Pitcairn Islands

The Pitcairn Islands (/ˈpɪtkɛərn/;[3] Pitkern: Pitkern Ailen), officially the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands,[4][5][6][7] is a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the sole British Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. The four islands—Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno—are scattered across several hundred miles of ocean and have a combined land area of about 18 square miles (47 km2). Henderson Island accounts for 86% of the land area, but only Pitcairn Island is inhabited. The islands nearest to the Pitcairn Islands are Mangareva (of French Polynesia) at 688 km to the west and Easter Island at 1,929 km to the east.

Pitcairn Islands
Pitkern Ailen (Pitcairn-Norfolk)
Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands
Anthem: "God Save the King"
Local anthem: "Come Ye Blessed"
Map showing location of the Pitcairn Islands (circled at the lower-right and magnified in an inset)
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Settlement15 January 1790
British colony30 November 1838
and largest settlement
25°04′S 130°06′W
Official languages
Ethnic groups
Pitcairn Islanders
  • Pitcairn Islanders
  • Pitkern
  • Pitcairnese
GovernmentDevolved locally governing dependency
Charles III
Iona Thomas
Nicholas Kennedy
Charlene Warren-Peu
Charles Blackie
LegislatureIsland Council
47 km2 (18 sq mi) (not ranked)
 Water (%)
Highest elevation
330 m (1,080 ft)
 2021 estimate
47[1] (last)
1/km2 (2.6/sq mi) (not ranked)
GDP (nominal)2005 estimate
 Per capita
CurrencyNew Zealand dollar (NZ$)[a] (NZD)
Time zoneUTC-08:00
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy
Driving sideleft
Calling code+64
UK postcode
PCRN 1xx
ISO 3166 codePN
Internet TLD.pn
^ The Pitcairn Islands dollar is also official legal tender, although it does not circulate as widely.

The Pitcairn Islanders are a biracial ethnic group descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and a handful of Tahitian consorts—as is still apparent from the surnames of many of the islanders. The mutiny and its aftermath have been the subject of many books and films. As of January 2020, the territory had only 47 permanent inhabitants.[8]


West side of the Pitcairn Islands
Pitcairn landing
Adamstown, the only settlement on the Islands

Polynesian settlement and extinction

The earliest known settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson, and on Mangareva Island 540 kilometres (340 mi) to the northwest, for several centuries from at least the 11th century.[9] They traded goods and formed social ties among the three islands despite the long canoe voyages between them, which helped the small populations on each island survive despite their limited resources. Eventually, important natural resources were exhausted, inter-island trade broke down and a period of civil war began on Mangareva, causing the small human populations on Henderson and Pitcairn to be cut off and eventually to become extinct.

Although archaeologists believe that Polynesians were living on Pitcairn as late as the 15th century,[9] the islands were uninhabited when they were rediscovered by Europeans.[10]

European arrival

Portuguese sailor Pedro Fernandes de Queirós came upon Ducie and Henderson Islands while sailing for the Spanish Crown, arriving on 26 January 1606. He named them La Encarnación ("The Incarnation") and San Juan Bautista ("Saint John the Baptist"), respectively. However, some sources express doubt about exactly which of the islands were visited and named by Queirós, suggesting that La Encarnación may actually have been Henderson Island, and San Juan Bautista may have been Pitcairn Island.[11]

Pitcairn Island was sighted on 3 July 1767 by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Carteret. The island was named after midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a 15-year-old crew member who was the first to sight the island. Robert Pitcairn was a son of British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who later was killed at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill in the American War of Independence.

Carteret, who sailed without the newly invented marine chronometer, charted the island at 25°02′S 133°21′W, and although the latitude was reasonably accurate, his recorded longitude was incorrect by about 3°, putting his coordinates 330 km (210 mi) to the west of the actual island. This made Pitcairn difficult to find, as highlighted by the failure of captain James Cook to locate the island in July 1773.[12][13]

European settlement

The mutineers turning Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from HMS Bounty on 29 April 1789.

In 1790, nine of the mutineers from the Bounty, along with the native Tahitian men and women who were with them (six men, 11 women, and a baby girl), settled on Pitcairn Island and set fire to the Bounty. The inhabitants of the island were well aware of the Bounty's location, which is still visible underwater in Bounty Bay, but the wreckage gained significant attention in 1957 when documented by National Geographic explorer Luis Marden. Although the settlers survived by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by serious tensions among them. Alcoholism, murder, disease and other ills took the lives of most mutineers and Tahitian men. John Adams and Ned Young turned to the scriptures, using the ship's Bible as their guide for a new and peaceful society. Young eventually died of an asthmatic infection.

Ducie Island was rediscovered in 1791 by Royal Navy captain Edwards aboard HMS Pandora, while searching for the Bounty mutineers. He named it after Francis Reynolds-Moreton, 3rd Baron Ducie, also a captain in the Royal Navy.

