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Pitcairn Islands

Summary Article: Pitcairn Islands from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide

British colony in Polynesia, 5,300 km/3,300 mi northeast of New Zealand; area 47 sq km/18 sq mi; population (2005 est) 46. The capital is Adamstown. Products are coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, yams, pineapples, tomatoes, oranges, and pineapples; souvenirs are sold to passing ships.

Geography The island group comprises Pitcairn Island (area 4.6 sq km/2.9 sq mi); the uninhabited Henderson Islands, an unspoiled coral atoll with a rare ecology, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1989; and the tiny Ducie and Oeno islands.

History It was visited in 1767 by Captain Philip Carteret in his sloop Swallow, who named it Pitcairn after the midshipman who sighted it. After his return to England Carteret published an account of his voyage, and there was a copy of the book in the Bounty when it sailed from Spithead in 1787 under the command of William Bligh. The island remained uninhabited until 1790, when it was occupied by the mutineers of the Bounty, under Fletcher Christian, with some women from Tahiti. Christian and the other mutineers destroyed the Bounty so as to sever all links with the outside world. For 18 years they remained undisturbed until, in 1808, an US ship, Topaz, called at Pitcairn Island, not knowing what land it was, on the chance of finding seals and fresh water. The crew realized that they had found the solution of the mystery of the Bounty's mutineers, only one of whom, John Adams, was left. Later over-population became a problem, and in 1831 the islanders moved to Tahiti, but in the following year they returned to Pitcairn Island. By this time the island was being increasingly visited by whalers, followed before long by passenger ships. In 1856 the population numbering 194 were, at their own request, shipped to Norfolk Island (where the youngest member of the party brought from Pitcairn Island survived until 1943). Forty of the party, however, soon returned, and at the beginning of the 20th century the population numbered nearly 200, and in 1936 it was 202. But in 1949 this figure had fallen to 125, owing to the emigration of young people to Australia and New Zealand.

Administration Pitcairn Island was annexed by Britain in 1887. It was brought within the jurisdiction of the high commissioner for the West Pacific in 1898, and in 1902 there were annexed to it the uninhabited islands of Henderson, Ducie, and Oneo, occasionally visited by the Pitcairners for the collection of wood and other purposes. The group is administered by the governor (the British high commissioner in New Zealand) in consultation with an Island Council which is elected annually by popular vote of all the islanders over 18. The chief magistrate is (since 1952) elected triennially, and the island secretary appointed by the governor of the Fiji Islands. The latest revision of the regulations for the internal government of the island was passed by a general assembly of all the native-born inhabitants in 1940.

Facilities Educational facilities exist, but there are no medical services or any regular transport service between New Zealand and Pitcairn Island. In 1949 the original Pitcairn Island Bible was returned to Pitcairn Island by the Connecticut Historical Society, the islanders being now all Seventh Day Adventists.

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