Through the years since the first definitive issue of Pitcairn stamps was released in 1940, the philately of Pitcairn Island has enjoyed a much-sought-after status among stamp collectors throughout the world.
It was 250 years ago, on July 2nd 1767, that a young boy high in the crow’s nest of the British Admiralty ship HMS. Swallow shouted “Land Ahoy” and Pitcairn’s Island was first sighted by a European. Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, aged just 15, was praised by his captain, Philip Carteret, and had the island named after him.
History poses the question that in 1606 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandeq de Quiros first sighted Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn Islands group, and possibly Pitcairn, but the consensus is that this may have been a sighting of another of the Pitcairn Group. Robert Pitcairn’s sighting has stood and the Island remains a British Overseas Territory today.
Robert Pitcairn was born in Fife in 1752, and became a midshipman in the Royal Navy at the age of 14. His father, John Pitcairn, was a major in the Royal Marines, and commanded forces in the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill during the American Revolutionary Was.
The young sailor first served on the Royal Navy ship HMS. Emerald and then joined the Swallow in 1766. The ship’s pay-book listed him as aged 19, but baptismal records show he was only 14. The ship, a 14-gun sloop, sailed under Carteret’s command on a voyage of exploration in the South Pacific, accompanying HMS Dolphin. The two ships were parted shortly after sailing through the Strait of Magellan with Carteret taking a more southerly route through the Pacific Ocean, failing to find much new land, while Dolphin took a more northerly route and became the first clearly documented European vessel to land at Tahiti in June 1767.
On Thursday, July 2, 1767, young Pitcairn was the first person on the Swallow to spot an island in the Pacific. The island was described by Carteret as a “small high uninhabited island not above four or five miles round . . . scarce better than a large rock in the Ocean.” High volcanic cliffs prevented the voyagers landing on the island. Carteret erroneously recorded Pitcairn’s location at 25 degrees 02 minutes South 133 degrees 21 minutes West 25.033 degrees South 133.350 degrees West. These incorrect co-ordinates meant that the island could not be foundagain by later voyages as it lies 327.4 kms (203.4 miles) further east. The 3 degree longitude error may be explained by Carteret sailing without the benefit of the new marine chronometer. This error was used to good effect by Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers who, realizing the mistake, established residence on Pitcairn with their plan to avoid detection.
Robert Pitcairn arrived back in England on the Swallow in March 1769. He left the Swallow in May 1769, and joined the ship HMS Aurora, a 32-gun frigate commanded by Captain Thomas Lee. They sailed from England in September and called at the Cape of Good Hope in December 1769. The ship made for the Comoros Islands but disappeared without trace. It may have been sunk in a tropical storm, or wrecked on the Star Bank off the south coast of Madagascar in early 1770.
Robert Pitcairn Collectors Notes:
- Designer of the stamps: Lucas Kukler, Bangkok, Thailand.
- Printer of the stamps: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand.
- Printing process used: Offset Litho
- Size of the stamps: 38.12 mm x 48.00 mm vertical.
- Format used: Sheet of 8 sets. Sheet size 253mm x 264mm with gutter.
- Perforation Gauge: 14.167 x 14.167.
- Denominations: $3.00 x 2 stamps.
- Paper used: 103gsm Tullis Russell Yellow/Green phosphor gummed stamp paper.
- Period of sale of the stamps: September 13, 2017 for a period of two years.
Note About the Stamps:
Collectors may be interested to note that the illustration of Robert Pitcairn in formal attire is a stylized depiction by Lucas Kukler. Our research failed to find any image of the young midshipman. The designer took the age of the sailor and an image of his father and created what we consider a remarkably “possible” likeness.
All information above about the “Robert Pitcairn” stamps has been provided to the Pitcairn Islands Study Center by the Pitcairn Islands Philatelic Bureau, Russell Watson, Director, at email@example.com in the Pitcairn Islands Stamp Bulletin 160.
Pitcairn Stamp Issues
(Click small stamp images to see larger views.)
Below is a listing of all Pitcairn stamps issued since 1940 when Pitcairn Island began issuing its own stamps