Pitcairn Islands #6 (1940)

Pitcairn Islands #6 (1940)

Pitcairn Islands #6 (1940)
Pitcairn Islands #6 (1940)

The Pitcairn Islands (Pitkern Ailen in Pitkern) is officially called Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands. They form the southeasternmost extension of the geological archipelago of the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, consisting of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean: Pitcairn Island, Oeno Island (an atoll with five islets, one of which is Sandy Island), Henderson Island and Ducie Island (an atoll with four islets). Together, they form the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific. The islands were formed by a center of upwelling magma called the Pitcairn hotspot and are spread over several hundred miles of ocean. They have a total land area of about 18 square miles (47 square kilometers). Only Pitcairn, the second-largest island that measures about 2.2  miles (3.6 kilometers) from east to west, is inhabited.

Pitcairn Island is accessible only by boat through Bounty Bay. Henderson Island, covering about 86% of the territory’s total land area and supporting a rich variety of animals in its nearly inaccessible interior, is also capable of supporting a small human population despite its scarce fresh water, but access is difficult, owing to its outer shores being steep limestone cliffs covered by sharp coral. In 1988, this island was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The other islands are at a distance of more than 62 miles (100 km) and are not habitable.

The islands are inhabited mostly by descendants of nine Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians (or Polynesians) who accompanied them, an event that has been retold in many books and films. This history is still apparent in the surnames of many of the islanders. With only about 50 permanent inhabitants, originating from four main families, Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world.

In March 2015, the British government established the largest continuous marine protected area in the world around the Pitcairn Islands. The reserve covers the islands’ entire exclusive economic zone — 322,138 square miles (834,334 km²) — more than three times the land area of the British Isles. The intention is to protect some of the world’s most pristine ocean habitat from illegal fishing activities. A satellite “watchroom” dubbed Project Eyes on the Seas has been established by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Pew Charitable Trusts at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Harwell, Oxfordshire to monitor vessel activity and to gather the information needed to prosecute unauthorized trawling.

The earliest known settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson, and on Mangareva Island 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the northwest, for several centuries. They traded goods and formed social ties among the three islands despite the long canoe voyages between them, which helped the small populations on each island survive despite their limited resources. Eventually, important natural resources were exhausted, inter-island trade broke down and a period of civil war began on Mangareva, causing the small human populations on Henderson and Pitcairn to be cut off and eventually become extinct.

Although archaeologists believe that Polynesians were living on Pitcairn as late as the fifteenth century, the islands were uninhabited when they were rediscovered by Europeans.

Ducie and Henderson Islands were discovered by Portuguese sailor Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, sailing for the Spanish Crown, who arrived on January 26, 1606. He named them La Encarnación (“The Incarnation”) and San Juan Bautista (“Saint John the Baptist”), respectively. However, some sources express doubt about exactly which of the islands were visited and named by Queirós, suggesting that La Encarnación may actually have been Henderson Island, and San Juan Bautista may have been Pitcairn Island.

Pitcairn Island was sighted on July 3, 1767, by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Carteret. The island was named after Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a fifteen-year-old crew member who was the first to sight the island. Robert Pitcairn was a son of British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who later was killed at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution. Carteret, who sailed without the newly invented marine chronometer, charted the island at 25°2′S 133°21′W, and although the latitude was reasonably accurate, the longitude was incorrect by about 3° (210 miles or 330 kilometers). This made Pitcairn difficult to find, as highlighted by the failure of Captain James Cook to locate the island in July 1773.

In 1790, nine of the mutineers from the Bounty, along with the native Tahitian men and women who were with them (six men, eleven women and a baby girl), settled on Pitcairn Islands and set fire to the Bounty. The wreck is still visible underwater in Bounty Bay, discovered in 1957 by National Geographic Society explorer Luis Marden. Although the settlers survived by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by serious tensions among them. Alcoholism, murder, disease and other ills took the lives of most mutineers and Tahitian men. John Adams and Ned Young turned to the scriptures, using the ship’s Bible as their guide for a new and peaceful society. Young eventually died of an asthmatic infection. After the rediscovery of Pitcairn, John Adams was granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny.

Ducie Island was rediscovered in 1791 by Royal Navy Captain Edwards aboard HMS Pandora, while searching for the Bounty mutineers. He named it after Francis Reynolds-Moreton, 3rd Baron Ducie, also a captain in the Royal Navy.

The Pitcairn islanders reported it was not until December 27, 1795, that the first ship since the Bounty was seen from the island, but it did not approach the land and they could not make out the nationality. A second ship appeared in 1801, but made no attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see their house, but did not try to send a boat on shore. Finally, the American sealing ship Topaz under Mayhew Folger became the first to visit the island, when the crew spent 10 hours on Pitcairn in February 1808. A report of Folger’s discovery was forwarded to the Admiralty, mentioning the mutineers and giving a more precise location of the island: 25°2′S 130°0′W. However this was not known to Sir Thomas Staines, who commanded a Royal Navy flotilla of two ships (HMS Briton and HMS Tagus) which found the island at 25°4′S 130°25′W (by meridian observation) on September 17, 1814. Staines sent a party ashore and wrote a detailed report for the Admiralty.

Henderson Island was rediscovered on January 17, 1819, by British Captain James Henderson of the British East India Company ship Hercules. Captain Henry King, sailing on the Elizabeth, landed on March 2 to find the king’s colors already flying. His crew scratched the name of their ship into a tree. Oeno Island was discovered on January 26, 1824, by American Captain George Worth aboard the whaler Oeno.

In 1832, a Church Missionary Society missionary, Joshua Hill, arrived; he reported that by March 1833 he had founded a Temperance Society to combat drunkenness, a ‘Maundy Thursday Society’, a monthly prayer meeting, a juvenile society, a Peace Society and a school.

