Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.
BOUNTY MUTINY DESCENDANTS STILL AT ODDS WITH GOVERNMENT
ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., April 28, 2004—On April 28, the 215th anniversary of the famed “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1789, most of the descendants of the sailors who mutinied against the oft-maligned Captain William Bligh find themselves in lovely if lonely places still at odds with organized government.
On Norfolk Island, where hundreds of the descendants live, there is ill will against Australia over its control of that island, for which the descendants who landed there from Pitcairn in 1856 thought they had exclusive ownership.
And on Pitcairn, the tiny isle to which the sailors fled after the mutiny, there are today about 40 of their descendants, most of whom have a bone to pick with the way Great Britain has governed its smallest protectorate. The island, a mere volcanic outcropping of one by two miles, is located about midway between Panama and New Zealand.
Groups of mutineer descendants also live in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, with lesser numbers scattered throughout the world.
To a person they are a proud lot. “I am proud to have the blood of those men flowing in my veins,” one Pitcairner has told the Pitcairn Islands Study Center, located at Pacific Union College here, which keeps watch over Pitcairn’s interests, and supplies information world-wide about “The Bounty Saga.”
“The mutiny of the Bounty is a significant event in history because those men were willing to take a courageous step against what they considered to be unjust treatment,” said the Pitcairner.
The mutineer descendants on both Norfolk and Pitcairn keep the memory of the mutiny going with annual celebrations. January 23, the date in 1790 that the Bounty was burned at Pitcairn, is an official holiday.
The mutineers ran the Bounty ashore at Pitcairn, then burned her to the waterline so passing ships would not know the island was inhabited.
“Bounty Day” is a public holiday on Norfolk Island, and a number of the island’s business firms carry the ship’s name and principals in the mutiny, like “William Bligh” and “Fletcher Christian,” in their titles.
For nearly two decades after the mutineer’s occupation of Pitcairn Island in 1790 the outside world did not know the Bounty mutineers had fled to the rugged little isle to escape British justice. Then in 1808 an American sealing ship chanced upon the hide-away and the secret was revealed.
Today, given the many years of relative neglect by Great Britain of its protectorate, Pitcairners wonder if their forebears might not have done too good a job of losing themselves when they mutinied. .
“During the past 200 years we have never seen one British prime minister visit our small island, none of its kings or queens have bothered to visit here, none of its members of parliament have come to visit us. We were fortunate to get a visit from the Duke in 1971, and his gift to the island was a second-hand bell from some sailing ship which I don’t even know anything about,” said a Pitcairner.
But times are changing. Because of public spotlighting of Pitcairn’s unanswered needs, the British “are throwing money” at the island, according to one island correspondent. An airstrip to end the island’s exclusive reliance on unscheduled shipping is now promised, as is improvement of the steep, “Hill of Difficulty” road leading from the boat landing up to the tiny village of Adamstown. Harbor improvements at Bounty Bay are also promised.
Weary of not seeing repeated promises kept in the past, the attitude of some on Pitcairn remains, “We’ll believe it when we see it.”
Legal problems afflict both Norfolk and Pitcairn islands, some, particularly on Pitcairn, bearing the elements of a cultural clash between centuries-old isolated, South Pacific island living, and a modern-day jurisprudence as practiced in downtown London that is being superimposed on the islanders.
Through their frustrations, legal problems and inattention to specific needs, the mutineers’ descendants are “keeping their cool,” according to a Pitcairner. “The island during these times, though tense, remains remarkably cool.”