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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

MORAYSHIRE The three-masted, full-rigged, 830-ton “emigrant ship” which, under the command of Captain Joseph Mathers, brought the entire population of Pitcairn to Norfolk in 1856.

The Morayshire sailed from Pitcairn on May 3 and arrived at Norfolk on June 8. On baord were 194 Pitcairners who were soon joined by a baby born on May 9. Altogether there were: 38 Christians, 48 Quintals, 21 Youngs, 18 Adamses, 16 McCoys, 20 Buffetts, 13 Nobbses, 11 Evanses.

They brought with them a cannon and the anvil from the Bounty, both of which can be seen on Norfolk Island today.

MURUROA (Moruroa, ancient name: Hiti-Tautau-Mai) An atoll in the Tuamotus at 21 degrees 50 minutes South, 138 degrees 55 minutes West. It is about fifteen miles long and eight miles wide. Mururoa was discovered by Lieutenant Philip Carteret in HMS Swallow in 1767, just a few days after he had discovered Pitcairn. He named Mururoa “Bishop of Osnaburgh Island.”

Mururoa has become famous – or, rather, infamous – for the atomic testing that the French conducted on the atoll beginning in the early 1960s. Because of the atomic tests there were in 1989 about 3,000 inhabitants on Mururoa of whom 700 were Polynesians.

It was on Mururoa atoll that the whaler Matilda foundered the night of February 24, 1792 . . . The crew managed to get to Tahiti and Bligh took many of them with him when he sailed from the island on his second breadfruit expedition.

NANAI The name used by Nordhoff and Hall for Titahiti’s consort. Actually there was no woman named Nanai on Pitcairn. Titahiti’s consort was Tinafanaea whom he shared with Oha.

NIAU (sometimes misspelled Nehow or Nehou) Niau was one of the three Tahitian men who accompanied Christian and the other mutineers to Pitcairn (two Tubuaian men and a man from Raiatea were also on board). He seems to have been the youngest of the six Polynesians.

When Pitcairn was sighted, Niau and the other two Tahitians joined Christian in the short party that explored the island before the decision was made to settle there.

Niau had to share Mareva with the two other Tahitians. He participated in the murders of Tararo and Oha. Before Massacre Day, September 20, 1793, Niau and Teimua had stolen some muskets and hidden them in the hills. Sometime after the five mutineers had been killed, Edward Young murdered Niau in cold blood; his reasons for the murder are unknown. Teehuteatuaonoa tells us that “while looking at Young loading his gun, which he [Niau] supposed was for the purpose of shooting hogs, and requested that he put in a good charge, . . . he received the deadly contents.”

As was the case for all the Polynesian men on Pitcairn, Niau left no offspring.

NOBBS, George Hunn Nobbs was an English adventurer who claimed he was born in 1799 as an illegitimate son of the Marquis of Hastings and Jemima Ffrench, daughter of an Irish baronet. He arrived at Pitcairn on November 5, 1828, in a 20-ton sloop from Callao together with a Captain Noah Bunker. Because Bunker was severely ill, John Adams (the old mutineer was still alive, although in bad health) allowed both men to stay and the old, leaking sloop was beached.

On October 18, 1829, Nobbs married Sarah (“Big Salah”) Christian, the daughter of Fletcher Christian’s second son, Charles, and Sully, the full-blooded Polynesian daughter of Teio. She bore him eleven children, seven boys and four girls. One of them, Ann Naomi Nobbs, lived until 1931.

Nobbs soon became a rival of John Buffett, the English sailor who had offered his services as a teacher in 1823 and remained on Pitcairn. The island population split in their loyalty and two schools and two religious services were conducted simultaneously.

When Joshua Hill established his dictatorship on the island in 1832 (see HILL, JOSHUA), Nobbs and Buffett became closer since they were both victimized. Together with Buffett’s friend Jack Evans they sailed for Tahiti in the whaler Tuscan in March 1834. From there they wrote a petition to Commodore Mason in command of the South American Station, complaining of Hill’s usurpation of power. In June they returned to Pitcairn in the ship Pomare to pick up their families; the Nobbses and the Evanses settled temporarily on Mangareva, the Buffetts on Tahiti.