Pitcairn Island became a British colony in 1838, and was among the first territories to extend voting rights to women. By the mid-1850s, the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the island. Its leaders appealed to the British government for assistance, and were offered Norfolk Island. On May 3, 1856, the entire population of 193 people set sail for Norfolk on board the Morayshire, arriving on June 8 after a miserable five-week trip. However, after 18 months on Norfolk, 17 of the Pitcairners decided to return to their home island; five years later another 27 followed.

In 1886, the Seventh-day Adventist layman John Tay visited the island and persuaded most of the islanders to accept his faith. He returned in 1890 on the missionary schooner Pitcairn with an ordained minister to perform baptisms. Since then, the majority of Pitcairners have been Adventists.

Henderson, Oeno and Ducie islands were annexed by Britain in 1902: Henderson on July 1, Oeno on July 10 and Ducie on December 19. In 1938, the three islands, along with Pitcairn, were incorporated into a single administrative unit called the “Pitcairn Group of Islands”.

The postal history of the Pitcairn Islands can be traced to second half of the nineteenth century, when outgoing mail was hand stamped as “Posted on Pitcairn Island: no stamps available.” Stamps were carried by passing ships and received postal stamps and cancellation at various ports of calls. However, this practice was discontinued in 1926 following reports of ship passengers mixing their own mail into the “no stamp” system set aside for the Pitcairn residents. In June 1927, a postal agency was set up on Pitcairn to sell New Zealand stamps.

The population peaked at 233 in 1937 and has since fallen owing to emigration, primarily to New Zealand.

The first Pitcairn postage stamps, consisting of eight denominations, were issued on October 15, 1940.

The Pitcairn Islands are a British overseas territory with a degree of local government. The Queen of the United Kingdom is represented by a Governor, who also holds office as British High Commissioner to New Zealand and is based in Auckland.

The 2010 constitution gives authority for the islands to operate as a representative democracy, with the United Kingdom retaining responsibility for matters such as defense and foreign affairs. The Governor and the Island Council may enact laws for the “peace, order and good government” of Pitcairn. The Island Council customarily appoints a Mayor of Pitcairn as a day-to-day head of the local administration. There is a Commissioner, appointed by the Governor, who liaises between the Council and the Governor’s office.

The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes the Pitcairn Islands on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The fertile soil of the Pitcairn valleys, such as Isaac’s Valley on the gentle slopes southeast of Adamstown, produces a wide variety of fruits: including bananas (plun), papaya (paw paws), pineapples, mangoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, passionfruit, breadfruit, coconuts, avocadoes, and citrus (including mandarin oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes). Vegetables include sweet potatoes (kumura), carrots, sweet corn, tomatoes, taro, yams, peas, and beans. Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) and sugarcane are grown and harvested to produce arrowroot flour and molasses, respectively. Pitcairn Island is remarkably productive and its benign climate supports a wide range of tropical and temperate crops.

Fish are plentiful in the seas around Pitcairn. Spiny lobster and a large variety of fish are caught for meals and for trading aboard passing ships. Almost every day someone will go fishing, whether it is from the rocks, from a longboat or diving with a spear gun. There are numerous types of fish around the island. Fish such as nanwee, white fish, moi and opapa are caught in shallow water, while snapper, big eye and cod are caught in deep water, and yellow tail and wahoo are caught by trawling. A range of minerals — including manganese, iron, copper, gold, silver and zinc — have been discovered within the Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 230 miles (370 km) offshore and comprises 340,000 square miles (880,000 km²).

Pitcairn has one of the best examples of disease-free bee populations anywhere in the world and the honey produced is high in quality. Pitcairn bees are also a placid variety and, within a short time, beekeepers are able to work with them wearing minimal protection. As a result, Pitcairn exports honey to New Zealand and to the United Kingdom. In London, Fortnum & Mason sells it and it is a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. In 1998, the UK’s overseas aid agency, the Department for International Development, funded an apiculture program for Pitcairn which included training for Pitcairn’s beekeepers and a detailed analysis of Pitcairn’s bees and honey with particular regard to the presence or absence of disease.

The Pitcairn Islanders, under the “Bounty Products” and “Delectable Bounty” brands, also export dried fruit including bananas, papayas, pineapples and mangoes to New Zealand.

Tourism plays a major role on Pitcairn, providing the locals with 80% of their annual income. Tourism is the focus for building the economy. It focuses on small groups coming by charter vessel and staying at “home stays”. About ten times a year, passengers from expedition-type cruise ships come ashore for a day, weather permitting. Since 2009, the government has been operating the MV Claymore II as the island’s only dedicated passenger/cargo vessel, providing adventure tourism holidays to Pitcairn for three-day or ten-day visits. Tourists stay with local families and experience the island’s culture while contributing to the local economy. Providing accommodation is a growing source of revenue, and some families have invested in private self-contained units adjacent to their homes for tourists to rent.

Each year up to ten cruise ships call at the island for a few hours (weather permitting), generating income for the locals from the sale of souvenirs, and for the government from landing fees and the stamping of passports. Children under 16 require a completed entry clearance application to visit the island.

The Pitcairners are involved in creating crafts and curios (made out of wood from Henderson). Typical woodcarvings include sharks, fish, whales, dolphins, turtles, vases, birds, walking sticks, book boxes, and models of the Bounty. Miro (Thespesia populnea), a dark and durable wood, is preferred for carving. Islanders also produce tapa cloth and painted Hattie leaves. The major sources of revenue have been the sale of coins and postage stamps to collectors, .pn domain names, and the sale of handicrafts to passing ships, most of which are on the United Kingdom to New Zealand route via the Panama Canal.

