The Pitcairn was a schooner built in 1890 for the Seventh-day Adventist Church for use in missionary work in the South Pacific. A conservative Protestant Christian body of some 10 million members worldwide, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination has, since its founding in 1863, practiced the biblical injunction to carry the gospel message “to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” After six missionary voyages, the schooner was sold in 1900 for commercial use, and renamed Florence S. She was lost by stranding on the island of Mindoro, Philippine Islands, on October 17, 1912.
In 1876, J.N. Loughborough and James White, two Seventh-day Adventist clergymen who were living in the Napa Valley just north of San Francisco, California, learned the story of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, and that the mutineers’ descendants were living on Pitcairn Island. They determined to see that the Pitcairners learned of their Adventist faith. They prepared a box filled with religious papers, and took it to the San Francisco waterfront where they found Captain David A. Scribner of the ship St. John who agreed to take them to Pitcairn.
The Pitcairners read the papers sent by the clergymen, but they made no change from their Church of England faith which they had been practicing since the early 1800s. John Adams, the only surviving mutineer, had introduced them to religion through a Bible and a Church of England prayer book taken from the Bounty. Given the simple religious principles and piety Adams taught them, it was natural that the Pitcairners would have considerable interest in the box of Seventh-day Adventist tracts brought to them by Captain Scribner, even if their message did not inspire an immediate change in worship habits.
The Seventh-day Adventist John Tay, a former sailor, was advised by his doctor to take a sea voyage in 1886. He paid his way by working as a carpenter. At Tahiti he found passage on HMS Pelican, a British man-of-war. Tay reached Pitcairn Island on HMS Pelican on October 18, 1886, and stayed until the last week of November. For five weeks, the islanders studied with him the principles of the Adventist faith. They clearly recalled having been introduced to the Adventist way of worship some 10 years before through the box of tracts they had received. Almost all on the island decided to embrace the Adventist faith. They asked to be baptized as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, but Tay, pointing out that he was not an ordained minister and thus could not perform the rite, promised to return with an ordained clergyman for the baptism they desired.
The Adventists had devoted relatively little effort to foreign missions up to the time of Tay’s voyage, despite the urging of Ellen G. White. The news of Tay’s success galvanized the church. A resolution was passed at the California Adventist conference in October 1887 to buy a ship for use in missionary work in the Pacific islands. At the General Conference in Oakland that started on November 13, 1887, a committee was established to consider a resolution to use up to $20,000 to buy or build a ship, to be ready early in 1888. The committee recommended postponing the project so funds could be raised and the requirements studied.
In April 1888, the committee decided to dispatch Elder Andrew J. Cudney with Tay to Pitcairn and other islands to determine what type of vessel would be needed. Cudney left for Honolulu on May 20, 1888, on the Sonomo. When he arrived he arranged to outfit a schooner at a cost of about $900 to the Conference, with the option for the Conference to buy the ship for $1,100 after a trial voyage. Cudney left Honolulu for Tahiti on the Phoebe Chapman on July 31, 1888. There he was to join Tay, who had left Oakland for Tahiti on July 5. The plan was for Cudney and Tay to continue to Pitcairn Island, where Cudney could perform the promised baptisms.
Tay reached Tahiti early in August 1888 and waited there for Cudney. After three months he met a man who had seen the Phoebe Chapman in Honolulu, and who described how the schooner had been altered and loaded. Tay did not consider the changes and ballast arrangement to be safe, and wrote a letter saying he did not want to sail in the schooner. After six months he gave up waiting for the Phoebe Chapman, and on January 14, 1889, sailed on the Tahiti for San Francisco. Cudney had vanished without a trace.
The General Conference of October 1889 resolved to immediately buy or built a suitable vessel for missionary work in the Pacific Islands, to be ready by the end of 1890, with at least $20,000 raised by donations to fund the project. The sum was later changed to be no more than $12,000. It was agreed to devote the world-wide Sabbath School contributions for the first six months to the cost of the ship.
On April 22, 1890, Charles H. Jones and John Tay signed a detailed contract with Captain Matthew Turner, who had a shipyard at Benicia, California, to deliver a schooner complete in “hull, spars, and iron work” by July 31, 1890, at a cost of $7,400, to be paid in installments as the work progressed. Turner agreed to donate $500 of his own money, so the cost was lowered to $6,900. The cost of the schooner when fully rigged was under $12,000, although the final cost of the fully furnished vessel was $18,683.05. Donations of almost $16,000 almost covered the cost, and various publishing houses donated books worth thousands of dollars.
The Pitcairn, as the schooner was named, had two masts, both about 80 feet (24 m) tall. The ship was about 100 feet (30 m) long and 27 feet (8.2 m) wide, with a depth of 10 feet (3.0 m). It had a net tonnage of 115 tons. There were almost 1,600 yards of sails, made in Chicago. The Pitcairn was initially rigged as a topsail schooner. The hull was sheathed in copper to protect it from worms, and held fifty tons of slag as ballast. The forecastle had eight berths for a crew of up to twelve seamen. Beside this was the galley, and then the 11 by 24 feet (3.4 by 7.3 m) cabin, which held a bookcase and an organ besides the furniture. Six staterooms were provided for up to eighteen passengers. There were two toilet rooms and one bath room. There were two large water tanks in the aft of the vessel, which was otherwise left empty for cargo.
