It is one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth. Pitcairn Island lies in the South Pacific, approximately 3,300 nautical miles from New Zealand and 4,000 nautical miles from the Americas. Even Tahiti is over 1,300 nautical miles away. Although three other tiny islands lie closer, these are uninhabited. The nearest of these, Oeno, is only 80 nautical miles northwest of Pitcairn. It has a land area of less than a single square kilometer, but is a favorite vacation spot for the inhabitants of Pitcairn. Here they can enjoy spearfishing and sandy beaches, which Pitcairn lacks. The island of Henderson lies a little over a hundred nautical miles northeast of Pitcairn. Although it is about twice the size of Pitcairn, it is ringed by treacherous coral reefs and has steep cliffs on all sides. In spite of this, the islanders make semi-annual trips in longboats to collect large quantities of miro wood, which they use for hand carved handicrafts.
Pitcairn has an interesting history. It seems to have been inhabited by Polynesians for several hundred years, yet these were gone by the time the island was discovered by Europeans at the end of the eighteenth century. The original inhabitants left behind roughly carved stone gods, apparently to guard sites that they held sacred, along with representations of humans and animals carved into cliff faces. Archaeologists have also found burial sites, earth ovens, stone adzes, gouges, and other artifacts.
In July of 1767, the island was first sited by a European, Philip Carteret, captain of the English ship H.M.S. Swallow, recorded the event, and the naming of the island, in these words, "It is so high that we saw it at a distance of more than fifteen leagues, and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines, we called it Pitcairn's Island." However, the surf prevented them from landing.
Europeans were not to set foot on the island until after one of the most infamous episodes in naval history. In 1789, after leaving Tahiti with a load of breadfruit trees bound for the West Indies, the master's mate, Fletcher Christian, led a band of mutineers in seizing control of the H.M.S. Bounty. Her captain, William Bligh, was set adrift with eighteen of his loyal officers. The mutineers returned to Tahiti and later sailed to the island of Tubuai. After some problems with the natives, and in an attempt to escape British justice, Christian and eight others left in search of an uninhabited island to settle. They took along six Tahitian men and twelve Tahitian women. After combing the Cooks, Tonga, and the eastern islands of Fiji, they eventually discovered Pitcairn, landing there on January 15, 1790.
After emptying and stripping the boat of everything that they could use, the Bounty was burned. It sank in what is now known as Bounty Bay. Although the island itself seemed to be a virtual paradise, peace and tranquility were not to prevail among its inhabitants. The poor treatment of the Tahitians led to their revolt, and to widespread murder. By 1794, only four of the men remained, along with a large number of women and children. Things became more peaceful, but this was not to last. One of the men, who had once worked in a distillery, discovered that liquor could be made from a local plant. By 1790, two more of the men were dead, of which one was killed in self-defense and the other by suicide. In 1800, after Midshipman Edward Young died of asthma, John Adams became the sole male survivor of the group that had landed just ten years before.
Much has changed in the years since then, yet for Pitcairn, much has also remained the same. Today this 2.5 square mile volcanic island is home to less than 50 people, descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian wives. It's officially administered by the British High Commissioner to New Zealand as part of the Pitcairn Islands dependency, which includes its three neighboring islands. Its main sources of income are handicrafts, honey, and, believe it or not, postage stamps. Since it has no port or natural harbor, goods must be ferried from ships anchored offshore. In short, it remains just what Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers were looking for: one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth.