Correspondence of George Hunn Nobbs

Scope and Content

27 letters, dated 1866 to 1882, from George Hunn Nobbs in Norfolk Island to Miss Rebecca Waterhouse of Liverpool, his friend and benefactor. Many of the letters thank Miss Waterhouse and her family for boxes of clothes and books and also give news of the doings of his large family and of events on Norfolk Island. 8 letters, dated 1875-1895, to Miss Waterhouse from various correspondence on related matters.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Hunn Nobbs was born in Ireland on 16th October 1799. He claimed that his mother was Jemima ffrench and his father was Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquis of Hastings and 2nd Earl of Moira (1754-1826). He was not acknowledged by the Marquis and, for a time, was fostered by a Mr and Mrs Nobbs who lived near Yarmouth and whose name he adopted. He spent an adventurous youth serving in various merchant ships, and visiting both India and Africa. In 1828 he arrived on Pitcairn Island where he became schoolmaster and unordained parson to a community descended from HMS Bounty mutineers and Tahitian islanders. In October 1829 Nobbs married Sarah Christian, the grand-daughter of Fletcher Christian who had led the mutiny on the Bounty. For five years the islanders were despotically ruled by Josiah Hill and, for a time, Nobbs left the island. In 1837 Hill was removed from the island. Nobbs returned and became leader of the Pitcairn community. He greatly impressed Rear Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby who visited the island in 1852. Moresby supported an application by Nobbs to be sanctioned in his position. Nobbs sailed with Moresby to Valparaiso in Chile from where Nobbs continued his journey to London, arriving in October 1852. During his two-month visit to London he was ordained as a minister in the Colonies, was accredited by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel with an annual stipend of £50, addressed the first meeting of the Pitcairn Fund Committee and was received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Osborne House. He set sail on his return voyage to Pitcairn on 17th December 1852.

During his visit to London Nobbs had impressed on his many influential supporters that the island could no longer support the Pitcairn community. On his return he found the islanders badly affected by a prolonged drought and suffering from influenza. In 1856 the community moved to Norfolk Island which had previously been occupied by convict prisoners and was a British Crown Colony. Much of the island had been cultivated, and there were roads and houses awaiting occupation. However, it became clear that the islanders could no longer continue in the same seclusion they had experienced on Pitcairn. Nobbs expressed their disappointment in a letter her wrote to Sir Fairfax Moresby in 1866. "We own nothing beyond our 50 acre allotments, not sheep, nor ground on which the sheep feed; all is Government property and may be best disposed of as seems best to Government." Ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the island was now claimed by the Melanesian Mission which was originally disputed by Nobbs especially when the mission sought to establish a mission school. He was eventually reconciled and increasingly accepted the work of the mission on the island. Nobbs died on the 5th November 1884. Most of the island community, numbering around 470, attended his funeral.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in October 2003.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Custodial History

Inherited by Miss Hogwood. Rebecca Waterhouse was first cousin to Ms Hogwood's great-grandmother.

Related Material

The archive of the Melanesian Mission is held in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. The archive of the (United) Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is held at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, Oxford.