[Capt. Philip Pipon's narrative is taken from a hand-written copy held at the State Library of New South Wales. In the original the year is unaccountably given as 1811; I have changed it to 1814 in each instance.]
On the 17 Sep'r 1814 at about half past 2 o'clock in the Morning, to my surprise & astonishment, Land was discovered both by the Briton & Tagus & nearly at the same moment. The Ships were hove too, & in hailing the Briton, it was determined to continue in that situation until day light in the morning; to ascertain the exact position of the Land in view, & according to circumstances, to reconnoitre it, if necessary. We were then by our reckoning in the Latitude of about 24°..40′South & Longitude 130°.24W. the Land bearing SSE 5 or 6 leagues. As in all the Charts in our possession there was no Land laid down in, or near this Longitude, we were extremely puzzled to make out what Island it could be; for Pitcairn Island being by all accounts in the Longitude of 133° 24 W. we could not possibly imagine so great an error could have crept in our Charts, with respect to its situation.
At daylight in the morning we bore up & ran for the Island, & as we approaced it, were still more surprised when we beheld Plantations regularly laid out, & Huts or Houses much more neatly built, than those we had lately seen at the Marquesas Islands.
As Pitcairn Island is describd as uninabited we naturally conjectured this in view could not be the place, particularly when on bringing to, two or three miles off the shore, we observed the Natives bringing down their Canoes on their Shoulders & shortly after, darting through a heavy surf & paddling off to the Ships; but what was still more extraordinary was the circumstances that now came to our knowledge, viz. the Inhabitants speaking the English language perfectly well, & that the Island was peopled by the descendants of Fletcher Christian, who in 1788 [sic] had mutinied against his Captain Bligh, conspiring with others to take his Ship from him, turning him adrift with 19 others in a Boat, & ultimately retaining possession of the Bounty, (a ship employd by government to take the Bread Fruit Tree plant from Otaheite to the West Indies under the Command of Capt Bligh) & running away with her to establish themselves in some of the Islands in the neighborhood of Otaheite least frequented by Europeans.
It appears that not having been able to effect this, they returned to Otaheite on the 22 Sepr 1789 when 16 of the Crew having left the Ship & gone on shore, Christian with the remainder sailed suddenly away in the night time, cutting their cable, & as the Missionary accounts say, have never since been heard of.
The first who came on board the Briton, was Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian by an Otaheite woman, he was the first born upon the Island (which must have been soon after their arrival & settling on it) & was called Thursday October in consequence of his being born on that day of the Week & in that Month.
He was then, when we saw him, about 25 years of age, a tall fine young Man, about 6 feet high, dark black hair, a countenance extremely open & interesting; as he wears no Cloaths except a piece of Cloth round his Loins, a straw hat ornamented with black cocks feathers & occasionally a Pauncho, nearly similar to that worn by the Spaniards in South America tho smaller, he is of course of a brown cast, not however with that mixture of red, so disgusting in the wild Indians. With a great share of good humour & a disposition & willingness to oblige, we were very glad to trace in his benevolent countenance, all the features of an honest English face. He is married to a Woman much older than himself, one of those that accompanied the Mutineers of the Bounty from Otaheite. I must confess I could not survey this interesting personage without feelings of tenderness & compassion.
He spoke English in a manner vastly pleasing; he was accompanied by another young Man of the name of George Young, a very fine youth of about 17 or 18 years of age, who also spoke English perfectly well, indeed it is their common & general language. These young men informed us of many singular events, but referred us for further particulars to an old man by the name of John Adams, the only surviving Englishman that came away in the Bounty; he was not by his own account, in the smallest degree concerned in the Mutiny, he being at the time it happened, sick in bed; he is now between 50 & 60 years of age, & in him the welfare of the Colony entirely depends; indeed as it consists at present, principally, of very young men & young women, with very few old ones of the latter class; without his advice assistance & instruction they would soon be exterminated, for the land, altho extremely fertile, will not produce without cultivation. This Island having no good Anchorage & the Bounty I imagine weakly manned when she arrived here, induced Christian to run the ship in a Creek — against the Cliffs in order to unload her of such articles as were necessary for their new settlement, as well as to get the Hogs Goats Poulty &c on shore & having effected this, he set her on fire, to prevent doubtless the escape of his companions, as well to preclude the possibility of any information leaving given of his situation.
