For over 50 years I have longed to visit Pitcairn Island. Not anymore.
The story of Pitcairn and the Mutiny on the Bounty is the stuff of legends. There have been several films on the subject, and many years ago I knew a fellow who was in the first one with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in 1935.
My friend, Harm Beauregard, lived in my town until the early 1990s. In the movie he was an extra, and he was also the one of the cinematographers.
The second film was with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard in 1962, and there was the 1984 one with Mel Gibson (this was the pre ‘sugar tits’ Mel) and Anthony Hopkins. I ran into Mel Gibson in 2019 at Robert’s Market in Woodside after he married the daughter of a friend of mine. Curious side note: He was the richest movie star on earth until he beat up his previous wife and she took half the dough. Mel, such a dick!
The book Mutiny on the Bounty, which brought the story back to prominence, was written by Charles Nordoff (who is a big figure even today in Ojai, California). He grew up there and is buried next to Nordoff High School in the Nordoff Cemetery. I lived adjacent to this boneyard when I was about eight. I briefly considered exhuming the corpse, imagining he was dressed like a mutineer with sword and flintlock pistol, but I didn’t own a shovel at the time.
But none of this was what fixed my attention on Pitcairn. Lemme roll the story back a few centuries.
Captain Bligh and his second in command, Fletcher Christian, were sent to Tahiti by the British Admiralty in 1788 to bring breadfruit trees from there to the Caribbean to feed slaves who worked the sugar plantations back when enslaving people was considered cool.
It took several months to sprout the seedlings and transfer them to the HMS Bounty, and during that time some of the sailors went native and wanted to stay on the island with the women who wore grass skits to dinner but otherwise sashayed around in their skin suits.
Captain Bligh said, “No way, you must ship out to earn your 12 pounds sterling a year and weevily hardtack soaked in moldy water.” So the Bounty set sail for the Caribbean. A few days out, the crew famously mutinied after a row about the captain’s coconuts being stolen, and the mutineers plopped Bligh in a small boat with the sailors who remained loyal to him. Christian gave them five days water and biscuit and bid them farewell—expecting them to quickly swamp and be done with it. In a remarkable example of seamanship, Bligh made it 4,200 miles in a 27’ open boat with just 7” of freeboard. The entire crew of 19 survived and returned to England.
Because of the movies, Bligh is made out to be an unusually cruel captain—but the truth seems to be that the mutineers really wanted some of that island girl lovin’ because they felt that naked women and free papayas was a better deal than a taste o’ the lash and lash Bligh did. Makes sense to me. Bligh was hailed as a hero when he returned to England and ended up as the governor of New South Wales in Australia.
After the mutiny, Christian and his sidekick Adams returned to Tahiti and convinced some Tahitian men and women to join them and they set off for Pitcairn, which was a rumored island not on the Admiralty maps. They managed to find it and landed; then they sunk the Bounty so as not attract attention.
Things get muddled from there but some 18 years later, a British ship arrived and only Adams and several women and children were left. He wasn’t talking, but it seems the Tahitian men and British sailors killed one another leaving only Adams and his harem.
The Admiralty pardoned Adams, as otherwise the small band was doomed, and from there grew the Pitcairn islanders of today. They are all quite nearsighted as everyone is closely—as in verrry closely—related to everyone else.
Pitcairn is the second least populated ‘country’ of 244 recognized countries with 58, or so, people. (South Georgia Island has about 32 in summer and 16 in winter but it’s in the Atlantic so I’m not allowed to go into details…hey rules, right?). Both are British protectorates.
My interest in visiting Pitcairn was at a fever pitch when there was a full eclipse of the sun scheduled in 2019. So I looked into flying to Gambier Island, which is 700 miles east of Tahiti in the last of the Tuamotu chain of French Polynesia, and from there charter, borrow or steal a boat to sail under the shadow. Since I’d be in the area, I’d pop over to Pitcairn which is just 80 miles away.
So I looked up videos of daily life there today—people are among the least happy on earth as they sit around all day complaining about how boring life is and eat a great deal of government cheese. The men spend much of their time in a jail on the island for incestuous pedophilia and internet child pornography. They need at least 10 men to launch the small boat which is their only way of receiving supplies, so they have to alternate jail time.
Years ago I found a phone number for the island. I called it and got an Adams descendent on the line who begged me to send him a carton of fags (“none o’ that menthol/filtered shite,” he said) which I thought pretty picky for pedo sponger) and copies of the Daily Star, a British tabloid, because he wanted get the cricket results. You really are a castaway if you want Murdoch’s paper. It was hard to get him off the phone, and this was in the 80s when the call cost about $75. I’m glad I used a friend’s phone. I never sent him his shite papers or the shite fags. He can go shite himself.
Yachts stop sometimes and every couple of months there is a supply ship, but their days on the island are numbered. Like the abandoned residents of Clipperton, I wouldn’t count on that supply ship and the fags ud be shite anyway.
Another island please.
Thanks for the history lesson and the humor Jamis!
It’s the pits!
All caught up and wanting more!!
Thank you Jamis, for your yarn. I kinda yearned for it. Just finished doing Germany’s most important news program. We touched on Mayan Temples, on HongKong’s freedom fighters, on some Geman conundrums and on Houston, where George Floyd was laid to rest (his a household name in Germany too, now).
Somehow, I felt, a little South Pacific was missing. And you delivered, as always. In good taste.
Good luck, my friend. May kind winds fill your sails. Or blow away your Diesel fumes.