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Pitcairn Sea Tales -- 2

"The ship's cargo was discovered to be on fire"

-- from Pitcairn - Port of Call, by Herbert Ford

J. Hardie and Company’s four-masted steel bark Pyrennes of Glasgow, Scotland, 2,234 tons, with Captain Robert Bryce in command arrives at Pitcairn Island. The ship, a fire burning in her hold, stands in toward the Island. The date was December 1, 1900.

Pitcairn’s President James Russell McCoy, recounts the frightening condition of the ship:

“The ship’s cargo was discovered to be on fire 15 days previous to her arrival at Pitcairn. The captain’s intention was to run the ship onto a beach at Pitcairn if possible in order to save the crew. Since Pitcairn has no beaches, and because there were strong, contrary winds and heavy seas onshore I was not able to carry out the captain’s plans. I advised that the ship be taken to Mangareva, Gambier Islands, and beached there.

“At first the ship’s crew refused to go along with my plan, knowing of the great risk, and that the fie might break through the deck at any moment. But when the captain asked if I would pilot the ship to Mangareva I gave my consent. When the crew saw that I would risking my life for their sake they decided they were willing to come along.

“It was after dark when I landed back on Pitcairn in the longboat from the ship. A public meeting was called at the school room, and I told my people of my intention to pilot the ship to Mangareva if they would consent to my leaving. I told them it might be a few weeks or perhaps for a few months before I could find a ship to bring me home. After an hour’s talking and advising the people, and reminding them of the time when they had shipwrecked men on the island and of the trouble made by them at that time, I asked that all who were willing for me to leave the island for humanity’s sake should raise their right hand. The majority wee in favor of my going.

“I told the people I was not taking my life into my own hands as some might suppose; neither did I consider the strong fire that would be burning underneath me every day and night as we voyaged, because I knew that the strong ‘everlasting arms’ would be underneath me. Jesus left His father’s throne in His bright home above for humanity’s sake, why not we?

“There was no sleep in Pitcairn that night. While I was attending to family affairs, the women were cooking food for the distressed ship’s company, the men were gathering potatoes, fowls, bananas, pumpkins, etc., and at 6 a.m., I bad farewell to home and people. We sailed with a strong and fair wind for Mangareva, a distance of some 300 miles.

“On Sunday morning, after 28 hours at sea, we could not get the chains from the hold of the burning ship to anchor her, so we ran her onto the beach under Mangareva’s Mt. Duff and saved ourselves, our personal effects and a few stores. Two days later the fire broke out from the hold of the ship and she was suddenly all in flames, and continued to be so until her cargo of wheat and barley had burned up.”

Taken in by the Mangarevans after his dramatic arrival, McCoy would later write that he was seeking passage back to his Pitcairn home: “If I cannot get a vessel here or in Tahiti to take me back to Pitcairn, I will have go to San Francisco and take a merchant ship, as I did once before, and risk making a long voyage before being on my way home again.”

Still later, the world-famous novelist Jack London would chance upon McCoy’s exploit and write a novelization of it in “The Seed of McCoy,.” one of a group of stories in his book South Sea Tales.

The Pyrennes was salvaged in 1905 by Captains J. E. Thayer and Porter, renamed the Manga Reva and returned to sea service under charter to the Sugar Factors Company of Honolulu.

On October 4, 1914, while sailing for the Californian Atlantic Steamship Company, with Captain T. E. Willett as master, the ship calls again at Pitcairn Island, from San Francisco bound for Falmouth, England. Captain Willett is in command in place of H. C. Townsend, the ship’s regular captain who was in Philadelphia for the trial of his crew which had mutined in the autumn of 1913. The ship had gone to sea from the Delaware River on October 12, 1913. On October 25 the crew mutinied, and ordered Captain Townsend to navigate the ship to Bermuda. When he refused, they permitted him to return the ship back to the Delaware breakwater. At trial the seven ringleaders of the mutiny received prison terms of up to three and a half years for leading the mutiny.

In 1917 the Manga Reva was reported missing on a passage from London to Hampton Roads, Virginia. The U.S. government declared that the ship had been sunk by a German submarine.