AT daylight on the 7th of March, the dark and elevated form of Pitcairn Island was seen from the mast-head, bearing W. 1/2 S. by compass, and distant about thirty-five miles. Calms, or light airs, did not permit us to approach the land closely until after sun-set; when the ship was hove-to for the night, and a gun fired and a blue light burned, in answer to the signal-fire kindled by the inhabitants on the hills.
On the succeeding morning we made sail to within five miles of the northern coast, (where some houses on the heights denoted the situation of the settlement,) and lowered a boat, in which Mr. Stolworthy and myself accompanied Captain Stavers to the shore. Guided by the gestures of a native, who stood upon an eminence waving a cloth, we proceeded for an indentation of the coast, where several of the islanders were collected on the rocks; but here so heavy a surf broke upon every visible part of the shore that some reluctance was felt to expose the boat to its fury.
While we were considering the best mode of effecting a landing, one of the islanders plunged into the sea and swam towards us. He approached with the salutation, "Good morning, brethren," and, entering the boat, commenced a familiar conversation in very good English. Upon his volunteering to pilot us to the landing-place, and, in his own words, "to be responsible for the safety of the boat," the crew again took to their oars; when passing through a line of heavy rollers, and doubling a projecting ledge of rocks, we almost immediately entered comparatively tranquil water, and ran the boat's bow upon the small beach of "Bounty Bay," where some pigs of iron ballast, and shreds of corroded copper, yet remain as mementos of the fate of the vessel which has given her name to the spot. The principal male inhabitants received us on the beach with a cordial and English welcome to their shores, and conducted us by a steep and winding path to the settlement. Several of the heads of families we had not before seen, and groups of women and children, met us on our way, their countenances beaming with pleasure at the appearance of their visitors, and all of them desirous to shake hands with their "countrymen," as they term the British. They had seen the ship since the previous morning, and had been anxiously awaiting our arrival.
This island is lofty, though of limited extent; its circumference does not exceed seven miles; while its extreme height, as determined by Captain Beechey, is 1046 feet above the sea. The coast is abrupt and rocky, beaten by a heavy surf, and closely surrounded by blue water of unfathomable depth. No harbour obtains; but small vessels may find anchorage in twenty-five, and twelve fathoms water, with sandy bottom, close to the western shore. A difficult, but practicable landing place, corresponding to this anchorage; a second at Bounty Bay; and one (more questionable) on the S. E. coast, are the only points where the island is accessible from the sea. Coral grows on the coast, and its debris are found on the coves; but there are no distinct reefs of this material.
The northern side of the island, or that occupied by the settlement, offers a very picturesque appearance; rising from the sea as a steep amphitheatre, luxuriantly wooded to its summit, and bounded on either side by precipitous cliffs, and naked and rugged rocks, of many fantastic forms. The simple habitations of the people are scattered over this verdant declivity, and are half concealed by its abundant vegetation. They are neatly constructed of plank, thatched with leaves of the screw-pine, (Pandanus fascicularis,) and provided with windows, to which shutters are affixed. The greater number have but a single apartment, occupying the entire interior of the building, and floored with boards; while some few (called double-cottages) possess an upper-room, which communicates by a ladder with the one beneath. The furniture they contain is scanty and of the rudest description; nevertheless, every thing about them denotes great attention to cleanliness and order.
The dwelling formerly occupied by old John Adams is a neat cottage, containing two apartments, both of which are on the ground. It is situated in a pleasant and elevated part of the village, and opens with pretty effect upon a smooth and verdant lawn. The largest and best building the settlement can boast is that named the school-house, and applied to the purposes of a church, school, and teacher's residence.
To each cottage is attached a plot of garden-ground, fenced round with roughly-hewn stakes, and planted with water-melons, sweet potatoes, and gourds; while cattle-sheds, pigsties, and other outhouses, herds of swine and goats, and many European implements of agriculture, (including some wheelbarrows,) afford a rural picture that forcibly reminds the Englishman of similar scenes in his native land. Many good paths, conducting to the habitations and cultivated lands of the natives, intersect the settlement, and often pass through dense and solemn groves of majestic banian trees. (Ficus indica.)
