To bring a close to the Dem Tull Hall of Fame inductions for the year 2010, I will now concentrate on a non-Pitcairner. Most, if not all Pitcairners have heard of the Seventh-day Adventist missionary Jon I. Tay, and know his impact on the history of Pitcairn, specifically in the religion department. Anyway, without further ado, here goes the final induction for 2010.
John I. Tay was born in 1832 in the United States. He received enough education to read significantly, and he was noted as a hard worker. When he was sixteen years old he went to work at sea. Before he left he was given two gifts from his mother, both of which would influence him in later life and guarantee his mark on history. One book was the Bible, and the other was one that contained the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. As he travelled for those early years at sea he became a competent carpenter as well as a sailor. He became devoutly religious with the help of his Bible, and he gained a lifelong fascination with Pitcairn as a result of the book on the Bounty. To add to his fascination he heard even more tales from the sailors he worked alongside.
Tay eventually left the sea and made his home in Oakland, California. He met and married a woman called Hannah, and built a home for the two of them. In the early 1870’s something happened which would change his life forever. He was walking in Oakland one day and heard singing coming from a large tent. He entered the tent to find it was a meeting of Seventh-day Adventists. On hearing about the Adventist faith he studied it and was eventually converted and was baptised in 1873. Ever after he had a zeal to go witnessing for his beliefs and became a model member of the church.
By 1886, his health had deteriorated. His doctor told him that he needed to get away from the pollution in Oakland or he would most probably die. Tay decided to go to sea again and let the sea air do its work. One of his goals was to eventually get to Pitcairn Island and preach the Adventist message to the people there. For this journey, his wife Hannah would remain at home.
Tay found employment as a carpenter aboard the vessel Tropic Bird that sailed between Tahiti and San Francisco. Tay requested not to work on Saturday due to religious convictions, and the owner consented on the condition that Tay received no pay. With this matter amicably sorted, the Tropic Bird sailed from San Francisco on July 1st, 1886. After a brief stop in the Marquesas the vessel went on to Tahiti where it arrived in Papeete on July 29th.
As soon as he was in Papeete Tay left the Tropic Bird. He went to the British Consul in Papeete to get permission to go to Pitcairn, but the consul refused on the grounds that Tay was not a British subject. However, if a captain were willing to take him there, he had no problem with that. However Tay would remain in Papeete for the next couple of months trying to find transport to Pitcairn.
Help finally came in the form of the 13-gun H.M. Screw Sloop Pelican, under the command of R.W. Hope. The ship was on its way to Coquimbo via Pitcairn, and Tay saw his opportunity. Commander Hope was less than enthused about taking a relative stranger to Pitcairn. However, he asked a lieutenant who was of a religious frame of mind to speak to Tay. After a discussion with Tay the lieutenant told the captain “I think we ought to take this man to Pitcairn.” As a result, Tay joined the Pelican on September 16th, 1886.
Now it must be pointed out that John I. Tay was not the first news of Adventism brought to Pitcairn. Some years previously the island had received some publications which the people initially viewed with suspicion. However, according to Rosalind Amelia Young, four-fifths of the population eventually came to accept it, but they still considered themselves Anglican and still kept Sunday as their day of rest. Tay would be the man to change this.
The Pelican did not go straight to Pitcairn but stopped at Rarotonga a few days after leaving Papeete, where it picked up the British Vice-Consul for a trip to the island Aitutaki and back to Rarotonga, dropping off the Vice-Consul there. Eventually the Pelican headed for Pitcairn. Before reaching Pitcairn, Commander Hope ordered the engines slowed down so they would not reach the island on Sunday, due to his belief that the Pitcairners were so religious that a visit on a Sunday would displease them.
The Pelican reached Pitcairn on October 18th, 1886. As soon as the longboats were alongside, Tay told the people his reason for coming, that of spreading the Adventist doctrine. He requested to stay overnight, and Commander Hope agreed to stay offshore for the night so Tay could speak with the people ashore. Tay was taken ashore and spent basically the whole night telling the people about the Adventist church and its teachings. Intrigued with what Tay told them they informed Commander Hope the next morning that he could continue on but Tay would remain.
Tay remained on Pitcairn for five weeks. During this time the Pitcairners learned more about Adventism and Tay learned more about Pitcairn. Eventually Tay was asked to baptize them. Tay informed them that he was not ordained to do this, but promised to return in the future with an ordained minister to see to it that they would be baptised.
On November 20th of that same year the yacht General Evans arrived from Mangareva on its way to Tahiti. They detoured to Pitcairn with the intention of buying some of the island products. Tay asked permission to accompany them to Tahiti and this was granted. They left soon afterward.
Tay eventually made it home to California where he enthusiastically told the church leaders of what had happened on Pitcairn and requested that they get a missionary ship to go all over the Pacific and minister to the people. First on the agenda was the Pitcairners, who were willing to be converted. The church leaders were not too sure, so they planned to send Tay as well as an elder of the church, A.J. Cudney on a preliminary missionary trip to the Pacific. If there was considerable interest, then a ship would be built and sent to aid in this.
The ever-enthusiastic Tay left home once more and arrived at Papeete to wait for Cudney. From there they would head to Pitcairn. Sadly, Cudney and the boat he was on was lost with all hands before it reached Tahiti. On learning of the loss, Tay headed back to California. He was saddened, but not disheartened, and still pushed his cause. Eventually the church leaders former a three-member committee, one of whom was Tay, and charged them to go to ever major ship builder in the U.S. to find the best so they would build the missionary ship. Captain Matthew Turner’s shipyard in Benicia, Californis was chosen and in October, 1890 the boat was built. It was appropriately called the Pitcairn.
The Pitcairn sailed for its namesake in October, 1890. It reached Pitcairn on November 25th of that year. Aboard was Tay, his wife Hannah, as well as elders Gates and Read and their wives. The Pitcairn stayed there for around three weeks, and 82 Pitcairners were baptised by the ordained ministers. Tay and his wife stayed at the home of Simon Young and his family, and Tay was happy to finally see his ambitions realized.
When the Pitcairn sailed, Elder gates and his wife remained on Pitcairn, and among other things they founded a literary society, a monthly newsletter “The Daily Pitcairnian,” and even a kindergarten. Leaving Pitcairn on the Pitcairn were locals James Russell McCoy, his sister Mary Ann McCoy, and Heywood Christian. They were off to help with missionary work and to visit relatives on Norfolk Island. Tay and his wife also left, and the carpenter had more plans now that the Pitcairners were being take care of.
After leaving Pitcairn, the Tay’s arrived in Fiji in 1891. Tay intended to build another missionary boat, but within weeks of arriving he contracted influenza. He died the next year, 1892 in Suva and was buried there. Hannah Tay eventually returned to the house in Oakland, by way of the Pitcairn.
John I. Tay was never a paid church worker for the Adventist faith, but was a layman who had a strong desire to preach the Adventist message. In 1986 there was a re-enactment of John I. Tay’s landing on Pitcairn, with the people dressed in 1880’s period dress, and the pastor dressed as Tay, complete with beard. On Pitcairn there was a well named after him, but it has since fallen into disuse and is basically gone.
I wish to thank Herb Ford for the bulk of the information contained in this induction, both from his informative correspondence as well as his book “Pitcairn” Port of Call.” I would also like to thank Ollie Stimpson, the Adventist Pastor who first told me as a little child about John I. Tay. He is also the pastor who dressed as Tay during the centenary celebration in 1986. In closing I wish to quote from the aforementioned Herb Ford: “He is buried in the main cemetery in Suva, and one can easily find the headstone that marks the grave of a valiant missionary for Christ.”