Have you heard? They’re planning to start a colony in Mars in 2026. Does that mean our existence on this planet is saturated? Well, sitting in an over-populated country like India, I might be tempted to think so. But not all places are struggling with increasing number of people. On the contrary, some are struggling with a rapidly declining population.
Meet Pitcairn Islands. Population: around 46-48 (according to a 2014 CIA factbook) . And yes, it’s technically a country, administered by the British crown (I guess the sun shall never set on that empire).
Consisting of four islands – Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno – the group is spread over several hundred miles in the Pacific Ocean with a total land area of 47 sq. km. Pitcairn, the second largest measuring 3.6 km, is the only one that’s inhabited.
The capital – Adamstown
The islands of Henderson and Pitcairn were said to be inhabited by Polynesians from around 900 AD to 1450-1600 AD. Despite being thinly populated and very isolated, Pitcairn was the hub of the Polynesian canoe making industry due to the timber it provided. But since that time and the late 18th century, it was uninhabited. And then this happened –
No, not the film, but the actual event. In 1789, the sailors on the HMS Bounty, took part in a mutiny against the captain William Bligh. It was led by acting Master Fletcher Christian. After setting the captain and his loyalists adrift on the ship’s boat, and playing a long cat and mouse game with the Royal Navy, Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women, one with a baby (some say Christian’s men actually set sail without warning the Tahitians to acquire the women) set sail and they “re-discovered” Pitcairn Island, which had somehow gotten misplaced from the Royal Navy charts. Thus the mutineers and the Tahitians with them, were the first settlers of Pitcairn in the modern age. Most of the people who live there now, are descendants of the mutineers.
Cannon from the HMS Bounty.
Grave of John Adams, last surviving member from the mutiny on the Bounty
1940 stamp of Pitcairn, with a helpful map drawn on it
In an AMA hosted on Reddit by Nadine Christian (an author and descendant of Fletcher Christian), who lives in Pitcairn, we learned more about life on the Island. Pitcairn is a democracy and a British Overseas Territory. This means, the land there is owned by the Crown. The islanders can apply for land to build a house, orchard or a garden and it stays under the family’s name for 99 years.
The island has internet connectivity, but it comes at a steep price. An internet pack with 2 gigs of data costs about 100 NZ dollars. There’s a small clinic on the Island but no hospital. People usually fly to New Zealand for serious ailments or for say, childbirth. The island has one general store which stays open three days of the week. Electricity is generated from diesel generators and the power runs from around 6:30 AM to 10 PM.
Supply ships come in about once in three months and bring in most of the island’s food and that is how provisions get restocked.
Bounty Bay, the only way in or out of Pitcairn
Pitcairn in the News
Pitcairn has one huge problem – an aging and dwindling population. Because the economy depends on work like loading and unloading ships and fishing, both physically demanding, an aging populace is a hindrance. Population peaked sometime around the 1940’s when it reached 200, but now the low estimates suggest figures around 46-48. The population growth rate is 0%.
Pitcairn was also rocked by a child abuse scandal in 2004 when seven men including the then-mayor Steve Christian were convicted of sexually abusing children. Six of them, including Steve, were convicted. Their failed defense at that time was that the idea of sexual promiscuity as a taboo thing, was one propagated by British law, something that was apparently imposed on Polynesian people, who do not have such laws.
But things are looking brighter now. Just recently, the world’s largest marine reserve, bigger than the state of California and twice the size of the UK, has been approved around Pitcairn. This will bring in a lot of tourism and money, apart from jobs, something that was seriously lacking in Pitcairn.
Getting to Pitcairn Islands
As Pitcairn Island is one of the most isolated and remote destinations in the world, it’s almost like the unicorn on an adventurer’s checklist.
Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to have visited all countries in the world, suggests a few options in his blog . According to him, the best way to reach Pitcairn is to travel via the SV Xplore; which is a 20-meter yacht run by a really nice and experienced Australian skipper and chartered by Pitcairn Travel itself to the island. It has a capacity of 8 passengers on the boat. The speed will be about 6-9 knots depending on the winds and weather.
Here are some more pictures of Pitcairn.