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The Pitcairn Islands ( ; Pitkern: Pitkern Ailen), officially named the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, are a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Oceanmarker. The islands are a British overseas territory (formerly a British colony), the last remaining in the Pacific. The names of the islands are Pitcairn, Hendersonmarker, Duciemarker, and Oenomarker; only Pitcairn, the second largest, is inhabited.

The islands are best known as home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitiansmarker who accompanied them, an event retold in numerous books and films. This story is still apparent in the surnames of many of the islanders. With only 50 inhabitants (from nine families), Pitcairn is also notable for being the least populated jurisdiction in the world (although it is not a sovereign nation). The United Nations Committee on Decolonisation includes the Pitcairn Islands on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.


The original settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson for several centuries. Although archaeologists believe that Polynesians were living on Pitcairn as late as the 15th century, the islands were uninhabited when they were discovered by Europeans.

Ducie and Henderson Islands are believed to have been discovered by Europeans on 26 January 1606 by Portuguesemarker sailor Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, sailing for the Spanishmarker crown, who 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 Queirós’ La Encarnación may actually have been Henderson Island, and San Juan Bautista may have been Pitcairn Island.

Ducie Island was rediscovered in 1791 by the British Captain Edwards aboard HMS Pandoramarker and named after Francis, Lord Ducie, a captain in the Royal Navy. It was annexed by Britain on 19 December 1902, and in 1938 it was formally incorporated into Pitcairn to become part of a single administrative unit (the "Pitcairn Group of Islands"). Henderson Island was rediscovered on 17 January 1819 by a British Captain James Henderson of the British East India Company ship Hercules. On 2 March 1819, Captain Henry King, sailing aboard the Elizabeth, landed on the island to find the king's colours already flying. His crew scratched the name of their ship into a tree, and for some years the island's name was Elizabeth or Henderson. Henderson Island was annexed by Britain and incorporated into Pitcairn in 1938. Oeno Island was discovered on 26 January 1824 by U.S.marker Captain George Worth aboard the whaler Oeno. On 10 July 1902, Oeno was annexed by Britain. It was incorporated into Pitcairn in 1938. Pitcairn Island itself was discovered on 3 July 1767 by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Carteret (though according to some it had perhaps been visited by Queirós in 1606). It was named after Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a fifteen-year-old crew member who was the first to sight the island. Robert Pitcairn was the son of British Marine Officer John Pitcairn.
Geodesy Collection on Pitcairn Island

Carteret, who sailed without the newly invented accurate marine chronometer, charted the island at 25° 2’ south and 133° 21’ west of Greenwichmarker, but although the latitude was reasonably accurate the longitude was incorrect by about 3°. This made Pitcairn difficult to find, as highlighted by the failure of Captain James Cook to locate the island in July 1773.

In 1790, the mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitianmarker companions, some of whom may have been kidnapped from Tahiti, settled on Pitcairn Island and set fire to the Bounty. The wreck is still visible underwater in Bounty Baymarker. The ship itself was discovered in 1957 by National Geographicmarker explorer Luis Marden. Although the settlers were able to survive by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by serious tensions among the settlers. 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. The Pitcairners also converted to Christianity; later they would convert from their existing form of Christianity to Seventh-day Adventism after a successful Adventist mission in the 1890s. After the rediscovery of Pitcairn, John Adams was granted amnesty for his mutiny.

The islanders reported that it was not until 27 December 1795 that the first ship since the Bounty was seen from the island, but as she did not approach the land, they could not make out to what nation she belonged. A second appeared some time in 1801, but did not attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see their habitations, but did not venture to send a boat on shore. The Americamarker trading ship Topaz under the command of Mayhew Folger was the first to visit the island and communicate with them when they spent 10 hours at Pitcairn in February 1808. A report of Folger's find was forwarded to the Admiralty mentioning the mutineers and a more precise location of the island—25° 2’ S latitude, 130° W longitude—however, this rediscovery 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° .4’ S (by meridian observation) on 17 September 1814. Staines sent a party ashore and wrote a detailed report for the Admiralty.
Church of Adamstown
The island became a British colony in 1838 and was among the first territories to extend voting rights to women. By the mid-1850s the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the island and its leaders appealed to the British government for assistance. They were offered Norfolk Islandmarker and on 3 May 1856, the entire community of 193 people set sail for Norfolk on board the Morayshire, arriving on 8 June after a miserable five-week trip. But after eighteen months on Norfolk, seventeen of the Pitcairners returned to their home island; five years later another twenty-seven did the same.

