How Christianity Came to Pitcairn Is.

Dan Graves, MSL

How Christianity Came to Pitcairn Is.

On this day, April 28, 1789, mutineers on H. M. S. Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, dragged Lieutenant William Bligh from his bed. They set Bligh adrift in an open launch with eighteen men. A capable but tyrannical leader, Bligh managed to guide the little boat 3,600 miles to safety in the Dutch Indies (Indonesia).

The mutineers, however, headed for Tubai, an island south of Tahiti. Reception was hostile and, after a trip to Tahiti and back, in which the mutineers picked up some native women and men, and at least one child, they abandoned Tubai and sailed back to Tahiti. Some of the sailors had not been mutineers at all and elected to stay on Tahiti. Eight accompanied Christian to parts unknown with the women and with six Polynesian men. What became of them was not known until September, 1808, when a New England whaler, the Topaz spotted Pitcairn Island and landed to take on water.

To Captain Folger's surprise, he found natives who spoke a garbled English. It turned out that the mutineers of the Bounty had settled on uninhabited Pitcairn, where they had fought with each other and the native men (and women) until all the men were dead except two: Edward Young and John Adams (also known as Alexander Smith).

Ashamed of the violence and horrors they had witnessed and partaken of, the two remaining mutineers began to read the Bible (which became their textbook) and to teach it to the children who had been born to the settlement. By the time Folger arrived, Young, too had been dead several years, of an asthma attack. Adams was patriarch of the clan. Thanks to his continued efforts, the older children were able to read and write a little (Adams was poorly educated) and the whole community was devout.

Indeed, what impressed early visitors most was the obvious piety of the islanders, who prayed morning and evening and both before and after their meals, did not engage in the sexual promiscuity common to other islands, were able to recite the creed and parts of the Bible and observed the "Sabbath" (as they called Sunday). One observer wrote, "In conducting the most trivial affairs they are guided by the Scriptures, which they have read diligently, and from which they quote with a freedom and frequency that rather impairs the effect."

The hard conditions of the island, which could not be neglected if it were to produce enough food, and their continual grounding in the Bible stories, had made the Pitcairners a serious although good-humored community. The gifts they most wanted from Topaz were books, and the whaler managed to provide them with 200 which the islanders received with the greatest delight.

In 1887 the island's entire population converted to Seventh Day Adventism.

Bibliography:

  1. Lummis,Trevor. Pitcairn Island; Life and Death in Eden. Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co., 1997.
  2. McKee, Alexander. HMS Bounty; a True Account of the Mutiny. London: Souvenir Press, 1989.
  3. Nicolson, Robert B. The Pitcairners. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1965.
  4. Shapiro, Harry L. The Heritage of the Bounty; the story of Pitcairn Through Six Generations. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936.

Last updated May, 2007.

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