2011 January 23 – Day 19 – Pitcairn Island

January 23, 2011 was the 221st anniversary of the burning of the “Bounty.”  On April 28, 1789 Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian and discontented sailors mutineed against the ship’s captain Lieutenant Bligh and cast him, along with 18 loyal crew members, adrift in the ship’s launch.  The mutineers sailed to Tahiti where some of them stayed and others took ‘wives’ and set sail for some place they could hide from the British Royal Navy.

They stumbled upon Pitcairn, one of four small widely-spaced islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The island’s location was incorrectly marked on the sea charts by over 200 miles.  It was uninhabited, had a steep shoreline with no harbour, and had good soil.  Assuming their odds of being found were slim they decided to stay.  At the time there were 6 men, 11 Tahitian women and one baby.  After removing every salvageable item from the Bounty the mutineers loosed it in the bay and burned it  on January 23, 1790 so that the presence of the ship would not give away their hiding place.   Every year on the anniversary a replica of the HMS Bounty is cast adrift from the island and burned.

After the mutineers settled on the island they were not discovered for 18 years.  By that time only one of the original mutineers, John Adams, was still alive (the others had almost all killed each other in disputes.  One died of asthma in 1800) and the island had a population of 60.  Today the population is about the same.If you look very closely you can see the speck of an island on the center horizon. The total land area of all four islands in the group is about 18 sq. miles (47 sq. km)  Pitcairn is the second largest, the only one inhabited, and is about 2 miles (3.2 km) across. Pitcairn, and it’s fellow islands; Henderson, Ducie and Oeno, is a British overseas territory; the last remaining in the Pacific.  The British government subsidizes the island to the tune of four million pounds per year.  The closest land is New Zealand and the doctor, nurse, teacher, and police officer are all from New Zealand.  Children, when they reach the older grades and university, usually go to New Zealand to complete their education.

The island’s volcanic soil and temperate climate lend it to growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, both tropical and temperate. The sea is always available for fish.  There are no native animals other than sea birds.  In 1998 the U.K. government funded an apiculture program on the island, which included training the beekeepers on the island and doing indepth analysis of the bees and the honey.  Pitcairn Island has one of the best examples of disease-free bee populations anywhere in the world.  The honey, sold under the Delectable Bounty brand is highly prized in New Zealand and Britain. A supply ship brings fuel for the generators and other supplies every three months.  There is no airstrip and no harbour so when supplies arrive they must be loaded into the islander’s two long boats (each can hold six tons), then lifted by crane to the shore before the containers are opened and goods are moved by ATV up to the top to the store or the purchaser.  Public power is supplied 10 hours per day, five in the morning and five in the evening.  All residents work on a rotation schedule to do maintenance and upkeep on the public buildings.  There is currently a medical clinic, a store, school, museum and 10 houses on the island.  There are three brackish streams, however people collect the rain water off their roofs for personal use. The island gets about a meter (3′) of rain per year.  There are only four surnames – Christian, Warren, Brown and Young – and virtually every person is a 7th or 8th generation descendant of one of the mutineers.

Once our captain set anchor the long boat with 46 of the residents, bringing all their goods for sale, came along side and climbed a rope ladder into the ship’s lower deck.  nEveryone and everything was sent up to the pool deck in the elevators. There were tables set up all around the swimming pool and the passengers were so anxious to get at the goods the poor people did not have time to unpack before demands of, “How much?” “How much?” were coming from all directions. The busiest table was the post office.  Pitcairn Island makes their own stamps which, because of the remote location, are highly sought by colletors.  You could buy a postcard and have it stamped and postmarked from Pitcairn.

While the shopping frenzy was going on the captain sailed at dead slow around the island two times. We stayed on the upper deck and used the binoculars to check out the items available and then once the crowds thinned a bit I ventured forth to make my purchases: two spatulas and two wooden spoons and a turtle carved from wood taken from Henderson Island.  Somewhat later we also each purchased a shirt and had some nice visits with the island folks.

Crafts, shirts and stamps were all sold by about 2 pm and everyone made their way back to the lower decks to return to the island.  On the captains orders when the long boat was brought along side it was loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, beer, wine, champagne and soda. Once all the goodies were stowed, the islanders climbed down the rope ladder, and motored home again.  Needless to say they were thrilled with all of the bounty supplied by the captain.

In keeping with the nautical theme our first day at sea after leaving Pitcairn was Pirate Night.  The dining room was rigged out like a two-masted sailing ship.  Very cool. We really enjoyed our day sailing ’round Pitcairn. That little island is 3,000 miles from anywhere and not many people get a chance to stop there, so we felt very blessed.


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