IN January of 1889 one of the saddest accidents that ever happened on the island occurred. A young man twenty-four years of age went out one day to search amongst the rocks for young sea birds. He was accompanied by two of his younger brothers, who held a rope, while he descended to a very dangerous place in the rocks. His brothers urged him in vain not to go, but no amount of persuasion would avail, and he pursued his purpose. He had taken a few birds and was about to try to get another a few feet above him in a small hollow in the rock, when he lost his footing and fell several hundred feet into the pitiless sea below. Breathless with haste and pale with horror, the two other boys came back to tell the awful story of what had taken place. The horror felt by everyone was great, and the piercing cries of the mother and the wife of the young man rent the air as they ran toward the scene of the fearful accident. In as short a time as possible a boat was manned and pulled by arms nerved to their utmost strength to the spot where the young man's body fell into the water. But nothing came of the search, although it was kept up for days. All that was ever found was a hat belonging to him, and which had floated a long distance from the place where he fell.
Toward the middle of the same year an excitement of a different character was experienced. When the Cormorant visited the island in 1887, which was the year of the Queen's Jubilee, the captain and officers inquired whether the little community had contributed anything toward a celebration of the event. When the answer was given in the negative, they said that the Queen would acknowledge a gift, however small. Being thus encouraged, a box containing some specimens of the people's handiwork was put up as soon as possible, and sent to their sovereign.
Her Majesty was graciously pleased to receive the humble token of loyalty and love, and sent an acknowledgment, accompanied by a gift of the coins struck on the occasion of her Jubilee, varying in value from a sixpenny piece to four shilling pieces. These were to be distributed among the women and girls, and Captain Nicolls, of the Cormorant, on his second visit, had the pleasant duty of distributing the gift, which the receivers were proud to get and keep in remembrance of their beloved Queen. The ceremony over the Cormorant left, but before the return voyage was half accomplished, Captain Nicolls, at Rio Janeiro, took the yellow fever and died. He was buried at sea.
A new decade was now entered upon, and in the opening month of 1890 the people celebrated, on the twenty-third day, the century of years since the Bounty arrived at the island. The same period of time which among the nations of the earth had witnessed the amazing onward march in progress and advanced civilization, saw but little change in this little world situated by itself in the midst of the vast ocean.. Yet the people felt that God had led them all the way, and they met together at the church to hold a service of praise with which to begin the day, thanking God for past mercies and praying him to supply future grace. Following is a hymn composed and sung on the occasion:—
Our Father, God, we come to raise
Our songs to thee in grateful praise;
We come to sing thy guiding hand,
By which supported still we stand.
To this fair land our fathers sought
To flee the doom their sins had brought,
In vain—nor peace nor rest was found,
For strife possessed th' unhallowed ground.
Darkness around their path was spread;
Their crimes deserved a vengeance dread;
When, lo! a beam of hope was given
To guide their erring feet to heaven.
Thy holy word, a beacon light,
Had pierced the shades of sin's dark night,
And poured a flood of radiance where
Had reigned the gloom of dull despair.
We own the depths of sin and shame,
Of guilt and crime from which we came;
Thy hand upheld us from despair,
Else we had sunk in darkness there.
We, their descendants, here to-day
Meet in thy house to praise and pray,
And ask thy blessing to attend
And guide us to life's journey's end.
Oh, that our lives henceforth may be
More consecrated, Lord, to thee!
Thy boundless favors to us shown
With gratitude we humbly own.
Thou know'st the depths from whence we sprung;
Inspire each heart, unloose each tongue,
That all our powers may join to bless
The Lord, our Strength and Righteousness.
In the early part of this year, 1890, the news came that the much-talked-of missionary schooner had been built and would shortly sail on its mission to the Pacific islands; but not until the 25th of November of the same year did she arrive, making Pitcairn Island her first stopping place. The missionaries, who were Elders Gates and Read and their wives and Mr. and Mrs. Tay, were gladly welcomed. After a short rest they began the work of organizing the church and Sabbath school. The rite of baptism was performed, whereby all the adult members of the community were received into the body of the church. This solemn and impressive service was witnessed for the first time by the people, who had hitherto seen and known only the sprinkling of water on the faces of infants.
