HISTORY

             Pitcairn has a unique and interesting history, spanning back to before Europeans ever came to the Pacific.  It was also the setting for one of the closing chapters of the legendary Bounty saga, which resulted in the creation of a new people:  the Pitcairners.

                Polynesians are generally accepted as the first inhabitants of Pitcairn, although in their time the island was called Hiti-au-revareva.  Several maraes and villages were on Pitcairn, as well as petroglyphs in a couple of places.  Eventually they moved away or died, and by 1790 the island was uninhabited.

Below:  Relics of a forgotten age:  at left an "idol" from a marae, and at right petrogylphs carved into the cliff Down Rope.
               

                     The first European discoverer is questionable.  The first may possibly have been the explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós in January, 1606 who called the island “San Juan Bautista,” although many believe that it may actually have been Henderson Island he meant.  The first definite European sighting of Pitcairn was on July 2nd, 1767 by Captain Philip Carteret of the H.M.S. Swallow.  They did not land, and it turned out that he had misplotted the island.

Below:  Men of Discovery:  Quiros (left) and Carteret (right).
           

                In 1790, Pitcairn was settled by the Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian companions.  Unfortunately, by 1801 there was only one of the men still alive, John Adams, with several women and a lot of children of his and his deceased companions.  In 1808 Pitcairn and its multicultural population was rediscovered by an American sealer.  Adams died in 1829 and in 1831 the entire community was moved to Tahiti.  After some months suffering from the diseases contracted there the Pitcairners that survived the illnesses made their way back to Pitcairn.

Below:  Bounty relics:  Anchor (left) and a cannon (right).
                   

                In 1832 came a man called Joshua Hill who took over the island, becoming a dictator in almost every sense of the word.  He was eventually overthrown and deported in 1837.  Following this, the Pitcairners saw a need for protection, due to the former dictator, as well as the presence of many ships who might take advantage of the island.  In 1838 the H.M.S. Fly visited, and with the help of her captain the Pitcairners drew up a constitution.  This event is seen by many as the incorporation of Pitcairn Island into the British Empire.

Below:  a 19th-century impression of Joshua Hill assaulting an islander.

                In 1856, the entire population was once more moved, this time to the recently vacated Norfolk Island, where they settled down.  However, there were those who wanted to return, and so many returned in two waves in 1858 and 1864.

                Up until 1887 the people had been generally of the Church of England.  However, in that year Pitcairn was converted to Seventh-Day Adventism.  This belief continues as the dominant one on Pitcairn to this day, although there are other beliefs on Pitcairn today.

Below:  John I. Tay.


                The coming of missionaries was beneficial in that Pitcairn now had more access to education, and breathed new life into the school.  However, Pitcairn society was also deteriorating in many respects, which culminated in a murder (the only one outside of the first ten years of the community) in 1897.  However, things picked up under the leadership of James Russell McCoy, and a stronger community ensued.

                When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, Pitcairn became a popular stopover point for vessels going between Panama and New Zealand.  The introduction of radio, and in recent years, internet, has improved communication with the outside world considerably.  This has continued until recent years but visiting ships have declined tremendously.  Sadly, Pitcairn once more came to prominence due to allegations of sex abuse, which culminated in a trial (and an ensuing media circus) in 2004.  Regardless, Pitcairn keeps going on.