The fabric of this island is chiefly a dark volcanic stone, but on the northern coast I observed some cliffs of a yellow and friable sandstone. The whole of the fertile soil (which is rich, and composed of a red clay mingled with sand) was originally shared, in nearly equal proportions, by the settlers from the Bounty, and is now retained in like manner by their descendants; each family possessing a small estate and subsisting upon its produce. A comparative scarcity of water exists, since there are no natural streams, and the volcanic structure of the land precludes the formation of wells; but rain-water is largely received in ponds or tanks, and it is not until rain has been absent seven or eight successive months that the residents experience any material inconvenience from this cause. The greatest supply of water is still obtained from a natural excavation which was discovered by William Brown, the assistant botanist of the Bounty, and thence named "Brown's Pond." It is supposed to possess a spring.
At this time the population consisted of eighty persons,* of which the majority were children, and the proportion of females greater than that of males. The entire race, with the exception of the offspring of three English men, resident on the island and married to native women, are the issue of the mutineers of the Bounty, whose surnames they bear, and from whom they have not as yet descended beyond the third generation. So strong a personal resemblance obtains between the members of a family that it is no difficult task to distinguish brothers and sisters. I was particularly led to notice a predominance of Irish features in many among them, and more especially in the fair and expressive countenances of some of the children; nor had I any reason to be dissatisfied with my skill in national physiognomy, when I was afterwards informed that these individuals bore the name of M`Coy, and were the issue of one of the Bounty's crew who was an Irishman.**
* One of the females, Jane Quintal, had left the island, in company with an English sailor, some years previous to our visit. Her paramour left her at the island of Rurutu, or Oetiroa, where she married a native, and continued to reside.
My brother, Mr. G. Bennett, thus describes an interview he had with this female during his stay at Rurutu, in September, 1829: "On the beach I was accosted by a tall, fine, half-caste woman, dressed in neat European clothing. Her manner was artless, and she spoke the English language with correctness. She informed me that her name was Jane Quintal, of Pitcairn's Island. 'You have heard of Matthew Quintal?' she said: 'I am his daughter.'
The following conversation then took place between us:— 'How long is it since you left Pitcairn's Island?' — 'A few years ago, in a whale-ship.' — 'Why did you leave?' — 'There are no husbands there; and besides,' she continued, 'the island is too small for us. It is, sir, but a very small island; quite a rock.' — 'You are married now, I suppose?' seeing a little chubby dark urchin in her arms. — 'Yes,' she replied; 'I married a native of this island (Rurutu). I was obliged soon to get married, they are so very particular; all missionaries. I could not talk to any male creature when single, so I got married.' — 'Do you wish to return to Pitcairn's Island?' 'No, I am very comfortable here.' Having ascertained that I was in the medical profession, she made me promise to send her 'stuff to raise a blister,' sticking-plaster, &c. as she intended to practise the profession herself on the island."
** I subsequently noticed a similar fact at Tahiti; where an intelligent half-caste woman, the offspring of a female of Borabora and an Irishman, was principally to be distinguished from the ordinary natives by her strongly-marked Hibernian features. Upon my mentioning this peculiarity in her countenance to a friend residing on the island he informed me of her origin.
The only survivors of the first settlers are two aged Tahitian females, who possess some interest, in association with the history of these islanders. The eldest, Isabella, is the widow of the notorious Fletcher Christian, and the mother of the first-born on the island. Her hair is very white, and she bears, generally, an appearance of extreme age, but her mental and bodily powers are yet active. She appeared to have some knowledge of Capt. Cook, and relates, with the tenacious retrospect of age, many minute particulars connected with the visits of that great navigator to Tahiti. The second, Susan Christian, is some years younger than her countrywoman Isabella. She is short and stout, of a very cheerful disposition, and proved particularly kind to us; indeed, I flattered myself that I had found favour in the sight of "old Susan," as she not only presented to me a native cloth of brilliant colours, which she had herself manufactured, but, bringing a pair of scissors, insisted upon my taking a lock of her dark and curling hair, flowing profusely over her shoulders, and as yet but little frosted by the winter of life. This woman arrived on the island as the wife of one of the Tahitian settlers, and bears the reputation of having played a conspicuous part when the latter were massacred by their own countrywomen. She subsequently married Thursday October, the eldest son of Fletcher Christian, and who died at Tahiti in 1831. Her daughter, Mary, a young and interesting female, is the only spinster on the island; she perseveres in refusing the offers of her countrymen, to whom she expresses great aversion, but, unfortunately, her antipathy has not extended to Europeans, and a very fair infant claims her maternal attentions.
