In the early hours of dawn the Pitcairn Islands loomed into view and as the sun rose in the sky we were boarded! Not by pirates, although some claimed they were, but by a boat load of direct descendants of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers from HMS Bounty all those years ago. And here they have remained, on this remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, living (now) a peaceful life with only recently installed telecommunications (complete with New Zealand phone numbers).
They brought their own ‘bounty’ in the form of souvenirs and once most of the passengers had disembarked from their boat, the remaining men lifted panels from the floor to reveal crate upon crate of goodies. All these were hastily lifted aboard and stalls were set up. The trading was all in American dollars with people who had a distinct New Zealand accent. This is because, as children, they are sent to New Zealand for their final two years of high school. Many never return because jobs and money here are extremely limited.
Then there was time to chat with Jacqui Fletcher. She is a seventh generation descendant who left the island, qualified as a pharmacist, worked in New Zealand, Australia and the UK before finally returning to the place of her birth. She is no longer a pharmacist as medical needs are met by the island’s doctor and a part time nurse, but this bright, well educated woman takes pride in doing a lot of administrative work on behalf of the 52 islanders. That’s right, just 52!!!
The cruise around Pitcairn left me wondering how on earth they got on and off this lush green volcanic island with its towering cliffs and steep rock faces. In spite of the calm seas, the tide raged relentlessly against the craggy shore line and it was difficult to spot any natural harbour. A circuit of the island seemed to reveal just one inlet, complete with a slip-way which appeared man-made. So how did the Bounty fare? There seemed to be no roads on the island but steep pathways linked houses built in terraces on the hillside. Jacqui enlightened us that the only mode of transport is quad bike (how exciting) or by walking the 2 square miles.
As for the landing possibilities….freighters come by 4 times a year with provisions and often have to wait for a couple of days for the sea to be calm enough to get the goods to the shore.
The island’s history is fascinating. The mutineers arrived with some Tahitian women (but not enough). There was fighting because the Tahitian men who also came were only allocated 1 woman to 3 men and eventually Fletcher Christian was shot, along with two other British men, when the Tahitians staged their own mutiny. Of course we had to ask about the clear dangers of small populations being limited for marriage opportunities. The answer was amusing. Pitcairn is an island with a small gene pool but because it is an island it is visited by ships heading to and from Tahiti and sometimes genes just happened to get left behind!!
Some children accompanied their parents to the ship and were some of the friendliest kids you would find anywhere. They are immensely proud to count the generations separating them from their ancestors. One little boy had his arm in a plaster cast and was happy to tell anyone who asked that he “fell off a cliff”. Ouch!
There are 4 islands which make up the Pitcairn Islands, two of which are atolls. Henderson Island offers beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees but no population! I didn’t expect to feel quite so proud to have got closer than most people to this truly fascinating island but I now fully intend to keep in touch via their website. As a protectorate of the UK they are immensely grateful for the small amount of support they receive and I will now follow the islanders’ progress with interest as they sell their honey (said to be the purest in the world) and their beautifully carved wooden goods.
We are now doing what most people do who pass by here and heading for Tahiti.