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19th Century American Whaling

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JULY, 1815.

374 Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. July,

. . . .

      To atone for the uniform dulness of Captain Porter’s 'Journal,' and to relieve, in some measure, the harassed feelings of our readers, we shall make no apology for laying before them the history of an interesting race of men which this 'Cruize' has been the means of making us better acquainted with; the two frigates above-mentioned having, by mere accident, fallen in with them. We give this little narrative the more readily, on account of the awful example it holds forth of the certain punishment which awaits the guilty, and which no time, nor distance, nor concealment in unfrequented corners of the world, can avert. Of the discovery of the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty we took occasion, in an early Number, to give some account – we are now enabled to complete their history, and to describe their present condition.

      It is well known that in the year 1789 his Majesty’s armed vessel the Bounty, while employed in conveying the bread-fruit tree from Otaheite to the British colonies in the West Indies, was taken from her commander, Lieutenant William Bligh, by a part of the crew, who, headed by Fletcher Christian, a master’s mate, mutinied off the island of Tofoa, put the lieutenant, with the remainder of the crew, consisting of eighteen persons, into the launch, which, after a passage of 1200 leagues, providentially arrived at a Dutch settlement on the island of Timor. The mutineers, twenty-five in number, were supposed, from some expressions which escaped them, when the launch was turned adrift, to have made sail towards Otaheite. As soon as this circumstance was known to the Admiralty, Captain Edwards was ordered to proceed in the Pandora to that island, and endeavour to discover and bring to England the Bounty, with such of the crew as he might be able to secure. On his arrival in March, 1791, at Matavai bay, in Otaheite, four of the mutineers came voluntarily on board the Pandora to surrender themselves;* and from information given by them, ten others

      * Namely – Peter Heywood, Midshipman.
Geo. Stewart, Ditto.
Joseph Coleman, Armourer.
Richard Skinner, Seaman.
      Namely – James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate.
Charles Norman, Carpenter’s Mate.
Thomas M'Intosh, Carpenter’s Crew
Thomas Ellison,      }
Henry Hilbrant,       }
Thomas Burkitt,      }
John Millward,        }        Seamen
John Sumner,          }
William Muspratt,  }
Michael Byrn,         }

1815. Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. 375

(the whole number alive upon the island) were, in the course of a few days, taken; and with the exception of four, who perished in the wreck of the Pandora near Endeavour Strait,* conveyed to England for trial before a court-martial, which adjudged six of them to suffer death and acquitted the other four.

      From the accounts given by these men, as well as from some documents that were preserved, it appeared that as soon as Lieutenant Bligh had been driven from the ship, the twenty-five mutineers proceeded with her to Toobouai, where they proposed to settle; but the place being found to hold out little encouragement, they returned to Otaheite, and having there laid in a large supply of stock, they once more took their departure for Toobouai, carrying with them eight men, nine women, and seven boys, natives of Otaheite. They commenced, on their second arrival, the building of a fort, but by divisions among themselves and quarrels with the natives, the design was abandoned. Christian, the leader, also very soon discovered that his authority over his accomplices was at an end; he therefore proposed that they should return to Otaheite; that as many as chose it should be put on shore at that island, and that the rest should proceed in the ship to any other place they might think proper. Accordingly they once more put to sea, and reached Matavai on the 20th September, 1789.

      Here sixteen of the five-and-twenty desired to be landed, fourteen of whom, as already mentioned, were taken on board the Pandora; of the other two,§ as reported by Coleman, (the first who surrendered himself to Captain Edwards,) one had been made a chief, killed his companion, and was shortly afterwards murdered himself by the natives.

      Christian, with the remaining eight of the mutineers, having taken on board several of the natives of Otaheite, the greater part women, put to sea on the night between the 21st and 22d September,

      * Drowned – George Stewart.
Richard Skinner.
Henry Hilbrant.
John Sumner.
      Namely – Peter Heywood.
James Morrison.
Thomas Ellison.
Thomas Burkitt.
John Millward.
William Muspratt.

