A Bounty of Forgotten Stories

Historically, the women of the Bounty have been relegated to a footnote. They are added on to the ends of sentences, where the active players are the mutineers and the story is one of treason on the high seas. The main focus of these stories is the almost mythological mutiny on the Bounty itself, where in 1789, twenty five crew members, led by Fisher Christian, rose up against Captain Bligh. The captain, along with his loyalist men, were set adrift by the treacherous Christian, who then turned the Bounty to Tahiti, then vanishing off into the vastness of the pacific.
For the women of the Bounty, however, this was just the beginning of the story.
In 1790, the Bounty arrived at Pitcairn. Aboard were twelve Polynesian women from Tahiti, Huahine and Tubuai, six Polynesian men and nine mutineers. Some of these women had come by choice, some had been taken by force, however they were now all forced to make a life together. Though the island was uninhabited at the time of the Bounty’s arrival, previous settlements had left breadfruit trees behind, a gift from the past that allowed the new community to survive.
The women held an active role in both the politics and the survival of this new Pitcairn society. As they came together to make tapa cloth, they exchanged information as well as keeping their culture alive through song and dance. Far from passive bystanders on Pitcairn, this information exchange allowed the women to manipulate the fates of the men on the island. Through working together, the women were able to move against the men, as well as making each other aware of plots against men who they might be loyal to, therefore allowing them to decide whether to act or not.
Just ten years later, in 1800, the population of Pitcairn had changed dramatically. There were now ten women and only one of the original mutineers remaining, John Adams. Whether through murder or illness, every other person from the original arrivals on Pitcairn had perished. However, despite women outnumbering now men, ten to one, the written history of Pitcairn is one focused on the men. John Adams became the mouthpiece of Pitcairn as ships eventually reached its far-flung shores, leading visitors away from the women, suggesting that they did not speak English. Once again though, the tapa cloth became a conduit for communication, even if those receiving it weren’t aware of it. These visitors to the island often left with gifts of tapa, each piece telling a story of the forgotten women of Pitcairn.
The cultural heritage of the women of Pitcairn has not been a topic of focus for historians. Instead, these women seem to get lost in the mythology of the Bounty story, the Pitcairn Project is working to change that.
Further information about the mutiny of the Bounty can be found below:
http://www.government.pn/Pitcairnshistory.php – The Government of the Pitcairn Islands History
http://norfolkislandmuseum.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/pitcairn-tapa.html – Further information on Pitcairn tapa
https://youtu.be/Ur25pXcI52o – The trailer for the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty, contributing to the mythology of the event

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