[The following was preceded by Blighs description of the mutiny and the voyage in the launch, a paraphrase of Edwards's reports, and the two Quarter Review articles mentioned.]
I have now given to my readers all the documents which have been already printed, so far as I have read them, and as they are necessary to furnish an account of the origin, progress, and present state of the interesting inhabitants of Pitcairn' Island. Before I record the further information, which I obtained from Captain Folger in conversation, I shall introduce an extract from a letter of his to me, bearing a very recent date, and written in the state of Ohio, where he now resides. Although most of the facts contained in it have been related already, yet there are some new circumstances mentioned which make it worthy of a place in this volume.
The Bounty it seems sailed from England in 1787, and after the mutiny took place, the particulars of which are so well known, the mutineers returned with her to Otaheite. After many delays on that coast, a part of the crew under the command of Christian went in search of a group of islands, which you may remember to have seen on the chart, placed under the head of Spanish discoveries. They crossed the situation of those imaginary isles, and satisfied themselves that no such existed. They then steered for Pitcairn's Isle, discovered by Capt. Carteret, and by him laid down in latitude 25° 2′ south, and longitude by account from Massafuero, 133° 21′ west, where they arrived and took every thing useful out of the ship, ran her on shore, and broke her up. In February, 1808, on my passage across the Pacific Ocean, I touched at Pitcairn's Island, thinking it uninhabited; but to my astonishment I found Alexander Smith, the only remaining Englishman who came to that place in the Bounty, his companions having been massacred some years before. He had with him thirty-four women and children. The youngest did not appear to be more than one week old. I stayed with him five or six hours, gave him an account of some things that had happened in the world since he left it, particularly their great naval victories, at which he seemed very much elated, and cried out, "Old England forever!"—In turn he have me an account of the mutiny and the death of hi companions, a circumstantial detail of which could I suppose be of little service to you in the work in which you are at present engaged. The latitude is 25° 2′ south, and the longitude, by mean of nine sets of observations, 130° west. Capt. Carteret might well have erred three or four degrees in his longitude, in an old crazy ship with nothing but his log to depend on.
I should be pleased to see your work when it is finished. I think it must be interesting.
I remain, with esteem,
Your assured friend,
With this gentleman I became acquainted in the year 1800, at the island of Massafuero. We were then on voyages for seals, and had an opportunity to be together for many months. His company was particularly agreeable to me, and we were often relating to each other our adventures. Among other topics of conversation, the fate of the Bounty was several times introduced. I showed to him the copy of the Journal of Edwards, which I had taken at Timor, and we were both much interested to know what ultimately became of Christian, his ship, and his party. It is not easy for landsmen, who have never had personal experience of the sufferings of sailors at sea, and on savage coasts or desolate islands, to enter into their feelings with any thing like an adequate sympathy. We had both suffered many varieties of hardship and privation, and our feelings were perfectly alive to the anxieties and distresses of a mind under the circumstances of Christian, going from all he had known and loved, and seeking as his last refuge a spot unknown and uninhabited. The spirit of crime is only temporary in the human soul, but the spirit of sympathy is eternal. Repentance and virtue succeed to passion and misconduct, and while the public may continue to censure and frown, our hearts in secret plead for the returning and unhappy transgressor. It was with such a state of mind that Folger and myself used to speak of the prospects before the mutineers of the Bounty, when she was last seen steering to the northwest from Otaheite on the open ocean, not to seek friends and home, but a solitary region, where no human face, besides the few now associated in exile, should ever meet their eyes.
After several years had elapsed, and we had navigated various seas, we fortunately lived to meet each other again in Boston, when it was in his power to renew our old conversation about the Bounty, and to gratify the curiosity and interest which we had so long cherished in common. The Topaz in which he sailed was fitted and owned in this place by James and Thomas H. Perkings Esquires, and crossed the south Pacific ocean in search of islands for seals. Being in the region of Pitcairn's Island, according to Carteret's account, he determined to visit it, hoping that it might furnish him with the animals which were the objects of his voyage. As he approached the island, he was surprised to see smokes ascending from it, as Carteret had said it was uninhabited. With increased curiosity he lowered a boat into the water, and embarked in it for the shore. He was very soon met by a double canoe, made in the manner of the Otaheitans, and carrying several young men, who hailed him in English at a distance. They seemed mot to be willing to come near to him till they had ascertained who he was. He answered, and told them he was an American from Boston. This they did not immediately understand. With great earnestness they said, "You are an American; you come from America; where is America? Is it in Ireland?"