      To the first two of these His Majesty’s royal mercy was extended at the earnest recommendation of the Court, and the last was respited and afterwards pardoned.

      Namely – Charles Norman.
Joseph Coleman.
Thomas Mclntosh.
Michael Byrn.
      § Churchill and Thompson.

376 Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. July,

1789; in the morning the ship was discovered from Point Venus, steering in a north-westerly direction; and here terminate the accounts given by the mutineers who were either taken or surrendered themselves at Matavai bay. They stated, however, that Christian, on the night of his departure, was heard to declare that he should seek for some uninhabited island, and having established his party, break up the ship; but all endeavours of Captain Edwards to gain intelligence either of the ship or her crew at any of the numerous islands visited by the Pandora, failed.

      From this period, no information respecting Christian or his companions reached England for twenty years; when, about the beginning of the year 1809, Sir Sidney Smith, then commander-in-chief on the Brazil station, transmitted to the Admiralty a paper which he had received from Lieutenant Fitzmaurice, purporting to be an 'Extract from the log-book of Captain Folger of the American ship Topaz,' and dated 'Valparaiso, 10th October, 1808.' This we partly verified in our Review of Dentrecasteaux’s Voyage, by ascertaining that the Bounty had on board a chronometer made by Kendal, and that there was on board her a man of the name of Alexander Smith, a native of London.

      About the commencement of the present year, Rear Admiral Hotham, when cruising off new London, received a letter addressed to the Lords of the Admiralty, of which the following is a copy, together with the azimuth compass to which it refers:

'Nantucket, 1st March, 1813.           

            My Lords,

                        The remarkable circumstance which look place on my last voyage to the Pacific Ocean, will, I trust, plead my apology for addressing your Lordships at this time. In February, 1808, I touched at Pitcairn’s island, in latitude 25° 02’ S. longitude 130° W. from Greenwich. My principal object was to procure seal skins for the China market; and from the account given of the island, in Captain Carteret’s voyage, I supposed it was uninhabited; but, on approaching the shore in my boat, I was met by three young men in a double canoe, with a present, consisting of some fruit and a hog. They spoke to me in the English language, and informed me that they were born on the island, and their father was an Englishman, who had sailed with Captain Bligh.

      'After discoursing with them a short time, I landed with them, and found an Englishman of the name of Alexander Smith, who informed me that he was one of the Bounty’s crew, and that after putting Captain Bligh in the boat, with half the ship’s company, they returned to Otaheite, where part of their crew chose to tarry; but Mr. Christian, with eight others, including himself, preferred going to a more remote place; and, after making a short stay at Otaheite, where they took wives and six men-servants, they proceeded to Pitcairn’s island, where

1815. Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. 377

they destroyed the ship, after taking every thing out of her which they thought would be useful to them. About six years after they landed at this place, their servants attacked and killed all the English, excepting the informant, and he was severely wounded. The same night the Otaheitan widows arose and murdered all their countrymen, leaving Smith with the widows and children, where he had resided ever since without being resisted.

      'I remained but a short time on the island, and on leaving it, Smith presented me a time-piece, and an azimuth compass, which he told me belonged to the Bounty. The timekeeper was taken from me by the governor of the island of Juan Fernandez, after I had had it in my possession about six weeks. The compass I put in repair on board my ship, and made use of it on my homeward passage, since which a new card has been put to it by an instrument maker in Boston. I now forward it to your Lordships, thinking there will be a kind of satisfaction in receiving it, merely from the extraordinary circumstances attending it.

(Signed)              MAYHEW FOLGER.'           

      Nearly about the same time a further account of these interesting people was received from Vice-admiral Dixon, in a letter addressed to him by Sir Thomas Staines, of his Majesty’s ship Briton, of which the following is a copy:

'Briton, Valparaiso, 18th Oct. 1814.


