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The Pitcairn Bible


The story of the Mutiny on the Bounty has been told many times and has been made glamourised by the 1962 film starring Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando in the lead roles. But the one part of the story that is not so well known is the transformation on Pitcairn Island of the survivors of the Mutiny.


You probably know the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty quite well. Fletcher Christian, the second in command led a mutiny of most of the crew of the Bounty against the Captain, Lieutenant Bligh on 28th April 1789. The Captain and those of the crew that refused to join mutiny were sent adrift.


After much hardship and brilliant seamanship on the part of Bligh, they reached the island of Timor. Fletcher Christian took the Bounty and the rest of the crew to Tahiti.But in September 1789, he and eight other Englishmen from the Bounty, six Tahitian men, eleven Tahitian women and one child, sailed from Tahiti on the Bounty


Early in the following year 1790, found and landed on an uninhabited island, Pitcairn Island. They burnt the ship in order to escape detection. At first, the island seemed a paradise. But soon the Englishmen started to mistreat the Tahitians and stole one of their wives, causing a rebellion. Within four years, all the Tahitian men and all but four of the Englishmen had been murdered.


The only survivors were Alexander Smith, Edward Young, Matthew Quintall, William McCoy. McCoy soon learnt how to distill liquor from the roots of the “ti plant”, and soon the men were drunk almost all the time. Fearing for their lives, the women and children fled to another part of the island and build a fort for protection. One day McCoy threw himself over the cliffs in a drunken stupor.



Matthew Quintal became so dangerous when he was drunk that he threatened the lives of everyone else. So Smith and Young had to kill him for the safety of the others on the island. Smith finally came to his senses and destroyed the still and all the liquor on the island. He went “cold turkey” for several months.


Young, who was dying of TB, was taken in by the women to nurse him. While Smith was living alone, he discovered among the stores taken off the Bounty - before it was destroyed - a copy of the Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. However these weren’t much use to him as he was illiterate. Eventually, Young recovered and he and the women returned to the village where Smith was living. Young was literate and so he taught Smith to read using the Bible.


In 1801, Young died. Alexander Smith continued to read to Bible in its entirety, and grew to understand it over a period of several years. Seeing the importance of teaching the Bible to others, he began teaching the children how to read, and eventually some of the mothers learned to read as well. Using the Bible, he taught everyone about the Christian faith and instituted a daily prayer time, grace before meals, and Sunday worship. One of his prayers was as follows:


“Suffer me not O Lord to waste this day in sin or folly. But let me Worship thee with much Delight. Teach me to know more of thee and to serve thee better than ever I have done before, that I may be fitter to dwell in heaven, where thy worship and service are everlasting. Amen.”


In 1808, Pitcairn’s Island was discovered by captain Mayhew Folger of an American ship the USS Topas. The members of the crew were amazed to find that the island was inhabited by thirty five English-speaking people of Polynesian descent who were practicing the Christian faith.


It wasn’t long before the outside world was fascinated with the news that Fletcher Christian’s community had been found. The English authorities instructed every captain sailing to the south Pacific to search for any mutineers so that they could be arrested and deported to England to be punished for their crimes. Later, when two British ships did visit Pitcairn’s Island, they found such an orderly colony that they decided to disobey orders and not report their find of the Bounty survivors to London - although they did annex the Island as a British colony.


King George later sent Captain Waldgrave to visit Pitcairn’s. And Waldgrave wrote this:


“It was with great gratification that we observed the Christian simplicity of the natives. They appeared to have no guile. Their cottages were open to all and all were welcome to their food.”


A Church and a school were later built on the island. Smith died in 1829 at the age of seventy, but by 1840, Pitcairn’s Island was still a thriving Christian colony.


A visitor at that time wrote as follows:


“I then walked round and questioned several of the people on the texts, and some of the chief Scripture facts and doctrines, and most of them gave ready and suitable answers. . .The islanders have prayers twice on the Sabbath; after which Mr. Nobbs reads sermons from Burder, Watts, Blair, or Whitefield. There is also a Sabbath-school, a Bible-class is held on the Wednesday, and a day school every morning and afternoon. If God can use his book to convert the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island through an illiterate rehabilitated alcoholic, that book can transform our lives too."

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