Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bounty Bay

We've all read the accounts or seen the movies about mutany of the Bounty. Bounty Bay is where several of the mutineers settled. This is an account, a fairly lengthy one, from "Narrative of a Whaling Voyage Round the globe, from the year 1833 to 1836 by Frederick Bennett ©1840 of his visit to Bounty Bay.

At daylight on the 7th of March, the dark and elevated form of Pitcairn Island was seen from the mast-head, bearing W. £ S. by compass, and distant about thirty-five miles. Calms, or light airs, did not permit us to approach the land closely until after sun-set; when the ship was hove-to for the night, and a gun fired and a blue light burned, in answer to the signalfire kindled by the inhabitants on the hills.

On the succeeding morning we made sail to within five miles of the northern coast, (where some houses on the heights denoted the situation of the settlement,) and lowered a boat, in which Mr. Stolworthy and myself accompanied Captain Stavers to the shore. Guided by the gestures of a native, who stood upon an eminence waving a cloth, we proceeded for an indentation of the coast, where several of the islanders were collected on the rocks; but here so heavy a surf broke upon every visible part of the shore that some reluctance was felt to expose the boat to its fury.

While we were considering the best mode of effecting a landing, one of the islanders plunged into the sea and swam towards us. He approached with the salutation, " Good morning, brethren," and, entering the boat, commenced a familiar conversation in very good English. Upon his volunteering to pilot us to the landing-place, and, in his own words, " to be responsible for the safety of the boat," the crew again took to their oars; when passing through a line of heavy rollers, and doubling a projecting ledge of rocks, we almost immediately entered comparatively tranquil water, and ran the boat's bow upon the small beach of " Bounty Bay," where some pigs of iron ballast, and shreds of corroded copper, yet remain as mementos of the fate of the vessel which has given her name to the spot. The principal male inhabitants received us on the beach with a cordial and English welcome to their shores, and conducted us by a steep and winding path to the settlement. Several of the heads of families we had not before seen, and groups of women and children, met us on our way, their countenances beaming with pleasure at the appearance of their visitors, and all of them desirous to shake hands with their " countrymen," as they term the British. They had seen the ship since the previous morning, and had been anxiously awaiting our arrival.

This island is lofty, though of limited extent; its circumference does not exceed seven miles ; while its extreme height, as determined by Captain Beechey, is 1046 feet above the sea. The coast is abrupt and rocky, beaten by a heavy surf, and closely surrounded by blue water of unfathomable depth. No harbour obtains; but small vessels may find anchorage in twenty-five, and twelve fathoms water, with sandy bottom, close to the western shore. A difficult, but practicable landingplace, corresponding to this anchorage; a second at Bounty Bay; and one (more questionable) on the S. E. coast, are the only points where the island is accessible from the sea. Coral grows on the coast, and its debris are found on the coves ; but there are no distinct reefs of this material.

The northern side of the island, or that occupied by the settlement, offers a very picturesque appearance; rising from the sea as a steep amphitheatre, luxuriantly wooded to its summit, and bounded on either side by precipitous cliffs, and naked and rugged rocks, of many fantastic forms. The simple habitations of the people are scattered over this verdant declivity, and are half concealed by its abundant vegetation. They are neatly constructed of plank, thatched with leaves of the screw-pine, (Pandanus fascicularls,) and provided with windows, to which shutters are affixed. The greater number have but a single apartment, occupying the entire interior of the building, and floored with boards; while some few (called double-cottages) possess an upper-room, which communicates by a ladder with the one beneath. The furniture they contain is scanty and of the rudest description; nevertheless, every thing about them denotes great attention to cleanliness and order.

The dwelling formerly occupied by old John Adams is a neat cottage, containing two apartments, both of which are on the ground. It is situated in a pleasant and elevated part of the village, and opens with pretty effect upon a smooth and verdant lawn. The largest and best building the settlement can boast is that named the school-house, and applied to the purposes of a church, school, and teacher's residence.

To each cottage is attached a plot of gardenground, fenced round with roughly-hewn stakes, and planted with water-melons, sweet potatoes, and gourds ; while cattle-sheds, pigsties, and other outhouses, herds of swine and goats, and many European implements of agriculture, (including some wheelbarrows,) afford a rural picture that forcibly reminds the Englishman of similar scenes in his native land. Many good paths, conducting to the habitations and cultivated lands of the natives, intersect the settlement, and often pass through dense and solemn groves of majestic banian trees. (Flcus indica.)

The fabric of this island is chiefly a dark volcanic stone, but on the northern coast I observed some cliffs of a yellow and friable sandstone. The whole of the fertile soil (which is rich, and composed of a red clay mingled with sand) was originally shared, in nearly equal proportions, by the settlers from the Bounty, and is now retained in like manner by their descendants; each family possessing a small estate and subsisting upon its produce.

