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Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Island, named after Midshipman Robert PITCAIRN who first sighted the island in 1767, is a British Overseas Territory. The main religion on Pitcairn is Seventh Day Adventism. Sabbath is observed on Saturday. There is no access to the island by air. A regular shipping service operates between Pitcairn and Mangareva. Transfer to and from the island is by longboat and can be dangerous in poor weather. There are no hotels but self-catering and homestay accommodation is available.

The economy of Pitcairn is based on subsistence fishing and gardening. They trade handicrafts, fruit, vegetables and honey with passing ships; craft work is also marketed by mail order through the internet. The primary source of income for the islanders is through the sale of postage stamps, which are famous world-wide. Pitcairns remote location and extremely small population inflates the per capita cost of providing even a very limited range of basic public services, including access to the island.

There is only one proper road on P itcairn. Transport around the island is by quad bike or on foot. All quad bikes are privately owned and therefore most visitors travel on foot. Longer-term visitors who propose using a quad bike are required to pass a driving test before a licence will be issued. Pitcairn has a medical clinic and a resident doctor, but medical facilities are limited. The nearest hospital facilities are in French Polynesia or New Zealand, at least four days sail away.

The UKG recognises that the prospect of self-sufficiency is very low, given its small population (52 people), its small size (47 sq km/18.1 sq miles covering all 4 islands) and extremely remote location. Pitcairns low-income base limits the volume of domestic revenue that can be raised and its isolation and small population with limited skills set on island inflates the per capita costs of providing a range of basic public services. Without UK support, Pitcairn would not be able to provide essential public services or ensure regular island access. In 2013/14 DFID provided 93% of the Pitcairn budget. The likelihood of increasing revenues is extremely limited whilst the fragile socio-economic environment, including an ageing population and management of child safeguarding risks, indicates continuing pressure on UKG to sustain the island.

The Pitcairn Islands Group comprises Pitcairn Island, Henderson Island, which are volcanic islands, Ducie and Oeno which are flat atolls. Pitcairn Island is the only inhabited island and is at latitude 2504 South and longitude 13006 West. It is about 2 170 km east-southeast of Tahiti. The islands administrative capital is in Aukland, New Zealand, 5310 km away.

Pitcairn Island covers a total area of about 5.1 km2 and has a population of around fifty. Henderson Island covers about 49 km2 in area and is 193 km northeast of Pitcairn Island. Oeno Island is a coral atoll, 143 km northwest of Pitcairn Island. The atoll has a diameter of 5km but a total land area of just 0.69 km2. Ducie Island is 470 km east of Pitcairn Island and covers 4 km2. Average annual rainfall on Pitcairn is 1800mm and temperatures range from 10C to 43C. The rainy season is during November to March with July and August being the driest months.

The history of Pitcairn, an isolated island lying far to the southwest of the Tuamotu, is detached from the framework of native history; its personages are almost entirely European immigrants. Pitcairn is one of the few islands which were uninhabited when the Europeans discovered them, although numerous remains in the form of stone images, relics of Marae, stone axes, and graves with skeletons attest that the island was once populated. In 1606 a Portuguese sailor, Pedro Fernandes de Queiros, discovered the islands group although it is unclear which islands he actually landed on. Pitcairn Island was found by HMS Swallow in July 1767.

The modern history of the island begins with the mutiny of the crew of the "Bounty" against their captain, Bligh, 1779. While the latter steered with his eighteen companions in his open boat to Batavia, the twenty-four mutineers sailed first to Tahiti. A part of them remained behind there, while eight men, under the leadership of the helmsman Christian, accompanied by six Tahitian men and twelve women, set sail in January, 1790, for the uninhabited island of Pitcairn. In order to prevent any escape from the island, Christian burnt the "Bounty," whose tall masts might have betrayed the refuge of the mutineers.

Captain Bligh, in respecting the traditions and the culture of the Tahitians, as he did, was also faced with the dilemma of having to apply Western cultural values and discipline to his own crew and has found himself, perhaps the victim of the press, the popular media at the time (until Fletcher Christian well connected family orchestrated) and 20th Century entertainment, (i.e. the film industry) in trying to maintain an appropriate balance.

The beginning of the community was at once marked by disputes and quarrels; the men were killed in fighting, and in 1801, John Adams (formerly Alex. Smith, d. March, 1829), aged thirty-six, was the only man on the island, with some women and twenty children. Adams, realising by the previous course of affairs the danger which threatened the little society, struck out other paths. By his care in educating the young generation a tribal community was developed which, to adopt Meinicke's expression, united many of the good qualities of the Europeans with the virtues of the Polynesians, and by its sterling character and high morality, won the sympathies of England to no small extent, especially since these colonists regarded themselves as Englishmen and spoke English as familiarly as Tahitian. England has always watched over the welfare of this little society. The limited water supply of the island having threatened to prove insufficient for the growing numbers, the eighty-seven inhabitants then living were removed by the English government to Tahiti in 1831; but most of them soon returned to Pitcairn.