Pitkern is a creole language derived from eighteenth-century English, with elements of the Tahitian language. It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside English at the island’s only school. It is closely related to the creole language Norfuk, spoken on Norfolk Island, because Norfolk was repopulated in the mid-nineteenth century by Pitcairners.

As of July 2014, the total resident population of the Pitcairn Islands was 56, including the six temporary residents: an administrator, a doctor and a police officer along with their spouses. However, the actual permanent resident population was only 49 Pitcairners spread across 23 households. It is, however, rare for all 49 residents to be on-island at the same time; it is common for several residents to be off-island for varying lengths of time visiting family, for medical reasons, or to attend international conferences. As of November 2013 for instance, seven residents were off-island. A diaspora survey projected that by 2045, if nothing were done, only three people of working age would be left on the island, with the rest being very old. In addition, the survey revealed that residents who had left the island over the past decades showed little interest in coming back. Of the hundreds of emigrants contacted, only 33 were willing to participate in the survey and just three expressed a desire to return.

As of 2014, the labor force consisted of 31 able-bodied persons: 17 males and 14 females between 18 and 64 years of age. Of the 31, just seven are younger than 40, but 18 are over the age of 50. Most of the men undertake the more strenuous physical tasks on the island such as crewing the longboats, cargo handling, and the operation and maintenance of physical assets. Longboat crew retirement age is 58. There were then 12 men aged between 18 and 58 residing on Pitcairn. Each longboat requires a minimum crew of three; of the four longboat coxswains, two were in their late 50s.

The Pitcairn government’s attempts to attract migrants have been unsuccessful. Since 2013, some 700 make inquiries each year, but so far, not a single formal settlement application has been received. The migrants are prohibited from taking local jobs or claiming benefits for a certain length of time, even those with children. The migrants are expected to have at least NZ$ 30, 000 per person in savings and are expected to build their own house at average cost of NZ$ 140, 000. It is also possible to bring the off-island builders at the additional cost between NZ$ 23, 000 and NZ$ 28, 000. The average annual cost of living on the island is NZ$ 9464. There is, however, no assurance of the migrant’s right to remain on Pitcairn; after their first two years, the council must review and reapprove the migrant’s status. The migrants are also required to take part in the unpaid public work to keep the island in order: maintain the island’s numerous roads and paths, build roads, navigate the island longboats, clean public toilets etc. There are also restrictions on bringing children under the age of 16 to the island.

Freight from Tauranga to Pitcairn on the MV Claymore II (Pitcairn Island’s dedicated passenger and cargo ship chartered by the Pitcairn government) is charged at NZ$ 350/m³ for Pitcairners and NZ$ 1000/m³ for all other freight. Additionally, Pitcairners are charged NZ$ 3000 for a one-way trip; others are charged NZ$ 5000.

In 2014, the government’s Pitcairn Islands Economic Report stated that “[no one] will migrate to Pitcairn Islands for economic reasons as there are limited government jobs, a lack of private sector employment, as well as considerable competition for the tourism dollar”. The Pitcairners take tourists in turns to accommodate those few tourists who occasionally visit the island.

As the island remains a British Overseas Territory, at some point the British government may have to make a decision about the island’s future.

Map of Adamstown, Pitcairn Island
Map of Adamstown, Pitcairn Island

Scott #6 was released on October 15, 1940, as part of Pitcairn Islands’ first set of stamps. The 6-pence slate green and deep brown stamp depicts HMS Bounty, also known as HM Armed Vessel Bounty, a small merchant vessel purchased by the Royal Navy in 1787 for a botanical mission. The ship was sent to the Pacific Ocean under the command of William Bligh to acquire breadfruit plants and transport them to British possessions in the West Indies. That mission was never completed due to a mutiny led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian. The ship was later burned on Pitcairn Island by the mutineers. The remains of the Bounty were re-discovered in 1957 by an American adventurer and various parts of it have been salvaged since then.

Bounty was originally known as collier Bethia, built in 1784 at the Blaydes shipyard in Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire, England. The vessel was purchased by the Royal Navy for £1,950 on May 23, 1787, refitted, and renamed Bounty. The ship was relatively small at 215 tons, but had three masts and was full-rigged. After conversion for the breadfruit expedition, she was equipped with four 4-pounder (1.8 kg) cannon and ten swivel guns. She was 90 feet, 10 inches (27.69 meters) in length with a beam of 24 feet, 4 inches (7.42 m). The depth of her hold was 11 feet, 4 inches (3.45 m).

The ship had been purchased by the Royal Navy for a single mission in support of an experiment: the acquisition of breadfruit plants from Tahiti (then rendered “Otaheite”), a Polynesian island in the south Pacific, and the transportation of those plants to the West Indies. The expedition was promoted by the Royal Society and organized by its president Sir Joseph Banks, who shared the view of Caribbean plantation owners that breadfruit might grow well there and provide cheap food for the slaves.

As she was rated by the Admiralty as a cutter, the smallest category of warship, her commander would be a lieutenant rather than a post-captain and would be the only commissioned officer on board. Nor did a cutter warrant the usual detachment of Marines that naval commanders could use to enforce their authority.

Plan and section of the Bounty Armed Transport showing the manner of fitting and stowing the pots for receiving the bread-fruit plants, from William Bligh's 1792 account of the voyage and mutiny, entitled A Voyage to the South Sea.
Plan and section of the Bounty Armed Transport showing the manner of fitting and stowing the pots for receiving the bread-fruit plants, from William Bligh’s 1792 account of the voyage and mutiny, entitled A Voyage to the South Sea.