Nobbs and Evans and their families returned to Pitcairn on October 13, 1834, in the American brig Olivia which had brought back the Buffetts a month earlier. In 1837, even before Hill was deported, Nobbs was elected schoolmaster by the whole population.

Nobbs sent to England in 1852-1853 to be ordained chaplain. With him was his daughter Jane, the first native-born Pitcairner ever to visit England. He thenceforth acted as pastor, surgeon, and schoolmaster for the whole population. He died on Norfolk Island on November 5, 1884, aged eighty-five, leaving a widow, ten children (one had died), sixty-five grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.

NORDHOFF, Charles Bernard Nordhoff was born in London on February 1, 1887, but his family was American and soon returned to the States, where they settled in California in the early 1890s. He graduated from Harvard in 1909 and together with his father founded a successful tile- and porcelain-manufacturing business in San Diego.

In 1916, before the United States declared war on Germany, Nordhoff went to France where at first served as an ambulance driver. He soon became interested in flying, however, and joined the Foreign Legion to get schooling in military aviation. In December 1917 he joined the Escadrille Lafayette.

Nordhoff met James Norman Hall after the end of the war; they had been assigned to write a history of the Corps together. The work on the book was the start of a friendship which was to end only with Nordhoff’s death in 1947.

Together they traveled to Tahiti in 1920 in search of Adventure. At the end of the year, on December 4, Nordhoff married a nineteen-year-old Tahitian (actually half-Danish) girl, Christianne Vahine Tua Tearae Smidt, affectionately referred to as Vahine. They settled in the district of Punaauia, about twenty miles from Hall’s home in Arue.

Vahine bore Nordhoff seven children. The fourth child was their first-born son, Charles Bernard Jr. When the boy was three and a half years old, he died from an infection which was treated by an incompetent French physician. Nordhoff never fully recovered from this tragedy, and it may have played a role in the subsequent divorce.

Nordhoff’s fame as a writer is primarily based on his co-authorship with Hall, but he also had considerable success on his own, writing adventure books for boys, such as The Pearl Lagoon (1920) and The Derelict (1928).

After divorcing Vahine, Nordhoff had three children with his mistress Teuria; they were all sons whom he never legally recognized. In 1940 he left Tahiti, never to return. On June 12, 1941, he married Laura Grainger Whiley in Santa Barbara, California. His creative writing days, however, were over. On April 11, 1947, Nordhoff died of an apparent heart attack. Hall, who happened to be in the States at the time, attended the funeral service in Santa Barbara and wept over the fate of his friends.

OHA (sometimes misspelled Oher or Ohoo) Oha was Titahiti’s companion; both were from the same district in Tubuai and both joined Christian and his men.

On Pitcairn Oha shared Tinafanaea (who may also have been from Tubuai) with Titahiti. When Adams’ consort died within a year of the arrival on the island, the mutineers “gave” Tinafanaea to him. This triggered a conspiracy between the two Tubuaians and Tararo (the Raiatean whose consort had also been “given” away) to kill the mutineers. The women betrayed this plan to the white men who sent out the three Tahitians with muskets and orders to kill the conspirators. Oha and Tararo were killed, Titahiti surrendered. Oha, like the other Polynesian men on Pitcairn, left no children.

OLIVIA American brig from Boston commanded by Captain C. Kendal. It was the Olivia which (in September 1834) brought John Buffett and his family and (in October 1834) George Nobbs and John Evans and their families back to Pitcairn after their having been exiled by the “dictator of Pitcairn,” Joshua Hill.

PETANIA The current Tahitian name for Pitcairn (Petania also means Seventh-day Adventist).

PIPON, Philip Commander of the British frigate Tagus which, together with HMS Briton, under Commander Thomas Staines, was combing the Pacific for the U.S. Frigate Essex which had been attacking British shipping in the area. In the early morning of September 17, 1814, the ships sighted Pitcairn Island.

Folger’s discovery of the last hiding place of the mutineers (see FOLGER, MAYHEW) had been reported to the Admiralty but forgotten as unimportant. The men on the ships were therefore surprised when they saw that the island wa inhabited, because Carteret, who had discovered it in 1767, had said it was uninhabited. Also, they did not at first realize it was Pitcairn they were seeing. When Carteret calculated its position his defictive chronometer caused him to place it almost 200 miles further westward.