In person, intellect, and habits, these islanders form an interesting link between the civilized European, and unsophisticated Polynesian, nations. They are a tall and robust people, and their features, though far from handsome, display many European traits. With the exception of George Adams, who is much fairer than any of his countrymen, the complexion of the adults does not differ, in shade, from that of the Society Islanders. Their hair, also, is invariably black and glossy, and either straight or gracefully waved, as with the last-named people. Their disposition is frank, honest, and hospitable to an extreme; and, as is common to races claiming a mixture of European with Asiatic blood, they possess a proud and susceptible tone of mind. In conducting the most trivial affairs they are guided by the Scriptures, which they have read diligently, and from which they quote with a freedom and frequency that rather impair the effect.
A modest demeanour, a large share of good humour, and an artless and retiring grace, render the females peculiarly prepossessing. Some of the younger women have also pleasing countenances; but, on the whole, little can be said in favour of their beauty. They bear an influential sway both in domestic and public politics; and this they are the better calculated to do, since they are intelligent, active, and robust, partake in the labours of their husbands with cheerfulness, and, with but few and recent exceptions, live virtuous in all stations of life.
Their children are stout and shrewd little urchins, familiar and confident, but at the same time well behaved. They are early inured to aquatic exercises; and it amused us not a little to see small creatures, two or three years old, sprawling in the surf which broke upon the beach; their mothers sitting upon the rocks, watching their anticks, and coolly telling them to "come out, or they would be drowned;" whilst the older children, amusing themselves with their surf-boards, would dive out beneath the lofty breakers, and, availing themselves of a succeeding series, approach the coast, borne on the crest of a wave, with a velocity which threatened their instant destruction against the rocks; but, skilfully evading any contact with the shore, they again dived forth to meet and mount another of their foaming steeds.
The ordinary clothing of the men is little more than the maro, or girdle of cloth, worn by the most primitive Polynesian islanders. On occasions of ceremony, as to attend at church, or receive the visits of strangers, they assume a complete English costume; their hats being constructed of pandanus-leaf cinnet, and decorated with coloured ribbons, which give them a pretty rustic-holyday effect.
The females commonly employ for their dress the native material they prepare from the bark of the paper-mulberry tree, stained with vegetable dyes; but, as opportunities offer, they substitute for this rude cloth the handkerchiefs and cotton prints of Europe. They wear the petticoat and scarf in the Tahitian style, and complete their toilette after the manner of the same nation, by passing a girdle of the seared and yellow leaves of the Ti plant around their waist; placing flowers in their ears; and encircling their tresses with a floral wreath. Some few wear their hair short; but the majority permit it to flow over their shoulders in luxuriant ringlets.
These people subsist chiefly on vegetable food. Yams, which are abundant and of excellent quality, form their principal dependence; and next to these the roots of the mountain-taro (Arum costatum), for the cultivation of which the dry and elevated character of the land is so well adapted. Cocoa-nuts, bananas, sweet-potatoes, pumpkins, and water-melons, are also included among their edible vegetables; but of bread-fruit they obtain only a scanty crop, of very indifferent quality. They prepare a common and favourite food with grated cocoa-nuts and yams, pounded, with bananas, to a thick paste; which, when enveloped in leaves and baked, furnishes a very nutritious and palatable cake, called pilai. On two days in the week they permit themselves the indulgence of animal food, either goat's flesh, pork, or poultry; while the waters around the coast afford them a sufficient supply of fish. They cook in the Tahitian manner, by baking in excavations in the earth, filled with heated stones; the fuel they employ is usually the dried husks of the cocoa-nut.
