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The Mystery Of Easter Island
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Lieutenant Bligh went to the Pacific in 1788, in command of H.M.S. Bounty, with orders to obtain plants of the bread-fruit, and introduce it into the English possessions in the West Indies.

He spent six months at Tahiti, collecting the fruit, and there the crew fell victims to the charms of its lotus-eating life, its sunshine, its flowers, and its women. Soon after the ship sailed the majority of the men mutinied, being led by Christian, the Master's mate. They set Bligh and eighteen others adrift in an open boat, and returned in the ship to Tahiti. Subsequently, fearing that retribution might follow. Christian and eight fellow mutineers left Tahiti on the Bounty, taking with them nine native women, and also some native men to act as servants. For years their fate remained a mystery.

The refuge found by the party was the lonely island of Pitcairn. They took out of the ship everything that they required, and then sank the vessel, fearing that her presence might betray them. The new habitation proved anything but an amicable Eden. The native servants were ill-treated by their masters, and in 1793 rose against them, murdering Christian and four other white men; but were finally themselves all killed by the Europeans. The women also were discontented with their lot, and in the following year they made a raft in order to quit the island, an attempt which was of course foredoomed to failure.

Of the four mutineers left, one, McCoy, committed suicide through an intoxicating drink made from the ti plant. Another, Quintal, having threatened the lives of his two comrades, Adams and Young, was killed by them with an axe, in self defence. A woman who witnessed the scene as a child, survived till 1883, and we were told by her grandchildren that her clearest recollection was the blood-spattered walls and the screaming women and children. Young, who had been a midshipman on the Bounty, died shortly after, and in 1800 John Adams (alias Alexander Smith) was left the sole man on the island, with the native women and twenty-five children.

Later ensued not the least strange part of the story. Adams was converted by a dream, and awoke to his responsibility towards the younger generation. He taught them to read from a Bible and Prayer-book saved from the Bounty, and the offspring of the mutineers became a civilised and God-fearing community.

The small colony were first found by an American ship, the Topaz, in 1808, but little seems to have been heard of the discovery, and six years later H.M. ships Briton and Tagus, sailing near the island, were much astonished at being hailed by a boat-load of men who spoke English.

By 1856 the population of Pitcairn numbered about one hundred and ninety, and they were removed, by their own request, to the larger Norfolk Island. Six homesick families, however, against the strong advice of Bishop Selwyn, subsequently returned to Pitcairn.


In the afternoon of Wednesday, August 18th, 1915, the last vestige of the long coast of Easter Island dipped below the horizon. We realised that we were homeward bound. Owing to the war, and our prolonged residence on the island, it was no longer possible to keep to the plan made before leaving England and follow up Easter trails elsewhere in the Pacific. We decided, however, to adhere to the original arrangement of going first to Tahiti, and then to make the return voyage by the Panama Canal, which was now open. One of our principal objects in visiting Tahiti was to collect all the letters, newspapers, and money which had been forwarded to us there during the last twelve months. With the exception of one stray letter, written the previous November, we had had no mail since Mmia's first return to the island a year before. It seemed desirable to visit Pitcairn Island on the way thither; it was but little out of our route, and was said to have prehistoric remains.

We had a very good voyage for the 1,100 miles from Easter to Pitcairn, staggering along with a following wind. The wind was indeed so strong that we became anxious for the safety of the dinghy in her davits, and swung her inboard for, I believe, the only time on the voyage. We arrived at Pitcairn on August 27th. The island, as seen from the sea, rises as a solitary mass from the water. It is apparently the remaining half of an old crater, and is some two miles in width. An amphitheatre of luxuriant verdure faces northwards; its lowest portion, or arena, is perhaps 400 feet above sea level, and rests on the top of a wall of grey rock. The other three sides of the amphitheatre are encircled by high precipitous cliffs. The green gem, in its rocky setting, was a refreshing change after treeless Easter Island.





