Before they were discovered by Captain Folger, in September, 1808, two ships had been seen from the island. A boat from one landed, and the crew carried off some cocoanuts, but quitted before the inhabitants could communicate with them.
Captain Folger, on his approach, was surprised to see smoke, and signs of houses, as he had thought the island uninhabited; but he was more astonished on seeing canoes, and on finding himself hailed in good English by the men, who invited him to land. This he at first declined; but one of the Topaz men, a native of England, offered to go on shore, if the ship were allowed to come near the rocks, so that he might swim off if attacked. He went cautiously on shore, and soon met John Adams, who, like the new comer, felt some suspicions. Each, in fact, doubted the designs of the other; till Adams very soon became satisfied of the peaceful intentions of the visitor. Observing that the man had a slovenly and neglected beard, he asked him, Why he did not shave? Without waiting for a reply, Adams sent one of the young natives for his razors, which were brought, and the man having undergone the operation with some alarm and apprehension, returned as quickly as possible to the ship. The captain then came on shore, and remained the greater part of the day. He took the opportunity of giving Adams an account of the many and great naval battles in which England had been engaged, and of the various victories which she had gained. What a glorious catalogue, including Camperdown, Copenhagen, St. Vincent, the Nile, and Trafalgar! At the end of the narrative, Adams gave a loud cheer, shouting, at the top of his voice, "Old England for ever!"
The visit of Captain Folger introduces us to Pitcairn's Island, and its inhabitants. The reader may now desire to learn the origin of its name, and the circumstances of its first discovery by British navigators.
Captain Philip Carteret, in his description of a Voyage round the World, wrote as follows, July, 1767:—
"We continued our course westward till the evening of Thursday, the 2d of July, when we discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day, it appeared like a great rock rising out of the sea. It was not more than five miles in circumference, and seemed to be uninhabited. It was, however, covered with trees; and we saw a small stream of fresh water running down one side of it. I would have landed upon it, but the surf, which at this season broke upon it with great violence, rendered it impossible. I got soundings on the west side of it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, in twenty-five fathoms, with a bottom of coral and sand; and it is probable that in fine summer weather landing here may not only be practicable, but easy. We saw a great number of sea-birds hovering about it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore; and the sea here seemed to have fish. It lies in lat. 20° 2′ south; long. 133° 21 west.* It is so high, that we saw it at the distance of more than fifteen leagues; and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn, of the marines, we called it PITCAIRN'S ISLAND. This young man was unfortunately lost in the Aurora.† While we were in the neighbouihood of this island, the weather was extremely tempestuous, with long rolling billows from the southward, larger and higher than any I had seen before. The winds were variable, but blew chiefly from the SS.W., W. and W.N.W. We had very seldom a gale to the eastward; so that we were prevented from keeping in a high south latitude, and were constantly driving to the northward."‡
∗The latitude and longitude are here wrongly stated.
† His father, Major Pitcairn, was killed at the battle of Bunker's Hill, in America, in 1775.
‡ Voyage round the World, by Captain P, Carteret, Commander of H.M. Sloop Swallow, in 1766-7-8-9, Passage from Masafuera to Queen Charlotte's Islands, chap. lii.
Pitcairn's Island, distant about 1,200 miles from Otaheite, is of volcanic origin. The peculiar features of the volcanic islands, of which there are several in the South Seas, show that they have been elevated from the bed of the ocean by the resistless force of fire, which has given a vertical character, and jagged outline, to their rocky mountains, and greatly increased the wild beauties of their scenery. Pitcairn is in latitude 25° 4′ south, and longitude 130° 8′ west; and the highest point is about 1,008 feet above the level of the sea. In clear weather the island may be seen at forty miles' distance. It is four miles and a half in circumference, one mile and a half being the greatest length. The climate, which is just without the tropics, is adapted for the production of useful vegetables, which form the chief article of food:— Irish and sweet potatoes, yams, bread-fruit, a vegetable called taro (Arum esculentum), pumpkins, Indian maize, and beans. Here and there are patches of the tobacco-plant, and sugar-canes. The fruits are pines, plantains, and bananas, oranges, limes, melons, a species of apple, and cocoa-nuts. Among the trees are the cocoa-nut (Cocos nucifera); the Plantain (Musa paradisiacd); the Bread-fruit tree (Artocarpus incisd); the Nono (Morinda citrifolia), &c.; but the most striking and remarkable is the Banyan (Ficus Indica):—
"The fig-tree; not that kind for fruit renown'd,
But such as at this day to India known,
In Malabar or Deecan, spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
The bended twig takes root, and daughters grow
About the mother-tree, a pillar'd shade,
High over-reach'd, and echoing walks between.