The elder members of the Pitcairn Island family are but indifferently educated; scarcely any of them being able to write their own name, though most can read. For some years past, an Englishman, named George Nobbs, has resided on the island, and officiated as schoolmaster to the children, who, in consequence, exhibit a proficiency in the elements of education highly creditable both to their own intelligence and to the exertions of their teacher. George Adams had commenced instructing himself in writing but a few months before our arrival, and a journal which he had kept for that length of time, and which he put into my possession, displays much progress in the art. The few books they possess have been obtained from sailors visiting their shores, and are chiefly of a religious tenor. Some volumes, also, which were removed from the Bounty are still preserved in the house formerly occupied by the patriarch John Adams.
The English and Tahitian languages are spoken with equal fluency by all the islanders, excepting the two Tahitian females, who speak little else than their native dialect, and are, perhaps, in the sad predicament of having partly forgotten that. They converse in English with some of the imperfections peculiar to foreigners; and this may be partly attributed to their usually discoursing in Tahitian with one another; as well as to a practice among their British visitors of addressing them in broken English, the better to be understood—a delusion into which most fall upon their first intercourse with this people. They, nevertheless, pride themselves upon an accurate knowledge of the language of their fathers; and not only aim at its niceties, but also indulge in the more common French interpolations, as faux pas, fracas, sang froid, &c.
They were early and well instructed in the pure doctrine of the Christian religion by their revered forefather John Adams; and it is to be sincerely hoped that no fanaticism may ever intrude upon their present simple and sensible worship of the Creator, nor the intemperate zeal of enthusiasts give them a bane in exchange for that religion,
"Whose function is to heal and to restore,
To soothe and cleanse, not madden and pollute."
Their sabbath is now observed upon the correct day, or that according with the meridian of the island; which was not the case in 1814, when Sir T. Staines visited the spot, and found John Adams and his small community preserving Saturday as the day of rest; an error which had arisen from the circumstance of the Bounty having made the passage from England to Tahiti by the eastern route, without any correction of time having been made to allow for the day apparently gained by this course.
The canoes the natives possess are but few, and of very simple construction. They are hollowed out from one piece of wood, and each is adapted to carry two persons. When afloat, they appear as mere wooden troughs, or little better than butcher's trays; nevertheless they can brave a very rough sea, or go safely through a heavy surf, and, when managed by their island owners, cleave the water with incredible velocity. The young men of the island are excellent divers. They occasionally engage themselves to pearling vessels, to dive for pearl-shell among the adjacent islands; with an understanding that they are to be restored to their home at the expiration of their engagement.
At the period of our visit the climate of Pitcairn was serene and delightful, and, though the thermometer marked 82° in the shade, the sensible temperature was kept agreeably low by the moderate and refreshing trade-winds, which almost incessantly blow over the land. Winds from N. W., with wet and squally weather, are occasionally experienced; but no season is considered remarkable for rains. The land has generally a very salubrious aspect, and the inhabitants a very healthy appearance; nor are there, apparently, any diseases endemic amongst them. Elephantiasis, or fefe, so prevalent in many of the islands of the Pacific, is here unknown.
The natural productions are principally those common also to the Society Islands. The quadrupeds we noticed were all exotic, as goats and swine, which were brought hither by the first settlers from the Bounty; and a bull and cow, a donkey, a dog, and several cats, which the people had recently brought with them from Tahiti; but, as the island affords but little pasturage, the oxen had destroyed some fruit-trees, and it was determined that they should be killed. The domestic fowls are of the breed introduced here by the Bounty. Some Moscovy ducks had been lately left on the island by the Hon. Capt. Waldegrave, of H. B. M. S. Seringapatam. The only wild birds we observed, beyond the amphibious denizens of the coast, was a small and noisy species inhabiting the woodlands; in size and plumage it resembles our common sparrow, and it bears the same name amongst the islanders. Small and active lizards, of many gaudy hues, are numerous on the vegetated lands. Among the insects, mosquitoes have but lately made their appearance, and are supposed to have accompanied the islanders upon their return from Tahiti.
The breadfruit, it is said, was found on this island by the Bounty's people, who also introduced many plants of it from Tahiti; it was formerly plentiful, but the trees are now few in number and bear but a small and annual crop of fruit. This degeneracy is believed by the natives to attend upon the clearance of the land; and such may probably be the fact; but, at the same time, the dry, elevated, and exposed character of the soil, is so opposed to the natural habitude of this tree in other parts of Polynesia that I am only surprised to find it ranking with the indigenous vegetation.
