally to Norfolk Islanders. Opposition to this arose among residents of Norfolk Island, including appeals to the United Nations to be included in its list of non-self governing territories, as well as a movement to join New Zealand.

Islanders are mostly British or of combined European-Tahitian ancestry. Roughly fifty percent of the population can trace their ancestry to Pitcairn Island and the HMS Bounty mutineers. There is a tendency towards an aging population, as young adults often move away from the island. Most of the islanders identify as Christian, mostly Anglican and Protestant.

Norfolk Island is by far the largest island of the group. It has an area of just over 13 square miles, with no significant lakes or ponds. At 1,047 feet above sea level, Mount Bates is its highest point, and the area surrounding the mountain is now preserved as a national park, which also includes the two outlying islands. Its soil is suitable for farming and other agricultural uses. The island's coastline is made up of cliffs, although there is a downward slope near Slaughter Bay and Emily Bay, which was the site of the original settlement. Today, the island's main settlement is Burnt Pine, which houses the island's post office, shopping center, telephone exchange, and a community hall, but there are settlements throughout the island. There are no safe harbor facilities on Norfolk Island, and Emily Bay is the only safe area for recreational swimming.

Philip Island is an uninhabited island just under four miles south of Norfolk Island. It is currently part of the Norfolk Island National Park. Previously, the island had been used to hold food animals, such as pigs, goats and rabbits, which have caused large-scale erosion. However, the pigs and goats were removed in the early 1900s, and rabbits had been exterminated by 1988. Since then, the regeneration of native fauna and flora have been underway, including reforestation of Norfolk Island pine.

Nepean Island is a small island, with a land area of about twenty-five acres, between Norfolk Island and Philip Island. It forms part of Norfolk Island National Park. Unlike Norfolk and Philip, Nepean is not volcanic in origin. The island was once used as a quarry and for timber.



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