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Pitcairn Islands Study Center

News - August 22, 2016

Contact Study Center:

PHONE: 707-965-6244
TEXT:   707-229-1340

Contact Herb Ford:
PHONE: 559-592-0980 or

Live Online Chat


  [California Study Center]


Pitcairn Islands Study Center, 1 Angwin Avenue, Angwin (Napa County) Calif., USA

King's College London, 1 Stamford Street, London, United Kingdom

Herbert Ford, 707-965-2047,

Jenny Gimpel, +44 (0) 20 7848 4334,, King's Press Office, 

Denise Syndercombe-Court, +44 (0) 20 7848 4155,


Press Release

For immediate release

Monday, August 22, 2016


Ten pigtails of hair thought to be from seven mutineers of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame and three of their female Polynesian companions, will be analyzed in a collaboration between the Pitcairn Islands Study Center at Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif., and the forensic DNA group at King's College London, one of the world's leading research and teaching universities, located in the heart of London, United Kingdom.

The forensic DNA group at King's College London has just received strands of hair from the 10 locks of hair which are on display in the California-based study center, located some 70 miles north of San Francisco.

As the pigtails purportedly date back to the pre-1800s, the King's team will first attempt to extract DNA from the historical hair samples after cleaning the outside, and then digesting the hair matrix using a chemical process. Nuclear DNA is not found in hair shafts, only the roots which are not available here; however, mitochondrial DNA may be present. If sufficient mitochondrial DNA can be collected, the first step will be to investigate the ancestral origins of the owners of the pigtails. (See more on technical details at end of this release.)

According to Herbert Ford, director of the Pitcairn study center, the hair is a gift from Joy Allward, wife of the late Maurice Allward of Hartfield, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.

In 2000, Mr. Allward successfully bid for the hair at a Sotheby's auction in London. The pigtails were housed in a nineteenth-century cylindrical tobacco tin. Also with the locks of hair was a handkerchief, said to have belonged to Sarah, the daughter of William McCoy, one of the Bounty mutineers.

A worn, faded label with the pigtails notes that it is attached to the pigtail of hair of the mutineer McCoy, who died on Pitcairn in 1800. Notes written on the label also state that the pigtails are of seven of the mutineers of H. M.S. Bounty, and "also that of three of the Tahitian women" who accompanied the mutineers to Pitcairn in 1790.

Further information on the label notes that "The holders of the hair have been (1) Teio, wife of McCoy. (2) Mrs. Sarah Christian. (3) F. G. Mitchell. Given to F. G. Mitchell, 22nd June 1849 (Jubilee day) by Mrs. Sarah Nobbs."

More contemporary information about the ownership of the hair pigtails comes from V. J. Evans, of the Isle of Wight. In a letter dated June 14, 2001, he writes to Mr. Allward:

"My great grandmother used to sew widths of carpet together to form room-size carpets. She was working at Harrow on the Hill (a northwest suburb of London) in a Professor's house. He could not pay her, so he gave her the items (pigtails of hair and handkerchief) instead. My great grandmother's surname was Bristow. I think she was about 90 years when she died, I was about 5 years. (I am now 63.) My grandmother's surname was Eborn."

"If the tests and genealogical studies of this hair authenticates that it is of seven of the nine mutineers who hid out from British justice on Pitcairn in 1790, it will be the only tangible evidence of their having existed," said Ford. "There is only one known mutineer grave on Pitcairn, that of John Adams. Of the whereabouts of the remains of the eight others we can only speculate."

Ford said the reason for requesting the collaboration with a world-class research center like King's College London, "is that we want to be very sure we are not traveling under false colors about these hairs. If the research findings tell us the hair is not that of the mutineers, we will stop telling visitors to the study center that they are. The Pitcairn Islands Study Center was founded on the requirement that we provide only accurate information about all aspects of The Bounty Saga. This present study seeks to better meet that requirement."

The story of the mutiny that took place on the British ship H. M.S. Bounty in the South Pacific Ocean in 1789, was made famous by the publication of a trilogy of books published in the 1930s. Following the publication of the books, five Hollywood-type motion pictures about the mutiny were shown worldwide over the next four decades.

The Pitcairn Islands Study Center, established in 1977, is a museum-research facility providing information about the mutiny and its aftermath to academics, journalists, researchers, authors, students and others throughout the world, The Center holds the world's largest collection of information about this still popular and much-studied sea saga. For more information please visit

King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2015/16 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 27,600 students (of whom nearly 10,500 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 6,800 staff. For more information, please visit King's in Brief.

(More details on the study from Dr. Denise Snydercombe-Court.)

Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA does not discriminate between all individuals as people sharing a common maternal ancestor will also share a similar profile. However, this type of DNA can provide some indication of maternal geographical origin e. g. whether someone is likely to be of European descent, so the King's DNA team will aim to establish whether the hair samples do indeed come from seven Europeans and three Polynesians individuals, as the documentation accompanying the samples suggest.

Further, more detailed identification will require genealogical methods to trace the ancestors of the pigtail owners, to be able to link samples to names from historical records and other sources of information. King's College London and the Pitcairn Islands Study Center will both be involved in this tracing.

A lot has been written about the possible descendants of the mutineers, but this information will not be helpful with regards to the male mutineers; instead, their maternal line will need to be traced. The study will therefore try to identify their maternal ancestors, such as their respective mothers and maternal grandmothers, and research other direct female descendants down to individuals living today.

Dr. Denise Syndercombe-Court, project lead for the Analytical and Environmental Sciences Division at King's College London, said: "First, we will have to determine whether we can recover mitochondrial DNA of appropriate quality to be analyzed. The hairs, if from the mutineers, are over two hundred years old, and we have no idea what environments they might have been exposed to in the intervening time.

"Potentially as problematic will be the genealogical research as civil registration in the United Kingdom did not start until 1837, some 50 years after the mutiny, and so, at best, the death of the mother may be listed in these records but other processes would need to be used to gather more information. Because of the patrilineal transmission of surnames we would not even expect to find someone who believes they may be linked to the mutineers, and so we will have to depend on this research and hope for the agreed consent from any identified living descendant to act as a modern day reference. We do not anticipate that this will be easy, and it will require other parties to get involved in this part of the study."