Pitcairn was launched into San Francisco Bay on schedule at high tide — 10:00 p.m. — on July 28, 1890, when it slid down the ways of the Turner Shipyard. The vessel was moved to nearby Oakland and work started on rigging and outfitting. The schooner was dedicated on the afternoon of September 25, 1890, in a lengthy ceremony attended by about 1,500 people. A number of short trips were made in the bay before the start of the first voyage, generally carrying Sabbath School members as passengers. The white-hulled Pitcairn was described as a fine specimen of American shipbuilding, a shapely wooden craft. At the Pitcairn‘s dedication, M. C. Wilcox said the ship was “made of the very best timber” with workmanship of “the best character.” One of her later captains said “She was a smart vessel and could sail like the devil.”
The Pitcairn made a total of six voyages in the South Pacific in the 1890s, carrying missionaries to the Society Islands, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. On each of the Pitcairn’s voyages, the vessel sailed from San Francisco to Pitcairn Island before going on to other islands. Some of the islanders became interested in missionary work, and asked to accompany missionaries assigned to other islands. Some of the islanders were brought to San Francisco for formal training at Healdsburg College.
On its first voyage the Pitcairn sailed from San Francisco on October 20, 1890, under captain Joseph Marsh. The crew included a first mate, three sailors, a cook and a cabin boy. She carried three missionary couples from San Francisco, John and Hannah Tay, Edward H. and Ida Gates, and Albert and Hattie Read. As the ship was leaving the Golden Gate, another schooner struck her, tearing a hole in one of the sails, but not otherwise materially damaging the vessel. The voyage southward down the Pacific Ocean was uneventful save for days of becalming weather and infrequent rain storms. She reached Pitcairn Island on November 25.
On November 26, the British ship Troop, traveling from Oregon to Cardiff, spoke to the Pitcairn and was then boarded by Tay and about 20 islanders, who sold the captain fruit and vegetables. On November 28, the iron sailing ship Renee Rickmers of Bremerhaven was approaching Pitcairn Island when she saw the schooner, mistook it for a pirate, and rapidly stood out to sea to escape. During the schooner’s three-week stay, 82 Pitcairn islanders were baptized.
After this, the Pitcairn sailed onward to other Pacific Islands. She carried three Pitcairn islanders as missionary helpers: James Russell McCoy, his sister Mary McCoy and Heywood Christian. She then continued through the Society Islands and Hervey Islands, stopping at several ports. The schooner sailed on to Samoa, where she spent a week in Apia Harbor, then sailed via Tonga to the Fiji islands, where she called at various places. The Tays were left to conduct missionary work at Suva, Fiji. He died there after a few months. Pitcairn left Suva on September 21, 1891, and sailed for Norfolk Island, which she reached on September 30. The Pitcairn Adventists reunited with their relatives on Norfolk and working with missionaries on board, soon established the Adventist Church on Norfolk.
The Reads, as well as Captain Marsh’s wife, remained at Norfolk Island when the ship sailed on October 7 for Auckland, New Zealand. The New Zealand Herald reported the arrival of the mission schooner Pitcairn at Waitematā Harbour on October 12, 1891. The ship sailed from Auckland back to Norfolk, battling head winds and high seas, then returned to Auckland where she was refitted as a brigantine. A new cabin, forecastle and galley were built above deck, since the below-deck conditions in the tropics were stifling, and an auxiliary engine was installed for use in ports. The refitted ship left Auckland on June 26, 1892, and made a very difficult 37-day passage to Pitcairn. She finally reached San Francisco via Tahiti on October 8.
Before the Pitcairn‘s second voyage various improvements were made, including enlargement of the deck cabin. On the second voyage, J. Christensen, the former first mate who had become captain on the previous voyage after the death of Captain Marsh, again commanded the ship. Passengers included the missionaries Benjamin and Iva Cady, John and Fanny Cole, and Elliot and Cora Chapman. Others were the medical doctor Merritt Kellogg, the teacher Miss Hattie Andre, and James McCoy. The ship sailed from San Francisco on January 17, 1893, and reached Pitcairn Island on February 19. She went on to Tahiti, Huahine and Raiatea Islands, where Benjamin Cady and the Chapmans chose to stay to work as missionaries and teachers.
The ship stopped at Rurutu Island, Mangaia Island, Rarotonga and Niue Island. At all of these Kellogg treated many sick people. She bypassed Vava’u Island, Tonga, where there was a measles epidemic, to avoid being quarantined. She sailed via Fiji and Norfolk Island, where the Coles remained, to New Zealand. The Pitcairn then sailed for Pitcairn Island, arriving on February 6, 1894, to find that the people had been ravaged by a typhoid epidemic. The ship reached San Francisco on March 30.
