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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

PITCAIRNESE Pitcairnese is a language which the Pitcairners use among themselves. It is a mixture of eighteenth-century English and Tahitian, although the Tahitian element is almost unrecognizable, except for the names of plants and fish and a few other words. Harry L. Shapiro describes the probable origin of Pitcairnese in The Heritage of the Bounty (1936):

In many ways the dialect seems as if it had its origin in the efforts of the mutineers to teach the Tahitians the English language. The grammatical breakdown suggests this, as well as the elisions of sound. I find that it is a common tendency for most of us when confronted with a foreigner, who has little English, to shout a horribly debased kind of English, as though bad grammar and a loud voice could render the language intelligible. (Listen to a customer in a Chinese laundry.) But whatever its precise origin, the Pitcairn dialect today consists of mispronounced English and Tahitian words with a spattering of coined words, the whole employed in a degenerate English syntax.

Here are some examples of Pitcairnese:













I kawa

I don’t know


Es stolly

It’s a lie


A little sullun

little child


Bout yawly gwen?

Where are you going?


It’s darking

It’s getting dark


I no ben see-um

I haven’t seen him


I see yawl-ey scows segoin’out ah big ship

I see your boats going out to the big ship

Fut you ally comey diffy and do daffy?

Why do you come and behave that way?

POMARE IV (Aimata) Aimata was born on February 28, 1813, as the “illegitimate” (in the eyes of the missionaries) daughter of Pomare II and his consort Teremoemoe. She was the half-sister of Pomare III.

Aimata was only fourteen years old when her half-brother died and she became Queen Pomare IV in 1827. She was not yet interested in the duties of a monarch; on the contrary, she wanted to do what the missionaries seemed to hate most: sing and dance and have fun. Moreover, she was pretty and flirtatious, happy and cheerful, and she loved sports and games: in other words, she was the incarnation of sin.

To cure her, she was given into the tutelage of George Pritchard, a missionary who had arrived in Tahiti in 1824. She was lucky. Pritchard was not the typical hypocritical do-gooder that described the average missionary; he was a compassionate and perceptive realist who soon learned to understand the Tahitian psyche and, in the process, learned to speak Tahitian fluently. He was also somewhat of a politician and later became the British Consul on the island.

Under the instruction of Pritchard, Queen Pomare developed into a wise and responsible monarch, even though the fact that she never gave up her informal Tahitian levity often made her seem frivolous to the average visitor.

Queen Pomare, only eighteen years old at the time, was very kind to the Pitcairners when they migrated to Tahiti in 1831. She gave them a large piece of land and did everything to make them feel comfortable and at home. It was not her fault that Tahiti at that time was riddled with diseases brought in by the multitude of ships then visiting the island or that, despite the pious efforts of the missionaries, it had become a rather wild and roisterous place with drunk whalers roaming the streets of Papeete and everything being for sale, including women.

Twelve of the Pitcairners died on Tahiti soon after their arrival and five more succumbed later to illnesses contracted there. The Queen, Pritchard, and several European residents and Tahitians, helped the Pitcairners charter a schooner to take them home. The Pitcairners themselves paid for most of the passage with copper fittings they had brought from the Bounty.

POMARE (vessel) The ship which in 1834 carried George Nobbs, John Buffett, and Jack Evans from Tahiti to Pitcairn in order to pick up their families from the island which was then under the distatorial rule of Joshua Hill. The Pomare then took the Nobbs family to Mangareva and the others back to Tahiti.

PUARAI (“Obuarei,” “Opuarei,” “Opuole”) We do not know whether Puarai was kidnapped by Christian and his men or not, but she arrived at Pitcairn as the consort of John Adams who then called himself Alexander Smith.

Within the first year after the arrival, Puarai fell to her death from a precipice while gathering birds or birds eggs. She left no children.

ROCK OF THE WEST A name sometimes used to denote PITCAIRN.

