Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Bounty’s mutineers and their descendants                      

I think practically every child who can speak English has heard of the mutiny on the English ship, the Bounty.  I will give you a brief history of the mutiny.

In 1787, Fletcher Christian was appointed master's mate on the Bounty, on Captain Bligh's recommendation, for the ship's  breadfruit  expedition to Tahiti. During the voyage out, Bligh appointed him acting lieutenant. Bounty arrived at Tahiti on 26 October 1788 and the Bounty and its crew spent the next five months there.   The Bounty set sail with its cargo of breadfruit plantings on April 4, 1789.

Some 1,300 miles west of Tahiti, near the Island of Tonga, the mutiny broke out on April, 28, 1789, led by Fletcher Christian. He sailed the Bounty to the island of Tubuai but they weren’t there long as they had troubles with the natives. Abandoning that island, they stopped briefly in Tahiti where Fletcher Christian married Maimiti, the daughter of one of the local chiefs, on June 16, 1789.

While on Tahiti, he dropped off sixteen crewmen. These sixteen included four Bligh loyalists who had been left behind on Bounty and two who had neither participated in, nor resisted, the mutiny. The remaining nine mutineers, six Tahitian men and eleven Tahitian women then sailed eastward. In time, they discovered and landed on Pitcairn Island, where they stripped Bounty of all that could be floated ashore before Matthew Quintal set it on fire, thereby stranding them permanently on the island.

I doubt however than many people know what happened to the mutineers after they landed on a small unknown island in the middle of the south Pacific, an island called  Pitcairn.

The island is one of a group of small islands called the Pitcairn Islands. They comprise of four volcanic islands that are spread over several hundreds of miles of which have a total land area of about 47 square kilometres (18 square miles). Only Pitcairn, the second largest island measuring about 3.6 kilometres (2.2 miles) from east to west, is inhabited.

The island of Pitcairn is inhabited by the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians (or Polynesians) from Tahiti who accompanied them.  Currently, with only about 56 inhabitants, originating from four main English families, Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world. Despite that, it has its own flag and national anthem.

In the year of 1790, nine of the mutineers from the Bounty and their Tahitian companions (six men, eleven women and a baby) — some of whom may have been kidnapped from Tahiti — settled on Pitcairn Islands and later set fire to the Bounty by one of the mutineers so that it wouldn’t be spotted by the English navy that was looking for them. The wreck is still visible underwater in Bounty Bay.

Although the settlers survived by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by serious tensions between the mutineers and the male Tahitians. 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. The Polynesians also converted to Christianity. They later converted from their original form of Christianity to Seventh-day Adventism, following a successful Adventist mission in the 1890s. After the rediscovery of Pitcairn, John Adams was granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny. The mutineers lived there for 24 years before being rediscovered by the British, who allowed the community to continue living on the island.

As time went by, the resulting sexual imbalance, combined with the effective enslavement of the Tahitian men by the mutineers, led to an insurrection of the Tahitian men and the deaths of most of the mutineers and the Tahitian men on the island.  According to an account by a Pitcairnian woman named Jenny who left the island in 1817, Christian was shot while working by a pond next to the home of his pregnant wife. Along with Christian, four other mutineers and all six of the Tahitian men who had come to the island were killed in the subsequent conflict. William McCoy, one of the four surviving mutineers, fell off a cliff while intoxicated and was killed. Quintal was later killed by the remaining two mutineers, Adams and Ned Young, after he attacked them. Young became the new leader of Pitcairn.

Fletcher Christian was survived by Maimiti and his son whom he named, Thursday October Christian  who was born in 1790. Besides Thursday October, Fletcher Christian also had a younger son named Charles Christian (born 1792) and a daughter Mary Ann Christian (born 1793).

Thursday and Charles are the ancestors of almost everybody with the surname Christian on Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands, as well as the many descendants who have moved to Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

There was no portrait or drawing of Fletcher Christian that was drawn from life. Bligh described Christian as "5 ft. 9 in. high [175 cm]. His skin was blackish or of a very dark complexion. His hair was blackish or very dark brown. A star was tattooed on his left breast, and another on the backside. His knees stood a little out could be called a little bow legged. He was subject to violent perspiration, particularly in his hand, so that he soils anything he handled.    

