After the first group of Polynesian settlers on Pitcairn Island suffered extinction in the 15th century, it wasn’t inhabited again until mutineers from HMS Bounty, along with the Tahitians who accompanied them, sought refuge there in 1790.
Since then, the population has never exceeded 250, for the past several decades has averaged somewhere in the 50s, and all are from just four main families. As a British Overseas Territory, it is reported to be both the least populous jurisdiction as well as the smallest democracy in the world. Pitcairn Island has neither an airport nor a seaport; the islanders use longboats to ferry people and goods between ship and shore through Bounty Bay as its one small harbor is so shallow that only small boats can dock. The rest of the Pitcairn island group aren’t inhabited, making Mangareva Island and Easter Island the nearest population bases, at a mere 540 and 2065 kilometers away, respectively.
What must life be like in such a place? Idyllic? Isolated? Like nothing else on earth? Since meeting author Nadine Christian on Twitter several weeks ago, these questions have lingered, so I was more than pleased when she graciously agreed to answer a few of them for this week’s travel post. Here we go!
You’re related to Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny on HMS Bounty, and Parkin Christian, who first found its rudder in Bounty Bay in 1933. Is that on your side of the family or through marriage? Tell us a bit about your family tree, if you could.
I cheekily call myself a ‘Quality Import.’ I was born and raised in New Zealand, but married into the Christian family in 2002. My kids, however, can lay claim to the fact that they proudly trace their roots back nine generations to Fletcher Christian. The fact that they can also, in a winding way, link back to three other mutineers is really an amazing realization.
I know you’re an author, but you also do several other things. What does a typical day in your life look like? And is it normal that residents wear so many different vocational hats?
I think you have to be a multi-tasker here. The fact that I, for example, am a mother of five kids, run a household – including the making of bread, tending of gardens, animals and tedious daily house chores – doesn’t take away from other needs. I am the Government Treasurer, the museum Curator, and write in my ‘spare time.’
With such a small population you need to be able to be versatile and able to switch hats easily from job to job to get things done.
I read that a baby born on Pitcairn in 2003 was the first in 17 years, and only one other has been born since. Do islanders ever worry that their numbers will dwindle to nil?
Actually, I’m proud to say that my two daughters were the last babies born on island; Emily, of course, in 2003, and Adrianna in 2007. We do worry that as an aging population we will not draw enough young people back home, but government support of the recent promotion geared towards immigration has begun. Hopefully, we will soon see a growing population, and a wider base of experience, job- and life-wise on the island.
According to the Wikipedia page, Pitcairn’s population went from 67 in 2011 to 48 in 2012. So where did a third of the people go?
Norfolk Island houses a lot of Pitcairners, but New Zealand and Australia also are home to many now too. The economy and job opportunities were draws that some islanders were just unable to resist.
The area of the island is 1.75 square miles, with only 88 acres of flat land. Is land ownership quite equal, or do some own more and some own none?
You could apply for land if you wanted, too! The land is owned by the Crown, however, if a resident wanted land to build a house, raise a garden or orchard etc., all they have to do is apply. Thus the land is open for all without dispute.
When did Internet service arrive? Have all the residents embraced it?
The Internet hit Pitcairn in 2002 and by the end of 2003, most houses had computers and were linked to the world. Because of the ease of connection, the world has opened up to us, and I like to think we’ve more than embraced that wider world – we’ve dived in head first!
Do all children leave to attend school in New Zealand once they’ve finished the primary grades? And how long does it take to get to New Zealand, exactly?
It’s something I personally hope that my kids are open to. I’d like them to get to know what the ‘real world’ is like, to learn and progress their education. Most kids leave at 15 to head out to a boarding school in New Zealand. It’s a three thousand mile trip, and not one to be taken lightly, but a higher education for returning pupils can only progress our island further. For someone like my daughter Emily, who has never left the island at all, it’s a must in my opinion to experience the way of life, and to widen her horizons.
How often does Pitcairn receive tourists? Have you had many homestay visitors at your residence?
We have a supply ship every three months called the Claymore II. This ship will arrive from New Zealand FULL of supplies, then take a two day journey to the Gambier Islands in Tahiti to pick up tourists, then return where they will stay on island for either a 4- or 10-day stay. Other than these Claymore II runs, we may get yachtie’s dropping in during the windier times of the year!
We have a little chalet we open up to homestay visitors. We’re right out of Adamstown, perched high on the hill, so our views out over the South Pacific are beautiful. We’ll take at least one or two guests a year, however, there are many other households that open their arms to tourists. Overall, maybe 15 – 20 visitors arrive on island every rotation of the supply ship.
Where do Pitcairn residents go for vacation?
I don’t think there is a word in the Pitcairn vocabulary for vacation! It’s a twenty-four-seven kind of existence here, but most of us take the day off on Saturday and relax. Going off island is not something you take lightly and the only reason most leave is for medical reasons.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about Pitcairn Island?
Most favourite thing? Oh, there are too many. The calm and quiet of a dark starry night after power has gone off for the night and all you can hear is the chirp of crickets and the hiss of the sea on the rocks below. The freedom my kids have to roam and play. The pristine waters, the bounty of fish in the ocean.
The least favourite? Being so far away from the ‘real world.’ My mother was taken ill recently and was hospitalized in New Zealand. It was horrible to be unable to go to her, the only way to speak to her was via my brother’s cellphone at her hospital bed. Emergency travel back home to New Zealand would have been almost impossible, and I felt so terrible being cut off, and horribly aware at how isolated we were.
Nadine Christian lives on Pitcairn Island, in the middle of the South Pacific, with her husband, five children, four goats, two cats and thirty chickens. With its rich maritime history, Pitcairn’s romantic past comes alive in her novels, capturing the taste of life on an isolated tropical island, miles from the rush and bustle of normal city life. Nadine’s first novel is titled Remembering Love, and you can learn more about it and her forthcoming release on Nadine’s website and on Twitter.
Have you ever been anywhere like Pitcairn Island? Or do you have questions for Nadine? Please, share them!