The Pitcairn islanders reported it was not until 27 December 1795 that the first ship since the Bounty was seen from the island, but it did not approach the land and they could not make out the nationality. A second ship appeared in 1801, but made no attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see their house, but did not try to send a boat on shore. Finally, the American sealing ship Topaz, under Mayhew Folger, became the first to visit the island, when the crew spent ten hours on Pitcairn in February 1808.[14] Whalers subsequently became regular visitors to the island. The last recorded whaler to visit was the James Arnold in 1888.[15]

View of Pitcairn's Island, South Seas, 1814, J. Shillibeer

A report of Folger's discovery was forwarded to the Admiralty, mentioning the mutineers and giving a more precise location of the island: 25°02′S 130°00′W.[16] However, this was not known to Sir Thomas Staines, who commanded a Royal Navy flotilla of two ships, HMS Briton and HMS Tagus, which found the island at 25°04′S 130°25′W (by meridian observation) on 17 September 1814. Staines sent a party ashore and wrote a detailed report for the Admiralty.[17][18][19][20] By that time, only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. He was granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny.[17]

Henderson Island was rediscovered on 17 January 1819 by British Captain James Henderson of the British East India Company ship Hercules.[21] Captain Henry King, sailing on Elizabeth, landed on 2 March to find the king's colours already flying. His crew scratched the name of their ship into a tree. Oeno Island was discovered on 26 January 1824 by American captain George Worth aboard the whaler Oeno.

In 1832, having tried and failed to petition the British government and the London Missionary Society, Joshua Hill, an American adventurer, arrived. He reported that by March 1833, he had founded a Temperance Society to combat drunkenness, a "Maundy Thursday Society", a monthly prayer meeting, a juvenile society, a Peace Society and a school.[22]

British colony

Traditionally, Pitcairn Islanders consider that their islands officially became a British colony on 30 November 1838, at the same time becoming one of the first territories to extend voting rights to women. By the mid-1850s, the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the island; its leaders appealed to the British government for assistance, and were offered Norfolk Island. On 3 May 1856, the entire population of 193 people set sail for Norfolk on board the Morayshire, arriving on 8 June after a difficult five-week trip. However, just 18 months later, 17 of the Pitcairn Islanders returned to their home island, and another 27 followed five years later.[17]

HMS Thetis visited Pitcairn Island on 18 April 1881 and "found the people very happy and contented, and in perfect health". At that time the population was 96, an increase of six since the visit of Admiral de Horsey in September 1878. Stores had recently been delivered from friends in England, including two whale-boats and Portland cement, which was used to make the reservoir watertight. HMS Thetis gave the islanders 200 lb (91 kg) of biscuits, 100 lb (45 kg) of candles, and 100 lb of soap and clothing to the value of £31, donated by the ship's company. An American trading ship called Venus had recently bestowed a supply of cotton seed, to provide the islanders with a crop for future trade.[23]

Pitcairn islanders, 1916

In 1886, the Seventh-day Adventist layman John Tay visited Pitcairn and persuaded most of the islanders to accept his faith. He returned in 1890 on the missionary schooner Pitcairn with an ordained minister to perform baptisms. Since then, the majority of Pitcairn Islanders have been Adventists.[24]

The islands of Henderson, Oeno and Ducie were annexed by Britain in 1902: Henderson on 1 July, Oeno on 10 July, and Ducie on 19 December.[11] In 1938, the three islands, along with Pitcairn, were incorporated into a single administrative unit called the "Pitcairn Group of Islands". The population peaked at 233 in 1937.[25] It has since decreased owing to emigration, primarily to Australia and New Zealand.[26]

Sexual abuse in modern times

Three cases of imprisonment for sex with underage girls were reported in the 1950s.[27]

In 1999, Gail Cox, a police officer from Kent, UK, served on a temporary assignment on Pitcairn, and began uncovering allegations of sexual abuse. When a 15-year-old girl decided to press rape charges in 1999, criminal proceedings (code-named "Operation Unique") were set in motion. The charges include 21 counts of rape, 41 of indecent assault, and two of gross indecency with a child under 14. Over the following two years, police officers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom interviewed every woman who had lived on Pitcairn in the past 20 years, as well as all of the accused men. The file was held by Pitcairn's first Public Prosecutor Simon Moore, an Auckland Crown Solicitor appointed to the position by the British government for the purposes of the investigation.[28]

Australian Seventh-day Adventist pastor Neville Tosen, who spent two years on Pitcairn around the turn of the millennium, said that on his arrival, he had been taken aback by the conduct of the children, but he had not immediately realised what was happening. "I noticed worrying signs such as inexplicable mood swings," he said. "It took me three months to realise they were being abused." Tosen tried to bring the matter before the Island Council (the legislative body which doubles as the island's court), but was rebuffed. One councillor told him, "Look, the age of consent has always been 12 and it doesn't hurt them."[29]