Mana was welcomed by a boat-load of sturdy men, who were definitely European in appearance and manner; they were mostly of a sallow white complexion, though a few had a darker tinge. They spoke English, though with an intonation different from that of the Dominions, America, or the Homeland. A local patois is sometimes used on the island which is a mixture of English and Tahitian, but pure Tahitian is not understood. A graceful invitation was given by the Chief Magistrate, Mr. Gerard Christian, to come and stay on shore, and was accepted for the following day, which, the Islanders said, "will be the Sabbath." This was a somewhat surprising statement, as the day was Friday, and caused a momentary wonder whether something had gone wrong with the log of Mana. “We will explain all that later," added our hosts.

The next morning therefore the big ten-oared boat turned up again, Mr. Christian bringing us the following kind letter from the missionaries, who we now learned were on the island. It was addressed "To the Gentlemen concerned."


Pitcairn Island.

"Dear Sir and Madam,

"It is with pleasure that we extend this invitation to you to share with us the few comforts of our little Island home. We cannot offer luxury, we live simply yet wholesomely. Should you be planning to sleep ashore, it will be well to bring your pillows, towels and toilet soap. We trust that your stay will be attended with success.

"Yours very cordially,

"Mr. and Mrs. M. R. Adams."


We suggested bringing food, but that was declined as unnecessary. The trip to the shore, even in so big a boat, is somewhat adventurous. The landing-place is in Bounty Bay, below the precipitous cliffs off the north-east corner of the island, beneath whose waters were sunk the remains of His Majesty's ship. The shore is reached, even under propitious circumstances, through a white fringe of drenching surf; happily the Islanders are excellent oarsmen, for the boat is apt to assume the vertical position usually associated with pictures of Grace Darling. A lifeboat sent as a gift from England in 1880 has proved too short for the character of the waves. The village is gained by a steep path, cut at times in the rock, and at the summit we found standing under the trees a group in white Sunday attire waiting to welcome us.

We were now beginning to understand the meaning of the difference in days. Service used to be held at Pitcairn after the manner of the Church of England, but in 1886 the island was visited by one of the American sect calling themselves "Seventh Day Adventists." The Society is Christian, but the members regard as binding many of the Old Testament rules. Saturday is observed as the divinely appointed day of rest, pork is considered unclean, and a tenth part of goods is set aside for religious purposes. Special attention is paid to Biblical prophecy, and the end of the world is thought to be near. It was not difficult to convert the reverent little community on Pitcairn to views for which it was claimed that they were the plain teaching of the Bible, and various persons were shortly baptised in the sea.

The group who awaited us were headed by our most kind hosts, the missionary and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Adams, who were of Australian birth.1 Sunday school was just over and service about to begin. It was held in an airy building filled with a large congregation. The sermon was on prophecy as found in the books of Daniel and Revelation, and fulfilled in the division of the Empire of Alexander the Great. It was depressing to be told that the late war is only the beginning of trouble.

We went back with Mr. and Mrs. Adams to luncheon, which was served at 2.30, and composed principally of oranges and bananas. It was a very dainty if, to some of us who had breakfasted at 7 o'clock, a rather unsubstantial repast. Our hosts were vegetarians and had only two meals a day, but subsequently kind allowance was made for our less moderate appetites. I was glad of a rest in the afternoon, but S., who attended a second service, said it had been the most interesting part of the Sunday observances; it was a less formal gathering, when personal religious testimonies were given by both young ana old. Later we were shown a little settlement of huts in the higher part of the island, where once a year the community retire for ten days and have a series of camp meetings.

