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Pitcairn Island Encyclopedia

--Text from Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure by Sven Wahlroos. Used by permission. See Book Recommendations for more information about this book.

HMS Actaeon - HMS Fly

Mayhew Folger - Joshua Hill

Hill of Difficulty- Moetua

Morayshire - Pitcairn

Pitcairnese - Teimua

Teio - E. Young

FOLGER, Mayhew Captain of the American sealer Topaz. Folger was a skipper from Nantucket who worked for Messrs Boardman and Pope, dealers in seal skins. With their ship Topaz he had left Boston harbor on Sunday, April 5, 1807, to hunt for seals in the South Pacific.

On February 6, 1808, his entry in the log book reads:

At ½ past 1 P.M. saw land bearing SW by W1/2 steared for the land. . . . at 2 A.M. the Isle bore south 2 leagues dis. Lay off & on till daylight. At 6 A.M. put off two boats to Explore the land and look for seals. On approaching the Shore saw a Smoke on the land at which I was very surprised it [Pitcairn] being represented by Captain Carteret as destitute of Inhabitants, on approaching Still more the land – I discovered a boat paddling towards me with three men in her.

The boat was a Tahitian-style canoe and the dark-skinned “natives” hailed the captain in English:

“Who are you?”

“This is the ship Topaz of the United States of America. I am the master, Captain Mayhew Folger, and American.

“You are an American?” “You come from America?” “Where is America?” “Is it in Ireland?”

Folger was too taken aback by the “natives” speaking English to answer. Instead he asked:

“Who are you?”

“We are Englishmen.”

“Where were you born?”

“On that island which you see.”

“How can you be Englishmen if you were born on that island?”

“We are Englishmen because our father is an Englishman.”

“Who is your father?”

“Aleck” (referring to Alexander Smith whose real name was John Adams, but who on the island was known as Aleck).

“Who is Aleck?”

“Don’t you know Aleck?”

“How should I know Aleck?”

“Well, then, do you know Captain Bligh of the Bounty?”

All seafaring men knew about the Bounty, about the mutiny, and about Bligh’s open-boat voyage. But no one in the world knew what had happened to Christian and the mutineers who had followed him in his quest for an island of refuge.

Imagine then the feelings that must have possessed Captain Folger when he realized that he was the first person in the world to find the hide-out of the mutineers of the Bounty! At the moment he did not know that all of them had died except one. He did not know whether he was in a dangerous situation or not. But the lads in the outrigger seemed so friendly and his curiosity overcame him. He told the youngsters in the canoe to ask “Aleck” to come on board.

The canoe went ashore, but soon returned without an extra passenger. Folger shouted:

“Where is Aleck?”

“Aleck does not want to come on board!”

No wonder. Folger immediately understood why “Aleck” would not want to come on board: he was afraid he would be arrested and taken to England to be hanged. But the youngsters in the canoe had an invitation:

“You are welcome to come ashore, Sir. Aleck and the women have prepared a meal for you.”

Folger was somewhat apprehensive himself, but again his curiosity won out. He remembered how often he and his friend, Amasa Delano, had discussed the mystery of the missing mutineers of the Bounty. He decided to go ashore. His log reads as follows:

I went on shore and found there an Englishman by the name of Alexander Smith, the only person remaining out of the nine that escaped on board the ship Bounty, Captain Bligh, under the command of the archmutineer Christian. Smith informed me that after putting Captain Bligh in the long boat and sending her adrift, their commander – Christian – proceeded to Otaheiti, then all the mutineers chose to Stop except Christian, himself and seven others; they all took wives at Otaheiti and Six men as Servants and proceeded to Pitcairn’s Island where they landed all their goods and Chattles, ran the Ship Bounty on Shore and Broke her up, which took place as near as he could recollect in 1790 – soon after which one of their party ran mad and drowned himself another died with a fever, and after they had remained about four years on the Island their Men Servants rose upon and killed Six of them, Leaving only Smith and he desperately wounded with a pistol Ball in the neck, however he and the widows of the deceased man arose and put all the Servants to death which left him the only Surviving man on the island with eight or nine women and Several Small Children. . . . he Immediately went to work tilling the ground so that it now produces plenty for them all and the[re] he lives very comfortably as Commander in Chief of Pitcairn’s Island, all the Children of the deceased mutineers Speak tolerable English, some of them are grown to the Size of men and women, and to do them Justice I think them a very humane and hospitable people, and whatever may have been the Errors or Crimes of Smith the Mutineer in times Back, he is at present in my opinion a worthy man and may be useful to Navigators who traverse this immense ocean, such the history of Christian and his associates.

The garbled history in this account must be due partly to Adams hiding the truth (he was to tell widely differing stories to subsequent visiting sea captains) and partly to Folger’s own distortions of memory.