In June 1787, Bounty was refitted under Banks’s supervision at Deptford Dockyard on the River Thames. The great cabin, normally the ship’s captain’s quarters, was converted into a greenhouse for over a thousand potted breadfruit plants, with glazed windows, skylights, and a lead-covered deck and drainage system to prevent the waste of fresh water. Gratings were fitted to the upper deck. The space required for these arrangements in the small ship meant that the crew and officers would endure severe overcrowding for the duration of the long voyage.

With Banks’s agreement, command of the expedition was given to Lieutenant William Bligh, whose experiences included Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage (1776–80) in which he had served as sailing master, or chief navigator, on HMS Resolution. Bligh was born in Plymouth in 1754 into a family of naval and military tradition — Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh was his third cousin. Appointment to Cook’s ship at the age of 21 had been a considerable honor, although Bligh believed that his contribution was not properly acknowledged in the expedition’s official account. With the ending of the American War of Independence in 1783, the navy was reduced in size, and Bligh found himself ashore on half-pay.

After a period of idleness, Bligh took temporary employment in the mercantile service and in 1785 was captain of the Britannia, a vessel owned by his wife’s uncle Duncan Campbell. Bligh assumed the prestigious Bounty appointment on August 16, 1787, at a considerable financial cost; his lieutenant’s pay of four shillings a day (£70 a year) contrasted with the £500 a year he had earned as captain of Britannia. Because of the limited number of warrant officers allowed on Bounty, Bligh was also required to act as the ship’s purser. His sailing orders stated that he was to enter the Pacific via Cape Horn and then, after collecting the breadfruit plants, sail westward through the Endeavour Strait and across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans to the West Indies. Bounty would thus complete a circumnavigation of the Earth.

Bounty’s complement was 46 men, comprising 44 Royal Navy seamen (including Bligh), and two civilian botanists. Directly beneath Bligh were his warrant officers, appointed by the Navy Board and headed by the sailing master John Fryer. The other warrant officers were the boatswain, the surgeon, the carpenter, and the gunner. To the two master’s mates and two midshipmen were added several honorary midshipmen — so-called “young gentlemen” who were aspirant naval officers. These signed the ship’s roster as able seamen, but were quartered with the midshipmen and treated on equal terms with them.

Most of Bounty’s crew were chosen by Bligh or were recommended to him by influential patrons. William Peckover the gunner and Joseph Coleman the armorer had been with Cook and Bligh on HMS Resolution; several others had sailed under Bligh more recently on the Britannia. Among these was the 23-year-old Fletcher Christian, who came from a wealthy Cumberland family descended from Manx gentry. Christian had chosen a life at sea rather than the legal career envisaged by his family. He had twice voyaged with Bligh to the West Indies, and the two had formed a master-pupil relationship through which Christian had become a skilled navigator. Christian was willing to serve on Bounty without pay as one of the “young gentlemen”. Bligh gave him one of the salaried master’s mate’s berths.

Another of the young gentlemen recommended to Bligh was 15-year-old Peter Heywood, also from a Manx family and a distant relation of Christian’s. Heywood had left school at 14 to spend a year on HMS Powerful, a harbor-bound training vessel at Plymouth. His recommendation to Bligh came from Richard Betham, a Heywood family friend who was Bligh’s father-in-law.

The two botanists, or “gardeners”, were chosen by Banks. The chief botanist, David Nelson, was a veteran of Cook’s third expedition who had been to Tahiti and had learned some of the natives’ language. Nelson’s assistant William Brown was a former midshipman who had seen naval action against the French. Banks also helped to secure the official midshipmen’s berths for two of his protégés, Thomas Hayward and John Hallett.

Overall, Bounty’s crew was relatively youthful, the majority being under 30 at the time of departure, Bligh was 33 years old. Among the older crew members were the 39-year-old Peckover, who had sailed on all three of Cook’s voyages, and Lawrence Lebogue, a year older and formerly sailmaker on the Britannia. The youngest aboard were Hallett and Heywood, both 15 when they left England.

Living space on the ship was allocated on the basis of rank. Bligh, having yielded the great cabin, occupied private sleeping quarters with an adjacent dining area or pantry on the starboard side of the ship, and Fryer a small cabin on the opposite side. The surgeon Thomas Huggan, the other warrant officers, and Nelson the botanist had tiny cabins on the lower deck, while the master’s mates and the midshipmen, together with the young gentlemen, berthed together in an area behind the captain’s dining room known as the cockpit; as junior or prospective officers, they were allowed use of the quarterdeck. The other ranks had their quarters in the forecastle, a windowless unventilated area measuring 36 by 22 feet (11.0 by 6.7 m) with headroom of 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m).

On October 15 1787, Bounty left Deptford for Spithead, in the English Channel, to await final sailing orders. Adverse weather delayed arrival at Spithead until November 4. Bligh was anxious to depart quickly, to reach Cape Horn before the end of the short southern summer, but the Admiralty did not accord him high priority and delayed issuing the orders for a further three weeks. When Bounty finally sailed on November 28, the ship was trapped by contrary winds and unable to clear Spithead until December 23. With the prospect of a passage around Cape Horn now in serious doubt, Bligh received permission from the Admiralty to take, if necessary, an alternative route to Tahiti via the Cape of Good Hope.

As the ship settled into her sea-going routine, Bligh introduced Cook’s strict discipline regarding sanitation and diet. According to the expedition’s historian Sam McKinney, Bligh enforced these rules “with a fanatical zeal, continually fuss[ing] and fum[ing] over the cleanliness of his ship and the food served to the crew.” He replaced the navy’s traditional watch system of alternating four-hour spells on and off duty with a three-watch system, whereby each four-hour duty was followed by eight hours’ rest. For the crew’s exercise and entertainment, he introduced regular music and dancing sessions. Bligh’s dispatches to Campbell and Banks indicated his satisfaction; he had no occasion to administer punishment because, he wrote: “Both men and officers tractable and well disposed, & cheerfulness & content in the countenance of every one”. The only adverse feature of the voyage to date, according to Bligh, was the conduct of the surgeon Huggan, who was revealed as an indolent, unhygienic drunkard.