Captain Folger thinking that he should soonest make himself intellegible to them by finding out their origin and country, as they spoke English, inquired, "Who are you?"—"We are Englishmen."—"Where were you born?"—"On that island which you see."—"How then are you Englishmen, if you were born on that island, which the English do not own, and never possessed?"—"We are Englishmen because our father was an Englishman."—"Who is your father?"—With a very interesting simplicity they answered, "Aleck."—"Who is Aleck?"—"Don't you know Aleck?"—"How should I know Aleck?"—"Well then, did you know Captain Bligh of the Bounty?"—At this question, Folger told me that the whole story immediately burst upon his mind, and produced a shock of mingled feelings, surprise, wonder and pleasure, not to be described. His curiosity which had been already excited so much on this subject, was revived, and he made as many enquiries of them a the situation in which they were, would permit. They informed him that Aleck was the only one of the Bounty's crew who remained alive on the island; they made him acquainted with some of the most important points in their history; and with every sentence increased still more his desire to visit the establishment and learn the whole. Not knowing whether it would be proper and safe to land without giving notice, as the fears of the surviving mutineer might be awakened in regard to the object of the visit, he requested the young men to go and tell Aleck that the master of this ship desired very much to see him, and would supply him with any thing which he had on board. The canoe carried the message, but returned without Aleck, bringing an apology for his not appearing, and an invitation for Captain Folger to come on shore. The invitation was not immediately accepted, but the young men were sent again for Aleck, to desire him to come on board the ship, and to give him assurances of the friendly and honest intentions of the master. They returned however again without Aleck, said that the women were fearful for his safety, and would not allow him to expose himself or them by leaving their beloved island. The young men pledged themselves to Captain Folger that he had nothing to apprehend if he should land, that the islanders wanted extremely to see him, and that they would furnish him with any supplies which their village afforded.
After this negotiation Folger determined to go on shore, and as he landed he was met by Aleck and all his family, and was welcomed with every demonstration of joy and good will. They escorted him from the shore to the house of their patriarch, where every luxury they had was set before him, and offered with the most affectionate courtesy.
He, whom the youths in the canoe, with such juvenile and characteristic simplicity, had called Aleck, and who was Alexander Smith, now began the narrative, the most important parts of which have already been detailed. It will be sufficient for me to introduce here such particulars only as have not been mentioned, but are well fitted to give additional interest to the general outline, by a few touches upon the minute features.
Smith said, and upon this point Captain Folger was very explicit in his inquiry at the time as well as in his account of it to me, that they lived under Christian's government several years after they landed; that during the whole period they enjoyed tolerable harmony; that Christian became sick and died a natural death; and that it was after this when the Otaheitan men joined in a conspiracy and killed the English husbands of the Otaheitan women, and were by the widows killed in turn on the following night. Smith was thus the only man left upon the island. The account by Lieut. Fitzmaurice, as he professed to received it from the second mate of the Topaz, is, that Christian became insane, and threw himself from the rocks into the sea. The Quarterly Reviewers say that he was shot dead while digging in the field, by an Otaheitan man, whose wife he seized for his own use. Neither of these accounts is true, as we are at liberty to affirm from the authority of Captain Folger, whose information must be much more direct and worthy of confidence than that of the second mate, of Fitzmaurice, or of the reviewers. The last are evidently desirous of throwing as much shade as possible upon the character of Christian.
Smith had taken great pains to educate the inhabitants of the island in the faith and principles of christianity. They were in the uniform habit of morning and evening prayer, and were regularly assembled on Sunday for relig[i]ous instruction and worship. It has been already mentioned that the books of the Bounty furnished them with the means of considerable learning. Prayer books and bible were among them, which were used in their devotions. It is probable also that Smith composed prayers and discourses particularly adapted to their circumstances. He had improved himself very much by reading, and by the efforts he was obliged to make to instruct those under his care. He wrote and conversed extremely well, of which he gave many proofs in his records and in his narrative. The girls and boys were made to read and write before Captain Folger, to show him the degree of their improvement. They did themselves great credit in both, particularly the girls. The stationary of the Bounty was an important addition to the books, and was so abundant that the islanders were not yet in want of any thing in this department for the progress of their school. The journal of Smith was so handsomely kept as to attract particular attention, and excite great regret that there was not time to copy it. The books upon the island must have created and preserved among the inhabitants an interest in the characters and concerns of the rest of mankind. This idea will explain much of their intercourse with Captain Folger, and the difference between them and the other South Sea islanders in this respect.
