Pitcairn Island

The last British colony in the Pacific, Pitcairn has a population of between 35 and 50 people

Pitcairn Island

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by statesidecruiser on May 12, 2008

It is rare for a cruise ship to approach Pitcairn Island. It is not a port at which such a ship can dock or even remain at anchor some distance out at sea. However, our captain obtained special permission to circumnavigate the island.

A long boat filled with Pitcairn Island residents pulled alongside our ship early in the day, and the occupants boarded. They were given space to set up a display of articles for sale in the Grand Lounge. Carved wooden items and T shirts were sold along with some picture postcards and stamps.

As passengers examined and purchased the offered goods, the ship moved around the entire island. The result was some spectacular photo opportunities.

"I have lost the Bounty," Captain Bligh wrote to his frail wife back home. "On the 28th. April [1789] at day light in the morning Christian having the morning watch [...] with several others came into my Cabbin while I was a Sleep, and seizing me, holding naked Bayonets at my Breast, tied my Hands behind my back, and threatened instant destruction if I uttered a word [...] I demanded of Christian the cause of such a violent act, & severely degraded him for his Villainy but he could only answer-‘not a word Sir or you are Dead.’ I dared him to the act & endeavoured to rally some one to a sense of their duty but to no effect."

Captain Bligh was a remarkable seaman. Following the mutiny, described above, he and eighteen members of his crew were set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. Over the next 48 days, Bligh sailed 3,618 miles to Timor in what were the Dutch East Indies and eventually arrived back in Britain in what was described as "a blaze of triumph and white-hot anger...." The Admiralty sent an expedition to round up the mutineers, who were easily found on the island of Tahiti.

All were accounted for except for Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian, the instigator of the mutiny, and eight others. They had taken the ship and were in hiding on the desolate Pitcairn Island.

The voyage of the Bounty had occurred because Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist and president of the Royal Society had the idea to take breadfruit plants from Tahiti. Banks had explored Tahiti on one of Captain James Cook’s voyages, and it was his plan to cultivate the plants in Jamaica and to use them as cheap food for slaves. He convinced Bligh to head up the expedition. The ship chosen for the voyage was the Bounty.

The cutter was only 85 1/2 feet in length and had a crew of 54 men who were all eager to see the delights of Otaheite, as Tahiti was spelled. Many of the crew had served under Bligh on previous occasions.

Bligh was living on the Isle of Man at the time as was a family named Christian. Bligh chose Fletcher Christian, 23 years of age, as one of the master’s mates. Like Bligh, Christian had come to the navy from service aboard merchant ships.

Bligh was optimistic as the Bounty crossed the Atlantic, writing in the ship’s log: "My Men all active good fellows, and what has given me much pleasure is that I have not yet been obliged to punish any one."

The trouble began when, despite repeated attempts, the Bounty was unable to make it round Cape Horn. This occurred over a period of time in excess of one year, and Bligh decided to re-cross the ocean and approach Tahiti from the other direction, via the Cape of Good Hope. This added 10,000 miles to the voyage, but the island was finally reached and the breadfruit harvested.

Having experienced the delights of Tahiti, including the warm climate, the food, and the beautiful native women, the sailors were reluctant to leave once the plants were loaded. When they were forced to do so, resentment grew. But what led them to revolt cannot be known. Bligh categorized the problem in one word: "Insanity."

After the mutiny, Fletcher Christian took the Bounty back to Tahiti, where the majority of his sympathizers decided to remain. They were soon captured and taken to England to face court-martial and, some of them, to be sent to the gallows. Those who survived confinement on the homeward voyage and a shipwreck along the way, were punished.

Christian’s group had quarreled with the others, had kidnapped a number of Tahitian women (and Tahitian men as well), and had then re-boarded the Bounty and left Tahiti to search for a hiding place.

They decided on Pitcairn Island, which for the past generation had been misplaced on the Admiralty chart by 180 miles. Once there, they beached the ship and burned it, after taking off anything of possible use (except the cannon). Christian had been in command of the vessel only about five months at that time.

Violence soon erupted between women and men and between the Tahitians and the English. In 1793, Christian was shot in the back and killed while digging in his yam patch. The killer was soon found and was murdered.

The last mutineer left on the island, discovered in 1808, was John Adams (formerly Alexander Smith). He related how Christian was cruel and had brought on the hatred of his companions.

As for Bligh, he was given a second (and larger) ship to complete the assignment with the breadfruit. Once taken to the Caribbean, the fruit proved unsuited to conditions there. Bligh returned to London.

A few years later, in 1808, Sir Joseph Banks succeeded in having him appointed governor of New South Wales. He died in 1817 at age 64.

The last British colony in the Pacific, with a population of between 35 and 50 inhabitants, Pitcairn in recent years has been the subject of a number of court cases charging many of the adult males with practicing pedophilia. Islanders have claimed that their cultural norms permit cohabitation of young teens with adults. Many of the adult males have been imprisoned as a result of the court decisions. The entire history of the starkly beautiful, remote island seems to have a thread of perpetual tragedy running through it from the moment of its habitation.


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