A study of island records confirmed anecdotal evidence that most girls bore their first child between the ages of 12 and 15. "I think the girls were conditioned to accept that it was a man's world and once they turned 12, they were eligible," Tosen said. Mothers and grandmothers were resigned to the situation, telling him that their own childhood experience had been the same; they regarded it as just a part of life on Pitcairn. One grandmother wondered what all the fuss was about. Tosen was convinced, however, that the early sexual experience was very damaging to the girls, outright stating, "They can't settle or form solid relationships. They did suffer, no doubt about it."[29][30]

Sexual assault trials of 2004

In 2004, charges were laid against seven men living on Pitcairn and six living abroad. This accounted for nearly a third of the male population, and half of the island's adult males. After extensive trials, most of the men were convicted, some with multiple counts of sexual encounters with children.[31] On 25 October 2004, six men were convicted, including Steve Christian, the island's mayor at the time.[32][33][34] In 2004, the islanders had about 20 firearms among them, which they surrendered ahead of the sexual assault trials.[35] After the six men lost their final appeal, the British government set up a prison on the island at Bob's Valley.[36][37] The men began serving their sentences in late 2006. By 2010, all had served their sentences or been granted home detention status.[38]

In 2016, Mike Warren, Pitcairn mayor from 2008 to 2013, was convicted and sentenced to 20 months imprisonment for possession of child pornography.[39][40]


The Pitcairn Islands form the southeasternmost extension of the geological archipelago of the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, and consist of four islands: Pitcairn Island, Oeno Island (atoll with five islets, one of which is Sandy Island), Henderson Island and Ducie Island (atoll with four islets).

The Pitcairn Islands were formed by a centre of upwelling magma called the Pitcairn hotspot. Pitcairn Island is a volcanic remnant primarily formed of tuff, where the north side of the cone has been eroded.[9] Pitcairn is the only permanently inhabited island. Adamstown, the main settlement on the island, lies within the volcanic basin.[9] Pitcairn is accessible only by boat through Bounty Bay, due to the island's steep cliffs.[9] Henderson Island, covering about 86% of the territory's total land area and supporting a rich variety of animals in its nearly inaccessible interior, is also capable of supporting a small human population despite its scarce fresh water, but access is difficult, owing to its outer shores being steep limestone cliffs covered by sharp coral. In 1988, this island was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.[41] The other islands are at a distance of more than 100 km (62 mi) and are not habitable.

Pitcairn Island has no permanent water source; however, the island has three seasonal semi-permanent springs.[9]

Island or atollTypeLand area
Total area
Ducie IslandAtoll0.73.9024°40′28″S 124°47′10″W
Henderson IslandUplifted coral island37.337.3024°22′01″S 128°18′57″W
Oeno IslandAtoll0.6516.65023°55′40″S 130°44′30″W
Pitcairn IslandVolcanic island4.64.65025°04′00″S 130°06′00″W
Pitcairn Islands
(all islands)
43.2562.455023°55′40″ to 25°04′00″S,
124°47′10″ to 130°44′30″W

Includes reef flat and lagoon of the atolls.


Geodesy operations on the Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn is located just south of the Tropic of Capricorn and experiences year-round warm weather.

Climate data for Pitcairn Island (1972-2004)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 31.2
Average high °C (°F) 25.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 23.3
Average low °C (°F) 21.0
Record low °C (°F) 16.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 96.5
Source 1: NOAA[42]
Source 2: KNMI (precipitation)[43]


About nine plant species are thought to occur only on Pitcairn. These include tapau, formerly an important timber resource, and the giant nehe fern. Some, such as red berry (Coprosma rapensis var. Benefica), are perilously close to extinction.[44] The plant species Glochidion pitcairnense is endemic to Pitcairn and Henderson Islands.[45] Pitcairn is part of the Tuamotu tropical moist forests terrestrial ecoregion.[46]


Between 1937 and 1951, Irving Johnson, skipper of the 29-metre (96 ft) brigantine Yankee Five, introduced five Galápagos giant tortoises to Pitcairn. Turpen, also known as Mr Turpen, or Mr. T, is the sole survivor. Turpen usually lives at Tedside by Western Harbour. A protection order makes it an offence should anyone kill, injure, capture, maim, or cause harm or distress to the tortoise.[47]

The birds of Pitcairn fall into several groups. These include seabirds, wading birds and a small number of resident land-bird species. Of 20 breeding species, Henderson Island has 16, including the unique flightless Henderson crake; Oeno hosts 12; Ducie 13 and Pitcairn six species. Birds breeding on Pitcairn include the fairy tern, common noddy and red-tailed tropicbird. The Pitcairn reed warbler, known by Pitcairners as a "sparrow", is endemic to Pitcairn Island; formerly common, it was added to the endangered species list in 2008.[48]

A small population of humpback whales (which has been poorly studied by scientists) migrate to the islands annually, to over-winter and breed.[49]

Important bird areas

The four islands in the Pitcairn group have been identified by BirdLife International as separate Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Pitcairn Island is recognised because it is the only nesting site of the Pitcairn reed warbler. Henderson Island is important for its endemic land-birds as well as its breeding seabirds. Oeno's ornithological significance derives principally from its Murphy's petrel colony. Ducie is important for its colonies of Murphy's, herald and Kermadec petrels, and Christmas shearwaters.[50]

Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve

In March 2015 the British government established one of the largest marine protected areas in the world around the Pitcairn Islands. The reserve covers the islands' entire exclusive economic zone834,334 square kilometres (322,138 sq mi). The intention is to protect some of the world's most pristine ocean habitat from illegal fishing activities. A satellite "watchroom" dubbed Project Eyes on the Seas has been established by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Pew Charitable Trusts at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Harwell, Oxfordshire to monitor vessel activity and to gather the information needed to prosecute unauthorised trawling.[51][52][53][54]

Pitcairn Islands Dark Sky Sanctuary

In March 2019 the International Dark-Sky Association approved the Pitcairn Islands as a Dark Sky Sanctuary. The sanctuary encompasses all 4 islands in the Pitcairn Islands Group for a total land area of 43.25 km2 (1634 sq. mi.).[55]


Charles III is the head of state of the Pitcairn Islands.

The Pitcairn Islands are a British overseas territory with a degree of local government. The King of the United Kingdom is represented by a Governor, who also holds office as British High Commissioner to New Zealand and is based in Wellington.[56]

The 2010 constitution gives authority for the islands to operate as a representative democracy, with the United Kingdom retaining responsibility for matters such as defence and foreign affairs. The Governor and the Island Council may enact laws for the "peace, order and good government" of Pitcairn. The Island Council customarily appoints a Mayor of Pitcairn as a day-to-day head of the local administration. There is a Commissioner, appointed by the Governor, who liaises between the Council and the Governor's office.

Since 2015, same-sex marriage has been legal on Pitcairn Island, although there are no people on the island known to be in such a relationship.[57]

The Pitcairn Islands have the smallest population of any democracy in the world.

The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes the Pitcairn Islands on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories.[58]


The Pitcairn Islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom; defence is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and His Majesty's Armed Forces.[26] The Royal Navy maintains two offshore patrol vessels in the Indo-Pacific region, HMS Tamar and HMS Spey. Either may be periodically employed for sovereignty protection and other duties around Pitcairn and her associated islands.[59][60]

Mandatory work

Due to there being no income or sales tax, Pitcairn has established a system of civil conscription whereby all able-bodied people are required to perform, when called upon, jobs such as road maintenance and repairs to public buildings.[61]


A proportional representation of Pitcairn Islands exports, 2019


The fertile soil of the Pitcairn valleys, such as Isaac's Valley on the gentle slopes southeast of Adamstown, produces a wide variety of fruits, including bananas (Pitkern: plun), papaya (paw paws), pineapples, mangoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, passionfruit, breadfruit, coconuts, avocadoes, and citrus (including mandarin oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes). Vegetables include sweet potatoes (kumura), carrots, sweet corn, tomatoes, taro, yams, peas, and beans. Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) and sugarcane are grown and harvested to produce arrowroot flour and molasses, respectively. Pitcairn Island is remarkably productive and its benign climate supports a wide range of tropical and temperate crops.[62] All land allocation for any use including agriculture is under the discretion of the government. If the government deems agricultural production excessive then it may tax the land. If the agricultural land has been deemed not up to the standards of the government it may confiscate and transfer the land without compensation.[63]

Fish are plentiful in the seas around Pitcairn. Spiny lobster and a large variety of fish are caught for meals and for trading aboard passing ships. Almost every day someone will go fishing, whether it is from the rocks, from a longboat, or diving with a spear gun. There are numerous types of fish around the island. Fish such as nanwee, white fish, moi, and opapa are caught in shallow water, while snapper, big eye, and cod are caught in deep water, and yellow tail and wahoo are caught by trawling.


Manganese, iron, copper, gold, silver and zinc have been discovered within the exclusive economic zone, which extends 370 km (230 mi) offshore and comprises 880,000 km2 (340,000 sq mi).[64]

Honey production

In 1998 the UK's overseas aid agency, the Department for International Development, funded an apiculture programme for Pitcairn which included training for Pitcairn's beekeepers and a detailed analysis of Pitcairn's bees and honey with particular regard to the presence or absence of disease. Pitcairn has one of the best examples of disease-free bee populations anywhere in the world and the honey produced was and remains exceptionally high in quality. Pitcairn bees are also a placid variety and, within a short time, beekeepers are able to work with them wearing minimal protection.[65] As a result, Pitcairn exports honey to New Zealand and to the United Kingdom. In London, Fortnum & Mason sells it and it is reportedly a favourite of King Charles and formerly Queen Elizabeth.[66] The Pitcairn Islanders, under the "Bounty Products" and "Delectable Bounty" brands, also export dried fruit including bananas, papayas, pineapples, and mangoes to New Zealand.[67] Honey production and all honey-related products are a protected monopoly.[68] All funds and management are under the supervision and discretion of the government.[69][70]