From the start of the voyage, Bligh had established warm relations with Christian, according him a status which implied that he was Bligh’s second-in-command rather than Fryer. On March 2, Bligh formalized the position by assigning Christian to the rank of Acting Lieutenant. Fryer showed little outward sign of resentment at his junior’s advancement, but his relations with Bligh significantly worsened from this point. A week after the promotion on Fryer’s insistence, Bligh ordered the flogging of Matthew Quintal, who received 12 lashes for “insolence and mutinous behaviour”, thereby destroying Bligh’s expressed hope of a voyage free from such punishment.

On April 2, as Bounty approached Cape Horn, a strong gale and high seas began an unbroken period of stormy weather which, Bligh wrote, “exceeded what I had ever met with before … with severe squalls of hail and sleet”. The winds drove the ship back; on April 3, she was further north than she had been a week earlier. Again and again, Bligh forced the ship forward, to be repeatedly repelled. On April 17, he informed his exhausted crew that the sea had beaten them, and that they would turn and head for the Cape of Good Hope — “to the great joy of every person on Board”, Bligh recorded.

On May 24. 1788, Bounty anchored in False Bay, east of the Cape of Good Hope, where five weeks were spent in repairs and reprovisioning. Bligh’s letters home emphasized how fit and well he and his crew were, by comparison with other vessels, and expressed hope that he would receive credit for this. At one stage during the sojourn, Bligh lent Christian money, a gesture that the historian Greg Dening suggests might have sullied their relationship by becoming a source of anxiety and even resentment to the younger man. In her account of the voyage, Caroline Alexander describes the loan as “a significant act of friendship”, but one which Bligh ensured Christian did not forget.

After leaving False Bay on July 1, Bounty set out across the southern Indian Ocean on the long voyage to their next port of call, Adventure Bay in Tasmania. They passed the remote Île Saint-Paul, a small uninhabited island which Bligh knew from earlier navigators contained fresh water and a hot spring, but he did not attempt a landing. The weather was cold and wintry, conditions akin to the vicinity of Cape Horn, and it was difficult to take navigational observations, but Bligh’s skill was such that on August 19 he sighted Mewstone Rock, on the south-west corner of Tasmania and, two days later, made anchorage in Adventure Bay.

The Bounty party spent their time at Adventure Bay in recuperation, fishing, replenishment of water casks, and felling timber. There were peaceful encounters with the native population. The first sign of overt discord between Bligh and his officers occurred when the captain exchanged angry words with William Purcell the carpenter over the latter’s methods for cutting wood. Bligh ordered Purcell back to the ship and, when the carpenter stood his ground, Bligh withheld his rations, which “immediately brought him to his senses”, according to Bligh.

Further clashes occurred on the final leg of the journey to Tahiti. On October 9, Fryer refused to sign the ship’s account books unless Bligh provided him with a certificate attesting to his complete competence throughout the voyage. Bligh would not be coerced. He summoned the crew and read the Articles of War, at which Fryer backed down. There was also trouble with the surgeon Huggan, whose careless blood-letting of able seaman James Valentine while treating him for asthma led to the seaman’s death from a blood infection. To cover his error, the surgeon reported to Bligh that Valentine had died from scurvy, which led Bligh to apply his own medicinal and dietary antiscorbutic remedies to the entire ship’s company. By now, Huggan was almost incapacitated with drink, until Bligh confiscated his supply. Huggan briefly returned to duty; before Bounty‘s arrival in Tahiti, he examined all on board for signs of venereal disease and found none. Bounty came to anchor in Matavai Bay, Tahiti on October 26, 1788, concluding a journey of 27,086 nautical miles (31,170 miles or 50,163 km).

Bligh’s first action on arrival was to secure the co-operation of the local chieftains. The paramount chief Tynah remembered Bligh from Cook’s voyage 15 years previously, and greeted him warmly. Bligh presented the chiefs with gifts and informed them that their own “King George” wished in return only breadfruit plants. They happily agreed with this simple request. Bligh assigned Christian to lead a shore party charged with establishing a compound in which the plants would be nurtured.

Whether based ashore or on board, the men’s duties during Bounty‘s five-month stay in Tahiti were relatively light. Many led promiscuous lives among the native women — altogether, 18 officers and men, including Christian, received treatment for venereal infections — while others took regular partners. Christian formed a close relationship with a Polynesian woman named Mauatua, to whom he gave the name “Isabella” after a former sweetheart from Cumberland. Bligh remained chaste himself, but was tolerant of his men’s activities, unsurprised that they should succumb to temptation when “the allurements of dissipation are beyond any thing that can be conceived”. Nevertheless, he expected them to do their duty efficiently, and was disappointed to find increasing instances of neglect and slackness on the part of his officers. Infuriated, he wrote: “Such neglectful and worthless petty officers I believe were never in a ship such as are in this”.

Huggan died on 10 December. Bligh attributed this to “the effects of intemperance and indolence … he never would be prevailed on to take half a dozen turns upon deck at a time, through the whole course of the voyage”. For all his earlier favored status, Christian did not escape Bligh’s wrath. He was often humiliated by the captain — sometimes in front of the crew and the Tahitians — for real or imagined slackness, while severe punishments were handed out to men whose carelessness had led to the loss or theft of equipment. Floggings, rarely administered during the outward voyage, now became increasingly common.

