Island lies 107 miles east-north-east of Pitcairn (nearly 200 miles west-north-west
of Ducie) at 24 degrees 22 minutes South, 128 degrees 20 minutes West. It is a
flat limestone island about 100 feet high, five miles long, north to south, and
two and three quarters miles wide, and is roughly rectangular in shape. It was
discovered in 1819 by Captain James Henderson in the merchant ship Hercules.
Shortly afterwards the island was sighted by Captain Henry King in the English
whaler Elizabeth who named it after his ship. It was still known as Elizabeth
Island to the Pitcairners when they first visited it in 1851.
is six times larger than Pitcairn, it is uninhabited. One reason is, of course,
its isolation--Pitcairn might also be uninhabited today if it had not been for
the mutiny on the Bounty. The main problem with living on Henderson, however,
would be the difficulty in finding good fresh water (brackish water can be found
in clefts and pools). The island is densely wooded and so thickly interlaced with
shrubs that walking is not only difficult but dangerous, since the vegetation
conceals the cavities in the coral. Professor Harold St. John, who explored the
island botanically some years ago, reported that a false step could mean plunging
into a jagged limestone crevasse to sudden death.
was nevertheless populated by Polynesians, possibly for generations, between approximately
1250 and 1425 A.D. In 1971, Professor Yosihiko Sinoto of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop
Museum in Honolulu discovered small shelter caves in the base of a limestone cliff
with evidence of human occupation.
The last human inhabitant on Henderson
was Robert Tomarchin, an American eccentric, who in 1957 spent three weeks on
the island with his chimpanzee, Moko. (See 'The Tomarchin-Moko
Story.') In the early 1980's another American, millionaire Smiley Ratcliff,
offered to buy the island and build an airstrip on it. He was turned down by the
British government in 1983.
The Pitcairners visit Henderson from time to
time in order to gather miro wood for their carvings. However, the voyage against
the trade winds is difficult, and the Pitcairners deeply appreciate it when a
visiting vessel will take on board their longboats and transport them to Henderson
(coming back--with the trade winds--is, of course, not difficult). the first such
boat voyage recorded in the Pitcairn Island Register was undertaken on
November 11, 1851, with the assistance of a ship named Sharon. Added to
the entry in the Register is the following comment: "Eight human skeletons
were found upon the island, lying in the caves. They are doubtless the remains
of some unfortunate ship-wrecked seamen, as several pieces of wreck were found
upon the shore." (See 'The Henderson Island
Captain Irving Johnson, who visited Pitcairn seven
times in his voyages around the world in the schooler (later the brigantine),
Yankee, made a special point of taking the islanders to Henderson.
Tomarchin-Moko Story] [The Henderson
--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.
Other islands of the Pitcairn Group: Pitcairn, Ducie, Oeno.