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Pitcairn Islands Study Center

News - November 26, 2013

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  [California Study Center]


PITCAIRN ISLANDS STUDY CENTER, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California USA.

Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.


                        ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., November 26, 2013—When you're small, as is the tiny, isolated Pacific isle called Pitcairn, its sweet to be "first."

                        That's the distinction the women Pitcairn will celebrate on Friday, November 29, 2013, - the distinction of being the first "country" in the world to grant suffrage to women. In their own way, the men of this little South Pacific isle will be celebrating it too.

                        Pitcairn will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of suffrage for Pitcairn women.

                        It was in 1838, while calling at Pitcairn Island, that Captain Russell Elliott of the British warship H.M.S. Fly, answered pleas of the islanders for British protection from the depredations of American whaling crews who were visiting the Island in rapidly increasing numbers.

                        In the Constitution and code of laws that Elliott wrote, Pitcairn women were given the right to vote, and the education of all Pitcairn children was made compulsory.

                        New Zealand has often claimed to be the world's first "country" to grant women's suffrage (in 1893), but Pitcairners point to most dictionaries, which, in addition to defining "country" as a "nation," also defines "country" as being any "territory of a nation." Pitcairn Island is very clearly the territory of the United Kingdom, often called a "British Overseas Territory."

                        So Friday, November 29, will be a day of festivity on Pitcairn, highlighted by the men of the island preparing a sumptuous feast for the women. Letters of congratulation about Pitcairn's first-ness to grant women suffrage are being received on the island from national and international women's organizations around the world.

                        Of the upcoming anniversary, one Pitcairn woman said, "I am proud that my ancestors valued women enough to give them educational opportunities as well as voting rights along with the men for such a long time before any other country did. And it was all done without demonstrations, hunger strikes and other pressure tactics we see today in so many countries of the world."

                        Today on Pitcairn Island, in addition to women having the right vote, if any Pitcairner of 18 years or older - man or woman on the island - fails to vote in annual elections, a fine is levied against them, so voter turnout is 100 percent!

                        In an article, "The Development of the System of Government and Laws of Pitcairn Island From 1790 to 1971," in the book, "Laws of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands" revised editon 1971, Donald McLoughlin writes:

"With the promulgation of that Constitution and of those laws, the Pitcairn Island community not only established two firsts in British legislative history, namely the introduction of female suffrage for the first time in any British Constitution and the introduction of compulsory education of children for the first time in any British territory, but also opened a new era for the Island."

                        There are about 36 Pitcairners of voting age on Pitcairn today, 19 women and 17 men. The total population is about 60.

                        Most of those on Pitcairn today are descendants of mutinous sailors of the British ship H.M.S. Bounty who mutinied against Captain William Bligh. After the mutiny (in April 1789), the mutineers searched for a safe hiding place from British authorities and found it on Pitcairn island. It was nearly two decades after they landed at Pitcairn in early 1790 that the world learned the mutineers had been hiding there.