On January 5, 1789, three members of the crew — Charles Churchill, John Millward and William Muspratt — deserted, taking a small boat, arms and ammunition. Muspratt had recently been flogged for neglect. Among the belongings Churchill left on the ship was a list of names that Bligh interpreted as possible accomplices in a desertion plot — the captain later asserted that the names included those of Christian and Heywood. Bligh was persuaded that his protégé was not planning to desert, and the matter was dropped. Churchill, Millward and Muspratt were found after three weeks and, on their return to the ship, were flogged.

From February onwards, the pace of work increased; more than 1,000 breadfruit plants were potted and carried into the ship, where they filled the great cabin. The ship was overhauled for the long homeward voyage, in many cases by men who regretted the forthcoming departure and loss of their easy life with the Tahitians. Bligh was impatient to be away, but as Richard Hough observes in his account, he “failed to anticipate how his company would react to the severity and austerity of life at sea … after five dissolute, hedonistic months at Tahiti”. The work was done by April 1, 1789, and four days later, after an affectionate farewell from Tynah and his queen, Bounty left the harbor.

In their Bounty histories, both Hough and Alexander maintain that the men were not at a stage close to mutiny, however sorry they were to leave Tahiti. The journal of James Morrison, the boatswain’s mate, supports this. The events that followed, Hough suggests, were determined in the three weeks following the departure, when Bligh’s anger and intolerance reached paranoid proportions. Christian was a particular target, always seeming to bear the brunt of the captain’s rages. Unaware of the effects of his behavior on his officers and crew, Bligh would forget these displays instantly and attempt to resume normal conversation.

On April 22 1789, Bounty arrived at Nomuka, in the Friendly Islands (now called Tonga), intending to pick up wood, water, and further supplies on the final scheduled stop before the Endeavour Strait. Bligh had visited the island with Cook, and knew that the inhabitants could behave unpredictably. He put Christian in charge of the watering party and equipped him with muskets, but at the same time ordered that the arms should be left in the boat, not carried ashore. Christian’s party was harassed and threatened continually but were unable to retaliate, having been denied the use of arms. He returned to the ship with his task incomplete, and was cursed by Bligh as “a damned cowardly rascal”. Further disorder ashore resulted in the thefts of a small anchor and an adze, for which Bligh further berated Fryer and Christian. In an attempt to recover the missing property, Bligh briefly detained the island’s chieftains on the ship, but to no avail. When he finally gave the order to sail, neither the anchor nor the adze had been restored.

By April 27, Christian was in a state of despair, depressed and brooding. His mood was worsened when Bligh accused him of stealing coconuts from the captain’s private supply. Bligh punished the whole crew for this theft, stopping their rum ration and reducing their food by half. Feeling that his position was now intolerable, Christian considered constructing a raft with which he could escape to an island and take his chances with the natives. He may have acquired wood for this purpose from Purcell. In any event, his discontent became common knowledge among his fellow officers. Two of the young gentlemen, George Stewart and Edward Young, urged him not to desert; Young assured him that he would have the support of almost all on board if he were to seize the ship and depose Bligh. Stewart told him the crew were “ripe for anything”.

In the early hours of April 28, 1789, Bounty lay about 30 nautical miles (35 miles or 56 km) south of the island of Tofua. After a largely sleepless night, Christian had decided to act. He understood from his discussions with Young and Stewart which crewmen were his most likely supporters and, after approaching Quintal and Isaac Martin, he learned the names of several more. With the help of these men, Christian rapidly gained control of the upper deck; those who questioned his actions were ordered to keep quiet.

At about 05:15, Christian went below, dismissed Hallett (who was sleeping on the chest containing the ship’s muskets), and distributed arms to his followers before making for Bligh’s cabin. Three men took hold of the captain and tied his hands, threatening to kill him if he raised the alarm. Bligh “called as loudly as [he] could in hopes of assistance”. The commotion woke Fryer, who saw, from his cabin opposite, the mutineers frogmarching Bligh away. The mutineers ordered Fryer to “lay down again, and hold my tongue or I was a dead man”.

Bligh was brought to the quarterdeck, his hands bound by a cord held by Christian, who was brandishing a bayonet; some reports maintained that Christian had a sounding plummet hanging from his neck so that he could jump overboard and drown himself if the mutiny failed. Others who had been awakened by the noise left their berths and joined in the general pandemonium. It was unclear at this stage who were and who were not active mutineers. Hough describes the scene: “Everyone was, more or less, making a noise, either cursing, jeering or just shouting for the reassurance it gave them to do so”. Bligh shouted continually, demanding to be set free, sometimes addressing individuals by name, and otherwise exhorting the company generally to “knock Christian down!” Fryer was briefly permitted on deck to speak to Christian, but was then forced below at bayonet-point; according to Fryer, Christian told him: “I have been in hell for weeks past. Captain Bligh has brought this on himself.”

Christian originally thought to cast Bligh adrift in Bounty‘s small jolly boat, together with his clerk John Samuel and the loyalist midshipmen Hayward and Hallett. This boat proved unseaworthy, so Christian ordered the launching of a larger ship’s boat, with a capacity of around ten. However, Christian and his allies had overestimated the extent of the mutiny — at least half on board were determined to leave with Bligh. Thus the ship’s largest boat, a 23-foot (7.0 m) launch, was put into the water.

During the following hours the loyalists collected their possessions and entered the boat. Among these was Fryer, who with Bligh’s approval sought to stay on board — in the hope, he later claimed, that he would be able to retake the ship — but Christian ordered him into the launch. Soon, the vessel was badly overloaded, with more than 20 persons and others still vying for places. Christian ordered the two carpenter’s mates, Norman and McIntosh, and the armorer, Joseph Coleman, to return to the ship, considering their presence essential if he were to navigate Bounty with a reduced crew. Reluctantly they obeyed, beseeching Bligh to remember that they had remained with the ship against their will. Bligh assured them: “Never fear, lads, I’ll do you justice if ever I reach England”.

