On 17 February 1788, the crew of HMS Supply sighted Lord Howe Island. Supply was one of the ships from the First Fleet and was sailing from the new settlement at Port Jackson to Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. The commander, Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, named the island Lord Howe Island after Earl Richard Howe, First Lord of the Admiralty. Officers from Supply landed on the island about a month later on the return voyage. In his diaries, the master of Supply, David Blackburn, praised the abundance of turtles, land birds and fish.
Lord Howe Island was uninhabited at the time it was discovered. Late in the eighteenth century, whalers and traders visited for water and to hunt turtles and birds for food. The first settlers were from New Zealand and arrived in 1833. They survived by provisioning ships and exporting muttonbird feathers. Captain Poole and Richard Dawson of Sydney purchased the business in 1841 and it is here that the Pinetrees story begins.
In 1842 Thomas and Margaret Andrews of Sydney signed on with Captain Poole as general servants for 12 months work at Lord Howe Island. They later settled permanently on the island working for Poole’s new partner, Dr Foulis. Their only daughter, Mary, was born in 1846.
In 1848 Dr Foulis exchanged all his land with an American whaling captain who later that year transferred his holdings to Thomas Andrews. The price? Two tons of potatoes.
Mary married Thomas Nichols, master of the whaling barque Aladdin in 1862. They built accommodation at the family home, then called The Pines, and began taking in guests around 1895. The first steamer service between Sydney, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island commenced in 1893.
Edith Nichols was said to be her mother’s favourite. She inherited the homestead at The Pines when Mary died in 1923. She was to pass on the tradition to her son Gerald Kirby and his wife Beth who ran Pinetrees from the 1930s to 1975.
Gerald and Beth’s youngest daughters Kerry McFadyen and Pixie Rourke together with their husbands, Bruce and Ed, took over the business in 1976. Kerry, Bruce, Pixie and Ed (always known to their staff as “the big four”) worked hard to modernise Pinetrees. They built new rooms, including five free-standing Garden Cottages, extended the main house and re-built the Pinetrees boatshed, which had been destroyed in a fire. All of the new buildings were designed by Bruce, an architect. Under their guidance, Pinetrees employed professional chefs and established a reputation for fine food and genuine hospitality.
Pixie Rourke served as the Chair of the Lord Howe Island Tourism Association for 11 years. She resigned from her position only a month before her death in 2010. In September 2010, after Pixie’s death, Qantas named one of its Dash-8 aircraft ‘Pixie Rourke’, and it continues to fly to Lord Howe.