On her third voyage, the Pitcairn was captained by the Pastor John Graham. It carried Dr. Joseph Caldwell, his wife Julia and their two boys. Caldwell planned to practice medicine on Raiatea. Other missionaries were George and Ada Wellman, Rodney and Carrie Stringer, W. E. and Rosa Buckner, Dudley and Sarah Owen with their two children, and Miss Lillian White. The ship sailed on June 17, 1894, and reached Pitcairn Island after a rough voyage of thirty days. The crew and passengers had difficulty landing in the rough seas. The Pitcairn sailed on with the islanders Maude and Sarah Young as missionaries, who received some basic medical training.
At Papeete, Tahiti, the governor proved hostile and told the Pitcairn not to visit Raiatea. The Wellmans and Lillian White remained at Papeete. The ship went on to Huahine Island, where the missionaries received a mixed reception, then to Rurutu Island, where the Stringers and Sarah Young were allowed to stay. The Owen and Caldwell families left the ship at Rarotonga, with Maud Young as an assistant to Caldwell. On return to Papeete, they received grudging permission for a brief visit to Raiatea, from where they sailed back to San Francisco, arriving on December 27, 1894.
The fourth voyage left San Francisco on May 1, 1895, commanded again by John Graham, Passengers were Dr. Frederick Braucht and his wife Mina, Edwin Butz with his wife Florence Butz and daughter Alma, Edward and Ida Hilliard and their daughter Alta, Jesse and Cora Rice and child, and Rowen and Pauline Prickett. They reached Pitcairn Island after 36 days. The Butz family remained there temporarily. In Tahiti, the Pitcairn picked up the Wellmans and Lillian White, destined for Rarotonga, and the Chapmans, who were returning to the U.S. The Pricketts remained in Tahiti. From Papeete, the ship touched at Raiatea, Rurutu and Rimatara Island en route to Rarotonga, where the Rice and Wellman families and Lillian White left the ship.
Edward Hilliard with his wife Ida Hilliard and their two-year-old daughter Alta disembarked at Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, on August 30, 1895. They were the first resident missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Tonga. They lived in temporary quarters while Edward Hilliard built a four-room cottage. Around November 1895, Ida Hilliard began to teach school, first in their temporary home and then in their cottage. The Pitcairn went on to Fiji, then to Apia, Samoa, and in late October sailed from there to San Francisco which was reached in early December 1895.
The Pitcairn‘s fifth voyage left San Francisco on May 19, 1896, under John Graham. Passengers were Herbert and Millie Dexter, Joseph and Cleora Green, Jonathan and Sophie Whatley with their son, the nurse William Floding and the Pitcairn islanders Alfred and Arthur Young. The Whatleys stayed at Pitcairn. The Butz family boarded, having been transferred to Tonga, with the Pitcairners Maria Young and Tom Christian as assistants. James McCoy and the author Rosalind Amelia Young also joined the ship. Stops included Papeete, Rurutu, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Palmerston atoll and Samoa.
The ship reached Tongatapu on August 29. Here Edwin Butz and his wife Florence disembarked. They were accompanied by two Pitcairn Islanders, Sarah and Maria Young, descendants of Bounty mutineer, midshipman Ned Young. In 1897, Dr. Merritt Kellogg and Eleanor Kellogg joined them. The Pitcairn went on the Fiji, then on the return voyage visited Vanuatu, the eastern Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, where they were warned off by the German authorities. She returned to San Francisco late in 1896, where she remained for over two years due to lack of funding.
J. Werge captained the Pitcairn on its final voyage, leaving San Francisco on January 23, 1899. It did not carry any new missionaries, but did carry Edward Gates, who was in charge of missionary work on the islands and was to assess the status and needs at each island group. The vessel carried lumber for construction at the missions. The ship sailed first to Pitcairn Island, where it stayed for three weeks, then went on to Papeete. Raiiatea and Rarotonga, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. The Pitcairn reached Tongatapu on June 3, 1899, bringing a small prefabricated building that was used at first as a mission home and as a chapel. After 18 months, it was taken apart and rebuilt as the small Nuku’alofa church, 16 by 33 feet (5 by 10 meters). The Pitcairn transferred the Butz family north to Vavaʻu Island, then sailed for Fiji on June 13. After leaving a printing press there, the ship returned to San Francisco.
In 1900, the American Foreign Mission Board agreed that the Pacific Islands should be administered from Australia. They sold the Pitcairn to W.E. Nesbitt for $6,500 — $600 in cash, the balance in a note — soon after returning to San Francisco from its sixth voyage. She was renamed Florence S. On March 6, 1900, she made a voyage to Cape Nome, Alaska. Towards the end of 1900, she sailed from San Francisco for a three-month cruise off Mexico. The ship was sold to Clark and Spencer of Manila in the Philippines, and on February 22, 1901, Florence S left for Manila under Captain Blain with a cargo of flour. She was lost when she was stranded on Mindoro on October 17, 1912. None of the eight people on board were lost.
On July 22, 1975, the Pitcairn Islands issued a set of four stamps portraying several ships that played an important part in Pitcairn’s history (Scott #147-150). While the Scott catalogue calls the set “Mailboats”, every ship that called upon the island provided that service either delivering or receiving letters. The stamps were printed by lithography and perforated 14½. A souvenir sheet was also released (Scott #150a) which includes the four stamps perforated 14.