                              I Have the honour to inform you that on my passage from the Marquesas islands to this port, on the morning of the 17th September, I fell in with an island where none is laid down in the Admiralty or other charts, according to the several chronometers of the Briton and Tagus. I therefore hove to, until day-light, and then closed to ascertain whether it was inhabited, which I soon discovered it to be, and, to my great astonishment, found that every individual on the island (forty in number) spoke very good English. They prove to be the descendants of the deluded crew of the Bounty, which, from Otaheite, proceeded to the abovementioned island, where the ship was burnt.

      'Christian appeared to have been the leader and sole cause of the mutiny in that ship. A venerable old man, named John Adams,* is the only surviving Englishman of those who last quitted Otaheite in her, and whose exemplary conduct, and fatherly care of the whole of the little colony, could not but command admiration. The pious manner in which all those born on the island have been reared, the correct sense of religion which has been instilled into their young minds by this old man, has given him the pre-eminence over the whole of them, to whom they look up as the father of the whole and one family.

      A son of Christian’s was the first born on the island, now about twenty-five years of age, (named Thursday October Christian,) the elder Christian fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of an Otaheitan man, within three

      * There was no such name in the Bounty’s crew; he must have assumed it in lieu of his real name, Alexander Smith.

378 Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. July,

or four years after their arrival on the island. They were accompanied thither by six Otaheitan men, and twelve women: the former were all swept away by desperate contentions between them and the Englishmen, and five of the latter have died at different periods, leaving at present only one man and seven women of the original settlers.

      The island must undoubtedly be that called Pitcairn’s, although erroneously laid down in the charts. We had the meridian sun, close to it, which gave 25° 4’ S. latitude, and 130° 25’ W. longitude, by chronometers of the Briton and Tagus.

      It is abundant in yams, plantains, hogs, goats and fowls, but affords no shelter for a ship or vessel of any description; neither could a ship water there without great difficulty.

      I cannot, however, refrain from offering my opinion that it is well worthy the attention of our laudable religious societies, particularly that for Propagating the Christian Religion, the whole of the inhabitants speaking the Otaheitan tongue as well as English.

      During the whole of the time they have been on the island, only one ship has ever communicated with them, which took place about six years since by an American ship called the Topaz, of Boston, Mayhew Folger, master.

      The island is completely iron bound, with rocky shores, and landing in boats at all times difficult, although safe to approach within a short distance in a ship.

(Signed)                  STAINES.'                 

      We have been favoured with some further particulars on this singular society which, we doubt not, will interest our readers as much as they have ourselves. As the real position of the island was ascertained to be so far distant from that in which it is usually laid down in the charts, and as the captains of the Briton and Tagus seem to have still considered it as uninhabited, they were not a little surprized, on approaching its shores, to behold plantations regularly laid out, and huts or houses more neatly constructed than those on the Marquesas islands. When about two miles from the shore, some natives were observed bringing down their canoes on their shoulders, dashing through a heavy surf, and paddling off to the ships; but their astonishment was unbounded on hearing one of them, on approaching the ship, call out in the English language, 'Won’t you heave us a rope, now?'

      The first man who got on board the Briton soon proved who they were, His name, he said, was Thursday October Christian, the first born on the island. He was then about five and twenty years of age, and is described as a fine young man about six feet high; his hair deep black; his countenance open and interesting; of a brownish cast, but free from that mixture of a reddish tint which prevails on the Pacific islands; his only dress was a piece of cloth round his loins, and a straw hat ornamented with the black

1815. Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. 379

feathers of the domestic fowl. 'With a great share of good humour,' says Captain Pipon, 'we were glad to trace in his benevolent countenance all the features of an honest English face.' – 'I must confess,' he continues, 'I could not survey this interesting person without feelings of tenderness and compassion.' His companion was named George Young, a fine youth of seventeen or eighteen years of age.

      If the astonishment of the Captains was great on hearing their first salutation in English, their surprize and interest were not a little increased on Sir Thomas Staines taking the youths below and setting before them something to eat, when one of them rose up, and placing his hands together in a posture of devotion, distinctly repeated, and in a pleasing tone and manner, 'For what we are going to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful.'

