March 11, 2014
Posted in: Special Guests
By World Cruiser Richard Smith
Queen Victoria left Valparaiso, Chile on 9 February 2014 for the long voyage across the South Pacific en route to Papeete, Tahiti.
After three lovely sea days, we spent a great day circumnavigating Easter Island and two days later we arrived at Pitcairn Island. Few of us had been to Pitcairn before, but the majority of us knew something about its history and the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty.
In brief, the Bounty left England for Tahiti in December 1787 under the command of Captain William Bligh, arriving in Tahiti 10 months later after a difficult voyage. They were there to collect breadfruit for cultivation in the West Indies as a cheap food for the slaves.
The crew of the Bounty spent five months in Tahiti and they were popular with the Tahitian ladies, so that when the time came for them to leave there was a considerable reluctance. They did not relish the hardships they would have to endure on the long voyage ahead of them, nor did they want to leave the lovely ladies behind.
Within three weeks of leaving Tahiti, Fletcher Christian led a mutiny which resulted in Bligh and 18 of his supporters being cast off in one of the ships boats. Amazingly they survived, eventually reaching Indonesia.
Fletcher Christian sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti but he realized that he and the mutineers could not settle there. They would be traced too quickly. After abortive attempts to settle on other islands, he set sail with eight of the mutineers, six Tahitian men, twelve Tahitian women and one small girl. He wanted to find a remote place to escape the long arm of the law and the gallows.
Eventually he found Pitcairn and decided to settle there. The mutineers divided up the land up amongst the nine of them and apparently treated the Tahitian men as slaves. A further problem was that there were three more men than there were women and when the partner of one of the mutineers died following a fall, he demanded that one of the Tahitian’s gave up his wife!
There followed a series of murders. Nine of the 15 men were killed in 1793 alone (including Fletcher Christian) and by 1796 there were only four mutineers and ten women left on Pitcairn.
The community in Pitcairn survives, but only just over 50 people now live there compared with 200 in 1936. The children spend their last two years of High School in New Zealand and the attractions of a much larger world entice many of them away.
On Sunday 16 February 2014 Queen Victoria arrived off Adamstown, Pitcairn and within minutes a metal longboat packed with almost the total population of the island was motoring towards us.
The islanders set up stalls in the Queens Room and we were then allowed in to browse and to buy. The islanders sold stamps and cards, t-shirts and caps, carvings and jewelry and a multitude of other items. They were very happy to talk about their life on the island and their respective relationships to the original mutineers. The vast majority had the surname Christian!
While the sale was taking place, one of the islanders, Jacqui Christian, gave two presentations in the theatre. She is an excellent speaker and she talked about life on Pitcairn, the problems that the island faces and the way forward.
When the sale ended the islanders gathered together their belongings, packed them into their boat and then formed themselves into a choir, singing a number of their island songs to us. It was magical. They then boarded their boat and made their way back to a tiny quay tucked into the rocks.
It was a wonderful experience, made all the more poignant for me because my late father Captain George Smith (then a youngish Cunard deck officer) had called at Pitcairn in the fifties on the old Caronia (the Green Goddess). He had told me, then a young boy, all about this small island in the middle of the Pacific and I had never forgotten those stories.