a-ring-through-time My novel, A Ring Through Time, has been very much on my mind lately, partly because it’s just received a Highly Commended at the Davitt Awards organised by Sisters in Crime Australia, and partly because I’ve only just returned from beautiful Norfolk Island where the novel is set. My sister Gillian (visiting from South Africa) and I spent a week there, during which I showed her all the sights/sites around the island, many of which form the basis of my novel, the convict ruins in Kingston (Kings Town) in particular. The island is a paradise for any history buff!  It started off in 1788 as a penal settlement under Philip Gidley King who took over a party of convicts, male and female, to establish a viable source of supply of flax plus timber from Norfolk pines, and also fruit and vegetables for the growing colony in NSW.  The experiment was something of a failure and the settlement was abandoned in 1814 after all the buildings were destroyed.  The infamous Second Penal Settlement was established as an ‘Ocean Hell’, a place of no return for male convicts only, in 1825. With the exception of the ‘reforming commandant’ Alexander Maconochie, who introduced a system of marks to reward good behaviour instead of punishment for bad behaviour, the men in charge of the convicts, commandants and their underlings alike, inflicted harsh and brutal punishments on their charges. These included excessive flogging, isolation in ‘dumb cells’, starvation rations, the tube gag, and hanging, while a group of hardened convicts known as ‘The Ring’ preyed on those less able to defend themselves, demanding sexual and other favours. The most brutal commandant of them all was John Giles Price, upon whom I’ve based my character John Bennett in this ‘fictional history’ of this beautiful island with its very dark past.  Price’s reign of terror finally prompted the authorities to close the penal settlement in 1856 and the island was then offered to the descendants of the Bounty mutineers who had outgrown their island home on Pitcairn and needed somewhere else to live.  And so a new era began on NI, with the islanders gradually demolishing the hated prison and convict barracks and using the stones to build their own houses. Their presence heralded a time of peace and a thriving and friendly community that’s a complete contrast to what went on before. There’s still evidence of the convict past in Kingston: the ruins of the gaol, the convict barracks and the dreaded crankmill and hospital, but other buildings have been renovated and are still in use today, like the commissariat which is now a church + a museum; the officers’ barracks which form part of the island’s administrative arm; the buildings along Quality Row (once known as Military Road) that once housed officers and other important dignitaries, and the beautiful Government House that once housed the infamous commandants but which is now home to the island’s Administrator and his family.  There is so much to see and do at Norfolk. Everywhere you turn, you are walking in the footsteps of a rich and diverse past.  The islanders are immensely friendly and hospitable (I’ve been made so welcome at the school, both on this and previous visits while researching my novel) and the island is beautiful – rolling green hills, pine trees (and cows!) everywhere, with the reef and deep blue ocean beyond.  My only regret is that it was too cold to go snorkelling off Emily Bay, which is what prompted the ideas for this novel when I first visited the island!

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