Cuisine is not very developed because of Pitcairn's small population. The most traditional meal is pota, mash from palm leaves and coconut.[71] Domestic tropical plants are abundantly used. These include basil, breadfruit, sugar cane, coconut, bananas and beans. Meat courses consist mainly of fish and beef. Given that most of the population's ancestry is from the UK, the cuisine is influenced by British cuisine; for example, the meat pie.[72]

The cuisine of Norfolk Island is very similar to that of the Pitcairn Islands, as Norfolk Islanders trace their origins to Pitcairn. The local cuisine is a blend of British cuisine and Tahitian cuisine.[73][74]

Recipes from Norfolk Island of Pitcairn origin include mudda (green banana dumplings) and kumara pilhi.[75][76] The island's cuisine also includes foods not found on Pitcairn, such as chopped salads and fruit pies.[77]


Tourism plays a major role on Pitcairn. Tourism is the focus for building the economy. It focuses on small groups coming by charter vessel and staying at "home stays". About ten times a year, passengers from expedition-type cruise ships come ashore for a day, weather permitting.[78][79] As of 2019, the government has been operating the MV Silver Supporter as the island's only dedicated passenger/cargo vessel, providing adventure tourism holidays to Pitcairn every week. Tourists stay with local families and experience the island's culture while contributing to the local economy. Providing accommodation is a growing source of revenue, and some families have invested in private self-contained units adjacent to their homes for tourists to rent.

Entry requirements for short stays, up to 14 days, which do not require a visa, and for longer stays, that do require prior clearance, are explained in official documents.[80][81] All persons under 16 years of age require prior clearance before landing, irrespective of the length of stay.[82]

Crafts and external sales

The government holds a monopoly over "any article of whatsoever nature made, manufactured, prepared for sale or produced by any of the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island".[69] The flow of funds from these revenue sources are from customer to the government to the Pitcairners.[70] The Pitcairners are involved in creating crafts and curios (made out of wood from Henderson). Typical woodcarvings include sharks, fish, whales, dolphins, turtles, vases, birds, walking sticks, book boxes, and models of the Bounty. Miro (Thespesia populnea), a dark and durable wood, is preferred for carving. Islanders also produce tapa cloth and painted Hattie leaves.[83]

The major sources of revenue have been the sale of coins and postage stamps to collectors, .pn domain names, and the sale of handicrafts to passing ships, most of which are on the United Kingdom to New Zealand route via the Panama Canal.[84] The Pitcairn Islands issued their first stamp in 1940. These became very popular with stamp collectors, and their sale became the dominant source of revenue for the community. Profits went into a general fund which enabled the island to be mostly self-sufficient. This fund was used to meet the regular needs of the community, and pay wages. Funds in excess of regular expenses were used to build a school and hire a teacher from New Zealand, the first professional teacher hired on the island. The fund was also used to subsidise imports and travel to New Zealand. At later points, the sale of coins and .pn domain names also contributed to the fund. Towards the end of the 20th century, as writing letters became less common and stamp collecting became less popular, revenue for the fund declined.[85] In 2004, the island went bankrupt, with the British government subsequently providing 90% of its annual budget.[86]


Diesel generators provide the island with electricity from 7 am to 10 pm. A wind power plant was planned to be installed to help reduce the high cost of power generation associated with the import of diesel, but was cancelled in 2013 after a project overrun of three years and a cost of £250,000.[87]

The only qualified high-voltage electrician on Pitcairn, who manages the electricity grid, reached the age of 67 in 2020.[88]


The islands have suffered a substantial population decline since 1940, and the viability of the island's community is in doubt (see § Potential extinction, below). The government has tried to attract migrants. However, these initiatives have not been effective.[89]

Only two children were born on Pitcairn in the 21 years prior to 2012.[90] In 2005, Shirley and Simon Young became the first married outsider couple in history to obtain citizenship on Pitcairn.[91]


Most resident Pitcairn Islanders are descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Tahitians (or other Polynesians). Pitkern is a creole language derived from 18th-century English, with elements of the Tahitian language.[26][41] It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside English at the island's only school. It is closely related to the creole language Norfuk, spoken on Norfolk Island, because Norfolk was repopulated in the mid-19th century by Pitcairners.


The only church building on the island is Seventh-day Adventist.[26] The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not a state religion, as no laws concerning its establishment were passed by the local government. A successful Seventh-day Adventist mission in the 1890s was important in shaping Pitcairn society. In recent years, the church population has declined, and as of 2000, eight of the then forty islanders attended services regularly,[92] but most attend church on special occasions. From Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, Pitcairners observe a day of rest in observance of the Sabbath, or as a mark of respect for observant Adventists.

Church of Adamstown

The church was built in 1954 and is run by the Church board and resident pastor, who usually serves a two-year term. The Sabbath School meets at 10 am on Saturday mornings, and is followed by Divine Service an hour later. On Tuesday evenings, there is another service in the form of a prayer meeting.


