Before European discovery Norfolk Island appears to have been settled for a short period in the fourteenth or fifteenth century by Polynesian seafarers either from the Kermadec Islands north of New Zealand or from the North Island of New Zealand. Their main village site has been excavated at Emily Bay, and they left behind stone tools, the Polynesian rat, banana trees and the harakeke, or New Zealand flax plant (Phormium tenax) as evidence of their prescence.
Norfolk Island was declared part of the British Empire by Captain James Cook in his second voyage to the antipodes in 1774. The island was settled in 1788 to utilise the resources Cook had identified as useful for the burgeoning British fleet, such as the Norfolk Island pine, and the native flax. The pine was thought to have had potential for the making of masts and spars, and the flax in the production of cloth for sails.
A later colonial convict settlement began in 1825, when it was decided that a final place of punishment was needed for recidivists and other antisocial British subjects, such as Irish political prisoners. These were the dark days of the island, both in terms of human cruelty and degradation. This period also marked the beginning of the decimation of the island's natural biota, as clearing for large-scale agriculture and ambitious building works began. This era ended in 1855 with the removal of the last of the convicts, as deportation became less popular and other programs for the utilisation of convict labour became favoured.
In 1856 the island was again inhabited, this time by the descendants of the sailors who had taken over the "Bounty" in their infamous mutiny and had made their home with their Tahitian wives in the intervening period on remote Pitcairn Island, a British protectorate near French Polynesia. The Pitcairn Island descendants now make up about a third of the island's population, along with roughly equal numbers of Australian and New Zealand settlers, and a small number of people from various parts of the world, bringing the total population to about 1800.
World War II saw the construction of an airfield on Norfolk Island, due to its strategic location between the Coral Sea and airforce bases in Australia and New Zealand. The airport encouraged higher levels of visitation to the island following the war years, and the growing numbers of tourists have now become the mainstay of the island's economy.
As the island changes to accommodate the visitors to the standard they require, the fine balancing act of providing for their comforts and at the same time preserving the natural scenic beauty they wish to experience is under way. The Norfolk Island National Park is an important component of the visitor experience, and whilst Park management aims at providing safety and comfort for people to experience the natural beauty of the island, it also continues in the important work of rehabilitation and restoration of habitats, ecosystems and individual species.