Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


Rear-Admiral De Horsey's report
to the Admiralty.

Leeds Mercury
December 7, 1878.


      We have received from the Admiralty the following report by Rear—Admiral De Horsey, Commander-in-Chief on the Pacific Station, on the condition of the Pitcairn Islanders: –

      Admiral De Horsey visited the island on the 8th September last. The population at present numbers 90, of all ages, of which 4l are males and 49 females, a nominal return of whom is furnished in Appendix No. 1. By this return it will be observed that there is but one survivor at the generation which immediately followed the mutineers, viz., Elizabeth Young, aged about 88, daughter of John Mills, gunner's mate of the Bounty, and of an Otaheitan mother. The oldest man on the island is Thursday October Christian, aged 59, grandson of Fletcher Christian, master's mate of the Bounty. The population may be further described an consisting of 16 men, 19 women, 25 boys, and 30 girls. The deaths on the island have numbered about 12 in the last 19 years. No contagious diseases visit the island, nor are the animals subject to disease. A few medicines which were sent from Valparaiso in Her Majesty's ship Reindeer are administered as required by the pastor.

      Pitcairn Island is governed by a "Magistrate and Chief Ruler, in subordination to Her Majesty tho Queen of Great Britain," who not only administers the laws but also enacts them. There are two Councillors to advise and assist the Chief Magistrate, besides which the "heads of families" are convened for consultation when required. To laws bear no date, but were, I am informed, drawn up by the present Chief Magistrate on his accession to office, and are evidently culled from former ones now destroyed. The almost puerile simplicity of the laws is perhaps the best evidence of the good conduct of the people. The law is,in fact, merely preventive; no case cf theft, fornication, or use of profane language (apparently the only three crimes contemplated as possible) having been known to occur since the laws were drawn up.

      The Chief Magistrate is elecLed annually, on New Year's Day, and is open to re-election. Both sexes, of and above the age of 17, have a vote. The office is at prssent filled by Mr, James Russell Nickoy, who is also steersman of the whale-boat which he built, and which is the only boat on the island. I have addressed a separate letter to their Lordships relative to certain questions concerning the government of the island raised by the Chief Magistrate.

      Divine service is held every Sunday at 10.30 a.m. and at 3 p.m., in the house built and used by John Adams for that purpose until he died in 1829. It is conducted strictly in accordance with the liturgy of the Church of England, by Mr. Simon Young, their selected pastor, who is much respected. A Bible class is held every Wednesday, when all who conveniently can attend. There is also a general meeting for prayer on the first Friday in every month. Family prayers are said in every house the first thing in the morning and the last thing in the evening, and no food is partaken of without asking God's blessing before and afterwards. Captain Beechey, writing fifty-three years ago, says – "These excellent people appear to live together in perfect harmony and contentment; to be virtuous, religious, cheerful, and hospitable: to be patterns of conjugal and parental affection, and to have very few vices." I have ventured to quote these words, as they hold true to this day, the children having followed in the footsteps of their parents. The observance of Sunday is very strict No work is done, but this is not in any pharisaical spirit, as shown on the occasion of our visit, which chanced to be on a Sunday, when everything consistent with not neglecting divine service was done to supply us with refreshments for the crew, the Chief Magistrate arguing that it was a good work and necessary, as the ship could not wait. Of these islanders' religious attributes no one can speak without deep respect. A people whose greatest pleasure and privilege is to commune in prayer with their God, and to join in hymns of praise, and who are, moreover, cheerful, diligent, and probably freer from vice than any other community, need no priest amongst them.

      The pastor also fulfils the duty of schoolmaster, in which he is assisted by his daughter, Rosalind Amelia Young. The instruction comprises reading, writing, arithmetic, Scripture, history, and geography. The girls learn sewing and hat-making as well, and the whole are taught part-singing very effectively. Every child and unmarried woman at present has to attend school from nine till twelve, and from one to three p.m. Schooling is conducted in the church-house, one end of which is used as a library, open to all. English is the only language spoken or known.