      They expressed great surprize on seeing a cow on board the Briton, and were in doubt whether she was a great goat, or a horned sow.

      The two captains of his Majesty’s ships accompanied these young men on shore. With some difficulty and a good wetting, and with the assistance of their conductors, they accomplished a landing through the surf, and were soon after met by John Adams, a man between fifty and sixty years of age, who conducted them to his house. His wife accompanied him, a very old lady blind with age. He was at first alarmed lest the visit was to apprehend him; but on being told that they were perfectly ignorant of his existence, he was relieved from his anxiety. Being once assured that this visit was of a peaceable nature, it is impossible to describe the joy these poor people manifested on seeing those whom they were pleased to consider as their countrymen. Yams, cocoa-nuts and other fruits with fine fresh eggs, were laid before them; and the old man would have killed and dressed a hog for his visitors, but time would not allow them to partake of his intended feast.

      This interesting new colony, it seemed, now consisted of about forty-six persons, mostly grown up young people, besides a number of infants. The young men all born on the island were very athletic and of the finest forms, their countenances open and pleasing, indicating much benevolence and goodness of heart: but the young women were objects of particular admiration, tall, robust, and beautifully formed, their faces beaming with smiles and unruffled good humour, but wearing a degree of modesty and bashfulness that would do honour to the most virtuous nation on earth; their teeth, like ivory, were regular and beautiful, without a single exception; and all of them, both male and female, had the most marked English features. The clothing of the young females consisted of a piece of linen reaching from the waist to the knees, and generally a sort of

380 Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. July,

mantle thrown loosely over the shoulders and hanging as low as the ancles; but this covering appeared to be intended chiefly as a protection against the sun and the weather, as it was frequently laid aside – and then the upper part of the body was entirely exposed, and it is not possible to conceive more beautiful forms than they exhibited. They sometimes wreath caps or bonnets for the head in the most tasty manner, to protect the face from the rays of the sun, and though, as Captain Pipon observes, they have only had the instruction of their Otaheitan mothers, 'our dress-makers in London would be delighted with the simplicity, and yet elegant taste, of these untaught females.'

      Their native modesty, assisted by a proper sense of religion and morality instilled into their youthful minds by John Adams, has hitherto preserved these interesting people perfectly chaste and free from all kinds of debauchery. Adams assured the visitors that since Christian’s death there had not been a single instance of any young woman proving unchaste; nor any attempt at seduction on the part of the men. They all labour while young in the cultivation of the ground; and when possessed of a sufficient quantity of cleared land and of stock to maintain a family, they are allowed to marry, but always with the consent of Adams, who unites them by a sort of marriage ceremony of his own.

      The greatest harmony prevailed in this little society; their only quarrels, and these rarely happened, being, according to their own expression, quarrels of the mouth: they are honest in their dealings, which consist of bartering different articles for mutual accommodation.

      Their habitations are extremely neat. The little village of Pitcairn forms a pretty square, the houses at the upper end of which are occupied by the patriarch John Adams, and his family, consisting of his old blind wife and three daughters from fifteen to eighteen years of age, and a boy of eleven; a daughter of his wife by a former husband, and a son-in-law. On the opposite side is the dwelling of Thursday October Christian; and in the centre is a smooth verdant lawn on which the poultry are let loose, fenced in so as to prevent the intrusion of the domestic quadrupeds. All that was done was obviously undertaken on a settled plan, unlike to any thing to be met with on the other islands, In their houses too they had a good deal of decent furniture, consisting of beds laid upon bedsteads, with neat covering; they had also tables, and large chests to contain their valuables and clothing which is made from the bark of a certain tree, prepared chiefly by the elder Otaheitan females. Adams’s house consisted of two rooms, and the windows had shutters to pull to at night. The younger part of the sex are, as before stated, employed with their brothers, under the direction of their common father Adams, in the culture of the ground, which produced

1815. Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. 381

cocoa-nuts, bananas, the bread-fruit tree, yams, sweet potatoes, and turnips. They have also plenty of hogs and goats; the woods abound with a species of wild hog, and the coasts of the island with several kinds of good fish.