Since a population peak of 233 in 1937, the island has been suffering from emigration, primarily to New Zealandmarker, leaving some fifty people living on Pitcairn.

There are allegations of a long history and tradition of sexual abuse of girls as young as seven, which culminated in 2004 in the charging of seven men living on Pitcairn, and another six now living abroad, with sex-related offences, including rape. On 25 October 2004, six men were convicted, including Steve Christian, the island's mayor at the time. See Pitcairn rape trial of 2004. After the six men lost their final appeal, the British government set up a prison on the island with an annual budget of NZD 950,000. The men began serving their sentences in late 2006, and all but one have now been granted home detention status.


Politics of the Pitcairn Islands takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, whereby the Mayor is the head of government. The territories constitution is the Local Government Ordinance of 1964. In terms of population, the Pitcairn Islands is the smallest democracy in the world.


The Pitcairn Islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdommarker, meaning defence is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and Her Majesty's Armed Forces.


The Pitcairn Islands form the southeasternmost extension of the geological archipelago of the Tuamotusmarker of French Polynesiamarker and consist of five islands: Pitcairn Island, Sandy Islandmarker (the last one found), Oeno Islandmarker (atoll with five islets), Henderson Islandmarker and Ducie Islandmarker (atoll with four islets).

The only permanently inhabited island, Pitcairn, is accessible only by boat through Bounty Baymarker.

Henderson Islandmarker, 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, but access is difficult, its outer shores comprising steep limestone cliffs of sharp coral.

The Pitcairn Islands were formed by a centre of upwelling magma called the Pitcairn hotspot.

The other islands are at a distance of more than 100 km (60 mi) and are not habitable.

The Pitcairn Islands are one of two places in the world in which the plant species Glochidion pitcairnense occurs.

Satellite photo of Pitcairn Island

Island or atoll Type Land area(km²) Total area(km²) Pop.July 2008 Coordinates
Ducie Islandmarker Atoll 0.7 3.9 -
Henderson Islandmarker uplifted coral island 37.3 37.3 -
Oeno Islandmarker Atoll 0.65 16.65 -
Pitcairn Island volcanic island 4.6 4.6 50
Pitcairn Islands island group 43.25 62.45 50 23°55'26" to 25°04'00"S,124°47'11" to 130°44'03"W
 Includes reef flat and lagoon of the atolls


Pitcairn Island as seen from a Globe view with other Pacific Islands
The fertile soil of the Pitcairn valleys produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including citrus, sugarcane, watermelons, bananas, yams, and beans. The inhabitants of this tiny economy exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handicrafts, with barter being an important part of the economy. The major sources of revenue are the sale of postage stamps to collectors, honey, and the sale of handicrafts to passing ships, most of which are plying the United Kingdommarker to New Zealandmarker route via the Panama Canalmarker. Trade is restricted by the jagged geography of the island, which lacks a harbour or airstrip, forcing all trade to be made by longboat to visiting ships. Occasionally, passengers from expedition-type cruise ships will come ashore for a day, weather permitting.

The island has a labor force of 15 men and women (as of 2004).

Electricity on the island is provided by gas/diesel generators.


The majority of the resident Pitcairn Islanders are the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Tahitians. Pitkern is a creole language derived from 18th century English, with elements of the Tahitian language. It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside standard English at the island's only school. It is closely related to the creole language Norfuk, spoken on Norfolk Islandmarker, because Norfolk was repopulated in the mid-19th century by Pitcairners. In September 2003, a baby was born on the island for the first time in 17 years. Another child, Adrianna Tracey Christian, was born on Pitcairn on 3 March 2007. In February 2005, Shirley and Simon Young became the first married outsider couple in recorded history to obtain citizenship on Pitcairn. All of the Pitcairn Islanders are Seventh-day Adventist Christians.
Pitcairn residents

Culture and society

Pitcairn culture, like its language, is a mix of English and Tahitian influences. A successful Seventh-day Adventist mission in the 1890s was important in shaping Pitcairn society. In recent years, the church has declined, with only about eight islanders worshipping regularly, but most of them still attend church on special occasions. The Sabbath is observed as a day of rest and as a mark of respect for observant Adventists.