There oft the Indian herdsman, shunning heat,
Shelters in cool, and tends his pasturing herds
At loop-holes cut through thickest shade."
The temperature of Pitcairn ranges from 59 in winter to 87 in summer. The average is 65 in winter, and 82 in summer. The vegetation sometimes suffers from swarms of insects. To remedy this evil, there having been on the island only one species of land bird, a small fly-catcher, it was thought desirable to convey some birds to the spot. Her Majesty's Ship, Virago, Commander Prevost, left Callao for Pitcairn, in January, 1853, having on board singing-birds, rose-trees, myrtles, &c. for the islanders.
There are lizards, but no venomous reptiles on the island. The people are annoyed by rats, which do much damage to the sugar-canes. Hence the strictness of the law for preserving cats, which remains to be noticed in a future page.
About half the island, consisting of six hundred acres, is cultivated. The rest is too rocky for cultivation. There being but little beach, the quantity of sea-weed washed up is small: such as there is, however, is employed for the use of the ground.
Though the climate cannot be called unhealthy, the people are not generally long-lived. Arthur Quintal, sen., the. oldest man now among them (1856), is about sixty years old. Elizabeth Young, daughter of the late John Mills, the oldest person on the island, is sixty-four, she having been born in 1792. The ailments to which the islanders are most subject are, rheumatism, influenza, bilious affections, and diseases of the heart.
Nature has fortified the coast with powerful barriers, which render the island most difficult of access, except in Bounty Bay, situate on the north-east side; and even there the approach is impossible when the sea is high. The ships, which occasionally remain awhile in the neighbourhood of the island, and for which there is abundance of water, stand off and on as well as they may, and as the wind allows them. Though soundings in from 25 to 35 fathoms may be obtained at some distance, anchorage is seldom resorted to, the state of the ground being such as to cause a risk of losing the anchor. Lofty bristling rocks, one of which is called St. Paul's Point, rise perpendicularly from the sea; and cliffs, with clumps of cocoa-nut trees at their base, are seen, as the boats approach the beach, which is shingly, and very narrow at the place of landing. The landing is effected in the boats of the natives; these being better suited than ships' boats for passing the breakers.
"Having set foot on shore," says Mr. Brodie, who was there in March, 1850," you ascend a steep hill, almost a cliff, for about three hundred yards, to a table-land, planted with cocoa-nut trees, which is called the market-place, about a quarter of a mile beyond which, at the north end of the island, lies the settlement, flanked by a grove of cocoa-nut trees, kumeras, plantains, &c. which make the approach very picturesque." *
∗ Pitcairn's Island and the Islanders, in 1850. By Walter Brodie.
Though the island, according to Captain Carteret, owes its name to young Mr. Pitcairn, he having been the first native of this kingdom who noted the place, it was doubtless once known by some other name, which is now lost. All traces of its former inhabitants have also disappeared. A few human skeletons, idols, and weapons were discovered there by the mutineers. Thus it has become a clear matter of fact, that the island was inhabited previously to their arrival. Overlooking Bounty Bay is a lofty peak, within 100 yards of which were found on a rock four images, about six feet in height, placed upon a platform, which is called a paipai. One of these was a rude representation of the human figure, to the hips, hewn out of a piece of red lava. Each of the skulls which were dug up had under it a pearl-shell, according to the mode of burial adopted in the place at the time, probably some centuries since. It has been suggested with reason, that the ancient occupants were drifted to this place from the Gambier, or other islands, on a raft. Several specimens of. hatchets, and spear-heads of very hard stone, and a large stone bowl, were discovered. The mutineers also found in a cavern situate in the face of a cliff, on the east side of the island, certain uncouth carvings of the sun, moon, stars, a bird, men, &c.
There are some inaccuracies in the narrative forwarded by Captain Folger, in his letter of March 1, 1813, respecting his visit to the island. He stated that about six years after the arrival of the nine mutineers, the Otaheitans had killed all the Englishmen except Smith (Adams), who was severely wounded; and that on the same night the Otaheitan widows had risen, and murdered all their countrymen, leaving only Smith, with the widows and children. His account may be corrected by the following statement:—