The teachings of the new religion are practically observed. The tithe barn, at the time of our visit, held £100 worth of dedicated produce which was awaiting shipment. It was the prettiest sight to see the fruits of the earth, being brought into it, in the form of loads of various tropical produce. The whole community abstains from alcohol and, nominally at any rate, from tobacco, though one old gentleman was not above making an arrangement for a private supply from the yacht. Tea and coffee are thought to be undesirable stimulants, and even the export of coffee was beginning to be discouraged. The place suffers admittedly from the social laxity characteristic of Polynesia; but the evil is being combated by its spiritual leaders, and is cognisable by law. The whole atmosphere is extraordinary; the visitor feels as if suddenly transported, amid the surroundings of a Pacific Island, to Puritan England, or bygone Scotland. It is a Puritanism which is nevertheless light-hearted and sunny, without hypocrisy or intolerance.

The general influence of the missionaries seemed very helpful to the little community, and they also conducted a school for its younger members. Most of the inhabitants can read, but the subject matter of books is too far away for them to be of much interest, and the only application, it was noticed, which was made to the yacht for literature, was for picture papers of the war. We gave by request an hour's talk on the travels of the Mana, and it was listened to with apparent understanding, or at any rate with politeness; the chief interest shown was in the manner of life of the Easter Islanders, about which many questions were asked.

The houses are substantially built of wood with good furniture. A well-made chest of drawers was a birthday present to the missionary's wife from the young men of the island. There is a separate bedroom or cubicle for nearly every inhabitant, and some houses have a room set apart for meals. Hospitality was shown without stint, and we were entertained during our stay to a series of attractive repasts in various homes; our hosts bore such names as Christian, Young, and McCoy. Meat is limited to goat or chicken, but there is a profusion of tropical produce, and oranges are too numerous to gather. The coconut trees are unfortunately dying. Each household has a share of the ground rising behind the village, and the hillside is traversed by shady avenues of palms and bananas, which afford at every turn glimpses of outstanding cliffs and the brilliant blue of the ocean. The standard of life compares very favourably with that of an English village, and is immeasurably superior to that achieved on Easter Island under similar circumstances.

Pitcairn has the dignity of being a democratic self-governing community, with a Magistrate and two houses of legislature. The present Constitution was suggested by the Captain of H.M.S. Champion in 1892, and superseded an earlier one. The Lower House, known as "the Committee," comprises a Chairman and two members, also an official Secretary; it makes regulations which are submitted to the Upper House or "Council." The Council consists of the Chief Magistrate, with two assessors and the Secretary, and it acts also as a court of justice. The two committee members and a constable are nominated by the magistrate, but the other officials are elected annually by all inhabitants over eighteen years; Pitcairn was therefore the first portion of the British Empire to possess female suffrage.

It was interesting to see the Government Records, though the present book does not go back beyond above fifty years, earlier ones having apparently disappeared. This contained the Laws of 1884 revised in 1904; regulations for school attendance; a category of the chief magistrates; a chronicle of visits from men-of-war and mention of Queen Victoria's presents, consisting of an organ in 1879 newly minted Jubilee coins received in 1889. There were also recorded the births, marriages, and deaths of the island since 1864; and a description of the various brands adopted by respective owners for their goats, chickens, and trees.

Among the legislative enactments was more than one concerned with the preservation of cats, the object being to keep down rats. Thus the laws of 1884 direct that:


"Any person or persons after this date, September 24th, 1884, maliciously wounding or causing the death of a cat, without permission, will be liable to such punishment as the Court will inflict. . . . Should any dog, going out with his master, fall in with a cat, and chase him, and no effort be made to save the cat, the dog must be killed; for the first offence — fine 10s. Cats in any part of the island doing anyone damage must be killed in the presence of a member of Parliament."


Illicit medical practice is forbidden, and the regulation on this head runs as follows:


"It may be lawful for parents to treat their own children in case of sickness. But no one will understand that he is at liberty to treat, or give any dose of medicine, unless it be one of his own family, without first getting licence from the President. Drugs may not be landed without permission."


More recent laws enact, that each family may keep only six breeding nannies; and that coconuts may only be gathered under supervision of the Committee or in company with their owners of the same patch, in case of want, however, they may be plucked for drinking. Persons killing fowls must present the legs (i.e. the lower portion which bears the brand) to a member of the Government.

