Capt. Frederick Arthur,

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

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Pitcairn's Island.

      The following account of a visit lately paid by an American whale ship to this little speck in the vast Pacific ocean, cannot fail to interest many readers. The history of the present inhabitants is simply this – the British ship Bounty, lieutenant Bligh, was sent to the South Seas, for the purpose of transporting the bread fruit tree and other productions to the West Indies. Being in those seas, the crew mutinied in 1789, and committed their commander and the other officers to the ocean in a small boat, and their wonderful preservation is well known from lieut. Bligh's narrative. The mutineers proceeded to Otaheite, where they took on board several of the natives, chiefly females, and then went in search of some uninhabited ilsand[sic] to escape punishment – they reached Pitcairn's island, ran the ship ashore, and destroyed her, to prevent a discovery of them, after taking out what they thought might be necessary to them. Until the year 1808, nothing was known of the mutineers – it was supposed that they had all perished; but in that year the American ship Topaz accidentally fell in with the island, and this was the first visit that the people thereon had ever received. It is not known that they were visited again until 1814, when two British vessels of war, in search of the Essex frigate, touched there, to the great alarm of "John Adams," whose right name is said to be Alexander Smith, who was a seaman on board the Bounty; but he was not molested by his countrymen, his then harmless life and virtuous conduct disarming any thing like resentment which they might have felt for his former proceedings. The account below was communicated to the publishers at New-York, by captain Ridgely, of the U.S. frigate Constellation, on his arrival at that port from his cruise in the Pacific.

      Previous to the sailing of the Constellation from Valparaiso, the American whale ship Russell, capt. Arthur, of New Bedford, arrived from Pitcairn's Island, and, from the private journal of the captain, the following interesting account of the people of that island was copied:

      "March 8th, 1822 – lat.24,30, S. long 129,25, W. at midnight hove to; at day light saw Pitcairn's Island, 8 leagues off; stood for it, and while we were within about 3 or 4 miles of the shore, were boarded by the most interesting crew of young men that I had ever seen: at noon, we lay aback near the land.

      From all I had otherwise read and learned respecting the inhabitants of Pitcairn's Island, induced me to have the following notice posted up in the fore part of our ship, before we had any communication with the islanders:

      "It is the impression of the Russell's owners, that the most part of her company were from respectable families, and is desirable that their conduct towards the islanders should verify the opinion. As this island has been hitherto but little frequented, they will be less susceptible of fraud than a more general intercourse with the world would justify. It is desired that every officer and man will abstain from all licentiousness in word or deed; but will treat them kindly, courteously, and with the strictest good faith. As profane swearing has become an unfashionable thing even on board a man of war, it is quite time it were laid aside by a whaleman, particularly at this time. As these islanders have been taught to adore their Maker, and are not accustomed to hear his name blasphemed, they were shocked with horror when they heard some of the crew of an American ship swear, and said it was against the laws of their God, their country and their conscience."

      Ship Russell, March 9th, 1822. – Pleasant weather; at 2, P.M. went on shore, accompanied by capt. Arey in his boat; as the islanders' boat wanted repairing, we took her on deck, and before the next morning had her done, to the grateful satisfaction of our new friends. The islanders went on shore in one of our boats; captain Arey taking five and we the other five – our landing was effected much easier under the skilful direction of our now pilots than could otherwise have been done.

      Previous to leaving the ship, bread and butter was put on the table and they were invited to eat, but they refused, alleging that it was their fast day; however, after some importunity and inquiry whether I thought it would be any harm to them, and being assured in the negative, they partook, though slightly, and not till after they had asked a blessing. And after their repast was finished, a hymn and prayer was preferred with great devotional propriety.

      On our landing, the hill of difficulty was to be ascended, a job J could not myself have performed in less than two or three hours; it was done in much less time with the assistance of a young man named Robert Young, who helped me almost every step. When we arrived at the top, we appeared to be at least 300 feet above the surface of the water – having gone up a zigzag path, the boat was almost directly under us. We were then met by the venerable governor, J. Adams, who was attended by most of the women and children of the island, and were welcomed to their shores in the most artless yet dignified manner. After resting awhile, we were invited to the village, about half a mile distant, through groves of cocoa nuts and other trees of a large growth, which made an excellent shade. Although we came to the village, which was situated on a gentle declivity, with a sufficient distance be-