When the Pitcairn, for so the ship was named, left the island, three of the islanders went away to engage in work in different places. On her return, in July, 1892, two of her company were missing. Mr. Tay, whose name was so closely associated with the ship, and also with the island, had died at Suva, in Fiji, and the captain, Mr. Marsh, had fallen a victim to the influenza, and died in Auckland, New Zealand.
Elder Gates and his wife remained on the island, while the Pitcairn returned to California. Too much cannot be said of the good that their stay accomplished. Although, physically, the gentleman was not strong, he made every effort to elevate the minds of the people, who naturally had, owing to their isolated situation, very narrow and limited views of life. As soon as possible he started a class, which all the young people attended, and, to further help them, organized a literary society of over forty, in which every member took part, and which was thoroughly enjoyed as long as it was kept up.
Four months after his coming he started a paper, giving it the name of the Monthly Pitcairnian, to whose written pages all were invited to contribute. The paper had its own staff of reporters, six in number, who almost invariably failed to send in any news; nevertheless, its pages were always full. There was, first, the opening page, on which generally appeared an original poem. This was followed by the editorial page, which the editor, Elder Gates, contrived to fill with some lively article. The rest of the paper consisted of five other departments, devoted to Moral and Religious Topics, the Home Circle, News Items, Pleasantries, and All Sorts.
On the 18th of February, 1893, the Pitcairn came the second time from San Francisco, bringing, in addition to the other passengers, missionaries to be located on different islands. A teacher from America, Miss Hattie Andre, just graduated from college, came to organize and teach school on Pitcairn Island. After the necessary delay incident on a fresh arrival, immediate steps were taken to have the school fairly started. This was done in the early part of April, and the young people, fully aware of their lack of education, were not slow to avail themselves of the advantages offered them in having for their instructor one so well qualified and fitted for the work. Forty-two young persons, varying in age from fourteen to thirty-nine years had their names entered as students, one of these being a girl from Mangareva, whose two younger brothers were placed among the other children from the age of seven to thirteen years. These were twenty in number, and were taught by one of the island women.
Mrs. Gates at the same time opened a kindergarten school for the youngest children, and had a class of fourteen to begin with. In addition to this she organized a mothers' meeting, and had a class twice a month, to instruct in the methods of giving treatment to the sick, and also in cooking. Besides this she taught, or rather attempted to teach, stenography to a few of the young people, some of whom soon gave up the attempt to learn. Four diligently practiced, and were meeting with a fair measure of success when the class was unavoidably broken up.
The literary society and the classes taught by Elder Gates were merged into the school, and the Monthly Pitcairnian passed over into the hands of the students, who were expected to keep its columns well supplied, notwithstanding the lack of material to supply them with.
And now is drawing near a time unparalleled in the history of Pitcairn Island—a time when she passed under a visitation so terrible while it lasted, and so awful in its effects, that it was remarked that those who survived it were not the same persons they were before it came. But this is anticipating. On the 27th of April, 1893, the shipwrecked crew of the Bowdon, lost on Oeno reef, came to Pitcairn Island. The captain and a few others soon went away on an American ship for England, while the rest waited for an opportunity to go back to San Francisco. It is not necessary to give a detailed account of their stay, but it brought no blessing to the island.
Several trips were made to and from the wreck by the islanders, and even several of the women accompanied their husbands and brothers in their last trip in open boats to Oeno. All returned in safety, no accident having occurred either going or returning, as the weather continued fine. This was in June, the month of vacation. The month following H. M. S. Hyacinth came, and during her short stay several cases of sickness were attended by the doctor, who pronounced the disease to be a form of la grippe. Some of the persons who were suffering at that time had their lives despaired of, but all of them eventually recovered.
That the awful fever that attacked the people was introduced with the shipwrecked crew was evident. When the Hyacinth left, a slight attack of influenza spread among the people, aggravating the more serious disease. Everything that was possible to be done under the circumstances was accomplished, the missionaries exerting themselves to the utmost to help the stricken people, who one by one rapidly fell victims to the dread sickness. On the 26th of August the first death occurred, opening the way for many others, and before the terrible work of death was ended, twelve persons were taken away, the last death occurring on the 19th of October. So urgent were the calls for help from those who were helpless that there was scarcely time to weep for the dead, and the few who passed unstricken through the fiery ordeal were constant in their attendance, night and day, until nature itself nearly gave up the struggle.