Education is free and compulsory between the ages of five and 15.[93] Children up to the age of 12 are taught at Pulau School, while children of 13 and over attend secondary school in New Zealand, or are educated via correspondence school.[94]

The island's children have produced a book in Pitkern and English called Mi Bas Side orn Pitcairn or My Favourite Place on Pitcairn.

The school on Pitcairn, Pulau School, provides pre-school and primary education based on the New Zealand syllabus. The teacher is appointed by the governor from suitable qualified applicants who are registered in New Zealand as teachers. The government officially took responsibility for education in 1958; the Seventh-day Adventist Church had done so from the 1890s until 1958. There were ten students in 1999; enrollment was previously 20 in the early 1950s, 28 in 1959, and 36 in 1962. The Pulau School has a residence for teachers built in 2004; there was a previous such facility built in 1950.[93]

Historical population

Pitcairn's population has significantly decreased since its peak of over 200 in the 1930s, to less than fifty permanent residents today (2021).[95][96]

1856[lower-roman 1]01940163198955199946200967201950
1859[lower-roman 2]161950161199059200051201064202050
18707019601261991662001442011672021[lower-roman 3]47
  1. Migration to Norfolk Island in 1856 left Pitcairn uninhabited
  2. First group returns from Norfolk Island
  3. Latest population figure[1]

Potential extinction

As of April 2021, the total resident population of the Pitcairn Islands was 47.[1] It is rare for all the residents to be on-island at the same time; it is common for several residents to be off-island for varying lengths of time visiting family, for medical reasons, or to attend international conferences. A diaspora survey projected that by 2045, if nothing were done, only three people of working age would be left on the island, with the rest being very old. In addition, the survey revealed that residents who had left the island over the past decades showed little interest in coming back. Of the hundreds of emigrants contacted, only 33 were willing to participate in the survey and just three expressed a desire to return.

As of 2014, the labour force consisted of 31 able-bodied persons: 17 males and 14 females between 18 and 64 years of age. Of the 31, just seven are younger than 40, but 18 are over the age of 50.[88] Most of the men undertake the more strenuous physical tasks on the island such as crewing the longboats, cargo handling, and the operation and maintenance of physical assets. Longboat crew retirement age is 58. There were then 12 men aged between 18 and 58 residing on Pitcairn. Each longboat requires a minimum crew of three; of the four longboat coxswains, two were in their late 50s.[88]

The Pitcairn government's attempts to attract migrants have been unsuccessful. Since 2013, some 700 make inquiries each year, but so far, not a single formal settlement application has been received.[88][89] The migrants are prohibited from taking local jobs or claiming benefits for a certain length of time, even those with children.[97] The migrants are expected to have at least NZ$30,000 per person in savings and are expected to build their own house at average cost of NZ$140,000.[98][99] It is also possible to bring off-island builders at an additional cost of between NZ$23,000 and NZ$28,000.[99] The average annual cost of living on the island is NZ$9,464.[98] There is, however, no assurance of the migrant's right to remain on Pitcairn; after their first two years, the council must review and reapprove the migrant's status.[100] The migrants are also required to take part in the unpaid public work to keep the island in order such as maintaining the island's numerous roads and paths, building roads, navigating the island longboats, and cleaning public toilets.[101] There are also restrictions on bringing children under the age of 16 to the island.[102][103]

Freight from Tauranga to Pitcairn on the MV Claymore II (Pitcairn Island's dedicated passenger and cargo ship chartered by the Pitcairn government) is charged at NZ$350/m3 for Pitcairners and NZ$1,000/m3 for all other freight.[104] Additionally, Pitcairners are charged NZ$3,000 for a one-way trip; others are charged NZ$5,000.[88]

In 2014, the government's Pitcairn Islands Economic Report stated that "[no one] will migrate to Pitcairn Islands for economic reasons as there are limited government jobs, a lack of private sector employment, as well as considerable competition for the tourism dollar." The Pitcairners take turns to accommodate those few tourists who occasionally visit the island.[88]

As the island remains a British Overseas Territory, the British government will at some stage be required to make a decision about the island's future.[105][106]


The once-strict moral codes, which prohibited dancing, public displays of affection, smoking, and consumption of alcohol, have been relaxed. Islanders and visitors no longer require a six-month licence to purchase, import, and consume alcohol.[107] There is now one licensed café and bar on the island, and the government store sells alcohol and cigarettes.

Fishing and swimming are two popular recreational activities. A birthday celebration or the arrival of a ship or yacht will involve the entire Pitcairn community in a public dinner in the Square, Adamstown. Tables are covered in a variety of foods, including fish, meat, chicken, pilhi, baked rice, boiled plun (banana), breadfruit, vegetable dishes, an assortment of pies, bread, breadsticks, an array of desserts, pineapple, and watermelon.

Paid employees maintain the island's numerous roads and paths. As of 2011, the island had a labour force of over 35 men and women.[26]

Bounty Day is an annual public holiday celebrated on Pitcairn on 23 January[108] to commemorate the day in 1790 when the mutineers arrived on the island in HMS Bounty.

Media and communications


The UK Postcode for directing mail to Pitcairn Island is PCRN 1ZZ.[109]


The Pitcairn Miscellany is a monthly newspaper available in print and online editions.[110] Dem Tull was an online monthly newsletter published between 2007 and 2016.[111]


Pitcairn uses New Zealand's international calling code, +64. It is still on the manual telephone system.


There is no broadcast station. Marine band walkie-talkie radios are used to maintain contact among people in different areas of the island. Foreign stations can be picked up on shortwave radio.

Amateur radio

Callsign website QRZ.COM lists six amateur radio operators on the island, using the ITU prefix (assigned through the UK) of VP6, two of whom have a second VR6 callsign. However, two of these 6 are listed by QRZ.COM as deceased, while others are no longer active. Pitcairn Island has one callsign allocated to its Club Station, VP6PAC.

QRZ.COM lists 29 VP6 callsigns being allocated in total, 20 of them to off-islanders. Of these, five were allocated to temporary residents and ten to individuals visiting. The rest were assigned to the DX-peditions to Pitcairn, one of which took place in 2012.[112] In 2008, a major DX-pedition visited Ducie Island.[113] In 2018, another major DX-pedition visited Ducie Island.[114]


Pitcairn can receive a number of television channels but only has capacity to broadcast two channels to houses at any one time. The channels are currently switched on a regular basis.[115]


There is one government-sponsored satellite Internet connection, with networking provided to the inhabitants of the island. Pitcairn's country code top-level domain is .pn. Residents pay NZ$50 (about £26) for 25 GB of data per month.[116] In 2012, a single 1 Mbit/s link installed provided the islanders with an Internet connection, the 1 Mbit/s was shared across all families on the island. By December 2017, the British Government implemented a 4G LTE mobile network in Adamstown with shared speeds of 5 Mbit/s across all islanders.[117]


All settlers of the Pitcairn Islands arrived by boat or ship. Pitcairn Island does not have an airport, airstrip or seaport; the islanders rely on longboats to ferry people and goods between visiting ships and shore through Bounty Bay.[78] Access to the rest of the shoreline is restricted by jagged rocks. The island has one shallow harbour with a launch ramp accessible only by small longboats.[118] In 2014, a medical emergency requiring transport to a hospital in Papeete involved a 335 nautical mile (540 km) trip in an open boat to the island of Mangareva, then an air ambulance flight 975 nautical miles (1570 km) to Papeete. It was organized by medical authorities in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and French authorities in Mangareva and Papeete. The British High Commissioner to New Zealand said "It can be a hazardous sea voyage from Pitcairn to Mangareva. This is especially so for open long boats. However, I'm pleased to say that all went well and both boats arrived safely in Mangareva mid-morning today, New Zealand time."[119]

A dedicated passenger and cargo supply ship chartered by the Pitcairn Island government, the MV Claymore II, was until 2018 the principal transport from Mangareva in the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia. The supply ship was replaced in 2019 by MV Silver Supporter.

Totegegie Airport in Mangareva can be reached by air from the French Polynesian capital Papeete.[120]

There is one 6.4-kilometre (4 mi) paved road leading up from Bounty Bay through Adamstown.

The main modes of transport on Pitcairn Islands are by four-wheel drive quad bikes and on foot.[78] Much of the road and track network and some of the footpaths of Pitcairn Island are viewable on Google's Street View.[121][122]

