June 8 - Bounty Day on Norfolk Island

Posted June 8, 2018

Once upon a time, in 1787, there was a British ship especially outfitted to carry breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. The Brits who paid for this expedition apparently hoped that breadfruit would grow well on the Caribbean islands and become a good, cheap source of food for the enslaved people who labored in the Caribbean sugar cane fields.

This ship sailed from England across the Atlantic to Cape Horn - the southern tip of South America - but couldn't get through the difficult passage because of bad weather. After a month of failure, the ship's captain headed east, rounded the southern tip of Africa, sailed across the Indian Ocean, and finally arrived in Tahiti after ten months at sea.

For the next six months, the crew lived in Tahiti - a place that some people consider a paradise. They collected and prepared more than a thousand breadfruit plants to be transported to the Caribbean. Eventually it was time to sail on to the Caribbean.

Apparently, some of the men had fallen in love with Tahiti's wonderful weather. Some of the men had fallen in love with Tahiti's easy pace of life. Some of the men had fallen in love with Tahitians!

So...soon after leaving Tahiti, there was a mutiny. I'm happy to report that it was a bloodless mutiny - in other words, nobody died. The captain, William Bligh, was put into a small, open boat along with the men still loyal to him, and those men made a difficult journey to a Dutch settlement - it took 47 days! - losing only one man who was attacked on an island when they tried to get some supplies. Except for that one casualty, they all lived to tell the tale of the mutiny.

The mutineers sailed back to Tahiti and dropped off those who wished to remain there even though they knew the Royal Navy would surely capture them and take them back to England to face trial. (They did.) The 9 mutineers who wished to flee that fate sailed off with 6 Tahitian men and 11 Tahitian women (probably at least some whom were kidnapped) and landed the uninhabited Pitcairn Island. 

They offloaded all the people, livestock, other supplies, and I presume the breadfruit plants - and then the mutineers burned the ship! They didn't want the ship to be discovered by the Royal Navy, and they didn't want anyone to flee the island. In order to survive as a community, they needed enough people - and they especially needed women!

The burning of the ship, the HMS Bounty, happened on January 23, 1790. The bay where that occurred is called Bounty Bay, and the anniversary of the burning is celebrated as a holiday on Pitcairn Island as Bounty Day.

But...but...but!...you may be spluttering.

It's June, not January! And today is Bounty Day on Norfolk Island, not Pitcairn Island!

Well....more than half a century after the British mutineers and the Tahitians became Pitcairners, they began to outgrow their island. By this time, Pitcairn Island had become a British colony, so the Pitcairners turned to Britain for help. At that time, Norfolk Island had served as a penal colony but had then been abandoned; the Pitcairners sailed to Norfolk and landed there on June 8, 1856. They founded what turned out to be a permanent settlement.

Norfolk is now a part of Australia. 

Bounty Day is celebrated by a sort of reenactment of the landing of the Pitcairners.  There is a procession, the singing of hymns, and the laying of ceremonial wreaths. Best of all, there are games for children, a huge feast, and the Bounty Ball.

By the way, Pitcairn and Norfolk are unique in having mostly biracial British/Tahitian people and languages and customs that are a blend of English and Tahitian.

Also weird but maybe not that surprising, given the fact that the community started with such a small group of people: So many people share the same surname (last name), surnames aren't very useful. As a matter of fact, I read that many people don't ever use their surnames and may not know others' surnames. Instead, they go by nicknames. Here is a photo of a Norfolk phone book: 

Check out these photos of Norfolk Island. No wonder some call it a paradise! 

To learn more about Norfolk Island, check out this earlier post.

Also on this date:

Astronomer Giovanni Cassini's birthday

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