EARLY Sunday morning, on the 8th of September, 1878, the islanders were greatly surprised at seeing a British man-of-war to the north of the island. As the mist and light rains that partly hid the ship from view cleared away, she was seen standing in toward the land, with the evident intention of communicating with the shore. The one boat that the islanders possessed was soon launched and on its way to the ship. After a short stay it returned, accompanied by others from the ship, which was H. M. S. Shah, the flagship of the admiral commanding the Pacific station. A large crowd from the ship came on shore, and as they came in time for the morning service, the still unfinished meetinghouse that was being built at the time was furnished with seats formed by boards laid across boxes, to accommodate the congregation, whose number was doubled by the addition of the visitors.
The chaplain of the ship, Rev. J. Reed, took part in officiating. The people greatly enjoyed the pleasure of having Admiral De Horsey and his officers join with them in their worship and service, and would have been pleased to have them remain through the afternoon, but the admiral was anxious to leave on the evening of the same day, so their stay was unavoidably short. However, he afterward kindly yielded to the request to remain until the next day, to afford the people opportunity to get some fruit and other things for their visitors, as they felt that they could not conscientiously allow themselves to do so on the Sunday. Having decided to prolong his stay, the admiral gave an invitation to all the islanders to come on board at eight the next morning to visit his ship and have breakfast there. Most of the people availed them selves of the kind invitation and were ready at an early hour for the anticipated pleasure. The day opened calm and dull, with occasional light showers of rain, which, while they dampened the garments, failed to damp the spirits of those who visited the ship. Breakfast was laid on a long table in the cabin, and at the appointed hour a large party sat down with the good admiral to partake of the bountiful feast he had ordered.
The kind people on board seemed to vie with each other in their efforts to entertain and please, showing their visitors about their huge home on the waters, and how they lived, enjoying, too, the evident wonder and admiration displayed by their guests as they watched the revolving of the mighty engines, and also the keen pleasure and interest they manifested in everything they saw around them. On deck the band was playing, while in one of the rooms below one of the officers was seated at a piano, making music for a company of admiring listeners. In the gun room the crowd of young officers had gathered the schoolchildren together, and persuaded them to sing some of their songs and glees, they in return singing some of their bright, lively songs. The hours flew quickly, and soon one by one the islanders passed down the steep sides of the ship to return home, after wishing their kind visitors good-by, and carrying with them a lively remembrance of their delightful entertainment on board, while the Shah, with her over eight hundred souls, steamed on her way and was soon out of sight.
The following is the report of Rear Admiral de Horsey, commander in chief on the Pacific station, which was received at the admiralty:—
"September 17, 1878. Sir, I request you wi1l acquaint the lords commissioners of the admiralty that, as Pitcairn Island lay in my track from Esquimalt to Valparaiso, and the weather being sufficiently favorable for landing, I took advantage of the circumstance to visit that island, for the purpose of ascertaining the condition of the inhabitants, and also to obtain refreshments on this long voyage. Having sighted Pitcairn at daylight on the 8th inst., we arrived at Bounty Bay at 8 A. M., and remained off the island until noon the following day, when we proceeded on our voyage.
"A few particulars as to the present condition of this small and almost inaccessible island, the only spot of British territory lying in the vast triangle between Vancouver, Falkland, and Fiji Islands, may not be uninteresting to their lordships, and are therefore made the subjects of this letter. The population at present numbers ninety, of all ages, of which forty-one are males and forty-nine females. . . . There is but one survivor of the generation which immediately followed the mutineers, viz., Elizabeth Young, aged about eighty-eight, daughter of John Mills, gunner's mate of the Bounty, and of an Otaheitian mother.
"The oldest man on the island is Thursday October Christian, grandson of Fletcher Christian, master's mate of the Bounty. The population may be further described as consisting of sixteen men, nineteen women, twenty-five boys, and thirty girls. The deaths on the island have numbered about twelve in the last nineteen years, as no contagious diseases visit the island.
"A few medicines which were sent from Valparaiso in H. M. S. Reindeer (in 1869) are administered as required, by the pastor. Pitcairn Island is governed by a 'magistrate and chief ruler in subordination to her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain,' who not only administers the laws, but also enacts them. There are two councillors to advise and assist the chief magistrate, besides which, the 'heads of families' are convened for consultation when required. . . . The chief magistrate is elected annually on New Year's day, and is open to reelection. Both sexes of and above the age of seventeen have a vote. The office is at present filled by Mr. James Russell McCoy, who is also steersman of the only boat on the island. . . . Divine service is held every Sunday at 10:30 A. M. and at three P. M., and it is conducted strictly in accordance with the liturgy of the Church of England, by Mr. Simon Young, their selected pastor, who is much respected. A Bible class is held every Wednesday, when all who conveniently can, attend. There is also a general meeting for prayer on the first Friday of every month. Family prayers are said in every house the first thing in the morning and the last thing in the evening, and no food is partaken of without asking God's blessing before and afterwards. Captain Beechy, writing fifty-three years ago, says: 'These excellent people appear to live together in perfect harmony and contentment, to be virtuous, religious, cheerful, and hospitable, to be patterns of conjugal and paternal affection, and to have very few vices.' I have ventured to quote those words, as they hold true to this day, the children having followed in the footsteps of their parents.
"The observance of Sunday is very strict; no work is done; but this is not in any pharisaical spirit, as shown on the occasion of our visit, which chanced to be on a Sunday, when everything consistent with not neglecting divine service was done to supply us with refreshments for the crew, the chief magistrate arguing that it was a good work, and necessary, as the ship could not wait. Of these islanders' religious attributes no one can speak without deep respect. A people whose greatest privilege and pleasure is to commune in prayer with their God, and to join in hymns of praise, and who are, moreover, cheerful, diligent, and probably freer from vice than any other community, need no priest among them. The pastor also fulfills the duty of schoolmaster, in which he is assisted by his daughter, Rosalind Amelia Young. The instruction comprises reading, writing, arithmetic, Scripture history, and geography. The girls are taught sewing and hat making as well, and the whole are taught part singing very effectively. . . . Schooling is conducted in the church house, one end of which is used as a library, open to all. English is the only language spoken or known. [And a corruption of the same. . . . ]
"The Pitcairn islanders are, of course, entirely dependent upon their own resources. They grow sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, etc., and formerly plenty of breadfruit, but these are nearly all dying out. They have also beans, carrots, turnips, cabbages, and a little maize, pineapples, custard apples, and plenty of oranges, lemons, and cocoanuts. Clothing is obtained alone from passing ships in barter for refreshments. They have a few sheep, goats, pigs, fowls, cats, and dogs. As it rains generally once a month, they have plenty of water, although at times in former years they have suffered from drought. No alcoholic liquors, except for medical purposes, are used, and a drunkard is unknown. The houses are well ventilated, and furnished sufficient for their simple wants. Scarcely any trees good for timber grow here. . . . The men are chiefly employed tilling their grounds, farming, house building, canoe fishing, etc.; the women, in sewing, hat and basket making (in addition to their other household work). All are industrious, and willing to take their share of public work when required. This, at present, is enlarging the church house, to meet the wants of an increasing population.
"The only communication with the outside world is by means of passing ships, averaging perhaps one a month, and chiefly those on their way to and from California; but this is precarious, as most ships fetch to windward of Pitcairn, and those that do sight the island are frequently unable to communicate. At the time of our visit the landing was considered good, but it was necessary to watch for a smooth place, and to use a light boat. They have no communication with Otaheite, and very rarely with Norfolk Island or New Zealand.
"The necessary articles required by the islanders are best shown by those we furnished in barter for refreshments, viz., flannel, serge, drill, half boots, combs, tobacco, and soap. They also stand much in need of maps and slates for their school, and tools of any kind are most acceptable. I caused them to be supplied from the public stores with a Union Jack for display on ships' arrival, and a pit saw, of which they were greatly in need. This, I trust, will meet the approval of their lordships. If the munificent people of England were only aware of the wants of this most deserving little colony, they would not go long unsupplied. I would suggest that anything desired to be sent be addressed to the care of the admiral on this station, either at Coquimbo or Vancouver Island. If sent by private ships, goods may never reach the island. Within the last two years or so two wrecks have occurred—the English ship Khandeish, on Oeno Island, and the English ship Cornwallis, on Pitcairn Island. In both cases the crews took refuge on Pitcairn Island, remaining respectively over six weeks and three days, and receiving every assistance, including food and clothing, from the scanty supplies of the Pitcairn islanders. At the wreck of the Cornwallis the islanders in rendering assistance lost their only boat, one made by themselves, and thus their only means of communicating with passing ships.
"One stranger, an American, has settled on the island—a doubtful acquisition. A few of the islanders have expressed a wish to return to Norfolk Island—a not unnatural wish for change—but the chief magistrate thinks none are likely to go. The islanders, at my invitation, visited the Shah. No less than sixty-eight men, women, and children, out of a total of ninety, came on board, regardless of the difficulties of embarking, and the wind and rain. Their poor garments were nearly wet through, and many were sea sick, but the pleasure of going on board one of their own country's ships of war outweighed all other considerations, and made them essentially happy.
"Finally I submit to their lordships that when the service will admit it is desirable that a ship of war should visit Pitcairn annually, and I propose to cause this to be done during the remainder of my command. I submit also that this small colony is deserving such attention and encouragement as Her Majesty's government may think fit to hold out to it. Her Majesty the Queen does not, I believe, possess in any part of the world more loyal and affectionate subjects than this little knot of settlers. I may here observe that a notion appears to prevail among the Pitcairn islanders that Her Majesty's government is displeased with them for having returned from Norfolk Island (which, as their lordships are aware, they did in two parties, the first in 1859 and the rest, I believe, in 1864), although their return was, I believe, at their own expense, and they have since been no burden to the Crown. This notion, whence received I know not, I venture to affirm was without foundation, feeling assured that Her Majesty's government would rather honor them for preferring the primitive simplicity of their native island to either the dissolute manners of Otaheite or even the more civilized but less pure and simple ways of Norfolk Island. . . . They will lose rather than gain by contact with other communities.
I have etc;, etc. A. F. R. DE HORSEY,
"Rear Admiral and commander in chief"
In July, 1879, the year following the visit of the Shah, H. M. S. Opal came, bringing a beautiful organ of American manufacture—Clough & Warren's—as a gift from the Queen, Her Majesty having sent the sum of £20 to Admiral de Horsey for the benefit of the Pitcairn islanders. This he expended in the purchase of the above-named gift, thinking, and rightly too, that the money could not be spent in a more satisfactory way. The organ is ornamented with a heart-shaped silver plate placed in the center above the keyboard, bearing the inscription, "A present from Her Majesty the Queen to her loyal and loving Pitcairn Island subjects, in appreciation of their domestic virtues." This gift was received with pardonable pride that the Queen should condescend to remember the little isolated colony, as well as with feelings of true loyalty toward, and love for, their sovereign. When the captain of the Opal seated himself at the instrument and struck a few chords of the national song of Great Britain, there was not a voice that did not join heartily in singing, "God save the Queen."
Besides the organ, the result that immediately followed the admiral's appeal to the "munificent people of England" was seen in the abundant and varied substantial gifts sent to the island on H. M. S. Osprey in March, 1880. When the admiral's account of his visit was published in England, a ready response was made to his appeal by many friends there, and subscriptions were immediately set on foot. The chairman of the committee to direct matters and dispose of the various subscriptions, the Rev. Andrew A. W. Drew, a clergyman of the Church of England, particularly exerted himself in the interests of the islanders, he and his wife attending personally to the packing of the many boxes that contained the gifts, the task being a most wearisome one, as, owing to the long way the boxes had to come, they needed to be packed with the greatest care. Every article that was sent was of the best. A large supply of schoolbooks and the much-needed slates and pencils also came, a gratefully received addition to what the good people of San Francisco had previously supplied. Especial mention should be made of the handsome gift of a number of Oxford Bibles—teachers' editions and others. Each Sunday school teacher was furnished with a teacher's Bible, which was valued accordingly, and the happy possessors felt that on them were bestowed the richest gifts that England sent.
The beautiful and costly present of two boats was also received, and that too with feelings akin to shame that so much thought and kindness had been bestowed on the islanders, whose part in receiving far surpassed that of the "more blessed" giving. One of the boats was named "Queen Victoria," and it bears an inscription to the effect that it was a gift sent in recognition of the 'gallant services rendered by the islanders in saving life." The other boat, a whaleboat, was named "Admiral Drew," in remembrance of the father of the Rev. A. Drew, the gentleman above mentioned. Mr. Drew had had the latter boat built strictly in accordance with his own directions, and the beautiful little craft answers admirably the purpose for which it was intended, viz., battling with the heavy surf that so frequently beats upon the shore.
Thus much in regard to the response made to the admiral's appeal by the large-hearted donors in England. A volume could, however, be written respecting the numberless gifts from private individuals and others, that have from time to time been showered upon the people of this remote spot of earth, gifts that have been received with gratitude mingled with a feeling of unworthiness on the one hand, and of dependence on the other, enabling the recipients to experience in all its force the truth of the expression, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
An attempt had been made two years previous, by a firm in Liverpool, De Wolfe & Co., to establish some sort of business on the island, the planting and raising of cotton, preparing cocoanut and candlenut, and also arrowroot, by these means to enable them to supply their simple wants through their own exertions. But the little island was too far removed from any business center to make it a paying concern, and in less than two years after the attempt was made it was broken up.