When Smith was asked if he had ever hear of any of the great battles between the English and French fleets in the late wars, he answered, "How could I, unless the birds of the air had been the heralds?"—He was told of the victories of Lord Howe, Earl St. Vincent, Lord Duncan, and Lord Nelson. He listened with attention till the narrative was finished, and then rose from his seat, took off his hat, swung it three times round his head with three cheers, threw it on the ground sailor like, and cried out "Old-England forever!"—The young people around him appeared to be almost as much exhilarated as himself, and must have looked on with no small surprize, having never seen their patriarchal chief so excited before.
Smith was asked, if he should like to see his native country again, and particularly London, his native town. He answered, that he should, if he could return soon to his island, and his colony; but he had not the least desire to leave his present situation forever.—Patriotism had evidently preserved its power over his mind, but a stronger influence was generated by his new circumstances, and was able to modify its operations.
The houses of this village were uncommonly neat. They were built after the manner of those at Otaheite. Small trees are felled and cut into suitable lengths; they are driven into the earth, and are interwoven with bamboo; they are thatched with the leaves of the plantain and cocoa-nut; and they have mats on the ground.—My impression is, that Folger told me some of them were built of stone.
The young men laboured in the fields and gardens, and were employed in the several kinds of manufactures required by their situation. They made canoe, household furniture of a simple kind, implements of agriculture, and the apparatus for catching fish.—The girls made cloth from the cloth tree, and attended to their domestic concerns.
They had several amusements, dancing, jumping, hopping, running, and various feats of activity. They were as cheerful as industrious, and a healthy and beautiful a they were temperate and simple. Having no ploughs and no cattle, they were obliged to cultivate their land by the spade, the hoe, and other instruments for manual labour.
The apron and shawl worn by the girls were made of the bark of the cloth tree. This is taken off the trunk, not longitudinally, but round, like the bark of the birch. It i beaten till it is thin and soft, and fit for use. The natural colour is buff, but it is dyed variously, red, blue, and black, and is covered with the figures of animals, birds, and fish.
The inquiry was made of Smith very particularly in regard to the conduct of the sexes toward each other, and the answer was given in such a manner as entirely to satisfy Captain Folger that the purest morals had thus far prevailed among them. Whatever might be the liberties allowed by the few original Otaheitan women remaining, the young people were remarkably obedient to the laws of continence, which had been taught them by their common instructor and guide.
Smith is said, by later visitors, to have changed his name, and taken that of John Adams. This probably arose from a political conversation between him and Captain Folger, and from the account then given him of the Pandora under the command of Captain Edwards, who was sent out in pursuit of the Bounty and the mutineers. The fears of Smith were somewhat excited by this lat article of intelligence. As the federal constitution of the United States of America had gone into operation since the mutiny; as Captain Folger had given Smith an animating and patriotic account of the administration of the new government and its effects upon the prosperity of the country; and as the name of President Adams had been mentioned, not only with respect as an able statesman and a faithful advocate of civil liberty, but as an inhabitant of the commonwealth in particular where Folger lived; it is thought to be probable enough that this is the circumstance which suggested the name that Smith afterward adopted.
When he was about to leave the island, the people pressed round him with the warmest affection and courtesy. The chronometer which was given him, although made of gold, was so black with smoke and dust that the metal could not be discovered. The girls brought some presents of cloth, which they had made with their own hands, and which they had dyed with beautiful colours. Their unaffected and amiable manners, and their earnest prayers for his welfare, made a deep impression upon his mind, and are still cherished in his memory. He wished to decline taking all that was brought him in the overflow of friendship, but Smith told him it would hurt the feelings of the donors, and the gifts could well be spared from the island. He made as suitable a return of presents as hi ship afforded, and left this most interesting community with the keenest sensations of regret. It reminded him of Paradise, as he said, more than any effort of poetry or the imagination.
The conversations between me and Captain Folger upon this subject, were all previous to the dates of the several printed accounts, to which I have referred in this chapter. There are a few points only in which the article in the Quarterly Review differs from the impressions upon my mind at the time when I read it. In the volume for 1810, as well as in that for 1815, the Reviewers appear to have gone out of their way, and to have taken very unworthy pains to connect slander against my countrymen with their remarks upon Pitcairn's Island. Perhaps in the next chapter, which is to contain some reflections upon the whole subject, this topic may be taken up.
In regard to the extent of the population of the island a remark may be made. Captain Folger says there were thirty four in eighteen hundred and eight. Sir Thomas Staines mentions forty in eighteen hundred and fourteen. The Review afterwards says, there were about forty six besides a number of infants. As every one of the forty whom Sir Thomas Staines saw, spoke good English, and a this cannot be applied to the very young children, there must have been a larger number on the island at that time. The population now must be, at the lowest estimate, not less than sixty.