The candle-nut tree, and Indian mulberry, are conspicuous in the wooded lands. The roots of the former are used by the people to give a brown, and those of the latter a yellow stain to their bark cloth. The lime tree (Citrus medica) has been introduced, but is not prolific; nor has the mountain-plantain, (Musa fei,) recently imported from Tahiti, as yet succeeded.
The cotton shrub, (Gossypium vitifolium,) loaded with large and globular pods containing much excellent wool; capsicum, or bird-pepper, (Capsicum frutescens,) sugar cane, tobacco, and turmeric, grow wild in great abundance, but are applied to no useful purpose. The residents say that the cultivation of the sugar-cane is opposed by rats, which infest the soil in great numbers, and destroy the young plantations.
Yams (Dioscorea sativa and aculeata) are indigenous to the island, and cultivated with much care. They are grown in fields, or "yam patches," on the exposed and sunny declivities of the hills, their vines wandering procumbent over a great extent of ground. They produce an annual crop of roots; the season for planting them commencing in October, and that for digging between July and August. One large root, when cut for seed, is estimated to produce twenty plants. The labours of hoeing and preparing the earth, sowing the seed, transplanting the seedlings, and digging for the mature roots, are the greatest these islanders have to contend with, and furnish as many data for the events of their lives.
The mountain taro (Arum costatum) is also indigenous, and is very generally cultivated on the dry and elevated lands, where it occurs as verdant plots of tall, erect, and arrow-shaped leaves, bearing in their centre the flowers peculiar to the "wake robin" family. Unlike its aquatic congener, A. esculentum, or common taro, this species prefers a dry and mountain soil, or is, at least, conveniently amphibious. The cultivated root attains a large size and bears some resemblance to the yam, and, although when in the raw state it is so acrid as to excoriate the skin, when cooked it affords a very agreeable and nutritious food. The Irish potatoe is occasionally grown; but the natives give the preference to the cultivation and use of the sweet potatoe (Convolvulus batatas).
Amongst the miscellaneous vegetation, we observed the scurvy-grass of navigators (Cardamine antiscorbutica); and the ferns Asplenium obtusatum, Acrostichum aureum, an undescribed species of Hymenophyllum, and a species of Cyathea, a tree-fern attaining the height of from twelve to fourteen feet. The most abundant pasture-grass is a species of Eleusine.
It is probable, that Pitcairn Island was seen as early as January, 1606, by the Spanish commander, Louis Paz de Torres; although the date of its discovery may with more certainty be referred to 1767, when its existence was ascertained by Captain Philip Carteret, of the British discovery-sloop Swallow. Captain Carteret did not land upon its shores, (which he had reason to believe were uninhabited,) and named the island after a young gentleman on board his ship, by whom it was first seen.
In the year 1773, Captain Cook, then engaged on his second voyage, cruised in diligent search of this land, but failed to find it; Captain Carteret having laid it down more than three degrees to the westward of its true position.*
* Sir T. Staines determined the position of this island to be lat. 25° S., long. 130° 25′ W. Capt. Beechey, R. N. has fixed the position of its village in lat. 25° 3′ 37″ S., long. 130° 8′ 23″ W.
The second recorded visit to Pitcairn Island is that of the British armed-ship Bounty and her mutinous crew, in 1790. The events which occurred on board this vessel, while under the command of Lieut. Bligh, and employed in conveying plants of the breadfruit from Tahiti to our West India colonies, are well known; nevertheless, I maybe permitted to relate, briefly, the ultimate fate of both the vessel and her crew, in connexion with some facts that came under our notice, and with others communicated to me by the Pitcairn islanders, or by the English residents who had for many years lived in social intercourse with John Adams, the late patriarch of the colony.
Upon leaving Tahiti for the last time, in September, 1789, taking with them several natives of that island, the mutineers in the Bounty are known to have steered to the N. W.; but their route must have been long and devious, since it was not until January 1790, that they reached Pitcairn Island, a distance of little more than four hundred leagues from Tahiti, in a S. E. direction. Whether Christian, who had the command of the ship, made this small and sequestered isle by accident or design I have been unable to ascertain; but if from a previous knowledge of its existence, it is evident he could have reached it only upon a parallel of latitude, as its correct longitude was at that time unknown.