THE ROPE A steep cliff face on the south-east coast of Pitcairn.

SANDILANDS, Alexander A. Captain Sandilands commanded HMS Comet when she escorted the transport barque Lucy Ann which carried the population of Pitcairn to Tahiti in 1831. For his two brief reports of this operation see Robert B. Nicolson, The Pitcairners (1965).

“SARAH” Sarah was a nickname used by the mutineers for both TEVARUA and SULLY, Teio’s daughter. Some sources also claim that Teatuahitea was called Sarah, in which case there must have been a great deal of confusion on Pitcairn: three out of thirteen Polynesian females referred to as Sarah!

HMS SERINGAPATAM On March 15, 1830, the British warship Seringapatam, commanded by Captain the Honourable William Waldegrave, visited Pitcairn. She brought clothing and agricultural tools as gifts from the British government.

Waldegrave wrote a private journal in which he sates: “In the evening we walked to see Christian’s and Adams Graves. They are at some distance from each other – the grave of the former near the spot where he fell, murdered, about one third from the summit of the island; the latter is buried by the side of his Otaheitan wife, at the end of his cottage-garden.”

This is interesting, because the spot where Christian was buried is unknown today. The fact that the grave of the leader of the mutineers could not be pointed out to later visitors has been used to support the theory which holds that Fletcher Christian escaped the island and returned incognito to England.

SHILLIBEER, John Lieutenant of the Royal Marines on board HMS Briton. When the Briton, accompanied by HMS Tagus, visited Pitcairn on September 17, 1814, Shilliber did not go ashore, but he interviewed the young men who came out to the ship. Among them was Thursday October Christian, Fletcher Christian’s first born son, and Shilliber drew a sketch of him, the only one known to exist. Below the sketch he wrote “Friday October Christian.”

The international date line was not officially established until 1883. Nevertheless the Bounty had gained a day by sailing eastward to the Pacific, and Thursday October’s name should therefore have been “Wednesday October!” Someone had miscalculated somehow. “Friday October” soon went back to his given name and also named his third son Thursday October (although we do not know if he was born a Thursday in October).

Shilliber later wrote A Narrative of The Briton’s Voyage, to Pitcairn’s Island (1817) which, unfortunately, is not very reliable when it deals with past events on Pitcairn but is nevertheless interesting in it is description of the visitors on board and their behavior.

SHIP’S LANDING POINT On Pitcairn Island: a sharp pinnacle of rock rising to 700 feet on the east side of Bounty Bay.

SMITH, Alexander See ADAMS, JOHN. John Adams appears as Alexander Smith in the Bounty’s muster book. Why he chose to sail under this alias will probably never be known (some have assumed he did so in order to hide a criminal past). The somewhat delicate question was apparently not raised by any of the sea captains who interviewed him or, if it was, the answer was not recorded.

STAINES, Sir Thomas Commander of the British warship Briton which, together with her consort HMS Tagus, was on a mission to track down the U.S. Frigate Essex, under Commander David Porter, which had been attacking British shipping in the Pacific. In the early morning of September 17, 1814, the two ships sighted Pitcairn Island.

The arrival and some other circumstances are described under the entry PIPON, PHILIP (the commander of the Tagus who wrote an account of the voyage).

Both captains went ashore, getting thoroughly wet in the never-ceasing murderous surf in Brounty Bay, and met John Adams, the last surviving mutineer of the Bounty. Sir Thomas later wrote that Adams’

Exemplary conduct and fatherly care of the whole of the little colony, would not but command admiration. The pious manner in which all those born on the island have been reared, the correct sense of religion which has been instilled into their young minds by this old man [Adams was about 47 at the time!], has given him the pre-eminence over the whole of them, to whom they look up as the father of the whole and one family.

Adams lied to the visiting captains that he had been sick in bed during the mutiny, but they probably saw through this very understandable deception and yet felt that they should not go “by the book” and arrest him and take him to England to be hanged. They told him that he should stay on the island and continue to take care of the community. In their humanity these captains probably represented the best of the officers of the Royal Navy.

