Obituary: Ben Christian

Benjamin Norman Christian, public servant, born Pitcairn Island 6 January 1921, Island Secretary Pitcairn Island 1962-86, died Pitcairn Island 25 September 1992.

A RUGGED volcanic island, two miles long by one mile wide, precipitous, verdant and fertile, with a normally benign climate.

That is the island of Pitcairn, refuge of Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers in 1789 and home to a declining number (52) of their descendants. It is 3,300 miles to New Zealand; 4,100 miles to Panama. The highest point is 1,100 feet; and from it, a full-circle horizon of South Pacific oceanic isolation. Ben Christian, Island Secretary and Secretary to the Pitcairn Island Council for a quarter of a century from 1962, lived there with his wife Irma throughout his life.

I first met him on Pitcairn in 1968. Not quite on Pitcairn. A short tubby man climbed up the ship's ladder and bounded over the gunwale. He was barefooted. His denims were faded, there was a long knife in his waist-belt and he wore a woollen skull cap with a pompom. He took this off as he reached the bridge. 'Welcome,' Ben always said to the captain. 'Welcome to Pitkern (the Pitcairners' pronunciation of their island home), and thank you f'r comin'.'

He was then and remained a gentle, kindly man, not typical of the disputatious individualism of many of his fellow Pitcairners. He was a model elder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to which all members of the community adhere. He had only once previously been away from Pitcairn.

While devoted and hardworking, he had little formal education and suffered noticeably from lack of training in basic administrative skills. So he was seconded later that year to the British South Pacific office in Fiji with which he corresponded at that time from Pitcairn.

Isolated though their island home may have been, Ben and Irma kept contact with the outside world through ham radio links - not least for a time with Tristan da Cunha, that other even more remote island of the South Atlantic roaring forties.

With an annual island budget of less than pounds 300,000 and no taxes to administer, except for token gun and bicycle licences, the Island Secretary's financial responsibilities were not exacting. Ben would go to his tiny office at Adamstown Square about twice a week. It was quite enough; and the peculiarities of the virulent Pitcairn fairweather mosquitoes, which came out in the daytime and not at night, made his office the worst place on the island - so the people said.

The Island Secretary's inward mail from a rare ship-day call was never less than eccentric. I looked through Ben's files on one occasion. A women's club in Maine wanted a Pitcairner to discuss the proposition that 'the saga of Pitcairn offers the world the way to a meaningful life'; a retired police officer from Chicago offered to command the Pitcairn land and seagoing forces for a modest supplement to his pension; and a 1970 Cadillac would be shipped freight- free to the roadless island in return for a monopoly franchise for the sale of Pitcairn Island carvings in the United States. A university in New Zealand indicated that 50 members of its Department of Linguistics wished to undertake an on-the-spot study of the Pitcairn language and its people; and a Brazilian student of anthropology sought to cohabit with any Pitcairn woman for the purpose of a thesis on the sex habits of island communities.

'Not much here to worry about,' said Ben, as he resumed his interrupted wood-carving. 'We jus' have to see that Pitkern goes on being Pitkern - for the sake of all the people.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?