Notable people

  • Ned Young (b c. 1762, d 1800 on Pitcairn), mutineer from the famous HMS Bounty incident, and co-founder of the mutineers' Pitcairn Island settlement.
  • Teraura (b c. 1775, d 1850 on Pitcairn), Tahitian noblewoman and tapa weaver, 'partner' of Ned Young, Matthew Quintal and Thursday October Christian I.
  • William McCoy (b c. 1763, d 1798 on Pitcairn), a Scottish sailor and a mutineer on board HMS Bounty.
  • Fletcher Christian (b 1764, d 1793 on Pitcairn), Master's mate on board HMS Bounty, died here at age 28.[123]
  • Matthew Quintal (b 1766, d 1799 on Pitcairn), a Cornish able seaman and mutineer aboard HMS Bounty
  • John Adams (b 1767, d 1829 on Pitcairn), the last survivor of the HMS Bounty mutineers who settled on Pitcairn Island in January 1790, the year after the mutiny
  • Thursday October Christian I (1790–1831), the first son of Fletcher Christian
  • George Adams (1804–1873), served as Chief Magistrate on Pitcairn in 1848
  • Thursday October Christian II (1820–1911), a Pitcairn Islands political leader. Grandson of Fletcher Christian and son of Thursday October Christian I
  • Simon Young (1823–1893), served as Magistrate of the Pitcairn Islands in 1849
  • Moses Young (1829–1909), served as magistrate of Pitcairn Island four times, between 1865 and 1881
  • James Russell McCoy (1845–1924), served as Magistrate of Pitcairn Island 7 times, between 1870 and 1904
  • Benjamin Stanley Young (1851–1934), served as Magistrate of the Pitcairn Islands twice, from 1884 to 1885, and in 1892
  • Rosalind Amelia Young (1853–1924), a historian from Pitcairn Islands
  • William Alfred Young (1863–1911), served as President of the council, and Magistrate of Pitcairn Island three times, between 1897 and 1908
  • Matthew Edmond McCoy (1868–1929), served as Magistrate of Pitcairn Island in 1909
  • Gerard Bromley Robert Christian (1870–1919), served as Magistrate of Pitcairn Island from 1910 to 1919
  • Edgar Allen Christian (1879–1960), a politician from Pitcairn and Chief Magistrate of Pitcairn Island on several occasions between 1923 and 1939
  • Charles Richard Parkin Christian (1883–1971), a long-serving politician from Pitcairn and Chief Magistrate of Pitcairn Island for eleven years at various times between 1920 and 1957
  • Frederick Martin Christian (1883–1971), a politician from Pitcairn and Chief Magistrate of Pitcairn Island on three occasions between 1921 and 1943
  • John Lorenzo Christian (1895–1984), twice served as Chief Magistrate of Pitcairn Island: 1952–54 and 1961–66
  • Ivan Christian (1919–1991), a politician from Pitcairn and Chief Magistrate of Pitcairn Island from 1976 to 1984
  • Tom Christian (1935–2013), radio operator
  • Brenda Christian (born 1953), a political figure from the Pitcairn Islands and served the territory as its first female Mayor from 8 November to 15 December 2004
  • Jay Warren (born 1956), a political figure who served as the 3rd Mayor of Pitcairn Islands

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Further reading

Mutiny on the Bounty

  • Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, 1932
  • The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander (Harper Perennial, London, 2003 pp. 491)
  • The Discovery of Fletcher Christian: A Travel Book by Glynn Christian, a descendant of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer (Guild Press, London, 2005 pp. 448)

After the Mutiny

  • Men Against the Sea by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, 1933
  • Pitcairn's Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, 1934
  • The Pitcairners by Robert B. Nicolson (Pasifika Press, Auckland, 1997 pp. 260)
  • After the Bounty: The Aftermath of the Infamous Mutiny on the HMS Bounty—An Insight to the Plight of the Mutineers by Cal Adams, a descendant of John Adams, Bounty Mutineer (Self-published, Sydney, 2008 pp. 184)
  • The "Re-colonising of Pitcairn by Sue Farran, Senior Lecturer, University of Dundee; Visiting Lecturer, University of the South Pacific.
  • Ball, Ian M. – Pitcairn: Children of Mutiny. 1973
  • Belcher, Lady – The Mutineers of the Bounty and Their Descendants in Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands. 1870
  • Birkett, Dea – Serpent in Paradise. Anchor Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 0-385-48870-X.
  • Brodie, Walter – Pitcairn Island and the Islanders in 1850. 1851
  • Christian, Glynn – Fragile Paradise: The Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer. 2005
  • Clarke, Peter – Hell and Paradise: The Norfolk-Bounty-Pitcairn Saga. 1986
  • Fullerton, W. Y. – The Romance of Pitcairn Island. 1923
  • Hancock, W. K. – Politics in Pitcairn and Other Essays. 1947
  • Lucas, Charles – The Pitcairn Island Register Book. 1929
  • Lummis, Trevor – Pitcairn Island: Life and death in Eden. 1997
  • Manorial Research with the National Maritime Museum (UK) – Mutiny on the Bounty, 1789-1989. 1989
  • Murray, Rev. T. B. – Pitcairn: The Island, the People, and the Pastor. 1853
  • Oliver, Dawn, ed. – Justice, Legality and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the Pitcairn Prosecutions. 2009
  • Oliver, Douglas – Return to Tahiti: Bligh's Second Breadfruit Voyage. 1988
  • Randall, John E. – Reef and Shore Fishes of the South Pacific: New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands. 2005
  • Shapiro, Harry L. – The Heritage of the 'Bounty': The Story of Pitcairn Through Six Generations. 1936
  • Silverman, David – Pitcairn Island. 1967
  • Tobin, George, Lt. – Captain Bligh's Second Chance: An eyewitness account of his return to the South Seas. 2007


  • Chamier, Frederick – Jack Adams, the Mutineer. 1838
  • Kinsolving, William – Mister Christian. 1996
  • McDermid, ValThe Grave Tattoo. 2006
  • Mountain, Fiona – Isabella. 1999
  • Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman HallPitcairn's Island. 1934
  • Souhami, Diana – Coconut Chaos: Pitcairn, mutiny and a seduction at sea. 2007
  • Wilson, Erle – Adams of the Bounty. 1958




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