The once-strict moral codes, which prohibited dancing, public displays of affection, smoking, and consumption of alcohol, have been relaxed in recent years. Islanders and visitors no longer require a six-month license to purchase, import, and consume alcohol. There is now 1 licensed Cafe and Bar on the island, and the Government Store sells alcohol and cigarettes.

Education is free and compulsory between the ages of five and 15. All of the island’s seven children were enrolled in school in 2000.


  • Telephones: Pitcairn's international dialing code is +64. Each and every building on the Island has a telephone for local and international calls (installed Sept. 2006, replacing a single wired party line)
  • Radio: 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: QRZ.COM lists amateur radio operators as Dave Brown (VP6DB), Terry Young (VP6TY, VR6TY and VR8TY), Miralda Warren (VP6MW), Betty Christian (VP6YL), Tom Christian (VR6TC), Brian Young (VP6BX) and the Pitcairn Island AR Club Station (VP6RAC). Islanders keep schedules: 2200-2300 UTC most days of the week, Dave Brown VP6DB is on the air at 14.226.5 MHz and 14.247 MHz. 2330-0100 UTC on Tuesdays, Tom Christian VP6TC is on the air at 21.348 MHz, or at 14.181 MHz. 1700 UTC on Wednesdays, Betty Christian VP6YL is available at 21.325 MHz, 1700 UTC on Fridays, you might be able to speak with Tom Christian VP6TC at 21.248 MHz.
  • Television: There are 2 live English TV channels from satellite, CNN and TCM Movies; all homes have DVD-players to watch videos and now some have Blu-Ray players. Free-To-Air satellite dishes can be used to watch foreign TV.
  • Internet: There is one Government-sponsored satellite internet connection, networked to all houses on the island providing High Speed 256kbps broadband. Pitcairn's country code (top level domain) is .pn.


The settlers of the Pitcairns all arrived by some form of boat or ship; the most famous was the Bounty, on which the mutiny occurred and which was burned in Bounty Bay.

Pitcairn Islandmarker does not have an airport or seaport; the islanders rely on longboats to ferry people and goods between ship and shore through Bounty Bay. The island does have one small harbor and launch ramp that is used to dock and load long-boats, but it is so small and the water so shallow that only small-craft can fit.

To get to Pitcairn today, you can travel on board Pitcairn's new dedicated Passenger / Cargo supply ship charted by the Pitcairn Island Government, the MV Claymore II Click on the link * Pitcairn Island Tourism Visit Pitcairn Island today onboard the MV Claymore 2

There is one paved road leading up from Bounty Bay through Adamstown. On land, walking has historically been the way of getting around, but now all islanders drive all-terrain vehicles. Each adult on Pitcairn owns a HONDA 4x4 ATV.

A 4x4 SUV (a Suzuki Vitara) was shipped to the Island in May 2005


Image:Pitcairnlanding.jpg|Pitcairn Landing siteImage:Pitcairn Island.jpg|Pitcairn IslandImage:Henderson.JPG|Henderson Island shelterImage:W W oeno island atol.png|OenoImage:Stpaulspoint.jpg|St. Pauls Point in west Pitcairn IslandImage:Pitcairnvegetation.jpg|Garnets Ridge, Pitcairn Island

See also


  1. OED2
  2. United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories
  3. Pitcairn Islands, "History of Government and Laws, Part 15" 30 September 2006
  4. Staff. The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year ..., Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1831, Volume 15 "Chapter X Sir Thomas Staines" pp. 366-367
  5. History of Pitcairn IslandHistory of Pitcairn Island, Pitcairn Study Centre. Retrieved 15 September 2008
  6. Pitcairn descendants of the Bounty Mutineers, Retrieved 15 September 2008.
  8. "Turning Point for Historic Adventist Community on Pitcairn Island" 30 September 2006
  9. "Territories and Non-Independent Countries". 2001 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor (2002). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

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