tween the houses for the drying and bleaching of their cloth, the beautiful prospect, regularity and neatness of the houses, with the joyous and double welcome of its truly hospitable inhabitants, made the spot enchanting. Soon after our arrival a dinner was served up, consisting of two roasted pigs, fowls, yams and plantains; but as they declined partaking with us, on account of its being their fast day, we concluded to wait till near sun down, at which time they would be at liberty to join us; and when they thought it seasonable we all sat down together, but not till the chief of our kind entertainers had asked a blessing in a very impressive manner. The return of thanks appeared not less impressive on the minds of the little community, who were like olive branches around the family table. After spending the evening, if not the feast of reason, at least we had the flow of soul – beds were prepared for captain Arey and myself, and J. Adams having taken a bed in the chamber, though it was not his house, we conversed till midnight. Early in the morning, our kind female friends were actively employed in getting breakfast for us, which was ready by 7 o'clock, consisting of fowls boiled with yams, which made an excellent soup: it was good and we ate heartily. For our dinner we were treated with baked pigs and roasted goats, with a large quantity, of yams, plantains, &c. Our people were equally well provided for. At 3 o'clock I returned to the shore to go on board, receiving the same kind attention in descending the mountain which was paid when going up it. We got into our boats with feelings of gratitude, which I was unable to express towards these good people, but not till they made me promise to come on shore again before we left the island.

      10th, 11th and 12th – Still lying off and on, a part of the crew on shore, relieving each other by turns. On the 12th I again went on shore, and was received and treated with every attention. Before noon I returned on board, after taking a more affectionate leave than I ever did any where except my home. I was accompanied on board by John Adams, Dolly Young and Mary Ann Christian – having received from them a supply of young cocoa nuts and fowls, and made such presents as they wished for and we could spare from the ship's stores – we gave them a part of a bolt of light duck, one axe, two hatchets, four boat knives, a bag of bread, a few bottles of wine, a roll of old canvas, a little grindstone and a watch. Having now accomplished the business for which we came, our friends, after wishing us a good voyage and safe return home, went on shore. Captain Arey, not having finished watering, concluded to slay another day or two. He was anxious for us to stay till he was ready, but I was unwilling to lose more time.

      Before we leave Pitcairn's Island, it will not be improper to make a few observations. The time and manner of its colonization are to most general readers well known. John Adams and six Otaheitan women is all that is left of the Bounty. Forty-nine have been born on the island, two of whom arc dead, which leaves fifty-three persons on the island, now all in good health, without a single exception. There are about eleven active young men, who are ready and willing at all times to assist a ship's crew in procuring water or wood, or any thing else the island affords. John Adams assures, and from what we ourselves saw, we have no reason to disbelieve him, that the island was inhabited before themselves, but at what period is difficult to conjecture. They found after their arrival, many places where houses had stood, burying places and images representing a human figure, with other indubitable marks that they were not the first possessors of Pitcairn's Island. It is, however, certain, that the aborigines left it at no recent period, as the trees growing on the house spots could not have arrived to their present size in less than a hundred years, perhaps five hundred. The land is high, and may be seen 12 or 15 leagues – its coast clear of dangers – winds variable, which makes it easy to lie off and on – the town is situated on the north side of the island, rather nearest the west end – the houses may be seen three or four leagues by a ship coming from the north.

      The different names of the islanders are Adams, Christian, sen. Christian, jun. Young, Quintrall and M'Kay.

      Henderson's Island lies E.N.E. from Pitcairn's one hundred miles. Ducie's Island is rightly laid down in the Practical Navigator, and is low and very dangerous.

      Pitcairn's lat. 25, 3, S. by acct. 26, 41 – long. 130, 22, W. by acct. 128. 52.

      Henderson's lat. 24, 26, S.long. 128, 33, W.

. . . .


Transcribed from:
Niles' Weekly Register
Vol. 11 No. 8, new series [Vol 23 no.5, whole number 580]
October 26, 1822, pp.123-124

      This account was brought to the United States by Captain Ridgely, of the U.S. Frigate Constellation, when he arrived at New York from his cruise in the Pacific at the end of July, 1822. The source of the account was the private journal of Captain Frederick Arthur, of the New Bedford whale ship Russell, who made it available for copying when he arrived in Valparaiso from Pitcairn's Island.

      Apparently the first newspaper to publish the extract from Arthur's journal was the New York Statesman, most likely in the first half of August, 1822. It was then picked up by a number of other newspapers around the country as indicated below:

Captain Frederick Arthur, 1789-1859


Publication: Niles' Weekly Register
Description:Vol. 11 No. 8, new series [Vol 23 no.5, whole number 580]
Date/Pagination: October 26, 1822, pp.123-124.

Tom Tyler, Denver, November 24, 2016