Samuel saved the captain’s journal, commission papers and purser’s documents, but was forced to leave behind Bligh’s maps and charts — 15 years of navigational work. The launch was supplied with about five days’ food and water, a sextant, compass and nautical tables, and Purcell’s tool chest. At the last minute the mutineers threw four cutlasses down into the boat. Of Bounty‘s complement — 44 after the deaths of Huggan and Valentine — 19 men were crowded into the launch, leaving it dangerously low in the water with only seven inches of freeboard. The 25 men remaining on Bounty included the committed mutineers who had taken up arms, the loyalists detained against their will, and others for whom there was no room in the launch. At around 10:00 the line holding the launch to the ship was cut; a little later, Bligh ordered a sail to be raised. Their immediate destination was the nearby island of Tofua, clearly marked on the horizon by the plume of smoke rising from its volcano.

Bligh and his men sailed the open boat the 30 nautical miles to Tofua in search of supplies, but were forced to flee after attacks by hostile natives resulted in the death of one of the men. Bligh then undertook an arduous journey to the Dutch settlement of Coupang, located over 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) from Tofua. He safely landed there 47 days later, having lost no men during the voyage except the one killed on Tofua.

After the departure of Bligh’s launch, Christian divided the personal effects of the departed loyalists among the remaining crew and threw the breadfruit plants into the sea. He recognized that Bligh could conceivably survive to report the mutiny, and that anyway the non-return of Bounty would occasion a search mission, with Tahiti as its first port of call. Christian therefore headed Bounty towards the small island of Tubuai, some 450 nautical miles (520 miles or 830 km) south of Tahiti. Tubuai had been discovered and roughly charted by Cook; except for a single small channel, it was entirely surrounded by a coral reef and could, Christian surmised, be easily defended against any attack from the sea.

Bounty arrived at Tubuai on May 28, 1789. The reception from the native population was hostile; when a flotilla of war canoes headed for the ship, Christian used a four-pounder gun to repel the attackers. At least a dozen warriors were killed, and the rest scattered. Undeterred, Christian and an armed party surveyed the island, and decided it would be suitable for their purposes. However, to create a permanent settlement, they needed compliant native labor and women. The most likely source for these was Tahiti, to which Bounty returned on June 6. To ensure the co-operation of the Tahiti chiefs, Christian concocted a story that he, Bligh, and Captain Cook were founding a new settlement at Aitutaki. Cook’s name ensured generous gifts of livestock and other goods and, on June 16, the well-provisioned Bounty sailed back to Tubuai. On board were nearly 30 Tahitian men and women, some of whom were there by deception.

For the next two months, Christian and his forces struggled to establish themselves on Tubuai. They began to construct a large moated enclosure — called “Fort George”, after the British king — to provide a secure fortress against attack by land or sea. Christian attempted to form friendly relations with the local chiefs, but his party was unwelcome. There were persistent clashes with the native population, mainly over property and women, culminating in a pitched battle in which 66 islanders were killed and many wounded. Discontent was rising among the Bounty party, and Christian sensed that his authority was slipping. He called a meeting to discuss future plans and offered a free vote. Eight remained loyal to Christian, the hard core of the active mutineers, but sixteen wished to return to Tahiti and take their chances there. Christian accepted this decision; after depositing the majority at Tahiti, he would “run before the wind, and … land upon the first island the ship drives. After what I have done I cannot remain at Tahiti”.

When Bounty returned to Tahiti, on September 22, the welcome was much less effusive than previously. The Tahitians had learned from the crew of a visiting British ship that the story of Cook and Bligh founding a settlement in Aitutaki was a fabrication, and that Cook had been long dead. Christian worried that their reaction might turn violent, and did not stay long. Of the 16 men who had voted to settle in Tahiti, he allowed 15 ashore; Joseph Coleman was detained on the ship, as Christian required his skills as an armorer.

That evening, Christian inveigled aboard Bounty a party of Tahitians, mainly women, for a social gathering. With the festivities under way, he cut the anchor rope and Bounty sailed away with her captive guests. Coleman escaped by diving overboard and reached land. Among the abducted group were six elderly women, for whom Christian had no use; he put them ashore on the nearby island of Mo’orea. Bounty‘s complement now comprised nine mutineers — Christian, Young, Quintal, Brown, Martin, John Williams, William McCoy, John Mills, and John Adams (known by the crew as “Alexander Smith”) — and 20 Polynesians, of whom 14 were women.

After leaving Tahiti on September 22, 1789, Christian sailed Bounty west in search of a safe haven. He then formed the idea of settling on Pitcairn Island, far to the east of Tahiti; the island had been reported in 1767, but its exact location never verified. After months of searching, Christian rediscovered the island on January 15, 1790, 188 nautical miles (216 miles or 348 km) east of its recorded position. This longitudinal error contributed to the mutineers’ decision to settle on Pitcairn.

Bounty's voyages around the Pacific (in red and yellow), and that of Bligh's open-boat (in green)
Bounty’s voyages around the Pacific (in red and yellow), and that of Bligh’s open-boat (in green)

On arrival the ship was unloaded and stripped of most of its masts and spars, for use on the island. It was set ablaze and destroyed on January 23, either as an agreed precaution against discovery or as an unauthorized act by Quintal — in either case, there was now no means of escape. The island proved an ideal haven for the mutineers — uninhabited, virtually inaccessible, with plenty of food, water and fertile land. For a while, mutineers and Tahitians existed peaceably. Christian settled down with Isabella; a son, Thursday October Christian, was born, as were other children. Christian’s authority as leader gradually diminished, and he became prone to long periods of brooding and introspection.