      Their agricultural implements are made by themselves from the iron supplied by the Bounty, which with great labour they beat out into spades, hatchets, crows, etc. This was not all. The good old man kept a regular journal in which was entered the nature and quantity of work performed by each family, what each had received, and what was due on account. There was, it seems, besides private property, a sort of general stock out of which articles were issued on account to the several members of the community; and for mutual accommodation exchanges of one kind of provision for another were very frequent, as salt, for fresh provisions, vegetables and fruit for poultry, fish, &c.; also when the stores of one family were low or wholly expended, a fresh supply was raised from another, or out of the general stock, to be repaid when circumstances were more favourable; – all of which was carefully noted down in John Adams’s Journal.

      But what was most gratifying of all to the visitors was the simple and unaffected manner in which they returned thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings they enjoyed. They never failed to say grace before and after meals, to pray every morning at sun-rise, and they frequently repeated the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. 'It was truly pleasing,' says Captain Pipon, 'to see these poor people so well disposed, to listen so attentively to moral instruction, to believe in the attributes of God, and to place their reliance on divine goodness.' The day on which the two captains landed was Saturday the 17th September; but by John Adams’s account it was Sunday the 18th and they were keeping the Sabbath by making it a day of rest and of prayer. This was occasioned by the Bounty having proceeded thither by the eastern route, and our frigates having gone to the westward; and the Topaz Found them right according to his own reckoning, she having also approached the island from the eastward. Every ship from Europe proceeding to Pitcairn’s island round the Cape of Good Hope will find them a day later – as those who approach them round Cape Horn, a day in advance, as was the case with Captain Folger and the Captains Sir T. Staines and Pipon.

      The visit of the Topaz is of course, as a notable circumstance, marked down in John Adams’s Journal. The first ship that appeared off the island was on the 27th December, 1795; but as she did not approach the land, they could not make out to what nation she be longed. A second appeared some time after, but did not attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see the natives and their habitations, but did not attempt

382 Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. July,

to send a boat on shore; which is the less surprizing, considering the uniform ruggedness of the coast, the total want of shelter, and the almost constant and violent breaking of the sea against the cliffs. The good old man was anxious to know what was going on in the old world, and they had the means of gratifying his curiosity by supplying him with some magazines and modern publications. His library consisted of the books that belonged to Admiral Bligh, but the visitors had not time to inspect them.

      They inquired particularly after Fletcher Christian. This ill-fated young man, it seems, was never happy after the rash and inconsiderate step which he had taken; he became sullen and morose, and practised the very same kind of conduct towards his companions in guilt which he and they so loudly complained against in their late commander. Disappointed in his expectations at Otaheite, and the Friendly islands, and most probably dreading a discovery, this deluded youth committed himself and his remaining confederates to the mere chance of being cast upon some desert island, and chance threw them on that of Pitcairn. Finding no anchorage near it, he ran the ship upon the rocks cleared her of the live stock and other articles which they had been supplied with at Otaheite, when he set her on fire, that no trace of inhabitants might be visible, and all hope of escape cut off from himself and his wretched followers. He soon however disgusted both his own countrymen and the Otaheitans, by his oppressive and tyrannical conduct; they divided into parties, and disputes and affrays and murders were the consequence. His Otaheitan wife died within a twelvemonth from their landing, after which he carried off one that belonged to an Otaheitan man, who watched for an opportunity of taking his revenge, and shot him dead while digging in his own field. Thus terminated the miserable existence of this deluded young man, who was neither deficient in talent nor energy, nor in connexions, and who might have risen in the service, and become an ornament to his profession.

