What really caused the mutiny on the Bounty?

Plus, who landed on Pitcairn Island, and what happened afterward?

In 1787 a Royal Navy vessel left from England on a simple mission to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the slave plantations of the West Indies. However, during their five-month layover in Tahiti, many of the men moved ashore and formed strong relationships with some of the natives. It was as if the sexual fantasies of these sailors had somehow come to life in the form of scantily clad island girls. This led many of the men to be less amenable to military discipline after their encounters in paradise. Plus, once they were all crammed back on board with more than a thousand plants, the crew was given very meager rations, some of which were rotten, in spite of having plenty of good provisions on the ship. So, the relations between Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh and his men really deteriorated after he began handing out increasingly harsh punishments, criticism, and abuse, with Fletcher Christian being particularly targeted. So, unable to tolerate Bligh and his accusations any longer, Christian came up with a suicidal escape plan involving a makeshift boat. That’s when some of the other crew members convinced him to just save them all instead. So, after three weeks back at sea, wild-eyed Christian and several other mutineers forced Bligh and his loyalists from the ship in fear of their lives. Twenty-five men remained on the Bounty, including a number of loyalists being held captive against their will because there was no more room in the launch. This infamous mutiny occurred in the south Pacific on April 28th of 1789, and then Christian and some of his men split up from the others and went off with several Tahitians in search of safe haven while the others remained in Tahiti. Later, Robert Pitcairn spotted land, hence the name “Pitcairn Island”. Of course, bitter drunken disputes quickly broke out once people settled into their new homes in a lawless sort of land. So, Fletcher Christian tried to use his charisma to assert himself over the others with gentlemanly charm, and a dapper appearance. Ultimately, this got him killed though, but not before he helped establish the founding population of the Pitcairnese.

Fletcher Christian’s tribe remained successfully undiscovered on the island until 1808, but by that time only one mutineer remained alive. John Adams’s fellow fugitives, including Fletcher Christian, had all been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. The slave revolt was the most short-lived civil war in human history with the fewest casualties there could ever be on either side. Nonetheless, their society nearly ended before it ever even really began. Still, the descendants of the British mutineers and their Tahitian captives continue to live on to this very day. They all live in on a tiny little tropical island, way out in the middle of nowhere between New Zealand and Peru. Their homeland in the volcanic Pitcairn Islands is located in the southern Pacific Ocean, forming the sole British Overseas Territory in that particular body of water. This is why “the Sun never sets on the British Empire”. They mean that quite literally. No matter what time it is in England, it’s always daytime somewhere in Britain (one specific hour of which is only made possible by possessing Pitcairn). Regardless, the four islands are Pitcairn proper, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno. These are scattered across several hundred miles of ocean and have a combined land area of about 18 square miles, with Pitcairn only being about 2 square miles of tropical terrain. On top of that, the nearest places to the Pitcairn Islands are French Polynesia to the west and Easter Island to the east. So, the island is a bit of a retreat located just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, where people experience year-round warm weather, with wetter summers and drier winters. Of course, in the beginning, the islanders just had simple village huts in the early 19th century. Their traditional art was typically maritime-themed and made from locally-sourced wood, including everything from goblets to statues.

When the nine remaining mutineers first arrived in January of 1790 with eleven Tahitian women and six men, they were all elated to have found land. Then, right away, each of the mutineers took one woman as his wife, with the three remaining women to be shared by the six Tahitian men, which they deeply resented. Plus, the women were passed around from one man to the other in the village. Fletcher Christian, Ned Young, John Adams, John Mills, William McCoy, and Matthew Quintal had relationships with six Tahitian women. This gave the islanders a double-inheritance of European and Polynesian genes and memes to draw upon. In this way, Mauatua, Toofaiti, Vahineatua, and Teio had children from two of the mutineers and one of their sons. Tevarua and Teraura had only one partner. Together they had 24 children, who in turn had 77 children, and so on and so forth. Thus, in 1838 the population of Pitcairn Island was in excess of 100 inhabitants, and an official Pitcairnese constitution was even introduced. In fact, their form of British democracy gave women the right to vote. Within about a century of that, the peak of the population occurred in 1936 when there were 250 people living together in a single solitary community. However, with only 50 inhabitants counted in 2018, Pitcairn is easily the least populous national jurisdiction on Earth. It really all began with one intriguing man, a guy named John Adams. He became their founding father under some rather unusual circumstances, even naming their village “Adamstown” after himself.

In one fell swoop, John Adams cunningly took over the Pitcairnese tribe and was able to bring both literacy and Christianity to the island by using the Bounty Bible, which had previously been taken from the vessel before the men inevitably scuttled it in the bay to avoid detection by the British authorities. This meant that the women were forced to give up their traditional Tahitian beliefs, even though ancient Polynesian geoglyphs adorn the caves of Pitcairn Island. This is because long ago the Polynesians actually lived on Pitcairn to begin with, around a millennium ago, but they eventually left. So, the land is really much more ethnically Polynesian, but it’s legally a British territory now. Still, the people of Pitcairn are very much both. They even developed their own language, which is a hybrid of British and Tahitian. Although the Pitcairnese all speak English now because it’s the only thing spoken and written in both their school and church. Unfortunately, the land and the people who live on it are just barely hanging on at this point. They didn’t even have a proper school until 1951 when the materials were finally shipped in from New Zealand, complete with a resident teacher. This is why some of the natives can end up having way too many responsibilities around town. For instance, Shawn Brent Christian was born in 1975, and he is a Pitcairnese politician, who has served as Mayor of the Pitcairn Islands since 2014. He is a patrilineal descendant of Fletcher Christian, and he wears a number of hats in the small society that he governs. Lots of people are the only one who can be a nurse or a carpenter or whatever else the case may be. In fact, no one on the island has ever had surgery on the island. They have to get permission to get someone transported to a hospital in another country. As such, their place in the ethnosphere is quite tenuous, to say the least. As part of that strange struggle, Pawala Valley Ridge is the highest point on Pitcairn Island, at 1,138 feet, with the lowest point being right on the Pacific Ocean at sea level.

The point is that, as sea levels continue to rise around the world, more and more of the thirty-mile coastline of Pitcairn Island will become inundated as large chunks of polar ice break off and melt into the waterways. That means even though the people of Pitcairn live in one of the least polluted and the least populated places on the planet, those crystal clear waters could eventually begin to encroach upon their modern homes high above Bounty Bay. This is particularly important because Adamstown is a quaint little solitary settlement, way out in the ocean all by itself. The capital city is the only city in their country, just as it has been for the last two centuries. Their way of life is very special, but altogether remote, and every time the oceans rise it makes it that much more likely that all the small islands in the world will be gone before the turn of the next century. So, the climate crisis puts islanders at great risk, especially those with the smallest populations and at the lowest elevations. In line with this, the people of Pitcairn are losing all of their ties with the world right when they need them the most. A century ago Pitcairn Island was thriving, and they had a well-established place in the world. They used to construct their own longboats for whaling. Boats from around the world would go there to exchange imports and exports, so the native wood carvings and woven textiles became internationally acclaimed. Plus, their postage stamps used to be world-renowned, but the Age of Aeronautics and the Digital Age have changed all of that. Now, in the 21st century, the islanders are nearly as isolated as they were back in the 19th century. Thus, the unique bi-racial genetics and memetics of the Pitcairnese have become highly endangered, particularly since their birthrates are declining so rapidly. Unfortunately, in all likelihood, the living legacy of the mutineers will soon be lost…forever.

An Eclectic Autodidact Polymath Writer and Researcher

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