You probably haven’t heard of Pitcairn Island – but it has one of the most interesting histories in the Pacific Ocean. Not only is Pitcairn one of the remotest and most isolated places in the world, the people who live there have a unique and amazing story. Let’s talk about the strange history of Pitcairn in today’s episode on Thinking in English!
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Isolated (adj) – not near to other places
He grew up in an isolated farm
Remote (adj) – a long way from any towns, cities, or other people
She studies remote communities high up in the mountains
To inhabit (v) – to live in a place
Those remote islands are only inhabited by birds and insects
To captivate (v) – to hold the attention of someone by being extremely interesting, exciting, pleasant, or attractive
Her singing captivated the audience
Polynesian (n) – a person from Polynesia (including Hawaii, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa, and more islands)
There are many Polynesian athletes playing professional rugby
To sight (v) – to suddenly see something or someone
After days at sea, the sailors finally sighted land
Perilous (adj) – extremely dangerous
The country roads are quite perilous
Mutiny (n) – an occasion when a group of people, especially soldiers or sailors, refuses to obey orders and/or attempts to take control from people in authority (a ‘mutineer’ is a person involved in a ‘mutiny’)
Conditions on the ship were so bad that the crew started to plan a mutiny
To relocate (v) – to move or move something or someone from one place to another
The couple relocated to Spain
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I watched a YouTube video recently which was ranking the most isolated, or remotest, places in the world. These are the places furthest away from land, people, and civilization. Places that can take weeks to reach, often require multiple flights and boat trips, and have unique and complicated histories!
Sometimes you might feel like getting away from everything and anyone – picking up your things and leaving civilization for a while. If you want to travel far away from land and people, you should visit “Point Nemo.” Named after the sailor from the famous book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, “Point Nemo” is a location in the Pacific Ocean that is the most remote location in the world. In other words, if you sail a boat to this point, you are the furthest away from land possible! Approximately 2688 kilometres away from the closest place.
Where is the Most Isolated Place on the Planet?
Unfortunately, “Point Nemo” isn’t a very fun place to visit – it is an invisible point in the middle of the ocean. So, where is the most isolated place with land (and maybe some people)? Some of the places the video mentioned include the tiny country of Nauru, in the Pacific ocean, which is the least visited country in the entire world – before the pandemic less than 200 people a year made the trip! Or what about Oymyakon in Russia, close to the Arctic Circle and the coldest inhabited place in the world? It can be dark for 21 hours a day and has recorded a temperature of -65 degrees!
And then there is Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) – although it is technically part of Chile, the island is on its own in the middle of the Ocean. It is 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, 2,600 miles from Tahiti, and 1,200 miles from the closest inhabited island – Pitcairn. Easter Island has famous statues, called Moai, which were carved by the inhabitants hundreds of years ago. And Easter Island is the closest place to “Point Nemo”!
However, when it comes to the most isolated places, there are only two real contenders – Tristan Da Cunha and Pitcairn Island. Both of these places are British Overseas Territories (meaning the people who live there are British citizens), but they are not close to the UK at all.
Tristan Da Cunha is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean which is the most remote inhabited point on Earth. It is 2,787 kilometres west of Cape Town in South Africa, and 2,437 km from the closest inhabited island – Saint Helena (which is where Napoleon was sent after he lost to the British in battle). Although a few hundred people live on the main island, there is no airport which means the only way to visit is by boat. The quickest boat is a six day trip from South Africa.
While Tristan Da Cunha is technically the most remote place in the world, I want to focus on Pitcairn Island instead. For years, I have been captivated by the story of this island, and I want to tell you all about the strange history of Pitcairn.
First, let me tell you where it is. Pitcairn Island is in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 2170 km south-east of Tahiti. It is formed from the crater of a volcano, and has a tropical climate with very fertile land! So far, this island sounds like all of the other islands I’ve talked about so far – small, far away, difficult to reach, and with a small population. And Pitcairn certainly has a small population – only about 50 people right now. But it is who these people are that is fascinating.
