Important Pitcairn Events
July 1767 First known European sighting of Pitcairn Island is made by Robert Pitcairn, a midshipman on HMS Swallow. Captain Philip Cartaret, the ships commander, names it Pitcairns Island honoring the one who first sighted it.
December 1787 HMAV Bounty, under the command of William Bligh, sails from Spithead in England. Her mission is to collect breadfruit from Tahiti to be taken to the West Indies to feed slaves on plantations there.
March 1788 Fletcher Christian, masters mate of the Bounty, is promoted to acting Second Lieutenant.
October 26, 1788 HMAV Bounty arrives at Tahiti. It will be at the island for 5 ½ months.
April 28, 1789 Under Fletcher Christians leadership, many of the Bountys sailors mutiny and cast Captain Bligh with 18 sailors loyal to him adrift in the ships cutter.
May 1789 The Bounty, with the mutineers sailing her, arrives at Tubuai, but leaves after just three days at the island.
June 6, 1789 Returning to Tahiti, the Bounty takes aboard a number of Polynesian men, women, and a baby. Livestock is also put aboard.
June 23, 1789 With its mutineer crew and Polynesians aboard, the Bounty returns to Tubuai.
September 22, 1789 The Bounty returns to Tahiti again. A decision is made to search for a safe hiding place. A total of 16 of the mutineers decide to take their chances at safety at Tahiti. Nine others, along with six Polynesian men, 12 women, and a baby girl set sail to seek a safe haven.
January 1790 Pitcairn Island is sighted. After inspection of the island by Christian it is decided to settle there. A factor in the decision is that the island has been misplaced on Admiralty maps and would thus be hard to find.
January 23, 1790 Whether by plan or by accident, HMAV Bounty is set afire. The unburned portion of the ship sinks in what is now called Bounty Bay.
1790 Two of the Polynesian men brought to the island - Puarei and Tinafanaea -die. Two others - Oha and Tararo - are murdered.
September 1793 In one day four of the mutineers - Fletcher Christian, John Mills, Isaac Martin, John Williams - are killed by Polynesian men.
1798 Drunk on a locally distilled brew, mutineer William McCoy commits suicide.
1799 Mutineers Edward Young and John Adams, believing their lives are in danger from the man, kill mutineer Matthew Quintal.
December 1800 When Edward Young dies on Christmas Day, John Adams becomes the last of the mutineers alive on Pitcairn Island.
February 6, 1808 Pitcairn is re-discovered along with the mutineers presence on the island by Captain Mayhew Folger of the American sealing ship Topaz.
September 17, 1814 HMS Briton and HMS Tagus unexpectedly call at Pitcairn. Captains of the ships correct the calendar error made when the Bounty crossed the international date line.
March 5, 1829 John Adams, last of the mutineers on Pitcairn, dies. He is 65 years old. His wife, Teio (Mary) follows him in death nine days later.
March 1831 The people of Pitcairn move to Tahiti for resettlement. Disease strikes quickly with death felling 12 of the Pitcairners, including Fletchers eldest son, Thursday October Christian. The people decide to return to their Pitcairn home.
September 3, 1831 The 65 Pitcairners arrive at their island home on the American ship Charles Doggett, Captain William Driver. On his ship flies the U.S. Stars and Stripes flag to which Driver gives the name Old Glory, a title that will be adopted nationally in America.
June 1856 The Pitcairners - all 193 of them immigrate to Norfolk Island - in the ship Morayshire. A baby is born during the voyage.
1859 Homesick for Pitcairn, 16 of the Pitcairners are brought back to the island in the Mary Ann.
1864 Four more families return to Pitcairn from Norfolk.
1886 After learning the tenets of the faith, most of the Pitcairn people embrace the Seventh-day Adventist faith, setting aside the Church of England faith they had embraced from earlier times.
1890 The missionary schooner Pitcairn, with Adventist missionaries who would carry their faith to many islands of the Pacific aboard. Most of the adults on Pitcairn are baptized, formally making them members of the Adventist faith.
1914 Pitcairn becomes a stopping point on the direct Panama to New Zealand shipping route when the Panama Canal opens.
1940 The first issue of Pitcairn Islands stamps. Income from the world-wide sale of these popular postal adhesives will begin to fund operations and provide subsidies for Pitcairn and her people.
1957 An anchor of HMAV Bounty is raised from Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island.
January 1990 Celebrations marking the bicentennial of the settlement of Pitcairn are held.
January 8, 1999 What could be the last of the few cannons that were aboard HMAV Bounty is raised from the wreck site.
--Adapted from Guide to Pitcairn, available for purchase through the Study Center.
History of Pitcairn Island
Part One: The First Ten Years (1790-1800)
Pitcairn Islands are situated lat. 25Deg. 04 minS Lon. 30deg. 05'W (for you boatie
buffs). They are about 4,800 Km. from New Zealand lying towards South America.
first inhabitants to settle the Islands were Polynesians of unknown origin. Someone
reckoned from Mangareva some 490 km to the NW. The evidence are rock carvings,
found by the early European settlers. The carvings are made up of roughly hewn
stone gods, humans, animals, birds, starfish, and several objects that look like
wheels with spokes. These could represent islands or moon and stars. There has
been found mizens, earth ovens, and burial sites with human remains.
main Island was named after the son of a marine, Major Pitcairn, on board Capt.
Carteret's vessel HMS Swallow, who was the first to sight the island in 1767.
The original name given was Pitcairn's Island. Never the less Capt. Carteret did
not put a landing party on the island due to bad weather conditions. Capt Cook
went looking for these islands. But his expedition was thwarted by some of his
men going down with scurvy. A pity he did not land, he may have been able to supply
his men with fresh fruit and greens.
It was the mutineers of the Bounty
that finally settled the island with their Tahitian companions on 15 January 1790,
after two months sailing around the Cooks, Tonga, and the eastern islands of Fiji
looking for a home. Fletcher Christian remembered the existence of Pitcairn Islands
and set sail for them. After landing on the island Christian returned to the ship
to tell his companions that there were coconuts and breadfruit to be had. They
had found an ideal home. It was lonely and it was warm. There was plenty to eat.
With pigs, chickens, yams and sweet potatoes from the ship's stores. The ship
was stripped of all it's removables. To remain invisible from any passing vessel
looking for them they ran the Bounty ashore and set her alight burning it to the
water line. It sank in what is now known as Bounty Bay. The community remained
undetected for many years.
Of the other mutineers, Midshipman Edward Young
who was well connected and devoted to Christian, whom he succeeded as leader;
"reckless Jack" Adams, later to become patriarch of Pitcairn, was a
cockney orphan; Mills, Brown, Martin and Williams were killed within four years
of arrival; and of the other two, the Scotsman William McCoy and the Cornishman
Matthew Quintal little good can be said, except that they were neither better
nor worse than the average seamen of the times.
The Tahitians were treated
poorly. This led to them revolting, killing some of the mutineers. They themselves
were killed. Leaving in 1794 only Young, Adams, Quintal and McCoy, leading households
of ten women and their children.
The next four years were peaceful except
for occasional outbreaks by women. It was not an happy time for the womenfolk.
Some tried to leave the island but were prevented by the men. As Young recorded
in his diary, "building houses, fencing in and cultivating their grounds
and catching birds and constructing pits for the purpose of entrapping hogs, which
had become very numerous and wild, as well as injurious to the yam crops",
kept the settlers busy. Gradually the men and women grew reconciled to their lives
and each other, all might have remained harmonious had not McCoy who had once
worked in a distillery, discovered how to brew a potent spirit from the roots
of the ti plant (Cordyline terminalis). By 1799, Quintal had been killed by Young
and Adams in self defence and McCoy had drowned himself. Then in 1800, Young died
of asthma, leaving John Adams as the sole male survivor of the party that landed
just ten years earlier.
Part Two: The End to Isolation (1800-1830)
the year 1800 as leader of the community of ten Polynesian women and twenty three
children, the former able seaman, John Adams, showed himself to be a capable,
kind and honest as he had formerly been loyal and helpful to Christian and Young.
Adams could barely read and write, but was a gentle man who humbly discharged
his responsibilities for the community. He was revered and all took pleasure in
following his example, which he patterned on virtue and piety and regulated by
the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, on Sunday services, family prayers
and grace before and after every meal. Adams saw to it that every young person
cultivated the land, cared for the stock and were not allowed to marry until they
could support a family.
The end of isolation came in 1808 with the arrival
of an American sealing captain, Captain Mayhew Folger, His visit was brief and
his report aroused little interest in England at that time. England was too occupied
by the Napoleonic wars.
