History of Government and Laws, Part 2
The Development of the System of Government and Laws
of Pitcairn Island From 1791 to 1971"
Printed in and taken from Laws of Pitcairn, Henderson,
Ducie and Oeno Islands, Rev. Ed., 1971
By Donald McLoughlin, B.A., LL.B.
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Removal to Tahiti
No sooner had the little community proceeded to settle down to
a new established course than a request from the past was to be
fulfilled with the result that within a year of Captain Waldegraves
visit the entire population was removed from the Island. The circumstances
of their removal were that on the occasion of the visit by Captain
Beechey of H.M.S. Blossom on the 5th of December, 1828,
John Adams, being worried by the steady increase in the population
which had then reached a total of sixty-six persons and the possibility
of fertile land and water supplies proving inadequate for their
needs, requested that the community be removed to New South Wales,
Van Diemens Land or some other suitable place where they could
settle together(11). Although
as a result of Captain Waldegraves visit in 1830 it was appreciated
that John Adams fears were ill-founded and that the people
were not in fact either in necessitous circumstances or anxious
to leave the Island, it was then too late to stop the machinery
which had been set in train for their removal. In the result, on
the 28th of February, 1831, H.M.S. Comet under the command
of Captain A. A. Sandilands and the Colonial Barque Lucy Ann
under the command of Captain Currey arrived from Sydney with instructions
to remove the Pitcairn Island community to Tahiti. Many of the inhabitants
were reluctant to leave the Island but after considerable discussion
with, and persuasion from, those who had decided to go, they all
finally agreed to leave. Within a week the entire community had
embarked on the Lucy Ann sailing for Tahiti on the 6th
of March, 1831, and arriving there on the 21st of March(12).
Although Queen Pomare IV and her Tahitian people treated them
with overwhelming generosity and kindness, making available a rich
tract of land and undertaking to build houses there for the Pitcairn
Islanders as well as making available a large house for their temporary
accommodation in Papeete, their stay in Tahiti was a brief and unhappy
one which was to have far reaching effects on the Pitcairn Islanders.
Accustomed to a strict life of simple piety and acutely conscious
of their European ancestry the Pitcairn Islanders were unable to
adjust themselves to the very different way of life and particularly
the sexual morality of their Tahitian cousins. Any question of assimilation
into the Tahitian community was repugnant to them from the very
beginning and their brief taste of Tahiti strengthened that repugnance.
They soon longed to return to their island home and, with the onset
of wide spread illness amongst them, plans were commenced for such
With the death, on the 21st of April, exactly one month after
their arrival, of Thursday October Christian, the oldest and perhaps
the most respected of the first generation of native born islanders,
these plans were accelerated.
On the 24th of April, only three days later, the first party,
led by John Buffett, set sail for Pitcairn Island and after an enforced
stay due to adverse weather conditions, on Lord Hoods Island,
reached Pitcairn on the French Barque Bordeaux Packet
on the 27th of June, 1831. With the aid of subscriptions raised
by missionaries in Tahiti and the sale of personal possessions including
a quantity of copper bolts from the Bounty: the remainder sailed
on the American Brig Charles Daggett reaching Pitcairn
on the 2nd of September 1831(13).
Return to Pitcairn
Thus less than six months after their departure from Tahiti the
entire community had returned to Pitcairn Island. Of the otal of
eighty-seven people who landed in Tahiti, seventeen had died, either
in Tahiti, on the return passage to Pitcairn Island or shortly after
their return, all from illnesses contracted whilst in Tahiti. Among
the dead were two of the oldest and most respected members of the
community, namely, Thursday October Christian and Edward Young,
the loss of whom seriously depleted the source of potential leaders.
In addition whilst in Tahiti a number of the Islanders had acquired
a taste for spirits as well as suffering a general deterioration
in their moral standards.
It was then a sick, disorganised and somewhat demoralized little
community which returned to Pitcairn Island. Captain Freemantle
of H.M.S. Challenger who visited the Island in 1832
described them as being not improved by their visit to Tahiti;
but, on the contrary, I have reason to think they were much altered;
and that on their return they had indulged in intemperance, by distilling
spirit from the ti-root, which grows in great quantities on the
Island. He also described them as having lost much of their
simplicity of character although still a well disposed, well
behaved, kind and hospitable people, and if well advised and instructed
could be led to anything" (14).
Another contemporary observer, namely, Dr. F. D. Bennett, surgeon
on the London whaler Tuscan which visited the Island
in March, 1834, stated that drunkenness and disease were amongst
them and that their morals had sunk to a very low standard(15).
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(11) Maude I, p.65, and Young, pp. 71-2. The latter
refers to a scarcity of water. This was presumably only in times
(12) See Brodie, pp. 67-76 for a detailed account,
and Maude I, pp. 66-69. Also Young, pp. 72-3.
(13) Maude I, p. 69.
(14) Brodie, pp. 160-164.
(15) Maude I, p. 69.
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