The Pitcairn Islands, officially named the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, form a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The islands are a British Overseas Territory. The four islands—named Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno—are spread over several hundred miles of ocean.
The climate of Pitcairn is subtropical, with mean annual rainfall of about 1716 mm, but with considerable annual variation. Mean temperatures range in summer from 17 to 28 degrees C, and in winter from 13 to 23 degrees C, with winter being wetter and windier. There are no permanent springs on the island, but during wet periods streams run down the centers of several valleys. As for the rest of this region of the south Pacific, the trade winds blow from the south-east, and although Pitcairn is affected by complex climatic patterns that affect the whole of the region, it is out of the line of cyclones and only occasionally hit by them.
Pitcairn Island does not have an airport or seaport; the islanders rely on longboats to ferry people and goods between ship and shore through Bounty Bay. To get to Pitcairn it is necessary to fly to Tahiti, then Mangareva, then embark of a further 30-hour boat ride. There is one boat every several months. Alternatively, passage can be obtained aboard a few freighters out of New Zealand - it is a seven day trip via freighter. Leaving the island is hit-and-miss; you leave when transportation happens by, not necessarily when you want to go.
Prior to its discovery by Carteret and the subsequent settlement by the Bounty mutineers, Pitcairn Island was known as ‘Mata-ki-te-Rangi’ or ‘Heragi,’ according to Mangarevan folklore. It is clear from existing artifacts that Pitcairn played an integral role in ancient Polynesian history of the southern-most part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The island may have been an important source of stone tools for that region of the Pacific. Pitcairn was surely occupied by those peoples for a significant period of their history, as evidenced by ancient maraes and stone gods.
Right up to the mid-1870s, Pitcairners were followers of the Church of England. However, the arrival of a box of Seventh-Day Adventist literature from the US in 1876 saw the beginnings of change. A decade later, the arrival of a Seventh-Day Adventist missionary heralded real conversion from the teachings of Pastor Simon Young. A mission ship was sent out from the US in 1890 and the happy proselytes were baptised with a dousing in one of the island's rock pools, and the local pigs were swiftly killed to remove the temptation of pork. Although Pitcairn's population grew to 223 just before WWII, depopulation rather than overpopulation has become the major concern. In 1956 the figure was 161, in 1966 it was 96 and in 1976 Pitcairners numbered 74. Since then, the figure has wavered in the 40s and 50s.
In 1808 Pitcairn was re-discovered by the American ship Topaz. Reports of the find went largely ignored; then, on 17 September 1814 the island community was again accidentally ‘discovered’ by two British frigates. Surprised by their find and impressed by the character of the residents, they chose to leave this community, founded by mutineers, alone and allow Adams to remain with his people. Adams died on 6 March 1829 at age 63, forty-two years after the Bounty set sail on its fateful voyage. A varied succession of leadership followed until an orderly government was established in 1893.
After the mutiny, Christian and his sailors returned to Tahiti, where sixteen of the twenty-five men decided to remain for good. Christian, along with eight others, their women, and a handful of Tahitian men then scoured the South Pacific for a safe haven, eventually settling on Pitcairn on January 23, 1790.
Captain Beechey has given a more detailed account of the physical qualities of the Pitcairn islanders. He says they are tall, robust, and healthy; their average height five feet ten inches; the tallest man measured six feet and one quarter of an inch and the shortest of the adults five feet nine inches and one-eighth; their limbs well proportioned, round, and straight; their feet turning a little inwards. A boy of eight years measured four feet and on inch; another of nine years four feet three inches. Their simple food and early habits of exercise give them a muscular power and activity not often surpassed.
Pitcairn Island was discovered in 1767 by the British and settled in 1790 by the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions. Pitcairn was the first pacific island to become a British colony (in 1838) and today remains the last vestige of the empire in the South Pacific. Outmigration, primarily to New Zealand, has thinned the population from a peak of 233 in 1937 to less than 50 today.
The Pitcairn Island group is Britain's last overseas territory in the Pacific. The governor, who is also the British high commissioner to NZ, lives in Wellington. Prior to the sex trial, the island was governed at arm's length. The governor now has a representative in residence, and has visited Pitcairn personally. At a local level, the Island Council consists of a mayor plus appointed and elected members, and tends to local matters including island maintenance, shipping arrivals, communications and medical services.
An isolated volcanic island 1,350 miles southeast of Tahiti, it was named after British midshipman Robert Pitcairn, who first sighted the island on July 2, 1767. Its location had been incorrectly charted by the explorer Carteret, who missed the mark by 200 miles, and was therefore the ideal refuge for the mutineers. Although a British ship spent three months searching for them, the mutineers eluded detection. Those who had remained on Tahiti were not so lucky. They were swiftly captured and brought to trial in England, where seven were exonerated and three were hanged.