It was six more years before the little community
was rediscovered by two British Navy vessels the HMS Briton and Targus, on 17th
September 1814. The commanders were charmed by the physique, simplicity and piety
of the islanders. Favourably impressed by Adams and the example he set, they agreed
that it would be "an act of great cruelty and inhumanity" to arrest
him, and so began the long association between Pitcairn and the British Navy which
was to influence the development over the next century.
were made by passing ships sailing from Australia, India to south America, or
to England via the Horn. The reports brought back stimulated much interest, not
least the English Missionary Society, and gifts of bibles, prayer books and spelling
books were sent to the island, as well as crockery, razors, tools and guns.
every visiting ship made generous gifts and bartered surplus stores and provisions,
and it was at this time that the orange was introduced; that the houses were improved
with aid of saws and planes; and clothes and living became more European in character.
he grew old, Adams worried about the future of his flock but appeals to the British
government and missions for a successor to lead and educate them were not met,
and it was to voluntary exiles that succession fell.
The first was John
Buffett, a shipwright from Bristol (UK) who landed on the island with John Evans
a Welshman, in 1823. Both married island girls and founded families. Buffett taught
the children and took over the church services.
The population had increased
to 66 from the 35 of 17 years earlier. Adams concerned that the land was not yielding
as much and the timber was running out, and was concerned the water supply would
not be adequate for a growing population, sought removal of the population to
Meantime, in 1828, another settler arrived. George Nobbs, alleged
to be the illegitimate son of a marquis, as well educated and had served both
in the British and Chilean Navies. He had a strong character and soon ousted Buffet
from the role of schoolteacher and pastor. Then, on 5th March 1829, John Adams,
venerable and corpulent, died at the age of 62. The dramatic regeneration was
virtually Adams work alone, and he was mourned as "Father", the name
by which he had been known to every member of the community.
The Moves to Tahiti & Norfolk (1830-1856)
Meanwhile Adams's request
for emigration was being sympathetically supported in London and, although later
naval reports discounted his fears, it was decided to re-establish the islanders
in Tahiti, It was not a popular move with some of the islanders but never the
less all set sail on Admiralty vessels in March 1831.
The Pitcairners did
not feel at home on Tahiti. The Tahitians moral standards were not their standards,
sexually, then they were more European than Polynesian in their ways and dress.
They longed to return to their own habits in their own island, all the more so
when infectious diseases, to which they had little immunity, began to kill them.
The first to die was Fletcher Christian's son Thursday October Christian, the
first child born on Pitcairn. His death was followed by the youngest member of
the community Lusy Anne Quintal; and during the next two months there were ten
more deaths and only one birth. This heavy toll of deaths more than the general
unhappiness, moved everyone on Tahiti to pity for their plight. A number of attempts
to return them to Pitcairn failed for one reason or another, until Captain William
Driver of the Salem whaler 'Charles Doggett' arrived at Papeete and offered to
take them back to Pitcairn for a total of $500. This sum was raised by donations
from Tahitian and the selling by the islanders of their blankets and other necessaries,
so anxious were they to get back to their island. Captain Driver sailed from Papeete
on 14 August 1831 with the remaining 65 islanders to arrive on 3 September.
the little community had lost some of its innocence. It was leaderless too, for
Nobbs had not been accepted as Adams successor, and they could not agree on a
local head. there was a period of anarchy and drunkenness but the vacuum was soon
to be filled. In October 1832 a puritanical busybody, by the name of Joshua Hill
arrived on the island claiming to have been sent by the British Government. He
was welcomed and, supplanted Nobbs as pastor and teacher, at once appointed himself
as President of the Commonwealth of Pitcairn.
Hill abolished distilling
of liquor but he also introduced arbitrary imprisonment and other severe punishments
for the smallest misdeeds. He secured the expulsion of Nobbs and other "lousy
foreigners" who form an intimidated opposition, but their departure caused
a reaction and his power gradually declined until, 1838, his claim to represent
the British Government was exposed and he was forcibly removed from the island.
