Pitcairn Island was discovered in 1767 by the British and settled in 1790 by the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions. Pitcairn was the first Pacific island to become a British colony (in 1838) and today remains the last vestige of that empire in the South Pacific. Outmigration, primarily to New Zealand, has thinned the population from a peak of 233 in 1937 to less than 50 today.
Stone axes, remains of carved stone pillars similar to those of Easter Island, and skeletons with a pearl-mussel beneath the head have been found in the island, though it was uninhabited when discovered by Philip Carteret in 1767. Pitcairn was the name of the midshipman who first observed it.
The island was destined to become the scene of a curious social experiment. On the 28th of April 1789 a mutiny broke out on board the ship the Bounty, then employed by the British government in conveying young bread-fruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. The commander Lieutenant William Bligh, was set adrift in the launch with part of the crew, but managed to make his way to Timor in the Malay Archipelago. The twenty-five mutineers at first all returned to Tahiti. Some remained, and six of these were ultimately court-martialled in England, three being executed in 1792. Meanwhile in 1790 a party consisting of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, eight Englishmen, six Polynesian men and twelve Polynesian women had taken possession of Pitcairn Island and burned the Bounty.
Treachery and debauchery filled the first years of the annals of the beautiful island. By 1800 all the men were dead except Alexander Smith, afterwards known as John Adams, who rose to a sense of his responsibility and successfully trained up the youthful generation left in his charge. An American vessel, the Topaze, discovered the strange colony in 1808; again, by accident, it was visited by the Briton, Captain Sir F. Staines, and the Tagus, Captain Pipon, in 1817; and by the exploring ship Blossom in 1825. On the death of John Adams on the 29th of March 1829 George Hunn Nobbs, who had settled at Pitcairn in 1828, was appointed pastor and chief.
Through fear of drought the islanders removed to Tahiti in 1830, but disapproved of both the climate and the morals of this island, and returned to Pitcairn in 1831. Shortly after this an adventurer named Joshua Hill appeared, and, claiming government authority, tyrannized over the islanders till his removal by a British man-of-war in 1838. In 1856 the whole of the islanders 60 married persons and 134 young men, women and children were landed on Norfolk Island, but in 1858 two families chose to return, and their example was afterwards followed by a few others. Visited in 1873 and 1878 the colony was found in excellent order, but by the end of the century it was stated that intermarriage was bringing a deterioration of intellect, morals and energy, and that the islanders would probably drift into imbecility. Later accounts made it appear that this was an exaggeration, although the standard of morality was unquestionably low on the whole.
This is Britain's most isolated dependency; only the larger island of Pitcairn is inhabited but it has no port or natural harbor. Supplies must be transported by rowed longboat from larger ships stationed offshore.
The inhabitants of this tiny isolated economy exist on fishing, subsistence farming, handicrafts, and postage stamps. The fertile soil of the valleys produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including citrus, sugarcane, watermelons, bananas, yams, and beans. Bartering is an important part of the economy. The major sources of revenue are the sale of postage stamps to collectors and the sale of handicrafts to passing ships. In October 2004, more than one-quarter of Pitcairn's labor force was arrested on sex crime charges, putting the economy in a bind, since their services were required as lighter crew to load or unload passing ships.