      The Pitcairn islanders are, of course, entirely dependent upon their own resources. They grow sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, &o., and formerly plenty of bread-fruit, but these are nearly all dying out. They have also beans, carrots, turnips, cabbages, and a little maize; pine-apples, fig trees, custard apples, and plenty of oranges, lemons, and cocoa-nuts. Clothing is obtained alone from passing ships, in barter for refreshments. There are a few sheep, goats, pigs, fowls, cats, and dogs. There are no springs one the island, but as it rains. generally once a month, they have plenty of water, although at times, in former years, they hare suffered from drought. No alcoholic liquors, except for medicinal purposes, are used, and a drunkard is unknown. The houses are well ventilated, and furnished sufficiently for their simple wants. Scarcely any trees good for timber grow here. There is no money on the island, except such few coins as may be kept as curiosities.

      The men are chiefly employed tilling their ground, farming, house-building, canoe fishing, &c.; the women in cooking, sewing, hat and basket making. All are industrious, and willingly take their share of public work when required. This at present is enlarging the church-house to meet the wants of an increasing population.

      The only communication with the outer world is by means of passing ships, averaging, perhaps, one a month and chiefly those on their way to and from San Francisco, but this is precarious, as most ships fetch to windward of Pitcairn, and those that do sight the island are frequently unable to communicate. At the time of our visit the landing was considered good, but it was necessary to watch for a smooth run and to use a light boat. They have no communication whatever with Otaheite, and very rarely with Norfolk Island or New Zealand.

      The necessary articles required by the islanders are best shown by those we furnished in barter for refreshments, viz., flannel, serge, drill, half-boots, combs, tobacco, and soap. They also stand much in need of maps and slates for their school; and tools of any kind are most acceptable. I caused them to be supplied from the public stores with a Union Jack for display on the arrival of ships, and a pit saw, of which they were greatly in need. This I trust will meet the approval of their Lordships. If the munificent people of England were only aware of the warts of this most deserving little colony, they would not long go unsupplied. I would suggest that anything desired to be sent be addressed to the care of the Admiral on this station, either at Coquimbo or Vancouver Island, to go by first man-of-war. If sent by private ship, goods may never reach their destination.

      Within the last two years or so two wrecks have occurred, the English ship Khandeish, on Oeno's Island, and the English ship Cornwallis, on Pitcairn Island.

      In both cases the crews took refuge on Pitcairn Island, remaining respectively over six weeks and three days, and receiving every assistance, including food and clothing from the scanty supplies of the Pitcairn islanders. At the wreck of the Cornwallis the islanders, in rendering assistance, lost one of their lives and their only boat, and thus their only means of communicating with passing ships. The present chief magistrate has since built a whale boat with such materials as were available, but with iron nails, and therefore rapidly going to decay. Nor could anything be recovered from the ship wrecked on the island. The Pitcairn islanders have received nothing as a reward for their efforts in these cases, and for encouragement for the future. There is a rumour of some articles having been sent, but if sent, they probably passed the island, and may never reach.

      One stranger, an American, has settled on the island, a doubtful acquisition. A few of the islanders have expressed a desire to return to Norfolk Island, a not unnatural wish for change, but the chief magistrate thinks none are likely to go.

      The islanders, at my invitation, visited the Shah. No less than 68 men, women, and children, out of a total of 90, came cn board, regardless of the difficulties at embarking and the wind and rain. Their poor thin garments were nearly wet through, and many were sea sick, but the pleasure of going on board one of their own country's ships of war outweighed all other considerations and made them essentially happy.

      Finally, I submit to their Lordships that when the service will admit it is desirable that a ship of war should visit Pitcairn annually, and I propose to cause this to be done during the remainder of my command. I submit also that this small colony is deserving such attention and encouragement as Her Majesty's Government may think fit to hold out to it. Her Majesty the Queen does not, I believe, possess in any part of the world more loyal and affectionate subjects than this little knot of settlers. I may here observe that a notion appears to prevail among the Pitcairn Islanders that Her Msjesty's goverument are displeased with them for having returned from Norfolk Island (which, as their Lordships are aware, they did in two parties – the first in 1859, and the rest, I think, in l864), although their return was, I believe, at their own expense, and they have since been no burden to the Crown. This notion – whence received I know not – I ventured to affirm was without foundation, feeling assured that Her Majesty's Government would rather honour them for preferring the primitive simplicity of their native island to either the dissolute manners of Otaheite, or even the mare civilised but less pure and simple ways of Norfolk Island. No one acquainted with these islanders could fail to respect them. A religious, industrious, happy, and contented people, they would lose rather than gain by contact with other communities.


Title: The Pitcairn Islands.
Publication: Leeds Mercury.
Date: December 7, 1878.