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Bounty Pitcairn (2)

(Continued from last Issue)

From 1790 to 1808 four ships were seen by the Pitcairn Islanders, averaging one every four and a half years. None of these stopped and it was not until 1808, when the colony had been in existence for 18 years, that Captain Mayhew Folger of Boston, sailing the Topaze on a sealing voyage, sighted the island and lowered two boats, whose occupants were greatly surprised to see a boat put out to meet them from the shores of the island they thought was uninhabited. Even greater was their surprise when they were hailed in excellent English by the three young men that occupied the boat. The young men invited Captain Folger to come ashore to visit a white man who lived on the island. Captain Folger visited Adams, and his account of what he heard and saw was the first news the outside world had heard of the colony of mutineers on Pitcairn Island.

The next visit was in 1815. H.M.S. Tagus, a British vessel, landed a small boat and was also met by a boat from the island. The account of one of this ship’s officers gives an interesting picture of life on the island at this early date:

“Some of these stalwart, vigorous youths visited the ship and one named M’Coy, seeing a small black terrier for the first time, became alarmed and ran to one of the officers for protection. The slight condescension of the officers, however. turned to embarrassed shame when, before eating breakfast, to which they had been invited, the Islanders said their usual grace. ‘I must confess’, he writes, ‘I blushed for shame when I saw nature in its most simple state offer that tribute of respect to the Omnipotent Creator, which from an education I did not perform, nor from society had been taught its necessity. Ere they began to eat, on their knees, and with hands uplifted, did they implore permission to partake in peace what was set before them, and when they had eaten heartily, resuming their former attitude, offered a fervent prayer of thanksgiving for the indulgence they had just experienced’. Our omission of this ceremony did not escape their notice, for Christian, eldest son of Fletcher Christian, asked me if it was customary with us also. I, with candor, acknowledge I was embarrassed and wholly at loss for a sound reply, and evaded this poor fellow’s question.”

Ten years later Captain Beechey in the Blossom found but little change. Adams had grown fatter and older and several of the children had married and a thriving crop of grandchildren had made their appearance. Beechey relates that Adams visited the ship and also several of the young men, who he described as tall, healthy, robust, with good-natured countenance. They were simple, polite, and filled with eager curiosity. In their desire to emulate their visitors, they wore their few prized European clothes acquired from their previous visitors. All lacked shoes and stockings. Some wore black coats on bare torsos, and some waistcoats without either shirt or coat. etc. Quite a caricature.

The inhabitants of Pitcairn Island had been educated to look to England as their mother country and now Captain Beechey was to them a visible and tangible thread with home. Whereas he represented officialdom to them, he was called upon to perform certain legal services for them, the first of which was the formal marriage of Adams, who felt he had lived in unsanctified union for 35 years. The captain of this, and later British men-of-war, was appealed to, to settle disputes and agreements they themselves could not decide.

Beechey records the population in 1825 as 66 persons, 36 of which were males. Two Englishmen, John Buffet and John Evans, who had been sailors aboard The Cyrus of London, which touched Pitcairn in 1823, had also become members of the colony. Buffet, a man of some education, undertook to teach the children to keep the register of island affairs, and to conduct the religious exercises. Beechey found his sermon to be good, but tedious, since it was repeated three times in succession in order to fix it firmly on the islanders’ minds. Adams also read not only the appropriate prayer from the Prayer-book, but also all those which were intended only as substitutes.

On March 5, John Adams, the last survivor of the Mutiny, died. So diligently had he labored and so commendable were his children, that something of his spirit carried over to the next generation. Adams was sixty-five when he died.

It is perhaps quite natural that some adopted an attitude of cant and self-conscious piety, due to the reaction and praise their unpremeditated devotions had received from their visitors. Captain Waldengrave on a visit in 1830 records that upon meeting with some Pitcairn women he announced, “I have brought you a clergyman”. “God bless you, God bless you”, was their reply, “to stay with us?” “No”, he replied. “You bad man, why not?” “I cannot spare him. He is the clergyman of my ship. I have brought you clothes which King George sends”, exclaimed Captain Waldengrave. “We rather want food for our souls”, came the reply. Fortunately, this tendency was not universal. There is decisive evidence that their piety was genuine.

There had been an ever-present fear among the leaders on the island, for years, that water shortage, famine and overpopulation were problems that would have to be faced. So in 1830, after much planning and arrangement, the offer of the King of Tahite to donate a tract of land there — for the step-children of Tahite — was accepted and H.M. Sloop Comet, and the transport bark, Lady Ann, embarked on March 7th for the sixteen-day voyage that brought the 81 colonists back to the home of their ancestors. This adventure proved to be a misadventure, for by September 2nd the last of the survivors, 17 having lost their lives one way or another, were back to their haven on Pitcairn.

The offices of teacher, registrar and pastor, which Mr. John Buffet, by virtue of his education had filled, were aggressively usurped by a certain Mr. Nobbs, a well-educated man, who satisfied his passion for a visit to Pitcairn Island in November 1828, and extended this into a permanent stay.

