Settlement at Pitcairn Island

When Bligh and the 18 others had been cast adrift in the launch, Fletcher Christian had sailed off in HMS Bounty with a crew of only 24. After an unfriendly encounter with natives of a small island, the Bounty set sail for Tahiti where supplies were gathered. Sixteen of the mutineers later elected to remain at Tahiti.

Early on the morning of 23rd September 1789, the remaining nine mutineers sailed from Tahiti in the Bounty. Before leaving they 'kidnapped' six Polynesian men, 19 Polynesian women and a young Polynesian female child named Sully (Adams 1825; Coleman 1990). Six of the older women were later released at Moorea and the mutineers proceeded to sail the Pacific in search of an island which was uninhabited and lay well out of the usual shipping routes.

It is thought that the Bounty sailed some 14,800km before reaching Pitcairn Island on 15th January 1790. Pitcairn Island is in fact in terms of distance by ocean the most isolated island on Earth. It is known that a publication by the island's discoverer, Philip Carteret, was on board the Bounty. Interestingly enough, a navigational error made by Carteret meant that this small island remained lost to European shipping. Fletcher realised that, at the time, every naval publication retained the error. Eight days after their arrival at Pitcairn Island, Matthew Quintal is credited with setting the Bounty alight. The Bounty was to sink in 'Bounty Bay' soon after.

The location of the mutineers remained secure until an American whaling ship rediscovered the island by chance in 1808. The community found living on Pitcairn consisted of four Tahitian women and their children living under the care of Alexander Smith (also known as John Adams), the only surviving Bounty mutineer. There had been conflict between the mutineers and the Tahitians on the island and several men were murdered. In fact, Edward Young was the only mutineer who died a natural death. The true circumstances surrounding the death of Fletcher Christian were apparently obscured by John Adams and as a result there is much speculation even today.

After an investigation which took place in 1814, John Adams was found to have enlisted on the Bounty's muster roll under the alias of Alexander Smith. Adams was later commended for his commitment to the Pitcairn settlement and, contrary to his fears, never stood trial for mutiny (Coleman 1990).


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Last updated: Thu Mar 28 2002