With the entries of deaths are recorded their known, or presumed, cause; those occasioned by accident are somewhat numerous, and include fatal results from climbing cliffs after birds, chasing goats, and falling from trees. Wills can be made by simply writing them in the official book, but entries under this head were not numerous.

The island is in the jurisdiction of the British Consul at Tahiti, but the Magistrate explained sadly that it was then two years since it had been possible for his superior to send any instructions. In very serious matters, such as murder or divorce, reference is necessary to the High Commissioner at Fiji, and five years may elapse before an answer is received.

It is indeed comparatively simple to communicate from Pitcairn with the outside world, particularly now that it lies near the route from Panama to New Zealand. Warning of the approach of a vessel is given by the church bell, and all hands rush forthwith to launch the boat and pull out to the ship. It is reported that once the bell sounded whilst a marriage was being celebrated, the crowded church emptied at once, and the bride, bridegroom, and officiator were left alone. Sooner or later a letter can thus be handed on board, but to obtain a reply is another matter; no steamer will undertake to deliver passengers, goods, or mails to the island. It does not pay to spend time over so small a matter, the liner may pass in the night, or the weather at the time may render communication with the shore impossible. During our visit notice was given that a ship was approaching; the men, who were at the time engaged in digging for the Expedition, threw down their tools and the boat started for the vessel, only to founder among the breakers of Bounty Bay. The place is too remote to be visited by the trading vessels which visit the Gambler Islands, and as there is no anchorage, it is by no means easy for the Islanders to keep any form of ship on their own account. In normal times a British warship calls every alternate year, but its visits were suspended during the war. Of the two islands, Easter, which has at least definite bonds with a firm on the mainland, is on the whole the easier of access.

The economic problem of Pitcairn lies in the difficulty of making it self-supporting. Food and housing materials abound, but clothes, tools, and similar articles must be obtained from elsewhere; while to secure in return a market for its small exports is almost impossible. It is sometimes said that as the result, the inhabitants have grown so accustomed to be objects of interest and charity, that they have become pauperised and expect everything to be given them freely by passing ships. This was certainly not our experience. They made us a large number of generous gifts, such as bundles of dried bananas and specimens of their handiwork — hats, baskets, and dried leaves, cleverly embroidered and painted. On the other hand they took with gratitude any articles which were given by us, either as presents or in return for the things we purchased. One request has been received since we left the island; it was made with many apologies by the Chief Magistrate, and was for a Bible of the Oxford Teachers' Edition.

The position, however, is unsatisfactory, and it seems very desirable that if possible more frequent communication should be established. In any case it is to be hoped that now peace reigns, a warship may visit the place at least once a year.

It is frequently suggested that the Pitcairners must have deteriorated in physique by intermarriage; as far, however, as we were able to observe, such is not the case. It has been remarked, indeed, that a large number have lost their front teeth, but in this they are not unique. Dr. Keith observes, in the report previously alluded to, that many Pacific Islanders are extremely liable to disease and loss of teeth. The effect of such disease is, he states, to be seen in every one of the skulls from Easter regarded as belonging to a person of over twenty-five years; "tooth trouble is even more prevalent in Easter Island than in the slums of our great towns."

We were asked to collect pedigrees on Pitcairn and make observations from the point of view of the Mendelian theory; this would, however, have been a very long and troublesome business, and we did not feel assured that the results would be sufficiently exact to justify it. While there has possibly been no fresh infusion of South Sea blood, the islanders have constantly been in contact with white men. Between 1808 and 1856, three hundred and fifty vessels touched at Pitcairn, and on various occasions shipwrecked mariners and others have taken up their abode on the island, and intermixed with the population.

The Pitcairn Islanders have been described as the "Beggars of the Pacific," and, on the contrary, have also been depicted as saints in a modern Eden. Needless to say they are neither the one nor the other, but inheritors of some of the weaknesses and a surprising amount of the strength of their mixed ancestry.

