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On 17 February 1788, Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, made the first recorded sighting of Lord Howe Island as he sailed between Port Jackson and Norfolk Island.  Ball (1756-1818) was in command of the HMS Supply, a vessel of the First Fleet.  Ball had been praised for his navigational skills by Admiral Arthur Philip, Governor of New South Wales and it would appear that Philip's enthusiasm was warranted; Lord Howe Island was a significant sighting for it was uncharted, uninhabited and even unknown to the local Polynesians.  It was by all accounts, a 'true' discovery.

It wasn't until the return voyage on 13 March, 1788 that Ball and his crew sent a party ashore.  First Fleet Surgeon, George B Worgan, in a letter to Sirius dated 12 June, 1788 perhaps best summarises the experience:

"We have discovered an Island in these Seas, never before seen by our Navigators.  We have named it, Lord Howe's Island.  It affords Turtle in the Summer Season, and the Supply Brig, brought away 18 very fine Ones, on which, we feasted most luxuriously, it also, abounds with Birds of the Dove Species, which are so stupid as to suffer us to take them off the Bushes with our Hands. As this Island is not above 4 or 5 Days sail from Port Jackson, we hope, to have Turtle Feasts frequently: if this be the Case, I suppose We shall have a Ship-load of Aldermen coming out to New South Wales."
Source: Worgan, George B. 'Sirius, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, June 12th 1788' - Journal of a First Fleet Surgeon (1788). (Online)

Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Lt. Henry Lidgbird Ball
Commander of Supply
circa 1792
artist unknown

For further information
on the History of the Island, visit the
Lord Howe Online Library

Lord Howe Island became a regular destination for the various government ships that sailed between New South Wales and the convict settlement at Norfolk Island.  It was also popular with the whaling vessels, particularly those from America and Britain.  It is said that the first settlers to Lord Howe arrived in 1833; three men, three Maori women and a group of boys.  The first settlers relied on the whaling vessels for their livelihood, supplying food and water to the crew.  In the early 1840s more settlers arrived and by 1853, more Europeans had arrived from the Gilbert Islands.  It said that the Island's current population descends through these lineages.

As many as fifty ships passed through Lord Howe every year.  When whaling began to lose momentum the islanders turned to thatch palm for economic stability.  The island was abundant in Kentia palm.  Kentia palm was initially utilised as a thatched roofing material but as a decorative indoor plant, Kentia Palm emerged as a marketable commodity, much sort after by Europe and the USA.  

Lord Howe Island became a desirable community location but as its popularity increased, so too did the burden on the Island's resources.  Thus in 1882, a government recommendation stated that the island's preservation was dependent upon maintaining a populous status quo.  A report from the mainland suggested that only those already in residence be permitted to settle.  Although it may have been perceived as a drastic culling measure, this decision would prove to be well founded.  No more so than in 1918, when rats inadvertently escaped onto the island from a visiting ship and subsequently decimated the Kentia Palms.

Tourism eventually replaced export.  A pre World War II cruise ship run boosted the island's economy without placing undue stress on the island's resources, as might have occurred if a settlement quota had not been previously established.  Following World War II, a sea plane service ensured a steady flow of mainland visitors; and in the 1970s an airstrip was finally built.  Today Lord Howe Island is home to approximately 350 residents and an established tourist destination for hundreds of mainland and international tourists.

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