Adams was understandably reluctant to talk about the mutiny. But he was eager to find out what had happened in England since he left it more than twenty years ago. And Captain Folger told him about the important changes in Europe over the last two decades: the French Revolution, Napoleon’s rise to power, and the tremendous and protracted war against France. When he came to describe England’s glorious victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Adams rose and swung his hat three times over his head and called out: “Old England forever? Huzzah!”

Unfortunately, Folger remained at Pitcairn for only ten hours. As a parting gift, Adams presented him with the Bounty’s azimuth compass and with the Kendall chronometer which had served Bligh – and later Christian – so well. (An oft-repeated, but false, claim in the Bounty literature is that this chronometer had been used by Captain Cook in the Resolution on the third voyage. The fact is that Cook’s chronometer was the only one today referred to as K (Kendall) 1; the Bounty chronometer was K2.)

Folger sailed eastward to Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe’s Island) where the compass and the chronometer were both, for some unexplained reason, confiscated by the Spanish governor. Long afterwards, in 1840, the Nautical Magazine published this account of the chronometer, by Captain R. A. Newman of HMS Sparrowhawk:

May 18th, 1840, Mr Mouat, chronometer-maker, &c, at Valparaiso
Received from Captain Herbert, of H.M.S. Calliope, the chronometer
Larcum Kendall, London. A.D. 1771
This chronometer was in H.M. late ship the Bounty, at the time of the mutiny, and has been in Chili since the time of the arrival of the American ship that first touched at Pitcairns Island, after the mutineers settled themselves there. It was stolen from the American captain on the ship’s passage from Juan Fernandez to Valparaiso; and next made its appearance at Concepcion, where it was purchased for three doubloons by an old Spaniard by the name of Castillo, who kept it in his possession till his death, which happened lately at Santiago; when his family sent it to Cpt. Herbert, to be conveyed to the British Museum. Capt. Herbert sent it to Mr Mouat to be put in order, and from his relation I am enabled to give these particulars.

On the chronometer being taken to pieces it was found to be in a complete state of preservation. . . .

The chronometer is six inches in diameter, with three dials on its face – one for hours, one for minutes, and one for seconds; with an outer silver case, made as the outer cases of pocket watches were sixty or seventy years ago; so that its appearance is that of a gigantic watch. . . .

On this day (23rd of June,) it was delivered to Capt. Herbert, being then fast on Greenwich mean time Oh. Om. 26.5s. and losing daily 3.5 seconds. . . .

The Calliope sailed from Valparaiso for China, on the 1st of July, 1840; and thus will this, now very interesting instrument, in all probability, return to the place of its construction. . . .

The Bounty chronometer is today in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

The Spanish governor on Juan Fernandez kept Folger and his crew in jail until some months later a new governor arrived and set the Americans free.

When Folger finally arrived in Valparaiso, he reported his momentous discovery to Lieutenant William Fitzmaurice of the Royal Navy who was serving on the naval station in Chile. Fitzmaurice forwarded this report, together with an extract of the log of the Topaz, to the commander of the British naval station in Brazil on October 10, 1808. The British Admiralty received the report on May 14, 1809.

The general public did not become aware of the discovery until March 1810 when a report of it appeared in the English Quarterly Review (Bligh was still in New South Wales then). The extract of the logbook of the Topaz also appeared in the Sydney Gazette for October 27, 1810 (two days after Bligh arrived in England).

Puzzled over the fact that the British Admiralty seemed to pay no attention to his discovery, Folger wrote a letter to Rear Admiral Hotham on March 1, 1813, in which he gave a more detailed report of his visit to Pitcairn and added: “I am sending you the azimuth compass which I received from Alex. Smith. I repaired and made use of it on my homeward passage. I now forward it to your lordship.” It is clear, however, that the Admiralty considered the report unimportant and it was simply forgotten until 1814 when two British warships, HMS Briton (Captain Staines) and HMS Tagus (Captain Pipon) again “rediscovered” Pitcairn.

Captain Folger died on September 4, 1828, in Massillon, Ohio, without publishing his discovery. But his friend since 1800, Captain Amasa Delano, did publish what Folger had told him as part of his book A Narrative of Voyages and Travels (1817).

HALL, James Norman Author of many books about the South Seas; co-author (with Charles Nordhoff) of the magnificent trilogy Mutiny on the Bounty, Pitcairn’s Island, and Men Against the Sea, all published in the early 1930s.

Hall was born in Iowa on April 22, 1887. During the first world war he served as a pilot in the famous Escadrille Lafayette. He achieved three combat victories and spent six months as a prisoner of war. After the war he was assigned the duty of writing a history of the Corps together with Charles Nordhoff who was destined to become his friend for life. In 1920 they left for Tahiti and – with an almost immediate intuitive understanding of the islands and the islanders – wrote what, in author Sven Wahlroos’ opinion, is one of the best books ever written about Eastern Polynesia: Faery Lands of the South Seas.