The Colony is now in a most flourishing state, having abundance of Hogs Goats Poultry, with wild Hogs. Of Vegetables & Fruit. Very fine Yams Plantains, Sweet Potatoes Turnips, with Bread Fruit Cocoa Nuts Bananas &c. in short as Adams expressed himself, they have every luxury to render life easy & comfortable. Sir Thos Staines & myself were naturally very desirous to learn the fate of Christian & those who followed his fortune, & for that purpose particularly, we — accompanied his son on shore, tho the landing was attended with some degree of danger; with the assistance however of our Conductor & his Companion, we reachd the shore with only a good wetting, & soon after, when old John Adams learnt we had landed without Arms, & were not come to seize his person, met us on the road & conducted us to his house. His wife accompanied him, a very old woman, blind with age. They were at first extremely alarmed lest our visit; was intended against him, but as we observed to him, we were not even aware of his being then living, & that we had no intention of that nature, he was very soon relieved from all his apprehensions, indeed it would have been an act of great cruelty & inhumanity to have taken him from his Family who would be left in the greatest misery & the Settlement in all probability exterminated. It is impossible to describe the joy these poor people manifested, in seeing us, when they were assured our Visit was of a peaceable nature. Yams roasted of a very superior quality were immediately produced, with Cocoa Nuts, & such Fruits as they possessd. We eat some which we found delicious, as well as fine fresh Eggs, which were to us a great luxury. Old Adams would have immediately dressed a Hog, but this we declind, time not admitting of our long stay with them; indeed we had landed at the risque of our lives, & had the wind increased it would hardly have been possible for us to embark again, much less to have forced any person on board; so that had we been inclind even to seize on old Adams, it would have been impossible to have conveyd him on board: again to get to the Boats, we had to climb such precipices as were scarcely accessible to any but Goats & the Natives, & we had enough to do in holding on by the different Boughs & Roots of Trees to keep on our feet: besides from the nature of the Island the Inhabitants might retire to such haunts as to defy our utmost search, a measure which they would naturally have had recourse to, the moment any intention of seizing on any of them had been manifested.
The Family of John Adams at this moment consists of himself his wife & three Daughters of from 15 to 18 years of ages & a son of eleven. This wife had also a Daughter by a former husband, this Daughter is a widow her husband having been drowned whilst Fishing. A Son in Law who has married one of his Daughters resides with them.
When the Bounty arrived here she had on board the undermentioned persons viz. nine white Men (English) including Christian, eleven Otaheite women & six black men or Natives of Otaheite. The names of the British as well as I could collect were as in the Margin, but all have been either killed or paid the debt of Nature except John Adams. Five of the Women are dead, as are all the Black or Otaheite Men. The Colony now consists of about 40 people, exclusive I believe of Children, so that they have multiplied considerably: the Children we saw were very young. Those born in the Island are extremely fine young Men, very athletic, with the finest forms, & countenances indicating much benevolence & goodness. The young women are still more to be admired, wonderfully strong, most pleasing - countenances, & a degree of modesty & bashfulness that would do honour to the most virtuous nation: Their Teeth are beautiful, without a single exception, & all both Men & Women bear strong resemblances to English faces. When therefore you consider there are many fine young Men & certainly very handsome Women here, it is natural to expect hereafter there will be a progeny of beautiful people, upon the Island. There is no debauchery here, no immoral conduct, & Adams infomd me, there is not one instance of any young woman having proved unchaste: the men appear equally moral & well behaved, & from every information there has not appeared any inclination to seduction the the part of the young men, as many of them assured me they wait patiently till they have acquired property to marry. Then if a proper choice is made, Adams performs the marriage ceremony. But this I imagine is simply giving the young girls away. The greatest harmony now prevails in this Island, by their own accounts no quarrels ensue, except it be occasionally a few words which may pass, & to use their own expression a quarrel sometimes by mouth: they are perfectly honest, bartering a Hog for a Goat &c. with each other in a most friendly manner.