Captain Pipon later wrote an article called “The Descendants of the Bounty’s Crew,” in which he described the arrival:

As Pitcairn Island was described as uninhabited, we naturally conjectured this in view could not be the place, particularly when, in bringing to, two or three miles off the shore, we observed the natives bring down their canoes on their shoulders, and shortly after darting through a heavy surf and paddling of to the ships; but our astonishment may be better conceived than described on finding that the inhabitants spoke the English language perfectly well.

Among the “natives” coming out in canoes were Thursday October Christian, almost twenty-four years old now and married to Teraura, and George Young, son of Edward Young and Toofaiti, about seventeen or eighteen years old. Both spoke English well and gave a good impression to the officers and men of the ships. Pipon describes Thursday October as:

. . . about twenty five years of age, a tall fine young man about six feet high, with dark black hair, and a countenance extremely open and interesting. He wore no clothes except a piece of cloth round his loins, a straw hat ornamented with lack cock’s feathers, and occasionally a peacock’s, nearly similar to that worn by the Spaniards in South America, though smaller.

Adams should have been about forty-seven years old at this time. The visit of the warships must have caused him a great deal of anxiety, because the British Navy was not known for showing mercy to mutineers and there was no statute of limitations on mutiny. Indeed, if someone like Bligh or Edwards had been in command of the ships, Adams would have been taken to England for trial and, once there, could not have expected any mercy: the law was the law and mutineers were to be hanged.

Luckily for Adams, both Staines and Pipon were compassionate, cultured, and reasonable men who could immediately see that Adams was important for the community and had accomplished a great deal in raising its children to fine human beings (the fact that most of the credit belonged to the Tahitian mothers escapes Bounty authors to this day). Adams did volunteer to go back to England, but the community showed such sorrow over that possibility, that the commanders of the ships insisted that he stay.

Perhaps to justify this humane decision to an unfeeling Admiralty, Pipon wrote:

. . . had we been inclined even to seize an old Adams, it would have been impossible to have conveyed him on board; again, to get to the boats, we had to climb such precipices as were scarcely accessible to any but goats, and the natives and we had enough to do in holding on by the different boughs and roots of trees, to keep up on our feet. Besides, from the nature of the island, the inhabitants might retire to such haunts as to defy our utmost search; a measure which we would naturally have had recourse to the moment any intention of seizing any of them had been manifested.

It was an important visit, although it lasted only from morning to evening, because from now on Pitcairn “got on the map” (Folger’s discovery had not become widely known). Also, from now on Adams could be reasonably sure that he would not be taken away from the island.

PITCAIRN (vessels) When the Pitcairners had been converted to the Seventh-day Adventist faith in the late 1880s, the church realized that it would need some reliable way to keep contact with the islanders. For this purpose a two-masted schooner was built in Benicia, California, and christened Pitcairn. The vessel was 90 feet long with a beam of 27 feet, in other words, about the size of the Bounty.

On her first voyage to Pitcairn, the schooner carried a crew of eight, commanded by Captain J. M. Marsh of Nova Scotia, and five passengers. (The Bounty had a complement of 46.) She sailed out of San Francisco Bay on October 20, 1890, and arrived at Pitcairn on November 25.

After several voyages to Pitcairn and one to Norfolk Island, among a number of others, the Pitcairn was sold in 1899.

With the help of the British government a cutter, also named Pitcairn, was then purchased for the purpose of developing some trade with Mangareva, 306 miles to the north-west. She was manned entirely by Pitcairners and employed in carrying produce to the Mangarevans who paid for it with money they earned in their pearl fisheries. The venture ended, however, when the Pitcairn foundered in 1904.

Again with the help of the British government, a cutter named John Adams was purchased for £274. She proved unseaworthy, however, and had to be sold – for £60.

The Pitcairners themselves then built a 25-ton schooner in 1919. Named Messenger, she made several trips to Tahiti, but on a return voyage from Mangareva on April 11, 1920, in sight of Pitcairn, she encountered a hurricane and was dismasted. The vessel foundered, but the crew was miraculously saved by the American steamship Sassenach which just happened by. Fred Christian, who had gone out to the Sassenach and taken part in the rescue, said later, “Before we reached Bounty Bay the Messenger had sunk, and good riddance. She was a terrible job, with a heavy nose, and she went just as fast sideways as forrard!”

--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.