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Pitcairn Islands Study Center

Sesquicentenary Memories

A report, 150 years later, on the anniversary of the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders at Norfolk Island in 1856. 

After exhausting but routine air flights it was a joy to be met at the Norfolk Airport by a number of smiling and friendly faces. They included Ron and Maureen Edwards of Melbourne; Norfolk Islander Adrian Cook; and a young representative of the Tahitians who live on Norfolk, and others who had flown in for the 150th anniversary celebrations  from Tahiti and other distant points.  This handsome young fellow was at the airport to invite me to a feast that was even then under way.  The Tahitians, you may recall, trace their lines back to the women who were on the Bounty as it made its way to Pitcairn in 1789.  A group of wonderful people they are.

Exhaustion really sitting in, I begged off from the greatly appreciated invitation, and made my way to the Anson Bay Lodge some miles out from Burnt Pine, the commercial center of Norfolk.  Very close by the lodge is the tiny bay (Anson) that is one of the many beauty spots on Norfolk.  Fruit trees of several kinds greeted us at the lodge as Ron and Maureen very kindly guided me to the place on the initial run. 

In the evening Ron Edwards and I made then our way to Kingston and the All Saints Church for its weekly Sunday evening service.  After a good sermon by the visiting bishop, the thick stone walls of the church began to ring with a Pitcairn sing-along, led by Tom Lloyd the long-time editor of The Norfolk Islander newspaper who recently sold the publication, but still cannot break all ties as he continues to write news about the island.  The sing-along was truly "music to my ears" - every harmony and lyric saying, "This is Pitcairn; this is the Pitcairners' Norfolk!"

And that's the way the week of celebration began - with much memorable music - and it ended the same way - with rousing, rollicking Polynesian/Pitcairn/Norfolk music in the small, neat but crowded Norfolk Island Airport as we awaited a late flight back to Auckland on Sunday, June 11. Gladys Lintz, president of the Bounty Association of Tahiti; along with Archie Bigg, head of the Tahitians on Norfolk; the likes of Trent Christian (son of Steve and Olive on Pitcairn), one of Norfolk's "sweet singers" of Pitcairn/Norfolk music; along with others of the Tahitians and just plain "others" who were caught up in the singing, were belting out South Pacific music that rode clearly over the crowd noise.  Such favorites as "Pearly Shells," "Beyond the Reef," and a host of Pitcairn/Norfolk and Polynesian pieces really made the joint jump.

But there in the packed-to-the-wall-with-tourists All Saints Church on Sunday night, the strains of the Pitcairn music certainly made the occasion real for me.  "The Ship of Fame" seemed to be a favorite:

What ship is this you're sailing in
This wondrous ship of fame? 
The ship is called 'The Church of God'
And Christ, the captain's name.


Come join our happy crew
We're bound for Canaan's shore
The Captain says, 'There's room for you
And room for millions more.

The sing-along concluded with the plaintive but beautiful "Pitcairn Anthem."

In between the many appointments and other things to do (like slurping "thick shakes" at the Mall) it was a joy to become better acquainted with the history of a number of the musicians of Pitcairn and Norfolk.  Certainly these include Meralda Warren, still on Pitcairn, and Trent Christian who now lives on Norfolk.  Trent, I found from others, is quite a sought-after singer on Norfolk, as Meralda was when she was there some time ago.  In 1999 Trent appeared at Norfolk Island's County Music Festival and this song's lyrics must then, now and always have particular significance for him:

Six years I've been in the city
And every night I dream of the sea
They say home is where you find it 
Will this place ever satisfy me?
For I come from the saltwater people
We always lived by the sea
Now I'm down here living in the city
And my island home is waiting for me.

And most of Meralda's song writing, as told to me, is unknown but yet outstanding music.  Among her music are her compositions based on the shared historical roots of the two-island communities: Away orn Pitcairn, In the Blood, and The Bounty's gone, together with a fourth, on everyday life on Pitcairn titled An unsuccessful day.
Here are snatches from her "In the Blood":

I've got the blood of the mutineers:
Christian, Young, McCoy
Quintal, Adams un all hem others

and later on stating:

Our mothers came from Otaheite
Toofati, Maimitti
Tiopiti un sweet Maria.

Meralda, I find, is a major song writer.  Her work includes "Pitcairn Places," "Will we survive?", "Com share with me," "The Cause," "Wishing," "Pitcairn Island," "Mussa Es the Same" . . . and the list goes on and on.

The Norfolk singers most always liberally laced their compositions with Pitcairn/Norfolk history.  Some of these sweet singers include Susan Pedle, Don Christian-Reynolds, Peke Evans, Beverly Simpson, George "Steggles" Le Cren, Eileen Snell, Archie Bigg, George "Toofie" Christian and Kath King.