Nobbs returned from 'exile' and by a general vote was reinstated as pastor and
teacher. One has only to read Hill's literary effusions to surmise that he was
probably mentally unstable throughout his six years on Pitcairn.
on from Hills dictatorship and increasing visits of American whalers lead the
islanders to recognise the need for protection, and they prevailed upon Captain
Elliott of the HMS Fly to draw up a brief constitution and a code of laws selected
from those already in force. A Magistrate (native born) was to be elected annually
"by the free votes of every native born on the island, male or female, who
shall have attained the age of eighteen years, or of persons who shall have resided
five years on the island". He was to be assisted by two councillors, one
elected and one appointed by himself. Not only was it the first time female suffrage
was written into a British constitution but it also incorporated compulsory schooling
for the first time in any British legislation.
Whatever the precise legal
significance of Capt. Elliott's action the Pitcairn Islanders date there formal
incorporation into the British Empire from 30 November 1838.
The years 1838-1848
were peaceful ones. Except in 1845 the worst storm in the islanders memory did
immeasurable damage to the islands vegetation and boats, the land slides into
the coastal waters frighten most of the fish away. Periodic epidemics of influenza,
accidents recorded in place names such as "Where-Tom-Off"; and birth,
marriages and deaths alone disturbed the placid life.
The population topped
over the hundred mark; Nobbs was firmly in control; and Buffett taught the young
men navigation, carpentry, how to fashion curios of the type still sold today
from local woods. Adapting themselves to the needs of the visiting seafarers the
islanders became skilled market gardeners, producing potatoes, yams, coconuts,
oranges, limes and chickens, for which they accepted in return clothing, tools
and money. And largely because they sold their produce for fixed prices, they
acquired a reputation for strict honesty.
By 1850 the islanders numbered
156 and were increasing rapidly. The question of moving the entire population
to another island was being mooted. This time the islanders were insisting on
an uninhabited island. In 1856 the majority of islanders decided to move with
British government help to Norfolk Island, which had become vacant a little earlier
when the penal settlement had been withdrawn. It was larger than Pitcairn, and
after sixty years of convict labour it had large areas of cultivation, roads,
houses and was well stocked with domestic animals. So in 1856 when the HMS Morayshire
arrived all 194 islanders boarded her.
Part Four: Return to Pitcairn &
Religious Conversion (1856-1864)
Not all the community now on Norfolk Island
were happy. Many of the islanders were homesick and pined for their old home,
they wanted nothing more than to return. By this time no matter who was appointed
chief magistrate the real leader was George Nobbs, who had been ordained priest
in the Church of England in 1884. In spite of his earlier failings he had won
great affection for his long selfless service to his adopted home. Had he opposed
the migration few would have left Pitcairn. But even he could not over come the
Late in 1858 an opportunity arose when the Mary Ann, en route
to Tahiti, offered passages, and 16 of the islanders led by Moses and Mayhew Young
boarded her. Characteristically, those who stayed behind voted to pay the costs
of the journey from communal funds.
The return to Pitcairn stopped the French,
who thought the island abandoned, from annexing their home.
In 1864 a further
four families returned to Pitcairn lead by Simon Young who, with Nobbs' final
blessing was to become the community's new leader. It was a different Pitcairn
now 43 people and only five families - the Youngs, Christians, McCoys, Buffetts
and the American Warrens. And of these, the male lines of the McCoys and Buffetts
were to die out.
This third wave of settlers knew how to make the best of
their resources, but they were worse off than the original mutineers having no
sail cloth to make cloths for instance, no means of lighting their homes other
than by candlenut. What was more there were far fewer ships calling for them to
exchange goods. The peak period of whaling in those latitudes was past and, of
these there were only about a dozen.
The occasional vessel that did stop
was likely to be a steamer carrying passengers. The islanders therefore put Buffett's
lessons into practice and made curios selling them in place of food they sold
to the whaling crews. Their limited resources were fortunately supplemented by
a succession of shipwrecks which brought them a new 'bounty' from the outside
world. The kindly community fed and clothed the shipwrecked sailors who, after
they returned home, rewarded their rescuers with gifts of crockery, clothes, flour,
books and even an organ.
Renewed visits from the Royal Navy in the Pacific
revived interest in the children of the mutineers of the 'Bounty'. Queen Victoria
sent another organ as a personal gift in appreciation of the islanders' "domestic
Part Five: Toward Modern Pitcairn (1864-1940)
settlers in 1882 brought trouble with their new ways and ideas. One incident was
when one fell in love with a girl who was already engaged to a Christian. Strong
passions were aroused and the commander of the visiting HMS Sappho was induced
to approve a law forbidding strangers to settle on Pitcairn. The law was later
amended but only to permit settlement by those whose presence was considered of
benefit to the island.