The ships spent only one day at the island and sailed in the evening.

ST. KILDA The schooner which brought the second wave of returnees from Norfolk Island to Pitcairn after the second migration of the total population of Pitcairn (see PITCAIRN ISLAND). The St. Kilda sailed from Norfolk on December 18, 1863, and arrived at Pitcairn on February 2, 1864.

On board were four families. Among them was Thursday October Christian II with his wife and nine children and Mrs. Christian’s mother, Elizabeth Young (nee Mills) who was returning to the land of her birth to see her son, Mayhew, who had been named in honor of the re-discoverer of Pitcairn, Captain Mayhew Folger.

The other families were Robert Buffett and his wife; Samuel Warren and his wife (the daughter of Thursday October II); and Simon Young and his family.

Samuel Warren was a sailor from Providence, Rhode Island, who had jumped a whaler and joined the colony at Norfolk. The descendants still lived on Pitcairn in 1989: in December 1987 there were twelve Warrens on the island (one forth of the total population).

The return of these families, in addition to the sixteen Pitcairners who returned earlier in the Mary Ann, guaranteed the survival of the Pitcairn community.

“SULLY” (“Sarah”) Sully was the daughter of Teio and a Tahitian man. We do not know her real name, nor the name of her father. She was only ten months old on arrival at Pitcairn, the only child on board. Island lore has it that she was ferried ashore from the Bounty in a barrel.

Sully grew up to marry Fletcher Christian’s second son, Charles, in 1810. She bore him eight children: Fletcher, Edward, Charles Jr., Isaac, Sarah, Maria, Mary and Margaret.

On March 7, 1826, before reaching her thirty-seventh birthday, Sully died of an unknown causes, leaving Charles with four sons and four daughters ranging in age from about fifteen to a little over a year old.

SULTAN American whaler from Boston commanded by a Captain Reynolds. The Sultan, as far as can be determined, was the fourth ship to touch at Pitcairn. She arrived sometime in 1817 and the captain traded some iron bars and stores for copper bolts which had been recovered from the Bounty. When she left, Teehuteatuaonoa (“Jenny”) was on board. Via Chile and the Marquesas she returned to Tahiti, the first of the original settlers to leave the island and the only one who never returned.

HMS SWALLOW The 14-gun sloop with a complement of ninety in which Captain Philip Carteret sailed around the world, discovering Pitcairn in the process. The Swallow was old, having been in service many years, and was not fit for a long voyage. She sailed so poorly that Bougainville, when he overtook her in the Boudeuse on February 26, 1769, remarked, “His (Carteret’s) ship was very small, went very ill, and when we took leave of him, he remained as if it were at anchor. How much he must have suffered in so bad a vessel, may well be conceived.”

HMS TAGUS British warship commanded by Captain Philip Pipon and accompanying HMS Briton on a mission to track down the U.S. frigate Essex, under Commander David Porter, which had been attacking British shipping in the Pacific. In the early morning of September 17, 1814, the two ships sighted Pitcairn Island. After establishing contact with the inhabitants they left the same evening. Captain Pipon later wrote a narrative of the voyage.

See the entries for PIPON and SHILLIBEER (lieutenant on the Briton).

TARARO (Talalo, “Talaloo,” “Tullaloo”) Tararo was from Raiatea; some sources claim he was a chief. He had been in Tahiti when Christian sailed and he decided to join.

On Pitcairn, he was the only Polynesian who had a consort of his own, Toofaiti who was also from the Leeward Islands. But when Williams’ consort died within a year of the arrival on the island, the mutineers decided to “give” Toofaiti to him, which of course enraged Tararo. The consort shared by the Tubuaians Titahiti and Oha had also been “given” away, and the three Polynesians now hatched a plan to kill the mutineers. They made the mistake of confiding their scheme to some of the women, however, who informed the mutineers about the conspiracy. The latter sent the three Tahitians on the island, armed with muskets, to kill the conspirators. Tararo was the first one killed (Oha was next, and Titahiti surrendered). The place where Tararo was murdered is still called Talaloo’s Ridge. Tararo, like the other Polynesian men on Pitcairn, left no children.