A comparative scarcity of water exists, since there are no natural streams, and the volcanic structure of the land precludes the formation of wells; but rain-water is largely received in ponds or tanks, and it is not until rain has been absent seven or eight successive months that the residents experience any material inconvenience from this cause. The greatest supply of water is still obtained from a natural excavation which was discovered by William Brown, the assistant botanist of the Bounty, and thence named " Brown's Pond." It is supposed to possess a spring.

At this time the population consisted of eighty persons,* of which the majority were children, and the proportion of females greater than that of males. The entire race, with the exception of the offspring of three English men, resident on the island and married to native women, are the issue of the mutineers of the Bounty, whose surnames they bear, and from whom they have not as yet descended heyond the third generation. So strong a personal resemblance obtains between the members of a family that it is no difficult task to distinguish brothers and sisters. I was particuarly led to notice a predominance of Irish features in many among them, and more especially in the fair and expressive countenances of some of the children; nor had I any reason to be dissatisfied with my skill in national physiognomy, when I was afterwards informed that these individuals bore the name of M'Coy, and were the issue of one of the Bounty's crew who was an Irishman.

The only survivors of the first settlers are two aged Tahitian females, who possess some interest, in association with the history of these islanders. The eldest, Isabella, is the widow of the notorious Fletcher Christian, and the mother of the first-born on the island. Her hair is very white, and she bears, generally, an appearance of extreme age, but her mental and bodily powers are yet active. She appeared to have some knowledge of Capt. Cook, and relates, with the tenacious retrospect of age, many minute particulars connected with the visits of that great navigator to Tahiti. The second, Susan Christian, is some years younger than her countrywoman Isabella. She is short and stout, of a very cheerful disposition, and proved particularly kind to us; indeed, I flattered myself that I had found favour in the sight of " old Susan," as she not only presented to me a native cloth of brilliant colours, which she had herself manufactured, but, bringing a pair of scissors, insisted upon my taking a lock of her dark and curling hair, flowing profusely over her shoulders, and as yet but little frosted by the winter of life. This woman arrived on the island as the wife of one of the Tahitian settlers, and bears the reputation of having played a conspicuous part when the latter were massacred by their own countrywomen. She subsequently married Thursday October, the eldest son of Fletcher Christian, and who died at Tahiti in 1831. Her daughter, Mary, a young and interesting female, is the only spinster on the island; she perseveres in refusing the ofFers of her countrymen, to whom she expresses great aversion, but, unfortunately, her antipathy has not extended to Europeans, and a very fair infant claims her maternal attentions.

In person, intellect, and habits, these islanders form an interesting link between the civilized European, and unsophisticated Polynesian, nations. They are a tall and robust people, and then* features, though far from handsome, display many European traits. With the exception of George Adams, who is much fairer than any of his countrymen, the complexion of the adults does not differ, in shade, from that of the Society Islanders. Their hair, also, is invariably black and glossy, and either straight or gracefully waved, as with the last-named people. Their disposition is frank, honest, and hospitable to an extreme; and, as is common to races claiming a mixture of European with Asiatic blood, they possess a proud and susceptible tone of mind. In conducting the most trivial affairs they are guided by the Scriptures, which they have read diligently, and from which they quote with a freedom and frequency that rather impair the effect.

A modest demeanour, a large share of good humour, and an artless and retiring grace, render the females peculiarly prepossessing. Some of the younger women have also pleasing countenances ; but, on the whole, little can be said in favour of their beauty. They bear an influential sway both in domestic and public politics ; and this they are the better calculated to do, since they are intelligent, active, and obust, partake in the labours of their husbands with cheerfulness, and, with but few and recent exceptions, live virtuous in ah1 stations of life.

Their children are stout and shrewd little urchins, familiar and confident, but at the same time well behaved. They are early inured to aquatic exercises; and it amused us not a little to see small creatures, two or three years old, sprawling in the surf which broke upon the beach; their mothers sitting upon the rocks, watching their anticks, and coolly telling them to " come out, or they would be drowned;" whilst the older children, amusing themselves with their surf-boards, would dive out beneath the lofty breakers, and, availing themselves of a succeeding series, approach the coast, borne on the crest of a wave, with a velocity which threatened their instant destruction against the rocks; but, skilfully evading any contact with the shore, they again dived forth to meet and mount another of their foaming steeds.

The ordinary clothing of the men is little more than the maro, or girdle of cloth, worn by the most primitive Polynesian islanders. On occasions of ceremony, as to attend at church, or receive the visits of strangers, they assume a complete English costume; their hats being constructed of pandanus-leaf cinnet, and decorated with coloured ribbons, which give them a pretty rustic-holy day effect.