A change of religion; 1887. With the passing years
and no strong leader, reports of social deterioration grew. Simon Young, loved
and respected, and his gentle and talented daughter Rosalind, were too humble
and tolerant of frailty to impose their will, and family factions inhibited cohesion.
the days of John Adams, the islanders had been staunch adherents of the Church
of England. They read and studied the Bible, which was for many of them their
only reading matter, and its texts were truth. Not unnaturally, therefore, they
read with increasing interest the contents of a box of Seventh Day Adventist literature
sent to them from the United States in 1876. And when a missionary arrived ten
years later he was allowed, by unanimous vote, to stay and argue his case.
result was recorded in Mary McCoy's diary in March 1887. "The forms and prayers
of the Church of England laid aside. During the past week meetings were held to
organize our church services on Sabbath". So Saturday again became the day
of rest as it had been until 1814 when Fletcher Christian's omission to correct
the date was rectified.
Conversion was greeted with great pleasure by the
Seventh-day Adventists in America and in 1890 they raised funds to send a missionary
ship to Pitcairn. The islanders were baptised in one of the rocky pools by the
shore. But few other changes were needed; all were already total abstainers, most
were vegetarians, except for occasional meals of goat, which is not forbidden
by the Adventists. discipline; pork is not allowed.
in 1893. The missionaries relieved the ageing Simon Young in the school and, energetically
introduced history, grammar, cooking and nursing; began a newspaper and a kindergarten;
and opened a public park. The islanders began to question their social inertia
and, putting it down to weakness in their leaders, asked Captain Rooke of HMS
Champion to reorganize their system of government. An elected Parliament of seven
was introduced and, for the only time in the history of Pitcairn was executive
and judicial functions separated. The legal code was also revised to create penalties
for, amongst other things, adultery, wife beating, cruelty and "Peeping Toms";
and the system of public work of pre-migration days was restored. Society was
a long way from the simple order of John Adams!
But the reports of the naval
officers who visited Pitcairn towards to end of the nineteenth century still continued
to reveal how society had deteriorated since the return from Norfolk Island. There
was lawlessness and a lack of unity and purpose; and, in 1897 murder. That the
community did not deteriorate still further was due largely to the influence of
James Russell McCoy, a great grandson of the mutineer.
In 1870, at the age
of 25, McCoy had been elected Magistrate and during the next 37 years he was executive
no less than 22 times.
A native of Pitcairn McCoy had spent some time in
London and Liverpool and, autocratic though he was, he was also, in a real sense,
a link between the old Pitcairn and new. By the turn of the century he had restored
purpose to the community by enforcing the recently revived laws of public work;
and his personal courage and example, which won him respect if not popularity,
secured improvements until he began to spend much time overseas on missionary
In 1904 R.T.Simons, the British Consul at Tahiti, paid his first visit
to Pitcairn and found the parliamentary system too cumbersome for such a small
community. He reintroduced the time-honoured post of Chief Magistrate and two
committees to take charge of internal and external, that is marine, affairs. All
the posts were made subject to election and an additional office of Secretary-Treasurer
was created. What was more, the days of representation without taxation were ended;
an annual licence fee for the possession of firearms was introduced which, until
1968 when motor vehicle licences were introduced, was for so long Pitcairn's only
The twentieth century brought the end of European rivalry in the Pacific
and naval visits gradually diminished. Fortunately the mission ship Pitcairn,
and her successors maintained contact with Tahiti and merchantmen again began
to call with increasing frequency, until 1914, the opening of the Panama Canal
placed Pitcairn on the direct run to New Zealand. Many of the new visitors were
liners carrying hundreds of passengers anxious to have mementoes of the island,
halfway rock on the longest regular service in the world. A ship a week, and Pitcairn's
isolation was over.
The pattern of life changed, inevitably. More and more
men developed an urge to see the world, which money and the visiting ships made
possible, and communications grew up in Wellington and Auckland from which some
moved to Australia. But even so, the public economy of Pitcairn languished and
it was not until postage stamps were issued in 1940 and philatelists came to the
rescue, That "shanty town" became the Adamstown of today.
Horace A. Basham - email@example.com
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