TAURUA Nordhoff’s and Hall’s name for Edward Young’s consort TERAURA.

TEATUAHITEA (“Sarah”) Teatuahitea may or may not have been kidnapped by the mutineers when they left Tahiti for the last time. She arrived at Pitcairn as the consort of William Brown, the gardener on the Bounty.

After Brown was killed on Massacre Day, September 20, 1793, Teathuahitea moved in with Teio in the McCoy household. She died of “the dropsy” sometime between the visit of the Topaz (1808) and the Briton and the Tagus (1814). She left no children.

TEEHUTEATUAONOA (“Jenny”) Before 1956, our knowledge of what happened with Christian and his companions after they left Tahiti for the last time was based primarily on the accounts of sea captains who had visited Pitcairn and interviewed the last surviving mutineer, John Adams. For some inscrutable reason, no one seems to have interviewed the surviving women who, after all, spoke a passable English. It is possible, of course, that Adams did not want the women to be interviewed; he wanted to present what happened in such a way that he did not endanger himself.

Adams, then, told different and conflicting stories to his interviewers who themselves may not have been very careful in their notetaking. We had no check on Adams’ stories until 1956 when Professor Henry E. Maude discovered two newspaper articles based on interviews with Teehuteatuaonoa, the first of the settlers – and the only one of the original settlers – to leave Pitcairn permanently.

The first article was by an anonymous author and appeared in the Sydney Gazette July 17, 1819. The second article was based on an account dictated to Reverend Henry Nott in the presence of Captain Peter Dillon who had it published in the Bengal Hurkaru of October 2, 1826. Teehuteatuaonoa had also been interviewed by Otto von Kotzebue in March 1824.

Teehuteatuaonoa’s accounts are more reliable than those Adams gave, if for no other reason than that she had nothing to hide. She seems to have been a very intelligent woman and a leader of the women on Pitcairn.

Teehuteatuaonoa was originally the consort of Adams and followed him to Tubuai. In fact, her left arm was tattooed “AS 1789,” AS standing for Alexander Smith, the alias of John Adams. On arrival at Pitcarn, however, she was the consort of Isaac Martin and stayed with him until his death on Massacre Day, September 20, 1793. She was very unhappy on the island, perhaps because she had no children, and she left it in 1817 on the whaler Sultan in order to go back to her native Tahiti.

We do not know whether Teehuteatuaonoa was still living when the population of Pitcairn briefly emigrated to Tahiti in 1831. Perhaps not, because von Kotzebue indicated that she was homesick for Pitcairn and, if so, she could have gone “home” with the others.

[See also "Jenny" interview.]

TEIMUA (“Teirnua,” “Temua”) Teimua was one of the three Tahitian men who accompanied Christian and the other mutineers to Pitcairn (there were also two Tubuaian men and one man from Raiatea on the Bounty).

With the other two Tahitians and a few mutineers, Teimua joined Christian in the exploratory shore party when Pitcairn was first sighted.

Teimua had to share Mareva with the other two Tahitians. When the Tubuaians and the Raiatean conspired to kill the mutineers at the end of the first year, he participated in the murders of two of the conspirators.

On Massacre Day, September 20, 1793, it was Teimua who tried to save Brown’s life by shooting at him only with a powder charge and telling him to play dead (Brown moved too soon and was beaten to death by Manarii). Sometime afterwards he was sitting with Teraura, accompanying her singing on his nose flute, when he was shot to death by Manarii who was probably jealous.

As was the case with all the Polynesian ment on Pitcairn, Teimua left no progeny.

--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.