Although both authors also wrote independently, their best works were produced jointly: the Bounty trilogy, The Hurricane, The Dark River, and No More Gas. They made a perfect writing team and integrated their material so skillfully that it seemed to have flown from one and the same mind.

In 1925 Hall married Sarah Marguerite Sophie Teraireia Winchester, the beautiful daughter of a Tahitian mother and an English sea captain. Sarah, affectionately called Lala, was only sixteen and Hall was thirty-eight when they met. With her he had a son, Conrad Lafcadio, and a daughter, Nancy Ella. In 1928 they moved into the house in Arue which may still be standing.

The Tahitians knew that Hall loved them, and they loved him for his kindness and modesty and nobility of spirit. His death on July 6, 1951, was a cause for island-wide mourning, and older Tahitians revere his memory to this day.

Hall was buried on Herai (Ferai) Hill above his home on a spot from where one can see Matavai Bay where the Bounty anchored in thirteen fathoms of water on Sunday, October 26, 1788.

Lala had a bronze plaque made for her husband’s grave, the inscription is a verse he himself had written:

Look to the northward, stranger,
Just over the hillside, there;
Have you in your travels seen
A land more passing fair?

Because of Hall and Nordhoff, the Bounty will sail forever in our imagination. In 1932, their editor, Ellery Sedgwick, wrote in his introduction to Mutiny on the Bounty: “. . . that story is of the primeval stuff that Romance is made of” and “Here is the book they have written. Read it, and you, too, will know that Romance has come into her own.”

Hall’s wife, Lala, lived until 1985. His son Conrad is now a cinematographer in Hollywood; his daughter Nancy lives in Tahiti and Hawaii.

HILL, Joshua The dictator of Pitcairn from 1832 to 1837; his self-proclaimed title was “President of the Commonwealth.” He was born on April 15, 1773.

Under PITCAIRN ISLAND there is a summary of Hill’s dictatorial reign (see also BUFFET, EVANS and NOBBS). But how did Hill happen to come to Pitcairn?

Hill had left England in June 1830. In Hawaii he had been refused a grant of land by the governor of Maui. He left for Tahiti where he arrived in October 1831, a few weeks after the Pitcairners had left for home after their disastrous attempt at emigration. Moerenhout describes Hill’s behavior in Tahiti (at the same time getting in some digs against his arch-enemy Pritchard):

The man gave himself airs of importance, and pretended to have been sent by the British Government to arrange for the transportation of the Pitcairners to some other island, and let it be understood that he was in charge of some secret mission, concerning the state of all the islands. The missionaries, Pritchard more than the rest, believed him to be a person of importance. He was presented to the queen, and, with the missionaries as interpreters, questioned her concerning her government with all the gravity of a diplomatic envoy. . . . This man, during his residence at Tahiti, showed a childlike vanity, a boundless pride, a dangerous fanaticism, and an implacable hatred for whosoever dared to oppose him. As he gave the least proof concerning his pretended mission, people came to realize he was an imposter; but for more than a year, he lived wholly at Pritchard’s expense, who was even obliged to pay his laundress. At last he got rid of the man when an English captain offered to take him to Pitcairn where Hill had long wanted to go.

This describes the psychopathic confidence artist par excellence. If Hill could dupe the sophisticated Pritchard, who was soon to become the Consul of Britain, how easy must it have been for him to gain power over the trustful Pitcairners who could not even imagine that anybody would lie.

Hill’s psychopathology, however, went beyond the tricks of a skillful confidence artist, as shown by the fact that when Charlotte Quintal (the daughter of Matthew Quintal’s youngest son, Arthur) had stolen some yams, Hill sentenced her to be executed; she was twelve years old! (Her father prevented the sentence from going into effect.)

As to Hill’s later activities, Robert B. Nicolson in The Pitcairners (1965) tells us that

Hill was put ashore at Valparaiso and eventually made his way back to England.

In 1841 Captain Hill wrote another “Memorandum,” this time to the British Government, claiming payment for the time he had spent attending to the needs of the Pitcairn Islanders. In this document he included a vitriolic attach on George Hunn Nobbs and John Buffett, accusing them of the most outrageous deeds since they had arrived on the island.

The last public record of Joshua Hill appears to be in 1844, when at the age of seventy-one he wrote to the Government a bitter condemnation of the morals of the missionaries who had been at Tahiti during his visit there twelve years before.

Perhaps Hill never heard of the pot and the kettle.

--Text from Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure by Sven Wahlroos. Used by permission. See Book Recommendations for more information about this book.