THE first Edition of "Pitcairn; the Island, the People, and the Pastor” appeared in the spring of 1853. Between that date and the present, about thirty thousand copies have been printed. The subject was one of a kind at once to command a large circulation of the work: and circumstances have continued to arise, in connexion with the Island, which have greatly tended to sustain the interest felt in the place and its inhabitants.
The arrival of their Pastor in England, his admission, whilst here, to holy orders, and his interview with the Queen and the Prince Consort, were pleasing and important occurrences, when viewed in reference to the original history of Pitcairn. Still more eventful days, however, were in store for the people. The provision made by the British Government for their transfer to Norfolk Island, and the further measures recently adopted for their benefit by Sir William Denison, the governor, have brought to our minds the progress and prospects of this remarkable community in a striking manner.
The following letter, addressed to the author of this work by his friend, Vice-Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby, K.C.B., late Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Naval Forces in the Southern Pacific, will explain the occasion of Mr. Nobbs's visit to England in the autumn of 1852:—
"VALPARAISO, August, 1852.
"This will be conveyed to you by Mr. Nobbs, the Pastor of Pitcairn's Island. It was not until after our departure from thence, that I found he had received a letter from you, dated the 29th of November, 1850, which, I confess, has relieved me of much anxiety on the responsibility I have taken upon myself of sending Mr. Nobbs to England.
"I can most conscientiously assure you, that the state of society at Pitcairn has not been too highly described. The Bible and Prayer-book of the Bounty, as handed to Mr. Nobbs from John Adams, have been, and continue to be, the objects of their study, and have enabled them to withstand the innovations that too fervid imaginations, in America and elsewhere, have thought, by their correspondence, it was their calling to effect.
"The affectionate attachment of the islanders to Mr. Nobbs (who, in the triple capacity of pastor, surgeon, and teacher, is as necessary to them as their food) created some little difficulty in his leaving; but it was overcome by the arrangement made for leaving with them our chaplain, Mr. Holman, and by my assurance that I would return their pastor to them with as little delay as possible. I hope I am not wrong in supposing that if Mr. Nobbs is found worthy of being ordained, only a short time will be required to prepare.
"I think I did not mention to the Bishop of London the way in which Mr. Nobbs reached Pitcairn. It disproves the malignant stories which have been circulated. And the success of twenty-four years' labour is an abundant proof, that, under the blessing of God, he has educated in the principles of our Church, as one united family, a community whose simple and virtuous lives are so pre-eminent.
"In 1826 he left England for the purpose of going to Pitcairn. For nearly two years, by the way of the Cape of Good Hope, India, and Australia, he sought a passage. Finally, at Callao, in Peru, he met the owner of a launch, who, on the condition of Mr. Nobbs's fitting her out, agreed to accompany him to Pitcairn. Mr. Nobbs fitted her himself, and expended what little money he possessed. The owner was in ill-health: nevertheless these two left Callao by themselves, on a voyage of 3,500 miles, which they accomplished in forty-two days. The owner died soon after their arrival. The launch was hauled on shore, and her materials used to build a house for Mr. Nobbs.
"I was four days on shore at Pitcairn, in constant discourse with the islanders. I am convinced that the time and the opportunity have arrived for giving them a minister of our Church; and that Mr. Nobbs is the person they wish, and the person at present best adapted for them."
Amidst all the attentions which Mr. Nobbs received during his short sojourn in England, the thought of his flock at Pitcairn was evidently uppermost in his mind. Those who felt an interest in him, having heard of the virtuous habits and happy lives of the people, were less surprised at his wish to return to them as soon as his errand should be accomplished.
The particulars of his return will be found stated in the body of this work. His life and conversation among the islanders, since his appointment as their Chaplain, and a Missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, are sufficiently shown in the following extract of a letter from a leading member of the community, who was the chief magistrate of Pitcaim in 1854. This worthy and intelligent person is a grandson of the original John Adams.
"PITCAIRN'S ISLAND, Oct. 1854.
"Had it not been for the many valuable lessons we have learned, from the liberal supply of books which we from time to time have received from the Society to which you have the honour to belong, 1 doubt if the present state of education now existing among us would have been attained. You will doubtless be rejoiced to learn, that your Society has been the means of diffusing much Christian Knowledge among us, and that we are not insensible of the immense debt of love and gratitude we owe you.
