OWING to the extremely isolated situation of Pitcairn Island, and the uncertainty that attends every effort to reach it again should one venture beyond its narrow limits, the islanders had hitherto, with very few exceptions, been satisfied to spend all their lives together, rather than run the risk of leaving their lone island home without having an idea when they would see it again. In a period of twenty-seven years only five had left the island to visit other places, all being men; but in January, 1886, for the first time an island woman left her home and family, to begin life anew in a distant land. To leave behind and forever the scenes of earlier years, the fond parents and brothers and sisters, and the old life of simple duties and pleasures, to enter upon a scene of life new and untried—indeed, scarcely dreamed of—needed great courage. This she displayed, being guided by her high sense of the duty she owed her husband, who, after a stay of five years and a half; was about to return to his native land.
The pain of parting from parents, whose tender love had watched over her whole life, and from brothers, sisters, and friends who cherished her, and who prized her love and friendship, was bravely borne Only a short time, less than a day, was allowed them in making preparations for their departure, and when the hour of parting came, the procession that followed them to the landing place was like that of a funeral, as all knew that the separation would be final. In less than a year after reaching her new home she passed away, the cold winter in a foreign land proving too severe for a constitution always delicate.
In October of the same year, 1886, on the eighteenth day of the month, there arrived the British man-of-war Pelican, whose captain had courteously and kindly received on board, at Tahiti, an American missionary, John I. Tay by name, a member of the body of Christians known as Seventh-day Adventists. Wishing to reach Pitcairn Island for the purpose of setting before the people what he believed were truths hitherto unknown to them, he found passage, as before stated, on board the Pelican. He was treated by all the officers and men with the greatest consideration and courtesy, and was successful, during the passage, in awakening sufficient interest among some of the ship's company to lead them to inquire and search further into the subjects presented in the books they received from him.
As no objection was raised by the people in regard to the question whether the missionary would be allowed to stay, he was left on the island when the Pelican went away. Ten years earlier a large package of Seventh-day Adventist publications had been sent to the island, accompanied by letters from two of the leading ministers of that body, Elders James White and J. N. Loughborough, earnestly requesting the people to give a candid, careful reading to what had been sent them. The letters were read, but the pamphlets and tracts were regarded with suspicion, and their contents were examined very cautiously at first.
Further study awakened deeper interest, until to the minds of four-fifths of the people there came the conviction that the statements regarding the Sabbath, supported by an array of proofs from the Bible itself, were too convincing to be longer denied. Yet no one, until the coming of Mr. Tay, left Sunday keeping and accepted the seventh day as the Sabbath. This was done the second week of the missionary's stay, and before Mr. Tay left the whole community was observing and thoroughly believing in the seventh day as the Sabbath of the Lord.
A careful study of the different points of doctrine held by Seventh-day Adventists, led first to a conviction on the part of the people that their positions were correct, and finally to their acceptance of them, although they felt that this would be a matter of regret, if not of positive displeasure, to many who had hitherto expressed, and shown in a most substantial manner, the warm interest they had always felt in the island of Pitcairn and its people. While this to the islanders was sad to contemplate, they felt that they could not do otherwise than follow their convictions of duty.
After the departure of Mr. Tay, who left in the last week of November, 1886, some differences arose in regard to the manner of worship, and in the interests of harmony and Christian union a meeting was convened to talk over and consider the matter and adopt some plan of worship in which all could unite. This was in March, 1887, and the result of the meeting was that the Book of Common Prayer was laid aside.
For a year the islanders had been observing the seventh day as the Sabbath, and it was a question with them how the change would be accepted by the representatives of the British Government, under whose protection they were, when a man-of-war should arrive. Therefore, some little concern was felt when, in December, 1887, H. M. S. Cormorant came. The day was Sunday, and the visitors, noticing the fact that the day was not being kept as a sacred time, were curious to know the reason why. One question followed another, until the whole story was told. Perhaps the following extract from an English periodical, written by one of the gentlemen on board the Cormorant, best tells how the change was regarded. After a brief description of the island and how it was peopled, the writer goes on to say :—
"It will be a matter of regret, therefore, to many who are interested in the little community to hear that within the last year or two their principles have under gone a revolution, and that they have enrolled themselves among the Seventh-day Adventists—a sect originating in the United States. It was with natural surprise that I heard of this change, and, in the course of conversation, found that its cause was a visit to the island of an Adventist missionary who remained some weeks, inculcating the doctrines of his sect among the islanders. He could have found no better soil in which to sow his doubtful seed. Very earnest and anxious to learn, implicit believers and reverencers of the Bible, the simple islanders, ignorant of sophistry and the subtleties of scriptural deductions, listened attentively to the arguments of their fanatical visitor, who, taking the Bible as his standpoint, soon convinced them of the soundness of his views. . . . The island was flooded with Seventh-day Adventist literature, emanating from the headquarters of the sect in Michigan, and the islanders were full of the enthusiasm of converts in the pursuit of their new creed."
The article from which the foregoing extract was taken, concludes with a very pleasing description of the writer's feelings on awaking in the morning and hearing the voice of praise and prayer ascending from more than one family altar, a custom begun by John Adams, the converted mutineer, and which continues still.
The visit of the Cormorant will always be among the bright and pleasant remembrances of the island, although she stayed only two days. On the first day every youth and child, as well as many adults, underwent the light operation of being vaccinated. The act was in itself simple enough, but the virus used was so powerful that many of those who had for the first time been inoculated, were for several days utterly prostrated with severe headaches and shooting pains throughout the whole body. In many cases the wounds showed a strong disinclination to heal, and so great was the flow of pus that it necessitated the constant use of bandages until the lengthy process of healing was accomplished.
Captain Nicolls gave an invitation to all who so wished to visit his ship and enjoy a pleasant entertainment on board. The after part of the deck had been prepared for the entertainment, and from side to side of the ship was a great display of bunting, prettily festooned to form a partition. The captain presided at a large piano, while at his side stood one of his officers, accompanying on the violin, which instrument contributed largely to the music, two or three more being skillfully played by as many of the ship's company. The loud cheers that greeted every fresh performance were heard on shore, and when the first star of evening appeared, the islanders sang for their closing piece, "Twilight Is Stealing over the Sea." Then all rose to finish the evening's enjoyment by singing "God Save the Queen," after which the island boats, with their human freight, started homewards, and the Cormorant steamed away to her destination, bidding good-by with her siren whistle.