The History of the Pitcairn Island Group and the Mutiny on the HMS Bounty

This article was inspired by an article about some British Navy research that was done to “fix” the existing navigational charts that have been used since the 1930s around the Pitcairn Island Group. There are four islands in the group, and all of them but Pitcairn Island itself are uninhabited. One of those islands is called Henderson Island. It had been found to be charted wrongly using modern GPS and other technologies. It was charted about a mile north of where it actually lay. That much of a difference could be problematic for sailing ships, especially at night. But modern science and technology demands precision, hence the Royal Navy research and the new charts.

But the story opens up one of the most famous, or infamous, chapters of naval history, that is, the famous mutiny that took place on a Royal Navy ship of the line called HMS Bounty.

Photo: YouTube/Sebastian ioan

You may have heard the term, “Mutiny on the Bounty” before. Maybe you associated it with having seen one of the movies made about this British Navy event that took place in the late 1700s. There are versions with Marlon Brando and with Anthony Hopkins and Liam Neeson. Both were very entertaining pieces, but can never approach the realities of the events and the real persons that took part in that very real story.

The Mutiny on the Bounty took place on 28 April, 1789. The Bounty was a ship captained by Robert Bligh and had arrived at Tahiti after a long, arduous sail from England in 1788. The Bounty spent some five months on the island of Tahiti repairing and replenishing itself there. After five months in Tahiti, enjoying the climate, serenity and, in many cases, its women, the crew of the Bounty set sail again on its mission for the Royal Navy.

Photo: YouTube/Sebastian ioan

Three weeks after leaving Tahiti, Fletcher Christian and several of Bounty’s crew mutinied. They set Capt. Bligh, and 18 of the crew members who refused to go along with the mutiny, adrift in an open boat and set sail back to Tahiti. Christian knew, though, that he could not stay in Tahiti, knowing that the Royal Navy would eventually be in pursuit of him and the Bounty and the other mutineers.

The mutineers returned to Tahiti briefly. They took on supplies and some Tahitians. In September of 1789, 16 of the mutineers voted to stay on Tahiti, and the remaining eight mutineers decided to go on with Fletcher Christian to “find a new home away from the eyes of the world.” They took six Polynesian men, 12 women, and a baby girl named Sully with them. Four months later, they stumbled upon an uninhabited island.

Photo: YouTube/Sebastian ioan

The ship’s log showed this entry: “We discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day (Friday, 3 July), it appeared like a great rock rising from the sea…and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the Marines, we called it Pitcairn’s Island.”

The crew of the Bounty settled there with their Polynesian passengers, building temporary huts at first but gradually more permanent housing and buildings. The place was called Adamstown after one of the crew. It is still the one town on the island. Pitcairn’s population today is 47 souls, all of whom are descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty.

Photo: YouTube/Sebastian ioan

The story of the colonization of Pitcairn has its own share of tragedy, violence, and mayhem. But over time, the remaining crew and Polynesians found peace, and their descendants remain there on that remote rock in the vast expanses of the South Pacific. They are no longer out of the eyes of the world. Tourists have found the place and the 47 citizens. The descendants of the original mutineers and Polynesians retain as much of their old culture as is possible while taking advantage of the income that comes from the tourism industry.

If you like sea stories and history, I would encourage you to look up the Pitcairn Islands, or the Mutiny on the Bounty, for more of the historical information and the human stories that make up the Pitcairn Islands and the journey of the Bounty mutineers.

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