Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pitcairn, Robert (1747?-1770?)

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PITCAIRN, ROBERT (1747?–1770?), midshipman, son of Major John Pitcairn of the marines, killed in the battle of Bunker's Hill, was born in Edinburgh about 1747. David Pitcairn [q. v.] was his younger brother. On 15 July 1766 he was entered as a midshipman on board the Swallow, then fitting out for a voyage of discovery under Captain Philip Carteret [q. v.] According to the Swallow's pay-book, he was then nineteen. On Thursday, 2 July 1767, the Swallow sighted an island in the Pacific, according to their reckoning, in latitude 20° 2′S. and longitude 133° 21′ W. ‘It is so high,’ wrote Captain Carteret, ‘that we saw it at the distance of more than fifteen leagues; and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines … we called it Pitcairn's Island.’ The Swallow paid off in May 1769, and Pitcairn appears to have joined the Aurora, which sailed from England on 30 Sept. After touching at the Cape of Good Hope she was never heard of, and it was supposed that she went down in a cyclone near Mauritius in January or February 1770. Pitcairn's name does not appear in her pay-book, but it is quite possible that he was entered very shortly before she sailed, and was not reported to the admiralty, or that he was a supernumerary for disposal. Carteret stated that Pitcairn was lost in her in a subsequently published ‘Journal’ of the voyage of the Swallow. The island which Pitcairn discovered could not afterwards be found, the reported latitude and longitude being erroneous; but it has been very generally, and no doubt correctly, identified with the island to which the mutineers of the Bounty retired in 1789, and where the survivors and their descendants were found in 1808 and again in 1814 [see Adams, John 1760?–1829]. This is now known as Pitcairn Island.

[Carteret's Journal in Hawkesworth's Voyages, i. 561.]

J. K. L.