From the point of view of its main and scientific object, our visit had satisfactory results. The island was uninhabited when the mutineers arrived, but there were traces of past residents. The sites of three "maræ,”  or native structures, among the undergrowth were pointed out. They are said to have been preserved by the first Englishmen, but were unfortunately destroyed comparatively recently and very little of them is still preserved. The old people could remember when bones could be seen lying about in their vicinity. The islanders most kindly offered to dig out what still existed of these remains, and two days running the whole population turned out for excavation. The most interesting of the erections proved to be one situated on the cliff looking down on to Bounty Bay; we were only able roughly to examine it on the morning of our departure. It appeared to have been made of earth, not built of stone, and by clearing away some of the scrub we were able to arrive at the conclusion that it had been an embankment some 12 feet high, built on the immediate edge of the vertical cliff, and had had two faces. The face that was directed seawards was almost vertical, whilst the one towards the land formed an inclined plane, that measured 37 feet between its highest and its lowest points. It seemed clear that both sides had been paved with marine boulders. In general character it resembled to some extent one of the semi-pyramid ahu of Easter, but dense vegetation and tree growth rendered it impossible to speak definitely, and the form may have been determined by the shape of the cliff. It was remembered that three statues had stood on it. and that one in particular had been thrown down on to the beach beneath. The headless trunk of this image is preserved; it is 31 inches in height, and the form has a certain resemblance to that of Easter Island, but the workmanship is much cruder. There is said to have been also a statue on a maræ on the other side of the island.

There are interesting rock carvings in two places, both of which are somewhat difficult to reach. S. managed however to photograph one set, and a dear old man undertook the scramble to the other site, which was practically inaccessible to booted feet, and made drawings of them for the Expedition.

Then we had a great whip-up for any stone implements which might have been found; Miss Beatrice Young most kindly assisted and induced the owners to bring out their possessions. Over eighty were produced. The Islanders were much pleased to think that their contribution would be numbered among the treasures of the British Museum, but the argument that "a hundred years hence they would still be there" left them cold; for, as they explained, “the end of the world would have come before then."

We spent in all four nights on the island, which forms, we believe, a record sojourn for visitors; it is a very happy memory. A large portion of the population asked for passages to Tahiti, but the hearts of most failed before the end, and we on our part drew the line at taking more than two men, who would work their passage. Those who finally came with us were brothers, Charles and Edwin Young, descendants of Midshipman Young. They arrived on board with their hats wreathed with flowers — true Polynesian fashion — accompanied by many friends and relatives. Charles had been on one of the island trading vessels, but Edwin had never before left his home (fig. 132).

From Pitcairn we made for Rapa, known as Rapa-iti or Little Rapa, to distinguish it from Rapa-nui or Great Rapa; which, as has been seen, is one of the names for Easter. It is a French possession and only visited by a vessel occasionally. It is seven hundred miles from Pitcairn, and was somewhat out of our route for Tahiti, but the Sailing Directions reported a number of prehistoric buildings, which they termed "forts." We were anxious to inspect them and see what relation, if any, they bore to buildings on Easter Island; but disappointment, alas! awaited us.

The side of the island on which is the settlement was at the time of our visit the windward aspect; there was a strong breeze and quite a heavy sea. We remained abreast the village for some hours awaiting the pilot, who is said to come off to visiting vessels, but no one appeared, nor was any signal made on the shore. Either they were afraid of us, or did not like the look of the weather. It was not one of the islands we had originally intended visiting, and we had no chart.

We had to sail the ship the whole time in order to keep our station, and eventually our forestay gave out; this meant putting her instantly before the wind, or we should have been dismasted. We therefore ran under the lee of the land and made good our damage. It would have taken a long time to thrash back to our original station, so we reluctantly gave up the attempt to make a landing. The coast is extremely fine, bold, and precipitous, but that, and the illustration given, is all that we can tell of Rapa.



1 They had, of course, no connection with Adams the mutineer.

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