And, of course, the names of George Hunn Nobbs and Driver Christian and the singing of their music were among that music most heard throughout the celebration week.

As you can see, I found (and continually find) the history and singing of Pitcairn and Norfolk music fascinating.

On Monday there began a round of several days of meetings, very helpfully arranged by Ron Edwards, with Adrian Cook, John Anderson, Alice Buffett, and others.  With Adrian in two different meetings we discussed the role he will play in "The Pitcairn Trials" appeal before the Privy Council beginning in London on July 10.  With John Anderson it was a discussion of memories of Pitcairn people and Norfolk history, and with Alice Buffett it was a very zingy session in which she laid out the turf to be trod and I had to tread it!  She wouldn't even allow Ron to be part of our interview; poor guy, he had to sit in the car!  Alice is one great and awesome lady, a real asset to the welfare of Norfolk Island, and a formidable foe of anyone who tries to oppose her vision of the island's future (which, believe me, I did not try to do!).

A highlight of the week for me included a good interview with the director of the Norfolk Museum (whose name I do not find in my notes), and studying closely once again there in the museum one of the Bounty cannon and kettle, along with that precious little circlet "The Pitcairn Wedding Ring."  As I looked at the obviously thinly worn and old ring the names of Ned Young, said to be its original owner; Honor Maude, Hilda Young and Jennifer Toombs came quickly to mind, all having had a part in its first being on Pitcairn, then its recovery from being "lost," its being saved from the scrap heap in Auckland, and finally the gift of it to the Norfolk Pitcairners.  I should mention that the museum has been greatly upgraded since my first visit there about 15 years ago, this is a real tribute to Nigel Erskine who until not long ago served as its director.  The museum building is one of the 15 or 20 convict-built, thick-walled stone buildings at Kingston, which is the lovely Norfolk-tree-dotted flatland that welcomes any visitor coming by sea to the island (of which there are not many in this day of air travel).  The two boat landings at Norfolk are at Kingston and Cascade; like Pitcairn there is no harbor at Norfolk.

But, of course, the "biggie" of the week was Bounty Day, a Thursday, in which I reckon about 3,000 people participated.  As we were driven down from the center residential area of Norfolk by Les Nola, who for many years was Norfolk's only taxi driver (a wonderful guy, believe me) , we stopped at what has to be the most (if not one of the most) inspiring views on Norfolk - looking down on Kingston from a considerable height, with the eternal green of that flatland stretching out from the cemetery on the extreme left to the wharf well off to the right; the great stone and other buildings all in light tan color contrasting sharply with the greensward and the pines that here and there dot the whole.  Like little toys, we could see the already gathered hundreds of people and the many cars down there in Kingston for the events of the Bounty Day.

The first event was the re-enactment of the landing of the Pitcairners.  On the wharf were hundreds of Norfolk/Pitcairners, those Norfolk Islanders who trace their line back through Pitcairn to the Bounty. All were in costume which fit 1856, and among them in their own distinctive garb were the Tahitians, most of them bedecked with leis, flowery headpieces, and the most colorful of dresses ("mumu's," which some people call similar Hawaiian dresses, do not do them justice, so rich is their beauty).

A special group of "Pitcairners" arrived in the boats to discharge their people onto the wharf to the cheers of the hundreds already there.  When all were on the wharf there began speech-making.  At last the entire group began to move off toward several of the building strung out along the mile-or-more-long greensward that is Kingston.  At two or three of the buildings there were stops with more speeches being made (each having a special significance which, unfortunately, I did not catch).

As the costumed hundreds began to parade along the road toward the Kingston buildings, I caught the eye and then the hand of KikKik Quintal, a one-time sweet singer of Norfolk who is now about as ancient as I am.  We briefly recalled a joyful meeting some 15 years ago when his outstanding voice gave special meaning to the weekly Pitcairn sing-along at St. Barnabas Chapel in its country setting a couple miles out of Burnt Pine. We greeted others as they passed, friends we had made from earlier in the week: Albert Buffett, Jillian Nobbs, (who came all the way from England), Gladys Lintz, Amelia Maulaz (who came from Chile), Sylvia Herrmann, and others . . . .

The huge contingent of costumed folk finally arrived at the historic Norfolk Island cemetery.  It is historic in the sense that the first one third of it is reserved for the headstones (and remains) of the convicts who inhabited the island before the coming of the Pitcairners.  The middle third is given over to the Pitcairners who came to Norfolk in 1856; and the last third is the area in which the remains of those who have died more recently are interred.  It is a beautiful setting: the stately pines towering over all, the waves crashing on the shore only a few score feet away, the deep blue of the ocean , and out in the distance lies Phillip Island.  And joy of joys, as we cast our yes seaward we clearly saw a whale spouting and diving between the mainland and Phillip.