"The ordination of our Teacher is a blessing which we highly appreciate; and it will, with the blessing of Almighty God, be productive of much good.
"Divine Service is performed every Wednesday evening; and we partake of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of each month; privileges for which we cannot be too thankful.
"You will doubtless be glad to learn that the Rev. G. H. Nobbs has, since his ordination, acted in a manner highly honourable to his high calling and profession. His whole aim seems to be directed to one object, that of doing good to his flock, both in spiritual and temporal things.
"Please to accept of my kindest love and regards; and believe me to be,
"Yours ever gratefully,
"To the REV. T. B. MURRAY, M.A."
The mention of the name of John Adams reminds us of the origin of the settlement at Pitcairn's Island. Without further anticipating, therefore, the eventful history which is connected with the place, and which proves that real life may be more romantic than fiction, the author will make it his business to give an account of the island, and of the troublous times which preceded the pure and peaceable condition of its inhabitants.
For some years the population of the island had gone on increasing at an advanced ratio, whilst the ground available for produce had occasionally shown symptoms of failure in the supply of the requisite articles of food. Under the pressure of a certain amount of want and apprehension, the inhabitants, in May, 1853, unanimously solicited the aid of the British Government, in transferring them to a more roomy place; and they themselves suggested Norfolk Island as a desirable spot for their future residence. That beautiful island, which has been sometimes called the garden of the world, has ceased to be a penal settlement; and there are no other settlers.
The Government determined, in the year 1853, to provide for the transfer of the inhabitants of Pitcairn, or of as many of them as might consent, to Norfolk Island. The execution of the measure was confided to Sir William Denison, the Governor of New South Wales, who, as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land, had Norfolk Island for several years under his superintendence. It would not be just to omit to mention the forethought, discrimination, and zeal manifested by His Excellency in making the requisite arrangements for the task.
The plans of the Government were not matured until the spring of 1856. The vessel engaged for carrying the transfer into effect, was the Morayshire, chartered at Sydney. During the whole of the passage, which commenced on May 3, 1856, the real interests and personal comforts of the people, young and old, of both sexes, were consulted in the most tender and scrupulous manner in all respects. Acting Lieutenant G. W. Gregorie, of the Juno, performed his part of Superintendent of this service in a manner which amply justified the choice of so competent and humane an officer. In the removal of 194 persons in an emigrant ship, on a voyage of upwards of three thousand miles, occupying thirty-five days, it does not appear too much to say, that no one could have desired a better kind of treatment for members of his own family.
The conduct of the Rev. G. H. Nobbs throughout the whole of this transaction, confirmed the feelings of confidence and esteem which he had earned by more than a quarter of a century's faithful and efficient service amongst his charge at Pitcairn. He not only attended to the religious wants of the voyagers, but all the medical duties likewise devolved upon him. These were of no light nor ordinary kind; so severely did many suffer from continued seasickness.
All were landed securely at their new abode, on the 8th of June, 1856; a grand result, which was much facilitated by Captain Denham, E.N., and the officers and men of H.M. Surveying ship Herald; that vessel having been considerately detained some days by Captain Denham on the spot, for the purpose of giving assistance.
The first act of the Community, on assembling after the landing, was to offer a devout Thanksgiving to God, for their prosperous voyage, and for His many mercies.
Sir Wm. Denison has written to the author, saying, that henceforward the Islanders will not require any charitable assistance. "They are now," said he, "occupants of a most fertile island, with stock of all kinds, with tools and appliances for all their immediate wants." His Excellency stated his intention of exercising a careful supervision over the people who may be permitted to land and reside among the new inhabitants.
He has since fulfilled a promise which he had made, of becoming personally acquainted with them. It will be seen in the latter pages of the present Edition, that he availed himself of the occasion to afford them good counsel and advice; and it may be hoped that a visit so kind and so paternal will have proved of much benefit as well as comfort to the flock on Norfolk Island.
Although the presence of England's worst exiles for several years gave a bad name to that beautiful place, there is no reason why it should not now become associated in the mind with whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.
LONDON, July, 1860.