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Book Review, NRJ 60.2

May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call: A Record, 1790-2010

Herbert Ford

Beginning with the arrival of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers from Bounty, along with the Polynesians who joined them, this book focuses on the importance of visiting ships to Pitcairn Island. Herbert Ford, noted expert on Pitcairn history and winner of the 2012 Bounty Anchor Award, started the Pitcairn Islands Study Center and has written two previous books on the subject: Pitcairn and Miscellany of Pitcairn’s Island. In this edition of Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call, he draws on primary resources including the records of the local government, letters of crew who visited, and radio interviews with the islanders.

The layout follows that of a logbook, listing each ship arrival at the island for over two centuries. Although this does not encourage reading the book from cover to cover, a researcher investigating Pitcairn or the flow of ships sailing in the Pacific would find this volume indispensable. The initial entries tell of the fate of the infamous mutineers, which the author emphasizes as the reason so many ships stopped to visit the island.

The first decades saw battles and deaths reduced the numbers of adult men until only John Adams remained to become the islanders’ revered leader. In 1814, when British naval ships Briton and Tagus arrived, the two captains concluded that removal of Adams to stand trial for mutiny would be cruel to the small community. These tales of the first decades of interactions with voyaging mariners include the return of Captain Bligh, against whom the original men had mutinied, and the short abandonment of Pitcairn in the 1850s when the island could not support the growing population. Many of the entries focus on the boat handling skills of the Pitcairn men who braved the surf to meet the ships, and Ford includes photographs showing the evolution of the boats from wood to aluminum. The author also stresses the pious nature of the islanders, noting their tradition of singing hymns as ships departed.

Although the book includes a map showing the location of Pitcairn in the Pacific, and some photographs of the town and landscape, a map of the island itself showing the relation of the boat landing to Adamstown might be beneficial. This second edition remedied the previous lack by supplying a comprehensive index, a boon for researchers who possess only a ship name and not the date of arrival. Although the index references many people, not all names can be found without knowing the boat. A search for the famous cruising couple, Lin and Larry Pardey, yields only their boat Talesin, arrived on September 16, 1983 from Panama.

Since the initial settlement by mutineers, the crews of whaling ships and clippers of the nineteenth century through to troops aboard navy ships of the World Wars, Pitcairn retains a fascination that Ford captures in the various anecdotes included, and makes the book far more than just a catalogue of ship names.

  •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012
  • 7” x 10”, softcover, 365 pages
  • Illustrations, bibliography, index. $75.00
  • ISBN: 9780786466047

Reviewed by Laurel Seaborn, Salem, Massachusetts

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