      John Adams declared, as it was natural enough he should do, his abhorrence of the crime in which he was implicated, and said that he was sick at the time in his hammock; this, we understand, is not true, though he was not particularly active in the mutiny: he expressed the utmost willingness to surrender himself and be taken to England; in deed he rather seemed to have an inclination to revisit his native country, but the young men and women flocked round him, and with tears and entreaties begged that their father and protector might not be taken from them, for without him they must all perish. It would have been an act of the greatest inhumanity to remove him from the island; and it is hardly necessary to add that Sir Thomas Staines lent a willing ear to their entreaties, thinking, no doubt, as we feet strongly disposed to think, that if he were

1815. Porter's Cruize in the Pacific Ocean. 383

even among the most guilty, his care and success in instilling religious and moral principles into the minds of this young and interesting society, have, in a great degree, redeemed his former crimes.

      This island is about six miles long by three broad, covered with wood, and the soil of course very rich: situated under the parallel of 25° S. latitude, and in the midst of such a wide expanse of ocean, the climate must be fine, and admirably adapted for the reception of all the vegetable productions of every part of the habitable globe. Small, therefore, as Pitcairn’s island may appear, there can be little doubt that it is capable of supporting many inhabitants; and the present stock being of so good a description, we trust they will not be neglected. In the course of time the patriarch must go hence; and we think it would be exceedingly desirable that the British nation should provide for such an event by sending out, not an ignorant and idle evangelical missionary, but some zealous and intelligent instructor, together with a few persons capable of teaching the useful trades or professions. On Pitcairn’s island there are better materials to work upon than missionaries have yet been so fortunate as to meet with, and the best results may reasonably be expected. Something we are bound to do for these blameless and interesting people. The articles recommended by Captain Pipon appear to be highly proper; – cooking utensils, implements of agriculture, maize or the Indian corn, the orange tree from Valparaiso, a most grateful fruit in a warm climate, and not known in the Pacific islands; and that root of plenty, (not of poverty, as a wretched scribbler has called it,) the potatoe; bibles, prayer books, and a proper selection of other books with paper, and other implements of writing. The visitors supplied them with some tools, kettles, and other articles, such as the high surf would permit them to land, but to no great extent; many things are still wanting for their ease and comfort. The descendants of these people, by keeping up the Otaheitan language, which the present race speak fluently, might be the means of civilizing the multitudes of fine people scattered over the innumerable islands of the Great Pacific. We have only to add, that Pitcairn’s island seems to be so fortified by nature as to oppose an invincible barrier to an invading enemy; there is no spot apparently where a boat can land with safety, and, perhaps, not more than one where it can land at all; an everlasting swell of the ocean rolls in on every side, and breaks into foam against its rocky and iron bound shores.

      O happy people! happy in your sequestered state! and doubly happy to have escaped a visit from 'Captain Porter of the United States frigate Essex!' May no civilized barbarian lay waste your peaceful abodes; no hoary proficient in swinish sensuality rob you of that innocence and simplicity which it is peculiarly your present lot to enjoy!


      The transcription is an extract taken from an unsigned review entitled "Journal of a Cruize made to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter, in the United States Frigate Essex, in the years 1812, 1813, and 1814, containing Descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, Coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands. Also a full Account of the Washington Group of Islands; the Manners, Customs, Dress of the Inhabitants, &c. &c. Illustrated with fourteen engravings. In two volumes, 8vo. pp.440. Philadelphia. 1815." which appeared in the Quarterly Review of London, Vol. 13, No. 26 (July 1815), pp. 352-383. The review is attributed to John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty. He was statesman, writer, and frequent contributor to the Quarterly Review.

      Only the concluding ten pages of the review, (374 through 383) which deal with Pitcairn's Island, are included in this transcription.


      The source of this transcription is the following:

"Journal of a Cruize made to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter, in the United States Frigate Essex, in the years 1812, 1813, and 1814, containing Descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, Coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands. Also a full Account of the Washington Group of Islands; the Manners, Customs, Dress of the Inhabitants, &c. &c.", Quarterly Review, Vol.13, No. 26 (July 1815), p.374—383.