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Polynesian Researches



At that time it was uninhabited, and, being destitute of any harbour, and dangerous to approach even by boats, attracted but little attention, though it has since excited very general interest in England. It is situated, according to Sir T. Staines, in 25° S. Lat. and 130° 25' W. Long. When the murderous quarrels between the mutineers of the Bounty and the natives of Tubuai obliged the former, in 1789 and 1790, to leave that island, page 322 they proceeded to Tahiti. Those who wished to remain there left the ship, and the others stood out to sea in search of some unfrequented and uninhabited spot of the ocean, that might afford them subsistence and concealment. Proceeding in an easterly direction, they reached Pitcairn's Island, and could scarcely have desired a place more suited to their purpose. Here they run the Bounty on shore, removed the pigs, goats, and fowls to the land, and, having taken every thing on shore that they supposed would be useful, set fire to the vessel. The party consisted of twenty-seven persons, viz. ten Englishmen, six Tahitians, and eleven women; or, according to another account, of nine Englishmen, and twelve women. In a sheltered and elevated part of the island they erected their dwellings, deposited in the earth the seeds and young plants which they had brought from Tahiti, and commenced the cultivation of the yam, and other roots, for their subsistence. New troubles awaited them. The wife of Christian, the leader of the mutineers, died; and he is said to have seized by force the wife of one of the Tahitians. Revenge or jealousy prompted the Tahitian to take the life of Christian, who was shot while at work in his garden, about two years after his arrival. The English and the Tahitians seemed bent on each other's destruction. Six Englishmen were killed, and Adams, now the only survivor of the crew, was wounded: every Tahitian man was put to death. The history of the mutineers is truly tragical.—The children of these unhappy men have been trained up with the most indefatigable care and attention to morals and religion by John Adams, who, with his interesting family around him, remained undiscovered and unvisited page 323 or nearly twenty years; when Captain Mayhew Yolger, in the American ship Topaz, of Boston, touched at their island; and, after maintaining a friendly intercourse with them for two days, prosecuted his voyage. No further information respecting them transpired unitl 1814, when Captain Sir T. Staines, in his majesty's ship Briton, on his passage from the Marquesas to Valparizo, unexpectedly came in sight of the island. Canoes were soon perceived coming off from the shore; and it is not easy to conceive the astonishment of the commander and his officers, when those on board hailed them in the English language. The surprise of the young men in the canoe, who were the sons of the mutineers, when they came on board an English man-of-war, was scarcely less than that of their visitors. The frankness with which they replied to the interrogatories of the captain, evinced the unsophisticated manner in which they had been brought up; and their account of their belief in the most important doctrines, and practice of the great duties of religion, reflected the highest honour on their venerable instructor. When they sat down to breakfast, without any hypocritical or formal show of devotion, but with a simplicity and earnestness that alone astonished and reproved those around them, they knelt down, and implored “permission to partake in peace of what was set before them;” and at the close of their repast, “resuming the same attitude, offered a fervent prayer of thanksgiving for the indulgence they had received.” The captains of the Briton and Tagus went on shore, and were met on the brow of the hill by Adams's daughter, who, after the first emotions of surprise had subsided, led them to the “beautiful little page 324 village, formed on an oblong square, with trees of various kinds irregularly interspersed. The houses,” Sir T. Staines adds,“were small, but regular, convenient, and of unequalled cleanliness.” After a very affecting interview with John Adams, (who appeared about sixty years of age,) and with his rising community, who with tears and entreaties begged them not to take their father from them, the captains returned to their ships, and sent to these interesting people such useful articles as they could spare. There were forty-eight persons on the island at this time. This small island is fertile, though water is not abundant. As soon as their circumstances became known, a liberal supply of agricultural implements, and tools, were sent from Calcutta. Bibles and prayer-books were also forwarded by the Directors of the London Missionary Society. They were gladly received by Adams, and gratefully acknowledged.

∗Narrative of Briton's Voyage.

Since that time the number of inhabitants has considerably increased, and, at the present time, amounts to about eighty, including the seamen who have left their vessels, married females of the island, and have taken up their residence on shore. Apprehensive of the inadequacy of the productions of the island to supply their wants, especially in fuel and water, they intimated, four or five years ago, their wish to be taken to another country; and it appeared probable that they might remove to the Society Islands, or some extensive and fertile, but uninhabited island in the Pacific: this desire has, however, ceased, and, since the death of Adams, they have expressed their wishes to remain. I have been near their island more than once, and regret that I had not an opportunity of visiting them. The captain of the ship in which I returned page 325 to England had been on shore twice; and his accounts, with those of others whom I have met with in the Pacific, were such as could not fail to excite a deep concern for their welfare.

Two degrees farther from the equator, and rather more than twenty degrees nearer the American continent, an island is situated, which has attracted considerable notice from most of the navigators who have prosecuted their discoveries in the Pacific. It was discovered by Roggewein, on Easter day 1722, and called