In their general intercourse they speak the English Language commonly, & even the old Otaheite women have picked up a good deal of that language: the young people speak it with a most pleasing accent, & their voices are extremely harmonious. Their habitations are extremely neat, infinitely superior to what we saw at the Marquesas Islands. The little Village at Pitcairn forms a pretty square, John Adams occupies the house at the upper end, & Thursday October Christian opposite to him; the Centre is a find Lawn where the Poultry wander; but it is fenced in, so as to prevent the intrusion of Hogs &c. It was easily to be perceived that in this establishment, the labour & ingenuity of European hands had been exerted, we never witnessed any regular plan of laying out the grounds in the other Islands we visited, or forming Plantations. In their houses they have also a good deal of decent furniture, consisting of Beds & Bedsteads & covering; they have also Tables & large Chests: their clothing & Linnen is made from the Bark of a certain Tree, & this is the employment of the elderly part of the Women. The Bark is first soaked, then beat with square pieces of wood of the breadth of one's hand, hollowed out into grooves; with this it is beat till it is brought to the breadth required. The younger part of the females are obligd to attend with old Adams & their Brothers to the Culture of the Land, & it is on this account doubtless, that this old director of the work, does not countenance too early marriages, for as he very properly observed, when once Mothers, they are not so capable of hard labour; but obligd to attend to their Children, & from all appearance they would be very prolific, indeed I do not see how it could be otherwise, considering the regularity of their lives, their simple tho excellent way of living, their Meals consisting chiefly of a vegetable diet with now & then excellent Pork & occasionally good Fish.
The Women or rather the young girls altho they have only the examples of their Mothers to follow in their dress (who are Otaheitan women) are much more modestly clad than any of the females we saw at the Marquesas; they have invariably a piece of Linnen reaching from the waist to the knees, & generally a Mantle or something of that nature thrown loosely over the shoulders & hanging as low as the Ancles; this however is frequently thrown aside & often entirely off, so that it is intended to shelter them more from the heat of the sun in any severity of weather that for the sake of modesty, for frequently the upper part of the Body is entirely exposed; & it is not possible to behold finer forms. Whilst speaking of their dress, one must not omit mentioning, with what taste & quickness they form a Bonnet of green leaves &c. which they wear to keep the Sun from their Eyes. I was witness to the making of one of these by one of the young girls who was about to accompany us to the Boats, & it was wonderful to see with what alacrity & neatness it was executed: I am convinced our fashionable dress makers in London, would be delighted with the simplicitly & yet elegant taste of these untaught females. This young girl did accompany us to the Boat, carrying on her shoulders as a present a large basket of Yams, through such Roads & among such precipices as I mentioned before. We could scarcely climb with the help of our hands.
We lamented that our time did not permit us to visit the more lofty parts of the Island & the fine Plantations there, as well as the other habitations; it had however a very picturesque appearance: when we first beheld these, we were struck with admiration & readily conjectured, it was not the work of Indians, & we were not deceived. But what delighted me most & excited my greatest admiration was the manner with which John Adams had impressed on their minds, the modesty & propriety of returning thanks to the Almighty, for the many blessings they enjoy; they invariably say Grace before & after Meals, & frequently repeat their prayers; they know the Lords prayer & I believe the Creed. They frequently call upon our blessed Saviour saying "I will arise & go to my Father; & will say unto him Father, I have sinned against Heaven & before thee, & am not more worthy to be called thy Son."
This I imagine was early taught them by Christian after the shameful part he had acted both against God & his Country, but it was truly pleasing to see that these poor people are so well disposed as to listen attentively to moral instruction & to believe in the divine attributes of God.
By all the accounts we could collect from old John Adams, they have been upon the Island about 25 years, but it was impossible to ascertain with certainty the date of their arrival; he had kept it is true a journal, but it chiefly containd the manner & work they were employd about, as well as what was due from one to the other of Provisions, for it appears they had a regular establishd allowance, & they frequently exchanged together Salt for fresh Provisions: Again when their Ships Stock was expended, they mutually assisted each other with Meat & repaid punctually the first good opportunity; all this was carefully noted down in the Journal.