When, in 1856, in consequence of hurricanes it became difficult to find food for the once more rapidly increasing population, 187 of the 194 settlers were removed to the then uninhabited Norfolk Island. The majority remained there, and increased and prospered. In 1871 the number had risen to 340 souls; in 1891 it reached 738; and, according to the last account, it now is 900 souls. Some, however, this time also, could not live in a strange island, and returned to Pitcairn, where their number in 1879 had again risen to 79 souls. Contrary to the disquieting rumors which the German press circulated in 1896, to the effect that Pitcairn no longer supplied the requirements of human inhabitants, the population was thriving.

By the mid 1850s the community was outgrowing the island and in 1856 the entire population of 193 people were transferred to Norfolk Island. However, subsequently, over forty returned to Pitcairn Island. After peaking at 233 in 1937, the population has declined, mainly as a result of emigration to New Zealand. Henderson, Oeno and Ducie were incorporated into the Pitcairn Islands Group in 1938. Of the resident population of 52, as of 2013 there are only 31 in paid employment that fall into the potentially economically active category, with only 13 of this paid employment group under 50, of whom only 3 are in the 20-30 age group (and one of this group has been off the island for some considerable time). There were 29 people on the island over 50, 13 of whom were over 65.

Clearly the able bodied population has reached a critical level. This is compounded by the fact that the natural growth rate of the population is already far below a sustainable replacement rate. There have been only 8 births in the period 2001-12 and currently less than 5 women of child bearing age are living on the island. Altogether, there are 10 children between two families, two of whom attend secondary school in New Zealand, with a further three due to join them in December 2014, leaving just 5 children on island. There is little social or economic incentive for children to return to Pitcairn on completion of their studies.

In spite of its beauty, lush valleys with banana trees and coconut palms, the coastline is rugged. Bounty Bay harbour, with its two longboats, are the islanders lifeline. Only recently, telephone and television were introduced. Temperatures range from 13 to 33 degrees centigrade and frequent sub-tropical rainstorms hit The main settlement of Adamstown has weatherboarded and corrugated iron bungalows, a church, a village hall, one shop and a post office. Dirt roads turn to sticky mud after a rainfall and the going is tough; most islanders travel about by quad bike.

The islands had evolved their own survival techniques over the generations but for our men and women, it could be quite a shock to see just how basic life could be. Bare feet or flip flops are socially acceptable as the clay mud is diabolical and clogs whatever footwear you use. Mosquitoes can be bad both day and night. Although Dengue Fever has never been recorded on Pitcairn, it is a problem in French Polynesia, and so mosquito coils and repellent are strongly advised.

Electricity is available on the island for nine hours daily. Cooking is by electricity at the Hostel and gas at the Lodge; home for the officers. Water is heated by wet-back fire. Drinking water is collected from the roof and stored in concrete cisterns with fine micron water filters.

In mid 2001 charges were laid and a Civil Trial was held on Pitcairn starting on 30 September. Seven men were charged with 55 sex crimes against children, some as young as five. Child abuse allegations encompassed a number of generations. This investigation resulted in the prosecution of a number of men for sexual offences against children, following trials on Pitcairn and in NewZealand. On 30 September 2004, seven of the 12 men living on Pitcairn Island went on trial facing 55 charges relating to sexual crimes against underage girls as young as seven.

At their trial, the arrested men insisted sexual activity between grown men and young girls was a long-standing feature of life on the island, based on cultural traditions stemming from the Polynesians who had been some of the island's original settlers. A study of island records and anecdotal evidence found that most of the women on the island had their first child between the ages of 12 and 15.

Six men [in a total population of 47 of all ages and sexes] were convicted of dozens of sexual offences. With no jury, three New Zealand Judges tried the men under British law and by the following year had found six of the seven men guilty of underage sex. Two were given community service and the other four sentenced to prison for between two and six years; a prison was built on the island in readiness.

The UK put in place interventions to create a substantial child safeguarding framework; independent reviews have taken place in 2009, 2011 and again in 2013. Disappointingly, the 2013 review intimated there had been some regression in progress: strong concerns were raised about the attitudes of some members of the Island Council which are seen as not conducive to their understanding the real historic experiences of children on Pitcairn Island who had been sexually abused.



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