Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paradise Lost - Pitcairn's Island (2004)

Everyone has heard of Pitcairn's Island. Even if you have never read the book "Mutiny on the Bounty" the name of the Island itself evokes the image of tranquility and seclusion. But there is a story behind that story; and it's not always pretty.

The residents of Pitcairn's Island came to the place by way of an illegal act; the mutiny of Her Majesty's ship Bounty by Lt. Fletcher Christian, who forcibly relieved Captain Bligh of his command. The reason oft stated; and enshrined in the book by Nordoff and Hall; has always been that Bligh was a terribly cruel Captain. And that impression has survived the facts, and probably always will.

The truth is that Bligh was pretty much an enlightened Captain for his time; floggings on the Bounty's outbound voyage were actually fewer than on any other ships at the time. Bligh's biggest mistake was in letting his crew grow attached to the people of the island, making them very unhappy at the prospect of a return voyage home to England. Christian had married a native woman, for all intents and purposes, and was emotionally shattered at the prospect of leaving her. This was the real genesis for the mutiny. You can read the transcripts from the trial, rather than the fictional account if you have any doubts.

Pitcairn's Island was uncharted at the time, and Christian chose it for just that purpose. It lies halfway between New Zealand and South America. But troubles beset the newly freed mutineers almost from the very beginning in 1790. It all began with the women. There were fewer women than men in the original party, and some of the men were not willing to accept their situation of celibacy. Friction arose between some of the men over the issue; someone violated someone's honor; and then came the murders.

The island has existed in its own little niche for over 200 years, with the population reaching 233 in 1937 according to this article, and plummeting to 47 at the time this story surfaced in 2004. I have always been a fan of the book and apparently I cut the article out and left it in the book. While re-reading one of my favorite chapters the other day (I do that) I found it nestled comfortably between the pages where I last saw it 10 years ago.

Apparently there was some hank-panky on the island in the 1980's involving some of the children, who were sexually used; abused or molested; by 7 men living on the island; including the great great great etc grandson of Fletcher Christian; Steve Christian; who was also the Mayor at the time this article appeared. His son, Randy, was also charged with the same criminal acts.

According to the article the case began in 199 when a British police officer Gail Cox, who was visiting the island for an undisclosed purpose, heard that men on the island were having sex with girls as young as 12 years old. It took a 3 year investigation to gather enough evidence to charge 15 men; 8 of whom did not live on the island; with multiple counts of rape and unlawful intercourse with a minor.

The trial was conducted by a team of 2 dozen judges, prosecutors and defense attorney who came from French Polynesia to do their jobs. A court had to be built for the trail and a jail had to be erected for the defendants. With a population of about 47 people the defendants were actually enlisted in the endeavor. I can't help but think that this would be illegal in the States; kind of like giving the hangman the rope to string you up with. It's just not done.

By September 30, 2004 the trial had begun and the 7 residents of the island were found guilty and sentenced on October 24th all but one of them was found guilty of some of the 55 charges they faced. The other men; who all lived off the island; were convicted in a separate trial held in Auckland, New Zealand the following year.

The trial was a source of contention and disagreement among the residents of the island; particularly the women; some of whom had to have been aware of what was going on with their daughters. The full story of this aspect of the trial can be further explored in this article on Wikipedia;

At any rate, this is a sad story. It's beginnings held such promise. The inhabitants truly thought they had found freedom in a world of paradise. But, in the end; through their own actions and infighting; Pitcairn's Island became just another Paradise Lost.

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