When off this land, the ship was nearly lost to Christian by a counter conspiracy. He had landed with some Tahitians to inspect the country, when Mills, the gunner's mate, proposed to those who remained on board to make sail for Tahiti, and leave their companions on shore to their fate; but some unexplained circumstances did not permit this plan to be carried into execution.
Finding the island adapted to their purpose, (and certainly few spots in the Pacific could have been better so,) the mutineers kept the ship lying close off the coast, while they removed, in casks and on rafts, the stores they wished to preserve.* This had been but partially effected when one of the crew, named Matthew Quintal, set fire to the vessel, without the sanction of his shipmates, and contrary to the wish of Christian. The ship, while in flames, drifted to the shore, and her destruction was completed in Bounty Bay. What portions of her wreck remained, or were subsequently cast up by the sea, were carefully collected and destroyed, to remove from the ocean every trace of her fate.** For some time after they had landed, the mutineers were tormented by the fear of detection, and kept a constant watch on the summit of a lofty cliff, which immediately strikes the observer as being admirably adapted for that purpose, and which is, indeed, still employed as a look-out station by the inhabitants. From this commanding height they observed, soon after their arrival, a sail approach the land; but did not believe that she neared it sufficiently to communicate by boat. They subsequently ascertained, however, that some persons had landed from her, and returned, probably under the impression that the island was uninhabited.
* Tradition amongst the islanders yet records the delight of the Tahitian females when they received the sails of the Bounty, to make their clothing from the canvass.
** The present race of people speak of the bark of their fathers with much interest. They showed us many of her relicks, and from among them we obtained a blank log book, of antiquated appearance. On the interior of its cover was a card, engraved with fanciful devices, a coat of arms, with the motto "Pro Deo patria et amicis," and a scroll, bearing the name of Fran. Hayward, which would declare the owner of the book to have been one of the midshipmen of the Bounty who accompanied Lieutenant Bligh in the launch.
The fate of this small band of colonists (which consisted of fifteen men and twelve women) was retributive and melancholy in the extreme. All of their number met with violent deaths, excepting Adams, Young, and some of the Tahitian females. Fletcher Christian and John Mills were shot on the same day, by the Tahitians; the grave of the former was pointed out to me: it is situated a short distance up a mountain, and in the vicinity of a pond. Isaac Martin, ..... Williams, and William Brown, shared a similar fate. Several of the Tahitian men fell also in these conflicts; and the survivors, when in a fair way to exterminate their British rivals, were themselves slaughtered, "at one fell swoop," by their own wives and countrywomen. Matthew Quintal, whose temper was uniformly tyrannical and quarrelsome, was shot by his comrades, who, it is charitable to believe, were compelled to resort to that measure in self-defence. William M'Coy became delirious (partly, it was thought, through remorse for the part he had taken in the destruction of Quintal,) and drowned himself in the sea, with a stone tied round his neck.
Brown, Martin, and Williams died without issue. Mills had an only son, who was killed by a fall from a cliff, and one daughter, who is married into the family of the Youngs: the other mutineers have perpetuated their names through a numerous Anglo-Tahitian progeny.
After the lapse of a few years, John Adams was left the only survivor of the British settlers, and the father of a young and happy community. He had served as an able seaman on board the Bounty, under the name of Alexander Smith, but his real name is Adams, Alexander Smith being a fictitious, or "purser's" name, assumed upon shipping, a practice very usual with British seamen. He was an Englishman by birth, and the son of a waterman, an occupation until very recently, if not at present, followed by his brother on the river Thames. He was accustomed to say, that a proposal to join in the mutiny was made to him as he lay in his hammock, and to this he acceded, but took no very active part in the atrocity.
He was thrice married to Tahitian females. By his first wife, who accompanied him from Tahiti to Pitcairn's Island, he had no family. Upon her death he lived with, but did not marry, a female whom he took from her Tahitian husband; and this act (which has always been incorrectly ascribed to Fletcher Christian) led to the sanguinary dissensions between the mutineers and the men of Tahiti. His second wife was the widow of Mills; the fruits of this union were three daughters, now living in the island, namely, Dinah, married to Edward Quintal; Rachel, the wife of an Englishman named John Evans; and Hannah, the widow of George Young, who perished during the late residence of this people at Tahiti. Adams's second wife died of an injury she received from a goat while enceinte; and the widow of M'Coy became his third. By her he has an only son, George, who is married to Polly Young, the finest and most intelligent woman on the island.
In March, 1829, John Adams expired, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and after a residence of thirty-nine years on Pitcairn's Island. His remains, as well as those of his last wife (who had been for many years blind and bedridden, and who did not survive him more than six weeks) are deposited in separate graves, within an enclosure but a few yards distant from their former residence. Poplar-leaved hibiscus trees, covered with large yellow flowers, and a shrub of Poinciana pulcherrima, bearing clusters of crimson blossoms, shade the spot, and a rough head-stone distinguishes the grave of the patriarch from that of his wife.
The particulars of the discovery of the Pitcairn colony, through visits accidentally paid to the island, in 1808, by the American ship Topaz, Captain Folger, and in 1814, by the British frigates Briton and Tagus, are sufficiently well known.
John Adams, a short time before his death, had expressed apprehensions that the supply of water on his island would be inadequate to the wants of an increasing population; and that it might become necessary, hereafter, to request the aid of the British government to remove the colony to some other spot better adapted for its maintenance.
In February, 1831, H. M. sloop Comet, Captain Sandilands, arrived at Pitcairn's Island, accompanied by the Lucy Anne transport, for the purpose of removing the residents to Tahiti, if such should prove to be their wish. The islanders, being partly actuated by a desire to visit the land which their mothers had depicted to them in glowing colours, but more by the fear that they should offend did they not accede to what they considered was the desire of the English government, consented to the proposed emigration. In four days they were all embarked, to the number of eighty-seven, on board the transport, and, escorted by the Comet, proceeded to Tahiti.
Their arrival at their destined port occurred at a peculiarly unfortunate period—the Tahitians were then on the eve of a civil war; and, in addition to the scenes of strife and confusion this distracted state of the island displayed, the hitherto immaculate Pitcairnians were compelled to witness the gross and unbounded licentiousness habitual to the place, and at this period unrestrained even by the broad meshes of the local laws. This Land of Promise, also, offered the colonists but little that could compensate for the loss of their own fertile and picturesque isle, which, though small, was more than sufficiently large,* and, in a word—their home. Nevertheless, the commercial bustle of Tahiti had its charms; to the habits of the people they became but too well inured; and it is probable that the Pitcairnians would soon have become reconciled to their new abode, had not disease assailed them soon after their arrival, and relentlessly thinned their numbers.
* It is estimated, that Pitcairn Island can well support 1000 inhabitants.
Dispirited by this unusual affliction, they became anxious to return to their native land, and applied to Captain Sandilands for a passage thither; but the Captain had no instructions to that effect, and soon after put to sea with the Comet; having first obtained from the Tahitian government a liberal grant of land, and the promise of six months' supply of provisions for the Pitcairn colony. With the aid of a sum of money raised by subscription amongst the benevolent European residents at Tahiti, and by a part-payment of the copper bolts of the Bounty, the unfortunate emigrants were at length enabled to obtain a passage, in an American vessel, to their own shores, which they regained after an absence of little more than five months. Upon the occasion of this disastrous expedition, fourteen of their number perished by disease; twelve having died at Tahiti, and two others immediately after their return to Pitcairn Island.
At the time of our visit nearly two years had elapsed since the return of this people: their lands were again in a high state of cultivation, and their former simple habits were in a great measure resumed. But the injurious effects of a more extensive intercourse with the world were but too evident in the restless and dissatisfied state of many amongst them, as well as in a licentiousness of discourse, which I cannot believe belonged to their former condition. Events had also occurred, shortly before our arrival, which had roused the worst passions of this hitherto peaceful race, and had divided the island into two factions, opposed to each other with a rancour little short of open warfare.
