From safe haven to island abandonment - impacts of the growth of Pacific shipping on the Pitcairn Island community during the 19th century

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From safe haven to island abandonment - impacts of the growth of Pacific shipping on the Pitcairn Island community during the 19th century


The story of the Bounty mutiny is one of the great sagas of Pacific history and has inspired a rich literature for more than two centuries. By contrast, our knowledge of the community founded by Fletcher Christian at Pitcairn Island has remained enigmatic and obscured by evangelical and Eurocentric interpretations of the survival and development of the settlement. Founded by a small, culturally-divided group of settlers on one of the most remote islands in the Pacific and completely cut off from the world for the first 18 years of its existence - the establishment of the settlement may be seen as a remarkable success. Fifty years after the arrival of the Bounty settler-group, the island had become a regular port-of-call in the expanding network of Pacific shipping and the Pitcairn community, now approaching 200 people, had established important relationships with the Royal Navy, the American whaling fleet and Pacific communities in Tahiti, Valparaiso and Sydney. Just a few years later however, the resources of the island could no longer cope with the increasing demands and the entire population of Pitcairn was removed to Norfolk Island. Based on historical research and archaeological fieldwork conducted on Pitcairn, this paper examines the process of colonisation at Pitcairn to reveal the changing nature of an island environment in a period of rapid change in the Pacific.


Nigel Erskine


The Museum of Underwater Archaeology




Nigel Erskine




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