The Pitcairn Islands are a tiny group of desolate islands in the far east (well technically the far west) of Oceania. It is the least populated 'country' in the world with a population of only about 50 people, and only one of the islands is inhabited. Pitcairn also only has nine surnames and you can probably tell by now that they are all related, very closely related.
Pitcairn is a British territory and administration usually takes place from New Zealand. The British High Commissioner to New Zealand also serves as the Governor of Pitcairn and usually appoints people to make daily visits to the island. Pitcairn is often romanticised as an island paradise because of its association with the Mutiny on the Bounty
. This could not be farther from the truth.
Archaeological evidence shows that a Polynesian society existed on the islands at some point prior to their re-discovery. The original inhabitants populated all of the islands and appeared at some time around the 11th century, though by the 1500's they seem to have completely disappeared. Theories have been put forward to try and explain why but it is usually accepted that they just ran out of reliable food supplies due to a decline of trade routes in this part of the Pacific.
In 1788 a British ship named the HMS Bounty
, led by captain William Bligh, landed on the island of Tahiti in modern day French Polynesia to collect breadfruit. The crew spent half a year on Tahiti farming the breadfruit, during which time the Tahitians took a liking to them and formed 'connections' with the sailors. The Tahitians offered the sailors large tracts of land and other possessions if they stayed. Some sailors also tried to flirt with some of the Tahitian women and this led to them being scolded by Bligh, who felt that his crew had become lazy.
The crew became attached to Tahiti and so after the HMS Bounty left the island a year later, a mutiny took place after one month at sea. Led by Fletcher Christian, eighteen sailors dragged Captain Bligh out of his bed at night and took him to the deck where he was forced to hand the ship over to them. The mutineers than set Bligh and his followers aboard one of the smaller open boats, in which they sailed to what is now Indonesia and reported the mutiny in 1790. The mutineers meanwhile returned to Tahiti a few months later. Out of the twenty-four mutineers (six had been forced to join Christian during the mutiny), nine of the crewmen, including and led by Christian himself, kidnapped eleven women, six men, a baby and some livestock, boarded them on the Bounty and left. They did this out of fear that they would be caught by the Royal Navy. The mutineers who remained on Tahiti were found by the navy and prosecuted.
The mutineers looked for an island in which they could find and eventually found what would become Pitcairn island, naming it after the sailor who first spotted it. After landing on Pitcairn and unloading the ship onto the island, they burnt the ship to destroy any evidence of their existence. Fletcher Christian assumed control over the new 'nation' and shared the land out equally amongst the British. The Tahitians who had been kidnapped to the island on the other hand were treated like slaves. All the women on the island were Tahitian and it was shown that the mutineers were terrible chauvinists, fights over who owned what women and rape was common.
By 1793 the Tahitians led an uprising against the British during which Fletcher Christian was killed, along-with most of the British men. By the end of the conflict all of the Tahitian men had died. This left only four British men and the Tahitian women, the survivors did not treat the women any better and learnt how to make alcohol on the island. The women tried to escape from the island but because of the island's isolation, escape was impossible. This led to the women eventually rebelling against the men. Some of the men committed suicide and by 1800 only one of the original mutineers remained, John Adams, after which the 'capital' village of Pitcairn is named.
The island now only consisted of John Adams, nine Tahitian women and many children. Adams had kept a Bible from the bounty and used it to convert the islanders to Christianity. They built a small church and Christianity became a major part of life for those on the island. Adams created a small cult of personality around himself and had all islanders refer to him as 'Father'. In 1808 a US whaling ship rediscovered the island and later reported them to the British Royal Navy who visited it in 1814. The navy decided it would be cruel to arrest or deport any of the Pitcairners and instead declared Pitcairn a British Colony.
During its time as a British colony, the island gained a trivial reputation and for a minority gained a certain appeal. During the 1820's, three more Britons moved to Pitcairn and married the Pitcairner women. In 1829 John Adams died and the island once again became completely lawless, they were now able to import alcohol and fights and disease became commonplace once again. In 1832 an American named Joshua Hill arrived on the island, Hill banned alcohol and made a makeshift prison which he used to imprison anyone who made the slightest mistake, as to try and return order to the island. Hill was driven off the island in 1838 after a British ship captain helped the islanders draw up a legal code.
In 1856, the Pitcairners made an appeal to the colonial office, complaining that they had been neglected and that they would soon die out if action was not taken. In response, the colonial office moved the entire population of Pitcairn to Norfolk Island near Australia. During this absence, an American family named the Warrens moved into the vacant Pitcairn Island. After five years in 1861, some of the original Pitcairners moved back to the island. Pitcairn now had a population of 44 and further immigration to the island was banned.
In 1886 the island was visited by a group of missionaries from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and succeeded in converting the entire community. After this, Pitcairn became advertised as a 'Model Seventh-day Adventist' community which used to be a lawless, terrible place to live before the island was revolutionised by the church. The Seventh-day Adventists took the islanders on their missionary journeys throughout the world, and the islanders themselves became missionaries and began organising their own missions. In 1887, Britain annexed the island to Fiji and it was governed from there.
The population of the island peaked in 1920, in which it had a population of around 200, but since then it has experienced mass emigration to New Zealand, meaning that 50 years later the population would never reach more than around 60. Pitcairn became a separate dependency to Britain when Fiji became independent in 1970.
In 2000, a British police officer was stationed on Pitcairn. A 15 year old and an Australian Seventh-day Adventist pastor went to the police officer to report that she and many other women on Pitcairn had been sexually abused and raped. The pastor explained that he had tried to get the local mayor of Pitcairn to do something about this, but even the mayor considered the abuse acceptable. This led to a long investigation carried out by the British, Australian and New Zealand authorities which revealed that all of the women on Pitcairn had been sexually assaulted since the age of 12 (which the islanders considered the age of consent). Rape was considered a 'way of life' on Pitcairn and it was accepted that some men could do whatever they like to women. As a result, around ten of the men on Pitcairn were tried and arrested in 2004.
Today Pitcairn is still under strict surveillance and to many degrees no longer enjoys such isolation as it had in the past. Conspiracy theories have been drawn up by some of the islanders to suggest that the 2004 trials were produced by the British to 'destroy their island'. Because of the ingrained 'culture of abuse' in Pitcairn, the very existence of the Pitcairn community is at risk of being made to move, and indeed many Pitcairners have moved to New Zealand or Australia to escape the island. Despite its dark history the island still enjoys a strange 'Island Paradise' reputation.
It is considered to be a "non-self governing territory" by the UN, which is a polite way of saying "illegal imperial possession". The utter ridiculousness of designating a tiny self-governing island of 48 people an oppressed nation has a lot to do with Cold War politics, where the USSR tried to get as many of the remaining vestiges of empire (most of which were not really colonies in the traditional sense, being uninhabited before Europeans found them) on the list in order to embarrass the Western powers. It persists largely due to Argentina and Spain being angry about the Falkland Islands
and blocking attempts to remove these areas from the list in case it somehow reflects badly on their own irredentism.
The Pitkern flag