Since 1819 the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge had taken a deep interest in the welfare of the Pitcairn Islanders. Presents of religious books and clothing were frequently sent from England by them. Through this society, the wishes of the islanders and of Mr. Nobb also, to have a pastor duly accredited by the Church of England, were finally granted. Adm. Moresley, leaving his own Chaplain, Mr. Holman, and taking with him Mr. Nobbs, gave him passage via Valparaiso to England where, after some months Nobbs, was first ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Sierra Leone, and then a Priest by the Bishop of London. Before quitting England, Nobbs was appointed a missionary at a small salary by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Nine months afterwards, Nobbs again landed at Pitcairn, May 16, 1853.

Although the previous attempt at settling elsewhere had miscarried, the threat of scarcity of water and famine due to overpopulation, caused the colony to petition the British Government to remove them as a body. In 1856 Captain Mathers of the Morayshire arrived and carried the entire population of 187 persons to Norfolk; lately abandoned penal colony of the British. It is about 25 miles in circumference and situated about 100 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, and over 4000 miles west of Pitcairn. After a two-year period on Norfolk Island, some were lonesome for Pitcairn, as is always the case, so first two families, numbering 16 persons, went back to live on Pitcairn. Five years later four more families, numbering 81 persons, left Norfolk and returned to Pitcairn. These 47 persons, descendants of the Mutineers, form the nucleus of the colony as it exists today. The colony rapidly increased and by 1864 it had almost doubled itself, it then consisting of 90 persons.

In 1886 a major event in the religious life of the Pitcairn Islanders took place. John I. Tay, a missionary of the Seventh Day Adventists came among them. Ten years earlier a box of literature explaining their tenets had been sent to Pitcairn. These were first received with horror, later tolerated, and at last embraced. The Islanders, always interested in religious affairs and devoted to reading religious matter, could not resist the perusal of these documents of the new sect. So coming into a prepared field, Tay, during a brief stay of six weeks, was able to persuade a large part of the people to adopt the new articles of belief. A minority were opposed and threatened a rift in community affairs, but they finally gave in and unanimously thereafter adopted the newly-found faith. The people were sensitive to the criticism of English and American opinion, who viewed with regret and sorely lamented their religious debauch.

In 1890 the islanders celebrated their 100th anniversary. It was in this year that amid great excitement, the Seventh Day Adventist missionary ship. Pitcairn, made its first parochial call to the island. She arrived on November 25, 1890, on board, besides Mr. and Mrs. John I. Tay, being the Elders Gates and Read and their wives. The entire community was at this time baptized and a rich fare of theology was given the communicants to digest. In July 1892, the good ship Pitcairn brought Elder Gates back to the island for an extended stay. His influence was great. A literary society was organized. A newspaper “The Monthly Pitcairn” was edited by him. Also, Mrs. Gates’ zeal spent itself in the forming of a kindergarten.

When the Pitcairn touched at the island in 1898, the Gates’ took passage, but their place was taken by Hattie Andre, a young lady fresh from college, an excellent teacher and loved by all.

At the beginning of the present century, Pitcairn was again almost a forgotten island. Whaling days were over and the opening of the Panama Canal replaced the route around Cape Horn. This increased isolation made the fewer visits paid to the island events of great importance.

Within the last few years, however, Pitcairn has again been brought into regular communication with the world. Vessels of the New Zealand Shipping Company, on their way to and from Panama, stop at the island for a half hour as a diversion for their passengers. The natives come out to sell their curios while the passengers ask them their ill-advised and impertinent questions.

The observance of the Seventh Day Adventists Sabbath (i.e. Saturday, of course) is described in the diary of a visitor as follows:

“Up later than usual this morning — 6 a. m., but I am ready for Sabbath School. When the bell rang at 7:30 I decided to sit through all the services, so I might be able to observe how they are conducted on the island. The Sabbath School service began as a general meeting. The church was crowded. Practically every able-bodied man, woman and child attended. The service commenced with hymns. A prayer was offered by Ted Christian, Assistant Elder. He is 6 feet 6 inches tall, and in a vibrant voice uttered his prayer in the ever-moving hypnotic words of the Old Testament. Then followed his reading of some Seventh Day Adventist literature. This literature contained an appeal for funds for missionary activities. The collection that morning amounted to L8-10s — quite a figure for 178 poor islanders to roll up. After the collection the congregation split up into five classes and commenced their respective lessons. These classes were followed by church services at 11 a. m. at which communion was celebrated, after which the men retired to an outer room and armed with basins and towels they performed the foot-washing ceremony. At 3:30 p. m. a sort of Young Peoples’ service was held and at 7:30 a church business session was conducted.”

The island’s population today is over 200 people. It boasts a town-hall, a church, a school house and it’s not so neat houses. The people, through contacts with the outside world and lately by radio, keep quite up-to-date, especially when compared with their former almost complete isolation.

It is remarkable and noteworthy to see the hand of God in directing the way of mutinous English sailors to establish a colony among these native Polynesians. God, no doubt, had His chosen vessels here also and by strange means lie brought them to the knowledge of His Word.