I made it a point to inform myself particularly, respecting the name of the Island, & from the information I recorded from John Adams it appears, Fletcher Christian certainly considered it to be Pitcairn, which is very extraordinary, for what we call Pitcairn's Island in the Charts is laid down three degrees off Longitude to the Westward of this & nine miles difference of Latitude. Our Longitude was ascertained by three good Chronometers, which differed very little, it is therefore certain there must be a great error in the laying it down in our Charts.
I next come to the interesting narritive of Fletcher Christian. It appears that this unfortunate & ill fated young man, was never happy after the rash & inconsiderate step he had taken, but always sullen & morose, a circumstance which will not surprise any one, this moroseness however led him to many acts of cruelty & inhumanity, which soon was the cause of his incurring the hatred & devastation of his companions here: one cannot avoid expressing astonishment, when you consider that the very crime he was then guilty of towards his Companions (who resisted him in the Mutiny) was the very same they so loudly accused their Captain B— of. It is indeed very singular this circumstance should not have been a serious lesson to him, for his guidance in his future treatment of his Shipmates in error. This miserable young man after having left Otaheite the last time (for he has visited Anamooka one of the Friendly Islands after his desertion from his duty & disobedience to his Captain not finding the reception he expected there, or rather that his Plans could not be carried into execution without the fear of defection) returned to Otaheite with a feigned story, which the Islanders readily gave ear to; of having met Captain Cook who had sent him (Fletcher) Sep 22, 1789 for a supply of Provisions, his wishes were readily complied with, Capt Cook being a great favourite there; & having filled the Bounty with Hogs, & such other Articles as he thought necessary, he sailed away suddenly in the night; on or about the 22d Sepr 1789 & never since been heard of: This was the period when 16 of his crew left him & went on shore: his object was to find a uninhabited Island, where he could establish a settlement & hither he at last arrived tho with a very reduced Crew, & finding no Anchorage round the Island; & that the operation of landing the stores of the Bounty as well as his live stock &c was tedious & laborious, he ran the Ship against the Rocks, a little to the Southward of the place we landed at, & after having cleared her of every thing he thought necessary, set her on fire. This certainly was a wise plan on his part to avoid detection, for as Pitcairn is mentioned in the Charts, & in all accounts I have seen of it, as uninhabited, it is not probable that any one would seek refreshments there: whereas had the wreck ever been observed by any Vessel passing that way, humanity if not curiosity would have led them to enquire, if some fellow creature in distress, might not have been cast away here. Again, had the ship been preserved, there might have been a possibility that some of the disatisfied would sail away in her & give information of the retreat of the Mutineers of the Bounty. It is therefore an extraordinary circumstance, that chance & meer accident should have led us hither, for had we been aware that Pitcairn Island was near us, we should have avoided it. We considered ourselves nearly 200 miles from it, when land was discovered, & we verily believed that in Sight was some new discovery. To the error therefore, in which it is laid down is to be chiefly attributed this unexpected visit of ours to it; happy however that it is in our power to communicate the fate of the wretched people who composed the Crew of the Bounty after their shameful Mutiny against their Captain. It is impossible to describe the surprise we all felt when we heard the Natives the descendants of Fletcher Christian speak the English language uncommonly well & that this should be the general language among them: the old women who are from Otaheite retain the Mother tongue, tho as has been mentioned before, they have picked up many English words & umnderstand the English language tolerably. The fate of Fletcher Christian himself was such as one might have expected from his cruelty & extraordinary unfeeling behaviour: from what we could learn he was shot by a black man whilst digging in his field & almost instantaneously expired. This happened about eleven months after they were settled in the Island, but the exact dates I could not learn: the black or Otaheite man that thus murderd him, was himself immediately assassinated: the cause of these disturbances & violence is thus accounted for by John Adams; that as he has before related, Fletcher Christian, behavd with such cruelty & oppression towards the people, as soon alienated them from him, & in consequence they divided into parties which ran very high, seeking every opportunity on both sides to put each other to death: old John Adams himself was not without his enemies, having been shot through the neck; as however the Ball enterd the fleshy part, he was enabled to make his escape, & avoid the fury of his pursuers, who sought his life. Another circumstance had arisen which gave particularly the Otaheite men still more discontent & roused their fury to a degree not to be pacified: Christian's wife had paid the debt of nature, & as we have every reason to suppose sensuality & a passion for the females of Otaheite chiefly instigated him to the rash step he had taken, so it is readily to be believed he would not live long on the Island without a female companion, consequently after the demise of his wife, he forcibly seized on one belonging to one of the Otaheitan men & took her to live with him. This exasperated them to a degree of madness, open war was declared & every opportunity sought to take away his life, & it was effected whilst digging in his own field. It is surprizing he should not have been more upon his guard, for he was well aware of the hatred & enmity of all the Blacks or Otaheitan men. Thus terminated the miserable existence of this deluded young man, whose connexions in Westmorland were extremely respectable & who did not want talents & capacity to have become an ornament to his profession, had he adopted another line of conduct. We could not learn precisely the exact number of Blacks or whites who were killed whilst this kind of warfare continued, certainly however, many must have perished by the hands of each other & only old John Adams remains of the men that landed on the Island with Christian.
The Island has only been visited by one Ship since their Settlement in it: an American Ship called the Topaz Mayhew Folger (Master). This took place on the 6th Feb 1808. The Master landed & procured all manner of refreshments the Island afforded, such as Hogs Goats Poultry & such Fruits & Vegetables as were then in season.
Another Ship appeard off the Island on the 27 Dec 1795 but did not approach the Island very near, neither could they make out by their Colours what Nation She belongd to.
A third appeared but did not either come close or communicate.
A fourth came sufficiently near to see the Natives & their habitations, but did not send a Boat on shore: one must not indeed be surprized, when you consider the ruggedness of the Coast, there being scarce any shelter, & the Sea with the least wind breaking with the greatest violence against the Cliffs.
Its longest part extends North & South so that the periodical or Trade winds that blew either from the Eastward or Westward, occasion continually a great Sea on either side. I was informd there was a landing place on the North side better than the Creek we went into with our Boats.
On our arrival here we found that John Adams was mistaken in the day of the week & Month: he considered it to be Sunday the 18 Sep'r 1814 & to his credit they were keeping the Sabbath very properly making it a day of rest & prayer: whereas it was Saturday the 17th by his account he had been misled by the American Captain of the Topaz when she touched here, & it was pleasing to observe, that they made the Sabbath day a day of rest, & set it apart for particular prayer & devotion.
Unfortunately the day we were here, was very tempestuous, else we could have assisted these people with many valuable & necessary articles. We may well observe that here necessity is the Mother of invention; for the Forge they landed from the Bounty being now out of order, if not completely useless, by dint of labour & assiduity they have now got into a method for making their own agricultural Tools, beating out the Spades out of solid Iron & in reality very well executed. From all appearance they are not indeed in want of implements of any kind, their chief desire was for a few Muskets to kill the wild Hogs that are very abundant on the Island. Sir Thos Staines & myself having some French pieces, we supplied their wants & gave them Powder, as well as cooking utensils. Of this latter they were quite destitute, but the weather was too boisterous to comply with all their wishes, notwithstanding Thursday October Christian a most active & expert swimmer contrived with George Young to convey many valuable refreshments throught the surf as a few small Pigs Yams Cocoa Nuts Bananas &c.
I was informd by John Adams that from a Root in this Island he could extract a Spirit equal if not superior to our Jamaica Rum. Apprehensive however that it might be detrimental to this young Colony were it known, he has very prudently abstained from making any lately.
I should imagine this Island is about six miles long & perhaps 3 or 4 miles broad, covered with wood. The soil appears very rich, but as the ground must be cleared before it can be cultivated, it will be very many years 'ere this is effected.
In closing this cursory & hasty account of what I could learn whilst I was on the Island, it is but justice to John Adams to say he would have been happy to have accompanied us to England, could he have removed all his family, but it would have been a heart breaking circumstance to have torn him from those he most dearly loves, as well as cruel to a degree to have left a young Colony to perish without such a protector & advisor, as he was in all their concerns both with respect to tilling the ground as well as to the private & domestic concerns of all—considering however that a small Colony well organized is settled upon this Island, that may hereafter supply Ships trading across these Seas or driven there or in search of Provisions with considerable refreshments. It remains to be determind whether it would be politic to withdraw them from the Settlement & destroy it altogether. In my humble opinion such a act would be very unwise.
(signed) P. Pipon