The origin of this calamity was attributed to the recent arrival on the spot of an elderly Englishman, named Joshua Hill, who, uninvited, and without authority, had assumed, under the title of teacher, the government of the people. To strengthen his authority, he had allotted a subordinate share of it to a few of the most ambitious and athletic amongst the men, who, as "elders" and "privy council," were to enforce his regulations among their countrymen. The fraternal equality that had hitherto existed in their society was thus destroyed; while new laws, enforced under the equally new penalties of imprisonment and flogging, as well as by espionnage, and the seizure of fire-arms from the disaffected—measures at all times deemed more military than civil—naturally tended to irritate those of the natives who were not of the upper party, and many of them were anxious to accompany us to Tahiti, that they might escape such unpleasantries. George Adams, in particular, appeared much distressed at the state of his country, and urgently desired the presence of a British ship of war, to settle their disputes and "take old Hill and the muskets off the island."
In this, as in many similar dissensions, it was difficult to determine to which party the greater share of blame should attach; for though no excuse can be offered for Mr. Hill's unauthorised intrusion upon the affairs of the island, or for his despotic measures, yet, previous to his arrival, the state of the island was confessedly bad, and the people much in need of a prudent governor. Immediately after their return from Tahiti, the pernicious practice of distilling an ardent spirit from the Ti root had become frequent—drunkenness and disease were amongst them—their morals had sunk to a low ebb and vices of a very deep dye were hinted at in their mutual recriminations. But all these errors might doubtless be eradicated by mild and judicious measures; and probably by the fortiter in re of Mr. Hill; though it is much to be feared that the social compact which formerly bound this people has been broken by the rude contact of the world, and that virtue and tranquillity have fled the spot, never more to return. I thought it, indeed, a remarkable proof of the mutability of human affairs, that these islanders, whom I had ever been accustomed to regard in the light of a curious phenomenon in the moral history of man—as a large and united family, occupying a sweet little isle of its own, remote from the contentious world, and rich in every Christian virtue, should prove, when seen on their own shores, the only one, of the many races of people we visited during the voyage, with whom discord prevailed.
Notwithstanding these political disputes, and the part we were necessarily called upon to take in their discussion, the reputation for hospitality which has ever been attached to these islanders was not lost. Their best houses, their choicest food, and all that they possessed and deemed acceptable, were freely offered for our use; while fruits, vegetables, hogs, and fowls, were abundantly supplied to the ship. Some of the inhabitants accompanied us over the island, pointing out every object worthy of notice, and communicating information readily and with intelligence; while others went off in their canoes to the ship, that they might be presented to the English ladies, who they were informed we had on board.
In return for their ample supplies and many acts of kindness, we presented them with such European manufactures as they required, and, after a friendly parting, embarked to continue our voyage, taking with us three Englishmen, who had intermarried with the natives, and resided amongst them for many years, but who had suffered so much persecution during the late unhappy discords that they were glad to avail themselves of a passage to Tahiti, until they could return to their wives and families under competent protection.*
* From the report of a visit to Pitcairn Island, by the Acteon, Lord Edward Russell, in 1836, we learn that Nobbs had returned, and resumed his office of schoolmaster; and that Joshua Hill had been recommended by his lordship to quit the island.
There is every reason to believe that Pitcairn Island has had inhabitants previous to its occupation by the crew of the Bounty; since, in addition to the ruins of morais, images, &c. found on its soil, the islanders informed me that they had recently discovered two human skeletons, lying in the earth side by side, and the head of each resting on a pearl-shell. This last circumstance involves the history of the aborigines in yet greater obscurity; as the pearl-shell, although found in the adjacent islands, has never been seen in the waters around Pitcairn Island. Stone adzes, supposed to have belonged to this ancient race, are not unfrequently found by the present inhabitants, whilst cultivating the ground. Two of these were given to me by Hannah Young, the third daughter of John Adams. They are rudely fashioned, in the ordinary Polynesian form of such instruments; are composed of a black basalt, highly polished; and bear an appearance of great antiquity.
It is certainly difficult to account for the extinction of an original race upon a spot so replete with every essential for the support of human existence; and we are led to the hypothesis, that either one of the epidemic diseases, which occasionally scourge the islands of the Pacific, had destroyed the primitive inhabitants to the "last man," or that the island was but occasionally frequented, for religious or other purposes, by the people of some distant shore, who subsequently discontinued the custom.