The females commonly employ for their dress the native material they prepare from the bark of the paper-mulberry tree, stained with vegetable dyes; but, as opportunities offer, they substitute for this rude cloth the handkerchiefs and cotton prints of Europe. They wear the petticoat and scarf in the Tahitian style, and complete their toilette after the manner of the same nation, by passing a girdle of the seared and yellow leaves of the Ti plant around their waist; placing flowers in then* ears ; and encircling their tresses with a floral wreath. Some few wear then* hair short; but the majority permit it to flow over their shoulders in luxuriant ringlets.

These people subsist chiefly on vegetable food. Yams, which are abundant and of excellent quality, form their principal dependence; and next to these the roots of the mountain-taro (Arum costatum), for the cultivation of which the dry and elevated character of the land is so well adapted. Cocoa-nuts, bananas, sweet-potatoes, pumpkins, and water-melons, are also included among their edible vegetables; but of bread-fruit they obtain only a scanty crop, of very indifferent quality. They prepare a common and favourite food with grated cocoa-nuts and yams, pounded, with bananas, to a thick paste; which, when enveloped in leaves and baked, furnishes a very nutritious and palatable cake, called pilai. On two days in the week they permit themselves the indulgence of animal food, either goat's flesh, pork, or poultry; while the waters around the coast afford them a sufficient supply of fish. They cook in the Tahitian manner, by baking in excavations in the earth, filled with heated stones; the fuel they employ is usually the dried husks of the cocoa-nut.

The elder members of the Pitcairn Island family are but indifferently educated; scarcely any of them being able to write then* own name, though most can read. For some years past, an Englishman, named George Nobbs, has resided on the island, and officiated as schoolmaster to the children, who, in consequence, exhibit a proficiency in the elements of education highly creditable both to their own intelligence and to the exertions of their teacher. George Adams had commenced instructing himself in writing but a few months before our arrival, and a journal which he had kept for that length of time, and which he put into my possession, displays much progress in the art.

The few books they possess have been obtained from sailors visiting their shores, and are chiefly of a religious tenor. Some volumes, also, which were removed from the Bounty are still preserved in the house formerly occupied by the patriarch John Adams.

The English and Tahitian languages are spoken with equal fluency by all the islanders, excepting the two Tahitian females, who speak little else than their native dialect, and are, perhaps, in the sad predicament of having partly forgotten that. They converse in English with some of the imperfections peculiar to foreigners; andthis may be partly attributed to their usually discoursing in Tahitian with one another; as well as to a practice among their British visitors of addressing them in broken English, the better to be understood—a delusion into which most fall upon their first intercourse with this people. They, nevertheless, pride themselves upon an accurate knowledge of the language of their fathers; and not only aim at its niceties, but also indulge in the more common French interpolations, as faux pas, fracas, sang froid, etc.

They were early and well instructed in the pure doctrine of the Christian religion by their revered forefather John Adams; and it is to be sincerely hoped that no fanaticism may ever intrude upon their present simple and sensible worship of the Creator, nor the intemperate zeal of enthusiasts give them a bane in exchange for that religion,
" Whose function is to heal and to restore,
To soothe and cleanse, not madden and pollute."

Their sabbath is now observed upon the correct day, or that according with the meridian of the island; which was not the case in 1814, when Sir T. Staines visited the spot, and found John Adams and his small community preserving Saturday as the day of rest; an error which had arisen from the circumstance of the Bounty having made the passage from England to Tahiti by the eastern route, without any correction of time having been made to allow for the day apparently gained by this course.
The canoes the natives possess are but few, and of very simple construction. They are hollowed out from one piece of wood, and each is adapted to carry two persons. When afloat, they appear as mere wooden troughs, or little better than butcher's trays; nevertheless they can brave a very rough sea, or go safely through a heavy surf, and, when managed by their island owners, cleave the water with incredible velocity. The young men of the island are excellent divers. They occasionally engage themselves to pearling vessels, to dive for pearl-shell among the adjacent islands; with an understanding that they are to he restored to their home at the expiration of their engagement.

At the period of our visit the climate of Pitcairn was serene and delightful, and, though the thermometer marked 82° in the shade, the sensible temperature was kept agreeably low by the moderate and refreshing trade-winds, which almost incessantly blow over the land. Winds from N. W., with wet and squally weather, are occasionally experienced ; but no season is considered remarkable for rains. The land has generally a very salubrious aspect, and the inhabitants a very healthy appearance; nor are there, apparently, any diseases endemic amongst them. Elephantiasis, or fefe, so prevalent in many of the islands of the Pacific, is here unknown.

