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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 Waldegrave’s 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 Diemen’s Land or some other suitable place where they could settle together(11). Although as a result of Captain Waldegrave’s 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 return.

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 Hood’s 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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Footnotes:

(11) Maude I, p.65, and Young, pp. 71-2. The latter refers to a scarcity of water. This was presumably only in times of drought.

(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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