Visit of H.B.M. Ship, Fly, Feb., (1838)—choice of Chief Magistrate—influenza 1841; death of E. Quintal and Isabella Christian—description of the island, village, house-building, productions &c.
In the year 1838, H.M.S. Fly, Commander Eliot, arrived. He advised as the colony was increasing, to elect a Chief Magistrate to be chosen annually by voters who had attained the age of 18 years, both male and female; the magistrate to keep a record or journal of his proceedings and to be answerable to the British Government. Ed. Quintal was elected and sworn accordingly.
In 1841, the influenza made its appearance amongst us, and while laboring under that disease, H.M.'s Ship Curacoa, Capt. Jenkin Jones arrived, who by his kindness and that of his Surgeon Dr. Gunn,
afforded us great relief. Soon after the departure of the C., Edward Quintal and Isabella Christian died; the latter was the widow of Fletcher Christian of the "Bounty." I suppose she was over 80 years old. She recollected both Cook's and Wallis's visit to Tahiti.— She had enjoyed good health, was very active and would go up the mountain, and to the west side of the island and bring home a load, but a short time before her last sickness, and she always liked employment.— She had three children by Christian and after his death four by Young. Her only remaining son did not long survive her, he died of an affection of the heart, which he endured with much fortitude and departed with a hope "full of immortality." A daughter named Polly wife of Geo. Adams, has since died of cancer on the breast.
I shall now endeavor to give a description of the island, manners, customs &c.:
The island is about 4 1-2 miles in circumference, the coast iron-bound, the landing place is on the N.E. side of the island and is called by the natives "ships landing," since "Bounty Bay." There is a landing place on the west side. It is a good boat harbor but not a good place to land a boat, and it is rather fatiguing for a stranger to cross the mountain to go to the village.— With the wind from the eastward, a vessel may anchor here in about 12 fathoms, sandy bottom, and safe landing. The name of the place is Water Valley, and is the place where Christian first landed. It is a good watering place for ships after rains; at such time a ship may procure one or two hundred barrels in a day, but in a dry time none can be procured there.
Some years ago the trade winds were generally regular from S.E. to E.N.E., from January to March, but now they are not so regular. The wind in the summer prevailing more from the Northward and in winter from S.W. to S.E. When they change they generally go with the sun, the strongest winds are from the N.W. to West and from S.E.
The village is situated on the North side of the island, and is separated by two vallies, it is situated on rising ground, about 150 or 200 feet above the level of the sea. The houses were formerly of two stories, having a ladder to ascend from the inside through a trap door, but accidents happening to children and being more exposed to strong winds they have been taken down and built on a new and better plan. They are of an oblong form from 35 to 42 feet in length, partitioned off, and having on the back side, bed places similar to the births on ship board. The houses are well made from a species of wood called More or Amai, which is very durable and handsome, and when polished not inferior to mahogany.— The house stand East and West, the front North, facing the sea, and have sliding window shutters. They are thatched with the leaf of the Pandanus. The thatching lasts seven or eight years. When a house is to be thatched each family has to pick their proportion, which is not very pleasant business as it is always picked in a rainy time, as it cannot be rubbed when dry.— The edges of the leaves are armed with sharp prickers, and sometimes broken limbs are the consequence, of falling from the trees when picking, as they are then very slippery, and some of the branches break very easily. The leaf is about five or six feet long, three inches wide, tapering to a point. Both male and female are employed in picking, and after they are picked, they are rubbed and made into rings. The manner of performing this, is by driving a stick into the ground, and laying a billet of wood before it, the person sits down and rubs the leaf from heel to point, which smooths or opens the leaf, it is then placed round the stick and over the billet, the smaller one crossing the larger one and confined in that position by the foot, another is now added and continued till it will contain no more. (A ring contains about 80 leaves.) It is now tied with a piece of bark and put up for use.— The leaves being thick and prickly, the hands are generally sore for some days, being well bored. Sticks are now provided, from 2 to 6 feet long and about 1 1-2 inches in circumference, and the women are employed to fasten the leaves on to the sticks; the leaves just lap over each other widthwise and both are pierced with a pricker made of bone or hard wood, and secured by fern roots about the size of a quill. The men now place them on the rafters and secure them with rope yarns; 4 or 5 hundred rings are sufficient for a house. Every year nine or ten houses are thatched, as each family have out houses &c., and some new ones are built, rebuilt, or enlarged. They generally, or indeed always assist each other to build, that, if 8 or 10 assist me to build my house, I am considered in debt until I have assisted to build theirs.