There were rumours of inbreeding on the Island. The community started with a very diverse, albeit small, gene pool consisting of women from three different islands, and 6 mutineers from widely differing parts of England, Scotland, and the Caribbean. (An American and a Frenchman were also there, but did not have children.)  In the first five generations on the island, only one marriage occurred between people who had 50% of their ancestors in common (the equivalent of most first cousins).                                            

Mutineer John Adams assumed he would be returned to England under arrest, and in fact indicated a longing to return to his native land despite charges pending against him. His wife, daughter, and members of the community pleaded with him not to leave. Captain Pipon of the Taugas wrote: “To have forced him away in opposition to their joint and earnest entreaties would have been an outrage on humanity.” Adams, then, remained at Pitcairn, dying there in 1829 at the age of 62. 

The Pitcairners made two attempts (in the 1800s) to secure their future against the threats of drought and the fear of overpopulation of their island. They emigrated once to Tahiti, then to Norfolk Island. Both times, after bitter attempts to settle in those islands, a number of them returned to Pitcairn. They organized a system of government on Pitcairn and the entire colony embraced the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. Today the Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the only one on Pitcairn. 

Early visitors to Pitcairn reported that the Pitcairn community as being devout, hospitable, self-supporting, and contented. Homes and furniture were crude but adequate. For clothing, the women employed the ancient Polynesian craft of making tapa, a kind of paper cloth. It was slow, laborious work, but the garments produced were comfortable and modest. The women also knew how to prepare ample meals from the food sources available on the island. The predominantly vegetable and fruit diet included meat and fish once or twice a week. The community lived as one big family, increasing its population by the enforced choice of cousin spouses. It should be noted that after generations of inbreeding, there are no apparent degenerative conditions and no diseases endemic to the island. On the contrary, recent visitors describe Pitcairners as basically healthy, strong, and alert individuals. Their population has declined from a high of over 200 in 1937 to fewer than 70 in 1974. Only 6 family names are now represented on the island, 3 of which perpetuate the surnames of mutineers—Christian, Young, and McCoy.  A nearly-prohibitive approach to immigration has thinned the population from a peak of 233 in 1937 to 56 in 2013.

Despite many modern conveniences, people live there today much in the same way as did their forefathers. Their tapa clothing has been replaced by Western-style dress, much of it cast-offs from passing ships. They have a few motorbikes and Mini-moke cars for getting about and there are motors for the longboats. But the hazards of launch and landing still require the supreme skill of seafaring men. Longboats have always been, and are today, the only method by which anything or anybody enters or leaves the island. There are still days and weeks of guessing when the next ship will call.

The island was rocked in 2004 by accusations of chronic and ubiquitous sexual abuse of the community's young female members (including pre-adolescent girls), and the subsequent investigation of much of the adult male population (including several who were no longer living there), six of whom were sentenced in New Zealand to terms in prison which they served in a makeshift prison on Pitcairn Island. The prison building in Adamstown is currently unoccupied, but there are plans for it to house the library and small tourist office, and possibly some tourist accommodation.

The remoteness and ruggedness of Pitcairn's geography, the insularity of its bureaucracy, and the scarcity of its resources conspire to make it a very difficult place to visit.

In September 2003, a baby was born on the island for the first time in 17 years. Another child, Adrianna Tracey Christian, was born on Pitcairn on March 3, 2007. In February 2005, Shirley and Simon Young became the first married outsider couple in recorded history to obtain citizenship on Pitcairn.

The majority of the resident Pitcairn Islanders are the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Tahitians (or Polynesians). Pitkern is a creole language derived from 18th century English, with elements of the Tahitian language. It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside standard English at the island's only school. Education is free and compulsory between the ages of five and 16. All of Pitcairn's seven children in 2000 were enrolled in school.

 Norfolk was repopulated in the mid-19th century by Pitcairners which is a

small  island  in the Pacific Ocean that is  located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, 1,412 kilometres (877 mi) directly east of mainland Australia's Evans Head, and about 900 kilometres (560 mi) from Lord Howe Island. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance. Many descendants of the mutineers moved there but the people there are dependent on assistance from Australia. The self-government of the island has failed its 1,800 people living there. Its annual budget is about 30 million Australian dollars (in par with Canadian dollars) but it has a large deficit. It follows nevertheless that living on that island is better than living on the Island of Pitcairn.  

No comments: