6 Nov 2014

6 Nov 14 - The History Of Pitcairn Island

I generally try to keep the Blog to wildlife themes, but I think Pitcairn Island is too interesting to not dwell on its history in this Post. The island was first visited by Polynesians and there are still carvings on rocks in various parts of the island of this original occupation. However, the Polynesians did not settle for good. The original European settlers on Pitcairn arrived following the infamous mutiny on the British ship, HMAS Bounty.
The Bounty: Pitcairn stamps now form an important part of the economy of the island & are well designed
The Bounty was tasked by the Royal Navy to visit Tahiti, collect Breadfruit plants & transporting them to the West Indies. After leaving Tahiti, some of the crew led by Fletcher Christian mutinied in April 1789. The result was that the ship's captain Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 of his crew were set free in a long boat. Amazingly, Bligh managed to navigate the longboat over 3600 nautical miles to the nearest European settlement in Timor. At the same time, the mutineers returned to Tahiti, where they temporarily settled down on the island of Tubuai for a few months. However, there were concerns that the Royal Navy would eventually send a ship to look for & hang them for the mutiny. This, along with fighting with the Polynesians living on Tubuai, eventually led ringleader Fletcher Cristian & 8 of the crew to sail to look for an uninhabited island to settle. They also took 6 Polynesian men (as slaves), 12 Polynesian women & 1 baby. They knew about the uninhabited Pitcairn, but were unable to find it at its known location. But after further searching they eventually found the island in 1790 & confirmed that the longitude shown on their map was incorrect: something that would also make it harder for other ships to also find them. Once ashore, they established a basic settlement, now known as Adamstown and removed anything from the Bounty that would be useful. The Bounty was then burnt and sunk, so as to not reveal their presence.
A model of the landing is now in the Pitcairn museum
Over the next few years, the majority of the men died on the island. Firstly, two of the Polynesian men were killed for planning to murder the sailors. Then in 1793, the remaining four Polynesian men succeeded in killing five of the sailors, including Fletcher Christian, before they were killed. This left four sailors, most of the women and a number of children. A few years later, one killed himself whilst drunk & another was killed the following year whilst drunkenly threatening the remaining two sailors. This left Edward Young & John Adams as the only men on the island. The educated Young taught Adams to read & write from the ship's bible, before his death from asthma in 1800. Adams led the community, ensured the land was being cultivated by the remaining Polynesian women. In 1808, Pitcairn was visited by a whaling ship, the Topaz, but this news was largely ignored in the UK. In 1814, two ships, Briton & Tagus, visited Pitcairn & found the community was doing well under the leadership of Adams. This time, news of the Pitcairn community received more interest & a number of ships visited over the new few years. The most significant visit from was the British whaler, the Cyrus. This led to two of the crew, John Buffett & John Evans, settling on the island as the first non Bounty, non Polynesian settlers. This was followed another settler, George Nobbs, who arrived in 1828. The following year, saw the death of John Adams (aged 65).
John Adams's grave: The only known grave of the original mutineers. His wife Teio & one of his daughters, Hannah, are buried alongside him
John Adams
In 1831, all the islanders were persuaded by the Royal Navy in 1831 to leave Pitcairn for Tahiti. However, this didn't succeed & following illness, 65 of them returned to their old life on Pitcairn, later that year. An increasing population by the 1850s, again led to the discussion of moving the population. This time the whole population of 193 were moved in 1856 to the now uninhabited Norfolk Island (previously a penal colony). In 1858, some of the population moved back to Pitcairn, followed by a second group in 1864. This led to a population of 43 people of five families: the Youngs, Christians, McCoys, Buffetts & Warrens, but the male lines of the last two eventually died out. There are still close links with some of the settlers on Norfolk Island. These days, the islands have a population of near 50, with about another 10 expatriates living on the island.

Having quickly seen the Pitcairn Reed Warbler, there was plenty of time to explore the island. The main area of housing in Adamstown.
The Christians cafe: Which is within the main house
Another house
Unknown flower: Perhaps an introduced Amaryllis (thanks Clare)
The main graveyard: There are a number of historical graves here
The small sugar cane factory which makes molasses: The factory's rollers are turned by a tractor
I continued out of Adamstown along the dirt roads in the direction of the highest part of the island, to see more of the island.
There are lots of small cultivated fields
But further away from Adamstown, the island becomes more wooded
Lantana: Another introduced species
The highest point of the island
Some of the most impressive trees I saw on the island
The locals have 4WD Go-carts to get around the island
Walking around the island is great as there are various bits of Bounty memorabilia on show.
One of the Bounty's cannons
The first island longboat with a engine: Dating from 1928 & now preserved as part of the island's history
Another example of the great Pitcairn stamps
Frustratingly, it started to rain in early afternoon & got steadily heavier. So it was a good point to head back to the covered town square to eat my packed lunch.
The town's square: This is another historical part of Adamstown & being covered is a good place for the locals to get together
The Seventh Day Adventists were the first church to get to Pitcairn. Given the population it's unlikely to get any competition. The photo also shows how frustratingly wet the afternoon was
The Bounty anchor in front of the Public Hall: In time the locals want to demolish & rebuild the town's Public Hall at another location, as there are a number of the oldest graves underneath it
Carol Christian-Warren: The 6th generation descendent of Fletcher Christian. Carol had a good selection of tourist items for sale in the town square
With the grim weather, a visit to the island's museum was inviting. It was really good, with a selection of Bounty memorabilia as well as some Polynesian artefacts from the original visitors to the island.
Bounty artefacts in the museum
A second & better preserved cannon
Finally, it was late afternoon & we had to catch the longboat back to the Braveheart. But first the longboat had to be lowered down the slipway & then turned around. Not an easy task given the narrowness of the harbour.
Chris sporting a natty plastic bag mac: Can't see it becoming a big seller
Turning the longboat
Getting closer to being the right direction for us to leave the harbour
After we were back on the Braveheart, we found that the Braveheart lads had been fishing & gave this Tuna to the islanders. The rules on Pitcairn is this will be evenly distributed to all the islanders. However, it had already been gutted, as the guts are popular with Seabirds when chumming (throwing fish scraps & fish oil off the back of the boat to attract Seabirds).
That is a large Tuna
A final wave & the longboat was off
We headed down to change & get some food as the Braveheart headed off for Henderson Island.