There just outside the cemetery the hundreds of voices were raised in Pitcairn/Norfolk hymns, their special harmony giving an almost reverent feeling to the scene. When the hymns had been sung, numerous members of the huge group stepped through the cemetery gate and began placing wreaths at the headstones of those with special significance to their lives.

Finally the hundreds of costumed participants began the trek back across the length of Kinston, and with one or two stops for more speech-making made their way to a giant walled, square area, inside of which was to be held the Bounty Day picnic.  And what a feast it was.  Maureen Edwards and her and Ron's friends had put together a sumptuous feast the likes of which I've not seen many times in my long lifetime.  And a duplicate of this feast was happening all over the area - food, food, food! Against two of the walls there were giant banners declaring "Nobbs," "Adams," "Quintal," . . . and in those areas gathered people whose lines go back to (with the exception of Nobbs) to the sailors of the Bounty.  During our wanderings around among the many groups of celebrants Ron had spied Mavis Hitch, one of Norfolk's great - almost legendary - Polynesian-type dancers (the dance sometimes simply called "hula" on Norfolk).  Though she, like many of us, had changed just a bit since I visited with her 15 years ago, Mavis still possesses that special Polynesian warmth and sun-kissed beauty that is far deeper than skin.  It was pure joy to converse with her again.

The eating, and talking, and eating, and playing , and eating, and eating and eating went on and on until, finally at about four o'clock, more than well stuffed, everybody began gathering up leftovers, tables, chairs, etc., and heading for home - just before a refreshing rain came pouring down on Norfolk!

It had been an absolutely perfect day!

The rest of the week's days were more of the same, meeting many good people, enjoying the special beautify of Norfolk Island, pushing back not soon enough from tables that were continually loaded with the best of foods.

Friday found me revisiting the book store in the island Mall, and the most interesting island tourist information center to purchase a few books I had missed in earlier visits in the week. It also included quite a time at the Norfolk Island Post Office where I put finishing touches to a number of notes to friends inside envelopes with the special issue stamps on them that marked the anniversary. And considerable time was spent in pasting some 35 different Norfolk Island stamps onto a large package of books and other material that was simply too heavy to carry on the plane. That package, if it arrives like it left Norfolk, is going to be one colorful philatelic cover!  All hail the patience of the post office guy who patiently doled them out to me!  I also picked up from Alan Tavener, Norfolk's genial postmaster, a couple of the joint philatelic covers that were issued by both Pitcairn and Norfolk.  Alan, with whom we correspond regularly from the PISC, is one of the most accommodating postmasters in the world I believe - a really nice gentleman.

The week's seventh day - Saturday - found me where I am most every Sabbath day, this time in Norfolk Islands' neat Seventh-day Adventist church, where much of the services were given over to the church's and the church members' relationship to the 150th anniversary celebration - the pastor's sermon addressing Norfolk's, and the church's future.  An outstanding Norfolk/Pitcairn sing-along was a highlight of the morning services.  Some of the Tahitians, and Ken Warren, up from Wellington I believe, were among the congregants.  Ken, with tears in his eyes, told me he was planning a return (perhaps permanent) to Pitcairn in August.  The island's Adventist church owns and opens to the public a South Pacific museum which probably has more examples of Pitcairn crafts in it than any other place on Norfolk. Saturday also included visits and drives around the island. A good time all around it was.

And then came the farewell hours on Sunday at the Norfolk Airport, the Tahitians and Pitcairn/Norfolk Islanders joining in raising the roof of the otherwise neat and tidy place.  I recall spending a few minutes watching the faces of the Air New Zealand personnel who were checking baggage and authorizing boarding passes, as the music was filling the airport.  They could hardly keep their bodies still, the music grabbing them by the heart and all but shaking them into a hula!

So goodbye (sadly) once again Norfolk!  Goodby you wonderful Norfolk Islanders!  What a truly fantastic group of friendly and helpful people you are, each one of you!  For a reason I can explain - and don't feel any need to anyhow - the words of The Coconut Song, so aptly speaking to the bounty that is Norfolk compared to that of Tahiti, kept coming back to me as I slowly walked out into the clear , windy day to board the plane that would take me back to a part of civilization that hasn't got a clue about the grace and beauty and quiet peace that is Norfolk Island:

We've gut a palm tree
We've gut a pine
We've gut wahines
And never you mine
We've gut everything Tahiti gut
We only not gut a coconut.

- Herb Ford, PISC Director

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