Photographer's Note


Forty-six of the 49 residents of Pitcairn Island are seen approaching the cruise ship, Crystal Symphony, where they set up their tables and sold their stamps and wooden carvings. The island is too small to allow passengers from cruise ships to actually traipse around and explore the island on their own.

The South Pacific island is one of the most isolated spots in the world, 6300 km (3900 miles) west of the coast of Chile, 5310km (3300 miles) north of New Zealand, and 2100 km (1300 miles) east of Tahiti. Five square km (two square miles) in area, it is a virtual speck of dust in an ocean spanning 181 million square kilometers (70 million square miles).

The notoriety of the Pitcairn Island is traced back to the most famous mutiny on the high seas, when in 1789 the British ship HMS Bounty was seized by a group of mutineers led by Master Mate, Fletcher Christian, and his vagabond group of 15. The master of the ship, Captain William Bligh, and the group of his loyalists were set adrift on a 8 meter (30-foot) boat with minimal provisions. The mutineers, with their common law wives from Tahiti, along with a small group of male Tahitians in tow, settled the island, and began to multiply… and also began to quarrel among themselves. The 180 mile discrepancy in the navigation maps prevailing at the time, and the island's miniscule size, they hoped, would be more than enough to throw British Naval ships off their trail, especially after they went on to set fire and scuttle the Bounty. Meanwhile, Bligh succeeded in steering his boat to East Timor, 6500 km (4000 miles) to the west. Subsequently, he returned to England, reported the mutiny, and unleashed the British Navy’s worldwide hunt for the mutineers.

During the 20th century five different versions of the film, “Mutiny on the Bounty,” were produced. In the more memorable versions (1935, 1962 and 1984) Christian Fletcher was played by the immensely talented and dashing Hollywood idols, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson; and William Bligh, by an equally talented trio of character actors, Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard and Anthony Hopkins, respectively. (The last of the films even had the aging Sir Lawrence Olivier playing the presiding judge in the absentee court martial of the mutineers.) These iconic actors are seen in the accompanying workshop. In all three versions of the film Christian is characterized as a young gentleman naval officer, kind and caring to his men, forced to practice noblesse oblige. To save his men he is forced into taking over command against a ruthless and cruel captain who relished the application of torture. And he has already revealed to his fellow officers his personal modus operandi, infect the men with fear, “Fear is your best ally!”

In an alternate interpretation of the incident, the mutineers, including Christian, find the tropical beauty of Tahiti and its beautiful women irresistibly seductive. They do not want to leave Paradise, and Christian is the young and reckless adventurer acting impetuously. Moreover, it is Bligh’s extraordinary navigational skills that saves every one of his loyalists as he leads them to safety against impossible odds. And it remains that the British Navy rewarded him by promoting him to the rank of Admiral, and gave him a new ship to command. The truth behind the mutiny may never be fully known. After retiring from the Royal Navy, Bligh returned to Australia and became a politician in New South Wales, serving as the 4th Governor of the State of New South Wales.

The meticulously crafted replica of the Bounty, created expressly for the 1962 film — and used again in the 1984 version, as well as in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” starring Johnny Depp (2003) — was still sailing fifty years later. But the replica of the 18th century rigger became a casualty of Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012, capsizing in 5.5 m (18-foot) waves as it was being repositioned from New England to the relative safety of North Carolina. One of the two drowning victims of the 15-man crew sailing the ship was Claudene Christian, a great-great-great-great granddaughter of Fletcher Christian.

Several families with the surname "Christian" were among the residents, descendents of Fletcher Christian, who visited the Symphony. Only eight children live on the island, and education is provided through the grades 1-8. Those who desire further education are sent to New Zealand. A poignant comment came from a woman who mused that her child had met another child her own age (a passenger on the Symphony) for the first time in her life. Mail is picked up four times a year, and the next pick-up was scheduled for March. But the mail with the very rare Pitcairn Island stamps are considered highly collectable by philatelists.

I recently learned from Chris Jules that a direct descendent of Captain Bligh, Anna Maria Bligh (born 14 July 1960), is an Australian politician. She served as the 37th Governor of the State New South Wales (in a post that her distant ancestor had served as the 4th Governor). I also heard from Noel Bryne that another of Captain Bligh's descendents actually lives in his home town near Dublin: "... he was once the owner of a local bar called the 'Bounty bar!' One of the most popular in the town!" 

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6809 W: 476 N: 12169] (41257)
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