Sunday, August 23, 2015


Pitcairn Island is a tiny isolated island in the South Pacific, made famous by the mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789.  It is a fascinating story that I will try to summarize.

In the 1700s, the British had sugar plantations in the West Indies, and the work on these plantations was done by slaves.  The American colonies provided a cheap food supply for these slaves, but when the American Revolution happened, an alternative was needed.

In 1767, Captain Wallis became the first European to discover Tahiti, and not long after that, breadfruit was found to be plentiful on Tahiti.  A breadfruit is about the size of a child's head, and is like a potato that grows on trees.  Breadfruit trees were found to produce numerous fruit with minimal care, which is why it was chosen to be the new cheap food supply for the slaves in the West Indies.

In 1787, the British sent Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty to acquire breadfruit trees from Tahiti and bring them to the West Indies.  The Bounty reached Tahiti in 1788 where it stayed for nearly six months while breadfruit trees were collected.  During that time, the Bounty's crew lived an easy life on Tahiti and hooked up with the friendly Tahitian women.  Missionaries had not yet spread Christianity in the South Pacific, so the women were sexually liberal.

In 1789, the Bounty left Tahiti.  It did not take long for the crew to miss their easy lifestyle on Tahiti and their Tahitian girlfriends.  On top of that, Bligh had a foul mouth and liked to insult his crew, so there was a lot of tension on the ship.  The final blow came when some of Bligh's coconuts went missing, and he accused his acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian of stealing them.  Three and a half weeks after leaving Tahiti, Christian and 17 others mutinied, taking over the Bounty and sending Bligh and 18 of his followers on an open boat to fend for themselves.

Mutiny was a capital offense, and once the British learned of the mutiny, they would search far and wide to bring the mutineers to justice.  The mutineers knew this, so they searched for an island to hide away at.  After a failed attempt on an island with unfriendly natives, they returned to Tahiti.  Nine of the mutineers decided to remain on Tahiti and take their chances with British justice.  Fletcher Christian and eight other mutineers decided to once again find an island to hide away at.  But before leaving, they took 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men with them, likely through some form of kidnapping.  Nine of the women were for the nine mutineers, the Tahitian men were for slave work, and the remaining three women were to be shared with the six Tahitian men.  A recipe for disaster.

In January of 1790, nine months after the mutiny, the Bounty reached Pitcairn Island, an island 1,300 miles southeast of Tahiti with an area of less than two square miles.  Pitcairn had been discovered by Europeans in 1767, but was recorded on the map 200 miles east of its actual location.  So the actual location of Pitcairn was not on any map.  On top of that, Pitcairn had no harbor with steep slopes all around, was covered with thick vegetation, and was uninhabited.  It was the perfect hiding place.  The mutineers decided to settle there and burned the Bounty to cover their tracks and to prevent anybody from leaving.

By 1800, most of the men on Pitcairn had murdered each other.  Part of the reason was because there were more men than women, and part of the reason was because the Tahitian men got tired of being treated like slaves.  Also, one of the mutineers had managed to produce alcohol, which didn't help.  After a decade, only two men remained – the mutineers Edward Young and John Adams.  Young died of natural causes at the end of 1800, leaving Adams as the only man left with 11 Tahitian women and 25 multiracial children who were fathered by six of the mutineers before they died.  Adams converted the island to Christianity, and the community remained peaceful.

The British had searched far and wide to bring the mutineers to justice, and they did capture the ones who had stayed on Tahiti, but they never found the nine that had settled on Pitcairn.  They had disappeared from the world for 18 years until 1808 when Captain Folger of the American ship Topaz came upon Pitcairn, where he unexpectedly found the island inhabited with John Adams, eight women, and 23 children.  It was after that when the world learned of the legendary story of Pitcairn Island.

The Bounty Trilogy
Since then, many books and movies have retold the story of the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath.  Probably the most famous work is The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  It consists of three novels – the first about the mutiny, the second about Captain Bligh and his followers after the mutiny, and the third about the mutineers and Pitcairn Island.

Seven years ago, I somehow came across The Bounty Trilogy and learned of this fascinating story.  Shortly after, I researched Pitcairn Island and learned that people still lived there, most of them descendants of the Bounty mutineers.  I was fascinated and decided that I had to visit this place.  However, Pitcairn doesn't have enough flat area for an airport, so getting there requires a series of flights followed by a long boat ride.  In other words, it's not an easy place to get to.  So I put the idea in the back of my mind.

Earlier this year, I got divorced.  In light of that, I decided to sell my house, quit my job, and move back to my hometown of Sacramento, California where I would start a new life.  But before starting my new life, I decided that it was time to finally visit Pitcairn.

Tonight, I flew from Sacramento to Los Angeles, the first leg of my journey.

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