Some of the most valued workers and prominent members of the church and Sabbath school, as well as two in civil office, fell, and four of the most promising young people were taken away by death. Simon Young, the loved and respected pastor of the church, who for twenty-nine years had labored among the people, fell at his post. His daughter, Mrs. J. R. McCoy, who was the first to die, and two sons, Edward and John Young, the former leaving a widow and four children, all perished in the plague. Ella McCoy, a girl of brightest promise, died a week after her mother. By the deaths, the school lost five of its students, John Young, Reuben Christian, Ella McCoy, and Martha and Clarice Christian. Little Willie Christian was the only one from the younger department who died. The three others who succumbed to the dread malady were Elias Christian, father of little Willie, Childers Young, and a two-year-old baby, Emma Christian.
The present writing witnesses the visit of the Pitcairn on her second return trip to San Francisco. When she leaves, Elder Gates and family will leave too, also three young persons from the island will take passage on her for California, to attend school there. Miss Andre remains with us until duty calls elsewhere. With the Pitcairn came letters of sympathy and cheer from friends in Australia, where the news of his wife's death met Mr. McCoy.
What further awaits this little island is still in the future. Nearly two years ago, in October, 1892, when the Champion, man-of-war, called, Captain Rooke presided at a meeting held to inquire into the altered religious views of the people, and that something of the same nature is yet in store for the community is what is strongly believed.
Since the advent of the Pitcairn there have been more frequent communications between the Norfolk Island people and their relatives on Pitcairn Island, but the means of communication with the outside world is far from satisfactory.
Several among the people of the island have taken short trips to Tahiti and Mangareva, and have returned, and in 1891 two young men went to California and Oregon, on a British bark, the Earl Dunraven, whose captain, a friend of the islanders, brought a large gift of clothing and many useful things from kind friends in the places he visited.
In writing this account of facts concerning Pitcairn Island it is felt that it would be unjust not to mention everyone to whom the people are indebted for favors unnumbered; but that is scarcely possible; only we feel it beyond our power to express the debt we owe to so many, and as the years come and go, and bring us to the grand close of all earthly things, we can only pray that those who have watched over us in supplying our wants may meet a rich reward. The unceasing efforts that have been put forth by friends in the long past, and by those who have risen to fill their places, to elevate and benefit the people, have not all been in vain, and whatever of good has been accomplished, all under God, is owing to those efforts.
No account of the history of either Pitcairn or Norfolk Island—the latter in regard to the second "social experiment" carried out there, viz., the occupation of that island by the descendants of the Bounty mutineers—can be complete without a mention of two who figured largely in the early history of the settlement of Pitcairn Island by the mutineers and their descendants. These two were John Buffett and the Rev. G. H. Nobbs, who, especially the latter, from the time of their advent among the small community in 1823 and 1828 respectively, continued to do all that lay in their power for the social benefit of the people, even though some most serious mistakes were made.
Mr. Nobbs, who so closely identified himself with the people, and whose constant effort was to promote their best interests, closed his long and useful life in November, 1884, going down to his grave respected and honored by all, and leaving behind him Sons well qualified to sustain his honored name.
John Buffett, also, who so nobly volunteered to shut himself off from all the fascinations that the world may have contained for him, and chose to cast in his lot with a community so insignificant and so remote, that he might help John Adams in his declining days, in the arduous duties and heavy responsibilities that the rearing of a youthful colony necessitates, passed away in May, 1891, having nearly completed a century of years. He also left numerous descendants behind him; all his children, consisting of seven sons and one daughter, survived him, children of whom he had no cause to be ashamed. His companion, John Evans, who for the love that he bore him deserted his ship, and hid himself away that he might remain with Buffett, died in December of the same year, 1891, at a very advanced age, being tenderly and lovingly cared for by his only surviving daughter and her children.
In this record of deaths may fitly be mentioned that of another who performed no mean part in seeking to raise the social standing of the people over whose children he was placed as their schoolmaster. Mr. Thomas Rossiter, who for many years faithfully fulfilled the heavy duties of teacher of a large school on Norfolk Island, duties for which he was eminently qualified, after some time resigned his place to others. His death occurred in 1893. The school is now conducted by Mr. Alfred Nobbs, a son of the Rev. G. H. Nobbs, assisted by a few other teachers.
A few more words concerning the great mortality attendant on the epidemic that resulted so fatally among the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island during the months of August, September, and October, 1893. With the exception of three or four of the islanders, the entire community suffered more or less from the terrible visitation. The missionaries resident on the island at the time wholly escaped the pestilence, a fact which was doubtless due to the beautiful regularity of habits that they unfailingly practiced, and the remarkable and beneficent results of which were so noticeable during the time of the fever. That the irregular habits of the people both in eating and sleeping had much to do in producing such fearful consequences there can be no doubt, and this matter, which had before been plainly presented to the people by the faithful missionaries, but which had not received the amount of attention that its importance demanded, was after the fever more strongly than ever urged upon the people, their own example serving, more than the precepts they taught, to illustrate the truth of their teachings. The result of all is that now the community that had for so long neglected the plainest principles of the laws of health, are beginning to realize that they cannot always ignore those laws with impunity, nor disregard them without great injury to themselves—a lesson that the saddest experience through which they have passed served but to deepen and impress upon their minds, minds that had hitherto been too indifferent and careless in regard to these things, and too slow to comprehend the importance of them. Every step taken in the right direction has, under God, been the result of the faithful teachings of Elder Gates and his wife, who before they left had the satisfaction of seeing a reformation in the dietary habits of the people.
The question has been frequently asked whether the people degenerate physically in consequence of too close relationship in marriage. To this the answer must be given in the negative, unless, as someone has observed, the loss of the front teeth, which is quite general, be a sign of degeneracy. But, in the writer's opinion, that is the result of not paying a more strict attention to the care and cleanliness of the teeth, and no doubt also to the fact that the food usually eaten is not of the kind to strengthen and preserve them.
The civil government of the island differs somewhat to what has been the custom for years. When the Champion, man-of-war, visited the island in October, 1892, Captain Rooke presided at a meeting convened to consider some questions, civil and religious, acting as regards the former agreeably to the opinion of the British Consul at Tahiti, with whom he had consulted when on the eve of leaving Tahiti for Pitcairn Island.
The outcome of the meeting was as follows: 1. It was moved and carried that seven members of parliament be elected. 2. Those seven, having been elected by general vote, will next proceed to elect from their own numbers the next magistrate to hold office yearly. 3. It was suggested that not less than five of the seven meet to form a quorum to consider any business—all seven if the question be very grave.
Some other points were brought forward and discussed at some length, but it is sufficient for the purpose to mention only these. The resolutions proposed were soon acted upon, and the plan was found to work well. The women as well as the men have a vote.
As regards the present social standing of the people a few words might be said. Many who have visited the island have gone away with the impression that the favored inhabitants breathe a purer air than other people, and an atmosphere wholly untainted by sin; but it is difficult to conceive how such an idea can for a moment be entertained concerning any place upon earth which is inhabited by any of Adam's fallen race. Human nature is human nature the world over, and fallen at that, so that it is certainly a mistake to think that, because so remote from the rest of the world, no vice or sin of any kind mars the character or degrades the reputation of those who dwell so secluded from the world. But Satan found an entrance into the Eden home of our first parents ere yet they had known of the existence of sin, and who inheriting their tainted nature dare hope to escape his snares? Further, how was it possible that a people sprung from such a debased stock as settled the island over a century ago, and in whom runs the blood of those who stopped short at no crime, could be pure and stainless in character? A beautiful simplicity no doubt characterized the lives of the little community that grew up under the fostering care of John Adams, and, indeed, all through a century's period much of that simplicity still remains, but it is a mistake to cherish the idea that sin does not have a kingdom on the little island; and while it is cause of deep and humble thankfulness to God that He has, by His mercy and through the instrumentality of a multitude of Christian friends, kept the people from sinking into the lowest state of degradation and sin, it is also a fact to be deplored that there are among the people strong tendencies in a wrong direction, tendencies that God's grace alone can keep in check.
The visits of the missionary ship Pitcairn from the island of that name to Norfolk Island are hailed with unfeigned pleasure, as it is by that means that the two communities so closely related by blood have any certain communication with each other. These visits are the means by which the younger portion of the two communities have their interest in each other awakened. The dear ties that bound so closely the hearts of the older members, though sundered by distance, were never lost sight of; but it was scarcely to be expected that younger members, growing up with out any knowledge of one another, should preserve undiminished the same feelings of kindred affection that their fathers and mothers possessed, and so it is matter for thankfulness that the old ties are being revived and strengthened.