1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pitcairn

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PITCAIRN, an island in the mid-eastern Pacific Ocean, in 25º 3' S., 130º 6' W., belonging to Great Britain. It lies south of the Paumotu archipelago, 100 m. from the nearest member of this group. Unlike the majority of the islands in this region, it is without coral reefs, but rises abruptly with steep and rugged cliffs of dark basaltic lava. The extreme elevation is over 2000 ft., and the area 2 sq. m. The soil in the valleys is volcanic and fertile, but the gradual utilization of natural timber increases the liability to drought, as there are no streams. The climate is variable and rainy. Stone axes, remains of carved stone pillars similar to those of Easter Island, and skeletons with a pearl-mussel beneath the head have been found on the island, though it was uninhabited when discovered by Philip Carteret in 1767. Pitcairn was the name of the midshipman who first observed it.

The island was destined to become the scene of a curious social experiment. On the 28th of April 1789 a mutiny broke out on board the "Bounty," then emploued by the British government in conveying young bread-fruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. The commander, Lieutenant William Bligh, was set adrift in the launch with part of the crew, but managed to make his way to Timor in the Malay Archipelago. The twenty-five mutineers at first all returned to Tahiti. Some remained, and six of these were ultimately court-martialled in England, three being executed in 1792. Meanwhile in 1790 a party consisting of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, eight Englishmen, six Polynesian men and twelve Polynesian women had taken possession of Pitcairn Island and burned the "Bounty." Treachery and debauchery filled the first years of the annals of the beautiful island. By 1800 all the men were dead except Alexander Smith, afterwards known as John Adams, who rose to a sense of his responsibility and successfully trained up the youthful generation left in his charge. An American vessel, the "Topaze," discovered the strange colony in 1808; again, by accident, it was visited by the "Briton," Captain Sir F. Staines, and the "Tagus," Captain Pipon, in 1817; and by the exploring ship "Blossom" in 1825. On the death of John Adams on the 29th of March 1829 George Hunn Nobbs, who had settled at Pitcairn in 1828, was appointed pastor and magistrate. Through fear of drought the islanders removed to Tahiti in 1830, but disapproved of both the climate and the morals of this island, and returned to Pitcairn in 1831. Shortly after this an adventurer named Joshua Hill appeared, and, claiming government authority, tyrannized over the islanders till his removal by a British man-of-war in 1838. In 1856 the whole of the islanders—60 married persons and 134 young men, women and children—were landed on Norfolk Island, but in 1858 two families chose to return, and their example was afterwards followed by a few others. Visited in 1873 and 1878 the colony was found in excellent order, but by the end of the century it was stated that intermarriage was bringing a deterioration of intellect, morals and energy, and that the islanders would probably drift into imbecility. Later accounts made it appear that this was an exaggeration, although the standard of morality was unquestionably low on the whole.

In religion the islanders are Seventh Day Adventists. "They have adopted an extraordinary patois, derived from the language of the Tahitian women who accompanied the mutineers of the "Bounty" to Pitcairn Island, although most of the adults can speak the English language fairly well" (R. T. Simons, Report, 1905). The island is a British colony by settlement, and is within the jurisdiction of the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific (since 1898). There is a governing body chosen from among the islanders, the constitution of which has been altered more than once owing to internal jealousies, &c. The island produces sweet potatoes, yams, melons, bananas and other fruits, arrowroot and coffee. Goats and chickens run wild. Some trade is carried on with Mangareva in a vessel owned by the islanders. The population is about 170.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.—J. Shillibeer, The "Briton's" Voyage to Pitcairn's Island (London, 1818); F. W. Beechey, Voyage to the Pacific (London, 1831); Sir J. Barrow, History of the Mutiny of the "Bounty" (London, 1831); W. Brodie, Pitcairn's Island . . . in 1850 (London, 1851); C. E. Meinicke, Die Insel Pitcairn (Prenzlau, 1858); T. B. Murray, Pitcairn (London, 1860), revised to date by C. C. Elcum (1885); Lady Belcher, The Mutineers of the "Bounty" (London, 1870); J. A. Brown, "Stone Implements from Pitcairn Island," in Journ. Anthropol. Instit. (1900), xxx.; R. A. Hermann. "Die Bevölkerung der Insel Pitcairn," in Petermanns Mitteilungen (1901), xlvii.; Parliamentary Papers C. 9148, and Cd. 754 (London, 1899, 1901); Cd. 2397 (ibid., 1905; Mr R. T. Simon's report).