Home ° 2017

Pitcairn Island

International Harbors

Pitcairn, a 2.5 square mile volcanic island, is one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth; it is approximately 3,300 nautical miles from New Zealand and 4,000 nautical miles from the Americas. Even Tahiti is over 1,300 nautical miles away.

Pacific Islands. Garnier. 1860.

Pitcairn Island was discovered in 1767 by the British and settled in 1790 by the

HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions. Pitcairn was the first Pacific island to become a British colony (in 1838) and today remains the last vestige of that empire in the South Pacific. The Islanders still bear the surnames of the eighteenth century mutineers from the ill-fated voyage of Captain Bligh and the HMS Bounty.

The Bounty left England on Dec. 23, 1787, and reached Tahiti in 1788. It was sent to collect a cargo of breadfruit saplings, which was then to be transported to Jamaica where the breadfruit would serve as food for slaves working on the plantations. After sailing 27,000 miles over ten months, the crew spent a sybaritic idyll on Tahiti, where they reveled in the subtropical climate, lush surroundings, and overwhelming warmth and hospitality of the Tahitians.

Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty. William Bligh. On April 4, 1789, the Bounty embarked on the second leg of its journey with a cargo of a thousand breadfruit saplings aboard. A little more than three weeks later, near the island of Tonga, the crew, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, staged a mutiny against Captain William Bligh, under whom they claimed to suffer inhuman treatment.

September 1, 1794, Free-Mason's Magazine, London, United Kingdom

After they had executed the object of their voyage, and procured on board 1015 of the bread-fruit plants and several other articles, in high preservation, the Bounty departed from Otaheite on the 4th of April 17S9.

Christian and his gang had been sufficiently on their guard not to discover to any of the natives, even their greatest favourites among the female;, their intention to return, for fear the captain might he apprized of it, and frustrate their design. On the contrary they took leave of those people With the tame seeming regret as did the captain arid officers.

The Bounty.

Christian had been lately promoted by Captain Bligh, and frequently dined and supped with the captain by invitation. When they had completed their wooding and watering at Annamooka, one of the Friendly Islands, they continued their voyage with uninterrupted success till the 28th, on which day Christian and his party put their design into execution. The preceding night the. captain invited Christian to sup with him, but, pretending illness, he excused himself, and Captain JBligh was exceedingly concerned for his supposed indisposition.

This day at sun-rise Christian had the morning-watch, and while the captain was asleep he entered his cabin, with Charles Churchill, master at arms, John Mills, gunner's mate, and Thomas Burkitt, a seaman. Having now seized the captain they tied his hands with a cord behind his back, and threatened him in the most dreadful manner with instant death if he made the least disturbance. The captain, notwithstanding their menaces, called out to his officers, but these had been already secured by Christian's accomplices.

The captain was now dragged out of his bed, and forced upon deck in his shirt, while, upon his enquiring the cause of such violence, they still repeated their menaces and blasphemy. Christian had appointed centinels to watch the fore-hatchway, while only the carpenter and boatswain were allowed to come on deck. Christian gave orders t iat the launch should be hoisted out, which done, he commanded two midshipmen, Hayward* and Hallet, to go into the boat, still threatening the captain to kill him on the spot if he made the least murmur. Christian made choice of those people whom he thought the most useless to him, and ordered them all into the boat, while he held the captain fast by the bandage with which his hands were secured, and others of his party surrounded him with their pistols cocked. Some of the mutineers were employed in compelling the officers into the boat, during which the whole party, even Christian their ring-leader, betrayed great fear and agitation of mind.

The captain endeavoured to dissuade them by the most gentle means from their purpose; but they were too determined to be moved by all that he could utter. After the officers were in the boat Christian forced the captain over the side, and as soon as he was in, the boat was veered astern. The captain requested some arms to be given him, but they laughed at this; however they threw into the boat four cutlasses, some pieces of pork, and clothes.

The mutineers who kept possession of the Bounty were in all 25, being the most able men of the ship's company, viz.

Fletcher Christian, the chief ringleader and masters mate.
Peter Heywood, midshipman
Edward Young, ditto
George Stewart, ditto
Charles Churchill, master at arms John Mills, gunner's mate
James Morrison, boatswain's ditto Thomas Burkitt, seaman
Matthew Quintal, ditto

Bligh and eighteen loyal sailors were set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. According to Captain Bligh's diary, the mutineers threw breadfruit after him as he was forced off the Bounty, and yelled, "There goes the Bounty bastard, breadfruit Bligh!" Miraculously, Bligh and his loyalists survived the seven-week, 3,600-mile voyage in the cramped boat, finally reaching the island of Timor.

After the mutiny, Christian and his sailors returned to Tahiti, where sixteen of the twenty-five men decided to remain for good. Christian, along with eight others, their women, and a handful of Tahitian men then scoured the South Pacific for a safe haven, eventually settling on Pitcairn Island (above) on January 23, 1790.

The islanders speak a dialect that is a hybrid of Tahitian and eighteenth-century English. It is as if history had been preserved in a petri dish (another admittedly romantic notion about an already widely romanticized past).

South Pacific Islands.
Interior of Pitcairn Island, 1831
Sir William Beechey

March 8, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Pitcairn's Island Settlement.

It is pleasant to know that the sad note from the distant dwellers in Pitcairn's Island, which reached the world through the Alta, is calling attention to the forlorn condition of those people. The letter from the island, sent to the Alta by Captain Purdy, has been quite extensively copied throughout the United States, and the romance of the early beginnings of the colony has been revived and commented upon. The New York Times, which has published all that could be told of the history of the colonists, says that their existence was unknown until 1808, when Captain Folger, a Nantucket whaler, discovered them. Several ships visited the island subsequently, and in 1856, through the efforts of European well-wishers, tho whole community was taken to Norfolk Island, but, 1859, dissatisfied with the change, two families, consisting of seventeen persons, returned to Pitcairn, leaving 202 on Norfolk Island; the latter settlement has since increased to 300, and that on Pitcairn, according to Captain Purdy, now numbers about 70.

The Alta published a letter, a few weeks since, from a retired voyager now living in the State of Nevada, giving substantially the same facts relative to the Norfolk Island emigration. The English- press allude to a work (quoted by the New York Times) lately written by Lady Belcher, giving a full account of this romance of the South Seas, from the time of the mutiny of the crew of the Bounty to the middle of the year 1869. Singularly enough, just following the publication to the world of the facts which form tho curious history of the settlements of Pitcairn's and Norfolk Island, came this voice fiom the charmed seclusion of those lonely dwelling-places. Let us hope that their call for human sympathy will not be unheeded.

Pitcairn Island

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

Kindly Kindly Donate.


DALevy @


Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.