The natural productions are principally those common also to the Society Islands. The quadrupeds we noticed were all exotic, as goats and swine, which were brought hither by the first settlers from the Bounty; and a bull and cow, a donkey, a dog, and several cats, which the people had recently brought with them from Tahiti; but, as the island affords but little pasturage, the oxen had destroyed some fruit-trees, and it was determined that they should be killed. The domestic fowls are of the breed introduced here by the Bounty. Some Moscovy ducks had been lately left on the island by the Hon. Capt. Waldegrave, of H. B. M. S, Seringapatam. The only wild birds we observed, beyond the amphibious denizens of the coast, was a small and noisy species inhabiting the woodlands ; in size and plumage it resembles our common sparrow, and it bears the same name amongst the islanders. Small and active lizards, of many gaudy hues, are numerous on the vegetated lands. Among the insects, mosquitoes have but lately made their appearance, and are supposed to have accompanied the islanders upon their return from Tahiti.

The breadfruit, it is said, was found on this island by the Bounty's people, who also introduced many plants of it from Tahiti; it was formerly plentiful, but the trees are now few in number and bear but a small and annual crop of fruit. This degeneracy is believed by the natives to attend upon the clearance of the land ; and such may probably be the fact; but, at the same tune, the dry, elevated, and exposed character of the soil, is so opposed to the natural habitude of this tree in other parts of Polynesia that I am only surprised to find it ranking with the indigenous vegetation.

The candle-nut tree, and Indian mulberry, are conspicuous in the wooded lands. The roots of the former are used by the people to give a brown, and those of the latter a yellow stain to their bark cloth. The lime tree (Citrus medicaj has been introduced, but is not prolific; nor has the mountain-plantain, (Musafei,) recently imported from Tahiti, as yet succeeded.
The cotton shrub, (Gossypium vitifolium,) loaded with large and globular pods containing much excellent wool j capsicum, or bird-pepper, (Capsicum frutescens,) sugar cane, tobacco, and turmeric, grow wild in great abundance, but are applied to no useful purpose. The residents say that the cultivation of the sugar-cane is opposed by rats, which infest the soil in great numbers, and destroy the young plantations.

Yams (Dioscorea sativa and aculeata) are indigenous to the island, and cultivated with much care. They are grown in fields, or " yam patches," on the exposed and sunny declivities of the hills, their vines wandering procumbent over a great extent of ground. They produce an annual crop of roots ; the season for planting them commencing in October, and that for digging between July and August. One large root, when cut for seed, is estimated to produce twenty plants. The labours of hoeing and preparing the earth, sowing the seed, transplanting the seedlings, and digging for the mature roots, are the greatest these islanders have to contend with, and furnish as many data for the events of their lives.

The mountain taro (Arum costatum) is also indigenous, and is very generally cultivated on the dry and elevated lands, where it occurs as verdant plots of tall, erect, and arrow-shaped leaves, bearing in their centre the flowers peculiar to the " wake robin" family. Unlike its aquatic congener, A. esculentum, or common taro, this species prefers a dry and mountain soil, or is, at least, conveniently amphibious. The cultivated root attains a large size and bears some resemblance to the yam, and, although when in the raw state it is so acrid as to excoriate the skin, when cooked it affords a very agreeable and nutritious food. The Irish potatoe is occasionally grown ; but the natives give the preference to the cultivation and use of the sweet potatoe (Convolvulus batatas).

Amongst the miscellaneous vegetation, we observed the scurvy-grass of navigators (Carda mine antiscorbuticaj; and the ferns Asplenium obtusatum, Acrostichum aureum, an undescribed species of Hymenophyllum, and a species of Cyathea, a tree-fern attaining the height of from twelve to fourteen feet. The most abundant pasture-grass is a species of Eleusine.

It is probable, that Pitcairn Island was seen as early as January, 1606, by the Spanish commander, Louis Paz de Torres ; although the date of its discovery may with more certainty be referred to 1767, when its existence was ascertained by Captain Philip Carteret, of the British discovery-sloop Swallow. Captain Carteret did not land upon its shores, (which he had reason to believe were uninhabited,) and named the island after a young gentleman on board his ship, by whom it was first seen.
In the year 1773, Captain Cook, then engaged on his second voyage, cruised in diligent search of this land, but failed to find it; Captain Carteret having laid it down more than three degrees to the westward of its true position.

The second recorded visit to Pitcairn Island is that of the British armed-ship Bounty and her mutinous crew, in 1790. The events which occurred on board this vessel, while under the command of Lieut. Bligh, and employed in conveying plants of the breadfruit from Tahiti to our West India colonies, are well known; nevertheless, I may be permitted to relate, briefly, the ultimate fate of both the vessel and her crew, in connexion with some facts that came under our notice, and with others communicated to me by the Pitcairn islanders, or by the English residents who had for many years lived in social intercourse with John Adams, the late patriarch of the colony.

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