Gradually, tensions and rivalries arose over the increasing extent to which the Europeans regarded the Tahitians as their property, in particular the women who, according to Alexander, were “passed around from one ‘husband’ to the other”. In September 1793, matters degenerated into extreme violence, when five of the mutineers — Christian, Williams, Martin, Mills, and Brown — were killed by Tahitians in a carefully executed series of murders. Christian was set upon while working in his fields, first shot and then butchered with an axe; his last words, supposedly, were “Oh, dear!” In-fighting continued thereafter, and by 1794 the six Tahitian men were all dead, killed by the widows of the murdered mutineers or by each other.

Two of the four surviving mutineers, Young and Adams, assumed leadership and secured a tenuous calm, which was disrupted by the drunkenness of McCoy and Quintal after the former distilled an alcoholic beverage from a local plant. Some of the women attempted to leave the island in a makeshift boat, but could not launch it successfully. Life continued uneasily until McCoy’s suicide in 1798. A year later, after Quintal threatened fresh murder and mayhem, Adams and Young killed him and were able to restore peace.

After Young succumbed to asthma in 1800, Adams took responsibility for the education and well-being of the nine remaining women and 19 children. Using the ship’s Bible from Bounty, he taught literacy and Christianity, and kept peace on the island. This was the situation in February 1808, when the American sealer Topaz came unexpectedly upon Pitcairn, landed, and discovered the by then thriving community. News of Topaz‘s discovery did not reach Britain until 1810, when it was overlooked by an Admiralty preoccupied by war with France.

In 1814, two British warships, HMS Briton and HMS Tagus, chanced upon Pitcairn. Among those who greeted them were Thursday October Christian and Edward Young’s son, George — the respective captains, Sir Thomas Staines and Philip Pipon, reported that Christian the son displayed “in his benevolent countenance, all the features of an honest English face”. On shore they found a population of 46 mainly young islanders led by Adams, upon whom, it was clear to them, the islanders’ welfare was wholly dependent. After receiving Staines’s report, the Admiralty decided to take no action.

In the following years, many ships called at Pitcairn Island and heard Adams’s various stories of the foundation of the Pitcairn settlement. In 1825, HMS Blossom, on a voyage of exploration under Captain Frederick William Beechey, arrived on Christmas Day off Pitcairn and spent 19 days there. Captain Beechey later recorded this in his 1831 published account of the voyage, as did one of his crew, John Bechervaise, in his 1839 Thirty-Six years of a Seafaring Life by an Old Quarter Master. Beechey wrote a detailed account of the mutiny as recounted to him by the last survivor, Adams. Bechervaise, who described the life of the islanders, says he found the remains of Bounty and took some pieces of wood from it which were turned into souvenirs such as snuff boxes.

Adams died in 1829, honored as the founder and father of a community that became celebrated over the next century as an exemplar of Victorian morality.

Luis Marden discovered the remains of Bounty in January 1957. After spotting remains of the rudder (which had been found in 1933 by Parkin Christian, and is still displayed in the Fiji Museum in Suva), he persuaded his editors and writers to let him dive off Pitcairn Island, where the rudder had been found. Despite the warnings of one islander — “Man, you gwen be dead as a hatchet!” — Marden dived for several days in the dangerous swells near the island, and found the remains of the ship: a rudder pin, nails, a ships boat oarlock, fittings and a Bounty anchor that he raised. He subsequently met with Marlon Brando to counsel him on his role as Fletcher Christian in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Later in life, Marden wore cuff links made of nails from Bounty. Marden also dived on the wreck of HMS Pandora and left a Bounty nail with Pandora.

Some of Bounty‘s remains, such as the ballast stones, are still partially visible in the waters of Bounty Bay.

The last of Bounty‘s four 4-pounder cannon was recovered in 1998 by an archaeological team from James Cook University and was sent to the Queensland Museum in Townsville to be stabilized through lengthy conservation treatment, i.e. nearly 40 months of electrolysis. The gun was subsequently returned to Pitcairn Island where it has been placed on display in a new community hall.

Over the years, many recovered Bounty artifacts have been sold by islanders as souvenirs; in 1999, the Pitcairn Project was established by a consortium of Australian academic and historical bodies, to survey and document all the material remaining on-site, as part of a detailed study of the settlement’s development.

When the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty was made, sailing vessels (often with assisting engines) were partly still in use: and existing vessels were adapted to play Bounty and Pandora. For the 1962 film, a new Bounty was constructed in Nova Scotia. For much of 1962 to 2012, she was owned by a not-for-profit organization whose primary aim was to sail her and other square rigged sailing ships, and she sailed the world to appear at harbors for inspections, and take paying passengers, to recoup running costs. For long voyages, she took on volunteer crew.

On October 29, 2012, sixteen Bounty crew-members abandoned ship off the coast of North Carolina after getting caught in the high seas brought on by Hurricane Sandy. The ship sank, according to Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, at 12:45 UTC Monday October 29, and two crew members, including Captain Robin Walbridge, were reported as missing. The Captain was not found and presumed dead on November 2. It was later reported that the Coast Guard had recovered one of the missing crew members, Claudene Christian, descendant of Fletcher Christian.] Miss Christian was found to be unresponsive and pronounced dead at Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

A second Bounty replica, named HMAV Bounty, was built in New Zealand in 1979 and used in the 1984 Dino De Laurentiis film The Bounty. The hull is constructed of welded steel oversheathed with timber. For many years she served the tourist excursion market from Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, before being sold to HKR International Limited in October 2007. She is now a tourist attraction (also used for charter, excursions and sail training) based in Discovery Bay, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, and has an additional Chinese name 濟民號.

One thought on “Pitcairn Islands #6 (1940)

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