There are several vallies running through a great part of the island, and are named after the natives, who divided the land among themselves, such as "McCoys Valley," "Isaac's Valley" &c. &c.
At the height of about 1000 feet is considerable table land, on which, and in the vallies, is the best soil. At the height of 1500 feet on the highest mountain is a large morai or burying place in which are stones of two hundred weight, which must have been carried up from the beach. During my residence parts of two skeletons were dug up, they lay side and side and with them were buried some pearl shells. I would remark that at Pitcairn's there are no pearl oysters, therefore the former inhabitants must have come from some other island, I think it likely from Gambier's. The natives of that island say that their forefathers once lived on Pitcairn's, and that they give a good account of the situation of the island, its burying places, &c.
There are plenty of the pearl oyster at Gambier's, but the only conveyance when I was on that Island, was by rafts made of bread-fruit trees. Some years since one of their rafts drifted to sea with a number of natives, and two or three lived and landed on "Oparo" or "Rapa," a distance of 7 or 800 miles.
The produce of Pitcairn's, are Yams, Potatoes, Oranges &c. The yams are very good, and the seed was brought in the Bounty, I believe from Whytotacha. A great deal of labor is required to cultivate them, they are generally planted in October and November, the Harvest time is August.— Each family plants according to their numbers, that is, a family of 8 persons generally plant 8000. They are generally cut up into pieces, a common sized yam making 8 or 10 plants, and spread on the ground and covered with earth, where they remain till they have budded, which is about six weeks, the ground for planting being dug up, the plants are taken from the bed and the weaker shoots or buds taken off, leaving one or two, they are then planted at the distance of two feet each way, and are kept weeded till digging time. Some years since a troublesome weed was introduced, which has spread all over the island, and causes a deal of trouble. The seeds are very fine, and are carried by the wind and animals to all parts of the island, and if a person walks through it he is covered with the seeds and looks like an hedgehog. At one time all the people attempted to destroy it, but it was finally given up. Each family fattens one or two hogs (before digging the yams) and salt them down, so that we may have meat while working and not be obliged to leave it and go for fish. At such time we have more meat that at any other season. Generally in fine weather when we have not much work, we go a fishing, and as we sometimes fish in 150 or 180 fathoms, we lose many hooks and lines by their getting entangled among the rocks, and by the sharks. So that hooks and lines are always in demand. The yams being dug are laid by in a shady place where they will keep eight or nine months, if the buds are kept broken off.
The next work is planting Bannanas, each family planting from one to four hundred. A Plantain or Bannana bears but one bunch or fruit, it is then cut down; suckers growing from the old tree are pulled up and planted at the distance of 5 feet each way, and take about 15 months to come to maturity. A crop is not always sure, as a gale of wind will sometimes sweep down a whole field.— All the yam grounds are at a distance from the village, the ground near, being better for sweet potatoes and it being no great distance to carry them to the landing place, as they are generally sold to ships.
For some years past many ships have touched at the island, chiefly American whalers. Some years 20 ships, and even 30, taking on an average, 20 to 30 barrels each, of provisions and giving us in exchange, cloth, soap, molasses, oil &c. &c. By so much intercourse with ships, we have many wants to be supplied which were before unknown, and are now considered necessary, and which we shall feel the want of as the whaling business decreases. Should whaling fail, we must go back to our old custom of dress. Shirts pantaloons and jackets, must be exchanged again for the "Maro," and ladies gowns for the native petticoats, which will be a great change indeed, for the young ladies and gentlemen of Pitcairn's!
As cocoa-nuts are considered an indispensable article in cooking, and are also used for making oil, each family has a plantation of trees. The manner of using the cocoa-nut in cooking is as follows: The yam or sweet potatoe being skinned is rubbed on a stone grater, the ripe cocoa-nut is scraped and the milk or juice expressed, and mixed with yam or potatoe, which serves as shortening. It is then wrapped up in a bannana leaf and baked into bread called "Pelahi," which is much better than yams or potatoes boiled, especially when we have no meat, as is often the case with us. The ovens are a hole dug in the ground, the wood being placed, is covered with stones and set on fire, when the wood is nearly consumed, and the stones well heated, they are spread abroad covered with Ti leaves. The meat or yams &c., is then laid on the leaves and then covered with another larger of the same leaf, the whole is then covered with earth, and about half hour is cooked.