The island was likely inhabited by Polynesian people in the past, as tools, burial sites, and other artefacts have been found on the island. However, the Polynesian peoples probably left or died, leaving it empty when European explorers first set eyes on it. A British ship called HMS Swallow found the island in the year 1767, and it was named Pitcairn after the first sailor who sighted it. It was added to maps (although no one actually set foot on land) and not seen again for over 20 years. In fact, the ship’s captain miscalculated the location of Pitcairn and it was put in the wrong part of the map.
The Mutiny on the Bounty
In 1789, the British ship HMS Bounty was sailing from Tahiti to the Caribbean carrying seeds and saplings to plant across the word as a food for slaves. Travelling the seas was a difficult and perilous occupation at the time. Journeys were incredibly long, food was poor quality and lacking in vital vitamins and nutrients, and ships often got lost or damaged. The HMS Bounty took 10 months to travel from England to Tahiti, where it stayed for around 5 months.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of a sailor. You come from cold, miserable England, and spend 10 months on a terrible boat journey. Then you arrive at the island paradise of Tahiti – incredible weather, beautiful scenery, lots of food, and lovely people. Tahitians were known to live in a very free and relaxed society – completely different from conservative 18th century England. The crew spent some time ashore on the Island, and some sailors considered staying on the island permanently.
After five months on the island, it was time for the ship to set sail back to the UK (and then on to the Caribbean). Not all of the sailors were happy about this. Some of the ship’s crew, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied and left the captain and other crew members on an open boat in the middle of the ocean.
Now in control of the Bounty, what would the remaining sailors do? Most wanted to return to Tahiti, but they knew the British navy would eventually search the island for them. They returned to Tahiti, picked up six Polynesian men, twelve Polynesian women, and some livestock, and started the search for their new home. The first island they tried was already inhabited, and conflict with the native people caused the mutineers to abandon the place after only a few months.
The Bounty searched parts of Tonga, Fiji, and the Cook Islands looking for a new home, before setting out to search for Pitcairn island (which had been seen over 20 years earlier). Although the island was incorrectly placed on maps, they finally sighted Pitcairn on 15 January 1790.
Once on land, they realised Pitcairn was uninhabited, almost inaccessible to boats (there was no harbour and reefs blocking access), warm, and full of fertile land: it was the perfect place for their new settlement! After a few weeks, the mutineers crashed the Bounty and burned its remains – they were worried that a passing ship might spot the Bounty and investigate.
The first few years on Pitcairn were not ideal. After arrival, the land was divided between the mutineers (the Polynesians were not given any), and the mutineers planted the seeds and crops being carried by the Bounty. The mutineers took the Polynesian women as wives, and several children were born on the island. However, the Polynesian men were treated as slaves and had to share wives as there were more men than women. Fighting broke out, and eventually only four European men and ten women were left. The community of Pitcairn only survived due to the Polynesian women’s skills and knowledge.
After 25 years, the community was rediscovered by British ships in 1814. The story of the mutineers and their island home attracted a lot of attention, and they received gifts and visits from many more ships. At the same time, the community began to grow.
As the population increased to almost 70, the islanders were relocated back to Tahiti for a few years. There was concern that the resources of the small island were not enough to support the people. However, the Pitcairn islanders had become far more conservative and strict in their behaviour than Tahitians after the spread of Christianity throughout the community. They returned to Pitcairn a few months later
Years later, in 1856, they were once again relocated because of overpopulation (this time to Norfolk island), but some of the Pitcairn islanders chose to return to Pitcairn again. As a result, the descendants of the original mutineers are split between these two islands! So, the people of Pitcairn, one of the most remote and isolated communities in the world, are the direct descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian wives.
This episode of Thinking in English has tried to introduce some of the history of Pitcairn island, one of the most isolated places on the planet. The story might be familiar to you – it has formed the basis of a number of films and TV shows. In recent years, Pitcairn has struggled with population decline and child abuse scandals, but island is still inhabited by the same people.
Would you ever visit Pitcairn island? What is the most isolated place you have ever visited?
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